“I changed from an educated dolt into a completely different person.”
Karel Holomek was born in 1937 in Brno. His father Tomáš grew up in a gipsy settlement in Moravian Slovakia, and he was the first Roma in Czechoslovakia to obtain a university degree. His mother Hedvika was a farmer’s daughter, and she worked as a cook her whole life. His father hid in Slovakia during World War II, most members of the Holomek family died in concentration camps. As half-gypsies, Karel and his sister Marcela were also supposed to join a transport. Fortunately their mother’s courage, one Czech gendarme, and their neighbors from Milotice, the Nazis officials never found them. After the war, the whole family moved to Zlín. Karel’s father joined the Communist Party and became a military prosecutor. He sent Karel to study at the military grammar school in Moravská Třebová. Karel did professional gymnastics, but an injury before his graduation meant he could not continue in his career. Instead, he began studies at the Military Technical Academy in Brno. He remained in the Army until 1969. During the post-1968 party profiling checks he criticized the invasion of the Warsaw Pact armies; he was fired from the Army and then worked as a lorry driver. From the 1970’s, he was active among Brno dissidents, and he distributed Samizdat literature. In 1981, he was discovered and stood trial, and spent a short time in prison. During the revolutionary events of 1989 a coincidence caused him to become chairman of the Civic Forum of Industrial Constructions (the company Průmyslové stavby, where he worked at the time). By that title, he was co-opted as a representative in the Czech National Council, and his post was confirmed during the first free elections. Since the early 1990’s he has been active in attempts to emancipate the Roma communities in the Czech Republic, he has founded the Roma Citizens’ Initiative, the Community of Romas in Moravia, and the Museum of Roma Culture. He has long advocated constructing a memorial in the locations of the former concentration camps in Lety near Písek and in Hodonín near Kunštát. He is a member of the Governmental Council for Roma Minority Matters and one of the most prominent Roma activists in the Czech Republic.