Credit: Museum of Romani Culture, via Facebook

Memorial to Roma and Sinti Holocaust in the Czech Republic Opens in Lety

The Museum of Roma Culture yesterday opened a Memorial to the Roma and Sinti Holocaust in the Czech Republic, at the site of a former WWII concentration camp for Roma people in Lety.

The construction of the memorial, which cost CZK 102 million, took less than two years. A pig farm had been located on the site from the 1970s. The idea of building a memorial there began to be discussed in 1995.

The memorial will open to the public on 12 May, when a regular commemoration ceremony is held in Lety. There is a permanent exhibition in the memorial’s visitor centre, and “The Memory Trail” is outside. The exposition offers witness testimonies in audiovisual form. The compound occupies over 100,000 square metres.

According to historians, 1,308 Roma men, women and children passed through the camp in Lety between August 1942 and May 1943, 327 of whom died there and more than 500 of whom ended up in the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz.

A memorial was created in 1995 near the Lety makeshift cemetery, situated about 300 metres from the camp, and the site became a cultural heritage site in 1998.

“It is very positive news to me that the entire project has been completed,” said Jana Horvathova, director of the Museum of Roma Culture.

The memorial in Lety will commemorate the horrific acts that took place there and will be a memento for future generations to prevent anything similar from happening again, President Petr Pavel said at the opening yesterday. He added that the plight of Roma victims during the Second World War had long been neglected.

“The communist regime then built a large-scale pig farm instead, thereby making its position clear. With the memorial, we are now paying off a decades-long social debt to the Roma Holocaust,” the President said.

“Even today it is necessary to remember what happened here. It is a warning of how far people can go,” Pavel pointed out, adding that the Lety memorial has the ambition to bring people closer to history. “It has been 30 years since my predecessor Vaclav Havel unveiled a modest monument at this place. Today we are following up with this event,” Pavel said.

Prime Minister Petr Fiala (ODS) said the memorial in Lety should have been built much earlier, but the state had long delayed buying the land from the owners of the pig farm at this site.

“We can finally commemorate the Roma victims of a monstrous ideology with dignity. However, we must admit that everything has taken too long. The memorial should have stood here much earlier,” the Prime Minister said at the opening ceremony.

“It was difficult for our ancestors to admit what happened here, because there were Czechs working as guards in the camp and it was our crime as well,” Fiala noted. “But coming to terms with it, however unpleasant, is necessary.” 

The idea of building a memorial in Lety on the site of the pig farm began to be discussed more than 25 years ago. The whole process was complicated by the need to purchase the pig farm from a private owner.

“But according to our information, no one from the government specifically negotiated about this until 2017,” Horvathova noted.

The Czech state bought the property in 2018 for CZK 450 million from the Agpi firm, which kept 13,000 pigs in 13 halls there. The demolition of the pig farm began in July 2022 and was finished in December of the same year. The remains of one of the pig farm halls have become part of the memorial that describes the history of the site.

“In the indoor exhibition, visitors will see events that cover the period from the pre-war era to recent years and the struggle to remove the pig farm,” said Anna Miskova, from the Museum of Roma Culture.

Several institutions have helped fund the construction of the memorial, including the Czech Ministry of Culture and the German Embassy in Prague, as well as grants from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

Brno Daily Subscribe
Sign up for morning news in your mail