Božena Růžičková, née Růžičková, 1924, Sobotka, Jičín district
Božena Růžičková was the eldest of nine siblings, one of whom died as a child. Her mother's name was Aloisie Růžičková, and her father was a boilermaker. They travelled in the covered wagon in which the family lived, so the children did not go to school. They helped their father with his work, for example, cleaning the boilers that he repaired and made for households and small businesses. The family was affected by the ban on travelling [Law No. 117/1927 on Travelling Gypsies] and had to settle down; but they carried on living in the wagon. Božena Růžičková says that under Germany they were dispersed, and she then lived with her fiancé in the village of Lobeč.
-  After the German invasion. (ed.)
When Růžičková was taken from Lobeč to Lety, she was pregnant. The the Roma were taken together by train and upon arrival they were shaved to the skin. Růžičková recalled the director admitting them the next day and telling them, "The gate has opened in front of you, the gate has closed behind you - and from here there is no return."
There were wooden barracks in the camp. The prisoners slept on tiers of bunks and were given blankets. The [warder Bedřich] Pešek was in charge of the camp kitchen, and he would beat the prisoners with a bullwhip for standing in the wrong queue, and steal their food. Růžičková heard that they [the warders] had a cellar where they kept for themselves butter and other food that was intended for the children. The children were given a thin slice of bread and half a litre of milk as their food. Cabbages were growing in the middle of the camp, but when the children wanted to pick them, they were beaten.
She recalled how one old man was strung up by his arms from pole as punishment and left there for about two hours; then they carried him off.
According to Božena Růžičková, bodies were buried in a pit; when more of them died, they used lime and covered the pit with dirt.
The prisoners used to go to work, only the old and infirm stayed in the camp. Although Růžičková was pregnant, she worked in the quarry; she gave birth to a baby girl in the camp sickroom. An older woman who had experience helped her during the birth; the child was all right when she was born, but did not survive long Božena Růžičková escaped from the camp in 1942 and had to hide in the woods, where she was joined by her fiancé, who had also escaped from Lety. However, she fell ill with typhus and was taken to a hospital, where after a while she was arrested on the basis of a denunciation and taken to the Gestapo in Jičín and then to Pankrác in Prague. She was sentenced to six years; her fiancé was sentenced to death.
Bozena Růžičková was taken from Pankrác on a transport to Germany, passing through prisons in Bremen, Hamburg and Lübeck. Among other things, she survived a death march; when she could go no further, she sat down in the snow and waited to be shot like the others, but a Vlasovite put her on a wagon and saved her.
She was liberated by the British Army in Lübeck and was sent to a repatriation camp where she was taken care of by the Swedish Red Cross.
Božena Růžičková returned to Prague alone after the war; her parents and younger siblings had perished in the concentration camp. In Prague she married Čenek Růžička, a widower who had suffered a similar fate, whom she had known before the war. They moved to Liberec to find accommodation and work, and had a son. After her husband's death, she moved in with relatives.
Božena and Čeněk Růžička were the godparents of Čeněk Růžička, the co-founder and chairman of the Committee for the Compensation of the Roma Holocaust in the Czech Republic, which has from 1997 been advocating the demolition of the pig farm on the site of the former camp in Lety.
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. ISBN 978-80-86656-45-8, 10, 112-113, 334, 341, 364, 382, 408, 454, 505, 541, 554-555, 567, 696, 710. 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/bozena-ruzickova (accessed 11/26/2023)
Origin of Testimony
The interview with Božena Růžičková was recorded in Czech on June 19, 1997 in her home in the form of a videotape which is now in the collections of the Museum of Romani Culture and is available online on the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The memoir is supplemented by an archival photograph from the wedding of Božena and Čeněk Růžička and a portrait of Růžička taken during the filming of the interview.
Where to find this testimony