4 Nobody Is Who You Expect
Being in the Underground was stressful (surprisingly few water slides and ping pong tables in "the Underground"), and betrayal was always a worry. While small towns like Katarina's were relatively safe since everyone knew everyone else, in the bigger cities paranoia was rampant. Katarina went to college at the University in the city of Trencin, less than half an hour away. That meant she got to know some people well outside of her comfort zone. Rich, powerful folks -- who weren't always the '80s-style movie villains you might expect.
Going to school, this girl, Tanya, was there. Her dad was a mayor of a big town, so she was wealthy. We always wondered, though: Why would she come from 100 miles away just for school? She was even friends with this girl who was the girlfriend to a member of the Hlinka Guard. She, despite being rich, would go to the poor areas at night. We always wondered why she went there. It wasn't until after the war we found out why.
It turns out that after dark she would hide in an out building. She knew some nights the Germans would shoot dissenters in the isolated area (as there were trenches already dug there), then bulldoze them over. After they left, Tanya would try and find if anyone was alive. When she found someone, she would take them to a monastery with monks who had a signal to get her in. On her knees and elbows, she would drag them to the monastery. I don't know how many she would save, as sometimes she would go back three, four times a night. We did not expect a friend of a Nazi supporter or rich girl like her to do that.
Another time, while in class, the Germans came through for an inspection. It turns out Tanya had a gun. So she said, "I've started throwing up, please help me to the bathroom." She started to pretend to throw up, so the German officer opened the door for her to go into the bathroom. As soon as the door was closed, she opened up the bathroom window and hid the gun underneath the window between bricks. We just didn't know why she had a gun, if she needed to hide it, or if she wanted to appear to hide it.
via Katarina Urbanek
Katarina, top left in white dress. Tanya, bottom right in white shirt. Her Nazi supporter friend who later had her hair cut off, top row, third from left in black hair. Dean, center, bottom row, trying to kill the photographer with her mind.
3 Day-to-Day Life Continues, Even in the Midst of a Resistance
Since Slovakia took the protectorate route, the German military was not nearly as active there as it was in other countries. But the Nazis weren't exactly known for their impeccable respect of personal boundaries. They were probably up in everyone's grill regardless, right? Sometimes, sure, but it wasn't like in the movies, where Nazis were an omnipresent threat -- lurking in the markets, hiding behind park benches, popping up out of the sewers like fascist spring-snakes. There were dramatic, tragic moments here and there, but it's remarkable what you can adapt to in your day-to-day life.
To survive, we had to keep a low profile. You are not alone with the Underground, but you have to keep your cover. It was very hard. I had one cousin who was in real, deep Underground work. I don't know what they were doing, but one time they were trapped with important papers that were not to fall into German hands. So he took a grenade, pulled the pin and blew himself and the papers up.
To get to Trencin and the University, I would have to take the train. One guy about a year older than me who lived a couple houses down from my house would say (as we had to walk to the train), "Don't get up this morning," as that meant he or someone he knew had set explosives and the tracks would be blown up that morning. We avoided them, and they were, to his word, blown up.
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Most resisted in some way. Some just tripped soldiers while they were walking around. Others were childish, such as my grandfather's method. He owned a pipe shop in town, and German officers would buy pipes there. So, before selling a pipe, he would stick the pipes tip up a dog's backside out of view of the German officers, then sell it to them.
We also had secret codes, such as saying to a merchant you wanted to buy a certain spool of thread and having a certain response back, like, "I cannot sell you two. Check back next week," set up just in case. You just didn't know who was who in many situations.
You just didn't think about it. You lived it through. It was like bad weather. Like with the blown-up bridge in Trencin. Once the bridge was out for the train, the train would come near the blown-out area and we would walk through river and rubble and just take the train from the other side.
via Katarina Urbanek
Trencin, before the bridge was bombed by the Underground.
In occupied countries like Czech, they fought occupation all the time and would end up with no money, so they would sell the Nazis a working car. In Slovakia, we would sell them cars, but then we would put our sugar rations inside the gas tank so they would not work. Many countries just said no, and they were punished and they still had things taken away. Germans simply paid for it in Slovakia, and would then lose it.
via Katarina Urbanek
Our family's Skoda car, before it was sweetened.