Memories of Josef Filgas and a blind pony from the mine Ignát

Memories of Josef Filgas and a blind pony from the mine Ignát
Illustrative photo

Alena Grušková

Božena Vopařilová, one of the teachers that taught at a girl’s primary school II in Mariánské Hory before World War II, was a very popular teacher; students loved her. .

After some time, a young man started to appear by her side. We called him Mr Teacher. He was a very attentive young man, every day he would go to the pit Ignát in Mariánské Hory, and he was often seen writing down some notes.

At the beginning of July, they brought out ponies from the pit Ignát, as well as from other collieries in our city, for them to graze in the sunshine on the fresh grass near the mine. It was on the Saint Prokop’s Day, who is the patron saint of miners. All of us who lived near the pit Ignát brought the ponies dry pastries and a lot of sweets, especially sugar, which they loved the most. ‘Mr Teacher’ Josef Filgas also started going to the meadow near the pit Ignát to see the ponies with his own eyes. What he also saw there was that the miners, who rode with the ponies throughout the whole shift in the mine, liked to meet with their ‘cart engines’ also on the meadow where the ponies were grazing. Each pony had its name, but it also responded to the name of its master.

At one such sunny pony meeting in July, it happened that a pony heard the miners call their friend: ‘Karle!’ This pony had spent many years with his best mate in the underground, and when he heard the name Karel, he immediately went to the miner, whom he sniffed and began to diligently lick. His master, miner Karel, began to stroke him and gave him sweets he brought from home. In doing so, he shed tears of joy that his sweetheart – the pony – recognized him.

Since we were just children, we didn’t know that almost all the ponies are blind because they live in complete darkness for so many years! Neither did we know that this miner from Mariánské Hory’s lower colony had retired and hadn’t seen the pony for many weeks! We all crowded around them and rejoiced over the fact that the pony had recognized his ‘master’. Josef Filgas was among us. He promptly began to talk with the miners, later met with them several times and became interested in how ponies live in the deep pit Ignát. With the help of teacher Vopařilová and our friends, he got acquainted with a mining engineer called Mosler, who enabled him to get into the parts of the pit Ignát where ponies lived all year long.

Thus Josef Filgas began to collect memories and experiences of miners, but also of citizens who had been coming to see the ponies for several years. He met writers Helena Salichová and Jarmila Glazarová. After a very short time, he wrote a beautiful short book called ‘Koníček Ivánek’ (Pony Ivánek). This book was designed mainly for us, primary school pupils, and it taught us about the friends we had in Ostrava shafts.

Since JF had already written, among others, a book called Mezi brášky (Among Little Brothers), which we knew not only from school but it was also a popular birthday present, and because we knew the ponies, the book Pony Ivánek became the most beloved book of Ostrava children during the war, as well as after it.

In autumn 1938, many people who worked in shafts in counties Karviná and Český Těšín had to move to Moravian Ostrava because Poland wanted to annex those counties. We were just children at the time, and we did not understand what mobilization means. So we were very surprised when miners and their families were moved to Mariánské Hory, directly onto the tracks near the station, always several families into one car.

To help those miners, priest Jindřich Březina, as well as many teachers and Josef Filgas, began to negotiate with the management of the pit Ignát. Filgas daily walked to the colony Kažmíř, where they were moving the families still living in cars. It was autumn, and there was no way for children to bath therefore widows who lived in Kažmíř had to vacate one room for a family that came ‘from Poland’. These kids had no place to do their homework, so Josef Filgas together with the school principal Krečmer and the teacher Vopařilová persuaded the local innkeeper Novák from Vondráčkova Street to vacate a room so that they can help the children with their preparations for school.

Every year in Mariánské Hory, there has been a happening to pay tribute to the memory of one of their natives. Born there, he was an actor in Brno and a great patriot. He also co-founded local Scout organization in Mariánské Hory. The commemoration act was always organized by Professor Rudolf Tlapák. After he was arrested and sent to the concentration camp Oranienburg, Josef Filgas took charge of the act.

After the war, Josef Filgas joined Helena Salichová’s project Building Silesia aimed at assisting affected Silesia, e.g. by reading to us, children, from his books in the Slávia cinema in Mariánské Hory (and later elsewhere). The entrance fee was voluntary.

I have not seen Josef Filgas for several years, until the Ostrava City Library organized an event in Komenského sady (Comenius Park) where they were reading and lending books, mostly to children. It was an excellent event, many of us started to attend it regularly and not only lend books but we, the former war children, could also remember the bitter years of war. And so, it happened that I met with Mr Filgas! He did not change at all and helped by sharing not only his memories but also pieces of advice on how to improve these park readings. Those were wonderful days!

I’m really sorry that such a great native was completely forgotten by Ostrava. Could there be filmed a bedtime story called Pony Ivánek in Ostrava?

Mr Josef Filgas, thank you for helping us, the primary school pupils, during the war. Thank you.

In: Almanach Paměť Ostravy, published by the Ostrava City Library, 2016