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Helena Bílá

Helena Bílá, known as Puľka, born 1938 in the village of Malé Kapušany, Michalovce district

  • Testimony abstract

    Helena Bílá was born and grew up with her four sisters in a Roma settlement about fifty metres outside the village of Malé Kapušany. There were six single-room cottages in the settlement; all the Roma there were related, and the only source of water was a stream. Helena’s mother Ilona,[1] originally from the village of Vagaš, used to paste the inside of ovens for peasants in exchange for payment in kind, or she sold horseradish at the markets in Prešov; her father Karoľ[2] made a living as a bricklayer, and sold unfired bricks, and her grandfather traded cattle.

    • [1] Surname not provided.
    • [2] Surname not provided.

    Helena Bílá described the village before the war, when a lot of Jews lived there. Her father used to help out in the family of the local butcher. One day however they were all taken away in wagons by unspecified persons.

    During the war there were members of the Hlinka Guard in Malé Kapušany. Helena Bílá particularly remembers the Maňkoš family. They were afraid of one of the Maňkošes[1] who had tried to rape Helena Bílá’s aunt. The Roma did not dare to enter the village; the only person from the settlement who went there was Helena Bílá’s mother because she had a pale complexion and did not look like a Roma.

    One night, Helena Bílá’s father was taken to the labour camp Petič together with his brothers Šľepi and Lajoš, his cousin Franc and his brother-in-law Joži.[2] Her father spent four months there and on his return he described the terrible conditions, such as the fact that he and his brothers had to beat each other with shovels for the amusement of the Hlinka Guard.

    Helena Bílá, with her mother and sisters, took shelter with their grandparents in the village of Vagaš,[3] where her father later joined them. The Roma from Vagaš supported the partisans, and twelve joined them, including her uncle Ďula Gabčo, who lost three fingers and had to be treated in hospital in Košice. After he returned to his family, Gabčo took them into the Bukovina forest not far from Vagaš and helped them to hide until the arrival of the Russian troops and the end of the war.

    • [1] First name not provided.
    • [2] Surnames not provided.
    • [3] Today Šarišská Poruba.

    After the war the family moved to Prague. Helena Bílá had spent some days at school in Slovakia, but did not return after the village boys beat her up. She did not even start attending school after their arrival in the Czech lands and afterwards was only ever able to sign her name.

    Helena Bílá met her husband Imrich at Roztoky near Prague in 1954. They soon obtained a flat in the village of Sedlec and Helena gave birth to a son Honza and a daughter Ilona before Imrich had to start his military service in 1956. He served for two years and two months with the military garrison administration in the Šumava area.

    After military service they got married in a spontaneously arranged double wedding with her husband’s sister and her husband Josef Žolták. They brought up six children; one son, Imrich, died tragically at the age of twenty-five after being injured at work in the uranium mines.

    They lived for approximately twenty years in the village of Dětřichov, in a cottage with a smallholding for raising animals. Then they moved to Brandýs for ten years to give the children better conditions as they grew up. They worked in a factory, and when the company was taken over by a French firm they followed Helena Bílá’s sister to Prague-Vysočany, and after another sixteen or seventeen years they moved to north Bohemia.

    Helena Bílá worked as a press operator and a cook. She looked back nostalgically to the Communist period, as a time when it was possible to earn enough money to cover one’s living expenses.

    How to cite abstract

    Abstract of testimony from: KRAMÁŘOVÁ, Jana a kol. (Ne)bolí. Vzpomínky Romů na válku a život po válce. 1. Praha: Člověk v tísni, společnost při České televizi, o.p.s., 2005. ISBN 80-86961-04-4, 102-113. 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/helena-bila (accessed 5/21/2024)
  • Origin of Testimony

    Two meetings with Helena Bílá and her husband Imrich took place at their home in north Bohemia. On the first occasion, 7 February 2002, they were filmed by the organisation People in Need[1] as part of the project “Assisting Roma World War II victims to obtain compensation,” which provided an opportunity to apply for compensation to the Czech-German Fund for the Future. The editor Jana Kramářová subsequently asked Helena Bílá and her husband if they would agree to another recording for publication. They were then filmed jointly on 6 December 2004, again in north Bohemia, in the presence of the photographer Martin Šimečka.

    The editor divided Helena Bílá’s narrative into sections: Before, During, and After the War. Some memories of life after the war also appear in the transcription of the interview called “A Life Together” in which Helena Bílá’s husband Imrich joins in the narration, and his memories are included in the book. The testimony is supplemented by three undated photographs from the family archive.

    • [1] Name of interviewer not provided.
  • Where to find this testimony

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