Štefan Kočko, born 1921, Dlhé Stráže, Levoča district
Štefan Kočko is from a blacksmith’s family and continued in the same trade as his father.
Štefan Kočko said that they only took Roma who were incapable of fighting to the labour camps, while those fit to fight went into the [Slovak] army. He did not have to pass any test [the witness Ladislav Tancoš – see his testimony in the database – described how the conscripts had to undergo a psychological selection test (ed.)]. Kočko was conscripted in the village of Levoča and to start with fought alongside the Germans in Russia. He lost his closest friend – a Roma from Michalovce – who was seriously wounded and begged Kočko to shoot him to put an end to his suffering. Kočko did not want to fulfil the request, and then had problems coming to terms with it. Elsewhere Kočko described how the Germans behaved towards Jews in Russia. They impaled Jewish children on their bayonets and threw them into the fire, while naked adult Jews were forced by the Nazis to dig their own graves and were then mown down by machine guns. The Germans raped the local women.
In the Crimea they were captured by the Russians and taken to a camp. Kočko said that they were well looked after. The German, Romanian and Slovak captives were held separately. He described how the Russians nailed a captured German colonel to a tree as though on a cross and banged a nail into his head. Kočko comments that the Russians learnt from what they saw the Germans doing. He stayed about three weeks in the camp before Svoboda’s army was formed, which he joined. In Russia he underwent six months’ training in Yefremov and became a paratrooper. There was another Roma from Levoča there as well. Kočko names a few more Roma who fought in Svoboda’s army – from Bratislava, Komárno and Michalovce, the saxophonist Oláh from the village of Humenné and a musician from the village of Ľubovňa, who shot himself in the hand in preference to fighting. Kočko’s group transferred from Yefremov to Dukla. He described the battle there as very bloody. Kočko was separated from his own unit in the battle found by a Russian lieutenant colonel who then watched his every move [apparently to ascertain whether he could trust him and to which side he belonged]. They came to a village with German soldiers and Kočko described how he fought the Germans and cut their telephone cable.
Kočko then set out to find his company, which was in Warsaw, where he was awarded a medal by General Mucha. The company set out for Banská Bystrica, and for Poprad where they could not stay because there were too many Germans. They returned and spent three weeks with civilians in Poland. After parachuting into the airport at Tri Duby, they occupied Banská Bystrica, Svätý Kríž, Telgárt, Hermanček, and Staré Hory, where the Russians came to their assistance. In the village of Horná Štubňa he and some other soldiers were taken prisoner by the Germans and taken to Germany where they spent three months in a camp near Görlitz.
His mother found out from Štefan Oláh, Kočko’s friend in the army, that her son was in prison. She sent clothes parcels to him in Germany, and even before that, to Russia. Kočko experienced hunger, cold and beatings in the German camp. He remembered once when the Germans selected only Roma prisoners. They had to line up outside, naked in front of a gallows, supervised by German soldiers and their dogs. They were saved by an American air raid. Afterwards the prisoners received clothing and food from the Americans. They went to help the local Germans in their homes, no heavy work, just planting potatoes, etc. Roma musicians went around the hotels, performing, and although Kočko couldn’t play anything he went with them. After a while, when Kočko weighed 68 kilos, they were considered fit enough to go home. They were sent to the Czech border, and the journey home took three months. They went on foot, getting financial support and rations from the [Czechoslovak] Red Cross in each town. Kočko said that he was fat and the family could not recognise him when he returned.
After two days at home he was again taken into the military, where he spent six months, which he served in Kežmarok. After three months he got a telegram to say his father had died. He went to the funeral and then served another three months. He has no wife, only a widowed sister, who lives in Liberec; there are just the brother and sister. Every five years he used to go to Banská Bystrica to honour the memory of his fallen comrades. When asked whether he felt like fighting at that time, he said there was simply no option but to fight.
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, 222-230 (ces), 231-238 (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/stefan-kocko (accessed 11/29/2023)
Origin of Testimony
The survivor was interviewed by the ethnologist and Roma Studies specialist Renata Weinerová, who at this time was working as what was known as “curator for the gypsy population” in the District National Committee of Prague 2. The interview took place in 1986 and on the wishes of Štefan Kočko was recorded in a pub; when the noise became excessive or when Štefan Kočko was obliged to talk to another customer, the recording was interrupted. These places are indicated in the text. The interview is published in an unedited authentic form without regard to any loss of clarity.
Where to find this testimony