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Concerning the Holocaust Phenomenon

"The Holocaust Phenomenon" project was initiated by the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, in 1997. The project's aim is to formulate discussion concerning the history of our country between 1938-1945. This page should provide information on new activities which are being prepared in the framework of this project and provide those who are interested with basic guidelines.

Based on the initiative of President Vaclav Havel and the working meetings of experts from historical societies, a suggestion was made to undertake an extensive project entitled "Phenomenon Holocaust", to which the Office of the President immediately granted its patronage. During the Second World War, the Czech lands became an integral part of Nazi Germany. The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was established in the occupied nation, in which the German occupation administration organised one of the "most successful" genocides of the Romany and Jewish communities in modern history. The question of the level of co-responsibility of Czech society could not be freely researched and discussed under the communist government. It is therefore extremely important for us to return to those abandoned chapters of Czech history, and to become concerned with the problem of the Holocaust and racial intolerance during the Second World War at a time when the last witnesses of this time are still alive.

A similar process is underway in societies in a number of nations in Western civilisation. President Vaclav Havel supports the current initiative of the American government on the opening of international dialogue on the historical connections of the Second World War and the search for justice for surviving victims of the Holocaust.

Project "Phenomenon Holocaust" will be realised on an international level; The participants from abroad are the Holocaust Museum in Washington, the State Museum in Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland, and the Yad Vashem in Israel. The realisation of the project consists of several areas: - the execution of new historical research, accessing archival sources, the publication of new knowledge and the republishing of existing studies in major world languages, - the recording and expert analysis of recollections of former prisoners - a wide-reaching public education campaign: the presentation of historical knowledge in a fashion understandable to the layman in the form of exhibits, round tables discussions, debates in schools, etc.

The organisation of the project was entrusted to a coordination committee, comprised of representatives of State institutions, research offices, and non-governmental non-profit organisations.

Holocaust Phenomenon Conference

The Holocaust Phenomenon Conference is an international event initiated by the Czech President Vaclav Havel and organized under his auspices. It will take place in Prague and Terezin 6-8 October 1999. The goal of this Conference is a reflection of the Holocaust as a phenomenon of our ending century and the role of Czech society in one of its specific chapters. Main goals of the Conference: historical evaluation of the causes and consequences of the Holocaust of the Jewish and Roma communities in Bohemia and Moravia within the international framework; - communication of those results to Czech society for necessary reflection; - concentration on the issues of Holocaust remembrance, research, and education; - formulation of the Holocaust legacy in the context of a wider international community.

Many Western societies are going through a similar process of reflection of their own histories. President Vaclav Havel is fully supportive of the current initiative which aims for an international dialogue about the history of WWII and a mutual attempt to find justice for holocaust survivors. Quite a few domestic institutions and individual researchers have been involved in studying the Holocaust and its consequences for today's society within the Czech Republic. However, recently this process has been supported by the direct involvement of the Czech government, which has founded a governmental commission and is very active in these matters on the international scene.

The Coordination Committee of the Holocaust Phenomenon Project prepared the Program for the Conference. Among the members of this Committee are representatives of the Terezin Memorial, the Museum of Roma Culture in Brno, the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, the Institute for the Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Science, the Department of Archives at the Interior Ministry, the Central State Archive, and the Office of the President of the Czech Republic. The Terezin Memorial and the Museum of the Roma Culture are the main domestic institutions involved in the organization of the Conference. Among the foreign institutions the important support to organizers is coming from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem Memorial, and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum.

The discussion panel concerning Holocaust research and education has been prepared with the outstanding help from the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Education. The members of the Task Force are now hosting Czech professionals involved in the area of education, and our continued relationship is expected to deepen in the future. The Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and relevant NGOs will be participating on this panel.

The Conference is financed with support from the Czech government and other resources are coming from the Open Society Institute, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem Memorial, the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum, and the Foundation V&D Havel VIZE 97. We are expecting additional financial support from other sources as well.

The three day Conference will be inaugurated at Prague Castle and the following two days will take place at Terezin. The program will be divided into morning and afternoon sessions with domestic and foreign speakers, both researchers and politicians, followed by discussions. Via Perfecta is responsible for the logistics of the Conference, in cooperation with Patriae Foundation, Prague Castle Administration, and the Terezin Memorial. Prague, July 29, 1999.

The Czech Gypsies During the Nazi Occupation

After the Nazi invasion and occupation of the Gzech-speaking territory the Germans established an illegal political unit, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. It was an act of military and political domination, for the Protectorate was subjected to the German Empire, which appropriated the right to manage the former's foreign affairs, control its army, and claimed the right to introduce in this new state all sorts of legal norms and measures the Empire considered necessary. At the time the population of the Protectorate consisted of three main groups. The privileged group were all former Czechoslovak Germans, who, in accordance with the new Nuremberg laws, became subjects of the German Empire; also included were those civilian Germans who arrived with the occupation army. The German group enjoyed various political privileges. The Czechs were subjects of the Protectorate only and thus were considered to be an inferior group of the population. The Protectorate citizens were, to be sure, the most numerous inhabitants, but were not equivalent to the Germans as to rights. The third group were non- Aryan citizens, who were not only denied all basic rights, but also any form of legal protection. Besides the Jews this classification also included the Czech Gypsies.

The anti-Gypsy norms in the Protectorate were gradually being adapted to those valid in the Empire, and subsequent to Heydrich's reform of administration in 1942 turned very quickly into a faithful copy of racial discrimination and persecution which were current in the Nazi Germany and applied also to the Gypsy population. The first anti-Gypsy measure was the decree of the Protectorate Ministry of Interior of May 9th 1939, which, besides other things, aimed above all at a restriction of nomadic manner of life. A similar objective was pursued in an order issued by the German Ministry of Interior on September 2nd 1939, which, apart from other things, prohibited nomadiem in the border zone. (It was from the Ostrava district of Czechoslovakia that nomadic Gypsy families were compulsorily conveyed to Central Moravia).

The migration of the Gypsies in the late thirties, consisting first of the departure of nomadic families from the German Empire to Czechoslovakia, then from the Sudeten to the post-Munich Republic, and fast of all most likely even from the new Slovak State to the Protectorate, resulted in an increase of the Gypsy population in our country. The controlled daily press pointed out a spread of criminal activity, which indicated the necessity of exceptional measures against the Czech Gypsies. The Prime Minister advised the Protectorate Ministry of Interior to adopt these arguments, and the Ministry directed all subordinate authorities in a decree dated November 30th 1939 to demand that the Gypsy, population in the Protectorate stop migration and settle down permanently.

In South-East Moravia this instruction was groundless because the Gypsies had begun to settle down in that region as early as the end of the last century, establishing on the outskirts of towns special, isolated Gypsy settlements. In other parts of the country, however, there still lived nomadic and semi-nomadic members of the tribe. They were gradually getting accustomed to settling down when contracting legal marriages, applying for the right of legality for their illegal children, excluding from their families foreigners, and taking up more regular work. Naturally, there was the problem of finding homes for them because most communities refused to grant the Gypsies the right to live amongst them. An improvement was for the most part noticeable only after the intervention of authorities. Even so it was only emergency accommodation such as wooden huts, barns, store houses, etc., that was alloted to Gypsy families.

The minority of the nomadic and semi-nomadic Gypsies were rather apathetic as to their fortunes. They stayed where they were until the night of January 3lst/February lst, which was appointed to be the final date for their definite settling. This minority consisted mostly of individuals with indefinite citizenship, awaiting instructions when and above all where to move. Some Gypsies persisted even after the prohibition of nomading life in living just as they were used to before. The police authorities arrested them for the most part, and the respective courts of justice were entrusted to deal with them. Most of these nomadic Gypsy families were sent to penitential working camps, established on August l0th 1940 for Bohemia in the vicinity of Lety near Pisek while for Moravia at Hodonin near Kunstat.

Such compulsory concentration in working camps concerned males above 18 years of age who were alleged to be work-shy and who could not produce a certification of regular employment. The bodies of administration also included those Gypsies who did not respect the anti-nomadic law, or who had settled down but were unwilling to take up regular work and thereby provoked intervention. In the Czech penitential working camps it was a Gypsy who was the first to be given a number of evidence. Another measure, which did not exclusively concern the Gypsies, was the decree of March 9th 1942, aimed at the prevention of criminality. It approved of the police taking into custody persons who could be accused of being anti-social. Besides others the Gypsy' population was frequently classified as anti- social. Police preventitive arrest brought these people to the two previously mentioned penitential working camps, which from January lst 1942 were described as collective camps, a term which persisted in use until July 8th 1942.

Anti-social individuals who had been punished for their criminal activity were transported to the notorious camp at Auschwitz (Oswiezim). Among the transported anti-social individuals there were Gypsy men and women. According to a unique document, a list of transports, which only lacks data relating to the ninth and tenth transports, the criminal department of the police headquarters in Brno included in the anti-social transports the following numbers of individuals.

So far we have been unsuccessful in finding how many anti-social individuals, including Gypsies, were dispatched in anti-social transports from the criminal police centre in Prague and from the compulsory working camp of Pardubice. We only know that the Gypsy prisoners were interned first in the camps for other males and females in Auschwitz and later transported to a camp exclusively for Gypsies in the same town. It was to this latter camp that, beginning with the eighth anti-social transport, arrested Gypsies were sent.

The general attack launched against the Czech Gypsies turned out to be a partial failure due to incomplete and unreliable statistics about The Gypsy population, which made it impossible to have a good survey of the whole set of problems and complicated the attempt to settle the Gypsy question definitely, i.e. in conformity with the German example. It was only in connection with Heydrich's reform of administration that the commander of the secret police issued on July IOth 1942 an instruction to suppress the Gypsy infamity and to make up a correct list of all the Czech Gypsies, Gypsies in law, and individuals living a nomadic life. "The day of the Gypsies" (Tag der Erfassung der Zigeuner), which was the official designation of the whole action, was fixed for August 2nd 1942. (6)

The compiled list contained altogether 5,830 born and half breed Gypsies, 5,108 individuals living in a Gypsy-like way, and 948 persons without fixed habitation, imprisoned or hospitalized, etc. While the first group comprised individuals of evident Gypsy origin, there were found to be only 266 born and half breed Gypsies in the second group. The remainder, amounting to 4,842 people, were classified according to the adopted terminology as the so-called "White Gypsies". A certain number of born or mixed Gypsies may be assumed to be included in the third group of 948 persons.

The object of this action was to secure Gypsies without regular employment and habitation and send them along with their families to Gypsy camps. This form of compulsory concentration camp came into force on August lst 1942 and replaced the former penitential working camps and the collecting camps in Lety and Hodonin.

In the course of August 1942 1,213 prisoners were sent tu the Gypsy camp near Lety, while l,22l prisoners went to the camp near Hodonin. A barrack in these camps could accommodate :300 people at most and the first transported crowds surpassed all expectations. In the following months the number of newcomers, both adult and children, was quite small. Through the two Gypsy camps there passed altogether 2,600 - 2,800 prisoners.

Hard work, insufficient nourishment, unsuitable accommodation, and last but not least the poor health and physical condition of the prisoners led to increasingly lamentable standards in these two camps. The overcrowded and infested barracks, became a hotbed of infactious and contagious diseases, the most dangerous being the epidemic of typhoid fever. An appaling symptom of this condition was the exceptionally high morbidity and mortality rate amongst the: prisoners. The number of those who died increased so rapidly in the winter months that it was necessary to set up provisional burial grounds in the neighbourhood of the two places. Altogether 327 prisoners died in the Gypsy camp near Lety and 197 prisoners in that of Hodonin.

After decimation resulting from frequent diseases and deaths the prisoners were gradually transported to Auschwitz. Besides the allotment of single prisoners into anti-social transports numerous were selected from the two Gypsy camps to be transported to the two Gypsy camps at Auschwitz. one for men and one for women. The transport from Lety took place on May 3rd 1943 and consisted of 16 men and 78 women, while that dispatched from Hodonin on December 7th 1942 comprised 60 men and 31 women.

Besides the anti-social transports mass transports consisting of prisoners of all ages were also effected from both Gypsy camps. The transport of :May 7th 1943 from Lety comprised 417 prisoners, while 767 prisoners were moved from Hodonin of August 22nd l943 and a further 93 of October l9th 1943. After these mass transports had been sent to the Gypsy camp at :Auschwitz the two Czech Gypsy camps were liquidated: the Gypsy camp near Lety after May 2lst 1943 and the camp near Hodonin after December lst 1943. The list of the Czech pure Gypsies and Gypsies of mixed origin of August 2nd 1942 was useful not only for selecting who were to be included among those transported to Gypsy camps, but it proved useful in dealing with the problem of the Gypsy population in the Protectorate: as a whole. The police authorities in towns and the country had access to a special source of information: the procured statistical data. This consisted of completed questionnaires concerning every Gypsy family; dactyloscopic cards of every person from six years of age onward; photographs of every person older than sixteen years; memoranda about issued warnings and information about confiscated personal documents. This extensive material provided a documentary basis for arranging the deportation of Czech Gypsies to the Gypsy camp at Auschwitz in conformity with Himmler's notorious instruction of December l6th 1942 and with the decrees issued by the German Office of Public Security on January lst 1943.

Deportation was tn be accomplished as speedily as possible and finished within a short period of time. This plan, however, could not be put into effect, and in the end the whole action had to be executed in several stages. The first stage consisted of the March 1943 transports which dragged off a substantial part of the Czech Gypsies. In the second stage, interrupted by the quarantine and temporary closing of the Gypsy camp at Auschwitz, it was mostly the prisoners from the Gypsy camps in Lety and Hodonin that were transported in May, August, and October l943. The third stage, from the beginning of 1944, was the time of evacuation of the last Czech Gypsies.

In the first stage the Czech Gypsies were transported in the mass transports of :March 7th, 8th, 11th and l9th in 1943. The transports were dispatched from collection places on the edge of the towns or in other, unfrequented places. Some individuals from among the settled Gypsies were dismissed and for the time being left alone. However, a great mass of Czech Gypsies, representing some 2,679 men, women, and children, were included in the March transportations. The second stage was the time of the transports which arrived at the Auschwitz Gypsy camp on May 7th, August 22nd, and October l9th 1943. In these transports prisoners from the Czech Gypsy camps predominated, besides them, however, were other Gypsies enrolled on a purely racial basis. According to the Auschwitz card-index this stage concerned 1,707 Czech Gypsies.

In the last stage the Czech Gypsies were removed from the Protectorate in 1944 in anti-social transports either in small groups or individually. These Gypsies were either people who had been hospitalized, taken into custody or imprisoned, or who had been seized when trying to escape. In the course of the third stage 175 Czech Gypsies were transported. The Gypsy ramp at Auschwitz received from the Czech-speaking countries 4,531 persons in all, 2,194 male and 2,327 female. In addition 342 children bearing Czech surnames were born in the camps. Thus the Czech Gypsies were the second most numerous ethnographic group of the Auschwitz Gypsy camp, next to the German prisoners from the Empire and from Austria.

Only a part of these Czech male and female prisoners were sent to the concentration camps at Buchenwald, Flossenbrug and Ravensbruck, to work as labourers there. By being enlisted in these working camps the Czech Gypsies got some hope to survive. The others, who were left in the Gypsy camp at Auschwitz, had no permanent work, and thus also no privileges. The only, thing they could expect was death, which occurred either as the outcome of the prevailing camp conditions or by force during the liquidation of a camp if the number of prisoners exceeded 3,000. Then it was mainly old men and women and children who perished in the gas chambers.

In the course of the Nazi occupation the persecution of the Czech Gypsies proceeded in conformity with the German directions. The treatment of the Gypsy problem brought about inexpressible privation, suffering and for the most part even extermination of this ethnic minority of the Czech population. One of the objects of this brief study was to point out the extent of this sacrifice.