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Zdeněk Daniel

Zdeněk Daniel, born 1929, Oslavany, Brno district

  • Testimony abstract

    Zdeněk Daniel was born in 1929 in Oslavany, Brno district. He comes from the Daniel family, one of the Romani families with the longest history in Moravia since the end of the 18th century. His grandparents also lived in Oslavany. His father, Jan Daniel, nicknamed Honza or also Gypsy Baron, was a horse trader. He was an expert on horses and he could tell by their teeth which of of them was healthy, but only neglected and malnourished. He would buy such horses, and restore their condition with proper care, before selling them to farmers at a considerable profit. His mother, Růžena Danielová, had completed the sixth grade in Austria and ran a cloth peddling business. She would buy fabrics from Jews in Brno and sell them in Zlín, Otrokovice and the surrounding area, where richer families lived. The Daniels lived well, and in the 1930s his parents bought a plot of land in a village outside the local Roma colony and built a villa. The house included a courtyard with its own well, a room for a groom and stables for horses.

    Mr. Daniel's extended family did not suffer deprivation before the war, and many of its members attended various types of schools. He mentions his uncle Vašek, who had a car, which was otherwise the privilege of doctors or pharmacists, and his uncle [Josef Daniel][1] from Tišnov, who even had a bathroom in the house. His cousin Tonda was a lieutenant during the First Republic, his cousin Anka[2] graduated from the commercial academy, and another cousin Tonda[3] graduated from the gymnasium and was a teacher. The family was large, which Mr. Daniel testifies to when recalling his cousin's wedding in Tišnov, to which they travelled from Oslavany by hired bus.

    Zdeněk Daniel grew up with two half-brothers, Pavel and Miroslav, whom his father had from a previous relationship. He recalls that he had a wonderful childhood until he was 13 years old, when an "inventory of gypsies"[4] was ordered. At the time, he was attending the elementary school and preparing for the conservatoire (he was a talented violinist), but he never got to enrol there.

    • [1] Josef Daniel, nicknamed Šíša, came from Oslavany but moved to Tišnov, where he was one of the wealthier citizens. His wife Anna Danielová was also a cloth trader. Josef Daniel was also deported with his family to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
    • [2] Anna Danielová (1921, Oslavany - 1999, Oslavany) graduated from a commercial academy and is the first Romani woman in Moravia to be documented in historical sources as having completed secondary school. During the war she was sent to forced labour, after the war she worked as a secretary for various official bodies in Brno. At the beginning of the 1950s, she was among a group of Roma activists in Brno who were already trying to establish a Roma organization. When the Gypsy-Roma Union was established, she was very significantly involved in the activities of the Commission of Former Concentration Camp Prisoners seeking compensation for Romani Holocaust survivors (ed.) Antonín Daniel (1913, Oslavany - 1996, Šumperk) became a teacher after the war. He was one of the founding figures of the Gypsy-Roma Union. (ed.)
    • [3] Antonín Daniel (1913, Oslavany - 1996, Šumperk) became a teacher after the war. He was one of the founding figures of the Gypsy-Roma Union. (ed.)
    • [4] It was the so-called Inventory of Gypsies, Gypsy Miscegenates and Persons Traveling in the Gypsy Manner initiated in August 1942. The inventory served as a basis for the subsequent deportations of Roma to concentration camps in the Protectorate and beyond. (ed.)

    After the Protectorate was established, changes began. For example, Romani people were forbidden access to a public water pump, so everyone from the colony in Oslavany would go to the Daniels' yard to get water. It was no longer possible to trade, and his father turned to carting because he had a horse and wagon and his father-in-law was a coachman. When the first transports of Romani families started, Mr Daniel's parents began to make the proper preparations, such as hiding the fabrics with the shopkeeper they bought them from and taking the furniture to the master joiner that Zdeněk Daniel was apprenticed to.

    On 5 May 1943, the entire family was deported together with other Romani people from Oslavany to the so-called workhouse[1] in Brno. They were taken there by train by a gendarmerie escort and questioned for two days. Aunt Málka, a widow whose children were already grown up and finished their education, was there with them.[2] Because of her deceased husband's long service at the Oslavany power plant (since 1911), she was released from the workhouse and allowed to take three more children from her family back home with her. Fourteen-year-old Zdeněk Daniel returned to Oslavany with his aunt Málka, cousin Vlasta and cousin Honza. The rest of his family was taken to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp [on May 7, 1943]. Mr Daniel believes that his family also had a chance to be excluded from the transport, but the Roma from the Kostivárna colony in Brno complained that the Roma from Oslavany were being treated differently because they were rich, and the gendarmes therefore included them in the transport.

    The Daniels' home in Oslavany was occupied by the deputy commander of the gendarmes and his wife. Zdeněk Daniel could not even take his personal belongings after returning from Brno and witnessed the sad scene of their horses being taken away. His aunt provided for them with cloth that had been hidden at a merchant's, which she secretly retrieved and exchanged for food.

    Mr Daniel knows about his parents' subsequent fate from the account given by his father, who survived his detention in the concentration camp. In Auschwitz he had been forced to work as a corpse collector and then worked as a labourer underground,[3] where he participated in the production of V1 and V2 rockets for three months. Later he managed to escape from a so-called death march. Of the brothers, only Mirek[4] returned, saved by the fact that he worked in the camp kitchen in Auschwitz. His mother Růžena was transferred from Auschwitz to Ravensbrück, but died at the German-Czech border on her way home. Mr. Daniel knows her fate thanks to his aunt [Marcela Daniel], who returned home without an arm and with a shrapnel in her leg. She said that a group of about ten women were returning home after escaping from Ravensbrück and were hit by a grenade while crossing the border at night ( around 5 May). Mr Daniel's mother lost her leg and bled to death. Apart from his aunt, another woman returned with injuries, but the shrapnel had penetrated her lungs and she soon died. Zdeněk Daniel kept looking for his mother, because she had managed to write him letters. He received the last one before the end of the war, so he believed that she had survived and would return. On the other hand, he had no news of his father all this time. He did not even know that he was back in Moravia and recovering in hospital: he was 181 cm tall but weighed only 55 kg. Zdeněk Daniel had their old German Shepherd bitch, Zora, with him; her hind legs were already lame, but when Zdeněk Daniel's father was coming home, she recognised him from a distance of several hundred metres, and ran to meet him, leaping on him with joy.

    Mr Daniel estimated that five of the approximately 115 Romani people from Oslavany returned after the war.

    • [1] The workhouse was the colloquial name for the Brno forced labour facility that served as a assembly point for the second mass transport of Roma from Moravia to Auschwitz. (ed.)
    • [2] This refers to Amalia Daniel, the widow of Joseph Daniel, who was nicknamed Ludva. He was permanently employed in the Oslavany power plant from its establishment, i.e. from 1911. Their family was the first Romani family to build a masonry house in Oslavany in 1932. (ed.)
    • [3] In the Dora-Mittelbau camp
    • [4] Miroslav Daniel, born 1925 in Oslavany, was deported on 5 May 1943 to the concentration camp at Auschwitz, then was transferred to the camp at Buchenwald and then to the camp at Dora-Mittelbau. (ed.)

    After the war, Zdeněk Daniel stayed with his aunt in Oslavany. His father remarried and started a new family. Mr. Daniel trained as a plumber and heating technician and went to work for the housing department of the Chemical Works in Litvínov. He became an enthusiastic communist, married a woman from a family of show people and raised two sons. He completed his secondary education by evening classes, received his diploma in 1960. In 1968, as a result of his opposition to the invasion by Soviet troops, he resigned from the Communist Party [he was “excluded" in the communist party parlance of the time] and was subsequently dismissed from his job. His world fell apart a second time and he had to be hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital. In the early 1970s he and his family started a new life in another town in northern Bohemia.

    In the 1980s, when he already had a car, Mr. Daniel, his wife and sons went on holiday to East Germany and visited Ravensbrück, where his mother was imprisoned. They also visited the border near Cínovec, where she died, and they went to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland, where his brother died.

  • Origin of Testimony

    An interview with Zdeněk Daniel Sr. (*1929, Oslavany) was published in the magazine Romano džaniben 1/2018. It was recorded in June 2017 by Markéta Hajská for the Romea Memory of Roma project; the footage was also prepared for Paměť národa as part of the Romani Memory: Recollections of Roma from the Central Europeen Perspective project. There were two recording sessions, the first of which produced an audio recording, the second a video recording (with the assistance of cameraman František Bikár). In both cases, Mr. Daniel's son, Zdeněk Daniel Jr., was also present and participated in the interview; the total length of the recordings is 3 hours and 5 minutes; the interview is abridged and edited.

    The interview was published as part of a double-interview, Shadows, Memories and Hopes - Interview with Zdeněk Daniel Sr. and Zdeněk Daniel Jr., and features an introduction by Markéta Hajská and Helena Sadílková, who describe the background of the interviews with the Daniel father and son and summarize what is known to date about the fate of the Roma of Oslavany.

    It concludes with a list of references used.

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