My name is Tara Burgett, I am an independent researcher and archivist, and the author of this blog dedicated to Vladimir “Vlado” Fabry. My husband, Victor, is the nephew of Vlado, the only child of Vlado’s sister, Olinka. When Olinka passed away in 2009, we discovered a trove of papers and photos stuffed in old suitcases in the house in New York; recognizing their importance, we packed them up and brought them to Washington state, and since then I have made it my mission to share the family story with the world.
“Sheila considered her time in New York to be some of the happiest days of her life. She roomed with her dearest friend, a gorgeous Czechoslovakian socialite named Desa Pavlu. The two of them must have left a trail of broken hearts throughout Manhattan. Sheila had a proposal of marriage from a young man named Arthur Gilkey. She declined, and shortly thereafter, he perished while ascending K2. Sheila was also courted by a chap named Vladimir “Vlado” Fabry. Vlado died with Dag Hammerskjold[sic] in The Congo[sic]. It seems that Vlado may have been connected with the CIA. Sheila said she could never see herself marrying Vlado because of his “very round bottom”.”
The more time I spent reading and translating the letters and documents, the more I realized how important it was that I speak up for Vlado and his family. The Fabry family were the targets of intentional and malicious slander, in revenge for their fierce resistance to both Nazi and communist invasions of Czechoslovakia, and sharing their archive has been my way of setting the record straight.
Vlado studied Law and Political Science at Comenius University in Bratislava, following in the footsteps of his father, Pavel Fabry, who was also a lawyer. Before joining the United Nations Legal Department in 1946, Vlado served as Personal Secretary to the Minister of Commerce in Prague. Vlado and his father were both very romantic and unconventional characters, who loved music, poetry, travel, and all kinds of adventure; they were not afraid to stand up for their beliefs, even in the face of danger and threats of death.
After the communist coup d’etat in 1948, the whole family were forced to flee Czechoslovakia, and lived as political refugees in Switzerland. Vlado was often on the move, working for the UN in many countries, including New Zealand, Indonesia, Ghana, Egypt, and Congo, but he would stay with his parents in Geneva whenever he was on leave, at 14 Chemin Thury.
Vlado was loved by many of his colleagues at the UN, for his kindness and hospitality, and for his enthusiasm for skiing, mountain climbing, as well as his intellect and charm.
I could say more about his personality, but I feel the letters Vlado left behind, and the letters of his friends and family who knew him, say it best. He was an example of courage that anyone who knew him tried to follow, and is an inspiration to me, personally.
My husband Victor is the nephew of Vlado Fabry, the only child of Vlado’s sister Olinka. When Olinka passed away in 2009, we discovered a trove of papers and photos stuffed in old suitcases in the house in New York; we packed them up and brought them to Washington state, and since then I have made it my mission to share the family story with the world. The photo above shows one of these suitcases, which was originally owned by Ivan S. Kerno – Slovak lawyer and family friend, who was Assistant to Secretary-General Trygve Lie and was head of the United Nations Legal Department. We have many letters from Ivan Kerno, but here is one from Garden City, Long Island, New York, from 1946, the year Vlado joined the Legal Department of the United Nations; addressed to Vlado’s father, Pavel Fabry, in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, to our family home that is still illegally occupied by the Russian Federation, since the coup d’etat of 1948.
In June 1946, Vlado Fabry left his position as Personal Secretary to the Minister of the Interior in Prague, to join the Secretariat of the United Nations in New York. He packed his bags, said farewell to his friends and family, and said good bye forever to Czechoslovakia. The following photos are from Prague, showing Vlado at an undated political gathering, and his departure in June at the airport on a Swissair flight to Zurich.
For the past 6 days, I have been translating the 1956 testimony of Grandma Fabry from German to English, which was not easy since I am not fluent in German. The urgency of war has pushed me to act quickly. I want everyone in Slovakia to know what our Grandmother went through when the Russian communist leaders stole our family home in Bratislava in the coup of 1948. She resisted with all her might against both Nazis and communist oppressors for years, she did not give in.
Affidavit of Olga Fabry nee Palka from Bratislava, Slovakia, currently political refugee in Geneva, 14 Chemin Thury in Switzerland.
Curriculum Vitae I. Before the Persecution
I come from an old industrial family, I was born in Liptovsky Svaty Mikulas, Slovakia on November 18, 1895, so I am 62 years old. All of my ancestors made a major contribution to the economic development of Slovakia, at that time still within the framework of the Austrian monarchy. My Grandfather, Peter Palka, was one of the founders of financial development in Slovakia, organizing the first savings banks and laying the foundations of the largest pre-war Slovak bank. My father, Viktor Palka, continued this tradition and his life’s work includes the development of the Slovak paper industry. My ancestors played an important role in public and church life, and my father’s bequests for charitable purposes were also noteworthy. I was the only child in this family, and therefore my parents tried to place the greatest value on my upbringing.
After completing secondary school, I was sent to one of the best higher institute for girls of the then Austro-Hungarian monarchy in Vienna, in the Graben, for further academic training, and I completed these studies in Vienna. My parents tradition and this first class education gave me the future direction for my C.V.
In 1919, I met the then High Commissioner of Slovakia, Dr. Pavel Fabry, and got married. There are two children from this marriage. The son, Dr. Jur. Vladimir, currently Legal Advisor to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the daughter, Olga, currently a librarian at the United Nations in Geneva.
Following the tradition and education described above, I devoted myself to social activities with deep understanding and zeal. In particular, concern for working girls, who had to work outside of their parent’s home, has become my life goal. The World Organization of the Young Women’s Christian Association, the Y.W.C.A., was my example. With the help and advice of this organization, I co-founded the Slovak Y.W.C.A. First I served on the select committee and later as President. Or course, this was an honorary position without salary and without any income. I kept this position until I was expelled from Bratislava by the Nazi rulers. Under my presidency, several dormitories and catering kitchens were built, where the working girls, regardless of faith or nationality, were given accommodation and board or boarding for a very small fee, which did not even cover the management. Several hundred girls were carefully looked after every day. In addition to this activity, I was a board member of several social institutions. My own financial resources at that time allowed me to support these institutions financially. In fulfilling my family duties and the above mentioned social work, I was hit by the surprise attack on Slovakia by the Hitler regime.
II. During the Persecution
My husband, who in his public activities was one of the most zealous advocates of the democratic creed, was of course a thorn in the side of the dictatorial rulers and, as was well known, he was the first Slovak to be arrested by the Nazi regime and, with some interruptions – due to serious illness and damage to health – was held for almost two years in concentration camps, deportations, confinement under police guard, etc. As a faithful wife, I had to bear these persecutions with double concern. With the changing arrests he was always dragged out of sleep at night, and I had to run around for days – even weeks – just to find out which prison or concentration camp he is in, or where he was deported again.
My mental anguish was indescribable and I was repeatedly subjected to hours long interrogations, often at night. The frequent house searches were always intentionally carried out at night. Until my health reserves were available to me, I endured all this nerve-wracking bullying with courage and self-sacrifice – but these constant debilitating shocks meant that I often suffered nervous breakdowns after inhumane interrogations and examinations, and only the self-sacrificing care of the board of the University clinic, of Prof. Dr. Derer and his colleagues, was able to prevent the worst. After the severe attacks I suffered, I had to stay in bed for days – even weeks – and endure the regime’s repeated harassment. In this state, exhausted by mental suffering, I was then struck by the direct personal persecution of the Nazi rulers.
As I stated in the first part of my C.V., I was President of the Y.W.C.A. Institutions that provided housing and board for the working girls. These houses and kitchens were modernly furnished for both accommodation and catering for a capacity of more than a thousand girls a day, and the Nazi rulers wanted to get hold of them for their Nazi “educational center”. As President, I resisted with all my might – supported by the public and the hundreds of working girls who enjoyed the benefits of our institutions – to make these social houses available to the devastating anti-social activity of Nazis. I was, for this reason, subjected to several harsh investigations in the Ministry of the Interior, and even at the institutions night searches were carried out, to unearth any material against the institution, but without any success. I stayed strong.
The accounts were then blocked under impossible charges, whereupon I, together with my husband, provided the necessary financial resources, and the girls also helped with the collection. Naturally I have the resentment of those in power, not just on my husband, but directly concentrated on me. I was threatened with stricter measures, but true to my commitments I made with the working girls, I did not back down. That is why those in power were just waiting for a suitable opportunity to carry out their threats against me.
The Nazi envoy Killinger in Bratislava instructed the government to immediately “rent” our villa on Haffnerova in Bratislava for his personal use. My husband, who was previously transferred from the concentration camp to the clinic just to be cared for at home, but under constant police surveillance (the policemen were in the hall of the villa day and night), let the government know that he will never, under any conditions, rent our villa to Ambassador Killinger – whose deeds he knew well. The police and the Gestapo broke into the villa that same evening.
First they searched the house for hours and, upon presentation of an expulsion order, formally kicked us out of the villa under inhumane conditions. We were only allowed to take one dress and one pair of underwear with us, and when my daughter, who was 11 years old at the time, was crying and demanding her school books and school work, she was pushed away and shouted down. At midnight, in the pouring rain, we were led to the train station like criminals, and my husband and son were taken away to the confinement location with additional police escort and again guarded with police.
I suffered a severe nervous breakdown and was taken to relatives with my daughter. The villa was sealed, but every night a Gestapo detachment came in to inspect the villa – whereby some items of value always disappeared. When I recovered from the nervous breakdown, I was immediately expelled from the city and confined in a village near Piestany, then on to Martin and again to Mikulas, under constant police surveillance. The public was so outraged by this action, that the envoy Killinger did not immediately “rent” the villa. But those in power had achieved their goal regarding the Y.W.C.A. Under the pretext that I was expelled and cannot exercise the office of President, a provisional management was set up with the aim of liquifying the institution. When the institution was liquified as such, the buildings, kitchens, etc., were simply confiscated as unclaimed property, and assigned to the Nazis reformatory with all the valuable furnishings.
However, the persecution measures against me continued to be physical. I was suddenly ordered back to Bratislava from the place of confinement with the instruction to wait in front of the door of the villa, until I received further instructions. I waited there under the supervision of a Gestapo policeman in the bitter cold from morning to night. Tired from the night’s journey, I could not even stand on my feet in my weakened condition, and when our gardener offered me a chair from the garden shed, he was shouted down by the Gestapo police officers. I was ordered back the next day to the front door of the villa, but received no instruction until evening. This was repeated for some days. In the severe December cold, my feet became frostbitten and I contracted muscle and vein inflammation, so that the doctors stepped in energetically and I had to be transferred into medical care.
Then a Gestapo officer appeared and told me that if I rented the villa immediately, I will be given all the things from the villa, except for the furniture, and I can return to Bratislava. But I had to stand by my husband’s decision. I was threatened with more severe “measures” besides confinement. The outrage against the envoy [Killinger] was so great on the part of the population, that he was transferred to Yugoslavia[Romania – T.B.], because his “Femegerichte”[?] were found out in Bratislava. After his departure I was informed that I can return to Bratislava, however, my husband continued to be confined with our son.
How cynically they wanted to increase my mental and physical suffering, I have to mention that the Minister of the Interior, when he left me standing for days in front of the villa, gave a radio speech in which he made the most humiliating spot about me personally, saying, among other things:
“If you want to see a little repeat of the wailing of the Jews at the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem, go to the front of the Fabry villa on Haffnerova, there you will see a woman, one of the most stubborn opponents of the National Socialist Order, leaning against the wall of the villa, crying, lamenting.”
Yes, they even directed mobs in front of the villa who laughed at me!
Of course I did not cry, although the cold during the hours brought tears to my eyes. I could not look forward to returning to the villa.
The repeated arrests of my husband, his inhumane persecution, plus my persecution, the constant humiliation, seizure of assets, the political trials against my husband, fines of Millions, etc., and this with all humiliating accompanying circumstances, my nerves and my whole state of health were so badly damaged by the public scorn, that I was ordered by specialists to the sanatorium in the Tatra mountains. After long weeks there was a temporary improvement.
But the cup of torment was not yet fully exhausted, when I heard the news that my husband was sentenced to death for providing assistance to the people to be deported, and for thwarting the deportation of the residents of the district. In the radio broadcasts, our whole family was subjected to the basest abuse, and finally I had to escape from the threat of arrest and danger to my life, on the coldest night of March 1944, to a remote forest village, spending hours wading in snowdrifts between two moving fronts. It is only thanks to the compassionate care of the villagers that I stayed alive. Perhaps the later news that my husband was freed by the resistance movement during the changing battles for the town of Mikulas, and taken to a safe hiding place, gave me back my life back. I had to learn quite apathetically with the same news that the Gestapo, after the death sentence, confiscated all of our mobile assets onto several trucks and were taken away. All valuables deposited in the bank safes and precious jewelry collected from generations. After the front had been moved, I was again transferred to the sanatorium in the Tatras for weeks of care.
III. After the Persecution
Both our home in Mikulas, as well as the villa, were badly damaged by bombardments and plundered by the retreating troops. The reaction of the four hard years had changed my state of health more and more intensively. I went to Switzerland to be with my daughter who was studying in Lausanne at the time, but already in Zurich I had to be taken care of by Prof. Dr. Frey.
After returning[to Bratislava], I had to watch as the Bolshevik tendency is gaining ground in seven-league boots. The fight against the danger was hopeless because of the incomprehensible attitude of the West. The violent coup organized by [Valerian] Zorin succeeded and the Iron Curtain rolled down. I managed to make another trip for the Y.W.C.A. Headquarters meeting in Geneva, where I met my son. The events in Czechoslovakia had persuaded me not to return, all the more so since my health had deteriorated so much that I had to be taken care of by Prof. Dr. Saloz in Geneva. After weeks, the care had to be extended again, for which the Swiss authorities offered me a helping hand.
So then I got the news that my husband was thrown back into prison by the communist rulers. As we were later told, at the request of the then Secretary-General of the Hungarian Communist Party, the notorious [Matyas] Rakosi. It was revenge for my husband’s actions in 1919, when he fought against communism as High Commissioner, when the Bolshevik detachments broke into Slovakia. After 7 difficult months in prison, my husband managed to escape from the communist prison, in January 1949, and to get to Switzerland. Since then we live in Switzerland.
Since I entered Switzerland with only a small suitcase, and my husband fled in only a dress [Pavel Fabry disguised himself in a nun’s dress to escape. T.B], and everything from our home was confiscated, we have remained completely penniless, and relied only on the help of our son.
In memory of the 16 who died in Ndola, here is some of the collection from my mother-in-law, Olga Fabry, who carefully saved all the documents and mementos I share here. Vlado was only 40 years old when he died, a man who was very much loved by his family and friends, and my thoughts are with all the relatives around the world who remember their family on this day. The struggle against racism and white supremacy continues for us, let us not forget their example of courage to resist, and to fight for justice.
Program from the first wreath laying ceremony at UN Headquarters, one year after the crash, 17 September 1962:
Invitation from Acting Secretary-General, U Thant, to Madame Fabry:
Letter and commemorative UN stamps from U Thant to Olga Fabry:
Signatures from UN staff were collected from all over the world to fill this two-volume set of books in memory of Vladimir Fabry:
Signatures from UN Headquarters in New York include Ralph Bunche, and his wife Ruth:
Signatures from Geneva Headquarters and a message from John A. Olver:
Telegrams from friends in every country:
Among them, a message of sympathy from the King of Sweden relayed through Ralph Bunche:
UN cables express the loss of a dear friend and highly valued colleague:
Newspaper clippings from 1961 and 1962, the first one with a photo of Olga Fabry and her mother at the funeral in Geneva, Switzerland:
The investigation will coming up for review in the General Assembly, and for those who think we should give up and be quiet about it already after all these years, Dag Hammarskjold said it best: “Never, “for the sake of peace and quiet,” deny your own experience or convictions.”
On November 4, 1959, while Vlado was working in Beirut as Legal and Political Adviser to the UNEF in the Middle East, there was a fight between four Egyptian and six Israeli jets at the border of the two countries. Here is a letter from Vlado’s father, Pavel, written the following day, which has a news clipping in German referencing this event. I can’t properly translate the Slovak, but it shows Pavel’s usual sense of humor, in the format of a mock newspaper front page – especially the magazine image he altered to look like Vlado, with his nose in a book at the beach, surrounded by women trying to get his attention, ha! He was so funny. I’ve included a couple photos of Pavel, showing what he looked like around this time.