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Czechs begin demolishing a pig farm built over a WWII Roma camp

#Czechs #demolishing #pig #farm #built #WWII #Roma #camp

Demolition of a sprawling pig farm built on the site of a wartime concentration camp for the Roma minority south of Prague began Friday after decades of controversy.

Targeted by the Nazis, about 1,300 Roma were imprisoned in the Lety camp during World War II, and 327 died there, including 241 children under the age of 14.

More than 500 others were taken to Nazi Germany’s notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp in occupied southern Poland.

The Moscow-controlled communist regime that ruled post-war former Czechoslovakia built the pig farm on the site in the 1970s.

The regime was overthrown in 1989, four years before Czechoslovakia split into two states.

But even then, it took successive Czech governments decades to finally approve the demolition, as the largely impoverished Roma minority remained on the fringes of society.

“Today marks the beginning of the end of one of the most shameful chapters in our modern history,” Parliament Speaker Marketa Pekarova Adamova said at a ceremony in Lety.

Together with other officials, she symbolically started the demolition by dismantling a model made of small concrete blocks.

Cenek Ruzicka, whose mother was a Lety survivor, was less reticent as he grabbed a pickaxe and began smashing down one of the buildings on the farm, which was once home to 13,000 pigs.

His brother banged on the windows with a hammer.

“As you can see, it went well. Of course I didn’t expect it to take that long,” Ruzicka told the AFP news agency.

– ‘My culture drove me’ –

The late Czech President Vaclav Havel unveiled a memorial near the farm in 1995, but officials then tiptoed about the farm, which had been taken over by a private company.

A breakthrough came only in 2018 when, under pressure from the Roma minority and international institutions including the United Nations and the EU, the government agreed to buy the farm and erect a Roma Holocaust memorial on the site.

A visitor center is due to be completed early next year as the first part of the memorial, which is expected to cost more than 100 million Czech koruna ($4 million) to build in total.

Ruzicka, whose grandmother and three-month-old sister died in the camp, was a key driving force behind the move.

“My culture drove me. The boys from our community of original Czech Roma are terribly proud, we never give up,” says Ruzicka, who was born in 1946.

The Czech Republic, an EU country of 10.5 million people, has a Roma community estimated at between 250,000 and 300,000.

Of the 9,500 Czech Roma registered before World War II, fewer than 600 returned home after the Holocaust.

Historians believe that the Nazis exterminated more than half of the approximately one million Roma who lived in Europe before World War II.

The European Union estimates that there are currently 10-12 million Roma living in Europe, around six million of them in EU countries.

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#Czechs #demolishing #pig #farm #built #WWII #Roma #camp

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