Andrej Kišš, born 1919, Poruba pod Vihorlatom, Michalovce district; died in 2000
Andrej Kišš’s stepfather was a smith, so he learnt the same trade, adding to his income by playing the drum.
According to his own words, Andrej Kišš was taken to a forced labour camp at the age of twenty-seven or twenty-eight. At that time he was already married and had a small daughter. He knew about the labour camps. During his year’s military service had had seen Roma and Jewish prisoners in the stone quarry in Sväty Peter. At that time Kišš worked on land reclamation for the watercourse administration. The Hlinka Guards came for the Roma in the night and took them away to Michalovce. From there they transferred Kišš to the labour camp in Hanušovce nad Topľou, where he was recognised by the commander of the guards Prášek, for whom he had worked in the past. With other prisoners he then worked on building the railway from Prešov to Strážské, in the course of which Prášek appointed him team and hut leader. Kišš then interceded for the release of several elderly Roma and non-Roma men from the camp.
Kišš said that there were four camps altogether, in each of them three two-storey barracks for eighty to a hundred men. The Roma were in three camps, and Slovaks, mostly convicts, in the fourth. If they bribed the chief – allegedly he wanted two thousand crowns – he would release them, but Andrej Kišš did not have that amount of money and so he worked here for two years as a blacksmith, digger and grinder. Conditions were tough in the camp, and the prisoners suffered not only beatings, but were above all short of food. They got two potatoes and black coffee in the mornings and fainted from hunger while working. They had no shoes, were dressed in old army trousers and shirts, and were not paid for the work they did.
After two years Kišš was transferred to Michalovce, together with twenty four other prisoners, because of an escape attempt. Here they were to be sentenced to death and shot. However after the intervention of a member of the Hlinka Guard those of them who knew a trade or were musicians were loaded into a cattle truck and transported to Leipzig to work in a factory producing motors, jeeps and lorries for the German troops. After some time he found himself among about forty-five smiths, concrete workers and carpenters who were selected by Captain Hans Hadlik to build a fortress. They worked for between nine and twelve hours a day and when they finished the building they had to clear up rubble in the city after bombing. Kišš remembered that Hadlik stood up for them and argued that they were hardworking when one German colonel wanted to shoot them because he found them resting. He remembered a warder, who allegedly hated Hitler and shared his bread with them.
The Americans reached the city on 22 April  and Kišš remembered that the Germans had beforehand placed explosives in the barracks holding the prisoners and intended to blow them up. Among the American soldiers who liberated the prisoners and gave them food were several Slovaks, one of whom recognised Andrej Kišš. Then the Russians came, and the Red Cross and in the end the Russian army took them to Bohemia. They reached home in May. As he says, he survived everything thanks to the fact that blacksmiths were always needed everywhere.
Kišš remembered returning home to his family. His wife had short hair because the Hlinka Guard had shaved her head, as they had with other women including Kišš’s mother and sister; and as another humiliation they had been forbidden to go to the village – not only for food but even for a doctor. He went on to describe experiences that illustrate how, after the liberation, they had to come to terms with Slováks from his native parish who had probably informed on the Roma during the war or who had been in the Hlinka Guard.
How to cite abstractAbstract of testimony from: HÜBSCHMANNOVÁ, Milena, ed. “Po židoch cigáni.” Svědectví Romů ze Slovenska 1939–1945.: I. díl (1939–srpen 1944). 1. Praha: Triáda, 2005. ISBN 80-86138-14-3, 496-506. Testimonies of the Roma and Sinti. Project of the Prague Forum for Romani Histories (Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences), https://www.romatestimonies.com/testimony/andrej-kiss (accessed 11/29/2023)
Origin of Testimony
Andrej Kišš was interviewed in 1999 at his home in Trmice, one of the suburbs of Ústí nad Labem, where he lived with the families of his son and daughter. Roma from the vicinity of Michalovce did not as a rule speak the Roma language, which is why the memories were taken down in a mixture of the east Slovak dialect and colloquial Czech. At times he could not be understood, and so the interviewer asked supplementary questions. Because these answers were so extensive they the main part of Kišš’s testimony, so the interviewer reconstructed the whole story.
Where to find this testimony