Lieutenant Colonel (ret.) Ivan Vasko
* 1928 †︎ 2013
“I'm Ivan Vasko, I was born on April 9, 1928. I come from the village Palota, the district Medzilaborce then, it is in East Slovakia. It is about two or three kilometers from Lubkovský Pass. It means that it is the only railway to Poland and it is about eight kilometers from Lubkovský Pass as the crow flies. My nationality is Ruthenian. By the way, when my father joined up in Brno in 1925 he had to go to a course for the illiterate and he finally made a corporal. He joined up as an auxiliary guard in 1938, as a financial guard auxiliary because the Polish were stealing our finance. I was ten years old. He held a gun like this and he said: 'Ivan, I'm going to defend the Republic.' A common Ruthenian, a common peasant. ' You, Ivan, are the eldest here. Look after Mum and help her.' We were brought up a little bit this way.”
“I remember how we moved on and all of a sudden the Germans turned up. Suddenly a few red signal rockets fell and firing started. We hid in some room for the 20 minutes. You are waiting for twenty minutes when it collapses above you. Can you imagine that? It was falling all around us. My knees started trembling and a guy had to calm me down. I have had heart troubles since then. The bypasses are perhaps different, simply the nerves when I got anxious... it was one thing.”
“The Soviet Army approached the Carpathians at the end of September. The Germans burnt the whole village down. They went from house to house, there were wooden houses and they burnt the whole village down. They even cut the whole hill down so that they could see what was going on. Who was extinguishing the fire, he or she was shot dead. I was out at grass with grazing cows and we were waiting because we expected that the Russians would be with us by morning. But they didn't come. We moved to the forest. We spent three weeks on the German side of the front so both the Russians and the Germans were shooting over us. They were in firing position on the hill so a hissing firing grenade that didn't explode... We got used to it. We couldn't make a fire because when the Russians saw some fire they shot right away (it was in September). Then came a German commander (major) with an interpreter to tell us we had to leave while there were going to be tough fights. So we were evacuated to the village Vinné at Michalovce, it is where Zemplinská šírava is. The Germans were assaulted by partisans from the Vihorlat Mountains. They burnt Vinné down, they shot some people and we were in the forest. We managed to take one horse, the other one ran away. Our cows were probably taken by the Germans so we had no more to eat. So we cooked for the past few days, we still had a little wheat and a goat left. We killed the goat and cooked it with the wheat. We were evacuated so the village had the duty to look after us. When the Germans assaulted us, we were in the wood. My father went to look for the horse and he and two more peasants were caught by some members of Vlasov Army. They said they were partisans. My father was taken to concentration camp and he returned only after the war about a fortnight before I did. My stepmother was telling me off that I didn't watch the horse properly. So I said: 'I will not be here.' The Russians came on November 18 and they liberated the village.”
“The artillery commander was firing and I was the loader. There were two Uzbeks with me in the gun crew and they were not even scratched within the past four years and they were not even able to describe the sights. There used to be such habits that there were two at the cannon and the others were having a rest in the house. When the Germans assaulted us, the one that knew how and I rushed to the sights and I shot. I was wounded... Then it gave me a terrible pain, the sergeant major bandaged me. He told me to go by wire. And just imagine as I went to the dressing station, German grenades were exploding in branches. I was wounded but I ran. I was afraid but at the same time I was worried not to look as a coward. The Russians called this 'trusk' ('fear.') I wasn't brave but it was such a split of a second. For example, we moved forwards with the little cannon and the infantry couldn't any further. Our men wanted to fire but all of a sudden a machine gun was firing at us. I saw there was a little tree in the way. Nobody wanted there so I took an axe and jumped in front of the little cannon. It was swishing around me and I was not behind the barrel yet and our men fired out already... When I realized that...”
“I remember, the end of war was suddenly announced. Cars started to drive and horrible shooting. Men started firing into the air for joy. We still met the Germans somewhere beyond Olomouc, it was sometime around the tenth or the eleventh and I moved on with the platoon commander. A German spotted me and followed me with his machine gun. I was dodging among the shots and the company commander shouted at me from his shelter to get to the ground. I hid there and as you can see, he didn't get me. He rushed to me and told me I was forbidden to... I asked him this and that and how to proceed next. I returned to the platoon commander and I found out in a minute that my wound renewed. It started hurting me. I was asked if I knew how to ride horses. We used to have horses at home, I knew how to ride so they gave me horses and a carriage. I ended the war with horses, carriage and the kitchen at Vysoké Mýto.”
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“Protect oneself, not to humiliate oneself in front of the Germans. Yes, live in Europe but advance one’s own interests and bring up to patriotism.”
The lieutenant colonel in retirement Ivan Vasko was born in the village Palota, the district Medzilaborce (East Slovakia) on April 9, 1928. Young Ivan joined Hlinka’s Youth. The former member of Hlinka’s Youth joined up reserve troops of the Soviet Army on Christmas Eve in 1944. He passed the end of the war in Vysoké Mýto where they were searching for werewolves (diversionists). Marching he got from Vysoké Mýto to Warsaw. The company commander had the soldiers mustered. By the mandate of the highest Soviet he was dismissed from the Red Army. He won distinctions for bravery. He joined up the Czechoslovak Army on October 1, 1945. He experienced bad bullying but the service with the Russians helped him. He graduated from NCO Officer College and subscribed to the Army for two years. He worked as a sergeant-major but Čepička ( the Minister of National Defence) degraded him to a private. He went to Hranice in the same year. He did not finish the military training in Prague due to pneumonia. He served as an auxiliary horse trainer in Hranice na Moravě. In 1961 he was transferred to Frenštát pod Radhoštěm, where he asked for his release from the Army. His request was granted and he started earning his living as a lathe-worker. Ivan Vasko passed away on October, the 9th, 2013.