Roman Scholtz, born 1934
Roman Scholtz was born in Kežmarok in northern Slovakia in 1934. His father, Ludwig, studied the craft of cabinet-making and was a manager of a cabinet shop. His mother, Adele, worked as a weaver in a factory, and the family lived in factory housing. Roman had one older brother, Ewald. When Roman was eight years old, his family moved to Poprad where Roman’s father opened an auto repair shop with relatives. Roman says that the first years of WWII passed fairly peacefully for his family, until the Slovak Uprising began in August 1944. The partisans quietly took over Poprad and were fought back in Kežmarok, and Roman has memories of seeing the effects of the fighting. His brother, a member of the Slovak Army, was conscripted into the German Army, and it would be several years before Roman saw his brother again. Roman himself spent a few months with relatives near the Moravian border. In January 1945, his family’s equipment and machinery was appropriated for the German war effort. Told they could stay with their possessions, Roman and his family traveled to Jablonec nad Nisou and Jičín in Bohemia before returning home to Poprad at the end of the War. Immediately after returning, Roman’s father was sent to a detention camp for ethnic Germans while Roman and his mother secretly traveled to Kežmarok and stayed with his grandparents. Roman returned to school for one year and then, in July 1946, he and his mother were arrested and sent to a detention center. They reunited with his father and were deported to Germany in September 1946.
For a short time, Roman and his family lived in a refugee camp. They were then sent to live with a German family. Roman attended school and worked at a golf course where he caddied for American soldiers. His father worked in construction. In 1950, they sailed to New York and took a train to Cleveland where several of Roman’s family members had settled decades earlier. Roman’s father worked as a carpenter and his mother found a job as a cleaning lady. They bought a house in Cleveland six months after arriving. Roman graduated from high school in 1952 and attended Ohio University where he studied engineering. He also received a degree in architecture from Case Western Reserve University. In 1971, Roman opened his own architecture firm. Although he visits Slovakia often and raised his children to be aware of their heritage, he says that he and his family ‘took roots’ in the United States and were very proud to become American citizens. Today he lives in Davenport, Iowa, with his wife Mary.
Roman grew up in Kežmarok, where his family lived in factory-provided housing
“Life on the kolonie was absolutely wonderful. Everybody lived very sparsely, as most Europeans. We had an entry area and a little storage room. We had a kitchen which was a kitchen, dining, and living area, and a bedroom area, and that was it. Outhouses on the outside. They were attached on one side, and the storage unit on the other side, of this four-plex. There were little gardens in the back and everybody could have a vegetable garden. This whole thing consisted of maybe 80 apartments that were there and in the middle was the common area which contained a social hall and laundry. Although, the washing of clothing was done in what was called the White River next door. That’s where the washing occurred and the rinsing occurred. The water came right out of the mountains, thus it was pure. Then everything was hung to dry and then after that they had a big thing like a mangle [ringer], and that was like a huge trough with stones in it, and they rolled this over the sheets to straighten them out a little bit, iron them, basically. That’s how people existed. We had close friends next door to where we lived. My mother was a weaver. And all this happened because my grandfather, my mother’s father, was a foreman in that factory.”
Roman says that WWII passed fairly peacefully for his family until the onset of the Slovak Uprising in 1944
“They were informed that the next day all the hunters and everybody should come to the military barracks on the east side of town – we had two military establishments, an Air Force and a military – and bring their weapons so they could train to resist the Russian advance, and they would be told what to do and how to do it. So my dad and uncle, of course they went there, and by noon of that day I thought ‘Well, I’ll just go and check and see what’s happening,’ so I took a bicycle and rode out to that camp and I saw them, behind the camp fence, and they were just milling about and doing nothing, and it was boring, so I got back on my bike and biked back home.
“Well, as I was biking home – we lived on the street called Liptauerstrasse, Liptovská ulica – what happened is, I looked up and, about a quarter mile or so, maybe more, away, I saw trucks with all kinds of red flags on top, and I rushed home, right inside the door and I told my mom ‘There’s something not right.’ So then we went into a room that faced the street and we watched and then suddenly these people were all walking by with machine guns drawn, and the front guy had a whistle in his mouth, and red banners. Well, these were the partisans who were taking over the town. They had made an arrangement with the military to peacefully take over the town. All the men with guns were in the camp, so they didn’t have anybody to fight, and that’s how it was. That’s how all the peaceful times then ended. Because what happened then is, the next day, the partisans then tried to take over my hometown [Kežmarok]. These people had heard what had happened in Poprad. In Kežmarok, they had gotten ready, taken over the military, and, with the military’s help, had prepared for the partisans and actually fended them off.
“One of my experiences as a young kid: We had, besides repairing trucks, cars and vulcanizing tires – that’s what my father’s responsibility was – we also had gas pumps outside for regular gas. The second day, after the attacked Kežmarok, one of those tanks came back to the pump station to fill up with gas again, and there was part of a body still on the tank. Somebody had been hit. They didn’t even remove and clean; they pulled it just like that with that on it, so… horrific sights for a kid to be seeing.”
Uprooted towards the end of the War, when Roman and his family returned home, his father was arrested
“We got to Poprad and then we stayed with our neighbors, the Lubajs, and the Lubajs took us in. Of course, people knew my dad as we walked from the train station to our home and, then next day, it was very in common in Europe to have to go to the city hall and to sign papers saying ‘I’m now a resident back here.’ So my dad, having been seen, he went there and was immediately put into detention camp. The Germanic people and Hungarians were all put in detention camps. At night, my neighbors knew this was happening and they arranged for us, overnight, to go to Kežmarok on foot – which was like nine miles – to my grandparents’. So we got to my grandparents’ house and we stayed from June until the end of September inside, so nobody would know where we are hiding.”
One year later, Roman and his mother were arrested as well
“In the end of July, 1946, on a Sunday morning, the state police came and arrested my mother and my grandparents and took them to the initial camp, a castle in Kežmarok, and that’s where we were, in a castle. My mother had a nervous breakdown there. But things were so badly managed and there was so much disorganization. We were arrested in the morning and there were maybe 100 people or so in this initial detention area. I noticed that by afternoon some of the friends, Slovaks, would come to the gates and try to communicate – this was so sudden and such a horrible thing – and some guards would allow them to come between the two gate doors. They couldn’t arrest my grandmother because she was ill. She was in bed, so they left her there and took my grandfather. So I took my grandfather to the doors and when there was a little lapse of observation, I took him in between and ultimately I said to the guard ‘He’s just visiting.’ So they said ‘Ok’ and let my grandfather out. He got back home and was never re-arrested again, and so that’s how it was. My mother and I were then put on trucks and shipped to that military camp in Poprad, where my dad and uncle went with their guns and all that, and that was a big detention camp then for Germanic and Hungarian people. And from there, then we were shipped out to Germany, in September of 1946.”
Although Roman’s family had been deported to Germany, they knew they did not want to live there long term
“We weren’t really welcome. We were intruders. These people suddenly were asked to take in people that they had never seen before. It’s like you having to take people into your home that you didn’t know, didn’t relate to at all. You were forced to do it. So that wasn’t all that pleasant. And not that they were so unpleasant. They tried to help, but they themselves were… Think about it, 1946 wasn’t all that pleasant. People were on rationing cards. We had milk that you could see through and bread was rationed, margarine was rationed. Everything was rationed. The nutritional conditions were very poor. In 1946 in the winter, I would go to adjacent villages, to the farmers, and ask for a little flour. They’d take a soup spoon of flour and put it in your bag and then you’d go to the next one and he’d put in a soup spoon of flour, and that was it. It was very, very bad. You had to beg for food. That next fall, in 1947, you’d volunteer to work for farmers for food. We would pick potatoes, for instance, and it was all manual, and then you could have a little potatoes afterwards. So things weren’t all that pleasant.”
Roman talks about making money while living in Germany
“I also worked on a golf course caddying for American soldiers. They were allowed to play golf, and I got paid ten cigarettes for carrying the bag for nine holes or a package for eighteen holes, or five candy bars for nine holes and ten for eighteen holes. On the way home, every time we left the golf course, we’d stop at a little restaurant and there were people that would buy these things from us for the black market. I made more money than my dad did working by selling these American goodies to the black marketers.”
In 1950, Roman and his parents arrived in Cleveland. He says they were excited to become Americans
“To be American was really important, because America had done so much. After we left Slovakia, Czechoslovakia, and crossed the border, there was security and safety. The American zone offered you that kind of lifestyle. You felt safe and comfortable. You may not have had food enough because there was very little food available but, nevertheless, the food wasn’t as important as the freedom. You were secure. There was no uncertainty about your existence, having to worry about who would come and get you the next day or would you be in prison the next day. All that was gone. And then when you saw the luxury – the cigarettes they’d throw away, half candies eaten sometime – then you’d realize ‘Hey these people are really something. They’re wealthy. They’re what everybody’s trying to achieve.’ You kind of became proud to be an American. After losing all of that… Think about that. You lost your previous identity in a way, national identities. It’s important to be an American. My father was absolutely delighted to be an American, and my mother. So too my brother. We really became Americans. Not nationalists. We didn’t think America was always the best, the finest, the strongest. We didn’t need to be the most powerful. But we were good. And that’s important.”
Category: Oral History