Hodonín: No More Holidays in a Concentration Camp

On Sunday August 23, 2015, a commemorative gathering took place as part of the Year of Reconciliation at the site of the concentration camp in Hodonín (near Kunštát), in remembrance of the largest transport to leave there for Auschwitz, on August 21, 1943. The event took place on a building site among bulldozers and trucks since after the closure of the recreational facility a memorial is finally being built.

Although it should already be common knowledge, here are the basic facts on the Hodonín concentration camp. The “personnel” of the camp, numbering some forty gendarmes and civil servants from the Protectorate (as the occupied rump of Czechoslovakia was called) spoke only Czech, but despite this none of the guards were punished after the war (further information here). Although the capacity of the camp was only between two and three hundred people, this limit was soon exceeded many-fold.

Between 1940 and 1944 some 1 396 people passed through the camp, of which 207 died in a typhus epidemic in the winter of 1942–1943 or as the result of harsh treatment and the general inhuman living conditions. All the prisoners, including children, had to work hard, especially on the roads, while receiving only subsistence rations. Three transports left the camp for Auschwitz, taking 871 people.

The Porajmos, or Romani Holocaust, was survived by only around a tenth of the original Romani population of Bohemia and Moravia: more than five thousand Moravian and Bohemian Romani were deported, and only 583 returned. It was one of the most thorough genocides during the Second World War, in the sense of the almost complete extermination of a group of inhabitants of a particular territory.

For this reason – and also in comparison with how intensively the Holocaust has been discussed in Germany and the emphasis with which its victims have been remembered – it is absolutely shocking that on the site of the Lety concentration camp there is a pig farm and on that of Hodonín, until recently there was a recreational centre with a restaurant placed in one of the original barracks. It was only in 2009 that the state bought the site and placed it in the ownership of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and two years later began the demolition of the swimming pool and adjacent chalets.

Two years ago the former prison barracks became the first building from the 1940s to be reconstructed. As a result of being affected by wood-decay fungus however most of the elements of the structure had to be replaced and then replicas of the original fittings were built. The building will be accessible once the whole site is opened in three years’ time. By then the guards’ barracks and exhibition facilities will be completed, under the direction of J. A, Comenius National Pedagogical Museum and Library with expert assistance from the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno. It has yet to be decided who will administer the site.

The exhibition will focus primarily on the role the camp played in the extermination of Moravia’s Romani, but will also deal with other dark chapters in our modern history. After all, in the immediate aftermath of the war the site was used to intern German-speaking inhabitants from the surrounding area who could not immediately be expelled, for example due to their being elderly, and in the years 1949–1950 it was turned into a forced labour camp where the communists imprisoned among others officers who served in the Czechoslovak army before the takeover in February 1948.

You can find out more about the memorial here.

Photograph: Deník/Petra Srstková