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March 14 2012

Czech MP Miroslava Němcová: "It's good we're sensitive to signs of racism"

Conference entitled "The Romani Holocaust - Why Have We Forgotten?"

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On 12 March a conference entitled "The Romani Holocaust - Why Have We Forgotten?" was held in the Czech lower house to commemorate the recent anniversary of the first transport of Romani people to Auschwitz from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia in 1943. The chair of the Chamber of Deputies, Czech MP Miroslava Němcová, gave a speech there which we are publishing in full translation below:

"Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear Guests,

At the start of our meeting today it is appropriate that I remind us whose idea it was to hold this conference. At the end of last year we held our traditional Advent Breakfast in these very spaces, and at that meeting I was approached by representatives of the Community of Sant Egidio. We agreed to do our best to hold today's conference as soon as possible, and we came to the opinion that it would be appropriate to meet at this time, at the start of March, because this day is an important symbol.

It was the Nazis' twisted plan to set up a "gypsy camp" in the concentration camp at Auschwitz – Birkenau. The first mass transport of Romani people from the Protectorate was sent to that camp from Brno on either the 6th - or according to some sources, the 7th - of March 1943. More such transports then followed from Prague, Olomouc, Lety and Hodonín.

A total of 4 495 Romani people were deported to Auschwitz from the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Of those, there were 2 155 men and boys, and 2 340 women and girls. The youngest was a seven-day-old newborn, Maxmilián Kryštof, and the oldest was Marie Růžičková, who was 91 years old. Most of the Romani people deported perished in various concentration camps - Buchenwald, Ravensbrück - but Romani people also died at Lety and Hodonín.

When we speak today about this onerous period of our history, about the Romani Holocaust, it is not merely to reflect on the failure of the intellectual and political elites in the era preceding and during the Second World War. I perceive this topic as yet another way for people who differ from one another somehow to mutually understand one another. I consider it immeasurably important that we seek such understanding at this time.

I have attended many similar meetings in recent years. Commemorating our own recent past, the terrors which the remaining survivors still remember, forces us to reflect on the essence of what has happened. We reflect on how easy it is to accommodate those who call for a "strong hand", who seek a scapegoat for their own failings in other places and other people, especially in groups of vulnerable people, in those who are somehow different.

However, the seeking out of such difference is always just a substitute for the desire to acquire power, to manipulate others, to dominate them. Separating people into the "desirable" on the one hand, and everyone else on the other, represents a solution which at first view seems easy during times of social crisis. History has shown us many examples of this. Without exception, these "easy solutions" have come at a tragic price.

It is good, however, that we all understand today's meeting is not just a warning, or a remembrance of the terrible and irreversible events of the Holocaust. It is valuable that today is also an opportunity to discuss the need to perpetually eliminate the risk of incomprehension, of intolerance, of calling for a "strong hand".

We cannot lose sight of the fact that the Romani people were targeted for the same liquidation as the Jews, the Slavic nations, and all "non-standard" groups from throughout the entire population of Europe. Transports of all social groups, people of all skin colors, were sent to the death camps just because they somehow deviated from the Nazis' edicts and tallies.

I consider the topic of bonding with one another, the topic of the past and the Holocaust, especially as it relates to the recognition of this issue by today's generation of young people, to be a task of the first order for our society. I believe that only by thoroughly recognizing the causes of the destructive failure of society in an educated part of the world during the last century can we contribute towards a timely recognition of such a danger in future. This is a danger that can revive at any time.

This is why it's good we're sensitive to signs of racism. That ideology wants to convince thinking people that a superior race exists, and that it will be successful and perfectly functioning only if it annihilates those it labels inferior.

I am convinced that we must build our society on the basis of the rights and responsibilities of the citizen in a democratic society and that we must demand those rights and responsibilities of every member. That is the road to normal functioning. We must pay constant attention to it. That is the road that will bring us to equitable positions with one another. That road will not create power for some to use over others, power which can be so easily abused."

Czech MP Miroslava Němcová, 1st Vice-Chair of the Civic Democrats (ODS), chair of the Chamber of Deputies of the Parliament of the Czech Republic

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