Jozef Cerina (1931)
“As a thirteen-year-old boy I stopped to think about the absurdity of this war. I saw the corpse of my neighbour; I saw the dead bodies of my classmates. It was the era in which a human life was absolutely worthless.”
Jozef Cerina was born on October 4, 1931, in the village of Opatová near Lučenec. He comes from the family of a workman and has no siblings. His mother was a textile workwoman and father was a driver. Jozef Cerina spent his pre-school years in protectory located in the centre of military area, so from his early childhood he was in touch with military units. In 1937 he started to study at the state public school in Opatová and he directly witnessed sequence of events that happened in 1938. At their school there was a civilian spotter and pupils were being prepared for possible bombing of the country. When mobilization was proclaimed in 1938, his father got a draft card, too, so it affected the whole family. When Jozef Cerina was attending school, the Munich Pact was signed and on the basis of its demobilization clause, his father returned home. He experienced the Vienna Award, after which his home village was annexed to Hungary. Thus he could take notice of relations between Slovaks and Hungarians living in this area. He was present there when Hungarian army took over the town and suddenly he became a citizen of Kingdom of Hungary. The Second World War affected also the town of Lučenec. His father had to take part in various military trainings and later he was forced to leave his family again. When Hungary got involved in the war, he had the first-hand experience of situation in the rear. In 1942 he started to attend municipal elementary school in Lučenec, where there was an infinite national and religious variety of students. He was a member of youth organization called Levente, which aimed to strengthen national consciousness and to prepare boys for military service. He knew a lot about the situation in Hungary and in Slovakia, too, and about the political structure of that period. When the air strikes appeared, he was only a boy, but he became aware of the absurdity of war and death tolls. However, he had never experienced discords between Slovaks and Hungarians in Opatová and Lučenec between the years 1938 and 1945. He even regards them as fabricated by political officials.
Fear of Being Attacked
“It was the era, when Hitler had already taken over Austria, what meant that he finished the Anschluss and everyone who thought soberly, particularly politicians, knew that the next Hitler’s step would be directed against Czechoslovak Republic. Just look at the political map back then. From Ostrava in Moravia region, through northern, north-western, western, south-western and southern part, simply said the whole Republic was caught in jaws of one potential enemy. It was just a matter of time when it would finish, when those jaws would close and demolish our Republic and its integrity, which Hitler hated the most. I remember that when I was a boy, when I attended school, there was curriculum, in which something like teaching civilian air defence was included. They explained it theoretically; they told us the ways of protecting ourselves in case of air attacks on our region or even on our village. They used to prepare us for air strikes, bombings or situations when our enemies would use poison gas. We used to train these potential situations outdoors, in the streets of our village. And these exercises were nationwide. When they were declared, everyone had to behave according to special rules. No traffic was allowed on the roads and as they wanted to make it more believable and emphatic, they involved and used combat aircrafts from the military airfield from the near village of Ľadovo. Thus the exercises were provided with a drone of aircraft engines.”
“A man of purely Slovak origin mastered Hungarian language, but on the other side typical Hungarian could speak Slovak, too. A policeman of Czech nationality had to learn Hungarian if he wanted to find out anything or make himself understood. Thus I knew nothing about any discords there in the time of my childhood. I don’t know about any national conflicts. Based on the Munich, oh, no, pardon me, based on the Vienna Award, southern parts of Slovakia were annexed to Hungary. Of course, Lučenec was ceded as well. And I want to tell how I perceived it as a young boy. I will tell it honestly. I really didn’t know the heart of that matter. I was only seven-year-old boy who couldn’t cope with all those events. Hungarian troops came to Lučenec on November 10, 1938. But something had happened an evening before. My father was a member of volunteer fire brigade. He had a post of trumpeter or hornist there. He played bugle very nice. And on November 9, he brought his instrument home and what I noticed immediately were ornaments of his horn. I mean that original ones, red pompons and red tie were exchanged for other ornaments in colours of Hungarian flag. Red, white and green. But I still didn’t know what was going on. The next day my father left for work quite early and then I went with my mother to our yard and to the street. I was really surprised because I found out that on the roof of the third house on our street, where my friend Ernő Kolimár lived, there was a Hungarian flag blowing in the wind. I told my mother: ‘Mum, just look, its not white, blue and red flag.’ And even though there was nobody, she tried to quieten me, to stop me talking about it. Later, we went with my mother somewhere, I had no idea what was happening there. I didn’t know it at all. And on the main street of our village, where a brook flowed in the past, there was a small wooden bridge over it and a triumphal arch. Huge triumphal arch surrounded by spruce twigs and red, white and green flags. There was something written and as I could read already I tried to do so. However, it wasn’t in Slovak but in Hungarian language. There was also a big picture of some unknown man. This man wore military uniform and had a lot of military decorations on his chest. Later I came to know that it was a picture of Hungarian Regent Miklós Horthy and the words written above the triumphal arch were the first words of Hungarian anthem: Isten, áldd meg a magyart, what means: God bless Hungarian.”
Sign of Beginning of the Second World War
“At the first sight it was clear that it wasn’t a civilian airplane but a military one. But it wasn’t Hungarian, what was very strange. It was German aircraft. I could see some recognition signs such as Balkenkreuz, black cross with a white outline on the wings, and Hakenkreuz painted on the side rudder. The plane flew over the village twice with quite low altitude, but when it flew over the third time, it was very high. It wasn’t possible to see those signs and then it flew away in an unknown direction. Of course, people talked about it also many days later, they thought and speculated about it. I was only a boy, but I thought how it was possible that some foreign aircraft could get into Hungarian airspace. I had known from the news that around Budapest there were airports such as Budaörs or Mátyásföld. Had the Luftwaffe, German air force, already had its airbase in Hungarian territory? Or was it in Košice? Or in Uzhhorod? Definitely not. So how could it happen that a plane of some foreign country could reach and fly in Hungarian airspace? I wasn’t able to find any answer. There were some speculations about it. A few days later, the school year 1939/1940 began and it didn’t mean only a new school year, but also the outbreak of the Second World War, which brought misery, struggle for existence and death for more than fifty million people. These days the German plan of fictive attack on the radio station in Gliwice is well-known. German armed forces invaded Poland back then. Slovak military troops got involved in this combat and I think that firstly there were about five age-groups, but much more were called up later. In my opinion there were about fifty-six thousand people on the whole. It was a really huge army unit.”
With a Slogan: Death to German Invaders!
“When conscripting people into army, the commander ruled the roost. He decided whether a given man was replaceable or not. When he said, that this man could be replaceable, right at that moment he got call-up papers and went. Slovak renegade, captain, later promoted to the rank of major, whose name was Vacula, but he had changed it to Hungarian Vereczkelyi, held this function. And my uncle, baker, was an explicit left-winger. He fastened onto the motto: Audiatur et altera pars, what means: Hear the other side. He used to go to our house secretly to listen to the foreign broadcasting. It wasn’t so simple, because listening to foreign radio stations could have been punished severely. But my uncle usually listened to the BBC broadcasting, the voice from London, and Hungarian broadcasting of the Moscow Radio above all. And at that time as a young boy I realised that the bride wasn’t lying in that bad so calmly, because the big German plan for conquering Moscow fell through. It meant that German Wehrmacht, which previously had a nimbus of invincibility, felt the bitterness of licking the dust for the first time. And people started to respect various cities. And I was really abashed, I felt shivers down my back when the radio reporter of the Moscow Radio said at the end of the broadcasting: ‘Proletarians of all countries, unite!’ Later they changed it to: ‘Death to German invaders!’ It was even more horrible.”
Danger of Coming Air Raid
“It was an everyday routine that people got letters worded the way: Your son, brother, relative and the like died a hero’s death. But in the rear there was a relative peace, some things were restricted, but people used to live calmly, they could go to sleep without any worries; however, one change elicited another one. A horrible bombing of our country started. Anglo-Saxons, allies, Americans dropped bombs on our land every day, it went worse and worse. It wasn’t that bad in Lučenec, we saw all those aircrafts, hundreds and hundreds of them flying over the town. At that time, the front moved somewhere to the heart of Italy what meant that these liberators held their course and bombed out Hungary what was their target. Then they flew over the territory occupied by Soviets, landed there, refuelled, took bombs and flew back in the opposite direction. This way it went day by day. One of those big flyovers occurred on August 20, 1944. It was on St. Steven’s Day, there used to be a fair in Lučenec and as it was a church holiday and I was a Levente member – Christian Catholic I had to attend a holy mass. Though, there was one exception. We didn’t go to the church but to gunnery barracks instead. We had a kind of holly mass there. Levente headquarters was in the building of present post office. But in this part of the post office looking over the square not the department store Prior. Of course, we had already stood in three lines there and went to military quarters and back as one squad. And when we walked past the building of present hospital, alert sirens were tooting as they signalized the danger of air attack. However, nothing happened, so we kept walking. It took less than five minutes and sirens started to toot again signalizing a coming air raid.”
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.