Michal Popovec (1931)

Photo: Michal Popovec

Biography

“A man could only hardly imagine that the things they did and they were able to do were real.”

Michal Popovec was born on February 6, 1931, in the village of Dubová in a peasant family. After gaining the primary education at a public school and one-year complementary course, he started to attend the grammar school which he did not finish due to unforeseen circumstances. On May 2, 1949, he was arrested along with other seven students. They were all suspected of sabotaging First of May celebration because of explosion of the bridge between the village Mokroluh and the city Bardejov that happened during the night from April 30 to May 1, 1949. After spending three days in custody, their innocence was proven and they were released. Ján Šimko, his brother-in-law, introduced him Ján Berežný, who had come from American zone in Austria. He was looking for a purchaser of penicillin, because there was a shortage of this remedy back then. Besides the arrangement of meeting with doctor Valér Baráč, they helped him to organise a group of boys who decided to flee to Austria and America to work there. While crossing the border between Russian and American zone in Austria they were arrested by Russian soldiers. When being investigated and tortured inhumanly, they revealed identity of all the people who had helped them to flee, including Michal Popovec and his relatives. Two weeks later, on June 14, 1949, he was arrested together with his father, brother, brother-in-law and some other people by the State Security members. Doctor Valér Baráč was sent to prison as well. After more than two weeks of torture in Prešov, on July 2, 1949, they were transported to a County Prison in Bratislava. Michal Popovec was sentenced by the County Court in Bratislava to four years of imprisonment, a 10 000 crowns fine and confiscation of his property. The whole family fortune, including factories producing cloth and coal as well as a factory processing codfish, was seized by the government. Moreover, he lost his civil rights for five years and the right to vote for three years. He served his sentence subsequently in Leopoldov and Jáchymov. At Christmas in 1949 and on New Year’s Day in 1950 he attended masses in Leopoldov chapel, which had to be demolished by priests themselves a few months later. Even after his release he was constantly monitored by the State Security. In spite of his misfortune, he passed the leaving examination at a secondary school in Bratislava. Moreover, in Bardejov he attended complementary study which he successfully finished two years later. Firstly, he worked as a building technician in the company Pozemné stavby in Prešov and later in Bardejov, where he worked until his retirement. Along with his wife Terézia he brought up three children – a son and two daughters.

Traitor

Michal Popovec - Traitor (data format Flash Video)

“I don’t know whether on that day or on the next one they set out on a journey to Austria. But Mr. Berežný made a big mistake when he let a Czech man called Pepík join them, because he was a traitor. They safely passed our border to Austria. They didn’t have any problems, because Pepík knew the area well. He’d had to be there more times before. Maybe he’d similarly deceived more people. There was a bridge across a stream. One streamside belonged to the Russian zone and the other one to the American. Pepík proposed them to take a rest and eat before crossing the bridge and entering the American zone. Since they were all tired and hungry, they agreed with his proposal. So they sat down and started to unpack their snack, nobody noticed that Pepík had disappeared. Ten minutes later, they were surrounded by Russian soldiers who arrested them and took away. They spent one night in Austria and then they were driven back to Czechoslovakia. That’s how it all began. A few days later I was arrested together with other members of my family and doctor Baráč as well.”

Police Raid against Believers on Pilgrimage in Levoča

Michal Popovec - Police Raid against Believers on Pilgrimage in Levoča (data format Flash Video)

“When we were transported to Bratislava, pilgrimage took place in Levoča. It’s called ‘odpust’ in our region. We didn’t know what was going to happen, but we just saw a lot of policemen there. Suddenly they started to beat the people and they didn’t want to allow them to attend the pilgrimage. We didn’t understand what was going on. The policemen attacked the people, stopped their cars and took the car keys, it was unbelievable. We had to stop for a while, because there were cars in front of us which blocked the road. As a result, we could see a little bit of this police raid. We could see what they did, how they impeded people to join the pilgrimage.”

False Charge of Sabotage

Michal Popovec - False Charge of Sabotage (data format Flash Video)

“During the investigation I was told that early in the morning on May 1, it was about 1 a.m., or at least I guess it was, the bridge connecting Mokroluh and Bardejov was exploded. Then the bridges weren’t as good as they are nowadays. There were a lot of wooden bridges, too. Even the one which was exploded was made of wood. Since the State Security wanted to reveal who did it, eight students of the grammar school were arrested. We spent three days in a jail. During the investigation they used various tricky methods we weren’t prepared to. Well, I admit we had done some silly things, but we had nothing to do with the explosion.”

Beating in the Custody

Michal Popovec - Beating in the Custody (data format Flash Video)

“It happened in Prešov. It was normal to be given a thick ear, even battering by truncheon was common, but in Prešov beating was even worse. I’ve just started to talk about it to my wife. In Prešov, there was an interrogator called Straka, I don’t know whether it was his real name or not. He was one of the nastiest people there. And believe me, there were a lot of nasty men. They were all strong as a horse, it was incredible. I don’t know whether Straka battered other prisoners as much as he battered me, but I suppose he did. I had the misfortune he battered me so much, especially on my heels that I was not able to walk for a year.”

“Wait and You will See, Bloody Bastard!”

Michal Popovec - “Wait and You will See, Bloody Bastard!” (data format Flash Video)

“Just before our trial, I think it was a month before it, General Rašla went for inspection into the cells. He allegedly did it twice a year. He was one of the fiercest prosecutors then. He was a rascal and scoundrel, too. When he came to our cell, he looked around and said: ‘Do you have any question?’ I, being the youngest of the prisoners in our cell, said: ‘I do.’ ‘Well, what do want to know?’ ‛I don’t know why I am here.’ ‘Wait and you will see, bloody bastard!’ It was his answer. He slammed the door and he left.”

Trial as a Mockery of Justice

Michal Popovec - Trial as a Mockery of Justice (data format Flash Video)

“The public was excluded from some parts of the trial. My trial was public, because I was accused only of a petty crime in comparison with Berežný. The public was excluded from his trial, because he faced some fabricated charges. They had no evidence. There were only some dubious military court experts. They introduced the charge as follows: ‘If the accused one did this, that could have happened.’ What the accused had really done and what had really happened was not mentioned at all. It was the content of the whole expert opinion. He had the rank of major, can you believe it? People were sentenced without any evidence. They were given as many years as the prosecutor and some other ‘legal’ representatives wanted. If they needed somebody to be hung, they sentenced him/her to death penalty without any problems.”

Wife’s Reminiscences of Forced Collectivization

Michal Popovec - Wife’s Reminiscences of Forced Collectivization (data format Flash Video)

“I come from the village of Ličartovce in Prešov district. My father was a peasant. In spite of the fact he didn’t have much land, he refused collectivization. He preferred working on his own field and submitting the compulsory allowance to the government. He always did his duty. He loved farming. When he was only two years old, his father died and he looked after the farm only with his mother. He had five sisters whose parts he had to look after, too. But suddenly he was threatened to lose it all. That was why he refused the collectivization. A lot of people came to try to persuade him and finally, he had to hide from them. For example, he stayed longer on the field and my mother had to go home alone. I along with my siblings had to help him at the farm, too. But when they blackmailed him to fire me from my work and to fire my siblings from their schools, he finally signed the papers and joined a collective farm. So he was forced to agree with collectivization and then he worked in the collective farm almost for free.”

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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