Angela Bajnoková: Every day I feared they would come for me

The story of the daughter of a Greek Catholic priest shows how consistent and evil the Communist regime was towards the people it labelled its enemies.

Angela BajnokováAngela Bajnoková (Source: Post Bellum archive)

Angela Bajnoková was born on October 29, 1928 in Valaškovce, a village in the Humenné district in eastern Slovakia. Her father, Roman Jankevič, hailed from the family of a railway engineer from Vilnius, Lithuania. During his childhood, his family, which he described to his daughter as wealthy, moved to Charbin in Manchuria, a region in China where he spent his youth. He later moved back to Europe.

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Roman’s life then derailed from the family traditions and he decided to embark on the vocation of a Greek Catholic priest. Angela does not know what motivated him, but says that he would hardly come to Slovakia if he did not study theology. During his studies he travelled to Rome where he got sick with malaria.

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“When he recovered from malaria, they sent him to Prešov, saying that the climate is similar to what he had been used to,” Angela says.

Roman met his wife Helena Mária while ice-skating with his classmates. She was the eighth child of a high-ranking Presov-based official, Karol Péky. They got married shortly before his consecration in Prešov in August 1927.

Angela was born one year later. In 1937, her native village of Valaškovce gave way to an eponymous military district, and its inhabitants were forced to resettle. Her family moved to Humenné in 1933, and later went on to Kobylnice, half-way from Presov to Stropkov. Here, her two younger brothers Roland and Alojz were born.

To be able to attend high school, Angela walked some 5 km every day to Giraltovce, through the forest. She made her way to school every day with four schoolmates, both in winter and rain. She blames her permanent problems with her feet on those walks in poor quality shoes.

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Wartime years of fear

During the war, older people used to listen to the radio in Kobylince and passed the news on to others. The biggest threats were expected mainly from the east. She still remembers “the great fear” of that time. As a schoolgirl, she was very sensitive about the threat that her relatives and other people could die. She also had four Jewish classmates in Giraltovce whom she remembers as smart students.

As their friend, the cruelty of the Holocaust hit her personally. “It was terrible. I don’t know how a person can do that to another person.”

Angela’s father was moved to Turciansky Svätý Martin (today Martin) during the war, to serve the Greek Catholics who were moved there.

For some time, Angela was divided from her family when she left for Prešov to study at the secondary boarding school there. She had just escaped the memorable bombing of the city shortly before Christmas 1944. She remembers that if her father had not come to take her away, she might not have survived the raid. As a young student, she couldn’t grasp the reason why war is waged: “How can people do such things, why are they fighting? I couldn’t understand that.”

She never returned to Prešov, and joined her family in Príbovce, in central Slovakia. In the end she finished her studies in Kláštor pod Znievom and in 1947, along with her mother, brothers, and grandmother, she moved to the town. They rarely saw their father, as he served in distant places, from 1950 in Vyšná Jadlová, north of Svidník.

Communist Coup and violent death of father

The February 1948 events dramatically changed the life of Angela and her family. After the coup, the authorities took strict steps against the Greek Catholic Church. The "Action P" put an end to the church in the state, and the priests were offered to convert to the Orthodox Christian religion.

Read also: Historian: After 1948, Czechoslovakia was paralysed with fear Read more 

Like most Greek Catholics, Roman Jankevič refused to convert and decided to take another job. He knew he was giving up the conflict-free relationship with the state and he was ready for repression. He trained as a tractor driver and in 1950 he got a job at a collective farm.

His only daughter Angela remembers that after her father was stripped of his priestly robes, hard work was supposed to transform him into an obedient member of socialist society. The whole family also dropped in social rank, living in a small rented flat. Angela seemingly escaped a bitter fate. She graduated from secondary school and started working at the education ministry in Bratislava.

“I did not even expect them to take me. They had many people like me there. I only filled out the application, and they took me immediately.”

Read also: How did Communism happen in Czechoslovakia? Read more 

At school she met the son of the school administrator, Jozef Bajnok. They lived in Bratislava, where Angela worked and Jozef studied chemistry. Unexpectedly, the persecution of her father in Turiec reached them in Bratislava. Jozef was one of the most gifted students in his class, but one of his classmates reported to the faculty that he was “going out with a priest’s daughter”. At first it seemed nobody would care. But after the summer holidays, the university refused to enrol him for the third year. He was forced to leave his studies and go to work.

The young couple returned to Turiec and married in September 1950 in Žilina. Angela found a job at the regional office in Žilina and Jozef was employed in Martin. They lived together in Martin.

In the meantime, the persecution of the tractor driver, Angela’s father, escalated. Just like when he was priest, again he could not spend much time with his family. As a driver he used to go to southern Slovakia for harvest in summer 1951.

On August 24, 1951, his superior forced him to go into inaccessible terrain in Vrícek on his tractor. The hill that he was to climb with the vehicle was hard to manage also for an experienced driver. Angela says that when he was in a dangerous spot, his superior “threw a stone in his back”.

Roman Jankevič’s tractor rolled over and he suffered serious injuries. He was taken home. He knew he wouldn’t make it to the hospital, and in great pain he died surrounded by his closest family. Angela remembers that her mother went to the place where the alleged accident took place. “She saw the place, it was a terrible hill.”

Angela never learned more details about the incident. At the time she was three months after the birth of her son Marian, and she couldn’t be close to her father. She remembers “I didn’t know what was going on, they didn’t tell me anything”.

Somewhat naturally, the authorities didn’t even insist on investigating the death of the enemy of socialist society: “Nobody interfered with it.” The question remains why the man did what he did. Even though Angela saw him later, she never took courage to address him or find out what happened on the day. She feared for her own life and her family: “I waited for when they would come for me and take me away.” That never happened, and her life continued.

Regime continued pushing

The Bajnoks remained living in Martin. After a first son, they also had a daughter, Ingrid. Angela named her after the famous Swedish actress, Ingrid Bergman. After her maternal leave, Angela got a job as an accountant in Martin.

In the mid-1960s the family moved to Banská Bystrica. The normalisation years after 1968 were cruel, and agile comrades did not need too much motivation to do their job. That was why Angela feared for herself and her family in Bystrica, too. “I expected them to come for me any day.”

Read also: Timeline: From the Prague Spring to occupation and normalisation Read more 

Banská Bystrica was a town where socialism found its place easily: “When I came to work in Bystrica, it made me very angry. What I saw here, I had not seen in Bratislava or anywhere else. Whoever was a party member was right. The red party membership books decided everything.” Angela’s young colleague reported that she “did not have a reliable origin and that she was from a priest’s family”. The superior however did not act against Angela, she only called her and told her to add some details in her CV that would silence her colleagues.

Angela thus made it to retirement age in the 1980s. Her husband died in 2000. Despite the wrongdoings she experienced, she has forgiven everyone.

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