Jozef Nemlaha (1925)

Photo: Jozef Nemlaha

Biography:

“I knew my wife and children needed me and I desired to meet them again. I really believed in it. It gave me a sort of mental strength to survive the Jáchymov hell.”

Jozef Nemlaha was born on February 27, 1925 in Malé Košecké Podhradie near Ilava. His father worked as a local blacksmiths and his mother was a housewife. Jozef finished the public and also municipal school and in the years 1940 – 1944 he studied to be a tradesman. He completed the courses of decorating and accounting and correspondence, thanks to which he managed to find a job as a wages clerk in Škoda enterprises in Dubnica nad Váhom. He spent the last months of the war in the house of his parents, where the two Jewish families were hidden from the horrors of the murderous Nazi regime. In summer 1945 Jozef Nemlaha got the job as a manager in the general store in Horné Sŕnie, where he also met his wife. In 1946 he got married and moved to the near village of Hloža, where he worked as a manager in the Food Cooperative, the shop, and the local tavern. Jozef’s father in law returned from America in 1947 and for the money he was sending home for those long years his family managed to acquire a modest property. He also helped his daughter and Jozef, her husband, open their own shop in Ilava, what actually was Jozef’s biggest dream. However, the seeming affluence attracted the attention of the incoming regime and Jozef was under the constant surveillance of the State Security. He wasn’t granted a loan from the bank, which he needed to buy a house, then, in July 1948 he was deprived of his driving licence for motorbike, after the February 25, 1948, the time of validity of his gun licence wasn’t extended, and thus only a year later his legally possessed gun was taken from him. Additionally, in December 1949 his merchandise and shop equipment worth 80,000 crowns were impounded. His private business was taken by the consumer cooperative called Budúcnosť (Future) in Žilina. He gained his profile of a very dangerous member of the socialist society, a diversionist, and a spy also due to his friendship with Pavol Gregor, who emigrated in 1949 and three years later came back to take his wife and daughters with him. In the evening of March 29, 1952, when Jozef was on the way from work, the State Security members arrested him and took him for an interrogation. Later, they slapped handcuffs on him and blindfolded him and transferred him to the prison in Ružomberok. The cruel investigation and physical as well as mental torture followed. The trial was held on July 20, 1952, then, Pavol Gregor was sentenced to death, Jozef Nemlaha was given the life imprisonment, and the others were sentenced to less than 10 years of imprisonment. All the convicts appealed against the judgement to the Supreme Court, which confirmed the qualification of their offence (espionage, § 86), but changed their sentences. Gregor was given the life imprisonment, Nemlaha seventeen years, and the others from 1 to 8 years. In addition to the imprisonment, Jozef Nemlaha was sentenced to the forfeiture of his property, the loss of his civil rights for ten years, and the financial penalty of 20,000 Czechoslovak crowns. However, the judgement also severely affected the lives of all the members of Jozef’s family. In January 1953 he was transferred by train from Ilava prison to Jáchymov camp Nikolaj, where he worked hard in the mine Eduard. Three years later he was transferred to the camp Rovnost, where he was forced to work in a radioactive environment without any protective equipment and where he was always hungry and physically and mentally exhausted. Forced labour and prison routine left traces on his health, so he was moved to the surface works into the cabinetmaker’s workroom and in 1959 into the correctional labour camp in Minkovice near Liberec, where he worked as a stone grinder. Thanks to the presidential amnesty of 1960 he was released from prison after eight years of imprisonment. He strived for the revision of his trial for a long time; however, he didn’t achieve the justice. Despite everything he experienced, he never abandoned his faith, love to his closest relatives, and his dream of justice and freedom.

Arrest

Arrest (data format Flash Video)

“I was on my way home from work; it was seven in the evening. Suddenly I felt two guys next to me from both my sides and then I already had a gun on my ribs. On both sides and one of them told me, ‘You are arrested. If you make at least one suspect step you get a bullet! Walk as if nothing is going on.’ Thus I kept walking and they led me to the District Office in Ilava, especially into the State Security’s office. There they tied me to the chair, my legs to the legs of the chair and arms behind my back. They took my wedding ring and put that SS one with bones and skull on my finger. They also put the German cross on my neck, searched me and took everything I had on me. Then, they tied me there and started beating me and asked if I knew why I got there. I said, ‘I don’t know.’ Thus they kept beating me. However, when they checked my papers, they found the address of my childhood friend (Pavol Gregor), to which I used to send letters, and thus everything was revealed.”

“You are the prisoner number one hundred and fourteen!”

“You are the prisoner number one hundred and fourteen!” (data format Flash Video)

“Only later I came to know that I was in Ružomberok. There they told me, ‘Get undressed. Completely, strip naked.’ Then, I was given some prison uniform; there were no laces in the shoes, no strings even in the underwear, and no buttons in the trousers. Thus I had to put on those clothes without it. I held it in my hands. ‘Well, you have just lost your name! You are the prisoner number 114 staying in the cell 49. So if somebody asks you, you mustn’t say your name, but your number!’ Then, I was taken to my cell, which was about two metres long and one and a half meter wide. There was nothing, but the bucket in one corner, which was meant for the personal hygiene, and one metal jug with water. No bed, no chair. ‘You will walk in here!’ From inside my cell I could see the daily schedule, which was hung at the door of my solitary cell, and it was written there that waking up was at five in the morning and light out at ten in the evening. It meant that I had to walk in the cell without having a break until ten in the evening. If I stopped for a while, somebody immediately opened that small window, or rather peephole, and banged. ‘Keep walking!’”

“There is no reason to impose a life imprisonment on me!”

“There is no reason to impose a life imprisonment on me!” (data format Flash Video)

“The trial was held on Sunday, July 20, 1952, in Dubnica in Škoda enterprises. In the enterprise which had nothing in common with our alleged criminal activities. I would say it was a kind of theatrical performance intended to warn and frighten the rest of population. We had to say only what we had learnt. We had to respond the way they ordered us and finally, the judgement was: my friend was given a death sentence and I was sentenced to life imprisonment. When the prosecutor asked me if I accepted the judgement, I said no. Then, my advocate, or rather my ex officio lawyer approached me ad said, ‘Mr. Nemlaha, you know, the life imprisonment doesn’t mean that you will be in prison for the rest of your life, it is only for thirty years. And also think over the appeal, because if you behave well, you can be released after fifteen years.’ He said fifteen years as if it was only fifteen days. However, even those four months I had already spent in prison seemed too long to me, so I couldn’t imagine being there for fifteen years, I wasn’t sure if I would survive it. Thus I was saying no, there was nothing I had to be imposed the life imprisonment for and I demanded my case to be referred to the Supreme Court.”

The Result of My Appeal to the Supreme Court

The Result of My Appeal to the Supreme Court (data format Flash Video)

“The Supreme Court changed the previous judgements. My friend’s death sentence changed into the life imprisonment and my life imprisonment sentence changed to seventeen years. However, we weren’t allowed to speak to our relatives, so they had travelled to Prague to no avail. They only could see us, but they weren’t allowed to speak to us.”

Work in Jáchymov Shafts

Work in Jáchymov Shafts (data format Flash Video)

“Working in a shaft was really hard. We drilled for stone, we searched for ore, and we dug shafts. Often happened that we dug fifty metres long tunnel and found no ore there. Well, the miners worked hard, especially when we consider their insufficient nourishment. And some of us came there from prison, where we also hadn’t been well nourished with that prison food. It was very tiring and hard work. I was taken there in winter, on January 9, and there were severe winters about twenty to thirty degrees of frost. Moreover, we weren’t allowed to wear the gloves, the cap, or the scarf to cover our ears, or the winter coat. In summer we used to wear a kind of soft suit made of linen, the winter one was made of cloth. Either in winter or in summer, we still had various crosses and lines scribbled on our backs to be marked as being so-called ‘mukli’, men meant for liquidation. That’s how we were called.”

Radioactivity as a Souvenir from the Mine

Radioactivity as a Souvenir from the Mine (data format Flash Video)

“Well, when the men who had been there for ten years started to suffer various diseases and even die, or when somebody had broken a leg or the like and it didn’t heal up, we had to undergo various examinations. I was examined in the year 1958. It was after five or six years of working in a mine. Then, they found out that I had the radioactivity in my bones, so I wasn’t sent to the mine then, I had to work on the surface.”

How the Lives in Jáchymov Hell Ended

How the Lives in Jáchymov Hell Ended (data format Flash Video)

“You know there were prisoners among us who bore it very badly. Especially those, whose marriage broke up, who got to know from their relatives that their wife divorced them, or that some other man was attending their house. Those bore it very badly, so there were many cases when a man took his own life. The man entered the blasting zone when the stone was about to be blasted away to be killed there, or jumped into the wires to be shot without warning. Such cases were taking place there very often. I was fortunate to have the wife who was raised in the Christian environment and lived in a decent and honest way. She was taking care of our children and it gave me some mental strength as well as my faith in God that I turned to every day and begged to help me survive. I have to admit that I also had some bad moments, but I always chased those thoughts of ending my life away because of my wife and children. I knew they needed me and I desired to meet them again, what I really believed in.It gave me that mental strength to survive the Jáchymov hell.”

Hard Night Shifts in Minkovice

Hard Night Shifts in Minkovice (data format Flash Video)

“In Minkovice I experienced the worst night shifts. They exhausted me very much and at that time I had ten years to serve. Therefore I demanded the command through the report letter to divest me of the night shifts as I had another ten years to serve and wife and children waiting for me at home, who I want to return to, and I also wrote that as I had survived Jáchymov I also wanted to survive this. I asked them to divest me of those night shifts and let me work only in morning and day shifts. They refused it with explanation that I would not dictate the conditions and I had to work as the others did.”

The Gate of Freedom – Release under the Amnesty in May 1960

The Gate of Freedom – Release under the Amnesty in May 1960 (data format Flash Video)

“I came there in October or in November 1959 and in May 1968 the amnesty was granted to the political prisoners, it was on the fifteenth anniversary of liberation and end of war. Once when we were lined up, they read several names and asked those people to stay at the yard. Other men were allowed to go and we, who had to stay there, waited for a member, a guard to approach each of us. He took me to my room, where I had to pack all my stuff into the blanket, and then, I had to go with that member to the storeroom, where I handed it in. We weren’t allowed to say a word to our cellmates. Later, we were loaded to the prepared bus and driven to Liberec, to Liberec prison. And as the members accommodated us and treated us very politely there, as they gave us some good meals, we felt that something was going on. Then, they took us to the culture room where the prosecutor came, probably from Liberec, and read the text of the presidential amnesty to us, at last he said we would be released. The amnesty came into force on May 9, but considering all the administrative operations connected to that, they said we would be released on May 10 or 11 at the latest. Thus I was released on May 11, 1960.”

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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