One of the groups often ignored when considering the victims of Nazi persecution, and the concentration camp system in particular, are the Roma and Sinti - often referred to as "Gypsies". The persecution of the Zigeuner, as the Germans called them - derived from an old Greek word meaning "untouchable", spread through the Reich and occupied territories as the Nazis strengthened their grip on Europe.
Within the occupied Czech lands, known as the Protektorat Böhmen und Mähren (Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia), the Nazis established two camps - one in each territory, to hold the gypsy population. Viewed as both racially inferior and asocial by the Nazi regime, their fate was to be determined in the worst possible manner.
In Moravia, a camp was established to hold the Moravian gypsies at Hodonin (Hodonín u Kuntátu). Meanwhile, at Lety, a village in southern Bohemia, another camp was established.
Originally, Lety was used as the site for a disciplinary labour camp, which later became an internment camp and then finally, during August 1942, it was transformed into a Gypsy Camp under the direction of SS-Standartenführer Horst Böhme, the commander of the Sicherheitspolizei and SD in Prague. Böhme had earlier suggested the liquidation of the village of Lidice, following the death of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich.
From August 1942 until May 1943, Lety saw more than 1,300 men, women and children pass through its camp. Over 25% died within the camp, mostly due to the squalid conditions and poor treatment they received by the camp staff, all of whom (over 50 men) were Czech.
As the attachment below shows, rows of small wooden barracks measuring 2.5 x 3 metres, were used to hold the prisoners, who received three small meals a days and worked ten hour shifts - mostly on nearby road construction and agricultural work. The barracks, mobile wooden constructions, were designed to hold three or four people. After the gypsy camp was established however, this capacity was stretched way beyond its design, with up to four times the number held within the small huts.
Head of the staff was Josef Janovský, who held the position of Kommandant and head of administration of the camp. Janovský had delayed reporting the poor conditions - despite the outbreak of typhus, until December 1942, resulting in the immediate closure of the camp and the enforcement of strict restrictions regarding outside contact. The following month, in January 1943, Janovský was replaced by tefan Blahynka.
The victims, many of whom died during a typhus outbreak, were buried in either hastily dug graves near the camp - nowadays site of the memorial, or in a nearby cemetery in the village of Mirovice. Over 30 children were born at the camp, none survived. Those who survived the experience at Lety were later transported to Auschwitz-II, Birkenau, where almost all died in the gas chambers. The first transport to Auschwitz left during December 1942, with a larger transport departing in spring 1943.
Following the transports, over 200 people remained in the camp. Orders came to liquidate the camp during summer 1943, with a small number of inmates being freed, others sent for medical treatment and the majority of the remainder being transported to the gypsy camp at Hodonin and forced labour facilities in Prague and Pardubice. Some fifteen prisoners were left behind to destroy the camp. Food and clothing was disinfected and forwarded to other camps, whilst the wooden structures and other materials were torn down, burned and then - as with the entire camp site, covered with chlorinated lime.
In post war years, a pig farm was established partly covering the former camp site. This farm remains present today, along with a modern memorial area and information learning path through the woods that leads to the former location of the camp.