Berta Berousková known as America, née Richtrová, 1928, Prostějov
Berta Berousková was born in Prostějov in 1928 to Anna Richtrová (1911) and Robert Richtr (1907), who had a knife grinding workshop in Prostějov and used to sell cloth at fairs. She grew up with her grandmother Marie Richtrová known as Marhula and remembered her difficult childhood spent in a covered wagon on the road between Pelhřimov, Tábor, Olomouc and Brno. She experienced hunger and cold; her grandmother could not walk, so she had to be there to help her. She was at school only a few times, but not to study; she cooked food for her classmates and the headmaster. Her favourite place was at Planýrka in Brno, [a locality between Černá Pole and Královo Pole], where there was a pond and peasants lived nearby, so they had plenty of water and hay for the horses. Her grandmother used to send her with a pot for food to the Brothers of Mercy, where they always loaded her up with a full pot; she could not understand how she managed to carry it. She was given the nickname America because even as a child she was always able to get food, and didn't want to be paid in kind for her work, but in cash so she could then buy what she needed herself.
She grew up with her aunt Alžbeta Lagronová, known as Květa, who was two years younger, and her sister Barka, who was two years older.
She remembered that they both liked to go to parties and do their hair into what they called shanks [curling it into individual ringlets (ed.)].
The family had right of abode at Mezilesí near Pacov, where the mayor allowed them to park their covered wagons on a plot of land near the pond and build a stable for their horses. Berousková’s father and grandfather worked in the local forest and used their horses to drag the felled trees out of the forest. The gendarmes from Pacov enquired after the family; the mayor vouched for them, but they were later found by other Czech policemen and told to pack up and go to work on a state farm for six months, from which they soon returned. On the way, at the border of each district they were handed over to local gendarmes. Eventually they reached Lety u Písku, where they had their horses and wagon confiscated and were imprisoned in the camp. There they were reunited with their grandfather, Robert Čermák (born 1878), who had been imprisoned in the camp earlier for gambling [at the time Lety was run as a disciplinary labour camp (ed.)].
On arrival, they were given an injection against typhus. They were housed in wooden barracks with three bunk beds on opposite walls and a table with a pot and spoons in the middle. There were eight to ten people in each barrack. Berta Berousková was thirteen years old at the time and lived in barrack No. 45 with her grandmother, aunt Květa and other female relatives.
The women were on one side of the camp and the men on the other, but they went together to wash in the adjacent pond. They had to undress, wash quickly in the icy water and run back to their quarters. Berousková describes it as very humiliating, especially for the Sinti and Roma who observed ritual purity. She recalled that they suffered from hunger, and were given, for example, two small unpeeled potatoes, red cabbage, a quarter of bread, etc., to eat. As a result they would go to the compost heap to collect peelings. The situation improved with the arrival of a new commander from Hodonín u Kunštátu, who ordered the children to be given milk and white bread as well. The food rations for the prisoners were, she said, distributed by the policemen [guards]. Her uncle and Manky cooked in the kitchen, and she learned from them that they also prepared meat from confiscated horses and gave it to the prisoners to eat.
The men worked in the forests and the women broke and carried stones. She herself worked in a tailor's shop with her grandmother. She learned how to sew on a sewing machine and made suits for the prisoners or mended uniforms for the guards, including for the camp in Hodonín.
Relations between the prisoners sometimes lacked solidarity. Berousková recalled a Marie Vrbová from Prague, who worked in the laundry, but when someone came to get hot water, she did not give it to them, and even beat them with a slipper. After the war, some people took revenge on her and smashed up her house.
Berousková recalled roll call when all the prisoners had to be lined up in three or four ranks and a German sorted them into two groups. He would feel their collarbones. Most of the prisoners had to get on trucks and were taken away, but a smaller number were allowed to stay and had to help in the demolition of the camp. Berta Berousková, her father, grandmother and aunt Alžběta, called Květa, together with approximately 90 other prisoners were subsequently released from the camp. It is believed they were saved by being obedient and working for the guards.
Berousková was then supposed to leave for forced labour in Dresden, but the train she was on was blown up by partisans. She managed to escape, but while she was running away she was shot through the hip and the wound caused her permanent disability. At the end of the war she had a daughter with her partner Karel Růžička, who was deported from Lety (where he worked as a doctor's assistant) to Auschwitz II - Birkenau.
-  It is not specified from where.
-  11. 8. 1942. (ed.)
-  Štěpán Blahynka.
-  Antonín Wintr or Vintr. (ed.)
-  Eating horse meat is unacceptable for many Roma and Sinti.
-  His name is given as K. H. Frank, but it has to be weighed up whether this was a different official or inspector visiting the camp, since there is no documentation of the presence of Karl Hermann Frank, State Secretary of the Reich Protector's Office, in the otherwise fully preserved archival holdings on the camp at Lety. It might have been August Lyss. (ed.)
-  Ctibor Nečas writes in his book We Can't Forget - Našt'i bisteras (pp. 77-78) that after the dispatch of the transport, which was formed by the resolute lieutenant Štěpán Blahynka from Hodonín u Kunštátu instead of the dismissed commander Josef Janovský, the last 198 prisoners remained in the camp. They were then gradually taken to the so-called Gypsy camp in Hodonín u Kunštátu or to the assembly camps in Prague-Ruzyně and Pardubice; only some of the remaining prisoners were released on 27 May 1943.
Karel Růžička survived his imprisonment and returned, but between 1947 and 1948 he died in a hospital in Písek allegedly from the effects of wartime deprivation – pulmonary tuberculosis. After the war Berousková [Růžičková] met her second husband called Gusta from the Berousek family. He had had a good childhood; his mother danced on horseback, and he played the accordion upside down on a trapeze. The husband and wife began to travel with the circus together. They lived in Hradec Kralové and from the late 1960s in Brno. Berta Berousková raised eleven children: two sons and nine daughters. She cooperated with the Museum of Romani Culture and participated as a memorialist in educational and cultural events organised by the museum.
How to cite abstractAbstract of testimony from: HORVÁTHOVÁ, Jana a kol. ... to jsou těžké vzpomínky. 1. svazek. Vzpomínky Romů a Sintů na život před válkou a v protektorátu. Brno: Větrné mlýny, Muzeum romské kultury, 2021, 91-95, 126, 317, 338-339, 358, 380-381, 393, 404-405, 428, 452, 499-500, 516, 519-521, 578-581, 600, 611-612, 636, 649-650. Testimonies of the Roma and Sinti. Project of the Prague Forum for Romani Histories (Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences), https://www.romatestimonies.com/testimony/berta-berouskova-2 (accessed 11/29/2023)
Origin of Testimony
Berta Berousková's testimony is based on interviews conducted in Brno in 1990, 2001, 2003 and 2004. The interviews were conducted in Czech and their recordings in the form of audio recordings, videotapes and transcripts are archived in the collections of the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno. Reference is made to the Research Report 21/2006 Czech Roma - Sinti and quotations from the testimonies published in the following sources: Helena Danielová, Paměti romských žen, Kořeny I (Memories of Roma women, I), Museum of Romani Culture, Brno 2002; Ctibor Nečas, Nemůžeme zapomenout - našťi bisteras (We cannot forget - našťi bisteras). Paul Polansky, Black Silence, G plus G, Prague 1998.
The recollections are supplemented by photographs from the collections of the Museum of Romani Culture, the oldest of which is a group photograph of prisoners from Block 45 in CT I at Lety u Písku dated 1942-1943, in which, in addition to Berousková (then Richtrová), there are also her partner Karel Růžička, her father Robert Richtr, and his parents Robert Čermák and Marie Richtrová. The photograph, probably taken in September 1944, shows the survivor after her release from the camp in Lety, and another portrait of her is probably dated 1945/1946. Two photographs by Jana Horváthová show Berta Berousková at an international seminar on the genocide of Roma and Sinti in Prague in 2003.
Where to find this testimony