“Tensions in society are heightening. Perhaps the time will come again when we are sent away to designated areas. That is why during hardships we all must help one another.”
Such was the sentiment that resounded during Catholic Mass, which was part the commemoration of Roma Holocaust on August 22, held at the site of a former concentration camp for Roma near the Czech town of Hodonín u Kunštátu.
Approximately 1300 Roma were imprisoned in the Hodonín camp between the years of 1942 and 1944. More than 200 prisoners, many of them children, died at the camp of disease and malnutrition. The majority were deported to Auschwitz, where more than 90 percent of all Czech Roma died at the hands of the Nazis.
“For the Roma gathered here, we ask for the strength to fight the evil marching along the same old tracks today,” Father František Lízna said in his sermon. “We ask for blessings for the new generation.”
“For the non-Roma here,” the priest continued, “we ask that they are able to accept those different from them, and that they be willing to die for them, thus repaying the debt of the hatred they have harbored against their neighbors.”
About 80 people attended the event, which consisted of a mass, commemoration ceremony at the mass gravesite of the Roma victims, and an opening of a Museum of Roma Culture exhibition entitled Roma Genocide, displayed inside the only original building left standing.
“We share the pain, injustice, and arbitrary treatment as well as the feeling of being excluded from society, occurring still today,” said Pavel Fried, head of the Jewish Community in the city of Brno during his speech, drawing a parallel between the experience of the Roma in Czech society and that of the Jews.
Fried said he hoped that the presence of the members of the Jewish community would help encourage the Romani community “to continue to find the strength to persevere in fighting discrimination.”
“The suffering that occurred seventy years ago is continuing today,” said Jan Munk, director of the Terezín concentration camp. “It connects us and creates for us a joint responsibility for things to come.”
Activist Karel Holomek of the Society of Roma in Moravia, who is the Ambassador for the Czech Presidency of the Decade of Roma Inclusion, expressed his disapproval and dismay at the political situation today.
“I always speak at this ceremony about the present situation in relation to the past, and I am troubled by what is currently happening,” Holomek said, criticizing the Prime Minister’s new human rights advisor appointee, calling the choice “a danger to the development of democracy.”
Jana Horváthová, director of the Museum of Roma Culture, told the press at the event that very few people are aware of the Roma Holocaust. For that reason, the Czech Ministry of Education plans to build an educational center at the former camp where researchers and schools can study the Roma Holocaust. Šimon Mastný of the ministry said that the project is important for the ministry and that he hoped the ministry will continue its support for the project.
Before the candles, flowers and, in the Jewish tradition, stones were ceremoniously laid on the mass grave memorial, moving many of those present to tears, singer Zlata Pouličková performed a song, In Auschwitz there is a Great House, written by Růžena Danielová, a Czech Romani Holocaust survivor. The first two stanza of the song are as follows:
In Auschwitz there is a great house
And there my husband is imprisoned
He sits and sits and laments
And thinks about me
Oh, you black bird!
Carry my letter!
Carry it to my wife
For I am jailed in Auschwitz