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Vojtěch Bendík

Vojtěch Bendík (1920, Šindliar, Prešov district – year of death unknown)

  • Testimony abstract

    Vojtěch Bendík's father had fought in Russia during World War I. He returned ill and died at the age of fifty-two before the start of World War II. He was a musician who used to play at weddings and similar events with four other men. He played mainly in the winter, while in the spring and autumn he worked as a blacksmith, repairing gates and ploughs. Vojtěch Bendík learned to play the bass from him, and he also learned the blacksmith's trade, although he did not enjoy it. Before the war he went to school; he remembered a teacher from the Czech lands who took care of the Roma. Everyone who went to his class learned to read and write. The teacher wanted Bendik to continue his studies, but another teacher - a member of the Hlinka Guard - wouldn't allow it.

    Vojtěch Bendík was conscripted at the age of twenty-one in the village of Čemerné. According to him, the doctors on the commission did not know where the Roma would eventually be sent [to military labor units]. He thought that those the rgiseclass of 1919 might still have been allowed to join the army, but those born in 1920 were not. Eight hundred Roma were supposed to be conscripted into the army with him, but instead of guns and rifles, as he said, they were given pickaxes and a shovels. They spent a month in Čemerné, after which they were divided up into three locations. Together with about 60 other Roma from all over Slovakia, Bendík travelled to Prešov, where they dug trenches and built bunkers for the Germans in a forest called Borkut. There were only Roma there, and they were guarded by Slovak soldiers commanded by Germans.

    Bendík describes 1942 and 1943 as the years when the situation worsened - all of the 800 Roma who had originally been conscripted were reassembled and subsequently worked in a quarry. The site was surrounded by barbed wire up to two metres high, they slept in wooden huts, and were given food three times a day, but instead of soup they were given only the water left from boiling dumplings. They worked seven days a week, eight or twelve hours a day, and were not allowed to go home on leave. Once Bendik complained to a Slovak sergeant that he had received a smaller ration of food, and the sergeant beat him until he bled. Bendik went to report this to a sergeant-major from Sabinov, who complained about the sergeant to the commander, a lieutenant from Veľký Šariš.[1] The sergeant was eventually sent to the front, where he was killed.

    After two years the Slovaks were discharged from the army, but the Roma were not, so they decided to strike and not go to work. The commanders found the men who had led the strike; Bendík said they were from somewhere in Humenné and there were four or maybe eight of them. They came for them from Poprad [from the military court]. They were all convicted and four of them were chained up. They were kept in Ilava [the Ilava prison]. Bendík mentioned about four hundred Jews they saw one evening [in the camp], but in the morning not a single one was left. Bendík said that they were probably burned, probably sent to the gas chamber, and that they wanted to do the same with the Roma. The officers picked out about twelve of the striking men, Bendik among them, and hid them so that they would not also be taken to Ilava. He says that at the time they arrested the organizers of the strike, [Jozef] Tiso visited the camp [of the military labour unit] and defended the Roma, saying that they were Slovaks, they had Slovak nationality, they were born here and they were simply of so-called Gypsy origin. Bendík said that this saved them.[2] The officers hid the selected twelve or so men in the woods below Kriváň.[3] Bendík then joined the [Slovak National] Uprising together with others. Romani commanders from Humenné led the uprising, got machine guns and fought in the forests near Liptovský Hrádek. The Roma managed to repel the Germans twice.

    • [1] Name not given.
    • [2] A similar account of Tiso's protection of so-called Gypsies, as opposed to Jews, is repeated by several witnesses. (ed.)
    • [3] One of the highest mountains in Slovakia, located in the High Tatras.

    Slovaks from Šindliar, who had been in Russia during World War I, founded a branch of the Communist Party in the village after the end of World War II and enrolled Bendík in it. Of the Roma, only he and one other man were there, the others did not want to join the Communists. Bendik was elected chairman [of the local organization] of the Communist Party and vice-chairman of the MNV [local national committee]; he was chairman of the local Communist Party organisation for about three years. The teacher who had prevented Bendik from continuing his schooling during the war also joined the Communist Party after the war and wanted to be secretary. Bendik reported to the district what the teacher had done during the war, and after that he and his wife were no longer allowed to teach.

    After three years Bendík began working for the police, serving in the Regional Prison in Prešov, where political prisoners were held. They were all doctors, as he says, clever and rich people who disagreed with the communists. After a while, he left this job. He mentioned that he worked in a stone quarry during the Communist period.

    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, 263-270 (ces), 271-277 (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 with Vojtěch Bendík took place in 2000 in the hospital in Opava, a day before he was due to undergo eye surgery. Owing to the unusual circumstances of the recording, it was not possible to ask detailed questions about interesting facts. In addition, Vojtěch Bendík was hard of hearing and it was necessary to repeat the questions; he was also shy to talk when other patients or hospital staff were passing by in the corridor.

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