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Karel Holomek

Karel Holomek (1937, Brno - 2023, Brno), a prominent Moravian Romani dissident and politician, co-founder of the Museum of Romani Culture in Brno. His father, Tomáš Holomek, was a lawyer and is renowned as the first university-educated Romani man in the former Czechoslovakia (see his testimony). Karel Holomek studied mechanical engineering at the Military Academy in Brno. After his studies, he worked at the faculty as an assistant professor before he was expelled from the faculty in 1968 for his statements about the occupation by Soviet troops. Subsequently, he was persecuted and could only work in blue-collar professions. At the turn of the 1970s he worked in the Union of Gypsies-Roma as the head of the blacksmith's workshop of the Brno Névodrom. In the 1980s he ran a samizdat publishing house focusing on cultural dissent.

After the Velvet Revolution he became very active in the Romani movement. For two years he also represented the Civic Forum as a member of the Czech National Council. He co-founded the Museum of Romani Culture (MRC) and as honorary chairman was for many years the head of the founding Society of Experts and Friends of the MRC. In 1991 he founded the Community of Roma in Moravia and the Romani newspaper Romano Hangos / Romani Voice, which is still published today. He has also published under the pseudonym Karel Oswald, under which he published an autobiographical book about the Holomek family with the title Dávné vzpomínky (Old Memories). In 2002, he was awarded the Medal of Merit, third grade, by President Václav Havel.

  • Testimony abstract

    The family of Karel Holomek comes from the Hraničky settlement, which was founded by the Holomeks around 1840 on the border of the town of Kyjov and the village of Svatobořice. There is a legend about the origin of the settlement: Once upon a time, nomadic Roma arrived in the village of Milotice. The local countess fell in love with one of them and gave birth to a daughter, a beautiful young countess, but her origins had to remain secret and the Roma were expelled. They did not want to let them settle in any village, but they solved it in a charming way: they found a place on the border of the two cadastres. Since then, the municipalities were in dispute over which of them the settlement belonged to. This was not resolved at the time the settlement was destroyed during the war.

    Karel Holomek recalls that the local family of counts [the Seilerns] always treated the local Roma well, and the children were generously treated at the chateau.

    Karel Holomek's grandfather, Pavel, was a vajda in the settlement, trading in horses, among other things, and when he managed to do well out of selling two horses to the peasants, he decided to buy a house in the village with the money, and he and his entire family subsequently moved into it from the settlement. He attached importance to education and sent his children to school.

    As a so-called Gypsy mixed-breed, Karel Holomek and his sister Marcelina escaped deportation to the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp. They were saved by their mother, who hid both children in the safety of her non-Romani relatives in various villages in Moravian Slovakia. Even Karel Holomek's father, Tomáš Holomek, was spared deportation. He was helped by František Anger, a gendarme from Svabořic, who connived with Klement Boda, the inspector of the "Brno Criminal Police" who was in charge of deporting so-called “cikáni”. Proabably with the help of other people they warned Tomáš Holomek in time and he managed to save himself by escaping to Slovakia, where he hid among the Roma in local settlements while the danger persisted.

    How to cite abstract

    Abstract 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, 34, 174-181, 667-668. 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/karel-holomek (accessed 4/13/2024)
  • Origin of Testimony

    The book "...to jsou těžké vzpomínky" (Horváthová a kol.) quotes from the autobiography that Karel Holomek published under the pen name: Oswald, Karel. Dávné vzpomínky. Brno: Šimon Ryšavý, 2010. Parts of the following chapters were printed: Hraničky (1900-1920), Aj cigán z něčeho mosí byt živ, Rodinná rozprava, Nový život na Hliňáku (1917-1918), Přímluva učitele, TOMÁŠ (1924-1932) – Kyjovské gymnázium, Prázdniny, Svátek svaté Lucie (Smrtná neděle).

    In the original, direct speech by family members is bilingual - in Romani with Czech translation in brackets. Here, in the passages quoted, the Romani is omitted and only the Czech version is printed. Similarly, only the conversation between Karel Holomek's father - Tomáš Holomek - and Count Ladislav Seilern is printed in the Czech translation, which is also in the original French version.

    The memoirs are accompanied by 2 photographs of the Roma settlement Hraničky on the border of the Svatobořice and Kyjov municipalities. Karel Holomek's profile is accompanied by a portrait photograph of him taken in 2001 by Chad Evans Wyatt.

  • Where to find this testimony

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