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Fighting to honor the Roma

Pig farm on site of concentration camp is called an affront to the Roma, who face systematic discrimination in the Czech Republic.

LETY, Czech Republic — In a small grassy clearing marked with boulders, dozens gathered last week to pay homage to the hundreds of Roma who perished in a concentration camp that is now home to a pig farm.

For more than a decade, the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust has been calling on successive Czech governments to either close down or relocate the pig farm, which they say is an affront to the Romani — or Gypsy — victims of the Holocaust.

The official records, generally regarded as incomplete, show 1,327 prisoners passed through the Lety Camp in the 10 months it operated as a concentration camp, from August 1942 until it was closed on May 13, 1943, with one final transport train to Auschwitz-Birkenau, according to Markus Pape, who wrote a book about the Lety Camp in 1997, titled, “And No One Will Believe You.”

Pape said more than 1,200 prisoners were packed into a camp with 332 beds. Living conditions became so atrocious that hundreds died in the camp, including 241 children. It was eventually closed for fear of a typhus outbreak that would have threatened the community at-large.

The Czech Republic's current human rights minister, Michal Kocab, wants the state to properly honor the Roma who suffered and died at Lety. He put the cost of relocating the pig farm at 500 million koruna, or $25 million, though his plans will almost surely exceed his time in office.

“We're going to collect money to create a fund that will put together the financial resources for moving the pig farm which is here,” he said in an interview with GlobalPost. “It might be five years, it might be longer.

“It will secure the memory of the Roma,” he added.

Cenek Ruzicka's mother was imprisoned at the Lety Camp. She survived but many in her family perished, including a 6-month-old son. Ruzicka told attendees at the memorial that the rise in racially motivated attacks against the Roma during the past year were reminiscent of another era.

A far-right political party has been agitating against the Roma, trying to stir up local resentment. At one point the tensions grew so great that 1,000 police were deployed — one of the largest deployments ever in the post-communist era — to protect the Roma.

“I indirectly compared the situation that led to the establishment of the interment camp at Lety with the current situation in Czech society with the rise in extremism,” he said. “The fact that the pig farm remains on this site is an encapsulation of the position that the Roma have today in Czech society. If our position were stronger, this would not be tolerated.”