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Koloman Pompa

Koloman Pompa, called Emelik (born 1923, Toporec, Kežmarok district)

  • Testimony abstract

    Koloman Pompa's father was a day-labourer.

    Koloman Pompa enlisted in the army at the age of eighteen, but he had only been in the barracks for three months when he was sent to the village of Harmanec and from there to the front in Italy with other Slovaks and Roma from the [labour] camps who, like Koloman Pompa, were registered as being of Slovak nationality. The Roma registered as being of Gypsy nationality were returned to the [labour] camps. According to Pompa, at that time nationality was recorded by notaries.

    He was in Italy with his cousin from Toporec and a Roma from Levoča. He recalled an incident in which he became separated from his own company. At that time they were marching thirty-five kilometres a day in a temperature of forty degrees with rucksacks, a rifle and full kit on their backs. When, at noon, they wanted to eat, they had to get into water to prevent the ever-present mosquitoes from attacking them. During one of these transfers he needed to relieve himself during the night, so he went a short distance away. All round it was completely dark, as there was no municipal lighting because of enemy planes, and before he got back his group was gone. He reached an unnamed town, where he was afraid the Germans would catch him and shoot him, thinking him to be a partisan. Eventually, an Italian let him spend the night in his granary. Some Germans, who used to come there for petrol, also arrived that night, but did not notice Pompa and towards morning left again on their motorcycles. As he continued his search for the company, he came to a town where the partisans had shot a German officer. He saw with his own eyes the Germans driving out the civilians and shooting more than thirty of them. Pompa took a circuitous route to avoid falling into German hands. On the way, he was given a lift by a German transporting ammunition to the front, but Pompa asked to be dropped off after about sixty kilometres under the pretext of having arrived where he was going. He reached a village where he was taken in by an Italian woman. He shared some cheese with her, but he was afraid she would cut his throat while he slept. At night, partisans came to the house and the woman opened the door. They attacked Pompa, wanting to know where he had come from. When they found out he was a Slovak soldier, they gave him American cigarettes and something to eat and drink, and advised him on how he could get back to his own army. Pompa explained that although they were subordinate to the Germans, the Slovak Army was operating elsewhere and had nothing to do with the Germans. Just as he found his troops and was reunited with his cousin, the Americans launched an aerial bombardment. Pompa narrowly escaped the bullets that whizzed past his head.

    The situation of his Slovak company changed after the partisans attacked the Germans in Kežmarok, Slovakia.[1] According to Pompa, the Germans no longer trusted the Slovaks; they were suspicious of them, and feared them. So they took away the soldiers' weapons, gave them shovels and pickaxes instead, and sent them straight to the front to dig trenches. But the Italian partisans knew that the Slovak soldiers were digging the trenches. Pompa didn't go over to the partisans because they were by the sea and he could not swim; moreover, when someone switched sides, the Germans started to treat the soldiers even worse. Pompa's Slovak commander discouraged them from escaping, saying that the Germans would shoot them all.

    While digging trenches in the mountains at Verrecchie,[2] where the Germans were guarding them with rifles, they were caught in an American bombardment. One German had his head blown off, then staggered around for a while without his head, and finally fell into a trench. Their field canteen was also bombed by the Americans, and the soldiers then had to subsist just on bread made from the flour the peasants ground at home between stones from grain. The soldiers' cooks made bread out of it, and everyone got a quarter of a loaf for three days. They were better off when the Americans came – they got biscuits or rice from them, and the canteen was already functioning. The Germans were captured by the Americans, and the Slovaks had to go through American training; Pompa enumerated undergoing German training, American training, and then three months after the front, Czechoslovak training. Then Jan Masaryk came to see them and they had to swear an oath that they had undergone Czechoslovak training. When they left Italy, the Germans had to get the transport ready for them, and Koloman Pompa says that now the Germans were under us, not us under them, and we could easily have shot them.

    On their arrival in Slovakia, they came across many Russians in the town of Malacky, who had their bedding spread outside. The local people were very happy to see Slovak soldiers, because they expected them to protect them from the Russians. They told them how the Russians raped women. After that the Russians were more restrained.

    Pompa remembered one Roma [Imrich Daško[3]] from Italy who was transferred from his own division to Pompa’s as a punishment – Pompa was in the tenth company, Daško in the second. He played the violin and Pompa saw him most often in the company of another man, an excellent accordion player, who could play Italian songs and whom the Italians loved. Apparently he was a teacher and half-Roma, and he taught Pompa to play the accordion. Pompa says that old Rinaldo, a violinist,[4] was also in Italy with him.

    Pompa also met Roma who came in wagons from Yugoslavia, who were rich, and whose wives were covered with gold,[5] and who baked and ate hedgehogs.[6]

    Pompa passed through a number of cities during his time in Italy, naming Milan, Trieste and Ferrara. He also recalled the place where Mussolini and his mistress were hung upside down after the war.[7] He said he even had a photograph of them, as photos were being handed out to the soldiers who went there to watch. But his children had stashed it away somewhere, along with the notes on where he had been in Italy.

    • [1] He probably means Ružomberok or Turčianský Svätý Martin, where on 27 August 1944, two days before the official start of the Slovak National Uprising, Ružomberok was occupied by partisans and by Slovak soldiers who had joined the uprising; in the attack they killed the German garrison and many members of the political party of Slovak Germans, the so-called Deutsche Partei; on 28 August 1944 they shot dead members of a German military mission that was returning from Romania through Slovakia in the courtyard of the Martin barracks; on 29 August 1944, the German army began to occupy Slovakia with the consent of President Jozef Tiso and the government of the Slovak Republic, which, according to the head of the Wehrmacht Oberkommando, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, was no longer considered an ally of Germany. (ed.)
    • [2] In the province of L'Aquila.
    • [3] See his recollection in the database.
    • [4] One of the representatives of the famous Rinaldo family of musicians from Bratislava. (ed.)
    • [5] The Olah Roma keep their wealth in gold because it is easily portable and yet valuable. (ed.)
    • [6] There are just a few groups of Roma who include hedgehogs in their diet. (ed.)
    • [7] Benito Mussolini and Clara Petacci were shot on 28 April 1945. Their bodies were taken to Azzonia and the following day hung upside down from the girder of a bombed-out petrol station in the Piazzale Loreto in Milan.

    How to cite abstract

    Abstract 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, 362-371 (ces), 372-380 (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/koloman-pompa (accessed 4/14/2024)
  • Origin of Testimony

    The interview with Koloman Pompa took place in October 1999 in his own home. It was attended by students of Romani Studies at the Charles University Faculty of Arts and also by family members who occasionally reminded him of some experience from the war. Pompa is well known among local Romani people for the fact that he likes to tell stories dramatically about what he did during the war. However, he talks about whichever of his experiences first comes into his head, so it is difficult to reconstruct their sequence – for example, Pompa's journey in search of his lost company must have taken place before the Slovak soldiers were forced to lay down their arms, because after the outbreak of the Slovak National Uprising, the Germans stopped trusting them as their allies and assigned them to menial jobs in the Nazi army. The interview was published with only minimal editing.

  • Where to find this testimony

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