Archaeologists in the Czech Republic have discovered the remains of a concentration camp where the Nazis detained Roma people during World War II, reports Czech media outlet Romea.cz.
Though researchers had previously been aware of the camp’s location, construction of a new emergency response services headquarters at the location marked the first time experts had excavated the site. Per Radio Prague International, the dig unearthed brick floors and the foundations of a building, as well as artifacts including tin cups and fragments of dishes.
During World War II, the Nazis created four concentration camps in the territory of Liberec, which was then a regional center of German power. Between 1941 and 1943, the newly uncovered camp housed more than 130 Roma people who were forced to help build housing at nearby Králův Háj.
“They usually stayed in the camp a year or two,” Ivan Rous of Liberec’s North Bohemian Museum tells the Czech News Agency (ČTK), as quoted by Romea.cz. “They were here until they were sent to the big concentration camps. The women were sent to Ravensbrück and the men were sent to Buchenwald and to Auschwitz. They murdered them there, nobody survived.”
As Rous wrote in an essay excerpted by Romea.cz in 2016, records of Liberec’s concentration camps are sparse, with the majority of information coming from oral histories and eyewitness testimonies. One local Roma woman, Růžena B., recounted how she and her family narrowly escaped deportation; later, the 10-year-old and her father snuck into the camp to visit the Roma imprisoned there.
“This was the harshest of four camps built in Liberec,” Rous tells Radio Prague, “and yet there is no memorial. All were murdered in Auschwitz or other camps.”
After the Nazis sent the camp’s Roma victims to their deaths, they used the camp to hold French prisoners of war, who were forced to work at a nearby quarry.
Beginning around 1950, the site was used as a dumping ground for municipal and construction waste. By 1962, it appeared on a map as a “ruin,” according to a second Rous article republished by Romea.cz.
To find traces of the camp, the archaeologists dug beneath the landfill.
“We have uncovered large sections of the main building, which was [115 feet] long and nearly [33 feet] wide, along with an extension in the shape of a ‘T’ of about [33 by 26 feet], and preserved brick floors,” Petr Brestovanský, an archaeologist from the museum, tells Radio Prague.
During the Holocaust, the Nazis persecuted and murdered as many as 500,000 Roma and Sinti people—but today, this history remains little known. As the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) explains, researchers are increasingly focusing attention on these groups, who originated in India and lived all across Europe by the end of the 15th century. The Nazis targeted these individuals, described as “gypsies” out of a mistaken belief that they originated in Egypt, for extermination together with the Jews.
After the war, world powers were slow to recognize the Roma and Sinti as Holocaust victims. The Nuremberg Trials did not prosecute war criminals for crimes specifically perpetrated against them, and Germany only acknowledged the groups as “victims of racial policy” in 1979, wrote Brigit Katz for Smithsonian magazine last year.
In lieu of the discovery of concentration camp ruins in Liberec, Deputy Mayor Ivan Langer tells Radio Prague that the city plans to continue construction of the emergency response building and construct a separate memorial in honor of the Roma victims.
“We are thinking about building a memorial at the bend on the opposite riverbank,” he says. “We’ve been talking to a quite well-known artist who could create something special.”