The exhibition looks at the stories of Roma resistance fighters during the Second World War. The author of the exhibition is Roma film maker Vera Lacková in cooperation with the company Media Voice, the curator is Daniel Grúňa and the art design is by the Gutenart production group. It is based above all on the life story of Lacková’s great grandfather, the Roma partisan Ján Lacko, as well as on demanding historical-ethnological research that is still being carried out. The research focuses on the situation and status of Roma during the Second World War and their involvement in the Slovak National Uprising, their reasons for being part of the resistance and their activities within it. On the basis of the concrete stories of respondents and the material collected we would like to acquaint the public with the forgotten stories and fates of people who contributed to the liberation of the present-day Slovak and Czech nations, putting their own lives on the line. Vera Lacková’s autobiographical investigation brings the stories of people who, notwithstanding their ethnic origin, managed to join together to fight evil.
When I was a little girl, my granny used to tell me various stories about my great grandfather. His name was Ján Lacko and he was a Roma partisan. During the Second World War he was imprisoned in a detention, later concentration camp at Dubnica nad Váhom. German troops burned down his house and the Heimatschutz took the six members of his family into the forest, where they were shot in cold blood.
My grandmother’s stories had a great influence on me, and as an adult I decided to return to the story of my great grandfather. I started to search. Working with historians and ethnologists, I spent almost two years researching in archives and museums, and visiting the descendants of Roma partisans. I discovered that the Roma resistance is a forgotten chapter of our history. Roma were not only victims of the war. They took an active part in the partisan movement in several countries – Russia, the former Yugoslavia, Slovakia, Czechia, Italy and elsewhere.
I asked myself how it had happened that society did not know about the Roma in the resistance? Why is there almost nobody left to tell the stories of the Roma resistance members?
Today I am the bearer of my grandmother’s memories in her stories about my great grandfather, and I have discovered further stories of Roma resistance members.
I feel a great responsibility to hand over these memories to society and to preserve the stories of the Roma in the resistance movement from being totally lost, so that the fighters do not die a second time.
Vera Lacková – initiator and author of the exhibition
The exhibition Roma in the Resistance looks at the issue of how memory, forgetting and the representation of historical events are mutually connected. It points to the selective character of the commemoration and communication of such an important milestone in our history as the Slovak National Uprising.
In addition to Slovaks and Roma, representatives of many other ethnic groups fought for the freedom of the Slovak nation in the Slovak National Uprising. The uprising did not bring people together on the basis of ethnicity, but on the basis of certain values and convictions. The silence regarding the participation of Roma in the uprising is the result of several factors, which have to be examined in more detail.
She aims to symbolically right the historic injustice towards the Roma ethnic group with an exhibition that is at the same time a counter-memorial to the Roma heroes.
The exhibition communicates the deeds of the Roma heroes during the uprising, and brings selected motifs and stories from their personal lives, the lives of their families and descendants. Besides five participants in the resistance whose identity is known we want also to commemorate the heroes whose names we no longer know.
It draws attention to the importance of the fates of Roma heroes, and at the same time it poses questions of the permanence and temporality of monuments as such.
Daniel Grúň, curator
Roma in the Slovak National Uprising
The Slovak National Uprising broke out on 29 August 1944. The armed resistance by insurgent military units – partisans – expressed the will of all democratically-minded people to stand up against the pro-Nazi regime of the Slovak Republic, which was a satellite of the Nazi Third Reich. After the withdrawal of the partisans in autumn 1944 there followed repression and the killing of civilians. The repression was carried out by SS members and the Emergency Division H, the emergency divisions of the Hlinka Guard, which also killed Roma civilians.
Few people, however, know that Roma were not only victims. Many of them were also involved in the Slovak National Uprising. Thanks to their knowledge of the terrain, they acted as an excellent connection between the partisans in the mountains and the civilians who helped them. They took into the forests food, supplies, news from the village and reports of the movement of enemy units. Many Roma died because they were considered by Nazi ideology to be “Untermensch”. The largest numbers of Roma men, women and children were killed in Kremnička, Nemecká, Kováčová and Zvolen. The communities where there were the largest proportions of Roma amongst those killed include Ilija, Čierny Balog, Tisovec, Krupina, Lutila, Horný and Dolný Turček.
Many Roma men were directly involved in the partisan groups, fighting and dying alongside soldiers and fellow partisans. They were mostly Roma who had joined partisan groups after they were released from military service. Many had been part of the First Czechoslovak Army Corps, which had been formed on the territory of the Soviet Union and included soldiers who had deserted from the Slovak “Rapid” Division, among them Roma soldiers.
The partisan activity of individuals often took its toll on their families. Whole families were murdered on suspicion that a Roma partisan had taken part in the uprising. Especially after the uprising was put down, the repressions became more intensive and sometimes whole villages were torched.
After liberation it was in many cases very difficult for Roma who had taken part in the uprising to prove their participation. No one ascribed importance to their testimonies. Only exceptionally can we find written sources preserving the testimonies of direct Roma participants in the uprising and of the repression of civilians. Post-war generations have not handed down these memories, or only in exceptional cases. Roma almost completely blanked out memories of the holocaust and wartime, and only rarely did they talk about them to their children. No historical research took place. The stories of Roma partisans and their families were forgotten for good.
Roma in the resistance on the territory of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia
After the Munich Agreement the Czechoslovak Republic broke up and two states were formed. In Bohemia and Moravia the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was created on 16 March 1939. The Nazis included the Protectorate in the framework of the Third Reich, and it was ruled by a protectorate government with military protection.
The presence of German occupying troops, the Gestapo and the protectorate Czech police force significantly impeded resistance activity. Exceptional measures gradually isolated “Gypsies” and opened the way to the ruthless “final solution” of the so-called gypsy question. Protectorate collection camps were created at Lety near Písek and Hodonín near Kunštát. Most of the protectorate Roma were taken from the camps to the gypsy camp at Auschwitz – Birkenau, where they died in the gas chambers.
Those who became involved in insurgent activity were mostly individuals who fought on the side of the insurgents for various reasons. In the cases recorded by us, they were mostly individuals who were imprisoned in one of the concentration camps and managed to escape. The reason was in many cases revenge, since they lost most of their family.
As with the Slovak military republic, only in exceptional cases do we find written records of the Roma partisans‘ testimonies.