The Holocaust of the Roma

Using the story of Jaroslav Herák

This model lesson serves as an introduction to the history of the Holocaust of the Roma in the Czech lands, using the case of an actual Roma family from Luhačovice. It is designed for students who already have basic knowledge of the Holocaust.

  • Goal:

  • The students learn that the Holocaust did not concern only Jews, but also other ethnic groups (Roma). They consider the fact that Roma families on Czech territory were persecuted, not only by the Nazis, but by Czechs themselves, and why.

  • Medium:

  • Critical analysis of pictorial material.

  • Group size:

  • 20 students (four groups of five students).

  • Age:

  • 15-18.

  • Time:

  • Given the time needed for Internet searching, this activity requires two teaching lessons plus homework time.

  • Subject:

  • history, civics

  • Steps:

  • The students form four groups. There then follows a short brainstorming. The teacher writes on the blackboard in capital letters the concept of the Holocaust as they already know it, and briefly discusses its consequences with them.

    • The students find the town of Luhačovice on the map.

    • They then look at the photograph of the Roma settlement, that was established in Luhačovice at the end of the 19th century, and discuss the way of life of the time and the houses of Roma families who had stopped living an itinerant life and had begun to settle in one place. The students write their thoughts down on the paper they have been given.

    • They then look at the photograph of Emil Herák's family from 1940, and compare the living conditions of Roma families from that period with the preceding photograph. (They may wish to include a description of clothing style, which is also an expressing of living standards). As a further aid in describing the living conditions, the pupils may use a photocopied sheet with the estimated price of the house that belonged to Emil's father, Jaroslav Herák, which describes the overall construction and material used. (The students will almost certainly notice the label, now not officially used, Gypsies' House). Again, they write down on the paper their notes from comparing the two pictures.

    • Each group chooses a spokesperson, who now presents the results of the comparison of the two pictures, and, where relevant, the document relating to the construction of Jaroslav Herák's house.

    • Using a photocopy of the certificate , the students try to describe Jaroslav Herák's personality (e.g. he was excellent at singing and physical education, he had shortcomings in the main subjects and a large number of unexcused absences. Once again, his father is described as a gypsy in the heading.)

    • Find out, using the following documents, how Roma were gradually excluded from society and deprived of their rights:

      Students discuss these documents: Decree issued by the regional authority in Uherský Brod limiting the freedom of movement of Roma in Luhačovice and Protest letter of the special committee against the settlement of Roma. They try to find the reason for the two documents being drawn up by the local Czech population or authorities (e.g. fear that spa guests will be robbed, disorderliness and lack of cleanliness among local Roma etc.). At this point it is worth drawing students' attention to stereotyping (labelling, lumping all members of a certain group together, regardless of their individual qualities and behaviour) which is noticeable in this document. Another pictorial document that illustrates the nature of the anti-Roma behaviour of the Czech authorities is Jaroslav Herák's gypsy identity card, issued by the District Authority in Uherský Brod. The students once again write down their observations on the paper, and compare them with the other groups in the class. .

    • The next stage relates to the occupation of the Czech lands. Students discuss the mass registration of Roma and compare it to the mass registration of the Jewish population. They also look at a document concerning the auction of the property of deported Roma from Luhačovice (they note the period in which it was written, and notice the bilingual nature of the document, indicating ongoing Germanisation).

    • Students then learn what happened to the Herák family after deportation in the introduction to The Story of Jaroslav Herák (see in particular the paragraph Behind the gates of the camp in the section marked BII). After studying the text The Gypsy Camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau they describe, in points, the nature of the camp and the living conditions of those deported there. If they wish, students may also study the reminiscences of Iren Herák (link in Czech), especially the chapter Auschwitz-Birkenau, which also mentions the escape of Jaroslav Herák.

  • Written homework:

  • Write the true story of the family of Jaroslav Herák (c. 200 words) on the basis of what you have discovered during your use of the Internet in class time.

  • Conclusion:

  • Students followed the story of a Roma family, the Heráks, during the occupation period. They learned that numerous Roma families had similar experiences during the war. They discovered that the roots of hatred and racism towards Roma in the Czech lands could already be seen in the prewar period, and that there is a partial similarity to antisemitism towards Jews. They know that Roma were deported to the gypsy camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and what the living conditions of those deported were like.

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