Bernard Pánči (1922)

Photo: Bernard Pánči

Biography

“...it’s not eternity, you’ll bear up.”

Bernard Pánči was born on September 12, 1922 in Biely Potok near Ružomberok as one of nine children. In 1931 he started to attend the elementary school in Ružomberok. He continued his studies at a grammar school where he graduated in 1941. Yet in June of the same year he entered the seminary in Spišská Kapitula and in 1946 he was ordered a priest. His first stops were Oravské Veselé, Námestovo, Liptovský Mikuláš, and right after that - PTP (Auxiliary Technical Battalions) - as he belonged to the majority of priests who did not agree with the communist ideology. He was arrested on January 13, 1958, spent half a year in the remand centre in Žilina, and subsequently he was tried. On July 20, 1958 the sentence was passed - 13 years of imprisonment for committing a crime of high treason. Bernard served his sentence in Valdice near Jičín where he worked as a glass purist. He wasn't released until the second amnesty in 1962. After that he worked in Lesostav (Forest Company) for one year and in Ružomberok as an assistant warehouser. Since March 19, 1966 he was a parish priest in Nižné Ružbachy for 21 years, later on he was moved to Matiašovce in Zamagurie, to Močenok, and to Spišská Kapitula.

Joy in the Kitchen, Sadness in Cell

Bernard Pánči - Joy in the Kitchen, Sadness in Cell (data format Flash Video)

“Approximately a month later since I returned from the Supreme Court in the beginning of December 1958 into the prison in Vodice, I was sent to the kitchen, along with other two prisoners. We were to wash cups for about 2000 prisoners. It took us from three o’clock to six to have it done and afterwards they gave us such a pleasant dinner - semolina pudding. I really enjoyed it, but then came another nice temptation. One of the cooks, a Slovak who knew I was a priest was a chef’s assistant, and this chef was a hooligan. The cook wanted to honor me in someway, so he brought me a dose of pork meat (half of the cup), as it was Saturday and they were preparing a lunch for the next Sunday. Well, I said: “Thank you very much, but I am not hungry.” I didn't want to pique him, though, and I asked if I can take it for my co-brothers to the cell. He told me: “I will ask my boss.” He asked the chef who gave the permission, and I boldly took it, one cup with the meat and the other with tea.”

Joy in the Kitchen, Sadness in Cell - (2nd part)

Bernard Pánči - Joy in the Kitchen, Sadness in Cell - (2nd part) (data format Flash Video)

“And when we were going from the kitchen to the cell, there was such one unintelligent and malicious warder who was called by others “vúl z ulmú”. As he was letting me in the cell of the former cartusian monastery, he saw I carried something, so he asked: “What have you got?” I say: “Leftovers.” And he immediately made a judgement: “You stole it!” I answered: “Please, come to the senses…” But he took it, precisely the cup with the meat, and ran to the chef. He asked him whether he gave the permission, however, the chef got the fright and denied. As he denied, the warder wrote a report letter to the commandership: “Prisoner no. 3966 stole greater amount of meat.” When my co-prisoners found that out, they said: “Well, greater amount of meat, that’s maybe half of the wagon!” On the next day, when I went to the report, the commander asked me how it all had happened. I didn't want to sprawl so I said: “I considered it garbage, so I took it to my friends to the cell.” And he only replied: “Ten days of correction. Report the leaving!” I went to that correction probably after a week and there at least I did my spiritual retreat. But it all had serious consequences two years later. When the amnesty was declared, I didn't receive it just for the reason of having that transgression, even it was the unfair one. I had to be imprisoned for another two years.”

“He Has Been Destroying Institutional Clothing and Has a Negative Attitude to Work…”

Bernard Pánči - “He Has Been Destroying Institutional Clothing and Has a Negative Attitude to Work…” (data format Flash Video)

“When the amnesty of May 9, 1960 came, I did not receive it, even though all of my accomplices, also those who were second or third time punished, were released. I didn't and as I got informed at the court in Banská Bystrica about the reason, they told me it was because I was being constantly disciplinarily punished. Afterwards I could also appeal to the Supreme Court where they said: “If you were only once disciplinarily punished, you deserve the amnesty, but we’ll reexamine that.” So they reexamined it and the Institution found except the one so-called sin another two: he has been destroying institutional clothing and has a negative attitude to work. And this really offended me, because in the PTP (Auxiliary Technical Battalions) I was rewarded for my work results and now they said “negative attitude to work.” I knew though, when this arose. In 1960 when the new prisoners came, e.g. monastics, the State Security deployed a control of young warders to be spying on me. As I wanted to show to the new ones the working techniques of polishing pendants, I met with them for about 10 minutes. The warder didn't come and look why did I go to them, but he simply made a judgement: “He has been destroying institutional clothing and has a negative attitude to work.” This offended me so much that if I didn't have faith, I would murder them as well as myself.”

The Most Tragic Fates

Bernard Pánči - The Most Tragic Fates (data format Flash Video)

“The one who prayed was not desperate. However, there were also people, who - I don't know if being Catholics - but who took their lives. Only as I know, during the four years I was in the prison, about 16 people committed a suicide. The State Security officers were guilty for this as they set the prisoners' wives on, they lied to them that their husbands would never come back and that they would stay in the prison forever. “You are free, you can get re-married,” they used to tell them. And the women believed the officers, re-married and when the husband somehow found out about it, he didn't see any other solution than to commit a suicide. Those were the most tragic fates. One man even took his life on the amnesty day in 1960. He thought the amnesty would be received only by those having to serve few months and not years, like he had, because he was to be in prison for over 20 years. And when they came to announce he would be released on the amnesty, they found him bled to death. He slashed his wrists. Those were really very sad cases.”

Secret Holy Masses

Bernard Pánči - Secret Holy Masses (data format Flash Video)

Interviewer: “Could you, please, describe how did you manage to serve secret holy masses?”

Bernard Pánči: “The most riskless it was to say the mass yet before the wake-up signal, because until then there was silence. Sometimes we managed to serve the mass whilst working on cutting the glass. When I was polishing, I used to be at one side, my good friend at the other; we could hear each other quite well, and he was even able to minister me. We made a wine from the grapes. Our relatives could send us dried grapes in the packages, which we poured into the water in the evening and until the morning it would absorb only as much water as it was needed. So on the next day, it was like a fresh grape and that was enough. One piece was sufficient for one holy mass; that one little berry. And as I say - this was what helped us survive.”

Humanity in Prison?

Bernard Pánči - Humanity in Prison? (data format Flash Video)

“Well, however, I say that I do not regret going also to the PTP (Auxiliary Technical Battalions), because there we were able to show the communists we could not only pray or preach, but also toil. So I think it had quite a positive impact. In the prison there were some guards who weren’t so cruel to us. Some of them were human and we could get along with them. There was one warder called Vít who once said to a Czech priest: “You work too little, you will go to the correction.” As he said that, the priest put down his cap and answered: “As you deign to think, Commander.” This disarmed the warder into such extend, that he only gasped his breath and said: “Well, only, only, only try your best.” And he didn't let the priest go to the correction. That was very nice.”

Year 1989

Bernard Pánči - Year 1989 (formát Flash Video)

“When the year 89’ came, one Czech theologist Dr. Jozef Zvěřina was performing and preaching also with Mr. President Havel and Mr. Dubček on the airport plain. When they were allowed to give a talk, Dr. Jozef Zvěřina delivered such a wonderful speech that as I was listening to him at home, I gave him applause. Away from other words, he said also this sentence: “I was imprisoned for 16 years, but I do not complain, because all I went through I sacrificed for this moment.” And that’s when I clapped. It's true. Firstly we need to suffer and then await the laurels.”

Print