Learn about the history of Lety u Písku and the IHRA’s involvement with safeguarding it.

Brief history

Lety u Písku, located in what is now the Czech Republic, was an internment camp for Roma and Sinti people from occupied Bohemia. Although current figures are probably underestimated, around 1,300 people passed through the Lety camp at some point; of these, about 327 people died on-site, and more than 500 were transported to Auschwitz, many of whom died during transport or at the camp. Very few Czech Roma survived the war. 

The pre-German-occupation Czechoslovak government mandated the establishment of a forced labor camp. Under the German-administered Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, this camp was founded outside the village of Lety in 1940. Following many anti-Roma laws and regulations, in August 1942, Lety was designated as an internment camp for Roma in Bohemia as the so-called “Gypsy Camp.” Roma internees were forced to work in and around the camp, and many, especially children and the elderly, died from disease and malnutrition. Most surviving prisoners were eventually transported to Auschwitz, where almost all were murdered. The camp buildings were destroyed and burned down, and the camp was abandoned in August 1943. 

After the Red and US Armies liberated Bohemia in 1945, it is possible the Red Army used the Lety site as a place to intern German prisoners of war; it is also possible that the Czechoslovak army used the area for training. From the 1970s, however, it was the site of a pig farm, first run by the government and then by a private company. Following increasing outcry about this inappropriate treatment of the site, an on-site memorial on the place of mass graves close to the former camp was installed in 1995, while a larger memorial complex, including several replica barracks, was inaugurated in 2010. In 2017, an international team of archaeologists used non-invasive techniques to ascertain where the former camp buildings previously stood; this proved that a substantial part of the camp site had been incorporated into the pig farm. In 2017, following the IHRA’s intervention, the government decided to buy out the land, close the pig farm, and make the site into a dedicated memorial under the oversight of the Museum of Romani Culture.  

The IHRA elevated the case of Lety to the highest political level.

IHRA activities

The IHRA’s Committee on the Genocide of the Roma and the Memorials and Museums Working Group have been examining the situation of memorial sites connected to the genocide of the Roma in urgent need of improvement since 2014. They consistently raised the need for a respectful place of commemoration at Lety with IHRA Member Countries and the Czech authorities. 

The IHRA elevated the case of Lety to the highest political level and worked with the Czech government to encourage appropriate preservation of the site, amplifying the message of civil society organizations like the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement and the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust.  

On 26 February 2015, four members of the IHRA Committee on the Genocide of the Roma visited the Czech Republic to discuss Lety u Písku. The delegation was received by Jiří Dienstbier, Minister for Human Rights and Equal Opportunities and Legislation, and Petr Drulák, Deputy Foreign Minister. The delegation also met with representatives of Roma civil society. The Committee was represented by Karen Polak (Netherlands), Lars Lindgren (Sweden), Michal Schuster (Czech Republic), and Mirjam Karoly (OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights). 

This visit was followed up with another on 12 July 2016. The aim of the visit was to make the strong point to the Czech authorities that the IHRA, the foremost international network of political leaders and professionals on Holocaust-related issues, will not accept the continuing desecration of the dignity of the Roma victims of Lety. Romanian IHRA Chair, Ambassador Mihnea Constantinescu, Secretary General Kathrin Meyer, Martina Maschke, then Chair of the IHRA Committee on the Genocide of the Roma, and Mirjam Karoly, ODIHR’s Senior Adviser on Roma and Sinti Issues, formed part of the delegation.  

They first met with Cenek Ruzicka of the Committee for the Redress of the Roma Holocaust. Czech Sinto and the son of a survivor, Ruzicka had been advocating for the removal of the pig farm for decades. He took the delegation to the nearby cemetery of Mirovice where adults and children from the camp that died from malnutrition and a typhus epidemic – including Mr. Ruzicka’s younger brother – are buried in two mass graves.  

Ruzicka asked the delegation to find a solution for the removal of the pigs, a request that colored their meetings with Minister for Human Rights Jiří Dienstbier and Minister for Culture Daniel Herman in Prague thereafter. Ambassador Contantinescu expressed deep concern about the state of affairs and urged the Czech authorities to ensure that immediate steps were taken to initiate the removal of the pig farm. He stressed that this was the second IHRA visit to the site and that it was necessary for there to be concrete signals of change underway before the end of the current IHRA Romania Presidency in March 2017. He also underlined the readiness of the IHRA to support the Czech Republic in finding a solution.  

“Respectful places of commemoration are essential for the victims, for the survivors and their families, but also for society as a whole. We remember to strengthen our societies against such tragedies happening again.” – IHRA Chair Ambassador Mihnea Constantinescu

On 21 August 2017, Czech Cabinet Ministers adopted Decree no. 609, an executive order mandating the Minister of Finance to transfer the funds needed for the purchase of the pig farm. The last pigs were removed on 14 March 2018.

In a joint statement, IHRA Chair Ambassador Constantinescu, and then Chair of the Committee on the Genocide of the Roma, Martina Maschke, said:

“We commend the Czech Government on their action to remove the pig farm and pledge our support to ensure that the site is turned into a respectful and educational place of remembrance. The next steps for the cooperation between the IHRA Committee on the Genocide of the Roma, the IHRA Museums and Memorial Working Group and the Czech partners are already underway.” 

The Chair of the Committee on the Genocide of the Roma, Martina Maschke, visited Lety again, this time to commend the Czech government on this important step.

In 2019, the Museum of Romani Culture was awarded an IHRA Grant to develop a concept for the exhibition for the Lety memorial. The project involved consultations with various museums and memorials from different countries. This exhibition was to cover the history of the concentration camp, prevent false assumptions on the purpose of the camp and the conditions of the victims therein, and counter any denial of the genocide of the Roma as well as antigypsyism/anti-Roma discrimination. 

The IHRA’s experts remain actively involved in the advisory process as the new memorial complex is designed.

"The IHRA's continuous interest in Lety helped to move things in the right direction." – Head of the Czech Delegation to the IHRA, Antonín Hradilek

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10 Aug 2016 Time to read: 4 mins

From the archives: Pig farming on the site of the former concentration camp for Roma

An IHRA delegation reflects on their visit to Lety u Písku, a former concentration camp where a pig farm stood.

Timeline

1970s

Pig farm is established.

Mid-1990s

Czech authorities are urged by, among others, the EU, Council of Europe, and UN Human Rights Committee, to remove the pig farm.

13 May 1995

Lety memorial to the concentration camp was inaugurated with a commemoration ceremony held in the presence of Czech President Václav Havel. The memorial stands on the site of a mass grave, outside the area of the concentration camp. The large pig farm stands right next to it.

28 April 2005

An EU resolution calls for removal of the pig farm.

13 June 2007

IHRA Member Countries adopted the Prague Resolution recognizing the extraordinary importance of researching and marking for posterity the physical locations where Holocaust-related events occurred and pledged to undertake all possible measures preserve them and prevent their misuse. 

2007

Romani Rose, together with the President of the International Auschwitz Committee, Noach Flug, submitted an appeal to the Czech Prime Minister to end the scandal.

31 January 2008

An EU resolution calls for removal of the pig farm.

2010

A larger memorial complex, including several replica barracks, was inaugurated.

11 March 2011

A Council of Europe Human Rights report calls for removal of the pig farm.

25 July 2013

The UN Human Rights Committee calls for removal of the pig farm.

December 2014

The IHRA’s Committee on the Genocide of the Roma at the IHRA Manchester Plenary meeting highlighted the need for a respectful place of commemoration at Lety.

23 February 2015

The Czech government adopted the Roma Integration Strategy 2020 which also set the objective of finding a solution for the removal of the pig farm. In line with this commitment, Minister Dienstbier and Minister Herman held meetings with the representatives of the pig farm owners, but little progress was made.

26 February 2015

A delegation from the IHRA visited the Lety site and held high-level political meetings.

2-5 November 2015

During the Debrecen Plenary Session all IHRA experts jointly underlined their support for the protection and preservation of endangered memorial sites and historical sites in all IHRA member countries.

Discussions were held on the former concentration camp Lety u Pisku (Czech Republic).

12 July 2016

A delegation from the IHRA visited the Lety site and held high-level political meetings for the second time.

2016

The Czech Government approved a bill to close the industrial pig farm after decade-long protests and the IHRA’s intervention.

The IHRA welcomes this news during its Iasi Plenary Meetings from 7–10 November 2016. 

2017

An international team of archaeologists used non-invasive techniques to ascertain where the former camp buildings previously stood; this proved that a substantial part of the camp site had been incorporated into the pig farm.

21 August 2017

Decree no. 609 of the Government of the Czech Republic mandates the Minister of Finance to transfer the funds needed for the purchase of the pig farm.

23 November 2017

The Museum of Romani Culture in Brno signed the purchase agreement for the site.

February 2018

Only a few months after the announcement of the intention to buy the pig farm in Lety u Písku, a pig’s head was placed at the memorial to the Roma victims there. The perpetrator stated that he wanted to express his disapproval of spending state money to buy the pig farm, which stood on the site of a former concentration camp for Romani people.

14 March 2018

The last pigs were removed. After the removal of the remaining pig waste, an archeological survey is planned, followed by the demolition of the pig pens. 

25 April 2018

Martina Maschke, Chair of the IHRA Committee on the Genocide of the Roma, visited Lety u Písku to commend the Czech Government on the removal of the pig farm.

2019

The Museum of Romani Culture was awarded an IHRA Grant to develop a concept for the exhibition for the Lety memorial.

2019–2020

A landscape-architectural competition resulted in the winning project design of the future memorial “Lety: Memorial to the Holocaust of the Roma and Sinti in Bohemia.” 

The winning design was submitted by Jan Sulzer and Lucie Vogelová from the terra florida v.o.s. studio and by Jan Světlík, Vojtěch Šedý and Filip Šefl of Ateliér Světlík. Roman Černohous and Petr Karlík also worked on the design.

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