'Stench of Czech pig farm reaches Brussels'|
Singled out for extermination by the Nazis along racial lines, only five
out of every hundred Czech Roma are thought to have survived the Second
World War. The majority were interned in the Czech-run camps of Lety and
Hodinin, where hundreds of Romamostly childrendied from disease, hunger
and abuse at the hands of Czech guards, and from where thousands more were
sent on to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps. As Brian Kenety reports,
the European Parliament's recent call for the Czech state to tear down a
pig farm built atop the Lety camp lent a charged atmosphere to this year's
memorial service to those who died there.
"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost..."
A catholic priest recites a solemn prayer for "our Romani brothers
and sisters," the men, women and childrenmostly childrenwho died at
Lety, and for the hundreds of thousands of other Roma killed in the
Holocaust. About 150 people attended the ceremony on Friday, which took
place on the site of the camp's temporary prison cemetery. A decade ago,
the celebrated human rights activist and former Czech president Vaclav
Havel secured the funds for this memorial and was on hand for its
unveiling. But even Havel was unable to get the Czech government to act to
remove the pig farm that was built on the site of the actual camp in the
1970s, several hundred metres away.
"This memorial to the victims of the concentration camp stands
wherefor more than 30 shameful yearsa pig farm has been operating. You
heard correctly: a pig farm."
Cenek Ruzicka, the son of Lety survivor and a co-founder of the Committee
for the Compensation of the Romani Holocaust (VPORH), presided over much
of the memorial ceremony on Friday. He called the Second World War the
worst period in the "shared history" of Czechs and Roma. Like
other speakers that day, he objected strongly to the Czech states'
reluctance to remove the pig farm (cost is often cited as the determining
factor) and welcomed an April 28 resolution adopted by the European
Parliament pushing it to do so.
"Stench of Czech pig farm reaches Brussels" was the headline in
the leading Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes following the vote in the
European Parliament. Almost 500 Euro-MPs voted in favour of the
resolution, which in main part focused on improving life for the Roma
minority within the European Union. Of the 25 who voted against it, almost
half were Czech.
At least 241 Romani children and 85 adults died from disease or abuse at
Lety, and over a thousand more people were sent on to death camps like
Auschwitz. Few survived. Many Czech politicians, including President
Vaclav Klaus, have objected to the classification of Lety as a
"concentration camp"; they say it was a labour camp.
The vice president of the Czech senate, Petr Pithart, was among the
non-Roma dignitaries on hand for Friday's memorial service. He finds the
debate over the exact nature of the camp offensive.
"Discussions about the nature of the camp, if it was a concentration
or labour camp are absolutely... it's a nonsense. 'It was something
special, only for Gypsies, and was not a 'concentration' camp'. It's
absurd, absurd.' It was a camp from which 600 people were sent to Oswiecim
(Auschwitz) so it is a concentration camp", says Sen. Pithart.
More than 50 members of Romani activist Karel Holomek's close family were
killed in the war; most in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. He is hopeful
that outside pressure will compel the government to act.
"I hope that the European Parliament's recommendation that this pig
farm ought to be removed or destroyed shows our society that it is a very
sad and shameful situation. I hope that our government finally will remove
this pig farm and it will be a true memorial of the Roma Holocaust in
In recent years, the pig farm owners have taken to shutting off the
ventilation system during these annual services; they are well aware that
the stench of the penned-up animals casts a pall over the memorial event
and makes for bad press.