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August 9, 2022



Memory of the Roma: Mária Lendelová speaks about her life

3.2.2021 9:32
Mária Lendelová (PHOTO:  Memory of the Roma - Paměť Romů)
Mária Lendelová (PHOTO: Memory of the Roma - Paměť Romů)

As part of the Memory of the Roma (Paměť Romů) project, the testimony of Ms Mária Lendelová has been recorded by Jan Ort. The edited video of her recollections below is subtitled in both Czech and English, and a Romanes version of this article is at the end.

The project endeavors to map the life stories of the Romani people currently living on the territory of the Czech Republic and to present the history of the Romani people from the Second World War until today through their eyes. It is being implemented by ROMEA, o.p.s. with financial support from Bader Philanthropies.

Ms Lendelová's narrative develops here along three main lines: the events of the Second World War, personal events from her own life (her postwar migration to Bohemia for work, her life during socialism, and the Union of Gypsies-Roma, which lasted from 1969-1973), and her comparison of life here today with life in previous times, which runs throughout her recollections. Lendelová was born in January 1944 into the Romani musical family of Julius Harvan in the municipality of Telgárt in central Slovakia.

In the year of her birth, Telgárt and the surrounding municipalities had been cruelly marked by the harshest fighting of the Slovak National Uprising: practically the entire municipality lay in ashes (263 houses were burned down) and people were forced to flee. She associates her earliest memories with that evacuation in particular, although she only knows about it from having been told about the events later in life.


Almost everybody in her father's family was murdered at that time, while her nine-year-old brother died in an unfortunate accident during the war, and her own life was once in grave danger, all of which she knows about only from the stories later told her by her parents and brother, who saved her. Her own personal first memories begin with life after the war, when Telgárt was renamed Švermovo (a name it held from 1948-1990).

Ms Lendelová grew up in Švermovo and attended school there, although she admits she did so for irregularly for just two or three years:  "When I went to school, I would go for one week and then stay home all the next week." One of her teachers really liked her and would visit her at home to teach her.

She remembers the teacher telling her: "Marča, I can see you've got what it takes, you're a clever girl." Her teacher knew the child's mother was in a sanatorium with a lung disease and that the situation in the family was difficult.

Ms Lendelová's grandmother made colored lace at home in the evenings, the kind used to decorate national folk costumes, and walked into the village early each morning to sell it, while her father and his sons performed music at weddings, baptisms, and send-offs for young men doing their military service. They did their best to make money through these services, but they were impoverished just the same.

Things changed for the family in the 1950s, when her father began - like many Romani people from Slovakia - to look for work in the place where there was a lot of it in those days:  "When I was 14, 13, 12, the Roma would travel to Bohemia for work. The first to go from our family was my Dad - by himself. He looked for work and arranged accommodation:  'When I come with my family, I have to have a place to stay.' Well, then Dad came home and immediately said to us:  'Today we're packing up. The job is set, there's housing, so we're leaving.' We arrived in Bohemia and there was an apartment and furnishings here - we had three rooms! Mom and Dad went to work, she helped him, my brothers worked, and so they had money. Mom was happy that we had an apartment, she could go into town with Dad to buy what we needed, we lived satisfied lives. Dad worked in České Budějovice, Tábor, Soběslav, Pelhřimov, Pacov... he dug ditches there on land reclamation projects, they laid the drainage pipes so the water would be diverted. I went along to help him. I lined up the pipes on the slope and handed them down so he could put them in the canal he had dug. They fixed the angle of the sewers too. They did sloping, leveling the slopes from both sides. The water went past his waist and I remember he wore high fishing boots. I helped him with the leveling, there were little rakes and I dug with them in the mud he brought out of the stream."

She assesses her memories of Bohemia at that time as follows:  "We lived better here in Bohemia than back home." Despite this, she also has fond recollections of life in her native village - the gadje [non-Roma] liked them there, calling her father by his first name ("Ďulo") when they invited him to go perform for them.

That treatment is apparently why Julius Harvan's family never relocated to Bohemia permanently and regularly returned to Telgárt:  "During the summer we traveled to Bohemia for work and saved up money for the winter so we could afford firewood and food, because during the winter we were back home." In Bohemia they managed to make so much money that they began to build a new little house for themselves using their savings: "When I was older, Dad built the house. He bought cinderblocks and began construction. He never finished it, though. When he died, my brother, the older one - who had saved my life when I was a baby - finished the house and still lives there to this day."

A new period of her life began when she turned 16:  "By then I was in Bohemia with my brother and his wife. I met my sweetheart there because his family lived there, so from then on I was always in Bohemia. Then we lived together in Kamýk nad Vltavou, Slapy, and then I got pregnant, and first I had a little daughter. I lived with him three years and then he had to go for military service. By then I was expecting our second little girl."

During her husband's military service she lived for a year with his family and then spent a year with her own family until they could live independently:  "Once my husband came back from the military, to civilian life, we immediately found work at the JZD [Jednotné zemědělské družstvo - United Agricultural Cooperative] and we went to Tábor, Písek, Vožňany u Pacova. He rode horses there and I worked in the cowshed. The two of us were never without work, we've always had to go to work. We wanted to live better!"

Ms Lendelová lived with her husband until 1995, and her work was the main fulfillment of her life. "We worked, there was money, we had everything. That's the life I experienced. There's not a cowshed I wouldn't milk in," she says with a laugh.

During her last two years before retirement she worked 12-hour shifts at a power station. She also has fond memories of the brief two-year period when, at the end of the 1960s, she and her husband got involved with the activities of the Union of Gypsies-Roma.

"Back then we were already living here, in Lukavec, we had a big house, and the Union of Roma came. We were involved in the Union here in Litoměřice, my husband and I - because he worked as the chair. There was a curator there, that was a gadjo, Hladík, he really liked me - so I sang for him there. I would rehearse with a band, the Horváts, that was a cembalom (hammered dulcimer) band, and I sang for auditions, at the meetings. I was singing and life was more beautiful then. I performed with the band for two years - Ústí, Libochovice, Litoměřice, Roudnice, parties, birthday parties, but then I got pregnant again, so we stopped."

Her memories are not just about the band, but also about the main mission of the first Romani organization in Czechoslovakia:  "When that Union of Roma existed, everything was better, more joyful. Many Romani people joined it and everybody trusted each other. Today it's not like that anymore. The Roma organized contests - in singing, in boxing. The Union helped the Roma a lot. When a Romani person died, the Union of Roma would organize the funeral. Was somebody out of coal? Did he not have fuel for heating? They immediately bought coal for that Romani person so he wouldn't freeze. He had to work it off somehow, though. When there were volunteer work brigades, the Roma were not lazy. The Union distributed the invitations and the Roma flocked to them, they did what had to be done. It's not like that anymore now."

At many points of her narrative, Ms Lendelová compares her life during socialism with her life today. She frequently reiterates that "Nothing now is like it was before!"

When recalling her parents, she discusses how Romani people today buy alcohol and then have no money left over for food. Her parents couldn't read and couldn't sign their own names, but they knew how to handle money and how to save it.

"I'm not saying they didn't drink, but it had to be because somebody came to visit, they drank a bit, but just at home and not every day!" She then reflects on the poverty in which many Romani people have found themselves after 1989.

She has been able to follow this decline among her relatives in Slovakia above all:  "If there isn't enough money to meet one's needs, one can't live as one would like. There is no work in Slovakia, they just get welfare, but what is it, 1 400 crowns [EUR 54] a month? Terrible misery. In this country it's not like that."

Ms Lendelová does acknowledge that the situation is not so good in the Czech Republic either, though:  "There are poor people here, too, but why? If our Roma were wise, they wouldn't just drink wine and dumpster dive like homeless people. That did not exist under the communists, but now, when democracy has come? They say there's no work - but there is! One must look for work. If a person wants to do something, he'll find it."

This excellent storyteller accompanies her words with lively gestures and sometimes infectious laughter. Even when she is speaking about serious subjects, she finds moments to heartily laugh as she tells her story.

Her narration is enriched by another dimension, the equilibrium and wisdom she has gained from life. She wants to amuse her listener, to share her experiences, she wants her listener to feel good while listening, and she hopes her experiences have something to teach people.

This interview was conducted a year and a half ago, and in the meantime she has celebrated her 75th birthday. We belatedly wish her much health and happiness.


Sidiropulu Janků, K. 2015. Nikdy jsem nebyl podceňovanej. Ze slovenských osad do českých měst za prací. Poválečné vzpomínky. Brno: Masarykova univerzita.

Lhotka, P. 2009. Svaz Cikánů-Romů 1969–1973. Brno: MRK.

Pre brigadi pes o Roma ča hrňinenas

O vakeriben le Maria Lendelovo natočinde perdal o Leperiben le Romengeri o Jan Ort.

O vakeriben le Maria Lendelovo cirdelas pes andro trin liniji: so pes ačhiľa andro mariben, lakero dživipen (so sas pal o mariben, sar o Roma chudle te phirel pro Čechi te kerel buťi, o dživipen tel o socialismus the o Svazos le Romengero 1969–1973) the mek o averipena – sar pes dživelas čirla the sar adaďives. E romňi Maria uľiľa andro januaris 1944 andro romaňi lavutariko fameľija, o dad pes vičinelas o Julius Harvan u bešenas Telgartoste pro maškarutno Slovensko. Oda berš, so uľiľa, sas Telgartoste the andro gava pašes, jekhbaredar maribena, bo sas adaj o SNP: maj calo gav sas labardo (labonas 263 khera), o manuša mušinenas te denašel het. Andal e evakuacija hine jekhphureder leperibena, so e Maria Lendelovo predživelas a sar pal kada šunelas. Pal oda, kaj maj caľi lakere dadeskeri fajta has murdarďi, kaj andro mariben muľa the lakero eňaberšengero phraloro, bo khere pes ačhiľa bibacht, u mek pal oda, sar joj korkori šaj muľa, oda sa lake vakerenas e daj o dad, the o phral, so la zachraňinďa.

So e Mária Lendelovo korkori leperel, oda imar o dživipen pal o mariben, kana o Telgart chudňa nevo nav: o Švermovo (kavka pes vičinelas 1948–1990). Ta Švermovoste paľis barolas avri the phirelas tiš andre škola, kajča na buter sar trin berš u na sako ďives: „Andre škola phiravas kavka – jekh kurko džavas a aver kurko na džavas.“ Aľe e učiťeľka la th´avka rado dikhelas, phirelas pal late, kaj la sa te sikhavel khere. Phenelas avka: „Marčo, tu na sal diliňi. Me tuke dikhav andro šero.“ Joj džanelas, kaj e daj hiňi andre špitaľa, bo nasvaľi pro buke, u la famiľijake pes na dživel lokes. E baba raťi kerelas o farebna šňurki pro krojos u sig tosara džalas andro gav len te bikenkerel. O dad phirelas le čhavenca te bašavel – o bijava, o boňa, abo kana o regruti džanas ko slugadža. Choc the vareso avka zarodenas, th´avka has čore.

O aver dživipen avľa andro pendata berša, kana o dad chudelas – avka sar but Roma pal e Slovensko – te phirel pal o buťa pro Čechi, kaj akor buťa sas but: „Sar has mange 12–14, ta o Roma andro Čechi phirnas pro buťa. Andal amari famiľija peršo džalas pro Čechi mro dad korkoro, rakhelas buťi, vibavinlas peske o kher: ‚Prídem s rodinou, ať mám kde bývať.‘ No tak avlas khere o dad, phenlas amenge: ‚Adaďive pakinas, baľinas. Buťi hi, kher hi, ta džas het.‘ No avahas ando Čechi a adaj o kher vibavimen – kecivar has 3+1! E daj le dadeha phirlas po buťi, pomožinlas leske, o phrala kerenas, no má len has love. A e daj už has rado, hoj amen hin kher, imar džanas le dadeha te cinkerel ando foro, so kampelas, ta dživahas peske lačhes. O dad kerelas andro Český Budějovice, Tábor, Soběslav, Pelhřimov, Pacov… u kerelas vikopi, alebo drnažki – jarki kerenas po trubki, sar po paňi. A me phiravas pal o dad, leske tiž pomožinavas. Ov chanelas o jarki me leske davas o trubki andro vast, kaj te rakinel andre. Paľis tiš andro bare jarki virovňinenas o svahi. Džanav, hoj ajse ribarske čižmi les sas. Me plaňirka keravas – ola hrabički a oja čhik, so kernas avri andal o potoki, me ča kavka hrabinavas.“

So leperel pro Čechi akor, ta dikhel kada avka: „Kadaj feder has po Čechi, sar khere.“ Th ´avka rado leperel pro dživipen andre lengero gavoro – o gadže len odoj rado dikhenas, le dadeske phenenas leskere naveha („Ďulo“), kana les vičinenas, kaj te džal lenge te bašavel. Šaj hoj vaš oda e fameľija le Julius Harvaňiskeri na gejľa pro Čechi te bešel, aľe furt phirelas pale Telgartoste: „Ľinaje džahas pro Čechi te kerel, šetrinenas peske love pro jevend, kaj te avle len po kašta, po chaben, bo jevende has khere.“ Pro Čechi zarodenas ajci love, kaj mek ačhile buter lovore u o dad chudňa te ačhavel nevo kher: „Sar imar somas čhaj, miro dad peske postavinelas o kher. Cinďa peske kvadri u chudňa te ačhavel. Aľe na dokerďa már, sar muľa, ta miro phral, o phureder – oda, so man mek andre perňica zachraňinďa – jov les dokerďas a do akaňik odoj bešel.“

Nevo dživipnaskero koter la raňake Maria avľas, kana lake sas 16 berš: „Már somas le phraleha the leskera romňaha ando Čechi. Odoj prindžarďom le piraneha, bo odoj bešelas leskeri famiľija, ta odkanastar somas már pro Čechi furt. Paľis imar dživahas jekhetane – Kamýk nad Vltavou, Slapy, paľis ačhiľom khamňi, imar man has jekh čhajori. Trin berš leha dživavas a jou paľis gejľa pi vojna. Akor imar somas khamňi avra čhajoraha.“ Kana sas lakero murš ko slugadža, bešelas jekh berš ke leskeri fameľija u aver berš ke peskeri daj, u paľis imar ačhile korkore: „Sar miro rom avľa pal i vojna, ando civili, tak už arakhjam amen buťi ando JZD u gejľam paš o Tábor, Písek, Vožňany u Pacova. Odoj jou phirelas grajenca a me ando kravino. Amen dujdžene na samas bije buťi, musinahas te phirel andre buťi. Kamahas amen feder životo te avel!“ E Maria Lendelovo dživelas peskere romeha dži ko berš 1995 u e buťi oda has calo lengero dživipen: „Kerahas buťi, he love has the savoro has. Kajso dživipen me džiďiľom. Nane kravinos, so me na somas ando kravinos te dojinel,“ asal bare hangoha. Ča pro agor, kana imar maj džalas andro duchodos, mek duj berš kerelas buťi andre tovarňa pro taťipen, kerelas odoj ďivese abo raťi, dešuduj ori.

Rado leperel pro berša, kana has o Svazos le Romengero pro agor šovardešte berša, bo soduj džene le muršeha kodoj kerenas sar aktivisti: „Akor bešahas imar adaj, v Lukavci amen has baro kher, a avľa o Svazos le Romengero. A andre ada Svaz adaj Litoměřicende has společnosť me mire romeha – bo jov kerlas sar predsedas. U sas odoj o kuratoris – oda has gadžo, Hladík, ov man igen rado dikhelas – ta me lenge giľavavas. Phiravas andre kapela, cimbálovka o Horváthovci, te giľavel – pre zkuška, pre schuza. Giľavavas, o dživipen has imar ajso šukareder. La kapelaha vistupinavas duj berš, Ústi, Libochovici, Litoměřici, Roudňici, zabavi, narozeňini, aľe paľis somas pale khamňi, ta skončinďam.“ Na leperel aľe ča pre kapela, vakerel tiš pal oda, so sas andre adi organizacija Romengeri majbari buťi: „Kana sas oda Svaz Romů, sas imar feder, radostneder. Sas odoj pherdo Roma u paťanas jekh avreske. Oda imar adaďives na ekzistinel. O Roma kerenas the o suťeži – ando giľavipen, ando boksos. Džanenas Roma maškar peste te dovakerel, has schuze, pi schuza peske oslavinenas, dovakernas, so peske kampel, sar pe kampel, sako peskeri buťi kerlas lačhes. Oda Svazos vaš o Roma bi pomožinlas dost. Te varesavo Rom muľa, o Svaz Romů pomožinlas o pohrebo. Varekas na sas angara? Na has soha te labarel? Imar cinkernas angara ole Romes, te na faďinla. Aľe mušinelas varesavi buťi tiš te kerel. Te sas brigáda, tak o Roma na has leňive. O Svazos bičhaďa o pozvanki a o Roma hrňinenas, kerenas oda, so kampelas. Adaďives oda nane.“

Andre peskero vakeriben e Maria Lendelovo buterval leperel pro dživipen andro socialismus u so hin adaďives aver. Buterval phenel: „Nane oda imar sa, so sigeder!“ Kana vakerel pal peskeri daj o dad, phenel, sar adaďives o Roma cinkeren te pijel u nane len love pro chaben. E daj o dad na džanenas te genel, te irinel peskero nav, aľe džanenas te kerel le lovenca, sporinenas: „Te pijelas, ta ča hoj has naštěva, ta pijelas khere, aľe na sako ďives!“ Gondoľinel pal o čoripen, andre savo pejle but Roma pal o berš 1989. Kada dikhelas jekhbuter ke peskeri fameľija pre Slovensko: „Kana nane love ajci, sar kampel, našťi peske manuš dživel, sar kamel. Pre Slovensko buťa nena žadne, chuden ča e sociálka, aľe so oda ča 1 400 koruni čhoneste? Baro čoripen. Oda nane sar k´amende.“ Phenel, kaj aňi pro Čechi nane ča lačhes: „The adaj hin čoripen, aľe soske? Te avnas o manuša amare Romendar goďaver, na čak pijen o moľa, phiren po popelňici sar o bezdomovci. Kada vaš o komunismos na has. Aľe akanik, so avľa demokracie? O buťa hoj nane – aľe hi! Buťa ča kampel te rodel. Te manuš kamel te kerel buťi, arakhel peske.“

E Maria Lendelovo džanel igen šukares te vakerkerel u so phenel, sikhavel the le vastenca, varekana andr´oda asavkerel avka, hoj o manuša kamen te asal laha. Choč vakarel pal o pharipena, arakhel peske o momenti, kana šaj asavkerel le jilestar. Lakero vakeriben hin avka mek sa barvaleder – bo dikhas lakero dživipnaskero goďaveripen u sar džanel te thovel o jilo pro than. E Maria Lendelovo kamel, kaj te aven lošale ola džene, so la šunen, kamel len te del pesekero goďaveripen, kamel, kaj len te avel the lačhes, aľe tiš kaj o manuša latar lena lakere goďa. O vakeriben hin imar maj duj berš purano, na čirla la sas narodzeňini 75 berš. Ta vinšinas lake but bacht the sasťipen, choč na sig.

First published in Romano voďi magzine.

Lada Viková, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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