RICHARD Moulton, third from the left, with members of his B-24 crew and a Slovak doctor during an air raid alert in 1944.
photo: Courtesy of Richard Moulton
As part of the anniversary's celebrations, veterans such as Richard Moulton, one of the first prisoners of war captured in Slovakia during World War II, and John Theodore Zebrowski, who found himself among the Slovak partisans after escaping his burning bomber, revisited the people and places of that time.
Others could make the trip back to Slovakia only on the paths of their memories. One is Eugene Hodge, a member of the US Air force. Another is Maria Gulovich, 83, an elementary school teacher recruited as a young woman by the Slovak underground and later by the US Office of Special Services (OSS). She was brought to the United States after the war and decorated at West Point by General William Donovan, who led the OSS during the war.
These witnesses of the Slovak uprising shared their stories with The Slovak Spectator.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): How did you find yourself in the Slovak National Uprising?
MOULTON with forest ranger Borko, one of his benefactors.
photo: Courtesy of Richard Moulton
Maria Gulovich (MG): During the summer of 1944 I was an underground courier. I travelled to Banská Bystrica, Bratislava, Trenčín, Martin to deliver messages or to pick up a suitcase or, on occasion, a parachutist to take him to a safe house.
John Theodore Zebrowski (JTZ): I was a co-pilot on a B-24 flying out of Italy and I was flying a mission to bomb the railroad yards just outside of Vienna, Austria on December 11, 1944. Our aircraft was hit by flak right after we dropped our bombs. We headed east and our aircraft caught fire and we had to evacuate the aircraft. I landed in the hills and trees just outside of Dobrá Voda. Two young girls came through the woods and they offered to help me. They were about 14 or 15 years old. One was Anna Chmelova. They went home to Dobrá Voda and brought me back a basket of food and directed me to Brezová, where the partisans were located.
SLOVAKIA's first POWs recover with some unorthodox medicine.
photo: Courtesy of Richard Moulton
TSS: Where exactly were you and when?
RM: We were in this camp under the guard of Slovak soldiers. Life was good and we were allowed to swim with the local people from Pezinok.
On August 29, the date of the Slovak National Uprising revolt in Banská Bystrica, the troops at our camp were ordered to release us to try to make the trip to Banská Bystrica as best we could. Of the 29 prisoners then at the camp, 19 were able to make the journey with only the aid of the Slovak people who assisted them. Four of us got only as far as the small village of Píla near Modra. The people of Píla and two forest rangers fed and hid us in a makeshift cave for two-and-a-half months.
We split up when we left the cave on November 11 and three of us were captured in Trnava on November 17, 1944. We were sent to Vienna and turned over to the Gestapo. I spent two months in prison there. While in the prison in Vienna, I did happen to meet a member of the Office of Strategic Services group captured in the mountains near Banská Bystrica.
JTZ: On the outskirts of Brezová, I was taken in by a family whose son was living in Chicago. They contacted the partisans and after a few days I was taken to one home after another until I was turned over to the partisans, who took me to their camp at U Kravdrikov. This was their main camp. This camp was overrun by 700 Nazis on January 6, 1945 one or two days after we left and went to another camp at Židovské and spent two or three days there and then to various families in and around Bukovec and Štverník. We were given guns and ammunition at the first camp and were taught how to take apart the guns, how to clean the guns, and also to shoot them to defend the camp.
TSS: Could you share with our readers any unusual or interesting stories linked to the SNP?
JTZ: The underground in Brezová. The Simek family hid me for a week. Their apartment was located directly above the German Headquarters. As I was confined to the apartment, we became bored and Vlasta Simek asked me if I wanted to go to the movies. I was worried, but she said I would dress up like a Slovak and just not talk to anyone. We made it to the movie and went upstairs to the balcony to sit and watch. Just before the movie started, three German officers came in and sat down about three or four rows below us. I was really nervous but we watched the entire movie (an American film) and waited until the German officers left and went back home.
TSS: What were your contacts with the Slovak population? Are you still maintaining any of them?
RM: I had many contacts with the great people of Slovakia and I owe my life to them. They took care of us at the risk of their lives as well as their families' lives. I returned to Píla in August 1948 to see my friends there. In 1998, I again returned to Modra and Píla. I had the opportunity to present a plaque to the Mayor of Modra giving thanks for all the aid given to us in 1944.
I was again in Modra in 2002 to visit and see old friends. Unfortunately most have died, as it was 58 years after our time there. I have a good and dear Slovak friend, Hans Taubinger of Modra, who found me in America and made my book happen. He was my translator while on my two visits to your country. He was four years old in 1944. He now lives in Germany near Munich.
JTZ: I met many families in Slovakia as they kept moving us around to avoid capture by the Germans who were looking for us. In late March of 1998 I returned to visit the families who helped us along with other crewmembers. We kept in contact with a number of the families for a number of years and we will be staying with the family of the young girl who first directed me to the partisans back on December 11, 1944. Štefan Jorík of Prietrž helped write a book about us during our stay in Slovakia before being captured by the Germans in late February of 1945.
EH: Since the war I have made two visits back to see these dear Slovak patriots. I have maintained contacts with several of my Slovak benefactors for many years, and I count them among my best friends.
TSS: Have the places in Slovakia that you have visited recently changed a lot? Have you noticed any major changes in Slovakia in general?
RM: Slovakia was not well treated by the Russians and I was very sad to see the country so poor in 1998. Things seem to be on the upgrade since 1993.
MG: In 1989 and 1994 I visited places where we were hiding and villages where people helped us. Places like Dolná Lehota, Mýto pod Ďumbierom, Polomka, Donovaly, Veľký Bok, and the rebuilt chalet where the OSS group was captured. The change was mainly that the trees got a lot taller. I did not stay long enough to notice any major changes: a new hotel in Banská Bystrica, road improvements, and better bus connections were things I noticed.
JTZ: We visited Slovakia in late March of 1998. We visited many of the places that we stayed at during 1944 - 1945. We failed to go to the crash site of our B-24 but we plan on going there during this stay. Some of the places in the countryside had changed very little in 1998 but some of the larger towns and cities grew in size and were very modernised, like Brezová and Senica.
TSS: What importance do you attribute to the Slovak National Uprising? Do US citizens know about it?
RM: The Slovak National Uprising revolt was a grand example of how much the Slovaks cared about freedom. It is very sad that it was in vain.
People in the USA know very little about your great country and nothing about the uprising. I have spoken many times to various groups in this country, including Czech and Slovak groups. It is too bad the vast majority of Americans know little of your country. Most think it is part of Yugoslavia.
MG: The uprising erased the image of Slovaks as devoted lackeys of Berlin. People who are of Slovak, Rusyn, and Czech origin know about the uprising - the rest don't!
JTZ: What is important is that Slovakia is a free country just like the US. The Slovak people deserve to be out from under the yoke of Russia. There are many Slovaks in this country - Chicago has a large Slovak population.
My neighbour, Stan Ponca, left Slovakia with his family during World War II, leaving his home saying he was going on a short vacation and eventually ended up in the US. His brother is still in Slovakia. Many others in the US are not aware that Slovakia exists but slowly and surely, as many of us spread the word about how great and good the people in Slovakia are, you see more stories about Slovakia in the newspaper, especially in Washington, DC newspapers.
A minority of US citizens are familiar with Slovakia but little by little the word is being spread and mention of Slovakia is becoming more common. Our local Syracuse paper will write up my visit, for example.
EH: I believe the Slovak uprising showed the world how brave citizens, even in a small country, can affect the outcome of a fight against tyranny. But sadly not many US citizens know much about it.
29. Aug 2004 at 0:00 | Robert Valjent