Times Past

Man who inspired film to appear in SLO

Special to The TribuneJanuary 12, 2013 

Martin Friedmann-Petrasek and his brother and sisters had made a promise to their father at Martin’s bar mitzvah. They were all to gather in their home in Bánovce, Slovakia, in a year’s time.

The film “Broken Promise” (“Nedodrzeny slib”) is a true-to-life, award-winning 2009 Czech/Slovak film. Reviewers have favorably contrasted it with the fictional 2009 film directed by Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds.”

You may meet the hero of “Broken Promise,” Holocaust survivor Martin Friedmann-Petrasek, when it is shown as part of the Jewish Film Festival at the Palm Theater this afternoon at 1:30.

For a Jewish family in a pro-fascist nation in 1939, keeping the promise to their father was impossible. Martin understood that his father was unrealistic. He joined a soccer buddy at a labor camp. The unhealthy conditions lead to his contracting double pneumonia.

His illness was misdiagnosed as tuberculosis. Martin recovered sufficiently to be sent to a tuberculosis sanitarium in the High Tatra Mountains.

Hiding his Jewish identity wasn’t an easy task. He had to eat without regard to Jewish dietary laws. When women wanted to have sex, he had to find excuses, fearing that his circumcision would reveal his ethnicity.

Martin’s recovery from pneumonia was so complete that the sanitarium’s medical staff decided that he did not have tuberculosis. Martin, who had barely escaped being sent to Auschwitz earlier, had to move quickly.

Wandering the countryside, he found work as a laborer in a Russian Orthodox monastery. He adopted a Russianized name, Martin Petrasek, to avoid detection as a Jew. Martin soon joined the rural “partisan” guerrillas during the Slovak Uprising.

The Slovak partisans were attempting to overthrow the Nazi-collaborationist Slovak State led by Monsignor Jozef Tiso. They were all that remained of a Slovak National Uprising that began in the spring of 1944. The poorly-armed rebels were defeated by the German army with the aid of the Luftwaffe in the autumn of 1944. A remnant force continued to fight until the arrival of the Soviet Army in the early spring of 1945.

Martin survived the harsh final winter of the war in the mountains as a member of a Soviet-led guerrilla force. He discovered that both the Soviets and their Slovak followers were anti-Semites like the Germans.

The hypocrisy of the so-called Communists bothered him. At one point, the Soviet soldiers had their healthy front teeth extracted so that they could replace them with gold teeth. Martin was shocked by their confidence that this would assure them advancement in the Soviet Union, where “ordinary citizens” had stainless steel teeth.

At war’s end, Martin was reunited with his brother, Vilo. He returned to Bánovce, where he found another family had been living in their house.

At first, they denied him access to his family’s attic. He finally located a box containing family pictures and a faded yellow star.

Martin decided it was time to emigrate to Palestine.

Dan Krieger’s column is special to The Tribune. He is a professor emeritus of history at Cal Poly and past president of the California Mission Studies Association.

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