“THREE Roma assaulted Petro Z., a fifteen-year-old boy from Breclav“, confidently proclaimed MF Dnes, the most read Czech daily.1 “Brutally beaten Petro ... will lose a kidney“, was one of the tamer headlines that over a million readers saw in the most read tabloid. Back in April 2012, this was the tone in which the majority of Czech mass-media informed about the event. Michal David, a jovial hitmaker, publicly presented Petro with a cheque for 100 000 Kc (€ 3,700) “for bravery”.
Two thousand people showed up for a demonstration arranged by the Workers‘ Youth and the Workers‘ Party of Social Justice. Two hundred of them set out to a street inhabited by the local Roma, chanting “let’s go get them”, ("pojďme na ně" in Czech). Tens of police hoplites prevented a clash.
The spiral of group libelling started to rotate one Sunday in April when Petro performed gymnastics on a rail in a tower block and fell to a lower storey. Afraid of his parents‘ reaction, he made up a story of a Roma assault, which he rendered vividly: “They wanted a cigarette. … If somebody does not have it, they [the Roma] beat him up.” Major media dully accepted the boy’s narrative and the people responded with wrath. Only after the kid was submitted to a lie detector a month later, it turned out that he made the story up.
Reporters denied any wrongdoing, even though they based their story on de facto one source.
It was not the first time when a child’s fear of punishment and a lethargy of the accountable professionals lead to a march on a shunned minority. A similar story unreeled in the Polish town of Kielce already seventy years earlier. An eight-year-old boy came home late. To avoid a beating, he told his parents that he was kidnapped by Jews. He pointed at a real man and described that he was held in a cellar of a Jewish community centre.
The policemen searched the building and found out it does not have a basement. To the people standing around, however, they replied that in that house, the Jews are said to ritually murder Christian kids. Several dozen soldiers arrived.2 The armed forces did not, however, stand against the menacing crowd, as they did a few decades later in Břeclav. A group of civilians accompanied by several soldiers broke into the Jewish centre. Somebody opened fire. Skirmishes broke out, and the violence spread out to other city districts. Over six hundred workers from a nearby steel mill arrived, accompanied by communal politicians from the ruling party. They started to beat the Jews with steel rods. None of the present state forces intervened against, some joined the mob.
An order was established only with the arrival of additional security forces from Warsaw. With dusk on June 4th 1946, 40 Jews fewer lived in the town.3
Reporters responsible for spreading the myth of an attack in Břeclav denied any wrongdoing, even though they based their story on de facto one source. Their articles are still available online in the original wording.