Archaeologists map out precise contours of Nazi-era Lety concentration camp

A team of archaeologists from the University of West Bohemia in Plzeň say they have succeeded in mapping out the contours of the former Lety concentration camp, used during the Second World War to imprison Czech Roma.

Lety pig farm, photo: archive of Radio PragueLety pig farm, photo: archive of Radio Prague The painful history of the Lety concentration camp in south west Bohemia has been slowly returning to the Czech public consciousness in recent years, despite the notorious construction of a still-functioning pig farm on a large part of the former site during the 1970s.

Now a team of archaeologists from the University of West Bohemia has completed a months-long study of the former camp, focused on an area of public land just outside the privately-owned pig farm. The study, say the archaeologists, has confirmed that the foundations of the former concentration camp still exit and has allowed them to determine the precise layout of some of the camp’s buildings. They also say they have uncovered a number of artefacts belonging to former inmates.

Pavel Vařeka, one of the archaeologists working on the study, explained the findings to Czech Television:

“The main discovery is that physical remains of the camp remain. The camp was not totally liquidated, levelled to the ground, or bulldozed. Rather, under what is a meadow today, we can find remains that can be documented archeologically. That enables us to determine the exact locations of specific buildings at the camp, for example the administrative building, the office of the camp commander and so on.”

Lety was originally created as a labour camp by the Protectorate government in 1940. It was eventually transformed into a “Gypsy Camp” in which large numbers of prisoners perished as a result of the harsh conditions and disease. It closed in 1943 with many of its surviving Roma prisoners ending up being sent to the extermination camps at Auschwitz.

Lety concentration campLety concentration camp Vařeka also said the current study confirmed mistakes in the previous presumed layout of the camp and that the real site location was found to be a little more to the west. The archaeologist added that his team had also found evidence of the burning of the disease-ridden camp by the Nazis in 1943:

“These burned ruins also offer artefacts that we can directly associate with prisoners. Bits of clothing, and other items which allow us to better understand day-to-day life at the camp.”

The European Union, as well as Roma and other civic groups, have called for the pig farm at Lety to be relocated, so far to little avail. The Czech government is currently engaged in talks to acquire the site, with culture minister Daniel Herman and human rights minister Jan Chvojka undertaking talks with pig farm owners Agpi over the selling price. So far, a specific offer has not been forthcoming, pig farm owner Jan Čech told Czech Television on Monday. The minister says negotiations should be wrapped up during the summer and a proposal put to the government in September.