Ján Gadzo was born in Strážske, a small town in Eastern Slovakia, in 1949. Ján says that his family owned a successful farm and that they were one of the wealthiest families in town. When the farmland in his area was being collectivized, he remembers daily visits from government officials who tried to persuade his parents, Andrej and Anna, to sign the farm over to the local cooperative. Pressure was put on the family, says Ján, when they were forbidden from hiring any help to harvest their crops and had to hand over a large portion of their grain to the authorities. It was in 1964 that his parents eventually signed the farm over to the co-op. Ján says that thereupon his parents were unable to find desirable jobs and he and his siblings were not allowed to participate in extracurricular activities.
Ján studied engineering at trade school in Prešov, but after one year returned to Strážske where he attended school to become a mechanic. His uncle Mike Frajkor, who lived in the United States, provided him with goods such as clothing and building materials to sell on the black market. Because of his connections with the West and his outspoken views on communism, Ján says he was seen as ‘disruptive’ to the state. He was arrested on New Year’s Eve, 1967, because of his involvement in a fight, but was later cleared of all charges. Following the Warsaw Pact invasion in August 1968, Ján says he was forced to go into hiding after provoking Soviet soldiers. He made his way to the border where he was caught and sent back home. Upon the insistence of his father, Ján made another attempt to escape in November 1968 and this time was successful. He made his way to Vienna and was then sent to Traiskirchen refugee camp where he stayed for three months. His uncle Mike sponsored him to come to the United States, and he arrived in New York City in August 1969, a few days shy of his 20th birthday. In the United States he was also assisted by his uncle John Frajkor.
After working as a motorcycle mechanic for one year in New York City, Ján joined the U.S. Army and became an American citizen in 1971. By the time he left the army in 1974, he had attained the rank of corporal, an achievement of which he is especially proud. Ján then worked for a heating and ventilation company, a job which allowed him to travel throughout the United States. He met his wife, Jean, in 1976; they married the following year and moved to her native Minnesota in 1979. They have one son, Andrej, who is named after Ján’s father. Ján says he taught Andrej many Slovak traditions. Today, Ján owns Andrej’s European Pastry which makes and sells potica, a traditional Eastern European pastry. He lives with his wife Jean in Chisholm, Minnesota.
“And now these, we called them ‘agitators,’ they would come in your house in the morning and they sat in your living all day, and tried to persuade you to how it’s going to be for you to join the co-op. The hell it’s going to be good for me, my neighbors, three guys across the street, stand over there like this and then they send their mother or wife to our house to beg for the food. Don’t tell me, I learned this stuff when I was six years old. My brother and I were hiding under the bed; we were just little kids, and there are the two guys sitting all day, day in and day out, day in and day out. They were not succeeding. My ma knew what she had, and that was my uncle’s hard work, my grandpa’s hard work. But they kept coming, they kept coming.”
Signing Over Farm
“I was going home from school, and we had the speakers throughout the town, and the band started to play. And they said, ‘And now, we are sending this song to Andrej and Anna Gadzo for signing into the co-op.’ And I go, ‘No, no.’
“So, I get home. I’m asking all these questions, but I’m just a kid, ‘Shut up, be quiet.’ Well, as my mother wrote in that letter, they came in, they parked in front with the trucks, with the militia. They brought the papers in the house. ‘Sign the papers, or you’re never going to see this house again.’ And this is how we lost everything.”
Life After Lost Land
“He loved the land. He was good, I mean my dad was a good farmer. So he would plant, because there was a lot of acres. He would plant over there, and he had chicken and goats and he had sheep. He had everything over there. So now all these hierarchs, you know, the top people, they would kind of sneak over; ‘Hey Andy, whatcha got today?’ And my dad, he would butcher the chicken for him, or do the egg. You do what you got to do to survive. But he was good at that. And my dad was an awesome cook, so he would make those stews all the time. Outside, he had the camping [stove], and all the kids grew up with my dad’s cooking. He would just start it in the morning over there, and all the grandchildren grew up. So anyway, so that’s what kind of saved him.”
“So the packages are coming every week. Babushka, is something that old women wear. My uncle Mike would buy them in New York for ten cents, he would send them to us by hundreds. We had the network. Women would come in and take a hundred babushkas. Because everybody needed babushkas for morning, for evening, for church. All the women had five, ten, fifteen babushkas, and we had them. Plastic for the windows. I don’t what those plastics were, or why. My uncle used to go on Orchard Street, and again those packages are coming in, and the people would take the plastic and make curtains out of it. I mean, there was so much money coming in.”
“So I said to him, ‘When you guys get done working, say at 4:00, 5:00, your trucks sit over here, your drivers sit over here. I have work for you. These people are dying.’ There was no pick-up truck to be had in Strážske to haul something, except for the army deuce and a halves, and all these sat. He said, ‘Use it.’ I said, ‘You serious?’ He said, ‘Use it.’ And I was very honest and I said, ‘Well if I can make some money and raise some money, I want to donate some money from this process to that monorail. So that’s when I really went to town, big time. So I would say, ‘How many do you need?’ ‘Well, I need three loads.’ And I would just direct everybody, the drivers, and then collect the money, and of course, gave the drivers so much. This guy [the head engineer] didn’t need any, he had money and everything. So that went, oh man, I was 18 years old. My brother said ‘My brother was the king.’”
“Remember I told you one of these people who were at Stalingrad with him [Ján’s father]? Well, one of the guys made it to the KGB. He was a big shot. So when he’d seen that name, Gadžo, in a report – now I’m a nationalist – so he’d seen that name, Gadžo, and he remembered my dad. So he came over to our house. This is like 25 years after WWII, so this guy’s around 50 years old. In uncertain terms, he said to my father, ‘Tell your son he has to try to escape again or that will be the end of him.’”