Jolanka Kurejová, born around 1928 in the village of Podskalka, today part of Humenné
From around the age of thirteen Jolanka Kurejová worked for several Jewish families – she cleaned, washed the floors, fetched water, carried wood and plucked geese for the Jews, who then prepared it to be kosher. On Saturday morning, the Sabbath, she went to light the fire and bring their meals from the bakery. She walked barefoot from the settlement to the town where they lived. Jolanka grew up with her two sisters and one brother. She does not remember her father, but gave all the money she earned to her mother to support herself. Only the Roma worked for the Jews – the girls and women as maids and servants, the men as porters: Jews were usually shopkeepers and needed someone to carry their bags and suitcases of goods. The heavy goods used to be brought to the Jews by the Roma chief who was rich, and had a horse and cart. There was a synagogue in Humenné before the war, but afterwards it was demolished.
[In 1942] the Hlinka Guard rounded up the local Jews, herded them into cattle cars and took them away – separating them into women, men, little girls, and little boys – Jolanka Kurejová called the latter “bucherici” [probably from the Yiddish word bocher for boy]. The Roma followed them to the station and cried for them. They left a lot of gold and furniture behind: everything they had saved was taken by members of the Hlinka Guard. Jolanka Kurejová mentions a family called Andij, whose three sons had joined the Hlinka Guard and then brought home in trucks all that remained of the Jewish households. Jolanka herself was given clothes and shoes by the Andij family, so she did not have to go barefoot.
Jolanka Kurejová lost her work when the Jewish families were deported – she went round the villages selling wood, but was paid in potatoes – only the Jews paid the Roma in cash.
Of the local Jews, only the family of a dairy farmer at Podskalka was saved, having been hidden by Jolanka’s aunt Sokačka. They lived in her shack in the Roma settlement till the end of the war, and then left for Palestine. Jolanka Kurejová said that more Jews were hidden in the settlement, but it was the dairy farmer she remembers. Even though the Hlinka Guard used to come to the settlement, none of the Roma betrayed them. Kurejová described how in winter, when it was freezing, the Guard pulled men from their beds, beat them and then took them to the labour camp, but they didn’t find the dairy farmer’s family.
It was the rich Roma chief who chose which Roma were sent to the camp. At that time the Hlinka Guard came to the settlement and beat him because the Roma were stealing potatoes from the fields out of hunger. Jolanka Kurejová’s brother and future brother-in-law were taken with the other men to the Petič camp in Hanušovce at that time. They had to work hard there, and went hungry, and they were often beaten. Jolanka’s brother escaped and slept in the forest, but when he came home one day, the Hlinka Guard broke in, beat him in front of the family and took him back to the camp. He escaped again and hid in the forest and this time they didn’t catch him. Later the rest of the family fled into the forest as well, where they built huts in which they lived.
In the summer of 1947 the settlement in Podskalka was attacked by Banderites. The Roma were sleeping outside because they had fallen asleep after gathering chamomile which they then carried to the collection centre; they received a hundred and ten crowns a kilo in the old currency. Jolanka Kurejová’s first-born son Milan, just a few months old, was with her. She described being woken up by her husband’s shout that the Germans were there and were murdering the Roma, but was immediately corrected by Aladár Kurej: “Those weren’t Germans, those were Ukrainians, don’t you understand! Insurgents!“ Jolanka replied to that: “Well, no matter whether they were German Ukrainians or Ukrainian Germans, they still wanted to murder us and so they were like Germans!” She described how she jumped up just as she was, in her slip, grabbed her son in a quilt and fled with the others round the cemetery to the village of Hažín. In the confusion her son fell from her arms and rolled down the hill. She ran after him and was stopped by the partisans. Another Roma woman explained to them what was happening and the partisans then shone a light in the child’s eyes to see if he was still alive. When another Roma woman dropped her daughter, in her panic she left her there and other Roma picked her up. The partisans then took them away to Hažín and hid them in a stable. The Roma who remained in Podskalka were beaten and shot at. Jolanka’s brother was also wounded. [Aladár Kurej added that seven Roma were wounded. They carried one of them on their backs, but were stopped by Slovak soldiers. With another Roma called Dandvalo, they took him into the city to identify the insurgents. He recognised some of them but did not know what happened to them.]
Jolanka Kurejová’s son Milan died of pneumonia the following winter when he was a year old. His younger brother, also called Milan, was born in 1951.
[In the 1950s the Kurejs moved to the Czech Republic and for several years lived in Český Krumlov and in České Budějovice. Later, with their only son, they returned to Podskalka in Slovakia, and then lived in Humenné. Jolanka Kurejová spent almost thirty years working in the local chemical plant, Aladár Kurej was a shepherd in Podskalka. During his retirement he began, self-taught, to create collages – landscape oil paintings combined with black and white photographs of Roma. At the time of the interview he was already seriously ill. (ed.)]
-  The raid by Ukrainian insurgents on Podskalka and other localities in Slovakia in 1947 is documented in a collection of archive documents: UPA vo svetle slovenských a českých dokumentov (1945–1948) (The UPA in the light of Slovak and Czech docuents [1945-1948]), Book 2: “Rejd UРA do západnej Európy (1947): československá cesta. Letopis ukrajinskej povstaleckej armády” (The UPA raid into western Europe : the Czechoslovak route. Chronicle of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army), Part 53. Litopys UPA, Toronto – Lvov 2017, accessible online: https://diasporiana.org.ua/wp-content/uploads/books/14942/file.pdf , cit. 8. 8. 2021
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, 704-710 (ces), 711-716 (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/jolanka-kurejova (accessed 11/29/2023)
Origin of Testimony
Jolanka Kurejová’s testimony was recorded in Romani in July 1998 by Milena Hübschmannová; it was subsequently transcribed and translated. The interview took place at Jolanka Kurejová’s home in the presence of her husband Aladár Kurej who makes a brief appearance in the interview, as does her thirteen-year-old granddaughter Denisa.
Where to find this testimony