Jozef Pešta (born 1912, Kapušany, Prešov district) came from a poor background. His father died when he was three years old and his mother took care of four children on her own. From his childhood, Jozef, the youngest, helped Romani pig traders in Kapušany. He was clever and enterprising, and later became a business partner of one of them and even married his daughter. Before World War II he was one of the richest citizens in the village, in many respects even beyond the standard of the wealthy Slovak inhabitants of the time. For example, he lived in a brick house, had a telephone, and owned a motorcycle, a convertible and a truck. He was a trained car mechanic and needed vehicles for his business, but at the same time it was his hobby - he took part in motorcycle races until the age of 64. In 1939, the Roma pig traders of Kapušany lost their businesses, which were confiscated by members of the Hlinka Guard. Pešta was automatically accepted into the Slovak Army, as he had performed an important function as motorcycle liaison in the Czechoslovak Army in the interwar period. He attended a course at the 11th Motorised Company in Košice, where he was caught up in the mobilisation.
Pešta was serving on the general staff in Košice at the Provincial Military Headquarters under General [Lev] Prchala as early as 1938. Here he was caught up in the mobilisation. As motorcycle liaison, he travelled around various places on his motorcycle and delivered secret messages - when the mobilisation was announced, the Hungarian border had to be occupied, so he made trips to the village of Čečejovce, as well as to the towns of Uzhhorod, Berehovo and Mukachevo in Carpathian Ruthenia. In the meantime, however, Hitler promised to cede southern Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia to Hungary, and so the Slovak soldiers were ordered to retreat. Pešta went again to Uzhhorod with a message to remove all military material before the Hungarians arrived. The Hungarians then occupied Košice, Lučenec and the whole of southern Slovakia, and Pešta moved with other soldiers to Prešov, where they were commanded by General Mahler. After ceding the territory to Hungary, the soldiers were ordered not to retreat from the Polish border. Pešta put the event in 1939, when [Jozef] Tiso was already the Slovak president. He went to deliver a message to the village of Sanok [belonged to Poland], but in the meantime the Slovak soldiers were captured and began to be taken away by train. When Slovak fighter planes arrived and the bombing began, the captured Slovak soldiers dispersed and headed for the Slovak border. Pešta took one of the wounded soldiers, who came from the village of Veľká Domaša, on a motorbike to a hospital in the village of Laborce.
Shortly before being sent to the Russian front (after Slovakia was obliged to start fulfilling its agreements as an ally of Nazi Germany), Jozef Pešta was taken together with other Roma to the Petič labour camp. Even the fact that he had been in the [Slovak] Army as a motorcycle rider did not help towards his release. After a month, an officer came to the camp to get him and Pešta was given a uniform. Three days later he was at the front. As he said, they reached somewhere between Malinovka and Kalinovka in Russia, where they were captured by Lieutenant [Anatoly] Karpov. Pešta and other soldiers were taken to Rostov and from there to Buzuluk. On 28 March 1942 they met up with Ludvík Svoboda. Lieutenant-Colonel Svoboda first commanded a Czechoslovak independent field battalion of about seven hundred soldiers; later the battalion became the 1st Czechoslovak Army Corps, with which he took part in combat operations at Sokolov on 8 March 1943. Pešta mentions General Sázavský [Jaroslav Vedral-Sázavský], who was later killed in the fighting at Dukla; he said that he was about 150 metres away when Sázavský was killed by a mine. On October 8, 1944, at six o'clock in the morning, Pešta, with other soldiers and with General [Kirill Semyonovich] Moskalenko's 38th Russian Army, crossed the Dukla River via the village of Kalinov. Here they took part in the fighting (already on Slovak territory). As liaison, Pešta reached the town of Martin. The army advanced, but the situation was complicated by broken bridges, so it was necessary to build temporary ones. However, there was a shortage of cars. Pešta volunteered to drive his own car and was allowed to go home for three days. On his return was assigned with his car to the Lana company, which built roads and bridges. He drove Captain Sehnal, who was of Czech origin, Lieutenant Brezina and Lieutenant Nagy, who travelled round checking on how the construction work was progressing. Pešta completely destroyed the car on his trips, but he never received the compensation he was promised by Svoboda. He returned home on 19 May 1945.
In connection with his time in Svoboda's army, he stated that he was the only Roma on the staff, but otherwise there were more Roma in the army. He also mentioned a Czechoslovak soldier, a member of the Zipser German community from Kežmarok, and Franz Schilhank, who was deported to Germany after the war. Two soldiers, a Ruthenian and a Hungarian, had defected from Svoboda's army to the Germans, but they were caught and taken from the headquarters to a military court; their further fate is unknown to Pešta. He also recalls the difficult moments at the front under fire and the starvation of the local civilian population, including children. He mentions that he met three carts of Roma outside Lviv, who had arrived there in 1939. They wanted now to return home to the village of Rozkovany, so he advised them which way to go.
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, 215-221. 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-pesta (accessed 11/29/2023)
Origin of Testimony
The interview took place in 1998 thanks to the writer Elena Lacková, who met Pešta when she came to Kapušany as a young woman. The interview was conducted in the Šariš dialect of Slovak, as Jozef Pešta was no longer in the habit of speaking Romani. Excerpts of the interview are given in the Czech translation with paraphrases of the parts that the editor of the book omitted. The quotations from the interview are left in their authentic form. The main part of the interview concerned Jozef Pešta’s activities during World War II, a narrative often interrupted by weeping. Pešta's two daughters took part in the recording and occasionally interrupted to remind their father of episodes he should have added.
-  See her testimony in the database.
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