Juraj Alner

* 1937  

  • “The liberation itself didn’t mean that we weren’t in danger of life anymore. We had first-hand experience of getting some of the first tins from American help of UNRRA which lay mainly in the supplies of tinned food. I remember that my father was standing next to the open window with somebody and they held tins in their hands and read English words. In a while a group of Russian soldiers came with automatics and led my father and another man out really cruelly. I recall that there were some groups of native people walking along the street with Russian soldiers with automatics. Later I came to know that they exploited those men to do various kinds of work such as digging trenches and the like. They didn’t punish them; they were simply used to exploiting local men everywhere they came. Of course we feared for our father, we didn’t know what could happen to him. However, he came back several hours later and told us that when they were reading those words written on the tin which they held in their hands, some rural woman went under the windows. Of course she didn’t know it was in English, so she went and told some Russian soldier that there were two Germans with walkie-talkie. She had never seen any tin, so she thought they were speaking German to their walkie-talkie. Commander sent some soldiers there immediately and they brought these two men. We were fortunate that the commander was a clever man who spoke many languages. They told him what had happened there and showed him the tins. In the end the commander laughed and sent them home. But I could imagine another commander who wouldn’t probably speak any foreign language and who would be in a bad mood with no motivation to help anybody and I am sure he would have killed them. So the liberation itself didn’t come when the Russian soldiers arrived, it was much later and it didn’t last for a long time because not only liberators, but also the KGB came together with Soviets and the era that we couldn’t foresee yet at that time was about to come. It was the period when people had to undergo another one and a very difficult struggle for their lives.”

  • “We were affected mainly by the fact that my stepfather was on the list of people who were persecuted by the communists. Only thanks to the Nation’s Memory Institute I got to know that the persecution had begun much earlier. I noticed it in the spring of 1951 when the State Security members stormed into our flat on Továrenská Street and searched it and first of all they turned on the radio. They were curious to know whether we were used to listening to the Radio Free Europe. They sat down and stayed in our flat for one week. They used to open the door, answer the phone or empty our post box and the like. I had to move out of my room to my parent’s bedroom because one of the State Security members slept in my bed. My mother was seized with horror when she found a gun under the pillow in my bed. He had forgotten it there. They were in our flat with guns. A few days later when they were getting bored they started to play cards with my father who was bored as well. It was a really strange situation. This little episode lasted approximately one week and then this group of the State Security members was replaced by another one and they searched our flat very thoroughly. It meant that they threw absolutely everything out of our wardrobes, beds and so on. They opened all our books that we had in our bookcase because they searched for any hidden papers. They heaped a lot of documents into their bag or whatever it was and went away with it. However, another group of guards came and stayed in our flat for a short period of time as well. Later there was the last group of them but they didn’t stay at us, they only said to my stepfather that he had to go for an interrogation with them. Of course, my mother asked them when he would be back. And they answered: ‘Don’t be afraid, he will be back soon.’ So she told them: ‘Well, I am asking just because I want to know whether I should prepare something for dinner.’ They smiled and responded: ‘Don’t hesitate and prepare it.’ And they left with my father who came back eleven years later.”

  • “I also remember that in 1946 we went through Austria and a little way of Germany to Switzerland and in 1947 we passed through Austria to Yugoslavia. Then I noticed that these two countries, Austria and Germany, were very poor and destroyed, too. Furthermore, I recall that when our train stopped for some reason at the station in Vienna, a lot of little children pounced on the train and begged. There was one short episode. By chance I had an apple on the seat, so I threw it to the children and they started to scuffle for my apple. At that time we came from rich Czechoslovakia to poor Austria.”

  • “I have already told that people used to protect and hide us, of course, they were Christians and I considered their behaviour to be very positive. Certainly, I don’t speak about the Hlinka Guard because they liquidated our people later, but it was the part of population which I would call radicals today. However, we didn’t feel it at all in our ordinary lives. I want to repeat that my grandfather often got letters from Andrej Hlinka who asked him this way to employ some girls from neighbouring villages. He called him “the highborn director” what was a very respectful salutation and as I knew there was no conflicting situation, moreover, in one magazine there was a picture of my father with the president Tiso who came to our textile factory and my father, engineer, guided him through his department and showed him the way of production. This picture has preserved till today though I am not proud of it but such was the era. Simply said, till the year 1944 we had lived more or less normally even though at the same time, many laws were passed which were very restrictive and which affected our relatives who hadn’t been granted the dispensation.”

  • “When armies invaded our country in August 1968, we were able to publish our papers legally for another ten days. And when my friend warned me that we were wanted, that I am obviously on some list of wanted people, so then I decided to emigrate. I think it was about 1st September when I walked with my big suitcase from Petržalka to Austrian border crossing in Hainburg. I went on foot among Russian army tanks and crossed the border and finally got to Austria. But it’s another story. Later I spent some time in America and when they asked me whether I wanted to stay there, I decided to return home because my mother and my daughter were here and I would feel much better with them than furthering my career somewhere in America. So I came back and, of course, in the meantime they managed to exclude me from the Association of Journalists and from the editorial board as well. I had to start working as a worker in the printing office where I worked for seven years. Later and under very unusual circumstances I managed to get a job at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts as a librarian. It was in 1978. And it was also the end of my career in a position of manual worker.”

  • “Various provisions of so-called anti-Jewish legislation, of the Jew Code came into force, so many of our relatives, I don’t mean members of our household, but our relatives felt its consequences immediately. At first they had to hand in their bankbooks in which deposits were recorded, they had to hand in all their treasurable objects, paintings or even some pieces of their clothing such as furs and things like that. All of these events are depicted in many documents which are at our disposal and in various records where there is written that for example my aunt had to hand in her fur coat or that there was a search in our house performed by some police officer only to find out whether we had things that we weren’t allowed to possess. And that police officer stated in the document which I have at my disposal that he found nothing.”

  • “German army came during the Uprising and, of course, at that time people didn’t respect anything, so when we noticed, or rather when my father got to know that German army had come to the Slovak State, this news spread around immediately and thus everything had been already prepared. We went with my stepfather and with my mother to Súľov really right away, to the Súľov Rocks because it was quite near. Many families gathered there, so when I recollected this situation later, I realized that people had previously arranged with peasants in Súľov that if something happened we could hide in their houses, so we knew exactly where we went. In Súľov we lived in one household for a few days, but then the German army stormed into their house. I remember that day; it was probably the most dramatic day in my life, so I can depict it very precisely because it isn’t possible to forget it. In one moment a husbandman came and said: ‘Go to your shelter.’ Our hiding place was in a hayloft on the first floor of their barn. We climbed the ladder, their hay was stored there and in that hay there was a hole, space where we crammed. We had a small window there, so we could see the street. Of course, we had to draw the curtains to avoid shining the light through. I remember that my stepfather sat back to the hole in the hay and husbandman covered him with it so that nobody could see him. Then we heard some noise, well, today we know it from the war films but back then it was reality. Cars arrived; soldiers jumped out of them and made horrible noise. They fluttered around the village and my stepfather told me: ‘Now you have to be quiet because they mustn’t spot us, otherwise they will come and find us.’ Certainly I was pretty scared and I recall that all the time I was saying all the prayers I knew. And that noise was still drawing near to us, in one moment German soldiers even climbed the ladder to the hayloft and I suddenly realized what they were doing. They rummaged around in the hay, they used bayonets to find something and then it was just the matter of coincidence whether they would pierce my father or not. He simply sat still, I remember him sitting on the floor with his legs crossed, we held our breath and it seemed to me that it lasted for the whole day whereas it took only a couple of minutes. I felt terribly when they were bayoneting the hay, it was horrible situation. The worst thing was that we awakened to peril; we were conscious of what was going on there. However, God helped us and they didn’t bayonet the right place, so they went away shouting again. Then the whole fright weighed on us. The noise was spreading around in the village for a long time, but Germans finally got in their cars, engines roared and were moving away, and after all they fell silent. After that we went out of the houses, we were probably very tremulous. And I remember one more thing. People who saved themselves this way started to gather there. Every husbandman used to hide people on various places and my parents asked for some people, a particular family. I remember them but I don’t know their names. I came to know that they couldn’t deal with this situation, so they went out from their shelter and surrendered to German soldiers. They had only a few days of life ahead of them. Only after the war we heard that they were immediately transported to the concentration camp and killed shortly afterwards. I don’t know what happened with the husbandman, whether they had identified his house as a hiding place or not, because they had one very simple method. If they found any hidden people, they immediately shot not only them, but also all those who offered them a shelter. Therefore it is necessary to tell that there were many people in the Slovak countryside who risked their lives only to lend a helping hand to strangers. I have heard that a lot of them took money for it; however, I can’t imagine the amount of money for which a man is willing to lay down his life. So I have to say that there were many people who saved not only our lives, but also lives of other people and who staked their own lives.”

  • “We had never known those State Security members by their names but I can say that it wasn’t a compact mass of people who served headlong the regime; there were people with different motivations to get there. I have already told that when they stayed in our flat for a week, they used to play cards with my father because they had to do something and I also spoke about the State Security member who led my father along the corridor in the Palace of Justice. He asked us not to hug our father because he could loose his job; it was the expression of his humanity. After some time I saw the same man in Bratislava, you know, I remembered his face, and he was in the centre of the crossroad where he acted as the traffic controller, so I went there and told him: ‘What are you doing here?’ I was a student at that time. And he responded: ‘Well, I wasn’t able to bare that job; I am not the type of man who could chase people, thus I had to leave the State Security. Then I enrolled at the Traffic Police Department.’ So it was the proof that people left even that kind of job. Once when my stepfather was already at home for some time, we had one strange experience. We got on some trolleybus or tram in Bratislava and he suddenly started to shout and wave at somebody: ‘Hello, hello.’ So I asked him who that person he greeted was. He said: ‘He was a warder in Mírov.’ And I said: ‘And why do you behave this way towards him? You should probably hate each other!’ And he responded: ‘You know, he spent all those years in prison just like me, the only one difference was that he could spend a night with his family and I couldn’t. They were also only humans and it wasn’t that simple for them either.’ Thus he forgave them and since they had spent so many years together, naturally they got used to each other. He had this amazing humane approach to the whole situation. He said that warders weren’t those who made the communist regime or who could decide about something.”

  • “We used to stay in our shelters because we never knew when or where Germans could appear. Once we were hidden in a cellar of some house where we had a small window turned to the square. Actually, it was a small place in the centre of village and I remember that German soldiers brought Russian captives there. They were sitting on the ground in the middle of that square and Germans encircled them. I also remember the situation when one rural woman walked along the square and suddenly took a loaf of bread out of her bag and threw it to Russian captives. Germans didn’t hesitate and shot her right away.”

  • “Then the era of communist fanaticism began, it was simply the period which I considered to be really difficult because the masses of fanatical young people were flowing on the streets. For example they shouted out various slogans: ‘If you’re standing on the pavement you are our republic’s opponent.’ And I had always been the one who was standing on the pavement. Therefore I always tried to crawl or disappear somewhere and when I saw a crowd of people, I always hid somewhere or ran away. Later there were such of those orgies near the Stalin’s statue in Bratislava where teenagers cut capers and shouted or sang various songs. Many of them were real fanatics. I remember that not long before Stalin’s death one of my former classmates took me to one place in the square where nobody was around us and he whispered to me: ‘Healthy sick man’ and he pointed at the Stalin’s statue. He didn’t venture to say it aloud because somebody could hear him and he knew very well that he would have been punished for it. Well, it was a mob psychosis, a lot of people yield to that persuasion and the reason lay partially in the end of the world war. Naturally, Russian army came here and drove Germans off our land, so I understood that many people were appreciative. I was thankful as well because we wouldn’t have lived much longer if they wouldn’t have come, so when there is a debate today whether Stalin and Hitler were the selfsame killers I usually say that they were, but I considered Stalin to be a bit more likeable because he had saved my life. But when I was attending school, we experienced so-called tearing periods, you know, as for my generation we usually got textbooks at the beginning of the school year. We inherited them from the previous classes and our school year began on 1st September when some teacher came and told us: ‘Take your textbook of history or literature or whatever and open it on the page four. Can you see that big photo? Tear it out.’ And we did so. First of all we tore members of the DAV group, then Husák, Clementis, Novomeský, later we tore even photos of Masaryk and Beneš and finally it was also Stalin’s turn. It was simply the era of tearing our history, so we exactly knew which time period has already finished and which one was about to begin. It meant that the communist governing wasn’t straightforward at all, it didn’t lead from one point to another one, it was actually full of various curves.”

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    v Bratislave, 05.06.2006

    (audio)
    duration: 02:33:19
    media recorded in project Witnesses of the Oppression Period
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In various regimes there lived various people who came to that mill of events with different motivations and who were ground by that mill in different ways. And it wasn’t rare that millers were ground as well

Juraj Alner was born on July 23, 1937 in Kladno in the family of a textile engineer; however, after a short period of time his family moved to Ružomberok where Juraj’s grandfather led a textile factory. He was raised in a tolerant and multilingual environment, though his father died when he was only four years old. As he was raised in accordance with Christian religion, he didn’t realize his Jewish origin when he was a child. Since Juraj’s grandfather was one of the best experts in the factory, he was allowed to ask for a dispensation during the Second World War and this way he saved his family from the first wave of deportations from Slovakia in 1942. Two years later, German army started to occupy Slovakia and thus the only chance to survive was to escape. Juraj and his family were forced to hide out on various places in Central Slovakia till the liberation of Czechoslovakia. After the end of war he didn’t return back to the town where he had spent his entire childhood. His family stayed in Ružomberok for some time, but later they moved to Žilina and then to Bratislava where Juraj’s stepfather got a job as a woodworker in Ligno, the company for foreign wood trade. They experienced the results of the Communist Party governance soon and with all its hardness - his stepfather was arrested and sentenced to many years of imprisonment. In spite of all the troubles, Juraj managed to enrol at the university where he received a higher education; however, as he was present at the protest march of students, he was assigned to manufacture after finishing school to “familiarize him with the working class”. He worked as an auxiliary worker in Fatra Company in the town of Krupina. After finishing his six-month military service in Čáslav, he got a job as a teacher in Krupina at first and subsequently in Banská Bystrica. In the 1960s he began to work at the editorial board of the daily paper Ľud in Bratislava and he also engaged in the political Party of Slovak Revival. After the invasion of the Warsaw Pact troops in August 1968, Juraj was forced to immigrate to the USA, but later he returned back because of his family. He lost his job and thus he had to work as a manual worker in the printing office where he spent seven years. Under weird circumstances he got a job as a librarian at the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (VŠMU) in the late 1970s. However, only after the fall of communism he got his former position in the daily paper Ľud where he acted as an editor in chief since the year 1990.