František Kotliar, born 1927, Richnava, Krompachy district
Kotliar’s father was a blacksmith whose products were bought for cash by Jewish shopkeepers. The women worked for farmers in the fields, and were given food in return.
Kotliar recalls the non-Roma engineer Diakovský from Gelnice, who provided work for the Richnava Roma during the war. He therefore explained [to the local authority] that he needed them and thus saved them from the labour camps. Kotliar says that the Roma in Richnava escaped, for example, the hair cutting which was a frequent punishment. Kotliar says he helped his father in making cramp irons, horseshoes, nails and the like. When the Jews were deported the family was brought to its knees, as he says, and began to work for the farmers in the fields and with cattle. They were paid for this in kind, but it could not replace their former earnings from the blacksmith’s work; to earn one basket of potatoes meant drudgery from morning till night. The Germans burned down the village of Richnava – indiscriminately, both Romani and non-Romani houses. Kotliar says that many partisans were there. The Roma fled into the forest, where they dug pits and lived in underground bunkers with their children.
-  Christian name not given.
Apparently, when the Roma wanted to return to their village after the war, they were not allowed back in; by the Communists, Kotliar says, or whoever was there then. So now the settlement stands on two steep slopes and when there is mud or freezing snow, any journey with shopping or to school is very difficult – one can either go four kilometres by road or scramble up a steep hill. Kotliar says that he would live in the village like a shot, but not even today would they be welcome; no one would sell them a piece of land.
After the war everything owned by the peasants was nationalised and a United Peasant Cooperative emerged which no longer needed the blacksmiths’ products manufactured by the Roma. František Kotliar therefore went to work at the smelting works and spent 37 years there before retirement. He raised thirteen children; two of his sons live with him, the others are in the city with their own apartments and jobs.
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, 558-560 (ces), 561-562 (rom). 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/frantisek-kotliar (accessed 11/29/2023)
Origin of Testimony
František Kotliar gave the interview in 1991 at his home. It emerges from the use of the plural when describing the circumstances of the visit that there was more than one interviewer; however, this is not explicitly stated. The Kotliars’ house was the largest of all the brick houses, of which there were only a few, as the rest of the Roma lived in shacks. The Kotliars were the only family to have a telephone.
František Kotliar describes the pre-war situation of the Roma in the village of Richnava and talks about the meaning of the socio-economic relations between the Roma and the Jews in the Slovak countryside. This fundamentally influenced the fates of the Richnava Roma during and after the war. Before the war, the settlement was part of the village, and many Roma made their living as blacksmiths. The reason for several blacksmiths living in one village was that their products were bought by Jewish traders from the nearby town of Krompachy – unlike other towns, where only local farmers bought from the Roma blacksmiths, and could therefore sustain only one blacksmith in the village. Another advantage was that the Jewish traders paid for goods in cash. The deportation of the Jews thus meant, as well as the personal and psychic shock, a deterioration of the social and economic situation of the local Roma, because there was no one to purchase the blacksmiths’ products. Although the Richnava Roma were protected from eviction from the village during the war, paradoxically this did not help them after the war, when they were socially and economically weakened and were forced to relocate to a place four kilometres from the village, accessed only with difficulty. They found work at the Krompachy smelting works, but after 1989 the long-term employed were among the first to be sacked. Many Richnava Roma therefore were in receipt of social security benefits, and were trying to resurrect their traditional occupation at the anvil, like their fathers and grandfathers. As the editor adds, it is not known whether they succeeded.