Blog: Personal stories keep the history of totalitarian regimes in living memory

As we prepare to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of Communism, we think about freedom and democracy, the values that drove our society forward.

(Source: Courtesy of Post Bellum)

When František Vaczula was a child, he witnessed a rampage of members of the wartime Slovak state’s paramilitary organisation, Hlinka‘s Guard, in the streets of Bratislava. He came from a poor Hungarian family, but after what he saw, he feared speaking anything other than the Slovak language. The end of that totalitarian regime, however, did not improve his family's situation.

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In 1946, they were forced to move out of their home to Moravia. They were allowed to return in 1949, but only if they accepted the new, Slovak nationality. František´s father refused and was sent to the Jáchymov mines labour camp. František soon tried to flee the country but was arrested and sentenced to five months in prison. In 1950, as a subversive, he commenced his military service in a labour camp battalion for 31 months.

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Read also: N. Fürst: The man who survived three concentration camps and a death march Read more 

Experiences with totalitarian regimes like these are still alive in the family histories of Slovaks. Many people with first-hand experience still live among us. When we get to know their personal stories, we acquire a deeper human understanding of our country’s history.

The outburst of civil society in Slovakia in 2018 has often been compared to the Velvet Revolution in 1989. As we prepare to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of Communism in Czechoslovakia, we think about freedom and democracy, the values that drove our society forward in the defining moments of its 20th century history.

That is why Post Bellum SK decided to create an outdoor travelling exhibition that will present these stories to the public directly in the public space. The exhibition will consist of four watchtowers, each presenting excerpts of four stories of real people who survived both totalitarian regimes in our region during the 20th century.

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Lýdia Piovarcsyová, nee Steinerová, is one of them. She was born in Bratislava to a Jewish family, which owned a notable antiquarian bookshop. Most of her family died in concentration camps.

Successful Slovak actress Dalma Holanová-Špitzerová lived together with her parents and siblings in Liptovský Mikuláš. In March 1942, when the deportations started, her father convinced her and her two sisters to move to Budapest. However, they were caught. On August 29, 1944, she joined the Slovak National Uprising and worked at the press department of the partisan movement.

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

Nadežda Földváriová, a musicologist and wife of writer Kornel Földvári, experienced life in Czechoslovakia under normalisation in the 1970s. She was excluded from the Union of Slovak Composers, and she and her husband were banned from publishing texts. Only after the Velvet Revolution were they able to freely publish again.

These stories are just a part of the exhibition that will be presented in Slovakia in the coming weeks. A different version of it was already shown around Slovakia between 2015 and 2018. Post Bellum SK is now working to update the contents of the exhibition, to reflect the dictatorships of the 20th century through the stories of concrete people.

“At Post Bellum, we want Slovakia to get to know its heroes and heroines that pupils do not learn about at history lessons,” said the head of the organisation, Sandra Polovková.

If you find this activity meaningful, you can support the organisation through its crowdfunding campaign

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