“I was arrested on the 15th October 1960. What I thought about that, that’s a bit shocking. When the steel door closed behind me in Ruzyně I was thinking to myself: “Oh thank God I don’t have to worry about being locked up anymore.” So that was a relief for me in this regard. I knew from the age of fifteen that what I was doing wasn’t bad but I could still be prosecuted for it. That’s how they interpreted it, too, when they changed the church charge to a subversion of the state. And I was thinking: “We’ve never done any political activity!” They said: “We know that but you have to face the fact that we’re not letting you out.” ”
“I was trying to look like I wasn’t afraid, but I didn’t do too well. They needed you to break down. It was winter, really ugly winter, not enough food… They would write it, I would sign it. After these stories of mine they came back and said: “Well you really pissed on our backs didn’t you. You made it all up!” And I said: “Yeah.” So the second option was lost – the first had been to stay silent. But I wasn’t able to stay quiet it was an insane pressure, I thought I was going to go crazy. Then I got some relief. Then they were asking me how it all actually went. I was wondering how much they could’ve known. So I just stuttered, they pulled out a protocol and said: “Come on, I already have a statement on this from others.” So from what I glimpsed I went on to come up with more stories. I was really afraid that I would bring someone into a situation they wouldn’t have the thick skin for. I was thinking to myself, I don’t know who else is there with me. But I can’t cause him to wind up in a situation they can’t handle at the moment. So I just naively zig-zagged like a hunted rabbit.”
“And that’s where it happened, my world of faith fell apart completely. Suddenly – not because of some trouble – it just suddenly looked like nothing is real and I obviously had no idea how to deal with that. So I said to myself that I just needed to get used to it, that’s all there is. Fortunately the situation improved again after a couple of days. And since then I have believed in a very different way. I didn’t believe different things, I just believed differently. Since that time I have alienated myself from formalism which is justified in many ways. Forms are not useless. Sometimes forms are all that keeps your head above the water during a crisis. But I believe that formalism has always caused more damage than good over the course of history.”
The interrogation methods were supposed to make me lose my mind
Jan Konzal was born on the 5th of May 1935 in Třebonice (today’s Zbuzany) u Prahy as the fifth child out of six into a Christian family. His father, an accountant, died of asthma two years after the war so his mother took care of the family. From the age of eight to twelve he was at a boarding school for altar boys in Svatá Hora. In April 1950, during the persecution of monasteries and male monastic orders, he managed to avoid being forced into a labour camp in Králíky thanks to his seemingly young age. His brothers, however, did not escape forced labour. He studied at a gymnasium and later ČVUT, graduating in 1958. From the age of 17 to 25 he organized secret reading sessions for his peers, frequented a monastery choir, and educated himself in theology. He wanted to become a priest. In October 1960 he was arrested and put under investigation in Ruzyně for his Christian activism. The interrogation methods used caused him to lose memory and the interrogations had to be interrupted. He was sentenced to three years in prison for alleged subversion of the state. Following his release in 1963, he continued in his secret activities and education, and he enrolled in a distance theology programme in East Germany. He got married in 1968. In 1972 he was secretly ordained a priest, ten years later he became a bishop. His underground church activities included mainly work in eastern Slovakia. Jan Konzal went through several jobs - he worked as a manual worker in a Tatra factory and Armabeton, as a project designer at the Institute of Scenography, and as a researcher at the Institute of Electrical Engineering. He refused to be ordained a priest again after the revolution so he is not included in the Catholic bishop registry and officially doesn’t work as a bishop or a priest anymore. He dedicates his time to people excluded from the church and publishing work for the Getsemany magazine.