Ján Novenko

* 1929  

  • “We were in Fiľakov, and we had to work at the Fiľakov plant, which produced things for soldiers, various things for the front. But I didn’t... simply, I started spoiling everything I could. Carefully, my brother taught me to watch out, that this was no joke. We made mines, and we drilled holes into the mines where the shells were to be placed. And it was enough to notch it a bit with a knife, and it didn’t work quite the way it was supposed to. But then someone snitched on me, so I was afraid, so my friends notified me. My collegue’s dad had rented a quarry near Fiľakov, about an hour’s walk away. But it was in the hills, forests all around, with plenty of hiding places and, mainly, a great view of the surrounding area. I worked in the quarry. Those were steep hills - not high, but steep. And I learnt to hand-drill the rock to prepare for blasting. And because I was so young and could run fast, I was tasked with the blast itself as well. But that meant I had access to explosives, fuses, and of course, those incendiary... And that was great for me. I managed - although it was kept under strict stock - I managed to hide some three pieces for the partisans. And then I found a building nearby where we could hide when it started to rain or something, you know, then we hade a safe place like that. It was enough to just hide it a bit, to dig up a little bit of sand.”

  • “Because it also happened, you know, twice in fact, that we had to intervene. [A woman] came and claimed she’d been raped, and so on. Well, she provoked him, you know, she’d embraced him and I don’t know what else, so you can imagine, and they gave him alcohol, so what could you expect... Then she found out he would be shot because the penalty was death, for these kind of things. In the army, I mean. In Czechoslovakia it was strictly forbidden under pain of death. [Q: Were you also witness to soldiers stealing things from people?] We were under very strict scrutiny, but don’t forget that the Second Ukrainian Front was called Ukrainian according to the region it traversed... but people were of all kinds there, and the army was made up of criminals, you know, and they were given the chance to redeem themselves by fighting well and behaving decently. But you know how it is. Look at all the things going on today – in a time of peace. And back then? It was war.”

  • “[Q: When you joined the front in Fiľakov, you received a uniform, but it was winter at the time. What did you wear? Did you have winter clothes as well? How did you sleep? How did wait out the bad weather?] Oh, we had all kinds of things, but we had to endure it all. Wherever we could, in houses - because it wasn’t just us. The Germans did it, the Hungarians did it - all soldiers did. In fact, often enough they’d chase the people out of their beds and lie down in their place. Well, and because there were also various people who fled from the front and so on, lots of places were louse-ridden, and so our people were sometimes afraid to even lie in the beds, so they often [didn’t]... And as for bed covers, well first off, winter cloaks, right, and a fire, if there was fuel to burn. My staff sergeant, who’s with me on the photo here, he had to look after me. As for weapons, I had a revolver, with a cylinder, like that, then I had an automatic, and then I got a rifle, which was pretty light, long-ranged, and even had a scope. And depending on where we went, I asked what I should take with me. As for my civilian clothes, those were all packed up, and we were assigned two or three wagons with horses and coachmen, where our things were stored. But we also had a lorry, but that was for other cargo. Those were things we needed to have at our direct disposal. And I was even told, when the Germans counter-attacked, I was told: ‘Ivan, if by any chance [the Germans got through - trans.], there are various documents in this vehicle, it also has a fuel tank, so just set fire to the whole thing and make sure it burns up.’ Otherwise, like I said, they considered me an eighteen-year-old, and when they found out I wasn’t, he said: ‘Don’t blab it out to anyone!’ I can’t even remember how it was, in what way, if it was in a letter from my dad, where he noted something with regard to ‘your young age’. I received the letter in Slovakia. All the letters were checked. I wrote home too, and then a friend helped me write so there wouldn’t be things there that weren’t allowed... our location. That wasn’t just us, that was on every front... the letters... because that was secret information.”

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Look at all the things going on today – and that’s in a time of peace

Ján Novenko at the end of the war, may 1945
Ján Novenko at the end of the war, may 1945
zdroj: archiv pamětníka

Ján Novenko was born on 5 August 1929 in the settlement of Kurtáň near Fiľakov in southern Slovakia; his father was a Russian soldier. In 1937 he enrolled at a Slovak school that was closed immediately after the occupation. In 1938 he started attending a Hungarian school. Schools were closed down in spring 1944, and the witness was sent to work in a German factory and later in a quarry. In 1944 his father joined the resistance movement, he helped partisans and observed the events of the Slovak National Revolt and the arrival of Vlasov‘s Army. When the front passed through their region in late 1944, Ján Novenko joined the Red Army and functioned as a member of the Smersh counter-intelligence group. He participated in the Bratislava-Břeclav operation, he helped liberate Lanžhot, Hustopeč, and other places. In June 1945 he was released from the army; he returned to Slovakia, where he found employment while continuing his studies. In 1947 and 1948 he took part in the Democratic Youth Congress and Agricultural Exposition in Prague as a member of a folk dance troupe. He applied successfully to the Folk Dance Group and moved to Bohemia. In 1950 he married the singer Věra Novenková. His wife gave birth to their three children between the years 1952 and 1962. In 1963 Ján Novenko graduated from choreography at the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague and became a popular and respected choreographer. He collaborated with many dance troupes. In the 1970s he met Jan Kobzík, a doctor and the founder of the dance group Břeclavan. In the year 2000 he and his wife moved in with their daughter in Moravská Nová Ves near Břeclav, where they live to this day.