Romany Holocaust remembered at the Lety concentration camp in South Bohemia

Foto: Autorka

The Czech Republic remembered victims of the Romany Holocaust on Tuesday... on a site which is now used as a pig farm. Lety, a former concentration camp where hundreds of Czech Roma perished, has in recent years become the centre of international controversy, with the Czech government seemingly unwilling to rehouse the pig farm built on the site. Radio Prague's Rosie Johnston has the story:

A bus of activists and students heads for Lety, South Bohemia, on May 13. Lety was the site of a Nazi concentration camp for Romanies during World War II; over 320 died there, while many hundreds more were transported from the camp to Auschwitz, where they were taken to the gas chambers.

Gwendolyn Albert is an American-born Romany rights activist. On the way to the former camp, she told me another reason why Lety was notorious:

“It’s quite famous in this country because there has been a lot of international criticism of the fact that there is a large industrial-capacity pig farm located on the site where this camp was.”

Priests sing a mass for the dead. At the Holocaust memorial a few metres away from the pig farm those who lost relatives lay wreathes and light candles.

One of those to give a speech at Tuesday’s memorial service was Felix Kolber from the International Auschwitz Committee. He himself was a survivor of the Holocaust, who had been interned in Auschwitz’s ‘gypsy family camp’ some weeks after the camp’s last Roma inhabitants were gassed:

“When we were there, nothing remained from the time that the Roma and Sinti were there. Everything had been incinerated. We were living in an atmosphere of what had happened to the Roma, and we thought that this would happen to us too.”

Pig farm
International pressure has been mounting on the Czech government to move the pig farm from the Lety concentration camp site. Dzamila Stehlikova – the Minister for Minorities and Human Rights - believes it is her duty to find a solution to the Lety pig farm problem:

“We are currently in very intensive discussion with all of the main players in this situation. I want to bring the results of this discussion to the Parliament by the end of the year, so that by the time we take on the EU presidency, we have some clear answers as to how the Czech government is going to move forward on the issue of Lety.”

Karel Holomek is a Czech Romany academic who was imprisoned in Lety’s sister camp Hodonin u Kunstat in Moravia. He is outraged that after years of talks nothing has been done:

“Some people used to say that it is a question of money. But it is not a question of money. It is a question of thinking and memory and remembrance of this situation.”

Attitudes towards the pig farm at Lety may slowly be changing, but as Minister Stehlikova has said, it may be in the Czech government’s interest to accelerate the process, if it wants to push human rights issues during its EU presidency in 2009.