Demolition of industrial pig farm on site of former WWII concentration camp for Roma to begin so Czech Republic can build new memorial

The now defunct industrial pig farm which was built on the site of the former concentration camp for Roma in Lety u Písku. (2019) (PHOTO: Museum of Roma Culture, Czech Republic)

In Lety u Písku, Czech Republic, demolition will begin on July 22 of the former industrial pig farm which straddles the site of what was once a concentration camp for Roma during World War II, a move needed for construction of a dignified memorial honoring Holocaust victims of Roma and Sinti origin in Bohemia. Karolina Spielmannová, press officer of the Museum of Roma Culture, which manages the site and builds the memorial, announced the news to Romea.cz.

Last opportunity to visit the grounds of the industrial pig farm

A total of 17 interested parties submitted bids for the demolition works. After having assessed the content and the formalities of the offers, the Rekultivative AWT, like bid has been accepted and a contract will be signed with them for the works.

The cost of demolition should not exceed CZK 110 million [EUR 4.5 million] and is funded by the Czech Ministry of Culture. “On July 22, 2022 at 1:00 p.m. CET, the winner of the public tender for the demolition of the facilities of the now defunct industrial pig farm in Lety u Písku, Czech Republic, will take charge of the construction site. This act symbolically begins the long-awaited demolition of the entire facility,” Spielmannová said in a press release.

As part of the event, personalities from political and public life will speak in defense of the new Lety u Písku Memorial to the Holocaust of Roma and Sinti in Bohemia. Visitors will also have the opportunity to visit the park of the former industrial pigsty one last time in the presence of activists and eyewitnesses to this history.

History: The industrial pigsty was built in the 1970s

The industrial pigsty, in operation from the 1970s until the spring of 2018, is located on the site of what was initially a disciplinary labor camp and then an internment camp; from August 1942, the Lety u Písku settlement (just like its Hodonín u Kunštátu counterpart) became what was called a “gypsy camp” where, unlike the two previous types of settlements which s were there, whole families of Roma were imprisoned in inhumane conditions – and it thus became a concentration camp. What was called “Camp Gypsy I – Lety” saw 1,309 people pass through, of whom at least 326 died there.

Most of those who died at Lety were children. In 1943, immediately after the remaining children, men and women were forcibly sent en masse to their almost certain death in the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp, the buildings of “Gypsy Camp I” were all razed to the ground. and installed on Fire.

In 1995, near the mass cemetery of some of the victims who died in the Lety camp (located about 300 meters from the camp itself), a memorial was set up; the site became a monument of cultural heritage in 1998 and was later modernized in 2012 by its then administrator, the Lidice Memorial – an amphitheater was installed with replicas of the prisoners’ quarters, parking and a pathway with explanatory panels on the history of the site. Since 2018, the administrator of the cultural heritage monument of Lety is the Museum of Roma Culture.

The Lety u Písku Memorial to the Roma and Sinti Holocaust in Bohemia

The Czech government has approved the takeover of the industrial pig farm for 372,500,000 CZK [EUR 15,000,000] excluding VAT in 2018. The Museum of Roma Culture was then entrusted by its founder, the Czech Ministry of Culture, with the task of demolishing the farm and building the new Lety u Písku Memorial to the Roma Holocaust and of the Sinti in Bohemia in his place.

The new memorial will be a worthy place to honor the memory of the victims of the camp, and its purpose is also to remind visitors of the tragic facts associated with the existence of the camp in the first place. Jana Horváthová, director of the Museum of Roma Culture, says that “the memorial should also educate visitors and inform them about the history of Roma and Sinti in Bohemia in the 20th century, explaining the roots of discrimination and hatred against them and galvanizing the debate on human rights and how to improve our coexistence here.

According to the project schedule, the demolition of the industrial pigsty will be followed by the first phase of construction of the new memorial, where a visitor center will be built with an exhibition and a multifunctional hall. The revitalization of the cultural heritage monument of Lety will also take place.

This phase of the construction is largely funded by project KU-PDP01-001 – Lety u Písku Memorial to the Holocaust of the Roma and Sinti in Bohemia of the KU Program for Culture under the EEA Grants 2014-2021, and by the Czech Ministry of Culture and Czech Ministry of Finance. The project will continue into a second phase of implementing the landscape architecture design for the entire memorial grounds, including the exterior elements of the exhibition and the adaptation of the site of the former camp to remembrance and reverence through the construction of a memorial trail leading from the construction of the planned visitor center to the memorial which will encircle the site where what used to be called the ‘Gypsy Camp’ once stood in the time of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Main events related to the commemoration of the former concentration camp

– The construction of a worthy place of memory on the site of the former camp began to be mentioned in 1995 and a memorial to the victims was inaugurated near the industrial pigsty.

– In 1997, Ministers Jan Ruml (Civic Democratic Party – ODS) and Pavel Bratinka (Civic Democratic Alliance – ODA) declared that they would propose to the administration to buy the industrial pig farm, demolish it and build an on-site memorial to the Holocaust and its Roma victims. The AGPI company, owner of the farm, then declared itself ready to relocate it in exchange for an “equivalent replacement”.

– The problem was dismissed after that: solving it was declared to be the goal of the cabinets of Václav Klaus (ODS), Josef Tošovský (unaffiliated) and Jiří Paroubek (Czech Social Democratic Party – ČSSD), and suppressing the farm and the construction of a memorial site was called a crucial issue in 1999 by Czech President Václav Havel and later by Czech Minister for Human Rights Michael Kocáb (for the Green Party), and Commissioners for Human Rights Czech government man have frequently conducted negotiations over the situation.

– In April 2005, the European Parliament, as part of its resolution condemning discrimination against Roma in the EU, adopted a call for the closure of industrial pig farming. Shortly after, Czech President Václav Klaus caused a stir by alleging that Lety had not been “a concentration camp in the proper sense of the word” and that it had never been intended for Roma but “for those who refused to work”. This opinion aroused the outrage of many Roma-led organizations and other politicians.

– In April 2007, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek (ODS) announced that the administration would not have the money to move the farm. Similar statements were made in 2012 by Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas (ODS) and in May 2014 by Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka (ČSSD), who said that the tens of millions of Czech crowns needed to demolish the farm and building a new one elsewhere would be better used to educate Roma children or improve social conditions in socially excluded localities.

– In June 2010, near the site of the former camp, a place of remembrance was opened including an amphitheater, two replicas of the former wooden quarters of the prisoners, an exhibition commemorating the Roma victims of Nazism, a car park and new paths leading to the place. Czech Culture Minister Václav Riedlbauch said at the time that the Czech government’s human rights commissioner, Michael Kocáb, was primarily responsible for creating the site. The administration allocated CZK 21.4 million [EUR 876,000] to the project. The administration of the place of memory was then entrusted to the Lidice Memorial.

– In July 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Committee called on the Czech Republic to close industrial pig farming.

– In May 2016, Czech Minister for Human Rights Jiří Dienstbier (ČSSD) announced that the farm would apparently continue to overlap with the site of the former concentration camp. He had held several meetings with the owners but no concrete conclusion ever resulted. At the beginning of August of the same year, the Czech Minister of Culture Daniel Herman (Christian Democrats – KDU-ČSL) announced that the administration was close to an agreement to buy the farm.

– In September 2016, Czech Finance Minister and head of the Association of Dissatisfied Citizens (ANO) Andrej Babiš became the target of criticism for his remarks about the former concentration camp. According to a photojournalist from Aktuálně.cz, Babiš publicly alleged that it was a “lie” that Lety had been a concentration camp. He later apologized and distanced himself from the remarks. He then said he wanted to find the money to buy the farm and build a memorial in its place.

– In November 2016, the administration decided to have the establishment appraised and on July 13, 2017, the firm’s representatives submitted their offer to AGPI for its possible takeover. The general assembly of the company expressed its agreement on July 31 with the transfer of the installation to the State and, on August 7, the AGPI announced that it would accept the government’s offer to buy it. The administration then approved the takeover of the farm on August 21, 2017, and on October 23 declassified the purchase contract, which revealed that the state paid around CZK 372,500,000. [EUR 15,000] excluding VAT to do so.

– State officials took over the farm in early April 2018 and its demolition is believed to have taken place by the end of the year. Later, however, Deputy Culture Minister René Schreier said that the demolition was going to be more difficult than expected and would probably take place in 2019. According to Schreier, the demolition would be paid for by the Czech state ( according to current information, it will not exceed 110,000,000 CZK [EUR 4.5 million]) and the construction of the memorial would be funded by Norway Grants. In 2019, it was said that the demolition of the farm would take place in 2020 and the construction of the memorial would begin a year later.

– The COVID-19 pandemic has interfered with both demolition preparations and construction of the memorial. In June 2020, however, the winner of the competition for the Lety u Písku Memorial to the Roma and Sinti Holocaust in Bohemia was announced as the design submitted by Atelier Terra Florida and Atelier Světlík. Prior to this, archaeological work had also shown that most of the former Roma concentration camp at Lety u Písku was located on the farm’s grounds, particularly at the location above its halls. ‘feed. Debris from the former concentration camp was still visible there in the 1970s when the industrial pigsty was built under the communist regime.