Ján Brichta (1928)
“Never lose heart and follow your ideals.”
Ján Brichta was born on November 8, 1928 in Jablonové, Záhorie region, where he grew up in humble peasant family background. During his high school studies in Šaštín he was touched by Salesians’ work devoted to youth. Therefore, after graduation he decided to continue in pedagogical theology school in Šaštín, where he studied for six semesters. Here, in April 1950 was Ján along with his schoolmates affected by the Action K (Kláštory – Monasteries), by which the communist regime tried to liquidate male religious orders in Czechoslovakia. Few days later all of the students and priests were by busses transported to a concentration monastery in Podolínec. However, the regime vainly strived for leading these young men, devoted to faith, to the “right” path. By the end of August they were released and could go home. But Ján received the call-up papers to PTP (Auxiliary Technical Battalions), to the camp Libavá near Olomouc. Thanks to his friend, a doctor from Bratislava that recommended him a surgery of frontal sinus, he was able to come back to Slovakia. He wanted to emigrate abroad, although he didn’t manage to join the group leaving for Italy on time. He remained in touch with priests who prepared further runaways, as for example with Štefan Sandtner. Father Sandtner gave him several envelopes with names of people from all over Slovakia, who were supposed to form another group of escapees, and to whom Ján in person delivered information about the planned escape. Right after this trip Ján went to Jablonové to get ready for his runaway abroad. Ján left to Šaštín, where he met with the group of students as well as some older priests, as there was a warrant issued for their arrest. In the morning of April 8, 1951 they began their march towards the borders, even though they were slowed down by very muddy terrain. This was a big obstacle precisely for the older priests. Sailing over the river Morava was practically impossible because of the swollen watercourse and many damaged trees. Therefore they decided to return, however, majority of them was detained by members of the Border Guard. They were taken to the Bratislava Castle and shortly after to the notorious “Leopoldov mill”. Here he underwent three months of very harsh investigation in hunger and very cold weather. Yet in the Palace of Justice in Bratislava he was being “prepared” for his trial that took place in February 1952. Finally he heard his verdict – fifteen years of imprisonment. After few weeks in Ilava prison he was moved to Jáchymov, to a camp called “Dvanáctka” (“Number Twelve”). Even though he wasn’t beaten here, he had to work very hard in health-harmful uranium mines. In December, Ján was transported to the camp Nikolaj, where he had to face the everyday hard work in unbearable conditions without any claim to rest. In 1954 he was moved again, this time to the camp Rovnosť. Meanwhile his parents, who Ján hadn’t seen during whole five years of imprisonment, tried to undertake various steps so that Ján could be untimely released. They finally succeeded in December 1958. In January 1959 started to work as a feeder, milker and assistant driver in an agricultural cooperative in his village. Here he was employed until the year 1989, whilst during his work he managed to graduate from engineering and after 1990 also from the Faculty of Theology. Neither he, nor his children were ever discriminated by their neighbours because of Ján’s prison past. Because of his willingness to help others, he was respected at the cooperative as well. Ján has been still active in the present, especially by joining the activities of civic association Political Prisoners - Association of the Anti-Communist Resistance.
Night of the Barbarians
“We were in Šaštín, where we studied pedagogy. There were three classes consisting of about sixty students altogether. Our teachers, superiors, so there were maybe about eighty people in Šaštín, or about a hundred since we also had to include the young, who stayed there. For the first, we knew something was about to happen, and for the second, we got a tip-off the night before that several buses had arrived in the village, that there had been many police officers in local pubs, and also people’s militia. So that night mainly father Macák as well as Sandtner told us what would probably await us. We were thinking about the alternatives of what would happen. Probably, they would occupy us, maybe they would take us away or something similar. Thus our class organized a sort of patrols, at nine in the evening we had evening prayers, then at half past nine we went to bed after the evening toilet and then, we went patrolling every hour. At least one person on each floor. Suddenly, at midnight... We were sleeping, but also we weren’t, you know, it is always like that when you await something, some danger. What next? At midnight they started to knock at the door. ‘Open! It’s a search!’ Nobody wanted to open. I don’t remember who was there; I think prefect had the office downstairs and he said, ‘The director is not here, he is on the other floor.’ ‘Wake him up!’ However, as nobody went there, they started to break the door open. Then, the director Babulík came and said, ‘Why are you breaking the door? We will open it. What do you want here? What kind of search?’ They had some papers, a kind of permission for house search. And we waited what would happen. They started on the first floor and we all were on the second floor, we all were upstairs. We waited for about twenty minutes or half an hour at the windows. The lights on the first floor were already switched on, they went step by step. Then, when we saw them going upstairs, we immediately ran into a bed. When they were on the second floor, they burst into our bedroom. ‘Get up and go out into the corridor!’ We tried to spin it out as we surely didn’t want to obey. Then, we got dressed normally. Everybody was allowed to take just the most necessary things, we didn’t know what and how. At first we were standing on the corridor, later they sent us to a study hall. There, in that study hall, there were some chairs, so people sat there and the rest stood along the walls or in the corridor and the like. Soldiers with automatics came and their chief told us that the government commissioned them to do a house search and since then, we were in a limited mode. We asked for the reason, uproar arouse, questions. ‘We won’t answer, you come to know later.’ It took about two hours. Then, when we understood they would tell nothing, one man started to sing Marian songs. Everybody joined. The soldiers with automatics went out and waited. They left us there.”
They Were Stopped by a Swollen River
“There was a problem. Two of us fell behind; they almost weren’t able to walk. Thus we caught them under the arm and walked slowly towards the borders, because we had to be there at about midnight or one in the morning. However, due to these inconveniences we managed to be there at about half past three or at four in the morning. We arrived three hours later. It was the first problem. When we came to the borders, we saw the dams and a lot of water. Level of the Morava River rose by about a meter due to the heavy rains and melting snow from the Jeseníky Mountains. We were about two hundred meters away from the main stream. There were willow trees lying on the ground and branches everywhere. It was impossible to inflate the boats. We were looking for a solution. I thought about what to do in a situation like this. One option was trying to ford a river to its main stream and then inflate the boat and go. The same situation had also occurred in October, though it hadn’t been so chilly and water hadn’t been so cold, moreover, there hadn’t been so much water everywhere. It was the first alternative. The old besought for return as they thought they wouldn’t survive it. Therefore, we were looking for another option. We decided to lie down, wait till the evening and then try it once again or return. We were still looking for certain solutions. In such a tense situation even a brain doesn’t work properly, I mean we didn’t ponder the way a sober person would do so. We were walking near the dam looking for the place with the smallest distance. However, we didn’t find it; there was about two-hundred-meter distance in each place. And due to those willow trees and branches, it was absolutely impossible to inflate the boats without rupturing them. It would be even a bigger disaster. In that uncertain situation that lasted for about three quarters of an hour or the like, it's hard to say, a dawn was about come. Thus we immediately decided. ‘We go back.’”
“It was the easiest thing, when they saw a group of people, they raised the alarm. It was exactly what happened to us, the alarm was raised, rockets launched, and the chase started. Soldier, police officers, border guards, all the forces were there. They ringed the entire area and started arresting people. Then, they arrested fifteen out of twenty people. Seven managed to get to train. Tóno Hlinka, Botek, and so on. They managed to catch the train to Bratislava and get on it. As they were wearing rubber boots and were totally wet, people were staring at them. However, they succeeded and other groups did the same in autumn. Later, other groups used other ways to do the same.”
Have You Already Decided?
“When I came to the room, I didn’t have a bench there anymore, so I had no place to sit. They left a wall-mounted table and a bed-mounted mattress there. The room was three by two metres, they took my chair and I only had a kind of Turkish toilet in the corner. It was all. They really took it. So then, I had to walk in the room from dawn to dusk and they said, ‘You are not allowed to lean against the wall and sit!’ Lights-out was at ten, so only then I could unfasten the mattress and lie. When I finally fell asleep, they switched the light on. ‘Get up! Ten squats!’ I got up and squatted ten times. ‘Go to bed!’ He switched the lights off, only a sort of poor light was hanging there. I fell asleep again. ‘Get up! Ten squats!’ And it was like that all over again until the morning. It meant from ten in the evening till five in the morning. I don’t know, thirteen or fifteen times the same. It meant they had a certain goal as they stepped up the pressure and disturbed our sleep. And then, a week later, I was called for an interrogation again. They asked me if I had already thought about everything and if I changed my mind. ‘No, I didn’t.’ ‘Are you satisfied with your situation? With your life here?’ ‘And what can I do? I can’t change it.’ Thus it was in vain, they learnt nothing from me. I went back to my room. As soon as I came there, the water tank above the toilet started to make really strange sound like rrrr rrrr. Something had been installed there. At first I paid no attention to it and later I stopped my ears. It was still the same. They used a really intense mental pressure as they wanted to consternate me. It was much worse what they went after.”
“And then, a week later, I was called for an interrogation again. This time it was really harsh. As harsh as I said myself, ‘Whatever happens, if I have to die here, then I will.’ I was beaten up so badly that I don’t remember anything. Moreover, they made me sign the record and there I read, ‘A follower of clerical fascism, who studied at the Vatican university, returned home, and murdered our women and children.’ It was my accusation. So I rejected it, ‘I won’t sign it!’ ‘What? Do you defy?’ ‘I definitely won’t sign it.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because it is not the truth, I have studied at Salesians and I intended to pursue my studied in Turin at Athenaeum, it is the truth. I wanted nothing more, I even didn’t want to come back, I would stay there or I would go wherever the society would send me. Either for some missions or anywhere else.’ Then they started beating me. They beat me until I fell unconscious. I fainted. I don’t know what was with me, what happened, I only found myself lying in the cell. I was soaked as they had poured water on me. I heard those who had thrown me there saying, ‘Croak, bastard! You won’t get out of here alive, anyway.’”
One Day in Jáchymov
An ordinary day in Jáchymov. “We worked in three shifts. Men from the morning shift had to get up at four, because at five they had to report to work and at six they stared working. Afternoon shift had to leave at one, because at two they had to be at their workplace, and the night shift’s leaving was at nine in the evening as they had to work at ten. It was a sort of rotation. One week I was in the morning shift, then, the next week I had a night shift and the third week I worked in an afternoon shift. Such circulation. And the shift always started at night from Sunday to Monday. It meant that the morning shift started immediately after the afternoon shift and afternoon shift after the night shift.”
“You didn’t have a day off.”
“We really had no day off. There, in the Dvanástka camp, there was no free time. We had a day off only in case of some accident in a mine as we couldn’t work at that time.”
Revenge on Former Pursuers
“There was a group around Slánsky. Suddenly, those men were brought there, the whole group of thirty-five or forty men. I will tell you more about the circumstances other time perhaps. The prisoners pounced on them and beat them helter-skelter. There were all the prosecutors and judges, who had judged, pursued, and investigated those prisoners. Suddenly, they found themselves among us. And the settlement of account started. Man to man. And they were ruthless, retaliated everything as it is said pretty harshly.”
That Period Has Formed Strong Personalities
“On the one hand we can say that a modern era has no understanding for the events occurring forty, fifty years ago, but many people even don’t want to know about them. On the other hand I have to admit that this period raised or formed very strong personalities, who can also influence the present youth.”
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.