Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikán has expressed strong concern over Freedom and Direct Democracy head Tomio Okamura’s questioning of conditions at a WW II-era concentration camp for Roma in Lety, South Bohemia. Although Mr Okamura apologized for an earlier false statement about Lety, he continues to question the accepted truth about the camp.
Mr Okamura apologized for saying Lety did not have a fence but has largely stood by his claims that inmates could come and go as they pleased and that the camp was poorly guarded. He was criticized by the Museum of Romany Culture and Prague’s Jewish community for both the claims and for citing a non-existent study.
The Czech-Romany association Konexe, meanwhile, lodged a criminal complaint, equating his words with Holocaust denial.
The Museum of Romany Culture, which is to take over administration of the site of the former camp in April and wants to build a proper memorial, says verified information about the camp is easily available and that Mr Okamura’s characterization was misleading.
Okamura is not the only one now facing legal action. Fellow party member and MP Miloslav Rozner faces a similar complaint. Public broadcaster Czech TV’s 168 Hours program broadcast an alleged recording of him at a private meeting in December in which he said he would not have “thrown half a billion crowns out the window” to buy out what he said was a ”nonexistent pseudo-concentration camp”.
The government agreed last year to pay around 450 million crowns for the pig farm which stood on the site of the former camp for decades – an insult to the memory of those who suffered or died there. Numerous Czech governments had previously promised but failed to remove the farm.
On Tuesday, Justice Minister Pelikán, a member of the former coalition government which negotiated the buyout of the pig farm, and member of the outgoing government headed by Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, sent an open letter to Okamura, saying that not only was his information wrong, it was also off the mark. He wrote that regardless over whether there was or wasn’t a fence (there was) or whether it had or hadn’t been difficult to escape from Lety, there was no doubt hundreds suffered under cruel and appalling conditions and died there during WW II.
The minister also called Lety a “last stop” before the Nazi factories of death and asked Mr Okamura not to rate which “tragedy was the more tragic”.
The camp at Lety, opened in 1940, began first as a labour camp for the jobless; a similar camp existed in Hodinín near Kunštát. By 1942, it had been turned into a concentration camp for Roma. Some 1,308 Romany men, women, and children were held there. Three hundred and twenty-seven people died at the site, many from illness and the conditions and more than 500 were sent on to Auschwitz. Mr Okamura responded on Tuesday by denying the criticism and saying he had never questioned that people had suffered at the camp.
The Christian Democrats have demanded Mr Okamura be sacked from his post as deputy speaker of the lower house.