WASHINGTON — “Six years ago, in 1994, the Helsinki Commission was first made aware of the existence of a unique archive in the Czech Republic, original documents from the World War II Romani concentration camp in Lety,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) following the delivery last week of the final tranche of archive copies to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. “The long process of transferring these documents has ended; a new chapter of understanding the Romani Holocaust—known in Romani as Porrajmos, ‘the Devouring’—has begun.”
The Lety concentration camp for Roma was established during the Nazi occupation of the Czech Republic. Opened in 1940, the camp was closed in 1943. Many Roma died there; many others died after deportation to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Camps specifically for Roma were established in several countries during World War II. The Lety archives may be the only complete records from such a camp to still exist.
“Last January, when Congressman Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) and I met with Czech Deputy Foreign Minister Martin Palous, we were encouraged to learn that he had brought with him to Washington the first part of the microfilm copies of the Lety archive. These archives are unique and add a critical dimension to the understanding of the Romani experience during the Holocaust. The availability here in Washington of a complete microfilm copy of the Lety archives means that a larger community of scholars will be able to study these documents, adding to the public’s understanding of the tragedies Roma have faced. I commend the Czech Government for making these documents available to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. I also hope the Czech Government and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum will be able to further develop their cooperation to ensure that other Holocaust-related archives will be open to the widest community of scholars, researchers, journalists, and members of the public,” Smith concluded.