New exhibition highlights often-forgotten Roma Holocaust

The exhibition 'The Roma Genocide during World War II'

On Roma Holocaust Memorial Day on 2 August, Brno’s Museum of Romani Culture is launching an exhibition at the Vítkov National Memorial, focussing on the Nazi persecution and genocide of Roma on the territory of present-day Czechia. Called The Roma Genocide during World War II, it serves as a tragic reminder of a period when almost 90% of Czechia’s pre-war Roma population was murdered, and the consequences this had for the generations that followed.

The exhibition 'The Roma Genocide during World War II' | Photo: National Museum

Anna Míšková, a historian from the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno and curator of the exhibition at Vítkov, says that for a long time after the Second World War, the Roma Holocaust was not talked about.

“The topic was never widely discussed and was often pushed to the sidelines. The attitude was often, ‘Why should we talk about it?’, due to the prejudice towards Roma which is unfortunately still a majority view in the Czech Republic.”

It was not until after the Velvet Revolution that the subject finally began to be broached, but according to Míšková, it only entered the wider public consciousness in the 1990s when Paul Polansky, an American journalist and Romani activist, published a book about the concentration camp in Lety.

The exhibition 'The Roma Genocide during World War II' | Photo: National Museum

“In recent years the topic has begun to be discussed more, which I think has to do with the 2017 decision to purchase the pig farm in Lety and to build a memorial in its place. Since 2018, when the museum got the site and an architectural competition for the design of the memorial began, the topic was in the news and was discussed publicly more and more. I think that is a very good thing, because what happened to the Roma during the Second World War, and the consequences it had for their lives afterwards during Communism, is very important for understanding the present situation.”

Exhibition curator Anna Míšková | Photo: New Memorial Lety

According to estimates, in 1942 around 6,500 Roma and Sinti lived on the territory of the present-day Czech Republic. On 10 December 1942, an order was issued to send all Roma to concentration camps. A large majority of the Czech Roma population was either transported to Lety or directly to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Those who survived the internment in Lety were later transported to Auschwitz to be murdered nevertheless. On the night of 2 August 1944, the surviving population in the so-called Gypsy family camp at Auschwitz (estimated at 2,897 to 5,600 people), mostly women, children and elderly people, was killed en masse in the gas chambers.

The exhibition, mainly consisting of photographs and panels with texts, will have a preview which is open to the public and free of charge on Tuesday 2 August starting at 5pm. This includes the one-man theatre show The Gypsy Boxer, the story of boxer Johann Trollmann, known as Rukeli. He became German boxing champion in 1933, but his title was taken away by the Nazis soon after because of his Romani origins. Despite enlisting in and fighting for the German army at the beginning of the war, he was sent to the Neuengamme concentration camp after his return from the Eastern Front. Originally by the German author Rika Reiniger, the play will be performed in a Czech translation by Lucie Ceralová, directed by Gabriela Krečmerová and starring Filip Teller.

Authors: Anna Fodor , Anaïs Raimbault
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