Viktor Trstenský (1908 - 2006)
“My mission was to love God, love nation and to strive in order not to become betrayers – neither religious, nor national.”
Viktor Trstenský was born on March 28, 1908, in the village of Trstená in a peasant family as the ninth child of his parents. He was raised in accordance with the principles of Christianity and thus he decided to become a priest, so after finishing the grammar school, he enrolled at the seminary in Trnava and in Spišská Kapitula. He was ordained a priest in 1931 by the bishop Ján Vojtaššák. From the very beginning he devoted himself to active work with young people, taught religious education at schools and led various clubs. He contributed to newspapers under the pseudonym Magurčan and he used to criticise the morality of the police members. Due to his activities he became inconvenient for the totalitarian communist regime, so since that time he had been persecuted. He faced many investigations, reasonless accusations, imprisonment, hard work in a mine and also several attempts to induce him to collaborate with the state authorities. He spent forty years of his life in various prisons and labour camps. He was even forced to substitute his canonicals for boiler suit and he worked as a manual worker for another twenty years only to earn his living. He had been watched by the State Security for many years after his release. Msgr. Trstenský met a lot of eminent personages of religious life who influenced him such as Andrej Hlinka, Prof. Kolakovič or Bishop Ján Vojtaššák. In 1994 he was accorded the rank of prelate (monsignor) by the Pope and later, in 2001, he was also granted the First Class Pribina Cross for his fight for human rights and for his bravery. This precious man died on December 7, 2006 in the village of Trstená.
The First Detention
„“These miserable people had their narks everywhere. They watched me when I was with the young, they knew that I had written to newspaper, simply said, they focused on me. When I was at school, a man came suddenly who told me that some curious person wanted to speak with me. He was a kind of nark from Žilina. He came and wanted me to go with him to the town. I said: ‘I can’t go I am teaching now.’ ‘No, you will have no lessons today, you will go with me.’ So I went but he wanted to take me to the office. I told him: ‘I have nothing to do in the office. I am going to prepare my notes. There is my house, where you can come and speak with me.’ However, he didn’t want to hear about it at all. He simply arranged with his fellows, so they gradually encircled me, you know, a bigger gang came and they took me to their car and drove me to Veličná. Another one drove me to Žilina, to a very nasty [house] where they left me lying in the grime on planks. But I didn’t worry at all; I even almost played a joke on them. As I was lying on those planks, I took my cross which I usually wore on my cassock and I engraved it on the wall. I looked at that cross as if it had been the beginning of what would be done with me.”
Four Months for Spending Christmas with the Poor
“Firstly they tried me in Čadca. The court was really stupid. They tried me because I supposedly invited some people to my house, to my table at Christmas, they told that I gave them some gifts and this way I wanted to encourage them to think that the state didn’t take care of them but I did. Thus I said in the courtroom: ‘You are talking nonsense here. Just look, if you had more children and some of them were sick, which of them would you prefer when taking care? Not those sick ones? You surely wouldn’t aim your attention to the healthy ones. And I cared for old people when it was necessary. It was my mission. What kind of crime have I committed?’ I was given only four months but they had me by the short and curlies.”
I Have Nothing To Lose!
“It was a gift from God, his mercy that I wasn’t afraid of nothing. ‘Do you think you could hurt me?’ I told on that grand trial, ‘I have nothing to be scared of. I have nothing to lose. Actually, you have already killed my parents and I have no brothers, my friends became frightened of me as well and I have no property. Try me as you wish but remember that once we will meet on another trial and only then we will see who had won. Whether you or me.’ And because I was speaking there without awe they sentenced me to those stupid fifteen years.”
Torture of Bishop Vojtaššák
“He had to get up at five in the morning and do so-called “cleaning” for an hour. At six he had to start learning those sixty-three pages of some criminal cases. He had to keep walking around in his cell because when he leaned against the wall the guard started to shout at him. And when he fell on the floor, the guard came with a stick, kicked him or hit him with that stick. He was forced to perform hundred squats every day. He couldn’t sleep at night because he lied this way and had to look straight to the light. Behind the door, there was a policeman who shouted at him as soon as he wanted to stretch out to rest for a while and so on. And Bishop Vojtaššák was investigated there for three or four months without any sleep or food just like the worst criminal.”
The Message from Andrej Hlinka
“When he was dying I was there with him. He told these words: ‘Dear friend, just remember, love your nation, love your Church and love the truth.’ He deceased in this conciliatory spirit. He wasn’t a man who wanted to oppress either German, Hungarian, Polish people or Jews. Actually, he used to defend Jews, he wrote (in his letters) that also Jews are people and thus we had no right to hold them down or treat them the way that was usual in the past. What was told about him wasn’t truth at all. Everything was fabricated!”
About Professor Kolakovič
“Actually, he educated all of us. He was a man who, as I could hear it, said: ‘There are three systems – capitalism, communism and the third one. All these systems should disappear to make way for a new one that will be aimed to raise people not only physically, but also mentally.’ It was his aim. Therefore Kolakovič wasn’t a firebrand, but a very wise and really precious man.”
Working with Youth
“I liked my pupils a lot. Therefore I could educate them honestly; I even didn’t have to beat them. You know, I used to give small change to my pupils. I was quite a poor man but I didn’t refuse to help my pupils when they needed it. I mean those boys and girls who were out of pockets. My memories of this period of time are great. Moreover, I usually visited people in jails but once, it was on Sunday, something happened. I came to the jail but that Czech administrator didn’t want to admit me there. So I said: ‘How do you behave towards me? I am allowed to come here and help these people to grow mentally.’ ‘Oh, you can’t reform them!’ ‘It is my approach rather than your stupid discipline what could change them. Your strict discipline won’t reform anybody in the jail. Only I will.’”
Confessions in Labour Camp and Unwise Devil
“Once I worked with forty young boys (mainly on Sundays). It was on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. We were digging some road and the guard was watching us when one boy suddenly told me: ‘Father, could you confess us?’ ‘Why not?’ Thus they confessed to me when I was digging. One boy started to dig beside me and in the meantime I heard his confession. And I also had a secret communion. They were really glad about it. So we lived this way there. And that’s why I said: ‘If devils had been much wiser, they would have left priests at liberty, they would have let them to have manses and they would have arrested only you. Only then you would have been hopeless and could have changed your attitude to the Church. But these stupid policemen imprisoned also priests who led you and you thanked them and still remembered them.’ Even today I receive letters from my cellmates: ‘Thanks God you were there with us. It was great.’”
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.