Matej Andráš (1921 - 2012)

Photo: Matej Andráš
 

Biography:

 

“I have never forced anybody to profess to be a Slovak. I only proclaimed everyone’s right to profess whatever he/she wanted.”

 

Matej Andráš was born on September 19, 1921 in the village of Ždiar in the Tatra region. Since his childhood he grew up in a Goral environment. He attended the public school in Lendak and later in Ždiar, where he first acquaint himself with problems of the Slovak minority in Poland, who lived in former Slovak villages of the northern Spiš region. After finishing the Grammar school in Kežmarok (1933 – 1941), he continued studying at the Faculty of Law in Bratislava. Before finishing his studies, in 1945 he started to work as an editor for the Slovak News Agency in Košice. In August 1945 he found a job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague, where he worked as a reporter for Poland. Later, from the year 1947 he worked as a Consul of the Czechoslovak Republic in Katowice. During his diplomatic work in Poland, which ended in 1950, he used to solve various problems and advocate the rights of Slovak inhabitants who lived in the villages located in the northern Spiš and Horná Orava regions, which were receded to Poland in May 1945. In 1950 he was dismissed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and excluded from the party. In the next years 1951 – 1955 he worked as a turner in ČKD – Sokolovo Company in Prague. During this period he also engaged in translating the Polish, Czech, and Russian literature. Subsequently, he returned to Bratislava and until 1969 he worked as a head of the secretariat of the Zväz slovenských spisovateľov (Slovak Writers’ Union). In 1968, on the one thousand and one hundredth anniversary of the death of St. Cyril, he was present at the national pilgrimage to Vatican. After the return, he became a permanent secretary of the Minister of Culture Miroslav Válek. He held this office until 1971, when he moved to the Slovenské ústredie knižnej kultúry (Slovak Centre for Book Culture). Then, in the years 1972 – 1977 he was a head of the Slovenský spisovateľ (Slovak Writer) publishing company. After he had left the publishing house, he worked as a director of the Slovenská literárna agentúra (Slovak Literary Agency) until the year 1989. When he was staying in Bratislava, he kept in touch with several well-know writers and personalities of the political stage such as Vladimír Clementis, Ladislav Novomeský, Vladimír Mináč, Ladislav Hanus, and Vincent Hložník. Even after he had retired, he pursued the Slovak-Polish relations and cooperated with the Spolok Slovákov v Poľsku (Association of Slovaks in Poland). His literary works on this theme are well-known, too. He died on March 5, 2012, in the age of ninety years.

 

The First Contact with Problems of Slovak Minority in Poland

 

The First Contact with Problems of Slovak Minority in Poland (data format Flash Video)

 

“I was walking from Ždiar, it was Saturday, and I was on the way to my parents, who lived in a hollow, when suddenly a horse-drawn carriage, in which a farmer and his son sat, caught me. They offered me a lift and we started talking. And he, I mean that farmer, examined on various things, the school I was attending among others. I didn’t understand him quite well, but then I clarified that I was attending the Slovak school. And he moaned that if only they could, if only they had a Slovak school. At that time I wasn’t aware of their situation. When I came home, my parents explained to me that Nová Belá, the village where the farmer lived, was one of the villages which were ceded to Poland in 1920. And as we all know, the Polish people worked on an assumption that Gorals were Poles, so they started to prefer Polish language in everyday life there. Simply, they didn’t open Slovak schools, but forced them to attend Polish ones instead. Of course, at that time I didn’t see it this way, only later, when I familiarized with the situation and saw materials which were available and could be found also in Polish literature, only then I comprehended that it was a waste of words when the population demanded Slovak schools.”

 

Catching News from Moscow

 

Catching News from Moscow (data format Flash Video)

 

“After the liberation of eastern Slovakia, I went with Peter Karvaš, who I had sheltered in Tatranská Kotlina in a sanatorium, and with Rudo Pravdík, who also had been in Tatranská Kotlina for some time after the suppression of the uprising, and together we crossed the front at the end of January. We headed towards, or rather Pravdík headed towards Levoča where he enlisted in the Czechoslovak military and Peter Karvaš and I continued to Košice to offer our services to the Slovak National Council. Peter Karvaš worked in a radio and I was in the Slovak News Agency, I was so-called “ZAS” and my task was to catch any news from Moscow. What did it mean? During the night, always from 10 p.m., Moscow used to dictate news through the radio and I had to catch it and translate, so that Národná Obroda newspaper, which started to be published in Košice and the Slovak Radio in Košice had the latest news from the fronts and from the political life in world in general. A few days later, I was working, you know, usually it took two hours, so it wasn’t so demanding if I say it an simplified way. However, at that time, the Yalta Conference was held, so the dictation from Moscow didn’t take the usual two hours but eight and I had no paper and pencils left, I used all of them. Then, we managed to compile it somehow and in the morning a communiqué was published in the newspapers and broadcasted in the radio about what the victorious world powers had agreed on.”

 

The Slovaks in Poland after 1945

 

The Slovaks in Poland after 1945 (data format Flash Video)

 

“In April 1946, it means in such an exposed period of Polish-Czechoslovak tension, in a simplified way I would say that several thousands of people of the Slovak nationality moved from the territory of Spiš and Orava because they were being persecuted, tortured, and murdered there. Yes, murdered. And at that time, it was in April 1946, I coincidentally came to Spišská Stará Ves. There were refugees from Nová Belá and from other areas and villages, and I saw Slovak people who were despairing and begging for help. Based on the material, which I personally managed to obtain, and with the help of our authorities I compiled a notification describing these matters. We sent it to the Polish embassy in Prague. My notification was dated on May 6, but they replied sometime in October or the like.”

 

Contact with the Countrymen in Poland

 

Contact with the Countrymen in Poland (data format Flash Video)

 

“As for the contact with the countrymen, from the distance of those sixty years I can say that there was a really tense atmosphere because during the six years of existence of the Slovak Republic people got used to having everything the same as Slovaks. Without any problems, they had schools, churches and then, they lost everything during the years 1945, 1946, 1947. It was a very complicated and hard chapter in the history and if we compared these two minorities, I mean the Polish minority in Czechoslovakia in Těšín and the Slovak minority in Orava and Spiš, we could say the Polish minority had a really ordered life. People were interested in putting the things in order; they wanted the state to work normally. In Orava and Spiš region, you know, when I came to Poland in 1947, it means half a year after signing agreements and the like, atmosphere wasn’t the worst in that sense that the murders and other things stopped. The reason was that Kuraś Ogień died in February 1947 and his armed forces or how I should call them, partisan ones, were decimated and eliminated.”

 

No Travelling

 

No Travelling (data format Flash Video)

 

“Then, in 1955, after the Stalin’s death, the things loosened in some way, because before I could go to Martin, to Matica, where they would give me a job, but I wasn’t allowed to leave Prague. I could work only in Czech, in industry. Actually, I could travel, I could visit the country, but I couldn’t work there. So in 1955 I finally moved to Bratislava and since that time I worked for the Writer’s Union. Before 1964 I even couldn’t travel anywhere abroad, nowhere.”

 

Slovaks and Their Problems with Practising Faith in Poland

 

Slovaks and Their Problems with Practising Faith in Poland (data format Flash Video)

 

“The fight, the struggle of the population was really hard; I even can’t imagine what else they could do. However, nobody helped them. You know, Czechoslovakia wasn’t interested in it. They simply let them cope with it, even though there were such cases, for example I had a letter and a record about a mother who wanted to have her son christened. And as she couldn’t do it in Nová Belá as the priest there served ceremonies only for the Polish believers, it was during that seven-year period, she went to Spišská Stará Ves. There was a priest; I think his name was Žolondek. And when she came, he gave her a condition that she had to visit a Polish priest in his manse. Of course they turned and left. Then, they went to another Slovak village, where the kid was finally christened. Such were the conditions, it looked like this. And bishop Imrich, Auxiliary Bishop of Spiš, supposedly stated that, ‘God speaks Polish as well.’ Of course, he speaks Polish, but he speaks Slovak, too. It was a really hard chapter especially if a man looked at what those people had to go through and what everything they had to swallow. And there was a group of Polish intellectuals, who held their ground about those people being Poles, and that’s that.”

 

My Friendship with Laco Novomeský

 

My Friendship with Laco Novomeský (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)

 

“When I stayed in Košice in February 1945, I got in touch with people from the radio and from Národná Obroda newspaper and thus I met Laco Novomeský. Our cooperation also continued in Bratislava where I worked at “ZAS”, in the Slovak Agency where I spent three months, May, June, and July, before I left for Prague. Then, the cooperation continued, naturally, because when I was in Poland, he was an assignee of the Ministry of Education and when we supplied the Slovak schools with literature, projectors and other tools in the years 1947 – 1950 when I was employed there, I had to refer to Laco Novomeský as to an assignee and he promptly accommodated my demands. Later, when I was in Bratislava and Laco Novomeský was released from prison, he wasn’t allowed to move to Slovakia, to Bratislava, during the first months, so he remained working for the Památník písemnictví (Museum of Czech Literature) in Prague and people from Slovakia who travelled there on business visited him because, you know, he was an outstanding poet and writer. Then the situation loosened a bit and he could return to Bratislava, but he had a big problem with a flat. It was almost impossible to find any and I know about it because it was my responsibility and as I was a secretary of the Writers’ Union I can say how hard it was to find that flat at that time. However, Laco Novomeský was one of the most modest and noble people I have ever met.”

 

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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