He lost his own life trying to save the violin that had been his livelihood

Milo Husár(written by Emilie Horackova, Prague Group)20 July 2000Jarovnice, Mocidlany, Slovakia
You often hear that the Roma have an inborn sense of rhythm, and that they inherit an ear for music and talent for it from their forefathers. Every baby boy is considered a musician from the very moment he is born. Music means a lot to the Roma. It makes their life easier. It cheers them up, brightens their sad moments. And it accompanies them from the cradle to the grave: their favorite tunes are played at their funerals.
Romany musicians are mostly self-taught, and they learn to play and to compose by looking over the shoulders of their fathers or older friends. The music trade is passed down from father to son, or simply from old to young. It runs in the family. Whenever one musician passes away, another is ready to follow in his footsteps. With all his heart he is prepared to accompany the Roma with their music.
Romany music favors the violin. For many men it was and is their source of livelihood. Violinists are invited to baptisms, weddings, funerals and various other celebrations.
Jarovnice also had a man who had already as a boy learned to play various instruments. He started with the double bass, went on to the accordion, the guitar and finally to the violin. Mr. Cervenak spent his childhood following his father and uncles around whenever they went to play somewhere. He looked on and stood in whenever one of the grown-ups couldn’t play. As he grew up he became more and more popular. Mr. Cervenak became one of the men for whom music is their life. He played, and by playing he fed his family. On the twentieth of July 1998, a fateful day, it was very hot in Jarovnice – Mocidlany. Then it began to rain. Most people were at home. The heat had tired them out, they were in beds, dozing. It became overcast: dark clouds moved across the sky. It started raining, and the water level began to rise. Then a four-metre-high wall of water arrived without any warning. It swept away everything that was in its way. No one knows where all that water could have come from. The torrent flooded people´s gardens, and flooded and wrecked their houses. Like the others, Mr. Cervenak was at home. The water roared down the slopes into the valley and flooded it. There was no escape. Panic broke out. Everyone in the village was crying. People were prey to their terror and to the tears of their children. They had to save their families: children, wives, relatives. They did all they could to help each other.
Mr. Cervenak was sixty-four years old then, and acted with great courage and caution. He overcame his fear although the water had reached one-and-a-half metres by then and new waves kept coming. The torrent knocked out doors and windows. Nothing could stop it. It devoured everything that stood in its way — animals, trees, roofs of houses — and dragged it off. Mr. Cervenak however, did not panic. He led his family, his wife, his daughter-in-law and his grandchildren, to safety. When the worst comes, everyone know it.
They tried to cheer each other up. They could see that everything they had loved was being dragged away by the torrent. Houses and huts alike were collapsing. There were people still left there, crying for help. The children were crying and moaning with fear. Some people had climbed to the roofs, hoping to save themselves. The air was thick with fear, screams and crying.
The whole Mocidlany settlement was sunk in dark water, mud and everything the water had carried with it. Roofs with people still holding onto them, animals, large beams. They were all trying to help each other. They kept pulling their loved ones out of the water and losing them again a moment later. Some of those trying to save someone drowned themselves. They saw and felt terror and death. Mr. Cervenak understood what was going on around him. His long life had taught him many things. He knew how serious the situation was.
But he said good-bye to his wife and children and set out on his way back to their flooded house. His wife broke into tears and begged him to stay, pleading with him as best she could. Yet he went, knowing that he might not ever come back. He went to get his violin.
I can’t tell you how he managed to get into the house, but he got there, grabbed his violin and held it tight. He was pleased to see it had not been carried away.
He must have been on his way out when the walls gave way and the house collapsed like a stack of cards. Mr. Cervenak remained inside. Was he killed by a falling beam? Did he drown? Most people drowned because they couldn’t swim. It was so sudden.
His family watched it all from a distance. They found Mr. Cervenak’s body two days later when the water had ebbed. He was still clutching his violin. Half of it was gone. Mr. Cervenak died for his violin, which was priceless for him. He had inherited it. Its value lay in the memories linked to it , and in the pleasure he felt whenever he looked at it.
He was the first violinist of the band. He knew he had to get it or it would be lost forever.
It wasn’t an antique violin. He just wanted to save it because he loved it. He saved his loved ones and then lost his own life trying to save the violin that had been his livelihood.
All his relatives and acquaintances were searching for their missing children, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. They found also the other half of Mr. Cervenak´s violin and put those few pieces of wood into his coffin so that the violin would be whole again. He was buried with his violin.
Perhaps he is playing it now for the dead. I can almost hear someone playing the violin very far away. It is crying.
Mr. Cervenak was just one of the first victims of that catastrophe. The flood claimed fifty victims. It robbed us of children, mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers: of fifty human lives!
It is July 2000 and three people still have not been found. Some families continue to live in the temporary sheds the soldiers built for them. People in our village will never forget that one day in their life. They lost everything that day because they lost their family, which the Roma value more than their own lives. To a Rom, losing his family is like losing his soul. Their respect for the family has helped them survive centuries of fear for their life. It has led them through both despair and joy. Now they have lost their village, as it used to be and as they loved it.

No Responses to “He lost his own life trying to save the violin that had been his livelihood”

  1. i just wanted to say how beautifully you described such a tragic event. i had the great luck to meet two boys from the Jarovnice settlemnt, who had both lost many family members. Miki and Marek inspired me so much, and now i’m learning roma language, and looking for ways to stop this situation ever happening again. I also had the chance to see a film of the mayor or Jarovnice openly admitting that he was relieved that “only gipsies died”. Very sad to see that even in such a huge and tragic event as this racism still prevails.

Leave a Reply