Ambassador Schapiro Commemorates Victims of Lety Concentration Camp

Ambassador Andrew Schapiro speaks at the commemoration ceremony at the Lety Memorial on May 13, 2015. (photo U.S. Embassy Prague)

On Wednesday, May 13, U.S. Ambassador Andrew H. Schapiro attended the annual commemoration ceremony for the Romani victims of Nazism at the Lety Memorial. The gathering is traditionally organized by the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust in the Czech Republic (VPORH), which brings together former prisoners of Nazi concentration camps who are Romani, and their relatives, many diplomats, government official, and the media.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of the memorial. Czech President Václav Havel unveiled it on 13 May 1995.

Addressing the gathering Ambassador Schapiro said: “Standing here today, I cannot help but be reminded that Roma and Sinti men, women, and children were sent to Lety for much the same reason my family members were sent to Terezin; that is to say, no reason at all, except for the fact that they were “different.” The Czech Republic and the United States share the same ideal that everyone should be treated equally, and that being “different” is no cause for bigotry.“

The Nazis built the facility at Lety u Pisku to serve as a penal labor prison in 1940. It became the “Gypsy concentration camp” in 1942. 1,308 members of the Roma and Sinti communities were imprisoned here by 1943. Another 327 inmates were murdered at Lety u Pisku by this time; 500 more were transported to Auschwitz. Three hundred victims survived the war. A second concentration camp for Roma and Sinti from Moravia was established in Hodonin u Kunstatu. According to some estimates, 90 percent of Roma and Sinti population who lived in the Nazi-ruled Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia were exterminated there.

The camp at Lety u Pisku was almost forgotten after World War II ended. A large pig farm was constructed near the site in the 1970s. In 1992, the book Black Silence by Paul Polansky brought the history of the camp back to light. President Vaclav Havel built a small memorial at the site in 1995, and fifteen years later, a renovated memorial was opened. Relocating the pig farm that neighbors Lety u Pisku continues to be debated.