Jozef Diro, born 1922, Krompachy, Spišská Nová Ves district
About a dozen Roma families lived in the Roma settlement in Krompachy before the war. Jozef Diro recalls how clean the settlement was. From time immemorial all the Roma from Krompachy had been miners, including Diro's grandfather and father, who worked in the mines and also on the surface at the furnace where the ore was dried. Because it was impossible to make a living from music, the Roma from Krompachy did not devote themselves to it full time, but played just for themselves.
Diro was the eldest of five children; he had three brothers and one sister, who was accidentally killed as a child when she fell onto a stone. Diro's mother died giving birth to his youngest brother; his father was retired, and Diro's wife and child lived with him.
In 1942 Jozef Diro was the only one of the brothers to be conscripted into the army. He spoke about a first, second and third conscription, the 18-year-old Diro being enlisted in the first, which took place in the town of Spišské Vlachy. Although he told the doctor that he had no parents, and was sick and poor, he was declared fit for military service, while his Roma friends were sent to a [so-called gypsy] labour camp as unfit for service. He enlisted in Liptovský Mikuláš, then went to the officers’ school in Prešov, and after six months to a training camp for front-line combat at Dolný Kubín. He crossed Ukraine and Belarus as a soldier and reached Rostov. There were few Roma in his division, no more than a hundred; he cannot remember how many survived. According to him, the Germans did not trust the Slovak soldiers, so they just let them dig trenches.
When they were captured by the Russians – Diro said that their Slovak officers were good, and allowed themselves to be captured – he ended up in a prison camp, where he suffered from lack of food. There were maggots from peas or beans swimming in the soup, but they ate it, otherwise they would have starved to death. Some of the guards were polite, others were cruel. Czechoslovak officers from Svoboda's army used to visit the prison camp and offer the Czechoslovaks the opportunity to transfer to the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps. They all wanted to join them, and at every visit they started getting ready to leave, but the Russians immediately moved them elsewhere. For example, when Diro was in the barracks in Bucharest, they were taken the next day to New America – to New Donbas, which according to Diro was a mining region similar to Ostrava, and the prisoners were put to work in the mines. One day there was an explosion in the mine, which only nine of the three hundred and forty men survived. After this event, Diro wrote to Stalin asking to go home. The first time the application was returned to him to be completed, but the second time, he said, he was thrown out of the camp; he expected to be shot outside the gate, but he was really free. He went to the village and then went to work with the men in the mine again, but no longer as a prisoner. One day his comrades from the camp passed him without a guard, accompanied by only one captain. Diro got into the waiting wagons with them, the others hid him in a corner under their coats, and this is how he got all the way to Slovakia, to Košice.
From Košice he continued on foot and from Kysak he took the train all the way home, where he arrived on the night of 3 March, 1946. He was afraid to go through the town in case he was caught, so he went by a back way. He was so thin and impoverished they did not recognize him at home until Diro's five-year-old son Ponti called out "Daddy!", and his father fainted. His father lived with a partner, Diro called her his stepmother. Diro's wife Gisela, and Ponti lived in dire poverty, eating, for example, the coarse meal normally given to the pigs. The stepmother was ashamed of this, went shopping on credit and cooked Diro halušky.
Jozef Diro first worked in a brickyard and later went to work for his brother in Moravia – in the Ostrava region, in Orlová. Then he worked for five years in a stone quarry in Šumperk, returning from there to his native Krompachy on retirement. He and his wife raised thirteen children, eight girls and five boys. One son died at the age of thirty-one, and one, who was one of twins, at the age of four months. All the others lived decently – four daughters and two sons remained in Krompachy, one son lived in a cooperative apartment in Košice, the remaining children were in Děčín, Havířov and Petřvald.
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, 263-270 (ces), 271-277 (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/jozef-diro (accessed 11/29/2023)
Origin of Testimony
The interview with Jozef Diro and his wife Gisela Dirová was made possible thanks to Emil Pokut, a Romani social worker at the Krompachy municipal office, who brought the editor to the Diros. The information contained in the interview is unique because it describes in detail events in a Russian prison camp. The text has undergone minimal editorial changes. Memories relating mostly to the war have been included from Gisela Dirová's narrative.
In the section devoted to the description of the current conditions of life for Roma in neglected tenements, the editor has added information explaining the circumstances of the creation of Roma ghettos before 1989. She cites the reasons that led to the gradual devastation of the public space of these ghettos, such as the concept of ritual purity or the impoverishment of the Roma population after 1989, when, after economic restructuring, many of them for the first time in decades lost their jobs.
Where to find this testimony