Jozef Synů, born 1920, Bidovce, Košice district
Jozef Synů cursorily described his life as an orphan before the war. He didn’t know his father at all, and after the death of his mother his older siblings looked after him as the youngest of eighteen children. He described his hunger and how he wandered from village to village.
He recalled how when he was about seventeen or eighteen, he was taken from his native settlement in the night, together with other Roma men, by members of the Hlinka Guard to a camp in Hanušovce nad Topľou. He remembers the bad sanitation, the ever-present lice and bedbugs, the inadequate clothing, the hard work, the beatings with sticks, his hunger, and stealing crops from the fields even at the cost of physical punishment if he was betrayed. Synů described how he had no trousers and went around naked with a blanket wrapped round him. In the camp they exchanged clothing for food, as the families of Roma who worked well and were from the locality were allowed to bring them food, and those with no one to improve their lot exchanged their top garments for something to eat. The camp was meant to be purely Roma. Jozef Synů escaped twice from the camp, once on the advice of a Roma chief, who assured him that they would not do anything to him because he had reached the age when he could be conscripted [and thus with a view to his youth was employable as a soldier]. Once Synů and a Roma youth escaped together and worked secretly for farmers in Červenica, helping them to cut the hay. Synů described one non-Roma farmer as decent because he did not report them to the authorities. He was however conscripted again for military service and placed in a camp, where he spent a year and a half. Synů was later deployed to bury the dead bodies of soldiers, for which they were well paid.
-  It was a forced labour camp for “gypsies and other anti-socials elements” where they were mixed, but the Roma were accommodated separately and probably some work teams were purely “gypsy”. (ed.)
-  It emerges from the context that he was referring to the Roma kapo in the camp, not the Roma chief who was the mediator between the local majority and the Roma in a given settlement or village. (ed.)
-  Meaning a military unit for gypsies. (ed.)
-  The testimony refers to the time when the front line crossed the region; other witnesses also testify that conscripts, chiefly Roma, cleared away the fallen; the farmers to whom this order likewise applied often hired the Roma to do the job for them. (ed.)
Jozef Synů briefly mentioned an act of revenge – after the Liberation, some Roma who had been interned during the war killed a Roma, probably a Roma kapo who had injured them in the camp. Synů also supplemented the recollections of Mrs Slepčíková, who was present, with a sentence about how traitors were hanged in the square in Košice – she herself did not know who by, possibly the Russians.
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, 507-517 (ces), 518-526 (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-synu (accessed 11/29/2023)
Origin of Testimony
The interview took place when Jozef Synů was visited by a student from FAMU (Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts) Viliam Poltikovič, who was collecting material for his annual assignment, the film Amaro drom (Our Journey) about a Roma theatre ensemble from Sokolov. Poltikovič made use of the visit to talk about supernatural phenomena which were one of his fields of interest. Part of the conversation was therefore devoted to stories about the souls of the dead to which two women who were present also contributed. The war was not the main theme of the interview, so the information about it is not exhaustive. The conversation starts off in Czech and gradually moves into Roma. Jozef Synů’s wife took part, as well as an acquaintance of Jozef Synů, Mrs Slepčíková and some children, probably grandchildren.
Jozef Synů came from the village of Bidovce, which was part of the territory of the Slovak state during the war. Košice, the district where he, his wife and Mrs. Slepčíková were all born and lived, belonged to the territory annexed in the course of the war by the Hungarians. The two women were fortunate, because unlike other Roma from Košice they escaped being transported to Dachau, [concentration camp] and Terezín.
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