U.S. Embassy Acting Deputy Chief of Mission James Merz participated on May 13 in the ceremony paying homage to Roma victims of the Lety concentration camp that existed during the Second World War in woods near the city of Pisek in South Bohemia. “Those people were sent to Lety and later to other concentration camps because of ignorance, hatred and bigotry. After the war, we collectively said ‘Never more.’ … Today, the Czech Republic and the United States share the ideal that everyone should be treated equally, and that being different is no cause for bigotry,” Merz said.
The commemoration was also attended by Human Rights Minister Jiri Dienstbier, Justice Minister Robert Pelikan, other foreign diplomats, representatives of Roma families, religions and various NGOs. More than 300 Roma people died in the Lety camp in the early 1940s.
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.