Dobroslav Pustaj (1931 - 2013)
“I was guilty only because I let them catch me even though I committed nothing unlawful. The matter of democracy was absolutely natural for me.”
Dobroslav Pustaj was born on July 9, 1931 in Košice. After his father’s death, he and his mother moved to Ružomberok to live with his grandparents. In 1946 his mother died, so he started to work in the cotton processing plants, where he directly witnessed how the militiamen with guns in their hands came and ran workmen out of the work halls to partake in the general strike. Injustice done to the innocent people such as the collectivization of agriculture, the nationalization, or the cruelty directed at the church representatives, all of it made Dobroslav Pustaj fight against that usurping regime, so that he decided to establish the anti-communist organization called the Free Czechoslovakia. The preparations for the fight for democracy followed. It involved collecting weapons for the defence against that violent regime as well as propagation of the Western democratic powers, compromising the communist cadres, gathering news and evolving various enciphering codes, which were the means of communication within this organization. It proliferated under the system of the chain reaction, in which every member recruited other two members, so only three members knew each other. Despite the circumspection, the activities of the organization were revealed and Dobroslav Pustaj was taken into custody on May 6, 1952. The investigation was held in Košice, Ružomberok, and in the Prague prison of Ruzyně. Dobroslav Pustaj was not only tortured by hunger and by physical and mental violence, but also various informers, hecklers, and criminals, whose task was to make his situation even worse, were placed into his cell. After harsh and ruthless investigation, the trial that was just a farce was held. Even Dobroslav’s accomplices testified against him. They were forced to memorize the confrontational records. The state court sat on November 8, 1952, and Dobrosalv Pustaj along with other men in his group was given a “milder punishment”, 25 years of imprisonment, as he began his activities as a minor. He served more than sixteen years without any break. From the year 1953 he worked hard in the Jáchymov labour camps, in the mines of the central camp in Ostrov nad Ohří. He spent more than a year in the correction, which meant having only half dose of food every three days and inhuman treatment from the guards, which was much more intensive. He spent more than three years in isolation, which meant only half of daily dose of food, and four years in the so-called tight isolation of the Ministry of Interior in Leopoldov. When it became clear that they couldn’t detain him for much longer time, he was moved to Valdice u Jičína, where he worked in glassworks under really adverse conditions. He was released on May 10, 1968. However, though being at large, he couldn’t enjoy an undisturbed life as he often “accidentally” met people, whose task was to monitor him carefully. After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, he was one of the participants in the plenary of the Civic Forum in Prague, in the first assembly of the Public against Violence movement in the Union House, he stood for the seat of the city mayor in Ružomberok, and for some time he worked as a president of the Confederation of People Persecuted by the Communism. He used to say that no wrongs that he experienced in his life could break his faith in the future of democracy and he kept his resolution to fight for justice until the very end. This precious man died on June 27, 2013.
“In the year 1948 when I was a young boy, I worked in the so-called silk weaving mill in the plants processing cotton in Ružomberok. They were previously called Mautner enterprises. There I experienced the following. On February 25, I was working in the morning shift, when suddenly a man in dungarees with a charged rifle and a red strip came and said, ‘Everybody out, it’s the general strike!’ He switched the lights and the machines in the hall off and forced us to go to such storeroom to demonstrate. There I witnessed what that February was like. Then I started plotting various strategies along with my friends, who were allowed to continue their studies at that time and who became my accomplices later. We wanted to fight against the regime because we knew one important thing, namely that 62% of the Slovak voters, we hadn’t had the right to vote yet, casted their vote to the democratic party.
The Ideology of the Anti-State Organization Called the Free Czechoslovakia - the So-Called System of Three
“The main program lay in the ideology among the people. We railed against the fact that people were being deprived of their lands and prosperous businesses were being nationalized and then went bankrupt. We know how it was. We were against those sharp practices and we knew how to step in. Our people were everywhere. The organization was huge; however, I knew only a small circle of people. The reason was that we worked under the system of three, so only three people could be in contact and cooperate. The third person usually found other two to cooperate and the first two did not know about them, they shouldn’t have known them. If everybody had respected this rule, there would have been less people taken to prison. Unfortunately, somewhere people were talking about the coup to be held the next day. I knew it wasn’t the truth; it wasn’t prepared for the next day. I didn’t know it would take place forty years later, of course, but I knew it would happen.”
Apology from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia
“About one and a half month later I was called to the office, which was in the same building as the solitary confinement, and some man was sitting there. He wasn’t very old; he was about 35, actually only a bit older than me. And he told me, ‘Did you write this? And why?’ Thus I said them, I repeated the reason and he said in Czech, ‘On behalf of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia I ask your pardon.’ For the unjust battering I got from the guard. And I responded, ‘I accept your apology, but I also ask for some satisfaction. I want my relatives to send some gold to me for the teeth because he broke my own teeth so that the prison doctor had to do resection; he cut them out piece by piece. It was really painful and unpleasant as he used a kind of chisel to do that.’ And he replied, ‘Well, it is beyond my authority. You accepted the apology, didn’t you? Then, you can go.’”
Why Could People Be Sent to the Correction?
“Later, still in the same isolation, I went to the yard and there was the superintendent Kaňoch. I know he fared badly, I mean in his old age. I have always believed in the mills of God. He said, ‘Halt!’ I stopped walking. He said some affront, I can’t remember which exactly, but I know he insulted me. However, I didn’t react. I stood normally there just like an ordinary person usually stands, I mean a civilian. And he said, ‘Why don’t you stand in attention?’ He stood there astride. And I responded, ‘I was arrested when I was conscript without any basic training, so I am standing the way my legs grew, commander. However, you are wearing an emblem, the state symbol, and you are giving orders, so you should stand in attention.’ And he replied, ‘Right, you get five.’ What did the five mean? It meant five days of correction, five days in a concrete catafalque where people ate only once in five days. Half portion, every morning two decilitres of warm water. It was disgusting.”
Visit in Valdice and the End of Imprisonment
“Before I was to be released, about one and a half month before it, certain guests came to Valdice in Jičína District, one gentleman and one lady. I didn’t know that man at all. They led me to the office, where would be only three people, and he said to the guard, ‘Go out! Nobody will be here!’ And when the guard left the room, ‘Oh, Slávek, how are you doing here?’ ‘It is not possible, you are Zdeněk, aren’t you?’ Zdeněk Rohlena, foreign soldier and colonel, and his sister, a chairwoman of the Rehabiliattion Committe of the Union of the Political Fighters (SPB), came to see me and said, ‘I will go with you.’ However, I didn’t know I was about to be released. Before they came, they founded the club K231 in Prague and as the communists didn’t want me to be there I had to spend some more time in prison. It was only a show from them because they forced me for example to watch the television. I didn’t want it. ‘You have prohibited me from watching TV, so I won’t go there.’‘You have to, it is an order!’ And they sang songs about the youth, Santa Anna Marie, Bývalo nevšedných krás (There used to be a lot of extraordinary beauties), and Zdál se mi sen mladícky (I had a dream of an adolescent boy) and the like, those also were the words. Simonová sang them. However, it wasn’t important; they only wanted me to forget about everything that had happened to me. Of course, I didn’t. And I never will.”
Numeration of Prisoners in Ostrov nad Ohří
“In 1953, at the beginning of the year, four buses with prisoners came to the Central Camp, to the C building in Ostrov nad Ohří. Everybody got the number, we had to strip naked, of course, and we were injected against tetanus into incorrect places. For example I was injected into my breast, which is not a common place for the tetanus vaccination. We spent three days there to familiarize with the conditions and then they drove us to the camps. Everybody got a number. Political prisoners were marked with A or A0. Numbers beginning with 0 were followed by the A line. I belonged to that second line and in 1953 I got the number A0, 9694. My accomplice, who died several years ago, had the number 9646 because his name began with the letter B, not P as it was in my case. And the rest of my accomplices were driven to other camps.”
The First Day - Transfer to the Remand Centre
“As for the prison, immediately after I had been arrested, no investigation followed. I wasn’t allowed to say a word on the way from Tatranská Lomnica to Košice. The guard told me, ‘Be quiet, and don’t say a letter!’ It was a long way in silence. We stopped somewhere midway and they gave me a small roll to eat as they were ordered to give me some food not to die of hunger. There I had to strip naked, of course, and they gave me a kind of prison clothing or something like that and took me to my cell. Nothing else happened that day. They had to place other people arrested that day somewhere and only after that the investigation started.”
“Sentenced, almost innocent, reports the arrival!”
“How did the investigation look like? In the communist era there were no instructions from the prosecutor to say something special, nothing like that. The first words the prosecutor, the State Security member, told me were, ‘Speak about your criminal activities!’ I was staring at him because I didn’t consider my belief in democracy to be the criminal deed. It was normal. However, he repeated, ‘Speak about your criminal activities!’ And he repeated those words for the half of the day. And I told him, ‘I am not aware of any criminal activities of mine,’ so then I used to present myself in Leopoldov prison the way, which was well-known among the prisoners, ‘Sentenced, almost innocent, reports the arrival.’ ‘Why almost?’ I was guilty only because I let them catch me even though I did nothing unlawful. The matter of democracy was absolutely natural for me. I mean the real democracy, not the people’s one.”
Inhuman Conditions during the Investigation
“Well, the investigation was very hard. Every morning they throw some towel to me, blindfolded me, and at noon they took me downstairs. If I managed to uncover at least one eye to see something, I was fortunate that I didn’t kill myself on the stairs. The investigations were really strenuous. I can’t even count all those hours that I spent in the remand centre during the half-year or maybe longer than a half-year period. Then, of course, the investigation itself took even two days without a break, only the State Security members took turns after three hours. But I had to sit there even though my eyelids were drooping; moreover, they poured water on me to wake me up. They knew how to handle it. Then, they forced me to sit there and didn’t let me change my clothes. ‘Sit here and wait until your clothes become dry!’ You know, the conditions were really hard there and if I hadn’t had lieutenant Marky as the investigator, I wouldn’t have survived. He was much more human than the investigator in Košice or the others.”
Political Prisoner Recommends Entering the Party - Legal Illegality
“During the communist era it was usual that one or another came to me and said, ‘Slavko, they wanted me to join the party.’ Thirty years after the communist takeover. And after thirteen years that I spent in prison! ‘What should I do?’ And he was a very wise boy. Thus I told him, ‘You know what, Janko, don’t feel embarrassed and join them. If you enter the party, there will be no dunce and maybe you will promote some good ideas there.’ And I know he really championed a lot of good. He got there and followed my advice, you know, he listened to me and behaved that way. He came, said, and I think more of us could do this illegal work. Legal illegality, indeed.”
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.