Milan Brišš (1930)

Photo: Milan Brišš
 

Biography:

 

“We can forgive, but we will never forget.”

 

Milan Brišš was born in 1930 in the village of Zákamenné in Orava region. He came from a large family and since his childhood he was led to be a hardworking and responsible person. His father, a war invalid, had a general store and this fact changed the life of the whole family especially after the seizure of power by the communist party in 1948. However, the years of his youth were affected mainly by the Second World War, which brought many dramatic situations into his life. Firstly soldiers and partisans deprived the family of everything they had found and then, the Germans took his father to the town of Cieszyn, where he spent a month. The end of war in 1945 meant for Milan’s family only a temporary relief from persecution. Later, his father was deprived of his shop by the communists, and the family found themselves in danger of forcible eviction several times. Milan and his siblings felt consequences of the communist policy mainly when they were not allowed to study. After the school leaving examination Milan wanted to pursue his studies, but due to his “inappropriate origin” he wasn’t accepted to university, but received call-up papers to a mine. From October 1951 to February 1954 he worked in a pit in Ostrava-Karviná region, where he was doing his military service, even though he had never seen a mine before. Working there was really strenuous; he had to be present at exhausting marches and live in the heat and in ubiquitous dust. After being released in the year 1954, he worked at school in Riečnica village in Kysuce region for a short period of time. In the same year Milan was accepted to the Faculty of Law of Comenius University in Bratislava; however, he was dismissed in the third year. Suddenly, he was in a very difficult situation and managed to go through it only thanks to the help of his acquaintance, a linguist Anton Habovštiak, who offered him a temporary job in the Slovak Academy of Sciences. He also earned some extra money as a singer in the Czechoslovak Radio. Milan never intended to give up and appealed against his expulsion to the Ministry of Education several times. He made his dream of higher education come true at the Pedagogical Faculty of Comenius University, where he graduated from geography and history for elementary school in 1958. He gained his first teaching experiences in Veľké Leváre, in Sološnica, and in Devínska Nová Ves, where he spent five years. He also gained necessary qualifications for teaching at secondary schools, so then he worked at several grammar schools in Bratislava. He was employed in the National Institute for Education in Bratislava from 1977 to 1991, and thence, at the age of 61 years, he went to work to the centre for inspection at the Ministry of Education. He has been a freelancer since 1995 and still lectures on law at various institutions.

 

Between the Two Camps

 

Between the Two Camps (data format Flash Video)

 

“When we were children, we really experienced a lot of fear and affliction. We were afraid, because on one side there was a German garrison staying at the end of the village of Novoť, or rather in the neighbouring village, and on the other side, in the village of Lomná, there was certain group of partisans, who stayed there after the suppression of the Slovak National Uprising into the mountains, and they always, especially in October, rode the wagons they had stolen from peasants. That peasant usually went with them around the shops and around the houses of wealthy people and took everything from them. But we were afraid of it. Moreover, there was no electricity then, it was introduced in 1957 after my mom’s death; she died in August 1957 and the electricity was introduced in October. Oh, my poor mom, she didn’t live to see it. Well, sometimes the Germans came at night and asked for example, ‘Wo ist Partisan?’ and as we were sleeping and we were six children there, we really had fear. Our parents had to get up and they were shining a torch in all rooms and then they left. A few minutes later partisans came. ‘Is Fritz here?’ Once it happened in a neighbouring village of Oravská Lesná that both garrisons, Germans and partisans, met there and started firing and killed the whole family there, both parents and their children.”

 

The End of War

 

The End of War (data format Flash Video)

 

“In the period around the year 1945, the situation after the liberation was bad, because then the Soviet Army soldiers were leaving the mountains and as they went through the village they were stealing everything they needed. Even though we covered our stuff from sight, bricked it up in anteroom and the like, they broke through it and found everything. Certainly, if we had given it to our neighbours, we probably wouldn’t have lost it, because as our house was built of bricks and the neighbouring were wooden, they knew they would find something and really took a lot of our things away.”

 

Work in a Mine Instead of University Studies

 

Work in a Mine Instead of University Studies (data format Flash Video)

 

“I wasn’t accepted to the faculty of arts, but I received a call-up to a mine instead. From October 1, 1951 to February 10, 1954, I worked in a pit in Ostrava-Karviná region almost every day, because then we also worked on Saturdays and Sundays. I had two days off including the time spent travelling there. It wasn’t far from Orava, I went by train and then changed to bus. There were no such holidays like people have these days. I as well as the others there didn’t know what the mine was. I had never seen it before. At first we only had training without weapons, naturally, and we learnt something about occupational safety, about a mine, as we hadn’t seen it before. We mined in a depth of about 800 or 1,000 meters under the ground. When I first worked in a pit, I didn’t know how to turn round there. Each soldier was assigned to a civilian who was called a pitman in the Ostrava-Karviná region. We got a shovel; there was a lot of dust as he drilled there, and the lamps were very dark and gave just a little light. A man didn’t know where to turn, so accidents occurred quite often. Fortunately, I didn’t get any injury at the beginning, but later I was injured twice. A rock, or rather a stone, fell from the roof when we mined coal. It fell on my foot and even though I wore boots and work clothes with padding, it broke my thumb, so I was moved to the surface with coal and taken to the hospital in Orlová. My thumb was sutured there and then I was taken by an ambulance car to the barracks in Sovinec, in Karviná and I stayed there for several weeks. If I can say it lightly, I rested there.”

 

Enemies of Socialism

 

Enemies of Socialism (data format Flash Video)

 

“The worst thing was that we were considered to be the enemies of socialism and thus worthless people. Then Čepička was a minister of defence. Once all companies had to muster and he told us, ‘You are here because you are the enemies and you have to work here.’ And the like. He was Klement Gottwald’s son in law. It was in 1953, so at the time when Klement Gottwald died, I was still doing the military service.”

 

Expulsion from School

 

Expulsion from School (data format Flash Video)

 

“When I left the school in Riečnica village, I started studying at the Faculty of Law of Comenius University. It was in September. Well, but what happened? At the beginning of the third year I was invited to the dean’s office, where fifteen people sat and they told me, ‘Comrade Brišš.’ I said, ‘I’m not a comrade.’ ‘You can’t study at the Faculty of Law, because you have bourgeois background.’ Then, I was expelled. And what actually caused it? It happened, because I was suggested to go studying international relations to the Soviet Union and thus they decided to check me and they found it out.”

 

I Do Not Believe You

 

I Do Not Believe You (data format Flash Video)

 

“I had appealed against my expulsion for the third time before I started studying at pedagogical faculty. It was on Dunajská Street and who met me there? It was on Leningradská Street and it was Peter Colotka, a former prime minister. He also was there at that time. He apologized to me that he could do nothing as there were several other people deciding it. He also added that my third appeal was actually successful as they came to a conclusion that after a proper examination of my cadre material I was allowed to pursue my studies at the faculty of law. And I told him, ‘No, I’m already studying at the pedagogical faculty and I do not believe you anymore, you would dismiss me even before the final state examination.’”

 

After the Year 1989

 

After the Year 1989 (data format Flash Video)

 

“It was interesting that after I had finished studying, I was successful at work, but when I asked for being rehabilitated after the change of the regime in 1989, there was created a sort of commission at the faculty of law and I was announced that I had never studied at the faculty of law. I couldn’t believe my eyes. So I put all my effort into it and after some time it was clarified. You see, they wanted to conceal it somehow.”

 

The Threat of Forced Eviction

 

The Threat of Forced Eviction (data format Flash Video)

 

“Considering that my father was a tradesman, we should have been evicted three times under the Action B. However, there was a pharmacist, who came from Hruštín near Oravský Podzámok, and he stood up for us. Other neighbours did the same; they said we did nothing bad, we were a good family. Nothing mattered; three cars were driven up in front of our house twice. They were adamant about our eviction, because they thought we had a bad influence on people as we were bourgeois. Nowadays, there are others and they can live peacefully.”

 

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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