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Vojtěch Fabián

Vojtěch Fabián, called Bela (1919, Stropkov - 1995, Prague) spent his childhood in a Roma settlement in the village of Kurima in the Bardejov district. His wife was writer Tera Fabiánová.[1]

[1] See her testimony in the database.

  • Testimony abstract

    Vojtěch Fabián had a fair complexion, so his father did not believe he was his son and suspected his wife of having conceived the child with a Jew, of whom there were many in Stropkov. He beat both his son and his wife, and called Vojtěch a son of a bitch.

    Editor's note on the interview: Vojtěch Fabián spent his childhood and youth in a Roma settlement in the village of Kurima. His grandfather was a musician, and his father a labourer who worked for ten years in a stone quarry for a Jewish builder called Chajim[1] – until Mr. Chajim was put on a transport to a concentration camp. Vojtěch Fabián had helped with the family's livelihood from his early youth – at the age of fourteen he used to go to Prague to sell mousetraps, clothes hangers and other small goods. In Prague he also had a love affair with a doctor from Dejvice who was ten years older than he was and taught him to read and write. In Kurima he served Jewish families, bringing packs of cigarettes on foot from Bardejov to a mixed-goods merchant, and going with other boys to knock juniper berries out of the trees and sell them for a few hellers at the collection point. He didn't spend much time at school, but taught himself a lot during his life – as an adult he served at the military airport in Prague-Kbely, retiring from there with the rank of lieutenant.

    • [1] Surname unknown.

    Vojtěch Fabián was conscripted in Spišská Nová Ves in 1940. A Czech doctor warned him that because of his origins he would have to go to a so-called gypsy camp. Fabián did not resist this; as he said, :where other Gypsies go, I will go:. But the doctor warned him that he would be killed there. He advised him to deny his origins. So Vojtěch Fabián enlisted in the army in the artillery rather than the labour unit [where Roma were often assigned] which was called the chocolate army, because the Roma had brown epaulettes.

    Vojtěch Fabián left for the Eastern Front on 24 July 1941, which was, according to what he said, not long after war broke out on 22 July 1941.[1] He remembered Bila Cerekva,[2] where they spent about a month, and especially the beautiful seventeen-year-old Russian girl he fell in love with before they were taken to Italy.

    He spent almost two years on the Italian front, learning Italian during this time. There were other light-complexioned Roma, and about two thousand Slovaks with him. The soldiers were sent to Italy as a punishment, because the Germans did not trust the Slovaks in Russia. Many of them had defected to the Russian side, so they were sent to work in Italy. The journey from Minsk in wagons meant for pigs took sixteen days and nights, and then in Italy they had to build bunkers for the Germans and do the worst jobs. They were bombed twice, the first time at Easter [1944 (ed.)] in “Rocca Gorga” [properly Roccagorga] about seventy kilometres from Rome, where about ten survived, and where he grieved for the death of a little dog he had found and had with him. The following bombardment on 4 June at Nogara was even worse; only thirty-seven of six hundred soldiers survived.

    When he was still in the town of Roccagorga, he used to visit a group of local Roma who lived in stone houses covered with earth. He understood their language and they admired his dog and especially the tricks he had taught him. In Italy, however, he also met wealthy and, he said, intelligent Roma, who had beautiful horses and beautiful girls and travelled around in wagons and caravans.

    After arriving at the new unit, Fabián noticed that there were many Roma in it who were beaten by the Hlinka Guards - for example, Sergeant Baláš from Michalovce attacked a Romani man from “Butany”[3] in front of Fabián's eyes. Fabián slapped his face and then asked a commander named Ňaňák to put the Roma from the unit in his charge. He did not however reveal he was Roma to the soldiers until later. He arranged for them to be given new clothes, soap, blankets and sheets, and also detained mail, but he insisted on discipline and order so that the Roma would be respected. In the end, it was not only the Roma who did the most dangerous work, especially clearing fallen and unexploded bombs by truck into the sea, but also the other soldiers; many were blown to pieces or maimed. Fabian said they were like a punishment battalion.

    When the Americans were approaching, no one cared about them anymore. Vojtěch Fabián therefore set off for home with the soldiers he commanded. They moved only by night, and during the day made maps. They walked one thousand two hundred and sixty kilometres, living off what they found or stole - hams, bacon, and even the local priest's pig. Another time they saw two Germans herding stolen or confiscated cattle. They got into conversation with them, then hit one of them on the head and ran away with the cow. He stole several horses while on the run, and also a donkey, which, as in the case of one of the horses, he had to shoot when the animal was wounded. It still grieves him when he remembers it.

    Vojtěch Fabián was in good standing among the soldiers and commanders - he could read and write, and helped with writing letters, for instance, including those of the Slovaks, who, being peasant boys, often had not attended school and were illiterate.

    Fabián’s commander in the army had a brother who was a teacher in Kurima. He married a Jewish woman who was a postmistress, while he himself became a member of the Hlinka Guard and even founded a group of Hlinka Guards in Kurima. He did not, however, leave his wife and moved with her to Spišská Nová Ves, where he enlisted. When they met, the teacher was afraid that Fabián would betray them, but he did not tell anyone. He went to them every day for a meal and did not eat what they were given in the barracks.

    • [1] In fact, Slovakia had already entered the war on 24 June 1941.
    • [2] Bila Cerkva in Ukraine.
    • [3] This would have been the village of Bučany in the Trnava district.

    Vojtěch Fabián returned home to Kurima on 12 August [1944], before the [Slovak National] Uprising broke out. But people at home thought he was dead, and they had already carried out the last rites for him, because three or four days before, a Roma soldier from the village of Porúbka had returned home from Italy and told Vojtěch Fabián's parents that their son had not survived the bombing at Nogara, and he had seen him dead there.

    Not wanting to go into civilian life, Vojtěch Fabián entered the military academy in Košice and became involved in fighting with the followers of General Vlasov and of Stefan Bandera, who, according to Fabián, did things that were worse than the SS. One follower of Bandera named Burlaka[1] was reportedly chased for six weeks in Poland, and finally captured in Strečno.[2] Vojtěch Fabián guarded Burlaka and his mistress for ten weeks in Banská Bystrica, driving him every Thursday from the town barracks[3] to the Radvan barracks,[4] where they were interrogated by General [Pavol] Kuna[5] and General Nosko.[6] Vojtěch Fabián also mentions the film Akce B.[7] He said that nothing in it was true.

    Inexperienced aspirants who had been with Fabián at the military academy in Košice were deployed in the search for the Banderites. In one action, thirty-six of them were shot by the Banderites and their bodies could not be removed immediately. Three days later they were still lying unwashed and bloodied in the hospital morgue in Ružomberok, waiting for the arrival of the commission from Banská Bystrica. In the meantime, the survivors arrived, some from Bohemia. General Kravchenko, who was in charge of the hospital, ordered Fabian not to allow them near the fallen. However, the survivors broke down the door and saw the bodies of those shot in that deplorable state. In an emotionally tense situation, one of the Czechs shouted something at the Slovaks, which General Ludvík, whose son was among the dead, found offensive. The general shook hands with all the survivors except one, and apologised to all except one - the one who had shouted that they were Czech intellectuals and [the Slovaks] had done this to their sons.

    Vojtěch Fabián concluded his story by saying that his father, who had beaten him as a child, was in the end proud of him – because of his uniform and the military academy.

    • [1] Burlaka, whose real name was Volodymyr Ščyhelskyj, was in a Bandera unit that infiltrated Slovakia in June 1947, and was captured on 3 September 1947, but escaped from the prison in Košice.
    • [2] Burlaka was handed over to the Polish authorities after being recaptured in Slovakia, received the death penalty, and was executed in 1949.
    • [3] Probably what was then the infantry barracks on Horní náměstí (Upper Town Square).
    • [4] Then the Pohron or Radvan barracks.
    • [5] A participant in the Slovak National Uprising.
    • [6] Július Nosko, chief of staff during the Slovak National Uprising; after the liberation he led the fight against the Banderites.
    • [7] Operation B, 1951, a tendentious feature film produced with the cooperation of the Ministry of National Defence and the Ministry of National Security.

    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, 331-347 (ces), 348-361 (rom). Testimonies of the Roma and Sinti. Project of the Prague Forum for Romani Histories (Institute of Contemporary History, Czech Academy of Sciences), (accessed 4/14/2024)
  • Origin of Testimony

    Vojtěch Fabián was one of the first Romani speakers from whom Milena Hübschmannová [1933-2005] learned the language, and later he was her main adviser in the compilation of the Romano-Czech Dictionary (Prague, SPN 1991). In the course of various sessions she recorded information on topics such as weddings, christenings, and language problems, but Fabián repeatedly and spontaneously returned to memories of the war. The book is thus a mosaic created by combining into a single whole selected information captured during seven interviews conducted between 1974 and 1989. The excerpts are not arranged chronologically, but in order of subject matter.

  • Where to find this testimony

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