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Time Witnesses: A Slovakian Childhood

Marcela Smolková tells of life in a remote Slovakian village in wartime.

For more sories of civilian suffering as the result of wars please visit timewitnesses.org/

At the beginning of the second world war I was nine. I lived with my parents in a small sleepy village with no shops, school or even a church. We had to go to school to a neighbouring village three kilometres away on foot as there was no bus available then and after school we had to return along the same route.

In winter the road was not ploughed and we had to make our way in snow sometimes waist deep. We were all wet and our lady teacher dried our clothing by a timber fired stove. It was a single room school where pupils of all five grades were brought together. Our good teacher managed to run it very well. First grade kids were sitting in the first row of seats, the second grade ones behind them and so on. When the first grades were drawing, the second grades did an arithmetic test and the others were listening the secrets of grammar or geography. The next hour the roles were reversed. The younger kids benefited from this since we heard what the older kids were being taught and we learned together with them. At the end we sang and did physical exercise together. In winter we exercised inside, in summer outdoors in the schoolyard.

There was no school canteen, of course. During the break we ate sandwiches prepared by our mums; and there was no such luxury as a gymnasium - we had no word for such a thing. As it turned out later, there were many other unknown terms. Expressions such: war, camp, holocaust, meant nothing for us, at least not anything real. In my imagination war meant boys fighting with sticks and saying they were soldiers. Boys like playing soldiers but the years 1941 - 1945 when the German army came to our country were not a childs game, but hard, cruel reality.

During the war people disappeared from our lives and many failed to return. Some went abroad to fight, many of them joined the British Royal Air Force, some ended in jail. Young Slovaks were conscripted by the Germans and had to fight the "enemy" at the Russian front. Many young lives ended there. A young man, who later became my husband, spent two years in the Ukraine. As he said, his conscience was clear, he never used a weapon against the civil population, never killed anyone. He was able to see by his own eyes "the final solution of the Jewish question" in the Ukraine. And he heard a lot more from the survivors. When he saw Spielberg's movie on the holocaust describing the Weis families tragedy, my husband said: "It is all true, it happened that way."

The German-controlled local radio gave news from the front. At the beginning it was full of the victorious progress of the German army, later changed to "tactical withdrawal" which continued right to Berlin. The term "tactical withdrawal" is still unclear to me. It was high time that that horrible war ended. I still remember help packages arriving via UNRRA. Even today I remember the taste of milk powder I tasted the first time. The movement of young scouts was again revived. We learned to love nature and all beautiful new things. And so on and on. And the place is still with us and is it not wonderful!


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