"On the train, we were placed in a regular compartment with wooden seats. We had spent 14 days sitting and sleeping on the floor. There were six of us there." - "What did you take along?" - "Food and whatever we could. My cousin brought tomatoes and I kept eating them up until there were none left. I don't know why. Bread, pots, grease, flour." - "Had your parents known where were you headed?" - "They were told we were going back to Slovakia where their ancestors used to live. But then they realized we kept going, mountains everywhere. My daddy said: 'See, I told you we were going to the mountains. It is all rocks, what will we do now?!' Then we ended up in Cheb [western Bohemia]. The first thing I recall is them giving us clothes and about 300 CZK per person. And they made us chicory coffee. We loved it so we kept coming for more. Back in Skejuše, we hadn't had such delicacies."
"We always thought we were Slovaks. But then it turned out that the area where our ancestors came from was Carpathian Ruthenia. In the end, Mr. Mušinka - an ethnologist - began visiting us and convinced us. He said: 'Come take a look, your names are written there. You are Ruthenes.' Ruthenes are further divided into Lemkos and Hutsuls and what not; supposedly, we are Lemkos." - "When did you find out?" - "We found out when the ethnologist began visiting us. He came to my parents at around 1972." - "What did this revelation mean to you?" - "I belived it but the others were not so sure. They told me: 'We are Slovaks; our papers say so.' But as soon as we began visiting the village of Kamianka, they found out it was true. Kamienka is the native village of my ancestors. Kamienka and Jarabina - that used to be part of Carpathian Ruthenia."
"As the Czechoslovak government was calling for its 'children' to return to homeland, my mum insisted on using this opportunity. She told my dad: 'If you want to stay, stay.' In the end, my dad agreed. They sold whatever they could but the house and fields stayed behind. We loaded our things in a train. Let me tell you that I saw the first car in my life while moving from Romania. They came to pick us up in trucks. It was the brand Avie. This was our first encounter with a car. They put us into a coach. The first ones who were leaving in 1947 rode on railway cars intended for cattle. They had straw there, and brought their duvets. Whole families with babies had spent 14 days on that train. So, when they arrived, they were freezing cold."
“May I ask you why your parents wanted to leave Romania and come here?”
“Well, they were not at home there. People were telling us: ´You are Slovaks, go to your Slovakia.´ But then we came here and they were telling us again: ´You are Romanians, go to Romania.´ Some people even used swear words. My parents were very angry because of this. For example in Moravia, in Troskotovice, they are still convinced that we are Romanians, even today. But we really have nothing in common with the Romanians!”
“Where is your home actually? You speak about Romania, Slovakia…”
“Here. Here. I spent less than eight years in Romania, seven and a half. I spent the following eight or nine years in Moravia, and since 1959 I have been living here in Chomutov.”
“Some things I remember…the journey took one week. We had a train, and there was a train compartment for us. There were two families in one compartment, the five of us, plus Máňa and the children, so all together there were eight of us. Beside that, there were separate carriages, where the most essential furniture was loaded. If people wanted, they could take their furniture with them, but not everybody owned some furniture, they didn’t have many things at that time. Things like food and other stuff were therefore loaded into these carriages. Some people then settled in Volary, in Chlum, some separated and remained in Cheb, and we went to live in Moravia – there is a tiny village called Troskotovice between Mikulov, Znojmo and Pohořelice. We went there, because my mom’s sister had already been living there.”
“Do you know why your parents wanted to come here?”
“They simply knew that they belonged here, that they belonged to Slovakia, and they wanted to go to Slovakia. But the Czech government had large depopulated areas after the Germans had been forcibly evicted. But we weren’t told where we would go, and my parents thought that they were going to Slovakia, but suddenly they ended up in Cheb. They have been deceived in this respect. But God be thanked for this. Sometimes when I pray, I thank God that he had given my parents this idea to leave. Because people there by no means live so well as we do here. They still live in the old-fashioned way there. They don’t wear the traditional folk costumes anymore, but they live like in the old times. Without bathrooms, without everything. They wash in a wash-basin, and it comes as a complete shock to our kids when they come there, and see that there is no bathroom where they could wash.”
Only in the 1970s did we learn that we were Ruthenes and not Slovaks
Kateřina Romaňáková, née Marťáková, was born on 21 January 1941 in the village of Skejuš (Scaius), Romania. Her ancestors moved there around 1850 from the village of Kamienka, which is now located in north-eastern Slovakia. She had six siblings but two died before coming of age. In 1941, her father joined the army, was taken captive in Stalingrad and only returned home in 1947. After WW II, Kateřina attended both a Slovak and a Romanian school in Skejuš. Life was hard there and the family hardly made a living from its farm. In 1949, they accepted the Czechoslovak government’s offer for resettlement. They should have headed to Slovakia but the train dropped them off in Cheb, western Bohemia. In the end, they and 15 other families settled in Troskotovice, south Moravia, where they were given a farm left behind by the expelled Austrians. Kateřina respected her father’s will and instead of studying, worked at the family farm since 16 years of age. In 1959, under communist pressure, they joined the Single Agricultural Cooperative. The same year, Kateřina moved to her sister’s in Chomutov. Lacking qualification, she struggled to find a job there. She worked in a restaurant and then 32 years as a crane operator. Despite being officially considered Slovaks, the family learned in the 1970s that they were originally Ruthene Lemkos. Marťákovi and other families from Skejuše managed to retain the Ruthene customs and language, which their ancestors brought to Romania 150 years ago. Kateřina Romaňáková bears her nationality with pride. She established a renowned Ruthene music ensemble Skejušan, which tours both domestic and European festivals.