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The Plight of Czech Gypsies in the Holocaust and Today

by

Paul J. Polansky

Lety death camp with pond in foreground, c.1942

Editor's. Note: This article is the text of a speech given by Mr. Polansky on December 14, 1995 to a meeting of Holocaust historians at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. It is published here for the first time. During the two years since this speech , Paul Polansky has continued to live with Romany families in Slovakia and the Czech Republic, interviewing over a hundred Romany Holocaust survivors. The author informs us that the situation in the Czech Republic for the Romany population is even worse now in early 1998 than it was at the time of this speech, with racial attacks by skinheads against Romany now amounting to over 1,200. A collection of poems by Paul Polansky, called Living Through It Twice: Poems of the Romany Holocaust (1940-1997) will be published this spring in Prague by GG Publications, shortly to be followed by his book of oral histories of WWII survivors of the Lefy concentration camp. Photographs and their captions were provided by Mr. Polansky.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to dedicate this speech today to Mr. Dusan Eremias. Dusan used to be the editor of a Romany magazine in the Czech Republic until the President's office complained to the Minister of Minorities about an article Dusan had published, an article that was highly critical of the Czech government's failure to live up to the Helsinki Agreements on the preservation of WW II death camps. This year the Czech government closed down for good that Romany magazine, Amaro Lav, and Dusan lost not only his job, but also his right to Czech citizenship. Today he lives in Presov, Slovakia, working part time at the age of fifty-one as a musician in a cheap restaurant. What is so unfortunate about this case is that this was the first time in his journalism career that Dusan had ever published anything remotely critical of the Czech government. Dusan is not a protester, a political activist. He is a dapper little man, with short gray hair, always impeccably dressed in a suit and tie. He is one of the few Romany in the Czech Republic to hold a university degree. But Dusan thought his people, the Romany of the Czech Republic, should know something about their unfortunate past. No newspaper in the Czech Republic had until then informed their readers that during WW II the Czechs had operated a death camp where thousands of Romany were murdered. The article about this camp actually was a paper I had presented to a Human Rights congress in 1994 in Warsaw, Poland, attended by 58 countries including the Czech Republic. Several governmental delegations and numerous NGOs were so vehement in their attacks against the Czech government for their new citizenship law, which was compared to the Nuremberg Laws of 1939, that I thought my paper was completely ignored. But someone passed it to Dusan who, unfortunately for him and his government-sponsored magazine, published it.

Today I would like to tell you something about racism in the Czech Republic, that death camp, and how 500,000 Romany are struggling to survive because of the Velvet Revolution. Racism has never been defined in the Czech Republic, although an attempt was made last month in Prague, at a seminar under the patronage of thePresident of the Czech Republic. The title of that seminar was: "Racism, Yesterday and Today." Ironically, all the speakers were white. There was only one dark-skinned Romany in the audience and when he asked for permission to speak, he was denied.

The first day and a half of the seminar was devoted to speeches about how the Nazis had brought racism to the Czech Republic during WW II. As far as the seminar was concerned, racism never existed until the Nazis invented it. It doesn't take much research to find centuries of racism in the crown lands of St. Wenceslaus. From the 15th century until as late as WW I, Gypsies in Bohemia and Moravia were so unwanted that it was not uncommon to see a Gypsy hanging from the village gate as a deterrent to other Gypsies to stay away. In fact, it was common practice right up to WW I to cut off the left ear of a Gypsy who wandered into a Czech town where he was not wanted.

I think it is important to understand this racism prior to WW II in Czechoslovakia, because what happened next and what is happening today has its roots firmly entrenched in that violent racial past. In 1938, the New York Times reported, in an article about Gypsies in eastern Europe, that the best authorities estimated about 35,000 Romanies lived in Bohemia and Moravia, with several times more that number in Slovakia. This report for me is very interesting, because no one has been able to find a census for Gypsies. Today the Czech government says their country had no more than 6,000 Gypsies prior to WW II. The discrepancy in figures is important because at the end of WW II, everyone agrees there were only about 80 Gypsies left in what is today the Czech Republic.

After the treaty of Versailles, one of the most publicly debated issues the first government of Czechoslovakia had to deal with was what to do with the unwanted Gypsies in their new country. Although the Czechs had promised the allies that all minorities in the newly created country of Czechoslovakia would have equal rights, President Masaryk personally vetoed citizenship status for Gypsies. Long before Hitler came to power in Germany, there were calls in Czechoslovakia to get rid of their Gypsy minority. Bitter discussions were held in parliament while editorials appeared in many newspapers demanding the government find a solution to the Gypsy problem. Several proposals were made to send the "blacks of Bohemia" to darkest Africa. The less extreme proposals were to put Gypsies into camps, camps to teach them how to work. Thus plans were already being made to sort out the Gypsies in Czechoslovakia when the Germans arrived in 1939. In fact a law to intern Gypsies was passed by the Czechs before Hitler's troops marched in. By August 1940, the first camp for Gypsies was established in Czechoslovakia near a village called Lety in southern Bohemia. Lety was the official camp for all Gypsies who lived in Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia, the three kingdoms that today make up the Czech Republic. The first Gypsies arrested in 1940 were taken to Lety to build the camp on a Czechoslovakian army base. The contractor for the camp was Schwarzenberg Enterprises, owned by Prince Karel Schwarzenberg, who lived 2 kilometers away in his castle. He later used Gypsy and Jewish slave labor from Lety and another camp during the war.

From the very first day the camp was opened, local doctors were recruited to attended to the prisoners. One doctor who worked at the camp and who is still alive told me that he quit after a year because the Czech commander didn't pay him enough. I think this is a very significant detail, because today the Czech government says that all Czechs who worked at the camp were forced to do so by the Germans.

In 1991 while researching the first Czech pioneers to America after the 1849 revolution (who ironically came from Lety), I heard about this Gypsy camp. An employee at the archive where I was working in south Bohemia told me they had five meters of records on the camp; there were no survivors, everyone had died of typhus. I checked out the story with a local historian, an author of 17 books. He told me that during WW II the Germans had built the camp at Lety to teach Gypsies how to work; but the Gypsies were so dirty that they had brought a disease into the camp and everyone died.

It took me two years of badgering the archive director before I finally got permission to see the records which were not catalogued. I found over 40,000 documents and made the only inventory of them. Although there was a wealth of material there, it didn't take me long to see that these records were just part of what must have originally existed. I found big gaps in the camp's correspondence, even bigger gaps in the list of prisoners entering and leaving the camp. I put together a research team to help me study and classify these records. Four of us worked for a month on these records, eight hours a day, five days a week, until we understood what was there and what was missing.


Caclav Luzum, white Czech farmer,with his Romany wife and two daughters
Marie and Helena. Although they lived in home and the chidren went to school
(and got top grades), the wife and five children were taken to Lety as Gypsies and
later all died in Auschwitz. Luzum spent the whole war writing letters (even to
Hitler) trying to free them. Luzum loved the Romany so much he kept
a Gypsy wagon for weekend camp outings.

Marie Luzum ws the Gypsy Ann Frank. She wrote a postcard to her father from the train taking them to Auschwitz telling him of their horrible journey. After the war, Mr. Luzum heard from Romany survivors that Dr. Mengele had used his daughter Marie in his experiments

 


If one were to write the history of the Gypsy camp at Lety based just on these records, it would be a false history. It would be a cover up. I suspect that when the camp was closed in 1943, the purpose in keeping these records was to distort what actually happened there. But whoever selected what should be kept and what should be destroyed did a poor job, because there is still enough material to charge many Czechs with War Crimes, if eye-witness accounts are added to the evidence.

Based on these records, I was able to pressure the Czech government through the American press and a congressional committee on human rights, to put up a memorial near this camp to honor the Romany who suffered and died there. However, to this day, the Czech government maintains the camp was German-run, and that any Czechs who worked there were forced to do so.

The Czech government also maintains that there were no more than 1,200 prisoners at Lety and that only about 300 died, all from typhus. Although I was credited by the Czech press with being responsible for forcing the government to put up the monument, I was not invited to the ceremony this past May. A last minute appeal to the President's office got me an invitation to the memorial service, but afterwards I was not allowed to speak at the corresponding seminar entitled, "The Gypsy Holocaust."

But I was in good company. Seven survivors of Lety, who also attended the seminar, were not invited to speak about their experiences at the camp, nor were they even introduced. Most of the speakers spoke about the Third Reich's plan to get rid of the unclean races at Auschwitz. One Czech professor who has studied the Lety records (but who has never interviewed a Lety survivor about Lety) gave a short history of the camp and how typhus had forced it to be closed after most of the prisoners were sent to Auschwitz.

Several people at the seminar petitioned the chairperson to allow me to speak but I was shunned like a man with leprosy. Today I do not want to tell you my version of what happened at Lety; I just want to read to you what some of the survivors have to say. Although I do not want to mention their names here in this speech, I am prepared to give their names and addresses to this institute in the hope that the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum and Research Institute can help these survivors receive some justice. None of them have obtained one penny of compensation from the Czech government for their suffering or for the deaths of most of their family and relatives at Lety; and no one who worked at Lety has ever been investigated for war crimes, although the personal files of the guards can still be found among the archive records.

The stories I have taken down are long and detailed. So for you to understand what happened at Lety according to the survivors, I have prepared for you just their most important statements. Cutting out everything else, these statements, for me, have ended up as poems by the survivors:

 

WHERE?
 
 
I heard the Czechs had
a work camp for Gypsies.
 
I heard most of my people
died there during WW II.
 
I heard they were starved to
death, or shot trying to escape.
 
Lety by Pisek?
 
I never heard of the place.

 

 
Only Gypsies who didn't have a home or a job were supposed to be sent to Lety. This Romany family had both but were still sent to Lety and died there.
WORK WE COULDN''T REFUSE
 
One morning the Czech police
arrived and said
we had to come with them.
 
They were taking us away
to work on a farm
where we could make some money.
 
While we loaded up our wagons,
they told us we could come back
in about three months.
 
My father and his brothers
hitched up our horses while
mother folded the bed linen.
 
The police escorted us
from village to village,
never allowing us to stop.
 
The trip took about three days.
The horses couldn't rest either.
We couldn't even stop to feed them.
 
At Mirovice the camp guards
came from Lety and
escorted us on their motorcycles.
 
From behind the barbed wire
we watched them auction off
all our things to the villagers.
 
The guards kept our wagons
to haul the dead bodies
to the cemetery.
When there was no more room
my father and his brothers
dug the graves in the forest.
A CHILD'S JOB
 
 
Everyone at Lety had to work,
even us children.
 
Every morning we were
taken to the forest
to pick up dry wood.
 
We had to stack this wood
next to the dead bodies
so they could be burned.
 
Behind the camp a deep
trench was dug so
when Gypsies escaped
they would fall in.
 
If a prisoner was found
in the trench he was shot.
Then we had to bring wood
to burn his body too.
 
We also had to bring wood
to burn the naked bodies
of the women the guards used,
and those who died of typhus,
and those the guards drowned
in the rain barrel and in the lake.
 
When children got sick
the doctor gave them
an injection over the
heart, and we had to
burn their bodies too.
I remember when I had
to bring kindling
to burn the body
of my baby brother.
 
I gave him my bread,
but it wasn't enough.
 

 

 

 
 
CERNY, PESEK AND HEJDUK
 
 
I am certain that Cerny, Pesek
and Hejduk must still be alive.
 
I don't understand why they have
never been brought to trial.
 
They killed and tortured people.
It was their personal decision.
 
The Germans weren't there to make
them do these things to us.
These men were Czechs. Why did
they do these things to us?
 
Is there no justice? I can testify.
I can recognize them for sure.
Of course, I am afraid someone will
kill me. They probably have sons.
 
I am sure I can recognize them even
at midnight. I would like to see them.
 
I would like to tell them something
before I die, before they die.

 

 

THE CAMP DOCTORS AND A GOOD GUARD
 
 
After we started to have problems with our
stomachs, four doctors came to help us.
 
We were leaking blood from our noses so
they gave us injections just above our heart.
 
People died very quickly after those injections.
Those who survived walked funny for six weeks.
 
A good policeman tried to help the old people.
He gave them garlic to rub on for protection.
 
The old people say he was a Romany. He knew
our ways. That's why the doctors killed him too.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
JOSEPH HEJDUK
 
 
I had to make the fire
in Hejduk's office every
morning while he made the
rounds looking for victims.
 
He picked up young boys
and young girls, then took
them to his office to beat
them with his truncheon.
On many occasions those
kids covered me in blood.
When Hejduk saw me crying
he sent me for coffee.
 
Later I had to come back
to wash up all the blood.
I never saw any of those
young people again.
 
Hejduk told me that I wasn't
to say anything about this.
If I did he would beat my
brains out, or shoot me.
 
 
 
 

 


 
 
 
 
Group photo: the Ruzicka clan of Prilbram, Czechoslovakia. Only the man on the far right survived the war by hiding in the forest, living in the tops of trees. His whole clan (shown here) died at either Lety or Auschwitz.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
HOW MANY?
 
 
How many Gypsies
were at Lety?
 
So many we were
always touching
when we were
in the streets
after work.
 
I don't want to lie.
I can't estimate a number.
I can just say that
Lety was a small city.
 
After the injections,
we buried over 2,000 bodies
in the woods. Then there
was typhus, shootings,
starvation, drownings.
 
I would like to
light a candle for
each person who died,
at least for the children.
 
But where could I buy
so many candles?
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

BROTHERS FROM AUSCHWITZ
 
 
One day a policeman arrived
with four Romany men and
two women from Auschwitz.
 
These Romany wore black
clothes with a black
patch on their sleeve.
 
They were German Sinti.
They were brought to Lety
because of their experience.
 
They were capos and they
had truncheons like the
terrible Czech guards.
 
We were afraid to pick up
our food because these Gypsies
frightened us with their clubs.
 
We asked the capos why they
did these things to us, their
brothers. They said, "we have to."
 
They told us the Germans at
Auschwitz were not as bad as
the Czech guards at Lety.
 
From that time on many of us
prayed to be sent to Auschwitz
for Christmas.

 

THE CZECH SOLUTION
 
 
Her father took the child from her breast
and watched the bubbles in the rain barrel
while her mother and aunt dressed in mourning.
 
"When you get married you can have another,"
her mother consoled her while her father
cut up the pieces and fed them to the pigs.
 
During the war, her brother became a guard
at Lety and told the others how to get rid
of the dark-skinned babies born in the camp.
 
Only a dirty Gypsy allows the illegitimate
to live.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To date I have interviewed seven survivors, but I have been told there are more. The survivors I now know have given me the names of others who might still be alive. So even as I speak, I have a team in the Czech Republic working for me, seeking more survivors -- something the present-day Czech government refuses to do. My investigators are also looking for the children of survivors. The following story was told to me by a 53 year-old Romany whose father was a prisoner at Lety:

 

MY FATHER TOLD ME
 
 
My father was a prisoner
in Auschwitz, Mauthausen,
Ravensbruck and Dachau.
He told me the worst place
was in Lety by Pisek.
 
I know it was terrible there
because after the war
my father tried to find
one of the guards
to kill him.
 
He saw a Czech guard
hold children's heads
in a pail of water
until they died.
 
The same guard also
drowned the bigger children
in the rain barrels or in the lake.
 
On cold winter nights,
this guard locked small children
outside their barracks
with no clothes on.
 
 
 
 
When the children
howled like wolves,
many mothers went crazy
clawing at the bolted doors,
trying to save them.
 
Before an officer from Prague
came to inspect the camp,
the guards warned my father
to say that they were treated well,
that they had enough to eat.
When the war was over,
my father went to Prague
but he couldn't find the guard
he wanted to kill.
 
He stopped his search
when he met my mother.
 
Then he was happy to be alive
and didn't want to go to prison
for killing another human being.

 

 

 Frantiska Petrizilkova, 18 year-old Romany girl who tried to escape from Lety. She survived Lety and Auschwitz but lost all her family in either Lety or Auschwitz, over fifty relatives.
Mug shots of Lety prisoners
 

 

 
Many people in the town of Lety were opposed to a monument to honor those who suffered and died there because they said no one ever came back to visit the site of the camp. If the Gypsies themselves weren't interested in Lety why should the white Czechs put up a monument to remember the place. Here are the words of two women who did go back:
 

 

KVETA'S RETURN
 
After the war, I went back to Lety
to visit the graves in the woods.
 
There were no markers but I knew
where most of my people were buried.
 
The rain had made the ground over
them sink. I saw the indentations.
My husband came with me. We brought
a tent and slept two nights there.
 
He took his knife and dug out
the top of each mass grave for me.
 
I put a candle in each hole. We
stayed there until they burned out.
We saw other Gypsies in the woods
but we didn't speak to them.
 
Everyone wanted to be left alone
with their own sad thoughts.
 

 

THE PIG FARM
 
 
Around 1980, I met the son of the
baker where the old gates used to be.
 
"Oh my God, what have they done,
building a pig farm where so many died?"
 
I stormed in and confronted the people
working in the office of the pig farm.
When I told them what had happened,
on this site, they started to cry.
They apologized but they had their
jobs. They could do nothing about it.
 
In the woods behind the farm I searched
to find something from our wagons.
I found only some bricks, some bones.
Then I spent all day lighting candles
 
around the lake where the guards
drowned most of our children.

 

This fall I lived with several Romany families in the Czech Republic. I would like to tell you it was a wonderful experience, but it wasn't. Because many of the Czech Romany have adopted me as their historian, I didn't have any problems finding families to live with; but sharing the discrimination and violence they have to live with everyday in the Czech Republic almost broke my spirit. If I've come away with one conclusion, it is this: the Czech Republic is the most racist nation I have ever experienced in the industrialized world. Fifty years after Lety, there is again a concerted effort by the Czech government to get rid of the Gypsy minority in their country. Why? Because the majority of Czechs, the great majority of those who can vote, want to get rid of the "blacks of Bohemia" just like their ancestors did during WWII; just like their ancestors did back in 1850; just like their ancestors did back in the 16th century.
 
The Czech government has issued these statistics:
 
· 75% of all Romany over the age of 15 are unemployed.
· only 1% of Romany children of high school age are in a high school or vocational school.
· over 65% of all Romany in the country are illiterate.
· about 50% of all Romany children of school age are in schools for the mentally retarded.
· over 30% of all crimes are committed by Gypsies.
 
What do the Gypsy leaders that I interviewed have to say about these statistics?:
 
· They disagree on the 75% unemployment rate and say it is well over 90%.
· They say there are less than 30 Gypsy children in high school in the whole country and only two in university.
· They say that most Gypsy adults can't read or write Czech.
· They laugh at the government's manipulation of crime statistics.
 
 
Everyday Gypsies are attacked by skinheads in the Czech Republic. Hundreds of attacks with serious injury have been reported since 1989, but these attacks are not included in the crime statistics. Over 30 Gypsies have been murdered by skinheads, with only one conviction to date. Czech newspapers often report the embezzlement of millions of dollars by Czech politicians and their business associates (all of whom are white people) but only Gypsies stealing food or bicycles are added to the crime statistics. I kept hearing about a Gypsy boy who stole a bike and got eight months in jail and then was refused Czech citizenship, while a close friend of the Czech president was arrested for embezzling 60 million crowns, then released after only six months.
 
I do not want to interpret what is happening in the Czech Republic, only to tell you what I have experienced or what the Romany themselves feel. Discrimination is bad. Two weeks ago I was turned away at a restaurant in Brno because I was with a Gypsy. It didn't matter that he was well-dressed, from Prague, and unknown in the dinning room, or that I, showing my American passport, said he was my translator. Gypsies were allowed only to drink at the bar or play the slot machines, never to enter the dinning room.
 
 
Perhaps the following interview that I made with a 38 year old Czech Romany who left school after the fourth grade will give you some insight into what is happening today in their society. This Romany, by the way, is well known in all the Gypsies ghettoes of the country for the aid he has taken there with Caritas, and also for being escorted out of parliament by the police after he called the President of the Czech Republic a dog man, the worst thing you can say about a person in the Romany language. This is what he told me in our interview:
 
 
"The biggest problem facing the Romany in the Czech Republic today is racism and fascism. Racism is discrimination, hate; fascism is violence, the beginning of genocide. I personally consider our President to be a racist because he knows what's going on in the Czech Republic and is doing very little about it. He's president of this state, and one of his jobs is to protect his citizens. He's not doing so. At the very least he could have spoken out on our behalf when he was at the United Nations. Sure, our President has made several declarations of support on behalf of the Romany over the past 18 months. He has spoken out against racism on the radio, he has met Romany leaders three or four times, and he spoke out when skinheads beat up a Romany recently, when this man lost his eye. But the laws we have in this country against these things are not being enforced, and our President is not calling for the laws to be enforced. Since he became president we've had over 600 attacks by skinheads on Romany with over 50 murders. Only one person has been convicted. Our President has not called for the skinhead organizations to be outlawed in our country despite our leaders asking him to do so. Our President vetoed new laws that discriminated against former communists but he didn't veto the new citizenship law which discriminated against Gypsies and Slovaks. I personally feel that our President is only giving lip service to our problems for foreign consumption. He is not pressuring the government to help us. Our President only knows a white society, he can only think in terms of a white society. There are several groups, even political parties, which have in their program the persecution of the Gypsies. I don't think our President knows what the word racism means.
 
 
Racism in our country is worst with judges, policemen, doctors, teachers, restaurant and bar owners, taxi drivers, and bus drivers. These people are discriminating against the Romany more than the average man in the street. Among workers there is practically no discrimination whatsoever. The skinheads are really our biggest problem. Not only are we afraid to go out at night, but also during the day, especially on weekends, where there are large crowds, such as at the park or at the circus. We are especially afraid to see our children go to school. Skinheads always seem to find us. Two months ago some skinheads caught my son, put him in a garbage can, poured gasoline over it and set it on fire.
 
 
Over ninety percent of our children are forced to attend schools for the mentally handicapped no matter how bright they are. And I know why. Because the Czechs are afraid that our children could one day be on the same level as them. I truly believe that most Romany children are qualified to go to a normal school. But almost everyone leaves after the 8th grade. There's no sense staying longer. I knew a very bright Romany girl that graduated from high school at the top of her class, but after high school she couldn't get a job. No one would hire her because her skin is dark. She's now scrubbing floors in a public toilet for 2,000 crowns a month when the average wage is 8,000 crowns a month. Other kids see this and figure it's senseless to go on to high school. The children already know that there is no future for them because of discrimination, racism. Our children think that if they are always going to be judged by the color of their skin first, then why go on. Going to school here is not easy for them. It's like going to war every day. Why go to war everyday if you know you're always going to lose? Everyday in school they risk beatings, torment. There are less than 30 Romanies in high school in the whole country, and only two in university.
 
 
Under communism about 25% of the whole Romany population went to high school, and about 5% to university. Under communism all Romany had jobs. There was no unemployment. I'm glad we got rid of the communists, but when private owners took over the factories they didn't want Romany workers. WHY? Because of the color of our skin. In all other aspects we are integrated. We live in the same apartments, wear the same clothes, cook the same food, speak the same language. But because of the color of our skin, we have to suffer. Romanies with white skin seldom have a problem. But half of us have dark skin and we are paying for it. So are the Vietnamese in our country. They are being beaten up and killed just like us, maybe worse. Not for any sins in the past, but because of the color of their skin.
 
 
In the last five years our government has forced many Vietnamese back to certain death in their country, people who were brought here to work by the communists and told they could stay. The same thing happened with the Jews in Germany in 1939. Of course, there is one great exception. The Germans took their business, their homes. The Czechs can't take anything away from us because we have nothing. So for me racism is not a question of education, because the Jews in Germany were highly educated. It was just a question of racism. Today we are in the same position as the Jews were in 1939.
 
I'm unemployed, and despite knowing English, German, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Spanish I can't get a job, not even as a waiter in a tourist restaurant. I'm always looking in the newspapers for a job. I'm always calling about a job as a waiter. I thought my languages would help me since the Czech Republic has over 80 million tourists a year. Every time I call up to answer an ad the owner always says okey after testing my languages over the phone. But when I show up for work and he sees my dark face he says they just gave the job to someone else five minutes ago. I don't receive any unemployment because I refuse to register. When you register, the officials offer you only jobs where you have to take the bus to another city. They always do this to Romany knowing they don't have the money to go for job interviews in another city. It is a way of getting Romany off the welfare roles, because if you refuse to go for an interview they take away your welfare. I have too much pride to get involved in such a corrupt system.
 
 
I was working two years for the Tolerance Foundation, helping on the new citizenship law report. I saved some money from that job but I soon won't have anything left. In the meantime I live with my mother eating potatoes rather than stealing, like many of my friends have to do. Some have no other possibility but to steal. They have five or six children. Czech citizens with no job, no welfare. Democracy forced them into crime. I know of many who have been shot, killed, when they went out to steal food at grocery stores, supermarkets.
 
 
At the moment my people, the Romany, are surviving by selling the few possessions they bought under communism. Radios, sewing machines, TV's, cars, bikes. When those things are gone they will have to steal or starve to death. It's a vicious circle. Officially there are only 33,000 registered Romany in the Czech Republic. The rest of them, about 270,000, are afraid to say they are Romany. They cut their hair, dye their hair, shave, change their names. They try to be Czechs, intermarry, integrate. Because according to our new citizenship law if you are Romany you may not qualify for citizenship. Of course, these people can't live underground forever because three months ago our President signed a new law that makes it a crime if you lie to census-takers. And one of the new questions on the census is your race. When the census-taker comes and you do not declare you are Romany you are subject to a 100,000 crown fine or a year in jail. This is the same law the Germans used to find all the Jews. A professor at Charles University said this law was against the United Nations charter on human rights, but our President still signed it. As a humanist and as our president, he should have vetoed it. Parliament might have passed it again over his head but he would have showed us and the whole world he was a humanist, he was with us.
 
 
According to our Romany population in the Czech Republic we should have about five members of parliament, but we have none. There is one member of parliament who is a Romany but he was elected from a left-wing Czech party, ex-communist. Many Romany take their problems to him because he has declared his Romany nationality. He is trying to do his best for us, and thank God we have him. But the majority in parliament call him a Gypsy clown and do not take him seriously. Unfortunately, this man, Ladislav Body, is sick and says he won't run for re-election.
 
 
Some Romany families receive state benefits for children; but both parents must be Czech citizens, registered in the labor office, otherwise there is no welfare whatsoever. These parents receive about 600 crowns a month (about $20) for each child until the age of six. From six to fifteen, 1,080 crowns per child. My brother-in-law works as a garbage collector and clears about 4,000 crowns a month. His wife works in a kitchen and brings home food everyday. Otherwise they would starve. That's why most Romany try to get jobs in kitchens in the factories, the bank, the hospital. Many women who can't get jobs in kitchens lose their minds and to support their husbands and children, they go out on the street and become part-time prostitutes. For me this is unbelievable because our Romany culture and our Romany soul have always prevented us from doing these things.
 
 
The great pity in all this is that the Romany women who get the kitchen jobs are those with the lightest colored faces. They pass as whites. The women who have to prostitute themselves are always those with the darkest skin because they can't get work anywhere else. Many times I go with Caritas aid convoys to the worst ghettoes in the big cities. It makes me cry every time I see young children climbing into garbage cans looking for food; or young girls and boys, fourteen and fifteen years old, selling their bodies. The Romany were never like this. Romany men never sold their wives for a night, never got involved in drugs. But now it has all happened like a plague. It was not like this six years ago. The communists made us give up our nomadic ways in the 1950s but democracy has released a racism in this country that has taken away our livelihoods, our culture, our souls. On top of all this, you walk around the big cities and you see signs written on the walls: 'Gypsies to the gas chambers,' 'Gypsy go back to India,' 'Gypsy out,' 'Death for Gypsies,' 'Gypsy parasites go back to Asia,' 'Czech Republic for Czechs not for Gypsies,' 'Czech Republic White, Fuck Off Gypsies.' Was the holocaust any worst for us? Today is a living holocaust. I truly believe another Lety is descending upon us.
 
 
I also fear that what is happening to the Romany in the Czech Republic will happen in other European countries if they see that the Czech policy is successful. If it is allowed to be successful, then other European countries will copy it. Italy, Belgium, German, Spain are all watching to see what happens in the Czech Republic. They hope the white Czechs win so that they can begin the same program. I have relatives in these countries. They hear talk about the same things being carried out there.
 
 
"Ladies and Gentleman, that is just one story, the feelings of one Romany today in the Czech Republic.
I lived with many families and I wish there was time to read to you what everyone of them had to say, but basically they are all saying the same thing.
 
I would like to end this speech with the words of a 70 year-old survivor from Lety who lives today near Plzen:
"You know, my children are supposed to be living in a better world today. But what is happening with the Romany in the Czech Republic sounds like these skinheads don't have a heart or a soul. I see in the streets how they are beating and killing my people. It reminds me of the start of Hitler all over again. My children are half Romany. I have only one son who looks dark and he is the only one who has been attacked, thank God. But he was so badly injured that he had to spend two months in the hospital. He had to have surgery on his stomach and his chest because the skinheads drove a metal pole through him. On that day in Podborany there were two bus loads of skinheads. They drove into town and started attacking Romany wherever they found them on the street. Somebody must have invited them. There is a large Romany community here. The police arrested somebody for the attack on my son but it never went to court. We were told there wasn't enough proof. The police just laugh about it now. We heard a restaurant owner called friends in the city of Most and two bus loads of skinheads came from there. Why can't the government do something about this today? I would like to personally tell our President that he is only for the whites. He is cooperating with too many people who are against us. I think he's a bad President because it's not right what is going on and he is not speaking out against the skinheads. He says his Velvet Revolution was bloodless, but it wasn't. We are being killed because of that revolution. Our blood is being spilied everyday. The Velvet Revolution is still going on and we Romany are its victims."
 


Vaclav Havel, President of the Czech Republic, dedicating the memorial at Lety in the woods by a mass grave. A few hundred meters away a Czech pig farm raising 13,000 pigs covers the former death camp site and many of the mass graves. President Havel has not called for the pig farm to be removed although the Helsinki Agreements, which the new Czech government has signed, stipulated that all former WWII death camps are to be preserved as national memorials of rememberance. Photo: Nguyen Phuong Thao

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