A TRAGIC operation intended to crush religious life in communist Czechoslovakia took place 64 years ago, on the night of April 13. The ŠtB secret police, aided by local police, armed militias, as well as the army, raided monasteries across whole the country. In the Slovak half 881 monks from 11 orders were detained.

“An operation of such extent, involving all security forces, was among the most brutal and resolute, not only in Czechoslovakia, but in the whole of central Europe,” historian František Neupauer told the SITA newswire. This raid was called “Operation K – Kláštory” (i.e. monasteries).

A second operation followed in August, this time directed at convents, called “Operation R – Rehoľníčky” (Nuns).

Both operations saw many monks and nuns sent to forced labour camps called PTPs. After sham court trials, they spent years behind bars.

“Ladislav Lencz, who was then a novice in a Jesuit monastery, told me that it was a deep interference into their personal lives,” Neupauer said. “Instead of studying, he worked in a PTP, but his friend who was an Austrian citizen was allowed to leave the country, and later became a rector of a Tokyo university, which Lencz and hundreds of others were not allowed to.”

Neupauer quoted father Andrej Konc as saying that the older monks suffered the most: “The older friars died one after another.” The expulsion from monasteries, hunger, the cold and cruel treatment caused their untimely deaths, without them being registered as fatal victims of the communist regime.

We cannot forget ordinary people and their sacrifices either, Neupauer stressed. Emma Olbrichová, who hid Jews during the Second World War, helped priests during communism. The regime sentenced and brutally tortured her to death.

In the vicinity of Podolínec, the regime exacted harsh revenge on believers who protested the friars’ imprisonment. “My husband was beaten with a bludgeon on his feet until the hard skin started to peel off,” a woman from Vyšné Ružbachy recalls. “In the nights, I used to bring him on a wheelbarrow to a Jewish doctor who healed his wounds.”

April 13 has become the Day of the Unfairly Prosecuted. “The focus is not only on the historical event, but also on those who experienced, or are experiencing, injustice; be it in Slovakia or abroad,” Neupauer concluded for SITA.