Otto Baláž – Otino, born 1920, Čadca
Otto Baláž grew up in a musical family in the shadow of Velký Polom [a mountain not far from Jablunkov] between the villages of Rakov and Čadca. He attended both Czech and Slovak schools, was popular with both pupils and teachers, and received shoes and clothing from the school on special occasions.
Baláž enlisted in 1941 when he was twenty years old, in Trenčín. Very few Roma “bore arms”; they were mostly sent to camps and put in labour units. He said there were another three Roma who were in the army with him – his cousin Paľo, Miklúš from Horelica, and Jano from Horelica. Shortly after entering the army they were, with Baláž, posted to Russia. In Katowice in Poland, Baláž met Russian prisoners of war who were beaten by the Germans. Trying to help the prisoners, he took them leftover food from the kitchen. In doing this, however, he was very nearly shot. Captain Ján Nálepka, stood up for him and so he was spared; he added , however, that there were four or five times when he got into a situation where he was threatened with being shot. He said that Captain Nálepka fought first for the Slovak state, but later defected to the partisans; by then Baláž and his friend Štefan Spala had already defected to the partisans at Yelsk in Byelorussia. He said he was upset at the way the Germans dealt with people. After he joined the Byelorussian partisans, Baláž was initially in a local unit commanded by the Russian General [Alexander] Saburov. Because Saburov wanted, as Baláž says, to “organise” Captain Nálepka and his entire battalion, Baláž followed Nálepka through territory full of Germans and brought back a message that Saburov was to expect them within fourteen days. Baláž then took part with Nálepka in the fighting for the [Ukrainian] town of Ovruch, where Nálepka was shot. Baláž allegedly warned him beforehand that he should dismount, as a horse was an easy target.
During the war Baláž was treated in hospitals in Kyiv, Ovruch and the Donbas. He told how in the Kyiv hospital the local nursing sister took him to the cinema to see a film about General Ludvík Svoboda, which dealt with the organisation of the Czechoslovak Army in Poland. Baláž afterwards applied to the nascent army, was accepted and went to fight. He was wounded at Dukla and again ended up in hospital in Ovruch, where he met a girl he had recently allowed to escape with some others from a house set on fire by the Germans. She worked as a nurse and looked after Baláž. She also took him to his friend Kolya, who was being treated for typhus in the hospital, as a result of which Baláž was also infected. Already suffering from rheumatism, he spent a long time a recovering from the two illnesses. He later had better care in Kyiv Hospital, and after his release he set off home, but was caught again on the return journey by the tail end of the war. Baláž’s testimony includes two events which testify to the violence inflicted on civilians. In Byelorussia, Baláž was drawing water from a well in an unnamed village when he noticed hair floating in it; the bodies of twenty-five women had been dumped in the well, killed by the Germans according to Baláž. As a soldier in the Slovak army he was also sent to fight with the partisans in Byelorussia. In one village [name not given] the Germans captured local civilians, locked them in their houses and set them on fire. The soldiers had orders to shoot those who tried to escape. Baláž was sitting behind a machine gun but said he fired over rather than at them, and so twenty or thirty young women escaped. It was one of them who later looked after him in the Ovruch Hospital.
-  Full name not given.
-  Full name not given; Horelica was an independent village until 1943 and is now part of the town of Čadca.
-  Full name not given.
-  A Czechoslovak officer, later a partisan leader.
-  It is unclear whether he means the soldiers, prisoners or the civilians.
-  Full name not given.
Baláž arrived at Odessa on the Black Sea where repatriates from the Czech lands, Slovakia and England were gathering, some of them bringing their wives and children with them. Because he spoke Russian, he helped them get on the right trains. He travelled home via Poland and Dukla, then went on foot from the village of Vyšný Komárnik.
After the war Otto Baláž played the double bass at weddings.
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, 256-262. 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/otto-balaz-otino (accessed 11/29/2023)
Origin of Testimony
The interview with Otto Baláž took place in 1996 at home in the presence of his wife Valérie Balážová. It was in Czech and Slovak, since the couple hardly ever used the Romani language. The editors put the interview into chronological order.
Where to find this testimony