Government to pave way for memorial on former concentration camp site

04-11-2005

The pig farm at Lety has proven to be an embarrassment for a succession of Czech governments: in the early 90s, the media revealed that the farm stood on the site of a notorious concentration camp, where Romanies were interned by the Nazi Protectorate in World War II. More than 300 people - the majority of them children - died there, succumbing to disease in appalling conditions, while a further 800 were sent on to Auschwitz and other death camps. In view of the shameful circumstances several Czech governments tried to have the pig farm removed or relocated in favour of a memorial - but failed for lack of funds and political will.

It is difficult to think of a more offensive slight to the memory of Romani Holocaust victims than the existence of a pig farm on the very site of a concentration camp. For years members of the Roma community have protested the presence of the farm on the actually site where Romani men, women, and above all children died. Cenek Ruzicka is the son of a Lety survivor:

"Here, on the site of a former concentration camp, a pig farm has been operating for more than 30 shameful years! A pig farm!"

In April of this year activists' indignation was echoed by the European Parliament when it adopted a resolution calling for the Czech government to act. Romani representatives like Karel Holomek wholeheartedly agreed it was high time something was done.

Karel HolomekKarel Holomek "I hope that the European Parliament's recommendation that this pig farm ought to be removed or destroyed shows our society that it is a very sad and shameful situation. I hope that our government finally will remove this pig farm and it will be a true memorial of the Roma Holocaust in Czechoslovakia."

And, he was not alone. Following the EU Parliament's resolution, incoming Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek himself agreed that action was needed and he pledged his government would make Lety a top priority at last. Now he appears to have kept his word, Mr Paroubek telling the daily Lidove Noviny on Friday the government will have the necessary funds having earmarked tens of millions of crowns from the draft state budget for the purchase of the farm. The previous government of Milos Zeman for example, pledged the equivalent of around 6 million US dollars but it wasn't enough.

Can a deal be reached this time? The facility's owner AGPI, remains open to a deal so long as the land is exchanged in return for a suitable site. The question still remains over how much removing and relocating the farm will really cost: some estimates say it could go over 10 million dollars US. The government is convinced a deal can be signed for less but, negotiations have yet to begin.

Lety memorialLety memorial Previous governments promised to deal with pig farm: only one - led by the right-of-centre Civic Democrats under Vaclav Klaus - was able to establish a memorial nearby. Most agree that it's high time a proper memorial on the actual Lety site was introduced, in memory of - and in long-overdue respect for - those who died. It's clear that members of the Roma community like Jan Vrba, a Lety survivor, will settle for no less:

"It was a place of cruelty; starving children were eating raw cabbage from the fields, and that the townspeople from Lety paid no attention to them. Small children were dying on piles of—I don't want to say it—piles of excrement. Lety must be a memorial!"

04-11-2005