Ján Košút

Ján Košút was born in 1926 in the village of Vígľaš (Detva district) as one of nine children in the family of a railway worker. He attended elementary school in the village before entering a grammar school in Zvolen in fifth grade. He never graduated, however. Following the start of the Slovak Uprising in autumn 1944 he was arrested without explanation by the insurgents and hauled off to a holding camp in Slovenská Ľupča. At the end of October 1944, as the uprising was on the verge of defeat, he and a number of other prisoners managed to escape from the camp.

Despite initial hesitation, he entered military service at the garrison in Zvolen, chiefly because he didn’t wish to be seen as a deserter. Though he had never undergone any military training, he entered the guard service. In the end his unit were sent to the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Aware that the inevitable end of the war was approaching, he and 12 friends defied German orders and set off home in groups. Ján Košút returned to Zvolenská Slatina on 6 April 1944. However, he found nobody there as the entire area had been evacuated due to approaching front.

On arrival, Ján reported to the national committee and for several days carried out auxiliary work for the Red Army. However, after he had been at home for 11 days a truck with two Soviet soldiers and a friend from training, Ondrej Bajnok, came for him. They asked whether he knew Bajnok and when he said he did they carried out a search of his home, arrested both and imprisoned them in Sliač. From there they were moved to Nové Město na Moravě, where they were investigated. Ján was forced to sign three times a report he did not understand. All three of them were tried by a military tribunal in mid-May 1945 and without their testimonies being read were convicted of diversion and aiding a foreign power. He was saved from the death penalty because his “crime” was characterised as not having been carried out.

In May 1945 he was placed on a sealed wagon bound for the Soviet Union. On the fifth day all the prisoners had water thrown over them as a preventative measure before continuing on the city of Iasi in north-eastern Romania. There they were shunted from wagon to wagon and sent on to Chernivtsi in Ukraine. Daily poor hygiene, hunger, cold and bad food took their toll on his health and he lost more than half of his original weight on the journey.

After a journey of roughly three weeks they brought him to a distribution camp because, like hundreds of thousands of other convicts, he was not being sent to prison for his unjust punishment but to do manual labour in the notorious Soviet Gulag. His first stop was the OLP 33 NKVD camp in Belichi in the Kiev Oblast, where he spent almost a year. He was later transferred to the Lukjanovka prison in Kiev, where he was kept in solitary confinement.

From there he was sent to another distribution camp, from which a large transport was organised to the Yagrinlag camp in the Arkhangelsk–Severodvinsk area in the north. The camp barracks were overcrowded but the prisoners were dying of hunger, cold and exhaustion so gradually became less full. High labour quotas were demanded at the camp and failure to fulfill them was met with accusations of sabotage. The prisoners included criminals of various types and the convicts were divided into groups, one of which served as an auxiliary force for the camp’s commanders.

Another station on Ján Košút’s miserable journey was the famous Ozerlag camp in Siberia which extends along the planned Baikal-Amur mainline, from Tayshet all the way to Bratsk. There prisoners found slightly better conditions – there was improved hygiene and order, the guards did not mete out physical punishment, stealing did not occur and a certain symbiosis was in place. As an invalid with a heart defect Ján was placed in the fourth category, which meant he was not allowed outside and worked inside the camp only. As a result, he was able to survive the harsh Siberian winter and there also received his release at last.

An amnesty was declared in the Soviet Union following Stalin’s death in 1953. Ján Košút was covered by it as he had been convicted of an unexecuted crime. On 16 June 1953 he was informed that he had been rehabilitated and would be repatriated to Czechoslovakia. Due to a negative cadre assessment he had trouble finding a full-time job. In the end he was taken on by the Chemical Technology Research Institute in Bratislava, where he worked until his retirement.

The story was processed by Post Bellum SK for the project Central European Map of the Gulag.


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