Archaeologists discover graves of Roma persecuted during WWII in Lety camp|
Archaeologists, excavating the site of the former WWII internment camp for
Roma in Lety, have found some of the victims’ graves. Those who took part
in the project say that the discovery is not only the first time that
graves of Roma people persecuted by the Nazis have been found in Europe,
but also undisputable proof of what happened in the camp.
One camp where the Nazis placed Bohemian Roma was located in the village of
Lety, near the south Bohemian town of Písek.
One of the camp survivors, Pavel Vrba, who was born there, described its
conditions to Radio Prague in 2005.
"I know from my parents that it was a place of cruelty; that starving
children were eating raw cabbage from the fields, and that the townspeople
from Lety paid no attention to them. Small children were dying on piles
of—I don't want to say it—piles of excrement. My parents managed
to protect me and my brother, so that we survived. But I lost my sister
here and my grandfather.“
Over 80 adults and 241 children died at the camp. Overall, it is estimated
that about 90 percent of the pre-war Romani population of Bohemia and
Moravia did not survive the Nazi genocide.
However, unlike with Lidice or Terezín, the process of honouring the
victims has been very slow in the country.
A pig farm was built on the site of Lety during the 1970s and, although
then President Václav Havel unveiled a small memorial on what was believed
to be the spot where many of the camp’s inmates were buried in 1995, the
pig farm still remains on the location.
This is mainly because the history of the camp, which had originally been
set up by Czech authorities in early 1939 as a labour camp, has been a very
sensitive issue in the country
Former President Václav Klaus described Lety not as a site of genocide,
but of a camp "for those who refused to work".
This argument was also adopted in 2018 by the anti-migrant Freedom and
Direct Democracy party of Tomio Okamura, which criticised the
government’s intentions to build a larger memorial on the location.
Now, however, archaeologists from the University of West Bohemia, who have
been conducting a dig on the site since 2018, announced the discovery of
the remains of a woman and a new-born baby, who were buried very close to
where today’s granite memorial stands.
Speaking at a news press conference on Tuesday, the leader of the
archaeological excavation, Dr. Pavel Vařeka, explained the relevance of
“I see the most important contribution of this research in the fact that
after more than 70 years we have managed to find the location of the
prisoners’ graves. That means that the relatives of these victims, many
of whom are still alive today, now know where exactly they are buried.”
“It will now be possible to exactly delineate the location of the grave
“This is the first time that graves of Roma and Sinti people who were
persecuted by the Nazis have been found in Europe. The genocide of the Roma
is no longer an abstract term. We now have real physical evidence that this
Čeněk Růžička, the chairman of the Committee for the Redress of the
Roma Holocaust, said that he hopes this will end any debate about the
purpose of the Lety camp.
“During this occasion, I would like all xenophobes and racists in this
country to stop saying people did not die on this location, that victims in
this camp died for other reasons, etc. I ask that they stop doubting the
hard facts and the evidence. They will look truly ridiculous if they do
Allowing the excavations to go ahead was not an easy thing.
Růžička, who is himself a Roma, says that it was considered desecration
in their culture, but that it had to be done in order to be certain that
the current memorial is situated at the right place.
He says that since the memorial was uncovered, he had come across a map of
the camp in the archives of the nearby town of Třebon, which outlined its
location in a different spot.
He also found other documents, which stated that Wehrmacht soldiers were
buried somewhere in the area.
“I was worried that we might be honouring Wehrmacht soldiers there, or
even something worse!
“We have a close relationship to the memorial that Václav Havel unveiled
here and I could not bear the thought that the actual location may be
somewhere else. I had to think about it, because it is my responsibility
and I didn’t want to go around the issue.”
The recent findings prove that the location is correct and both survivors
and relatives can now look forward to a larger memorial site, which state
authorities hope to have finished by 2023.
Dr. Jana Horváthová from the Roma Culture Museum, which is leading the
effort, says that a tender to design the memorial will soon be announced.
“Proposals will be evaluated by the end of May next year, if everything
goes according to plan. It will be an international competition, so we hope
that renowned architects will also take part.”
The authorities plan to start demolishing the pig farm only after the
winner of the tender is decided upon. They say that this is because
architects should get the chance to use some of its buildings in the
memorial, as a memento to the difficult process of acknowledging the site.
During the first phase of construction, the plan is to develop the area
surrounding the current smaller memorial and create a visitors centre with
a small exhibit.
According to Dr. Horváthová, the main exhibits will be located in a
specialised facility in Prague called the Center for Roma and Sinti
peoples, which will be part of the Roma Culture Museum. It also opens in
2023 and hopes are that its location in the capital will attract more