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Jozef Tiso - Slovak statehood at the bitter price of allegiance to Nazi Germany
6.5.2005 - Martina Grenova

One of the most controversial figures of Slovak wartime history remains Jozef Tiso. To this day the president of the first distinctly Slovak state often comes in for both praise and criticism. He brought Slovaks statehood, but at the bitter price of allegiance to Nazi Germany. But both Tiso's defenders and critics often forget that Tiso was not the decisive element in creating a new state.

According to historian Ivan Kamenec the establishment of the Slovak State was not the culmination of the national emancipation efforts of Slovak society although there had been such endeavours:

"This state was a by product of splitting Czechoslovakia by Nazi Germany. It is of course obvious that after its split in March 1939 the establishment of the Slovak State started to be celebrated. The history of any state is subject to legends and this is one of them. The reality was that this state was created because of the will of Germany and Hitler."

The role of Jozef Tiso in the establishment of the Slovak State was secondary although not marginal. After declaring autonomy in October 1938, Slovak political parties formed their own government. The representative of the radical nationalist wing of the Hlika People's Party Jozef Tiso became its leader. Germans used the separatist tendencies of minor parties in the Slovak parliament and succeeded in tearing apart the pre-war Czechoslovakia.

"Thus on March 13, Jozef Tiso accepted Hitler's invitation. This was after Tiso resigned from the post of the premier of the autonomous government. Hitler told his guest about his plan to occupy Czechoslovakia. He however told Tiso that Slovakia was not in his interest. He left Slovakia to its own fate."

At that time, Slovakia was highly in the interest of two of its neighbours - Hungary and Poland. At their meeting in Germany, Hitler promised Tiso to protect the borders in any case Slovakia separated from the Czechs the very next day, March 14, 1939.

"Hitler needed to show the rest of Europe that Czechoslovakia was destroyed from the inside. There were some minor separatist tendencies in Slovakia but the major parties represented at that time also by Jozef Tiso thought about the gradual development of Slovakia leading to independence. However, they were forced to face Hitler's challenge."

What would other politicians do?

"Jozef Tiso speaking about the importance of the establishment of the Slovak State."

Jozef Tiso was born in 1887. He became a member of the Hlinka People's Party in 1920's. His political career includes being an MP, a minister, premier and president of a quasi independent state. However, according to historian Ivan Kamenec, Tiso lead an authoritarian, non-democratic state with only one political party in the parliament. Despite this fact, there are still many elderly Slovaks praising the wealth in which they lived during the WWII. Exile historians talk about Jozef Tiso as the saviour of the Slovak nation.

"It is doubtful that one man can save a nation. The Czech lands were occupied, Poland was occupied with huge numbers of locals killed and more than 6 million Jews were murdered in concentration camps. However, none of these nations has been exterminated. As a historian I don't like to hear that somebody has saved the nation. A person can bring an alternative of how to solve some problem. But Tiso and his colleagues came with an alternative that would not have lead to salvation."

After the WWII, there were historical documents found at the German embassy in Bratislava talking about the Germanisation of local citizens. Those who would not be able to become new Germans were to be deported to Siberia. Neither Tiso and his colleagues or the Slovak public knew at the time about these plans. However, they knew about Hitler's attitude towards Slavs as a subordinated race declared in the book Mein Kampf. It might be seen as naive to think we were the exception.

"It really is true that the economic and social situation of that state was relatively stabilized. Germans formulated Slovakia as the "muster" or model state. It was the flagship for the rest of eastern Europe to see how good a life they would live when they become Germany allies. However, Germans exploited the state which was in debt."

Another aspect of the Slovak state was its antisemitism. The solution of the so called "Jewish question" had not started by deportations in 1942. Jews were gradually deprived of their rights also in Slovakia. The historical fact is that Slovakia was the only state which organized its own deportations itself. For each Jew, the government paid 500 reich marks to Germany for their deportation. Everything was okayed by Jozef Tiso as the president of the state. There were some exceptions signed by him.

"The exceptions granted by the president were given to converted Jews who at the same time had a so called economic exception. Against whom did the president protect them? Until 1944, there was no German soldier on the territory of this country."

At the end of the separation process from society, the country deported almost 60 000 Jewish citizens into concentration camps. It was a third of the Jewish population of the then Slovakia.

Despite this, president and Catholic priest Jozef Tiso did not initiate the deportations of Jews, but he appeared publicly to approve this step.

"There is no single document known where he would have doubted what was done to the Jewish minority. This is the tragedy of society but also of Tiso himself."

Priests were highly appreciated in Slovakia. Since the 18th century, they had done a lot for the nation.

"Tiso was also a great authority during the Slovak State not because of the fact that he was a politician but due to his priesthood. In his public speeches he used to repeat that what was done to the Jews was completely justified from the Christian point of view."

These expressions caused great protests from the Vatican as well as from some Slovak priests themselves. Historical facts underline the responsibility of Jozef Tiso for the fate of 60 000 Slovak citizens during the WWII.

"When discussing the deeds of political leaders it is not possible to say:"yes, his intentions were good but he failed to fulfill them." There is the responsibility for tragedy to others. And so the efforts to hallow Tiso are out of order. He was the one responsible. There's no point creating a myth about him."

Jozef Tiso was tried by a national court and sentenced to death in a predominantly politically biased process. After his appeal for mercy had been rejected by the government and the president of Czechoslovakia, he was executed on April 18, 1947. The ambition of Jozef Tiso was to become a saint. His death was one of a martyr. However, his acts will cast a shadow on the war history of the Slovak Republic forever.

Poles have mixed feelings about end-of-war celebrations held in Moscow
6.5.2005 - Agnieska Bielawska

When the Red Army, accompanied by Polish forces formed in the Soviet Union, drove out the Nazis, the future looked bright for the Polish people. But not much later, the Communists took over and prisons filled up as the Soviet security police started arresting members of the Polish anti Nazi right wing resistance. In former German provinces given to Poland by Stalin at the end of the war, the Red Army systematically plundered factories, public institutions and households, in many cases to the extent that only the walls of buildings were given over to Polish authorities.

In communist Poland, one of the most popular TV series was "Four tank men and a dog". It was the story of a tank crew which was part of the armies that liberated Poland from the Nazis. In this series the lovable Polish tank men mixed with friendly Russian soldiers, who spoke a very similar language, shared the liking for vodka, and were greeted as saviours by ordinary Polish citizens. But this idealistic image was belied by the experiences of millions of Polish families who discovered that the Nazi occupation was replaced by a Russian occupation, in all but name .For many Poles, the Russian occupation had started even before that .Marta is in her seventies. She lives in Warsaw but she was unlucky to have been born in Poland's former eastern provinces annexed by Russia in 1939.Her family was deported to Siberia as were about one million other Poles.

"When the Russians came in on Sept.17th 1939, I remember my parents crying. They both lost their jobs. In 1940 my father was arrested for belonging to POW, the Polish military organisation. At the same time he was killed, we were deported to Russia. We were given half an hour's notice. We were packed in a cattle car, and were sent to Siberia. The journey lasted forty days and we landed in Barnaul, which is one thousand kilometres behind the Urals"

For Anna, another Polish woman, who vividly remembers the arrival of the Red Army, the phrase" liberation by the Russians" always sounded hollow.

"I was in the east of Poland, and we had a very bad experience with the Russians. My father had three strokes because of them. I felt very disappointed. We thought that the Americans would walk in or the Brits, but it was the Russians. And I said 'Oh no, not again' .We thought that Poland would be free, but of course the Russians arrived and everything went back to what it was before when they occupied Poland."

...Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski, facing a tough question time in Parliament, justifying his decision to attend the end of war anniversary ceremonies in Moscow. While the leaders of the two Baltic states, Lithuania and Estonia, decided to stay away, Kwasniewski made it a point to remind the Russians that for Poland, the end of the second world war meant not freedom but limited sovereignty. In fact in the run-up to the anniversary ,relations between Poland and Russian had sunk to an all-time low Moscow claimed that Poles were obsessed with history, while Warsaw reminded the world of the Yalta conference, when the Allies decided to leave Eastern Europe in the Russian grip. Historian Marek Cichocki says history still casts a long shadow over Polish -Russian relations

"The Polish people are a little bit suspicious of the Russians because of the dark legacy of history, of the Soviet occupation, Stalinist ideology and being isolated from Europe for five decades. This legacy of history is a burden in our relations still. We now observe clear attempts from Russian government to recreate some kind of an imperial view on the Russian rule in Europe and in European history. In this sense, this celebration on May 9th is a very tricky point for us."

Analysts wonder to what extent history should indeed affect present-day relations between Poland and Russia. There are those who think that Poland may be losing lucrative business with Moscow, because of its insistence that the Russians should apologise for the wrongs committed by Stalin against the Poles during and after the Second World War. It will be interesting to see whether, as new European Union member state, Poland decides to mend fences with Russia to become the EU's gateway to the East, or whether it will continue to focus on the dark chapters of history.

Hungarians met Red Army liberators with fear rather than relief
6.5.2005 - Agi Varga

The countries of Central Europe played different roles during the war. What was left of Czechoslovakia after the Munich Agreement a few months earlier, when the main European powers allowed Nazi Germany to annex huge parts of the Czech borderlands, split in March 1939 - Slovakia broke away to form what rapidly turned into a Nazi puppet state, and Hitler occupied the Czech part of the country, declaring the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Further south, Hungary actively collaborated with the Nazis and the "liberation" of the country by the Red Army was met with fear rather than real relief, as WWII specialist Tamas Stark told Radio Budapest:

"The end of WWII does not hold a special place in public memory in Hungary. This ambivalent Hungarian attitude towards the end of the war is rooted in Hungary's special status during the war. The Soviet Union treated Hungary not as a liberated but as a defeated ex-enemy country. Everywhere in Hungary, after the arrival, the Soviet troops immediately began to exploit the human and material resources of the country.

"After the occupation of larger cities, special Soviet units collected art treasures, western currencies and jewellery. Dozens of factories were dismantled and shipped to the Soviet Union. The mass abuse of civilians, women in particular, generated anti-Soviet feelings. In the eyes of many Hungarians these atrocities justified the anti-Soviet propaganda that was circulated by the Hungarian press during the war. In Hungarian minds, the memory of WWII cannot be separated from the memory of events, which came after the end of hostilities."

What was life like for ordinary Hungarians during the last months of the war?

"During the last months of the war afraid of the Soviet soldiers and the Soviet army and that left to a tremendous mass migration. To my best knowledge, about half a million Hungarian civilians left the country and moved to Austria and Germany. Life was extremely difficult because of the lack of food and about one third of the houses in Budapest were ruined due to the military operation."

The Slovene struggle against occupation
6.5.2005 - Michael Manske

Slovenia's struggle against occupation during the Second World War was made complex by internal divisions between partisans and anti-communist nationalists. Radio Slovenia International talked to historian Dr. Marjan Znidaric, director of the Museum of National Liberation, about this fateful period in Slovenian and European history:

"Slovenes were on the side of the anti-Hitler, anti-nationalist coalition in the Second World War, and this army contributed to the final victory of democratic forces over Nazism and Fascism. Some of the final battles of the war took place on Slovenian soil -- even a week after the war had officially ended and Germany had capitulated. The last battles in Slovenian Carinthia took place on May 15, 1945. That's why May 9 and the days in mid-may 1945 were a turning point in Slovenian history, especially if we look at these events through a prism of the year 1941.

"It was in this year that the occupation began and the three occupiers: Hungary, Germany and Italy, had decided that the small nation at the edge of the Alps and the Adriatic had to be wiped off of the European map. This would have happened if there hadn't been any armed resistance as early as 1941, because the occupiers had annexed the country and were already working on destroying its identity. All of this was a kind of genocide, which was going on among Jews, Romany, and other peoples.

"The Slovenian realm was divided into ten administrative units. No region was so intensely divided. Most of Slovenia would eventually be freed by the Slovenian partisan army. Because of this, there was no regime set up here -- as was the case in other Eastern European countries freed by the Red Army. The Yugoslavian socialism that developed after the war was considerably different from the kind of socialism in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world.

"The post-war communists didn't share power. This had its origins in the time before World War II. On the basis of a papal order, quadregissimo anno divine redentoris, it was declared that the church wouldn't cooperate with the communists or the Christian socialists. Later on during the war, this paralysed the Slovenian nation. And the effect of this was that part of the Slovenian people took sides with the occupier, because they thought the war was an opportunity to finally settle the score with communism.

"This was a type of crusade against communism. Because there was no agreement among people for a unified Slovenian uprising against the occupier, people took sides with the occupier -- in the sense that they fought the liberation movement. This almost doomed the existence of the Slovenian nation. The result of this was that at the end of the war, the losing side was - as in all wars - punished by the victors.

"Young generations aren't interested in these issues. They're interested in historic truth, which is that the Slovenian nation was divided during the war and that this division resulted in illegal killings. These crimes, and collaboration with the occupier, cannot be excused. Most of Europe didn't experience this. The only thing they know is the experience of resistance against fascism."

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