Ladislav Kisska (1929)

Photo: Ladislav Kisska

Biography:

“Don’t trust those people, because if you admit just one thing, whatever it is, they will force you to reveal much more.”

Ladislav Kisska was born on March 21, 1929 in Dolné Motešice (Trenčín district). He attended the public elementary school in his home village and later moved to the grammar school in Trenčín, where he also passed the school leaving examination in 1948. Then he left for Košice to study forestry engineering; however, in January 1949 he was arrested by the State Security (ŠtB). He experienced a really cruel investigation, after which he and another 62 accused and 48 sentenced people were charged with the offences of high treason and espionage in the case of Albert Púčik and Co. Albert Púčik and Anton Tunega came from Dolné Motešice as well and they got to know each other a bit better when they all were studying at the grammar school in Trenčín. Púčik, Tunega and Tesár were executed on February 20, 1951 in Bratislava. Everybody who got in touch with these men was investigated by the State Security and prosecuted. Ladislav lent some money to Púčik as he needed it to finish his medical studies in Vienna because he wasn’t allowed to study in Slovakia. He also delivered an article to Tunega, in which he brought a sort of optimistic and positive description of how students worked at the railway line called Trať mládeže (Line of Youth). Though it wasn’t Ladislav’s intention to “harm his homeland”, his deeds didn’t remain unpunished. When he was in a remand centre, he managed to get in touch with Púčik and Tunega, and achieved an agreement on the testimonies of the accused at court, so Ladislav could be released from prison. He left for Košice where he intended to continue in the study of forestry engineering; however, he didn’t stay at liberty for long. About two months later, he was arrested again and for the reason of so-called socialist re-education he was interned in the forced labour camp in Ilava. A bit later he was moved to Hronec, from where he managed to escape along with other three prisoners, one Czech and two Hungarians. They ran through the forests to Banská Bystrica and thence they travelled to Prague. His former Czech cellmate was expected to arrange permission to leave for the border area in order to cross the Iron Curtain. However, one day his Czech “friend” disappeared and Ladislav has never seen him again. After this unsuccessful attempted escape from the country, he moved to Slovakia and spent some time in hiding in the forests. Thanks to his father’s contacts, Ladislav managed to cross the Czech-German border and then he got to the German refugee camp, where he applied for the US immigration visa. However, the United States granted visas for Czechoslovaks only after five years, therefore he decided to leave for Canada where his uncle lived at that time. In 1955 he finally got the U.S. immigration visa and left for California, where he completed the forestry studies. At last he moved to the state of Idaho, got an American citizenship and worked as a forest worker for the state authorities. He returned to Slovakia only after the Velvet Revolution.

Arrest and the First Investigation

Arrest and the First Investigation (data format Flash Video)

“I was studying, preparing for my university exams in Trenčín, when one evening at about ten o’clock the door suddenly opened and four men in leather jackets entered into my aunt’s flat. They asked about my name and then told me they’d come to arrest me for espionage. They searched my room, they even squeezed out my toothpaste, opened my shoe polish. They searched everything; they took away my own wristwatch and my identity card. I had a camera, but they took that away as well. About an hour later they put me in their car and drove me to Bratislava. It was after midnight when we finally arrived in Bratislava. They drove me to Lazaretská Street for interrogation. I came to a huge room and about six hooligans such uneducated and strong men were sitting there. As I entered the room they started laughing and beating me for no obvious reason. They kicked me, beat me, I fell on the ground. I lost consciousness many times, so they poured a bucket of water on me and when I came to my senses, they continued. They called me spy and other dirty words. When I stood up, they gave me a chair to kneel on it, I had to put my head on the table and they hit my head with their fists. Then I fell unconscious again and they brought me back and did it all over again. They asked me if I knew what penicillin was. I told them that it was a medicine. So they let me kneel on the chair and beat my feet with truncheons until I lost consciousness again and kicked me and I saw some blood running from my nose and throat. And then, finally, I didn’t know how much time passed when the two police officers in uniforms came and led me from the upper floor somewhere to the lowest floor. They trailed me down the stairs on my knees which was about five floors and then opened the door at the cell and threw me in.”

Trial and Release

Trial and Release (data format Flash Video)

“It was on the eighth day when they called me. I entered the room and there were people’s judges, Rašla was there and my advocate, yes, we had an advocate whose name was Telek. They asked me about my relationship with Púčik. So I told them the truth about what I was really doing. And the same about Tunega, I told them what was said to me and what I believed in. But when I began to speak my voice was very low and quiet. Telek told me, ‘Kisska, speak louder!’ So I began to speak louder, then I sat down and it was the last day, I think. About a week later they called us again, we stood there and they read our names in an alphabetical order. When they came to D, they omitted Daučík, when they came to K, they omitted Kisska, and then there was another man, whose name I can’t recall, but finally they omitted three names. They read the accusations and sentences and my name wasn’t mentioned. They didn’t mention me, Daučík and the third one, but the other accused were given five, twenty, thirty years or the life imprisonment. Then I went back to the cell and a warder came, ‘Kisska, take your stuff, don’t forget your shirt!’ I went out into the street where my father and my uncle Oto waited for me. They immediately took me to my uncle’s house in Bratislava and prepared some food for me. Of course, I vomited everything as I wasn’t used to normal food. A few days later, I went to Košice to study forestry engineering. I was in Košice, it was sometime around September. No, it was in autumn, when the guards came and took me to Ilava prison, where I was supposed to wait for my re-education.”

They Worked Like Slaves

They Worked Like Slaves (data format Flash Video)

“For example, when we were at an airport, we ate well, you know, they gave us enough food to be strong because we had to work without breaks. For example I was digging with pickaxe for ten minutes after which I stepped back, other men with shovels approached and threw it onto the car quickly and immediately I had to continue digging. It went this way for ten hours a day and we had to work without breaks. However, they fed us well, so as we had enough energy to work. We were like slaves there, workmen used to sit with shovels in their hands doing nothing; we were the only men who really worked there. I think that the factory where we worked paid some money to the ministry.”
“Ministry of Interior.”
“Yes, interior, for our work, they exploited us as some slaves.”
“Didn’t you get any money?”
“Nothing, never. Absolutely nothing. We got nothing.”

Tough Regime in the Camp

Tough Regime in the Camp (data format Flash Video)

“It was a strong military system, truly, you know, when new soldiers come to serve the military service, they are usually treated very roughly, and it was such rough system, military system. However, there was one difference. We weren’t allowed to associate with other men. If they had caught me talking to the student, who studied in Lausanne in Switzerland, I would have ended up in some black chamber. Some of us were punished and I didn’t know where they went, but they spent several days locked somewhere. I really didn’t know where they were. It was very harsh there. Meals were all right, sufficient for manually working people. When the wake-up signal resounded, everybody had to jump out of the bed, at night everybody had to hurry to bed because lights went out. It was very very strict and very hard life. There was no opportunity to talk to somebody, read books, or the like. There were only those communist Marxist lectures which were held every night and took two hours and after them, we had to sing Russian military songs.”

Fleeing Abroad I - The Escape Begins

Fleeing Abroad I - The Escape Begins (data format Flash Video)

“My father tried to find any contact to allow me to flee across the Iron Curtain. And this way it happened that I walked in the snow at night and I walked backwards to avoid being caught if somebody would have found my footprints. Then, I lived in the forest until the spring came and until I finally managed to get some contact from my family so as I could escape through the Iron Curtain. It was very strange because I had to travel to Bratislava, from Bratislava I went by train eastwards to Hungarian border, then I headed to Danube River, and it was at night when I met a man in a greenhouse, where early season vegetables were planted. Some small man came there. He wore a green hunting coat and said that he was that man who would guide me across the Iron Curtain. And he also said that the next day I had to come to the station and got on the express train called Slovenská strela (Slovak Arrow) which was operated on the line between Bratislava and Prague. In that train everything was very expensive, so only people holding high positions could travel by it. Moreover, he told me I wasn’t allowed to talk to anybody in the train, he would give me newspapers and I would only read there. Then he asked me about my documents which I wanted to use to pass the swoop in Prague. I told him I didn’t have my ID but student’s record book from the university. He looked at it and said it was all right because he had nothing better for me. That night I stayed with some people about one kilometre from Bratislava, about one kilometre from the station. I was supposed to get up at five in the morning and I also set my alarm clock; however, it broke down and didn’t ring. I woke up at six and the train left at half past six. Thus I jumped into my shoes, clothes and I ran to the station. I came there and that short man in a green hunting coat was supposed to meet me there, so I looked at the train from Žilina and at the information boards there. I got on the train to Žilina and he came to me and gave me the ticket to Prague, the train ticket. And he suddenly disappeared. However, he also said there will be six of us going all together. On the train to Prague there was no swoop. I managed to come to Prague.”
“You forgot your student’s record book in Štefan’s house on the table, that’s important information.”
“Oh my god, I really forgot my record book, my ID, but what Štefan did. He ran to catch me and gave it to me at the moment when I was getting on the train, on the fast Arrow. It was a real miracle, only seconds decided it because otherwise I would have no identity card. I got on the train, took my seat and realised that some fat communist was sitting next to me. He gave me the latest Czech and Slovak communist newspapers and as it was about two days before the May celebrations he gave some red star to me. I put it on my clothes, read the newspapers and the train was on the way to Prague. It stopped in Prague and I got of the train. There was a corridor, you know, a sort of wall of police officers and people couldn’t turn right or left. So people went in one line through that lane made of policemen. We came there and four undercover agents took identity card of each person and only after checking it they let him/her go. So I took my student’s record book. I covered the photo with my finger and I was shaking in my shoes and couldn’t say anything. I opened my record book; I told myself I had to calm down, I showed it to the policeman, I mean that undercover officer, and I said, ‘It is my first time in gorgeous historic Prague.’ He looked at me, smiled, gave my document to me and let me go out, there were hundreds of people. My knees were shaking and I was about to faint and only other people kept me standing.”

Fleeing Abroad II - Meeting with Smuggler

Fleeing Abroad II - Meeting with Smuggler (data format Flash Video)

“My instruction was that when I got of the train I had to walk in the direction of the train, you know, I wasn’t allowed to go through the station in any case. There was a swoop, there were four policemen. It was night, it was dark and maybe two stations before detraining, I was told that the plan had changed. No, I wasn’t allowed to go in the direction of the train but the opposite direction. I was totally exhausted, so I forgotten about it. I didn’t know which direction to go. My mind went blank. Just imagine, I got of the train and there was no swoop, so I went directly to the building of the station. I came there and I saw four National Security Corps members and all the refugees there. And I was the first person, so I passed and then all the others were checked. It was a miracle. I saw a parking place and I went there to think about the direction which I should go. Coincidentally, I chose the direction opposite to the direction of the train, which was correct. I jumped across the fence and there was a kind of freight train. I crawled under it and then I walked, walked, and walked. Suddenly I heard some gravel behind me. I quickened my steps, but then I heard gravel in front of me, it was dark. There were six people. Then that short man came and led us to the right, to the forest. And there he sat down and said, ‘We have to wait here for a man who will guide us across the Iron Curtain, his name is Jiří.’ I didn’t know his surname, only Jiří. Thus we sat there, five Baptists, one was woman, and me, I was the sixth one. And the man in the green coat was the seventh, eighth man was the one we were waiting for. We heard some whistling, he had some whistle, which made that sound. And the man in the green coat responded with the same whistling. Suddenly a tall, thin, slim man appeared. He said, ‘My name is Jiří and I am here to guide you across the Iron Curtain.’”

Fleeing Abroad III - I Almost Died of Fear

Fleeing Abroad III - I Almost Died of Fear (data format Flash Video)

“He said, ‘We will do it this way,’ and he described it to us. He said he would go as the first, ten metres behind him there would go another two, it was in a forest, in a wood. There were woods and open fields and he said, ‘If I stop, you will kneel. If I kneel on one knee, you will lie down and stay there as long as I kneel or lie. If I get up and walk, you will get up too and follow me. You have to keep ten-meter distance from me and five-meter distance from each other, of course, the last one will go ten meters behind us.’ Later, I got to know that it was because if somebody stepped on the mine, it wouldn’t kill anybody else, either the one before him or the one behind him. We went, just imagine, and he looked at his watch and said, ‘Five.’ Then, in an absolute silence because we weren’t allowed to speak, he turned and went straight to the field. The moon rose from behind the clouds and thus we could see about half a kilometre before us. I thought we were heading towards forests and I didn’t want to go there, I was the last, only the man in the green coat walked behind me and as he had a gun, he laid it to my back and said, ‘March!’ I thought they betrayed us, absolutely. I almost died of fear.”

Fleeing Abroad IV - Crossing the Border

Fleeing Abroad IV - Crossing the Border (data format Flash Video)

“Suddenly we came to some place. He stopped, went down, kneeled, so we lay and he approached us and spoke. He said we had 95% probability to cross the border successfully, but 5% probability to fail because there was an area which he didn’t know and he also didn’t know whether there were some guards or not. So we came there, he stopped, we all went down, and he approached us and said, ‘Here is an old Roman road and there are machine gun nests. And they are not occupied constantly. Sometimes they are here, sometimes there. Anything or anybody trying to cross the road will be mowed down with a machine gun.’ And he said he would go first and he would listen carefully whether there was something or not. It was five percent on that he didn’t know where the swoop or guards would be. He went and we lay there for about twenty minutes. Then he came back and said it looked ok. So we went to that road, stood side by side, joined our hands and crossed that road as one. There also was a ditch, so we jumped into it, listened for a few minutes, everything was silent, and so we continued to the border between Germany and Czech. When we were crossing the road, some marsh appeared, he stopped and said, ‘See the white stones, it is the border between Germany and Czech. Now you can run.’ I ran for about one kilometre, one kilometre at once. And the others went slowly, when I passed the stones, I really got crazy, I climbed up the tree, ate the leaves, needles, then I fell down of the tree and climbed up again, you know, I was in Germany, about hundred and fifty meters behind the border. And then those two men, who guided us, said the only thing, ‘You are in Germany. If you walk quietly towards the southwest, well, where the moon is, there is southwest, you will come to a small village of Furtinwald, where policemen will catch you and you will stay there. However, if you are not quiet, if you speak, the German border guards can stop you and send you back towards the Curtain, they will take you to the German customs, which actually is only fifty metres from the Czech customs. So it is in your interest, if you don’t want to worry about your fate, stay quiet.’”

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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