Emil Tressa (1927)
“Even though I was free already, I still felt the steps of warder with the automatic in his hands behind my back.”
Emil Tressa was born in 1927 in Spišská Belá. He spent tranquil childhood in the circle of his family where everybody led an active religious life. He was only eighteen-year-old boy when he was caught, interrogated and wrongfully sentenced for the alleged offence of high treason. Till these days he doesn’t know the real reason for his arrest because he had never committed anything unlawful. He recalls only one meeting with his friends where they told each other that they didn’t agree with the communist regime. He was fortunate that he didn’t experience any terror or battering either during his interrogations or in the prison. Warders were quite considerate of him. However, he heard a lot of ghastly stories from his cellmates. There were not only murderers, but also priests in his cell. In spite of all the events, he is able to turn this period of his life into a joke. Thanks to his religious belief he found many precious friends for life among his cellmates.
Figments and Impossibilities
“It was written in our records that we were armed, that we had contacts in abroad. I don’t know who had told them that, but they even claimed on the session of the Communist Party that we had some secret walkie-talkies hidden in tombs in the cemetery and similar impossibilities.”
He Didn’t Suffer Violence…
“[Judge says to the group’s leader:] ‘As for the defendant, who I have just interrogated, you told me about him something what is different from what you are telling me now.’ You know, he stood up for me there really willingly and with the best intentions. He told that I had nothing in common with that group but she silenced him right away. However, I could understand it because I was sure that they were battered. And I dare to tell that they battered them a lot. So I was really fortunate that I had very solid interrogators; it helped me very much. Therefore I can’t brag that I was battered and thus I signed or confessed to something.”
Varied Society in the Cells
“I was lucky that there were six or seven priests in my cell. It meant that just being in their company made the whole situation easier for me. You couldn’t hear words of despair there. It helped me a lot, however, at the same time there were many political prisoners and I can say that majority of them put up quite well with it. In Košice prison there were about six men in one cell and there was also one double murderer with us. I was struck by that because I came to know that he killed both his parents.”
“You know, there were some cases that warder threw the prisoner’s cap there and he, wretch, was confused and wanted to bend down and take his cap back. And it was his fatal mistake because they shot him to death immediately. He didn’t put his cap back on his head anymore. I heard this kind of stories as well. Then some boulders fell on the fence and cut a hole in it. It cut those wires and he told me: ‘Go there!’ And I said: ‘But they will kill me!’ I don’t know where I summoned up courage to tell him: ‘Officer, they will kill me, so why are you sending me there?’ ‘Don’t care about it and go. I have warned them.’ Well, I was really shaking in my shoes when I went down. My legs felt like jelly, stones crumbled in front of me and I was thinking about my death, the end of my life, because as I told you I heard all those stories about killing prisoners this way.”
Unsuccessful Escape Attempt, Six Men Killed
“At night we heard some gunfire, at least those who didn’t sleep, because somebody attacked the guard standing near the mining tower. They could probably use some drill rod to take an automatic from him and get out of there. But, of course, there were some garrisons near the camp, so in my opinion they didn’t plan it very well, it was actually a real silliness and they didn’t manage to escape. It seems to me that they killed six or eight men during that escape attempt and caught all the others. Immediately they came to the camp and spent hours there. Prosecutor general and many Party members came and after several hours of threatening they commanded: ‘The first line, left face!’ and we had to walk past them this way. I liked it very much when the Czechs weren’t afraid and started to salute all the dead men, actually the killed ones. Then everyone who passed by the members took off his cap and we saw how they fumed with anger because they hated to see any compassion, smile and the like.”
Vestment from Handlová and Holly Mass in Prison
“We had secret holy masses in the prison, but what surprised me a lot was… I recall being in Handlová, you know, I used to minister there in our church and Msgr. Trstenský back then lived in Orava region. I was surprised when the warders showed me one room. It was crowded, all the Slovaks came and he was serving the holy mass there, dressed in vestment, so I asked him: ‘Monsignor how is it possible that you are in vestment here? We are wearing prison clothing and you vestment?’ And he responded: ‘I have borrowed it from Handlová.’”
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.