JUDr. Tomáš Holomek
Tomáš Holomek (1911, Hraničky by Svatobořice, Kyjov district – 1988, Brno) was a lawyer and the first Romani person in Czechoslovakia to receive a university education. He came from the Romani settlement of Hraničky between Kyjov and Svatobořice in Moravia. When he was 11 years old, the family moved to a house in Svatobořice, where he started attending the local primary school. A few years later he completed his secondary education at the Kyjov gymnasium and graduated from the Faculty of Law of Charles University in Prague. At the end of the 1930s, the family was persecuted by the Nazis and most of Tomáš Holomek's relatives perished in Auschwitz. He managed to avoid being sent to a concentration camp by escaping to Slovakia.
After the war, in 1945-1946, he completed the examinations to be awarded the academic degree of Doctor of Law at the Faculty of Law of Masaryk University in Brno. He worked as a lawyer in public departments in Hodonín and Gottwaldov (today's Zlín) and finished his career in the army, where he served as a military prosecutor with the rank of colonel until his retirement.
Tomáš Holomek was a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and from 1969 to 1971 was a member of the House of Nations of the Federal Assembly, and also of the Czech National Council. He was also one of the founding figures of the international Roma movement. In 1969 he co-founded the Union of Gypsies-Roma, where he focused, among other things, on the issue of compensation for Roma for racial persecution, and for three years he was director of the Nevodrom business enterprise there. As a member of the Gypsy-Roma Union delegation, he attended the 1971 World Romani Congress at Orpington, near London, where delegates agreed on the design of the Romani flag, the Romani international anthem, and the preference for the ethnonym Roma instead of Gypsy. The "Karlik" that Tomáš Holomek referred to was his son Karel Holomek (born 1937 in Brno), also an activist and politician, a member of the Czech National Council from 1990-1992 for Civic Forum and also for the Civic Movement.
Tomáš Holomek grew up in squalid conditions in a Romani settlement between Svatobořice and Kyjov. His father was a labourer, and neither his parents nor his five brothers could read or write. When he was 11 years old, they moved from a shack in the settlement, where he said they lived with rats, to a house in Svatobořice where he started school. At first he had problems there – the children made fun of him for being a gypsy, and he was five years older than the rest of his classmates. In his third year, however, on the recommendation of his teacher, he had already passed the entrance examination to the gymnasium in Kyjov, where his classmates, mostly from rich families, didn’t accept him until he was in the fifth year. Nevertheless, he studied with distinction; his main incentive was the knowledge that his parents had to go without in order for him to go to school. After graduation, he chose to study law because he did not have to attend lectures and could earn extra money from coaching.
When the country was occupied, Tomáš Holomek was living in the village of Milotice in the Hodonín district. At that time he was already married and had a son and a daughter. He was unable to earn a living as a lawyer, so he worked in the mines operating a honka, as the tubs that carried the coal were called. The work was physically extremely strenuous. After six months he got a job in an office in the glassworks in Kyjov, to which he commuted by bicycle.
His parents were deported from Svatobořice in March and fourteen days later he received a telegram at work from a Mr Mareš from the criminal police at Bartolomějská [in Prague], with whom he was acquainted from his studies at the Faculty of Arts. The text read: “Things are hotting up for you! Yours, Dr. Good." He immediately realized what was happening and went home to Milotice, where he appealed for help to his son Karlik's teacher, Mr. Hamernik, and then to Count Seiler, the head of the Oberlandrat in Olomouc, but both turned him down. So the family packed their belongings and, with their bundles on their backs, left on foot for the village of Dubňany, about ten kilometres away, where his wife's sister lived (Holomek's wife was not a Roma). Tomáš Holomek was in contact with the postmaster from Milotice, and when he received word from him that the Gestapo was looking for him, he fled along the smuggling trail between Hodonín and the village of Holíč in Slovakia so as not to endanger his relatives in Dubňany. He hid mainly in Roma settlements or in the forests, and often did not eat for three or four days. He suffered three ruptured duodenal ulcers, and naturally could not see a doctor. He remembered a raid by German soldiers near the villages of Gelnica and Margecany, where he was hiding in a settlement in the attic of a Roma family. The Russians dropped paratroopers in the area and the German soldiers were searching for them, but Tomáš Holomek managed to escape from the encircled settlement into the forest. He emphasises the solidarity that prevailed among the Roma. Not only did they not turn him in, but they always provided him with food and lodging. According to him, in Slovakia the persecution of Roma was not as severe as in Bohemia and Moravia.
After the war, he learned that his parents and all his brothers had perished in Auschwitz. At first he was convalescing in a hospital in Uherské Hradiště, and when he returned to Milotice in June, he was appointed commissar there. On his return, he saved Hamernik, the teacher, from being lynched by the local people who were taking revenge on him for denouncing them. When Hamernik thanked him, he told him that he should be tried in a court of law, not by self-appointed judges, and had him taken to Kyjov, where the people's court sentenced him to death. Holomek also mentions the fate of Count Seiler, whose property was confiscated so that he ended up in the poorhouse; after six months, however, he left for Austria, where he had relatives.
Tomáš Holomek was transferred from the local national committee to the regional committee, and in 1949 was approached by [Josef] Korčák with an offer to join the army. Holomek said that he laughed at him at first, but then the Party told him to do it, so he worked as a military prosecutor in Kroměříž until his retirement.
“Wait, I'll sing you my father's song”, Tomáš Holomek said at the end, and he sang in Romani a song whose lyrics in Czech translation begin “Run, boy, run, the gendarmes are coming and they're carrying chains...” By the last verse he was overcome with emotion and the recording ends.
How to cite abstractAbstract of testimony from: HÜBSCHMANNOVÁ, Milena, ed. “Po židoch cigáni.” Svědectví Romů ze Slovenska 1939–1945.: I. díl (1939–srpen 1944). 1. Praha: Triáda, 2005. ISBN 80-86138-14-3, 646-651. 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/tomas-holomek (accessed 11/29/2023)
Origin of Testimony
The interview with Tomáš Holomek was recorded in Brno in Czech by Milena Hübschmannová and is abridged. The filming had been planned since the time of their cooperation in the Gypsy-Roma Union in the early 1970s, but was eventually made in 1985, when Tomáš Holomek was already ill and, according to the editor, despondent and waiting to die. She included his story in the publication, even though he was from Moravia – the Holomek family suffered the fate of the Roma in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia during the war. Hübschmannová wanted to highlight the difference in official attitudes towards Roma in Slovakia and in the Protectorate. Part of the interview is a Romani song with three verses, which Tomáš Holomek sang at the end of the interview, followed by a Czech translation.
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