Trees planted at Lety to symbolize Roma Holocaust victims

A dignified memorial to the Holocaust of the Roma and Sinti in Bohemia is finally nearing completion. On Monday survivors, activists and politicians symbolically planted the first trees in a forest in Lety that will symbolize the lost Roma community. The memorial will open to the public on February 3, 2024.  

The history of the Lety concentration camp - a World War II internment camp for Romani people from Bohemia and Moravia during the Nazi occupation is one of the most shameful and neglected chapters of the country’s 20th century history.

Photo: Barbora Němcová,  archive of Czech Radio

Over 1,300 prisoners were interned in the camp during the occupation. Over 300 people died in the camp, over 240 of them children. More than 800 Roma were deported from Lety to Auschwitz, where almost all were gassed.

After the war, the memory of the genocide of the Sinti and Roma was for the most part repressed in Czechoslovakia. The community of Czech Romanies was almost entirely annihilated and the newcomers from Slovakia and Romania, who settled here after the war, had no knowledge of this tragedy. During the 1970s, the communists built a large pig farm on the site of the Lety camp.

Photo: Alexis Rosenzweig,  Radio Prague International

It took thirty years of efforts by survivors, activists, Roma representatives and public figures to change this. One of the voices raised in favour of giving Lety victims a dignified memorial was that of the country’s first post-communist president Václav Havel.

Following years of debate on what should be done, the Czech state finally purchased the pig farm in 2018, but it took another more than three years to start its demolition, opening the way for a dignified memorial to be built on the site.

The Museum of Romany Culture, which was put in charge of the grounds, called a public competition for the memorial.

Photo: Atelier Terra Florida

The winning design by Atelier Terra Florida and Atelier Světlík planned on an indoor and outdoor space with the latter in the form of a forest.

On Monday politicians, activists and members of the public gathered to plant trees that will symbolize the lives lost.

“The trees will symbolise the lost Roma community. And as they grow they will be a reminder of the past which has been forgotten or erased from the history of our country.”

The mixed forest of pines and oaks will be a space for contemplation and commemoration.

Photo: Museum of Romani Culture

Most of the seedlings for the forest were donated by the Orlik Estate of Jan and Karel Schwarzenberg. Those attending the event held a minute’s silence for the late Karel Schwarzenberg, former MP and foreign minister, who died at the age of 85 on Saturday. Like Václav Havel he was a strong supporter of this cause.

The memorial will also have audio-visual testimonies of witnesses and a list of the names of victims and prisoners of the camp.

Author: Daniela Lazarová | Sources: ČTK , Český rozhlas
run audio