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Tera Fabiánová

Tera Fabiánová (née Kurinová, 15 October 1930, Žihárec, Šaľa district - 23 March 2007, Prague) was a prominent Romani writer. When she was four years old, her family moved them to her mother's native village of Vlčany (Šaľa district), where they built a house of unfired bricks. Because of the war, Tera completed only three grades of primary school, which became the subject of one of her best-known stories, Sar me phiravas andre škola (How I Went to School). After the war, the Kurins went to Moravia to work, where Tera worked in agriculture at the age of sixteen and later in Prague on construction sites or as a maid.

She met her husband Vojta Fabián, a professional soldier originally from the village of Kurima (Bardějov district), at the age of eighteen. They had four children, one of whom, a son, died while he was young; the Fabiáns divorced after forty years of marriage. Vojta Fabián[1] did not have much sympathy for his emancipated wife, which is why the position and role of the Roma woman became a frequent subject of her texts. Tera Fabiánová worked for thirty-five years as a crane operator at ČKD Praha, retiring from there on a disability pension due to impaired health.

She was fluent in four languages and began writing in the 1960s – originally in Hungarian, but soon switching to Romani. Her output includes short stories, poems, fairy tales and feuilletons; it deals with the position of the Roma in society, the emancipation of women in the Roma family, violence in marriage and the friendship between humans and animals. Tera Fabiánová's poems – such as those in the anthology Romane giľa (Romany Songs, 1979) – mainly express feelings of loneliness, disappointment, and nostalgia for her Slovak home. In the early 1970s, she published in the magazine Romano ľil (Romany Journal), which was published by the Union of Gypsies-Roma as the first Romani periodical in Czechoslovakia. Her essay promoting the self-esteem of Romani women became the first piece written in Romani in this magazine. As a pioneer of writing in Romani, she became a role model for future generations of Romani women writers, despite the regime’s disapproval and limited publishing opportunities.

[1] See also his testimony in the database.

  • Testimony abstract

    Tera Fabiánová described Jews giving work and food to the Roma and helping them. The peasant farmers paid little, two or three crowns, and all she got to eat was sour milk and potatoes, which she had to eat out of doors, whereas the Jews invited the Roma in to their table and treated them well. When she was a child, she would bring them water from the artesian well, in which the Jewish women bathed every week. She would also sweep their homes, feed the domestic animals, and so on. She knew all the local Jews, who spoke Hungarian, and she specifically names Fischer and Weiss, who called her “Naďféji” [Nagy fej - Big Head], in Hungarian. She used to sweep the floors of Fischer's inn and borrow books from him; she remembered how she was intrigued by the pictures in a book about India and thought they depicted Romani people. In Fischer's pub, a Romani band played. Romani people also played at the weddings of Slovak peasants, but not at Jewish weddings, which were distinctive.

    Her father enlisted in the Hungarian army[1] and fought at the front. Her brother was forced to work in Germany. Tera stayed at home with her mother and sisters. She remembered that she was twelve or thirteen years old when they started taking Jews to concentration camps, and so she recollected almost nothing, except that she felt sorry for them. The parish priest then summoned the Roma to the church and gave them the last rites, because they were all expecting that it would be their turn next. According to Tera Fabiánová, some Slovaks joined the fascists just to get rich. They started robbing Jewish homes and moving into houses that their occupants had been forced to abandon. Her father went missing at the front; the fascists thought he had fled, and one of them searched for him at the Kurin family home. He prodded the blankets with a bayonet to see if her father was hiding there. The man apparently went berserk, but Tera and her mother and sisters were rescued by one of the Germans who used to pass through the settlement on their way to the nearby airport.

    In the winter, the Germans forced the Roma to sweep the airfield from which the bombers took off, and they also brought destitute Jewish boys there. Tera was given baked potatoes by her mother to keep her warm under her clothes and to put in her mouth. When one of the boys noticed, she secretly shared some with him. His name was Weiss;[2]

    he then put a note in her hand with an address in Hungary, asking her to write to his parents that she had seen him; but she never received a reply.

    • [1] After the Vienna Arbitration in 1938 Šaľa and its surroundings became part of Hungary.
    • [2] First name not given.

    Her father was captured during the fighting and was not released from a Russian prison camp until two years after the war. Her brother also returned from Germany, but he was very ill; he was never asked exactly where he had been. Of the local Jews, only Fischer, the innkeeper, returned after the liberation; his wife and the whole family were murdered by the Germans. He reopened the pub, where the Roma again came to play, and Tera said she sang to him so that he would not be sad. His pub was eventually nationalized by the communists. She recalled that they were the very same people who had worn double crosses on their sleeves during the war.[1]

    Eventually she moved to Prague, got married and had children. She was once approached by a man in a shop where she went to buy shoes for her son. It was Weiss, to whom she had given potatoes at the airport during the war; he was the only one of the family left alive. He worked at the Hungarian embassy and introduced her to his wife and two children. When he found out she could speak Hungarian, he got her a job. Tera then cleaned, made coffee and delivered mail at the Videoton company. They had a great friendship that lasted until the Weisses left Prague and returned to Hungary.

    • [1] Members of the Hlinka Guard paramilitary organization wore a red double cross in a blue circle on their arms.

    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, 694-698 (ces), 699-703 (rom). Testimonies of the Roma and Sinti. Project of the Prague Forum for Romani Histories (Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences), (accessed 5/21/2024)
  • Origin of Testimony

    The interview was recorded in Romani by Milena Hübschmannová in August 1999 on a trip to Vrchlabí. It focused on the coexistence of Roma and Jews in the pre-war era. It is printed in the book in Romani with a Czech translation.

  • Where to find this testimony

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