Valentin Turansky (born Valent Turanský), 1938
Valentin Turansky was born in Stupava, Slovakia, in 1938. His father, Matuš, worked as a farmer, while his mother, Maria, stayed at home and raised Valentin and his seven siblings, of whom he was the oldest. In 1951, his father was arrested after refusing to incorporate his smallholding into the local co-operative farm. He spent six months in prison, and was then sentenced to a further six months of forced labor, which he spent working in a coal mine. Upon his release in 1952, the Turansky family decided to leave the country. They crossed the Slovak border – as part of a group of 15 people – into Austria. Valentin says the group hit a trip wire on their journey across the border, which detonated a large number of flares but, he says, there was no response from the border guards on duty, which he attributes to the large size of the group.
In Austria, the Turansky family stayed in a refugee camp in Wels for 18 months. Around the time his family immigrated to Australia in 1953, Valentin went to Belgium, where he attended college and gained a qualification in printmaking. A keen soccer player, Valentin played for an amateur team in Brussels upon finishing school and moving to the Belgian capital. He joined his family in Australia at the beginning of 1958 and became an Australian citizen in 1959. There, he started work at the Dunlop shoe factory. He subsequently returned to his trade and worked as a printer for the Cumberland Newspaper Group in Sydney. In 1963, Valentin traveled to America and settled in Chicago. He found a job in a print shop in the city’s Printers Row district. In 1965, he married his wife, Margaret.
Valentin became a U.S. citizen in 1968. He continued to play soccer for the city’s Slovak A.A. (Athletic Association) Soccer Club, which he says enjoyed a good deal of success at that time. Today, Valentin lives with his wife, Margaret, in Prospect Heights, Illinois.
Valentin remembers the last few years of WWII
“For us, it was rather peaceful; we didn’t have too much going on. Some parts of Slovakia had more of a ‘war’ going on, but we didn’t. Actually for us kids, it was a great time. We were running around, our parents were worried, ‘What is going to happen?’ you know, how to feed us, and clothe us, and so on. Us kids, we had a great time.
“My dad was actually in the army during the War. Slovakia at the time was also a republic, by itself. When the army was disbanded, and was caught by the Germans, he was sent to Germany to work on the farms as forced labor. They needed it; all the German men were in the army, so there was a shortage. So he did work in Germany until the end of the war. Then he came home.”
What sort of years was he away in Germany? One year at the end of the war, or a couple?
“I think it was the last year of the war. I remember him coming home; he got a hold of a bicycle somewhere and peddled home.”
Valentin’s father was pressured to give his land to a collective farm
“In 1950, they came to our village, or town. They wanted to start collective farms. My father was one of the bigger landowners. So they were pressing on him to become a member of the collective farm. He refused, so he ended up being in jail for six months. And then after six months, they sentenced him to a forced labor in a coal mine. It [the farm] was supporting us very nicely. We had no problem, and we also employed people during harvest. That was one of the things that they threw at us. You were an exploiter of the working class.
Well, I guess it started little by little. Then I guess the early ‘50s were the most brutal. The regime really took hold and completely dominated. You went with them or else and faced the consequences.”
Valentin remembers crossing the Slovak border into Austria
“We didn’t take the roads; we went through the fields, and the forest. We walked all night until we came to the border. We knew the border very well because we lived close by. So my dad and my uncle were watching the border guards for a few days to exactly where and when they crossed. And we came to the point where we saw them, they were crossing. And it was on the one at that time they didn’t have the mines yet. They mined the fields, and the one we escaped in had a wire with flares. And we also knew where the flares were so we came to those wires. And they slowly lowered them to the ground. And we walked between them one here and the other there. And my brother, who was only ten at the time, was dragging his feet and he kicked it and the flares went off. And then, night became like day. We were just a couple yards from the border. So we hit the ground and then took off for the border. We came to the border, and the border is divided by a river. We jumped in and crossed into Austria.”
What happened when the flares went off? Did the guards not react?
“We didn’t know. We just hit the ground and we didn’t know. Somebody thought they heard a dog. But later on, somebody else escaped from our hometown. And the captain of the border guard was living in their house. And they told the border guard and they said they saw them, they saw big groups but they didn’t want to engage.”
Valentin worked at Cumberland Newspapers in Sydney, Australia
“We had about 18 or 20 suburban newspapers. It was a nice job; actually, it was there where I met… Maybe the name Mr. Murdoch means something to you? [We were his] first acquisition, he was from South Australia, then he came to Sydney, and he bought our string of newspapers. He came to the shop, he talked to us, and I shook his hand. Then a few days later, he bought The Daily Mirror in Sydney. And then, of course, you know where he went from there…”
So, was he a good boss?
“We never saw him, except that one day when he came to introduce himself, so then he was gone!”
Valentin recalls his first trip back to Slovakia
“The first time I went back was after 15 years, because it was very difficult to go. You know, since we left illegally, you had to apply for a visa and you had to pay and exchange so much money and everybody was watching you. But yeah, we went back quite a few times.”
So the first time was 1967?
“Yes… It was quite an eye-opening experience. I remember growing up as a young boy. In my home town I would get out of the house and I would look the end of the village and I thought that was so far away. And when I came back, Oh my god! That’s like looking at the end of this block! I guess when you are young, and little, everything seems to be a big deal. Especially once you start traveling, and you are exposed to so much in the world, you don’t even realize.”
Had it changed? Or had it remarkably not changed?
“When we were back the first time, it didn’t change that much. It was not a very pleasant experience. It was still under communism, and people were afraid to talk, they would close the doors and put the radio on, and would talk to you so no one would hear you. It wasn’t a very pleasant experience. But it’s different now of course.”
Category: Chicago, Oral History