Ján Benček (1921)

Photo: Ján Benček
 

Biography:

 

“If we respect moral, human and Christian values, Slovakia won’t be subverted”

 

Ján Benček was born on November 20, 1921 in Horné Sľažany, district of Zlaté Moravce. His father worked as a servant on a manor farm and his mother was a midwife. After finishing the elementary school he continued his studies at grammar school in Zlaté Moravce. He graduated in 1941 and since Mathematics became his love, he decided to study at the Technical University in Bratislava, in the field of civil engineering. However, the life or students is of a good quality only when he is surrounded by kind people. Ján began to live in a collegial school in Svoradov and right away he got involved in regular catholic meetings. Here he got to know many interesting personalities of Christian life, as for example professor Tomislav Kolakovič. Ján often attended his lectures or spiritual exercises and was fascinated by the way of professor’s Christian teaching. Eventually he also started to lead some of the meetings, which didn’t focus only on Christianity, but they also aimed at academic improvement. After graduating from the university, Ján remained working at this school as an assistant of his professor; however, as soon as the State Security found out about his activities within the so-called catholic action, he was fired. In 1950 he was sent to manual work to a production of building components to Sučany, near Martin, where he spent six months. From the beginning he worked as a manual worker, but later his boss moved him to work in a laboratory, since he found out Ján wasn’t just a novice in the field of civil engineering. After half a year, there was a Slovak-wide enterprise built in Bratislava and Ján was transferred to work there at the Technology Department.  Even though he never joined the communist party, thanks to his professionalism and hard work he gained the communists’ confidence. He was allowed to lecture at the university for over 25 years and he also attended various foreign conferences. Since the regime tried to detain all the people actively working with Christian youth, also Ján for two times ended up in the State Security’s office. In spite of that he continued to secretly attend Christian activities and masses. In 1968 he took part in the Work of Conciliar Renewal and later he was also active within the Christian-Democratic Movement (KDH). Despite of him rejecting any kind of collaboration with ŠtB, since 1977 the State Security kept files of him being the “Confident”

 

Betrayal from Own Ranks

 

TBetrayal from Own Ranks (data format Flash Video)

 

“So in the first place there were these three renegades. Back then I was an assistant at the university and there I led some study groups. So these three guys what did the first was that they reported on me. So because of that I wasn’t allowed to lengthen my assisting internship anymore and I found myself without a job. However, there was also another intervention too; as they (the communists) found out I led a catholic action, that’s how they called it. And as a result of that I was expelled from school.”

 

Year 1950 - From the University to Production

 

Year 1950 - From the University to Production (data format Flash Video)

 

„My professor was very tolerant and we got along very well, we respected each other. He left to Brno to one world-famous professor Vinš, who had a private office there and so I went to work to Brno as well. Later on, professor Vinš was invited to lecture at the University of Technology in Bratislava and when he started working there, he was glad to have me with him. I worked as his assistant. But these three young men who were in my study group couldn’t stand it, so they simply reported me. I received a paper that I shall be expelled to manual work, at first to a brickfield and then it changed. I went to work at the production of building components to Sučany. In Sučany I worked as a manual worker, although my boss, who was just a laic, saw, that I understood these things and so they let me work in a laboratory, to help. And there my situation changed completely. In the end I was the only specialist there and when the Slovak-wide enterprise was built in Bratislava, they called me to come and work there at the Technology Department. I was being interviewed by the so-called technicians, who weren’t able to answer my expert questions. They all knew each other there, they were all communists who behaved informally, but suddenly they began to call me Mr. Engineer.”

 

He Had Communists’ Confidence

 

He Had Communists’ Confidence (data format Flash Video)

 

“Since they knew I was the only one who saved some building constructions that were about to collapse, I quasi had their full confidence. So ever since then I gradually built up their trust even to such an extent that they asked me to lecture externally for twenty-five years at the university the subject of prefabrication. Although, before I was only a manual worker for six months… Of course, I never joined the communist party, but they somehow tolerated me and I was able to lecture also at some conferences abroad. I looked so trustworthy that I even worked as a head engineer of the main administration without being a member of the party.”

 

Remand Centre because of the Catholic Action

 

Remand Centre because of the Catholic Action (data format Flash Video)

 

“I was twice at the remand centre. At first I was called to come because of my state citizenship to the national municipal government, I was invited to this new building. I didn’t understand why I was supposed to go there, but when I arrived, I showed them the summons. Then one man called me into another big room, where was only a big table, two chairs, him and I. He seemed to be very stiff-necked and when he asked me if I knew where I was, I said: ‘Well, you called me to come here, but according to this picture, it is…’ And this was time when he began to ask me: ‘How is it possible that you are not in jail yet?’ I didn’t understand why…”
Interviewer: “So, why were you supposed to be in jail? What did they blame you for?”
Ján Benček: “Well, they accused me of my activity within the catholic action and they also knew I was working with youth in Svoradov.”

 

The Best “Testimony”

 

The Best “Testimony” (data format Flash Video)

 

“He told me to come in a month again, hoping I would think it all through again. So precisely one month later in the morning I went to the life confession and prepared in this way anything could happen; I was ready. I said goodbye to my wife thinking I would stay at the station. I waited there for some time hearing how the investigator yelled at somebody: ‘How come you didn’t hear that? What do you listen then, what do you do?’ I was thinking this was about to happen if I had signed it… I was aware of that. And as I was sitting in the hall he came to me and said: ‘What’s the matter?’ I answered: ‘Nothing, you told me to come here.’ ‘Go home!’ And I didn’t know what they knew about me or what they didn’t, but I never encountered something like this anymore. And the second time I was at the interrogation as a witness. This was a little different. I was there with my friend, who is now in Vienna. They detained us both. He was being investigated in one room and I was in the second one. And the investigator was coming back and forth and informing us about what the other one said. They didn’t confront us; we didn’t know about each other, that we were both investigated at the same time. But, thanks God, it wasn’t that harsh. They wanted to know which priests work with youth. Luckily, we had such good attributes that we didn’t know the names of people who we used to meet. They asked me: ‘Do you know father Janovský? ’ and in all good conscience I could say that I never heard that name. Within our community, we called him ‘Maco’, so I never heard what his surname was. The same thing they asked me about another priest to confirm that name. I don’t know if he did it on purpose or not, but I had to answer again that I didn’t know him. So when they read my testimony, they told me: ‘Your testimony was the best!’ because I said: ‘Well, if I knew those names, I would tell you.’ So these were the two cases of my detention.”

 

Contact with Anton Neuwirth

 

Contact with Anton Neuwirth (data format Flash Video)

 

“Most of all I was personally in touch with Neuwirth. We were the same grade although he was two classes ahead of me. I met him immediately as he was released from the prison. He was really emaciated, poorly looking. Then we very closely cooperated within the KDH (Christian Democratic Party). I was also with him when he was an ambassador in Paris. He invited me to come and visit him there for a week on his expenses.”
Interviewer: “Did he lead any meetings or what did he organize?”
Ján Benček: “Well, he precisely took care of medical students. He was a doctor and his brother-in-law was back then, I would say, such an organizer of all the students’ life and events. Anton Neuwirth was a medico and his brother-in-law was named Stercula, Vladimír Stercula. He was an excellent selfless doctor who was set as a great example in newspapers, e.g. of how he, driving a horse, saved ill people in Kysuce region. He didn’t need any means, anything. It was just later when they found out about him being the one from Kolakovič’s family and the future brother-in-law of this Neuwirth.”

 

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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