Colonel (ret.) Štěpán Antonij

* 1922  †︎ unknown

  • „Then they started to transport us in the cattle cars in the direction of Stryj and Charkiv. A lot of people got sick on the way and fourteen died, we didn’t have water but they gave us salted herring. When we were thirsty, we licked at the icicles that were inside the cattle cars. That was the beginning of our glorious Gulag. They took us to Charkiv, the cold was terrible, there was about one and a half meters of fresh snow. We had to sit down on the ground and wait as they were counting us. But they kept being short of people as those who had died in that cattle car couldn’t report that they died and so they couldn’t get to the right number and we had to freeze there for about two hours.“

  • „We didn't expect that Subcarpathian Ruthenia would fall into their hands as most of our army members were from Subcarpathian Ruthenia. They made this congress; ceded Subcarpathian Ruthenia without our knowledge to the Soviet Union and that was it. Of these nationals, 17 000 of which crossed the border to the USSR, about 10 000 fought in the army for the liberation of our country. We were liberating our country but they didn’t even recognize us as rightful combatants. After the war we weren’t honored as fighters for Czechoslovakia at all. They told us we voluntarily left the country so we aren’t entitled to anything at all. So I’m very sad to speak about these things today, when we weren’t compensated in any way.”

  • „Then they put us into a huge room, we slept right on the floor like herring, we were about 150 people in a room as big as three rooms like this. We slept one next to the other like herring and where there was some free room left there was the “baraša”. That was a metal bucket which we used as our toilet. As there was so little space, people had to sleep above it as well and when someone needed to pee, for example, he had to climb down, put down the lid and then sit down again. After returning back to his place all of it lay to one side and they had to turn to the other side, they had to wake up. In the morning, when they carried out the bucket, they poured it out into such a broken hole in the ground and it would all run down to the lower room – we would all smell terribly.”

  • „I furthermore had an older brother Vasil, who was enthusiastic about communism, he was a spy. Although he fled to the Soviet Union, he wasn’t arrested, he just became their spy in Subcarpathian Ruthenia, and only later was he captured by the Hungarians. He was like at home at our place, I don’t know for sure, so they arrested him and transferred him to Germany, he was jailed for about three years somewhere in a German prison in Flossenburg. He came back and I told him not to go home. But he said no, they’re going to judge us as traitors and deport us to Siberia for betraying our family and for not coming home into our fatherland as true patriots, but staying in Czechoslovakia instead.“ Vasil Antonij tried to persuade his brother to return home but Mr Antonij was not to be persuaded. „He called me to the leading representative in Subcarpathian Ruthenia, to come and see him. And I asked: What am I going to do? He told me he would make me the militia chieftain. I replied: You know, even if you made me Marshal Stalin I wouldn’t want to be there.” “When my brother returned home from German imprisonment he needed some documents attested from his guerilla group. They asked for some papers so he went to Kiev to this guerilla group that gave them the orders what they should do on the territory of Czechoslovakia. But nobody was there, everyone had been deported somewhere to Siberia, no one of his friends was to be found. So he returned without having the papers certified and therefore they put him behind bars for ten years. So where I had spent three years, he stayed for ten years. After some time, he came back but after a while, about a year, he died. He was exhausted.”

  • „From there they took us after two or three months to a town called Izjum, about 80 – 100 km south of Charkiv, where we were tried in court. For illegal border crossing I was sentenced to 3 years forced-labor camp NKVD USSR.”

  • „They transported us then from Charkiv, somehow around Moscow – we didn’t even know because they kept it secret – in those cattle cars and took us to Arkhangelsk. In Arkhangelsk, they dumped us in a giant tent camp, where we were concentrated before being shipped on a boat called Svjaga to Pečorlag, the site of the construction of the railway from Kotlas to Vorkuta, which had about 1800 km. There they took us into a forest, about four days – I don’t even know because we were always in the dark. On this ship, it was always dark, day or night. The guardsmen were patrolling upstairs so that nobody would run away, but where would you run!? To the sea!? So they took us into this forest, pointed at a random place and said: “I vot zděs budět vaš dom” (“This is going to be your house”). This was where we would live. So they gave us a few crackers, dried pieces of bred from bags swarming with rats. So we were there.”

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    Olomouc, 22.03.2003

    (audio)
    duration: 39:34
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
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We fought for it to be the Czechoslovak Republic, and they conceived the Soviet land to expand, so they took what they needed. And we stayed here

Štěpán Antonij
Štěpán Antonij
photo: Pamět národa - Archiv

Štěpán Antonij was born and spent his youth in Subcarpathian Ruthenia. After the occupation of Subcarpathian Ruthenia by Hungary, Štěpán Antonij decided to leave the country and crossed the border to the Soviet Union, where, however, he was accused of espionage and sent to the Gulag. He spent three years in inhuman conditions constructing a railway from Kotlas to Vorkuta. In 1943, he joined the Czechoslovak army. At first, he was a typist and a clerk, later he was assigned to the signalmen. He was active in combat operations from Kiev to Dukla, where he was wounded and transferred to a hospital. After leaving the hospital, he returned to Slovakia, but wasn’t involved in combat operations anymore. He was conscription auditor. The end of the war caught him in Kroměříž. After the war he continued his service in the army untill 1968, when he was dismissed for disapproving of the occupation. After that he worked in a storehouse and later for the railways. He lives with his wife in Olomouc.