Gabriel Novák (1930)

Photo: Gabriel Novák

Biography

“Live by the sword, die by the sword.”

Gabriel Novák was born on July 1, 1930, in Trebišov in the family of a clerk. His father worked at the Local National Committee (MNV) as a cashier. Gabriel was raised in accordance with the principles of Christianity; his father even played the pipe organ in local Roman-Catholic church. When he finished his five-year study at the public school, in 1941 he enrolled at the Grammar school in Michalovce. He had studied there for seven years but then he was dismissed because of the distribution of leaflets aimed to fight against the people’s democratic republic. At the same time, he was also suspected of an attempt to flee abroad, to hostile territory. Considering that he was dismissed from all secondary schools in the republic, he couldn’t receive higher education. In June 1950 he started to work in the State Tractor Station as a tractor-driver; however, two months later he became a planner. Meanwhile he accepted an offer to join the White Legion group and subsequently on July 11, 1951, he was arrested by the state authorities. In the following year he was sentenced for anti-state activities to 22 years of imprisonment. After the trial, Gabriel Novák was transported to Ilava prison where he was present at the division of prisoners into several groups. While being in the prison, he had to take sick leave (because he had nephritis and high blood pressure) and he got to the military hospital in Mírov from where he was transported to Leopoldov prison in 1957. He was released from prison in 1962 when the amnesty was proclaimed. Though he was initially sentenced to twenty years, he spent in prison 10 years and 10 months. After the year 1989 he became involved in political life and joined the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH). He was even the cofounder of its club.

House Search and Dismissal from Studies

Gabriel Novák - House Search and Dismissal from Studies (data format Flash Video)

“When I came home from hospital, maybe one hour later, two men knocked on our door and asked for me, asked whether Gabriel Novák is in. And I was really at home and they surely knew that I already came, because otherwise they wouldn’t be so punctual. They searched our house and the only one thing they found was an old printer where you had to insert separate letters, you know, it was a kind of child’s set of rubber stamps. They found there some suspect text, so they took it and drove me to Michalovce. When they investigated me, they also found a small box with the writing ‘Jews out’. The thing is that I have never been an anti-Semite, because I do respect all the nations, Jews as well, because after all it was God’s elect and very intelligent and skilful nation. I don’t know whether they harmed somebody or not, you know, every nation did something wrong but I don’t want to judge them; however, back then such was the atmosphere that ‘Jews out’, it was in 1945 when I wrote it on that small box inadvertently. Of course, they asked me what it meant, what I had written there. So I said: ‘I put it on several papers and then I tossed it out on the street.’ So they labelled me as an anti-Semite. Naturally, it was sent also to headmastership of my school. Teaching staff discussed it and they decided to dismiss me conditionally. However, they notified also a higher educational authority, the Ministry of Education and it was even stricter. They came to the conclusion that I wasn’t allowed to attend any grammar school. This way they actually excluded me from all secondary schools in the republic.”

Joining the White Legion

Gabriel Novák - Joining the White Legion (data format Flash Video)

“I went to the tractor station. I worked there as a tractor driver when one of my acquaintances, Harvan was his name, actually he deceased a long time ago, but at that time he came and offered me to join the White Legion. I don’t know how long I was thinking whether to do so or not, but finally I agreed, what I consider to be a fault after a lapse of time, in some way it was my silliness. And I told it to one of my half-cousins, Jožko Breza, but policemen didn’t know that I did so, that I told it. And he said that it wasn’t right, that I went wrong. He told me he could help me to flee abroad because he had influential contacts. You know, he was in seminary but then he had to leave it. In spite of it, he had contacts and he knew about many people who fled abroad and he offered to help me to leave the White Legion. He persuaded me to leave it and flee across the border. But I didn’t want to betray the legionary bunch, so I didn’t accept it and I stayed at home.”

Gun Collector

Gabriel Novák - Gun Collector (data format Flash Video)

“I can’t recall the exact aims and intentions of the White Legion movement, but back then I took it as a preparation for an armed uprising against the communists. And I had a lot of various things at home that soldiers threw away or left here after the war because I was interested in this kind of military technique. I had some hand grenades and a gun. And I prepared it for the case of the armed uprising, because somehow I was expected to do so. And during those several months, it was about two years before my arrest; I remember I carried one German automatic from Trebišov to Ruskov. I had a chance to take it because at that time I had already worked as a planner, so I had a motorbike at my disposal and I used it when I wanted to visit neighbouring villages. Thus I could use it to go and take that automatic from Trebišov to Ruskov. I also kept one gun for myself, you know, for my own self-defence or potential determent of any attacker, in case it was necessary and I carried it in my pocket. Moreover, I convinced some of my acquaintances, actually three boys, my contemporaries, and I let them sign the application as well.”

Arrest – July 1951

Gabriel Novák - Arrest – July 1951 (data format Flash Video)

“In July 1951, I think it was on July 11 or 12, some police brigade visited me, there were about six men who called me to the porter’s lodge and when I came there, the first sentence they told me was: ‘Put your hands out of your pockets!’ I had a gun there and it was even loaded; however, I obeyed and he took that gun out of my pocket. They nabbed me and drove me to Košice to perform the investigation.”

Nice Flashback from the Trial

Gabriel Novák - Nice Flashback from the Trial (data format Flash Video)

“At the court, there were many people, you know, judge whose name I can’t recall now because it was long ago and so on. And there was also one young girl, a recording clerk. Simply said, there was a moment when we looked at each other and I gestured like this on my neck and she shook her head. She delighted me at least a bit that they wouldn’t hang me. Later, when we were leaving the court, we were, of course, under the police surveillance but she managed to come near to me somehow and she wished me good luck. It was really a pleasant recollection. The court sentenced me to twenty-two years. I was given twenty-two years. Everyone appealed against the court’s decision but I didn’t, I simply accepted it.”

Killed in Breakout Attempt

Gabriel Novák - Killed in Breakout Attempt (data format Flash Video)

“One story was narrated in the prison, but I don’t know to what extent it was true. It was about some men who wanted to escape and who were caught and put to solitary confinement. Then the deputy prison commander, whose name I don’t remember, chose one of them. He came to his cell and offered cooperation and help with the breakout to him. He prevailed on that man to agree and it ended up horribly. As the prisoner was running, his “helper” shot him to death.”

Reunion with Parents

Gabriel Novák - Reunion with Parents (data format Flash Video)

“When I was coming near to Trebišov, in the train I noticed by chance one of our acquaintances, a barber whose name was Mindžák. And you know, I didn’t want to astonish my parents, I wanted to avoid causing their heart attacks because they knew nothing about my homecoming, so I came up to him and since he didn’t know me I introduced myself. He looked at me and I asked him very politely to visit my parents before I would come home; I said I would go on foot and it was not so far from their house to my parent’s house, so he would have enough time to go there. I also explained him that I didn’t want to excite them excessively; I only wanted to prepare them somehow. However, when he came home, he didn’t go to visit my parents, but he sent his wife there and she told my parents that their son was about to come home. So when I was coming near to our house, I suddenly saw my father running towards me.”

Communists

Gabriel Novák - Communists (data format Flash Video)

“Such an often discussed problem is actually connected with the power takeover. It was performed in a democratic way but all those old people, old communists remained there, they didn’t disappear, didn’t leave for Mars. They had influential positions and functions in many enterprises and they also had some knowledge, so they did their best to stay there.”

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.

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