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,
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
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
(and got top grades), the wife and five children were taken to Lety as
later all died in Auschwitz. Luzum spent the whole war writing letters
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:
- 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.
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
- I escaped from Lety one May morning
- when we were working on the road.
- A Czech policeman shot me
- in the back, but I got away.
- An older Gypsy woman with me
- put some grass on the wound.
- After the war I had a big pain in my leg.
- The doctor said the bullet was still there.
- After the operation, they gave me the bullet
- to add to my collection of bricks, bones, and
- other things I had found at Lety around
- the graves of my brothers and sisters.
- 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:
- 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
- · 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
- 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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