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'Stench of Czech pig farm reaches Brussels'
16-05-2005  Brian Kenety

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 Roma—mostly children—died 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 children—mostly children—who 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.

Cenek Ruzicka "This memorial to the victims of the concentration camp stands where—for more than 30 shameful years—a 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.

Petr Pithart 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 Czechoslovakia."

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.

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