Imrich Bílý, known as Bango, born 1936 in the parish of Železník, Svidník district
Imrich Bílý was born in the village of Železník, in a settlement about a kilometre from the village. There were 26 houses made of wood and unfired bricks in the village, each with just one room. His parents– his mother Zuzana Šamková (born 1918) and father Mikluš Šamko (born 1914) – also came from Železník. The family lived in great poverty. Imrich’s father worked as a village shepherd, and was paid in kind; later he helped the peasants. Imrich’s mother went out begging. Just two brothers, blacksmiths, had fared a little better in the settlement. Karol was what was called the vajda and his brother Ďuri was an excellent story-teller.
The Roma from the settlement began to be bullied by the Hlinka Guard, in which even local peasants from the village, such as Juraj Foltýn and his brother, had enrolled. As well as beatings and having water or slurry poured over them, Bílý remembered a humiliating delousing operation when the Guards came with a mobile disinfection unit known as a “steamer” and they were all shaved to the skin.
There were partisans hiding in the forests around the settlement, among them his uncle Balamutas on his mother’s side. The Roma supported them, a fact that did not escape the attention of the German soldiers who used to come hunting for them in the settlement. Bílý described seeing with his own eyes how one Roma from Prosačov who had helped the partisans was executed as a lesson to others.
The Germans took Imrich Bílý’s father with other Roma to dig trenches at Dukla for the German defence. He tried to escape more than once, but was successful only at the third attempt. He first sheltered with his family in the parish of Vagaš but after a conflict with German soldiers they began to hide in the forests. The women were afraid of being raped.
In the end the family reached the village of Chmeľov where, at the home of his grandmother’s sister. They welcomed the arrival of the Russian troops and the end of the war on 18 or 19 January 1945.
-  Today Spišská Poruba.
Imrich Bílý had completed three years of schooling in Slovakia and the remainder in Most where the family moved in 1946. His father found work in the construction industry and the family began to stand on their own feet. Imrich Bílý describes the support they received from the Czechs.
He met his wife Helena in 1954 at Roztoky near Prague. They soon obtained a flat in the village of Sedlec and Helena gave birth to a son Honza and a daughter Ilona. Imrich had to start his military service in 1956, spending two years and two months with the military garrison in Prachatice and in Hartmanice. After his return from military service he and Helena got married. Bílý described the spontaneously arranged double wedding with his sister and brother-in-law Josef Žolták. He and Helena raised altogether six children. One son, Imrich, died tragically at the age of twenty-five after being injured at work in the uranium mines.
Imrich Bílý earned his living as a professional driver and, as he said, spent forty-four years behind the wheel. He was employed by ČSAD, as well as by the local authority, driving a mechanical street sweeper [a Mercedes PRAGA-KUKA]. He also drove an IFA goods lorry, a trambus, a Tatra 148 with a trailer, etc.
For approximately twenty years they lived in the village of Dětřichov in a cottage with a smallholding where they could raise 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; after another sixteen or seventeen years they moved to north Bohemia.
He looked back nostalgically on the Communist period, when everyone had the same conditions and access to work, as a time when they were equal before the law and it was safe to walk the streets. What he criticised above all since the Velvet Revolution is the unequal access to education, discrimination on the labour market, and the racially motivated murders in the 1990s.
How to cite abstractAbstract 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, 95-113. 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/imrich-bily (accessed 11/29/2023)
Origin of Testimony
Two meetings with Imrich Bílý and his wife Helena took place at their home in north Bohemia. On the first occasion, 7 February 2002, they were filmed by the organisation People in Need 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 session for the purposes of 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 Imrich Bílý’s narration into sections: Before, During and After the War. The transcription of an interview called “A Life Together” also forms part of the post-war narration. The testimony is supplemented by three undated photographs from the family archive.
-  Name of interviewer not provided.
Where to find this testimony