Augustín Valentovič (1923 - 2010)
“Open-mindedness and faith. These two attributes helped us to bear up the hell, even the Jáchymov one.”
Augustín Valentovič was born on January 20, 1923, in Bohdanovce in Trnava region. He spent his childhood together with his mother and sister Vilma in the village; however, he grew up without his father – a bricklayer and a carpenter – who died when Augustín was just four years old. He had always longed for education, books attracted him a lot. For one year he had attended the former municipal school, and then he was at the standard octennial Roman Catholic grammar school in Kláštor pod Znievom where he also passed the leaving examination. Later he enrolled at the Faculty of Arts of the Comenius University in Bratislava (FF UK), at the Department of Classical Philology. To be able to finance his studies, right after passing the first state examination in 1946, he started to work as an editor for the former "Slovak News Agency" in Prague. He worked there until the year 1949. When the communists had taken over the government in 1948, he wasn’t able to mask his inner feelings since this situation was in variance with his beliefs. Because of his open attitudes and numerous contacts with opponents of the communist regime he got in disgrace and on September 21, 1949, due to his attitudes and activities he was arrested in Prague. He spent almost one year in custody until the former State Court in Prague charged him with the offences of high treason and espionage. Subsequently on June 1, 1950, he was sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment and sent to Jáchymov mines. He commenced his sentence in August 1950 in Prague and served it in many prisons and camps: Pankrác, Klatovy, Ústredný tábor, Vykmanov, Mariánska, Svatopluk, Dvanástka, Ležnice, Bytíz, Vojna. He was released from prison thanks to the presidential amnesty from May 9, 1960. All in all he spent in prisons 10 years, 7 months and 21 days. After his release he worked as a manual worker in Stavoindustria, later in Pozemné stavby and Chema, and between the years 1964 and 1966 concurrently with being employed, he attended the Secondary School of Electrical Engineering in Bratislava. Since 1967 he worked for Bratislava Electrotechnical Plants (BEZ) in the departments of Scientific and Technical Information (VTI) and the Welding Research Institute (VÚZ). Although he retired in 1983, he stayed working there for another five years. In the period of political liberalization, actually in the year 1970, he also managed to finish successfully his previously abandoned studies at the Faculty of Arts of the Comenius University in Bratislava. In the 1990s he got his dream job and started to teach classical languages at the Trnava University in Trnava, at the Faculty of Arts of the Comenius University in Bratislava, and also at the Aloisiana at the Trnava University, where he taught Latin and Ancient Greek in the Department of Classical Languages. On August 11, 1962, he married a teacher Matilda née Svítková and they decided to have Christian wedding ceremony in Bratislava. One year after the wedding their daughter Iveta was born. Later on, when she wanted to enrol at the university, she got into difficulties because of her father’s past, but finally she managed to finish the studies of French and Romanian languages at the Faculty of Arts of the Comenius University. Augustín Valentovič died on July 19, 2010.
The Power of Faith in God
“Also other people soon realized that we needed some superior force to overcome that entire evil, that we weren’t able to manage it alone. Well, people started to approach God more and more in their civil lives. And immediately they could see the impacts; they felt stronger to endure everything, all the iniquities and indeed there were many precious men, ordinary but precious characters.”
The Threat of Death
“That shooting zone was guarded so heavily that if you went a bit closer, they started to fire without any warning. We had to walk along the watchtower and then our way turned somewhat. My cellmate carried a board to the camp and the tail end of that board reached the zone. They started to fire; fortunately, they didn’t hit him, probably they weren’t supposed to kill him although they fired. There were some cases that the commander grabbed the prisoner’s cap and threw it into the shooting zone, and then the prisoner was sent to bring the cap back. Several men died there this way. Oh yes, they shot them to death. Pretty simply.”
“We had the lights-out but firstly we lined up. It was called the evening muster. If something was wrong, we were forced to line up again. Anytime, even at night. It was really unpleasant situation, mainly in winter. We had to stand outdoors and you know, there were severe winters in Ore Mountains, so we suffered a lot there. We used to hover and dance Jáchymov tango as we called it. Sometimes, I would say the guards used those musters as a form of punishment; definitely, they only wanted to punish us. However, we had to endure it.”
Starving - the Way of Atonement and Punishment
“On Sundays we usually had some cold food, it was a kind of cake and when I was serving in Pankrác, that woman passed me something, I didn’t know, a little jam over it and with the slice of salami. It was about ten decagrams. Well, I had no idea what to do, whether I should eat it right after the lunch or keep it, but the latter was hard because I was starving. So I sliced it really thinly and ate only one piece. However, since I wasn’t able to stash it, I became truly hungry. Later they transported us from Mariánska, where they cooked quite well, to the camp called Dvanásť, and as somebody attempted to escape from there, a very strict regime prevailed in this camp. I had brought a bigger piece of bread and, of course, they stole it from me until the morning came. So I stayed starving. I had to get accustomed to these situations. All in all I would say that our diet was really insufficient and sometimes they used our hunger as a form of punishment. We were starving and cold. It was one of the worst experiences. However, we tried to rise above it.”
“Near Vykmanov camp in Jáchymov where they usually sent priests and felons, we mined, milled and assorted that row ore into the barrels, into some special boxes and in a while Russians came and took them away. You know, we had to assort the ore [uranium] just with our bare hands. With our bare hand, we didn’t use any protective equipment. Just imagine it, and then I saw the finger of God pointing that illnesses and consequences of radiation weren’t very frequent. Fortunately, they were rare indeed.”
Meeting Norms and Solidarity among Prisoners
“It was an internal and unspoken agreement among workers at a certain workplace. For example, we alone upped the percentage a bit, actually it was more than twenty, and the rest was assigned to those who weren’t strong enough or sick. Once it happened that we reached 118 percent, so they sent us to a so-called punitive barrack. Being there meant that we weren’t allowed to walk in the camp, that we had to stay there and were forced to help in the kitchen, for example, by peeling potatoes and things like that. Though, I was glad about it because it was a calm place, so I took some literature there and studied it.”
The story and videoclips of this witness were put together and published thanks to the financial support of EU within the programme Europe for Citizens – Active European Remembrance.