Archaeologists discover remains of wartime Romani internment camp in Liberec

Photo: archive of Liberec region

An archaeological survey in the northern Bohemian city of Liberec has revealed the remains of an internment or concentration camp for Roma during the Second World War that later served to hold French prisoners, forced to work in a quarry.

Historical records had listed the camp as being located near three intersecting streets in Liberec – Broumovská, Jablonecká and Kunratická – but the exact location was unclear, and the site had not been previously excavated.

At least 130 Romani people were interned there from 1941 to 1943, and then sent on to larger Nazi concentration or death camps – to women to Ravensbrück, men to Buchenwald and families to Auschwitz. None survived the war.

Photo: Lucie Fürstová / Czech Radio

Two summers ago, historian Ivan Rous from the North Bohemian Museum in Liberec, pushed to erect seven white crosses in a meadow near the site, in remembrance of Romani children interned there, all infants or toddlers.

“Thanks to records of children born in Liberec, we were able to identify the specific transports to Auschwitz. The crosses are in their memory. This was the harshest of four camps built in Liberec – and yet there is no memorial. All were murdered in Auschwitz or other camps.”

Photo: Lucie Fürstová / Czech Radio

Archaeologists began excavating a plot at the bend of Kunratická Street six weeks ago, ahead of the planned construction of new headquarters for the regional rescue service. They uncovered brick floors and foundation walls, some as deep as three metres underground, all in good condition.

From the second half of the 20th century on, the site served mainly as a landfill for municipal waste, including remnants from the construction of a nearby housing estate in Králův Háj. The Roma held in the camp were forced to help build it.

Petr Brestovanský, an archaeologist from the North Bohemian Museum in Liberec, said they were fortunate to find any remains, as most such camps were made of wood. Apart from foundations, they mainly found tin cups and broken dishes.

“We have uncovered large sections of the main building, which was 35 metres long and nearly 10 metres wide, along with an extension in the shape of a ‘T’ of about 10 by 8 metres, and preserved brick floors.”

Photo: Lucie Fürstová / Czech Radio

Deputy Mayor Ivan Langer of the regional SLK party said the city will go ahead with plans to build the rescue service headquarters – which will help save lives – but will also erect a “dignified memorial” to the Romani sent to their deaths.

“We are thinking about building a memorial at the bend on the opposite riverbank. We’ve been talking to a quite well-known artist who could create something special. It is also quite important, of course, that it be easily accessible.”

In Liberec there were four facilities now described as internment or concentration camps for Romani prisoners although official correspondence at the time, with a few exceptions, referred to them as “Gypsy accommodations”.