These articles were published in the Spectacular Slovakia travel guide, published annually by The Slovak Spectator since 1996. The latest editions can be obtained from our online shop.

The Taint of Nazism

The Slovak Republic of 1939-1945 is the darkest and most controversial chapter in the history of the Slovaks.

    Jozef Tiso, far right, confers with German authorities during the Nazi-tainted First Slovak Republic.
 Jozef Tiso, far right, confers with German authorities during the Nazi-tainted First Slovak Republic.
 Courtesy: Museum of the City of Bratislava

After a millennium as a people subject to the whims of others, Slovaks had finally gained official autonomy. The catch, however, was that the country could go in any direction it wanted - so long as it didn't conflict in any way with the interests of Nazi Germany.

That spelled disaster for the country's sizable Jewish population. Anti-Semitic activity gained momentum soon after independence, and in 1942, Slovakia began participating in the "Final Solution" to the Jewish "problem." By 1945, two-thirds of Slovakia's 90,000 Jews had been deported to Nazi death camps in Poland.

The role of Slovakia's government in this atrocity remains disputed. Tiso, who became president quickly after independence, is said by some historians to have behaved "courageously" by sparing as many Jewish lives as he could while still remaining in the good graces of the Nazis. Karen Henderson cites a Slovak historian who argues that Tiso was "particularly" concerned with saving Jews who had converted to Catholicism.

What's not in dispute, however, is the role of the nation's prime minister, Vojtech Tuka. A confirmed Nazi sympathizer, Tuka negotiated the terms of Slovakia's participation in the Final Solution; under arrangements he made, the government agreed to pay the Reich 500 marks for each Jew deported, to offset "relocation" costs.

Roma (gypsies) were also targeted for murder by the Nazis. As no reliable figures exist, the numbers of their dead remain unknown.

There remain pockets of nostalgia in Slovak society for the First Slovak Republic. After all, for most of the era, the nation avoided war on its soil (although Slovak soldiers fought alongside Nazis against the Soviet Union) and its economy boomed, at least in comparison to those of its war-torn neighbours.

But like independence, the economic miracle largely amounted to a dubious gift from the Nazis. According to Kirschbaum, the share of Slovak capital owned by German and Austrian investors totaled 5 percent in 1938. By 1944, that figured had grown to 64 percent. The influx of capital financed significant expansion of railroad, road, and telephone networks. It also led to a boom in arms production. In essence, Slovakia became an engine of the Nazi war machine.

In Karen Henderson's words, "Germany attempted to use Slovakia as a model to demonstrate the benefits of cooperation to other East European nations, despite the total Nazi contempt for the Slav Untermenschen (sub-human), which certainly would have led to a worsening of the position of Slovaks had Germany won the war."

With the German defeat at Stalingrad in February 1943, the situation changed drastically for the Slovaks. Arms production slowed, pressuring the economy. Edvard Beneš, the last president of the collapsed Czechoslovakia, had set up a Czechoslovak government-in-exile. From his refuge in London, he began broadcasting radio speeches into Slovakia exhorting its citizens to rise up against its Nazi-dominated government.

The government found itself in a vexed situation. If it remained allied with the Nazis, it risked being viewed as a defeated nation at war's end, which could mean reparations and a bad position in post-war territorial decisions. Yet if it broke with the Nazis, it risked incurring the wrath of their troops as they retreated from the Soviet Union.

These articles and related information were published in Spectacular Slovakia 2003.

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