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Slovakia in the years 1938 - 1945

Slovakia in the Second Czechoslovak Republic

Weakening of the Republic after Munich Agreement was used by Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party (HSĽS), which declared Slovak Autonomy with the representatives of other parties in Žilina on October 6, 1938. HSĽS in short time dominated over political life in Slovakia. The other parties were discharged also with its trade unions, organisations and associations. Opposition press was banned. In December elections to Slovak Assembly was possible to elect only in unified ballot.

Munich dictate affected directly also Slovak territory, not only by loss of Petržalka and Devín, which became territory of Germany. Also representatives of Poland and Hungary had territorial claims. Poland was satisfied with relatively small territories in Kysuce, Orava and Spiš region. Hungary claimed the adjusting of borders based on population census from the year 1910. Seeing that mutual negotiations of both parties were unsuccessful, the foreign ministers of Germany and Italy decided about this issue in so called Vienna Arbitration. By this verdict from November 2, 1938 Slovakia lost 1/5 of its territories with 850 000 citizens (from which 270 000 avowed to Slovak nationality).

Reading of protocol of Vienna Arbitration on November 2, 1938 – from the left: Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy G. Ciano, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany J. Ribbentrop, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Hungary K. Kánya (first from the right) and J. Tiso (from the back)

In that period radical separatist tendencies in Slovakia started. Prague overestimated the influence of the separatists to Slovak policy and in the night of March 9 – 10, 1939 declared martial law in Slovakia. Autonomy government, headed by Jozef Tiso, was rescinded and military with gendarmerie arrested 250 persons. Inadequately prepared action, known as Homola’s Putsch ended unsuccessfully after two days.

Those events allowed Germany to use Slovak card for the liquidation of Czechoslovakia. Hitler invited J. Tiso to Berlin on March 13, 1939 and gave him two alternatives: either Slovakia will break away from Czechoslovak Republic, or Slovakia will face its fate. In spite of this threat Tiso was not willing to declare independence of Slovakia from foreign territory. He argued, that only Slovak assembly has authority to do it and ask President Emil Hácha by phone to assemble meeting of Slovak Assembly for the next day. Members of Parliament (under the threat of splitting of Slovak territory between neighbor countries) voted unanimity for the creation of autonomous Slovak State on March 14, 1939. The next day Nazi army seized Czech lands and declared Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.

Slovak Republic in the years 1939 - 1945

Inner structure and political system in Slovak Republic

After the consolidation of the borders, Slovak state had 38 055 km2. After the adoption of the Constitution on July 21, 1939 the name of the state was changed to Slovak Republic. The Slovaks represented 85 % out of 2 655 053 state citizens. Except them 128 000 Germans, 89 000 Jews, 65 000 Hungarians and approximately 30 000 Czechs (80 000 of them left Slovakia voluntary of were forced to leave) lived in Slovakia. Territory of state consisted of 6 counties and 61 districts.

President, voted for the period of 7 years, was on the head of the state. Priest J. Tiso was in this function from October 1939 to the end of the state. Previously he had a function of Prime Minister. Slovak Assembly, which was created from Autonomous Assembly, was the supreme legislative body.  It lost gradually its power in favor of the Government. Majority of laws adopted in Slovak republic had a character of governmental directives. Government of Slovak Republic consisted of 8 members and the Prime Minister. During almost whole existence of the state Vojtech Tuka was the Prime Minister. Four governments changed off in Slovak Republic. Majority of personal changes were caused by German “recommendations”.  State Council was another constitutional body. In reality it had no power; its resolutions were non-committal directives.

Election of J. Tiso for the President in aula of Comenius University on October 26, 1939

HSĽS was the most powerful political power in the state and its leading role was also integrated into the Constitution. HSĽS tried to rule over the public life in all its aspects. Except the ban of associations and organizations, which not belonged to the structure of the HSĽS, the party had own organizations with compulsory membership, above all Hlinka’s Youth and Hlinka’s Guard (HG). Except HSĽS two minority parties were active in political life – Deutsche Partei (DP), headed by Franz Karmasin and Magyar Párt. Roman Catholic Church also influenced course of events in the society. Its priests had leading posts in the state.

Two political streams fought for the power in the regime of Slovak Republic. Moderate (conservative) bloc headed by J. Tiso consisted of his sympathizers in the leadership of the party, apparatus of the HSĽS, majority of the Assembly and state administration and Catholic clergy. Radical wing, headed by V. Tuka and Alexander Mach, was supported by the HG. Also DP of Karmasin and its paramilitary Freiwillige Schutzstaffel (FS) supported the radicals. Insufficient popularity of this wing by the home citizens was compensated by the effort to find support of Nazi Germany.

Regime of Slovak state passed several changes during its existence. Till summer 1940, when conservative wing had predominance, was the regime authoritative with numerous democratic traditions and relics. In this phase the Office of Propaganda, Centre of State Security (secret police) and concentration camp in Ilava for political opponents, were founded. Also the efforts to discriminate Jewish citizens (so far in moderate form) were developed.

Repression of pro-Nazi powers and the effort of Slovak representatives for more independent foreign policy did not leave Germany indifferent. German representatives dictated to Tiso changes in the government in Salzburg on July 27 – 28, 1940. Prime Minister V. Tuka obtained the post of Foreign Minister; commander of the HG A. Mach became Minister of Interior. New period in the formation of Slovak state, in which national-socialist elements penetrated all life areas, started. The most consistent penetration was in so called solution of Jewish question. Conservative wing did not give up after Salzburg and established the leaderly principle in autumn 1942, which definitely tilted balance pan to their side. National-social principles gradually disappeared from public life in the year 1943, which was caused by the turn at the fronts of World War II.

Prime Minister V. Tuka, President J. Tiso, Chairman of Slovak Assembly M. Sokol and Minister of Interior A. Mach at the meeting of public workers in the year 1942

The last and most cruel period of the regime of Slovak state started in august 1944.  Slovakia became occupied country and German bodies decided practically about all questions. The occupation activated again home radical powers, mainly HG. Flying Squads of HG (POHG) were formed, headed by Otomar Kubala. They participated in actions against the partisans and reprisals against civilians, including the Jews.

International status and foreign policy

New state was in the zone of influence of Hitler’s Germany. This was confirmed by so called Protective Treaty from March 23, 1939. In the treaty Slovakia gave up considerable part of its sovereignty, for what Germany promised to guarantee inviolability of Slovak territory.  The guarantees remained only in paper, because after so called Little War with Hungary on March 23 – 24, 1939, Slovakia had to withdraw 74 villages with more than 40 000 citizens to its southern neighbor. 

Limited sovereignty of Slovakia in the area of foreign policy resulted to the joining of Pact of Three in November 1940 and to the participation in military operations alongside Nazi Germany. Three Slovak divisions fought in the campaign against Poland. For that act Slovakia obtained back the territories, which became Polish territories in the year 1924 and 1938. Slovak army assisted in the German campaign against the Soviet Union from June 1941. Approximately 100 000 Slovak soldiers and officers were at the Eastern front. Last Slovak troops were transferred from Eastern front in March 1944. Except the war against Poland and the USSR, V. Tuka through non-diplomatic channels declared war to the USA and Great Britain. US Air Force started to bomb down Slovak industrial companies since June 1944.

Demonstration on occasion of declaration of war between Germany and the USSR on June 22, 1941

Submissive status of Slovak Republic towards Germany was manifested also by nomination of German advisers (so called beraters) to all Slovak ministries and central offices and also to main secretary of the HSĽS and main command of the HG. Also the most important industrial companies were under the control of Germany according to the agreement from January 1940.

27 states, with exception of the USA, gradually recognized Slovak Republic. The most intensive contacts were with Germany, Hungary (although these were affected by territorial conflicts), with Romania and Croatia. The co-operation with Italy was reduced mainly to economical field, because its relation to Hungary. Active contacts with Vatican were not without problems, mainly because of Jewish question.

Jewish question

Already in the period of autonomy, the question of Jewish citizens had new position. Anti-Jewish propaganda was gradually intensive, strong position of the Jews in economic life was criticized. After the foundation of Slovak state, so called Solution of Jewish question obtained legal scope and Jewish citizens gradually lost basic human, civic and property rights. Anti-Jewish legislative culminated on September 9, 1941 by adoption of so called Jewish Code, which summarized and extended anti-Jewish steps.

Deportations became the worst crime for which the authorities of Slovak Republic were responsible (mainly Prime Minister V. Tuka and Minister of Interior A. Mach).  From March 25 to October 20, 1942 almost 58 000 Slovak Jews were deported to Nazi extermination camps. Only few hundreds of them survived. Slovak republic paid for each deported Jew 500 Reich Marks. The effort of Germany to renew the deportations in spring 1943 was not successful. New wave of transports started only after the occupation of Slovakia by Nazi Germany. Nazis deported about 13 500 Jews from September 1944 till March 1945, about 1000 of them were murdered directly in Slovak territory. Mainly thanks to self sacrificing help of civilians 10 000 Jews survived the winter 1944/45.

Deportations of Jewish citizens in the year 1942

Economy

Nazis wanted to take control over Slovak economy as it was with Slovak policy. German capital secured control over big industrial companies already in the first year of existence of Slovak Republic. On the other hand development of some sectors was not wantable for Germany. Submissive status of Slovakia was also reflected in artificial maintaining of overestimated agio of German currency to Slovak Crown at level – 1 Reich Mark: 11 Slovak Crowns. In reality Reich Mark had half of that value and devaluated gradually till the end of the war. Except that Germany in the end phase of existence of Slovak Republic not always followed payment discipline in cashless operations. Debts of Germany towards Slovakia at clearing account were more then 8 milliard Slovak Crowns till the end of the war.

Territorial loses after Vienna Arbitration negatively influenced development of the economy. Slovak republic lost most fertile land and railway track was disrupted. In spite of that fact Slovak economy prospered. War conjuncture and clever economy policy of the state also influenced that fact. Independent economists headed by Imrich Karvaš and Peter Zaťko were successful in minimizing of damages caused by German ward. Also traditional strenuousness, low spending and enthusiasm of Slovak nation caused by possibility to administrate own country with own potential, contributed.

During the existence of Slovak state more than 200 industry companies were founded, almost 100 km of railway track and 287 km of road communications were built. Waterworks were built, villages were electrified, telegraph and telephone network was extended. Also number of radio concessionaires increased. Also agriculture production was in high conjuncture. Land reform divided for peasants 13 400 ha of plough land and 18 000 ha of forest land, which belonged to Jewish owners before.

In spite of many deficiencies the situation in supply was (compare to other states) satisfying, Slovak currency was steady and requested. Sufficiency of incomes allowed Slovak Republic to realize several social steps, as children’s allowance, social allowance etc. Unlike in the first Czechoslovak Republic, in Slovak state the problem of unemployment was liquidated. Except economical development, also departure of Czech employees and disqualification of persons of Jewish origin from economical process, contributed to that fact. Each year 40 000 workers left for work to Germany and part of productive citizens were recruited to the front.

Culture

In the field of culture Slovakia successfully continued with the era of Czechoslovak Republic. Net of high schools was extended – 26 new schools of various types were opened. Also colleges were developed. After two years of problems Slovak Technical College started its activity in the year 1939 and the next year also Commercial University started with its activity. Comenius University, renamed to Slovak University was extended and Science Faculty was created in it. Also the number of college student increased (about 2/3) compare to Czechoslovak Republic.

Scientific activity had best conditions in associations (Association of St. Vojtech, Catholic League, Tranoscius). Also scientific sections of Slovak Institute were more active. Scientific life is also at the colleges. Slovak Academy of Sciences and Arts was created in the year 1942 and started with its activity the next year. Also more publications of various topics were issued.

Process of professionalization of Slovak theatre continued by foundation of two new theatres – Theatre in Martin and Folk theatre in Prešov. Also poetry and prose were developed during the war. Architecture stagnated like in other parts of Europe.

Home sport contests were organized without problems till autumn 1944. Also international competitions, mainly with German, Hungarian and Croatian teams, were organized.

Crisis and end of Slovak Republic

Series of military failures of Nazi Germany and its allies in the year 1943 resulted to increasing of opposition moods in Slovak society. It graduated to the creation of illegal bodies – Slovak National Council and Military Centre, which started to prepare armed action against Nazism. Realization of the Uprising was complicated by increasing partisan activity, which speeded up the occupation of Slovakia by Germany. The Uprising started on August 29, 1944 as a reaction for the occupation of Slovak territory by German military units.

Occupational forces initiated personal changes in power structures of Slovak state, including the reconstruction of government. Also army, gendarmerie, police and state security were reorganized. Nazi bodies had real power in the country in that period. They started very cruel terror in Slovakia. It resulted to about 190 mass graves with almost 5000 murdered persons and more than 100 completely or partly burned villages. Except that Nazis deported ten thousands of Slovak citizens to prison and concentration camps. Also some members of the POHG units assisted in some Nazi crimes as for example murdering in Kremnička (747 persons) and Nemecká (900 persons). Reprisals very hardly affected also Jewish citizens. Except that some partisan groups were also involved in murdering of civilians. They murdered more than 1000 persons, mainly of German minority (for example in Sklené – 187 persons).

The process of disruption of Slovak state started with the outbreak of the Uprising. The regime of Slovak Republic survived in Western and Eastern Slovakia with the help of occupation forces, the Czechoslovak Republic was restored at the insurgent territory for two months. Double governing in Slovak territory did not end even after the defeat of the Uprising on October 28, 1944, because in that time Czechoslovak statehood was declared in the part of Eastern Slovakia, which was liberated by Soviet army. Košice and Prešov were liberated in January 1945, Banská Bystrica on March 25 and Bratislava on April 4, 1945. Almost whole territory of Slovakia was liberated till the end of April 1945. Makov was the last liberated village in Slovakia on May 3, 1945. Slovak political representatives evacuated before front to Záhorie area on April 1, 1945 and from there to Austria. Slovak territory became a part of restored Czechoslovak Republic.

                                                                                                                                      Marián Karcol

 

 

  

 


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