Elina: The Saga of the Holomek Family|
Only five Czech Roma out of every hundred is thought to have survived the
Second World War the vast majority of Romani people now living in the
Czech lands are descended from Slovak Roma; their ancestors encouraged or
compelled to settle here under the communist regime. It is because there
are so few original Czech Romanies alive today that the newly published
memoirs of two otherwise ordinary women are so extraordinary.
Elina Machalkova, who turns eighty, next year, is very much alive.
As a Roma pensioner born and raised in what is today the Czech Republic,
that fact alone makes her story special. Nearly all Czech-born Roma who
lived through internment in the Czech-run labour camps of Hodonin and Lety
later perished in the so-called "Gypsy family camp" at
Auschwitz-Birkenau, were killed in pogroms, or died from abuse, disease or
But apart from surviving, Elina Machalkova's history is exceptional on
another level; her grandfather, Pavel Holomek, founded the largest Roma
settlement in Moravia. He was also among the first Roma to settle
permanently in a Czech town, and send his children to school. His son
Tomas would go on to become the first Czech Roma to earn a law degree; his
grandson Milos, Elina's brother, would earn four academic titles.
But Elina's grandfather didn't live to see the Holomek name become famous
among the Roma as the "family of teachers"; he was killed in a
concentration camp as were two of his brothers, a sister, and between
them, 14 children, including two of Elina's uncles. The rest of her
family, like all Romani people, she says, lived in constant fear
throughout the war at the mercy of German and Czech officials alike
and often went into hiding.
"Listen: we didn't take even a single step that we didn't have to
take; we didn't speak a word that was forbidden because also among the
Czechs were traitors, Judases. And there were plenty of them. Just look at
the fate of our Mr Hasler. A 'Judas' turned him in. At night in a village
pub a Czech pub Czech people were singing his song. The next day the
Gestapo came for him and took him to Mauthousen, and he never sang
A singer in her own right, Elina was recalling the fate of the celebrated
cabaret singer and songwriter Karel Hasler, who set satirical, anti-German
lyrics to the popular melody "Ta nase pisncika ceska" or
"that little Czech song of ours" and was killed for it.
"People throw away your forks, we have nothing to eat anyway",
go the lyrics, "they took everything away from us, took it all away
from us, and left us just a Protectorate."
Elina knows something about going hungry. Barely into her teens, she spent
the early years of the war rising each day at four to go work in a factory.
Her only wages, food coupons, were frequently withheld, and she survived on
handouts from sympathetic non-Roma villagers.
In august 1994, at the age of 18, she fled the factory and went into
hiding. Elina had been summoned by the Gestapo along with her mother to
report for a "treatment" which they knew, thanks to a town
official, meant forced sterilization. She hid in a cellar for 6 months.
"I had to hide myself to avoid sterilization. My family told people I
had been sent to Germany. I saw almost no one for six months. It was
horrible. I lived in constant fear. But that is how I was saved from
sterilization. And that's why I wanted a lot of children; and I had four.
Much to her father's initial dismay, Elina did not earn a university
degree she raised a family instead, seeing it as a sacred duty, given
what the Nazis had intended for her, and for her race. It was her brother
Milos, who had four academic titles to his name, who intended to write the
Holomek story. But Milos died of cancer in his forties before he managed to
Elina Machalkova took up the task in her late seventies.
Her newly released autobiography, "Elina: The Saga of the Holomek
Family", makes up half of a new book published by the Museum of
Romani Culture, called "Memoirs of Roma women"; the other,
"A Journey Through life in a Gypsy Wagon", is by Karolina
Kozakova, another Czech Roma who survived the war: she, because wealthy
relatives managed to pay off Nazi sympathizers and buy her family's
Their autobiographies are said to be the first ever written by Czech
To learn more about the Museum of Romani Culture, please go to