Jozef Hanko (1913)

Photo: Jozef Hanko


Motto:“What I regret is that they have taken away from me the best part of my life, my productive years…”

Jozef Hanko was born July 8, 1913 in Prievidza. Shortly after his birth, his father had to join the army and go to the front where he succumbed to typhoid. Jozef attended three grades of elementary school in Prievidza and when in 1921 his widowed mother married Jozef Bíleš, a general merchandise tradesman, they moved to the village of Sklené. There, Jozef continued his education in German language and from 1927 he was learning the trade profession in Kremnica. After the completion of the school he was helping his stepfather in his business till October 1934, when he began his compulsory military service. After that he was hired by a Jewish businessman from Trnava, who owned a distillery in southern Slovakia jointly with his brother. While there, Jozef learnt many secret recipes, which he later made use of when starting his own business. After the surrender of the Hungarian territory he was drafted to the army, but he was released soon after for allegedly being a German. During the period of the Slovak State he started a business in Sklené, later he moved to Žabokreky nad Nitrou where he launched the business on his own. Following the advice of his cousin Dr. Michal Hanko, after 1945 he left for Košice, where he was then running his own distillery till 1948. By now he had his own family and the business was thriving. However, after the February 1948 and the first signs of the process of nationalization, which for Jozef would imply the loss of everything he had been building for so many years, he began contemplating emigration. His friends and acquaintances also had similar plans to leave the republic. However, their preparations were being monitored by the State Secret Police, which probably had their agent within the group. Shortly before putting their plan into action, the whole group was arrested together with many other people who knew about the case but failed to report it. Altogether there were twenty persons who were arrested and tried. On December 9, 1949 Jozef Hanko was sentenced for high treason and espionage to 15 years of imprisonment. After temporary “stays” in Bratislava and Leopoldov, in 1950 he was transported to uranium mining camps: at first to Jáchymov for three years, then to Příbram where he spent seven years. On May 9, 1960 he was released in the President A. Novotný´s amnesty and after 10 years and 8 months he was able to return to his family, which had been suffering as well. After his imprisonment, his wife with two little children had to move out of the flat in Košice, without any property, labelled as an enemy of the state, and she was forced to return to Sklené.

Founding His Own Distillery and the Events of February 1948

Jozef Hanko - Founding His Own Distillery and the Events of February 1948 (data format Flash Video)

“My cousin, Doctor Milan Hanko came to me, he held a doctoral degree in philosophy and he knew Hodža, Ursíny, and he was generally favoured by and acquainted with the politicians of the time, he talked to me and persuaded me to go to Košice, and so I went. I founded a distillery there, we were doing very well. The beginning was very good, till the events of February 1948. The February came, we started the production, sharing the profits, but he began to be attracted to the nationalization of property, saying that it would be better to work for the state, serving the state, already in this socialist spirit. I saw that this was the end for me, this had no future – to be employed and to give over everything, they would get it lock, stock, and barrel, so I resisted and said that there was nothing good in store for me there, and that I would most probably go to Australia. Such were my plans, to go to Australia.”

Show Trial – High Treason, Espionage

Jozef Hanko - Show Trial – High Treason, Espionage (data format Flash Video)

“The way I see the state of political affairs then is that they wanted to arrest us in a smart way, to eliminate us and to scare off the rest, so that not a single one of us would dare to conduct some anti-state activity. They staged show trials and they tried twenty-eight of us together. They prepared a huge judicial process; there were headlines in the newspapers: anti-state activity. I was among the first ones, second, third ones, who were charged with having organized an anti-state group because this Mišo and these ŠtB members were trained to charge as many people as possible with Article 5 and Article 1. This stood for high treason and espionage, and the penalties for this ran ten years and more. For when we then met in Jáchymov and we were asking each other how they got there, under what circumstances they had been tried, we found out that the worst thing was if you were sympathizing. It was enough to have some affinity. They were calling on people like this, and they got so much information from them that it framed them sufficiently to have a reason to be arrested. And these policemen were then awarded for doing this, and the more people they got behind the bars, the higher was their pay.”

“I got caught…”

Jozef Hanko - “I got caught…” (data format Flash Video)

“The main thing I have to tell you is that I got caught. One day Mišo came to me, and he brought me a message, crumbled in some tube – as a proof that it had not been opened, a message from Karol Folta, who followed Černák to Košice and to Munich, and who now sent a greeting: “Jožko, get ready, everything is well prepared, they will help us in Munich. Černák will help us.” And I did not want to send my reply with him, but he insisted that I write a reply. He insisted, I refused for the first time without giving him any answer, the same for the second time, but for the third time it was not possible, he insisted that I write a reply, otherwise he would not believe him that he visited me. When he was pressing me so much, I wrote a message on a piece of paper: “Karol, we will proceed as we had agreed, and I am expecting your help, your vintner.” This was what I wrote to him.”

From Hospital to Prison

Jozef Hanko - From Hospital to Prison (data format Flash Video)

“I open the door of the hospital where I was hospitalized and in front of me there were two men sitting on two stools. “Who are you?” I asked, “What do you want from me?” “Who are you?!” they shout at me. “I’m Hanko.” And one of them immediately pressed a gun to my forehead. The other pulled out handcuffs and they bound my wrists. With my hands handcuffed we went to the prison, and there I waited for one or two hours for the express train to Bratislava. There were two of us with manacled hands, I did not even know them. Then we went on this express train to Bratislava, to jail, I spent three months there. They put me into a cell, and Dr Pozdech was there with me, they were even bringing him lunch in there. I saw he was getting a better treatment, favours, they brought him lunch, and I got the ordinary prison fare, or rather nothing, since I still wasn’t able to eat because of my tonsils. I could not swallow yet at that time. I asked them that I was supposed to get a throat gargle, that I had just been released from the hospital, it was twenty-four hours after my surgery, and I haven’t even gargled. One of them, he was probably a Jew or what, thus brought me a little vial that I was supposed dissolve in water. And do you know what kind of water it was? There were basins, into which you poured water from the tap and then you scooped it with a cup. I put a few drops in it, but it did not smell of anything, I gargled my throat with it and I felt even worse. And then I tasted the contents of the vial and it was pure water. They only played a trick on me. In order to get rid of me.”

“They started interrogating me…”

Jozef Hanko - “They started interrogating me…” (data format Flash Video)

“They started interrogating me. Being rough right from the beginning, with beating and shouting. It was in a room, and I heard others screaming there before, and now I was screaming as well. They asked me about this and that person, and about my family, friends, about what I had told to whom, whom I had promised to go abroad, they made me kneel on a kind of a chair. I did not know what they meant. Two or three took me by force, shouting: “Kneel down!” One of them distracted my attention, as I was turned towards the back of the chair, and as I was kneeling, with bare feet, the other started beating me with a baton, with full force, beating me over my soles, and my feet became so swollen, and they turned blue as if they were covered in ink.”

The Journey from Leopoldov to Jáchymov

Jozef Hanko - The Journey from Leopoldov to Jáchymov (data format Flash Video)

“There were two wagons, and about hundred and twenty of us were pressed in them. We went to Jáchymov. We had to march out on the market square in Leopoldov, there was a row of them and we all had to walk, nobody was allowed to step out from our triple row. At first in double rows, then in triple rows we went, there were more of us, and they walked on the left side, armed with guns on the right side. Whoever steps out of this triple row will be shot. So they led us into the wagons and from there we travelled to Jáchymov.”

“Thus we began in Jáchymov”

Jozef Hanko - “Thus we began in Jáchymov” (data format Flash Video)

“We arrived to Jáchymov, the first thing: one of them came shouting, and he immediately yelled at us: “Do you see that board over there? Two men were shot yesterday when they attempted escape. When you attempt escape, you will be shot and your names will be written there as well.” From there we walked, in double rows again, to the camp. The camp and the corridor was ready, we were accommodated there, this was the beginning. They threw some rags for us there, we had to undress, undress completely, during one interrogation, then during another, being naked was unnecessary, there they gave us some old army clothes which were no longer used, you could see the collars were greasy and smelling of sweat, it’s terrible to think about it, you know. And they were always shouting at us: “Sentenced criminals, come here!” This was the only way they addressed us. “Sentenced criminals, come here!” Thus we began in Jáchymov, and on the New Year I went down the mine for the first time - we replaced the Germans, who were to be sent home.”

The Offer to Collaborate

Jozef Hanko - The Offer to Collaborate (data format Flash Video)

“I was called to the command, there were loudspeakers in the camp: “Hanko, number this and this, report to the command!” I went there and an offer was made to me to collaborate with them, for I was a foreman, I had friends, and they asked me to exert some influence on them, and that if I cooperated this way, it would then be possible for me to be released and go home. They were using such incentives a lot. And there were people who came and told us plainly: “Yes, I did sign it.” Or we would find out that there was an informant among us. He would say this to gain our favour. So I was called to the command, there they offered me they would let me go home if I began helping them: reporting to them if the inmates were up to something, what they talked about, who criticized the political regime most, and so on. They were keen to know these things, so they made this offer to me. Naturally, I refused. I told them: “Just see to how many people you have already offered this, how many of them even signed it, and still they are not being released.” I came back to the camp: “Well, Jožka, what did they want?” “Well, you can guess, collaboration, obviously. Should I sign the hammer with which they beat me, should I now lick this hammer on top of that?” This was just ridiculous. For the hope was really very small. And half an hour later after I had told this to the inmates in the camp, my name was called again. Up there they already knew what I had said, and that they forbade me to talk about this offer, to tell it to others. In just half an hour, somebody from our room, I don’t even know who it was, reported it, and they already knew it. I immediately went to the hole, as it was called. And there I was receiving only half the amount of food for two weeks, and I had to do the mining work as usual. Mining, without proper clothes, and with half the food for two weeks. Only for having told that I had refused the offer to collaborate.”