Rudolf Dobiáš (1934)
“May people finally realize those were not only shackles and fetters of many men and women, but also of our nation; its fate and its story in the history have been cruelly manacled.”
Rudolf Dobiáš was born on September 29, 1934 in Dobrá near Trenčín in a peasant family. He attended public school in his hometown and in years 1945 – 1953 he studied at the grammar school in Trenčín, where he graduated as well. In his youth he was a scout and he held a function of the squad’s counsellor in Trenčianska Teplá. After the ban of scouting, their squad tried to work illegally also by issuing prohibited leaflets. As a fresh university student he was arrested, accused of anti-state activity and high treason, and sentenced to eighteen years of imprisonment. He spent seven years in the so-called correctional institutions – in labour camps in Jáchymov, Slavkov, and Příbram. In May 1960 he was released from custody according to the amnesty and he commenced the mandatory enlistment. Afterwards he was employed as a temporary worker in mines, later as a workman and a technician in Slovlik Trenčín Enterprise. Besides, he extended his education and completed secondary studies at the Industrial School of Chemistry in Bratislava. He started to be literary active and he got involved in theatrical sphere. In 1975 he got award for a collection of short stories called Veľké biele vtáky (Big White Birds) and since 1976 he worked as a professional writer. In 1970 he was partially and later in 1990 he was fully rehabilitated. In years 1990 – 1992 he worked as an editor of Slovak Daily. Moreover, he published series of writings Triedni nepriatelia I., II. (Class Enemies I. and II.), which represent one of the most complex views of fates of individuals being affected by the former communist regime.
University Student in Custody
“On December 21, I went home and nothing serious actually happened that day. However, on December 23, as I went to bring some wood from our woodshed, two men came and asked me what my name was. I answered their question and they detained me. I wore just old sweatpants, flannel shirt, pullover and some stogies. They searched our flat, our rooms and took some of my poems. And of course, they took me as well – dressed as I was, in those sweatpants, flannel shirt, pullover; I just managed to put on my winter coat. They seated me in their car – it was actually my first ride in a car – what an experience! We stopped in Trenčín and from Trenčín they drove me directly to Bratislava, to Račianska Street.”
Trial without Preparation
“They sentenced us in two ways. One part of adults and two students received ten years. They named a new group leader, Ján Sýkora, that train shunter. He was sentenced to twenty-two years, the farmer to twenty years and two of us, one workman and I, got eighteen years. Ivan, a university student, was sentenced to seventeen years and there were two more who received fifteen years each. And then there were boys who were accused of consorting against the Republic, whose sentence wasn’t higher than five years. So I guess they received from three months up to four and a half years. They asked me what it had been like before the trial. The prosecutor and a man - supposedly it was a judge - came and called me, probably to see me. They told me what my indictment was for and that was it. They said I was accused of high treason, even though I had no idea what high treason was, nor what the consequences could have been. They asked me whether I was sorry and I answered I wasn’t. Maybe I worsened my situation that way and therefore they transferred me into the heavier group of ‘criminals’. I don’t want to say it was for sure like this, but at least I assumed so. Well, the trial resulted in what it resulted. No one could prepare for that trial because we didn’t have any records, or our accusations. We had nothing.”
Harsh Prison Regime
“The worst of all was that one could not sit down during the whole day. There was no chance as the cells had the beds built into the wall; the chairs were just simple seats to be locked as well as the table, so a man didn’t have opportunity to sit down. About a week or two nobody noticed I was there and I had to walk all days; just walk, walk, walk… Only when there was lunchtime, the guard unlocked the table and a chair, served my lunch and afterwards he closed and locked it again. In the evening he prepared the bed. The light was on all the time, hands had to be on the blanket and they often banged on the doors; simply, it was really tough. I don’t know how I came to get used to it. And so I walked, I slowly thought about things and the warder always greeted me: ‘How are you today?’ One more experience I have to share with you. One day someone addressed me: ‘Mr. Dobiáš’. It had never happened to me before. Such a young guy addressed me: ‘How are you today, Mr. Dobiáš?’ I answered: ‘I am fine. Thank you.’ ‘How come you are fine?’ ‘Well, I don’t know, I am doing well, I don’t have any…’ Maybe the crisis reached me sometime in February, when the harsh interrogations took turns. During the day or night, or all days long, many hours and each time again and again they asked: ‘Why did you conceal this? Why didn’t you say that? Why did you lie?’ So yet again the records changed. I think they did that on purpose.”
Tough Conditions of Miners
“Sometime at the end of December they transported us to the central camp named Ostrov (Island). There they divided us according to ability of working in a pit. So I was sent to the camp Svätopluk in Slavkov region. There I worked in a pit named Barbora; I am not sure about that name, though. We went there through such approximately one kilometre long corridor. In Slavkov the winters were really cruel, with tons of snow, the corridor used to be always very slippery and surrounded by wires. We were being walked by guards and guard dogs, and this way we got to the pit. It took us about an hour, then we mined, and all sweaty we went back through that corridor again. We were so benumbed; our gum boots were leaky. This is how we worked day by day until May. Until May I was in Slavkov. There I also had my friends, my co-prisoner Ivan Masár. He was later moved to camp Mariánska and I was transferred to camp Vojna, so they separated us.”
First Illegal Poems
“Well, at the camp Vojna, the atmosphere was much more tranquil, I would maybe say it was more intellectual atmosphere. There were mostly people – intellectuals. As I already mentioned, there was a priest, economist, literary critic, poet-beginner, originally a medical student, script editor who wasn’t allowed to finish his studies, etc. So those were people, who had close relationship towards literature and we could talk together also about the literary issues and about poetry. This way I also got familiar with the Czech poetry as well and I started writing again; I wrote here a little collection. Of course, it was all illegal, because one could not write anything publicly. Even though a man could ask for a notebook to take some notes, I wrote down excerpts from the books I had read. By some coincidence I remember taking notes on Rolland’s work Jean-Christophe. Most probably, there was usually a confident at each room, so they used to do a ‘filcung’ (a purge). I always hid my notebook under the mattress, so when they found it, they took it, threw away and never returned back. Of course, there wasn’t anything what could they punish me for. Even though, those poems I used to hide down in the pit, because it was possible to hide whatever behind the timbering.”
Three Stages of Death Penalty
“Since I was considered to be a serious criminal, I was at the department for serious criminal offenders, which was very close to the department for those sentenced to death. So I used to hear how they took them or brought them at nights or early in the mornings. Supposedly the execution was always done at three stages: from their cell they took them to such a waiting cell, from there they were moved to a cell where they could say goodbye to their relatives, and then there was one more cell, which presented the last stage before the act of death penalty itself. I often used to hear various screams, as well as the rustle of the one being dragged away, or when he was reluctant to go… It was horrible to listen to that. I couldn’t even imagine the act of the execution. Later, just by chance I was at the Higher Military Court, where Tomáš Chovan was being rehabilitated and I was allowed by the judge to read through Chovan’s file. There I found a note, a record about the execution. It was written there when the guards came to take the sentenced one, when they brought him before the judge or the prosecutor, which again reread his sentence and announced him the suit for pardon was refused. Afterwards, particularly at this and that hour and minute, the sentenced one was surrendered to the hands of executioner, and at this and that hour the present doctor stated choking to death.”
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.