The Holocaust in Slovakia
The Holocaust in Slovakia was the systematic dispossession, deportation, and murder of Jews in the Slovak State during World War II. Jews were blamed for Slovakia's territorial losses to Hungary and were targeted for discrimination and harassment, including the confiscation of property and businesses. The exclusion of Jews from the economy impoverished the community and caused social problems, which encouraged the government to conscript them for forced labor.
|Native name||Holokaust na Slovensku|
|Organised by||Slovak State, Nazi Germany|
In 1941, the Slovak government negotiated with Nazi Germany for the mass deportation of Jews to German-occupied Poland. Between March and October 1942, 57,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz concentration camp and the Lublin district of the General Government; only a few hundred survived. The persecution of Jews resumed after August 1944, when Germany invaded Slovakia and triggered the Slovak National Uprising. Another 13,500 Jews were deported and hundreds more were murdered in Slovakia by Einsatzgruppe H and the Hlinka Guard Emergency Divisions.
A total of 68,000 to 71,000 Slovak Jews were murdered, more than 80 percent of the prewar population. Survivors faced renewed antisemitism and difficulty regaining stolen property; most emigrated. Although the one-party postwar Communist regime banned discussion of the Holocaust, the ban was removed after the 1989 Velvet Revolution. The participation of the Slovak State in the Holocaust remains a contentious issue in the country.
- 1 Background
- 2 Anti-Jewish measures (1938–1941)
- 3 Deportations (1942)
- 4 Hiatus (1943)
- 5 Resumption of deportations (1944–1945)
- 6 Aftermath
- 7 Legacy
- 8 Notes
- 9 References
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Before 1939, Slovakia had never been an independent country. It had been part of the Kingdom of Hungary for more than a thousand years; after World War I, it became part of Czechoslovakia. Antisemitism in Slovakia was widespread, with religious, economic, and racial elements. Slovak Jews who had come of age under Austro-Hungarian rule spoke German, Hungarian, or Yiddish as their primary language; most were not fluent in Slovak. This tendency led to a belief that Jews were disloyal to Slovakia and supported Czechoslovakism or Hungarian expansionism. In interwar Slovakia, economic underdevelopment and perceptions of discrimination in Czechoslovakia led a plurality (about one-third) of Slovaks to support the conservative nationalist Slovak People's Party (Slovak: Hlinkova slovenská ľudová strana: HSĽS, nicknamed Ľudáks) which presented Slovak autonomy as the solution to Slovakia's problems. HSĽS began to emphasize antisemitism during the late 1930s because of a wave of Jewish refugees from Austria after its 1938 annexation by Nazi Germany[a] and anti-Jewish laws passed by the neighboring states of Hungary, Poland, and Romania, but it was held in check by laws against racial hatred.
The September 1938 Munich Agreement ceded the Sudetenland, the German-speaking region of the Czech lands, to Nazi Germany. HSĽS took advantage of the ensuing political chaos to declare Slovakia's autonomy on 6 October 1938. Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest and HSĽS leader, became prime minister of the Slovak autonomous region. Under Tiso's leadership, the Slovak government opened negotiations in Komárno with Hungary regarding their border. The dispute was submitted to arbitration in Vienna by Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. Hungary was awarded much of southern Slovakia on 2 November 1938, including 40 percent of Slovakia's arable land and 270,000 people who had declared Czechoslovak ethnicity. Since HSĽS considered Germany and Italy its closest allies, its propaganda addressed Slovak Jews. HSĽS consolidated its power by banning opposing political parties, shutting down opposition newspapers, promoting the distribution of antisemitic and anti-Czech propaganda, and founding the paramilitary Hlinka Guard. Ethnic parties were still permitted, and the Nazi German Party formed the Freiwillige Schutzstaffel militia. The Slovak State was lenient with its political opponents, and never imposed a death sentence. Un-free elections in December 1938 resulted in a 95-percent vote for HSĽS.
On 14 March 1939, the Slovak State proclaimed its independence under German protection. Germany annexed and invaded the Czech rump state the following day, and Hungary seized Carpathian Ruthenia with German acquiescence. In a treaty signed on 23 March, Slovakia renounced much of its foreign-policy and military autonomy to Germany in exchange for border guarantees and economic assistance. It was neither fully independent nor a German puppet state, but occupied an intermediate status.[b] In October 1939, Tiso (leader of HSĽS' conservative branch) became president; Vojtech Tuka, leader of the party's radical wing, was appointed prime minister. Both wings of the party struggled for Germany's favor and political influence.[c] A 1940 census found that 89,000 Jews lived in the Slovak State, 3.4 percent of the population.[d] The largest number of Jews lived in the eastern Šariš-Zemplín region, and 15,000 lived in Bratislava. Between 5,000 and 6,000 Jews emigrated before 1940, and 45,000 lived in the areas ceded to Hungary.
Anti-Jewish measures (1938–1941)Edit
According to the Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, the persecution of Jews was "central to the domestic policy of the Slovak state". Immediately after it came to power in 1938, the Tiso-led government began firing Jewish civil servants and established a Propaganda Office on 18 October. The state-sponsored media demonized Jews as "enemies of the state", using antisemitic stereotypes to blame them for the Hungarian domination of Slovakia. The authors of some of the more egregious articles and caricatures were prosecuted after the war. The Committee for the Solution of the Jewish Question was founded by the Slovak autonomous government in January 1939 to discuss anti-Jewish legislation. Jewish businesses were robbed, and Jews were attacked in the streets; some were killed. Discriminatory measures affected all aspects of life, to isolate and dispossess Jews before deporting them.
In the days after the announcement of the First Vienna Award, antisemitic rioting broke out in Bratislava; newspapers justified the riots because of Jews' alleged support for Hungary during the partition negotiations. SS official Adolf Eichmann, who had been sent to Bratislava, coauthored a plan with Tiso and other HSĽS politicians to deport impoverished and foreign Jews to the ceded territory. Meanwhile, Jews with a net worth of over 500,000 Czechoslovak koruna (Kčs) were arrested to prevent capital flight. Between 4 and 7 November 7,500 Jews were deported, including young children, the elderly, and pregnant women. The arrests did not prevent a spike in capital flight, and Hungary refused to admit the deported Jews, so Tiso canceled the operation and allowed most of the Jews to return home after a few days. The remainder (over 600) were confined to makeshift tent camps at Veľký Kýr and Miloslavov on the new Slovak–Hungarian border during the winter. The poor conditions in the camps were condemned by the United Kingdom and France. After a few months, the Jews were allowed to return to Slovakia.
The deportations (among the first in central Europe) frightened many Slovak Jews, causing them to try to emigrate or transfer their property abroad. Between December 1938 and February 1939, more than 2.25 million Kčs were transferred illegally to the Czech lands, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom; additional amounts were transferred legally. Slovak government officials took advantage of the circumstances to purchase the property of wealthy Jewish emigrants at a significant discount, a precursor to "voluntary Aryanization". The deportations impacted British investment, increasing dependence on German capital, and were a rehearsal for the 1942 deportations.
Aryanization in Slovakia, the seizure of Jewish-owned property and exclusion of Jews from the economy, was based on the popular belief (reinforced by HSĽS propaganda) that Jewish property was stolen from Slovaks. Between 1939 and 1942, the HSĽS regime received widespread popular support by promising Slovak citizens that they would be enriched by property stolen from Jews and other minorities. This was a significant amount of money; in 1940, Jews registered more than 4.322 billion Slovak koruna (Ks) in property (38 percent of the national wealth).[e] The Slovak government took steps to ensure that ethnic Slovaks, rather than Germans or other minorities, received the stolen Jewish property. Due to the intervention of the German Party, however, ethnic Germans received 8.3 percent of the stolen property.
The first anti-Jewish law, passed on 18 April 1939 and not systematically enforced, was a numerus clausus four-percent quota of the numbers of Jews allowed to practice professions such as medicine and law; Jews were also forbidden to write for Christian publications. The Land Reform Act of February 1940 turned 101,423 hectares (250,620 acres) of land owned by 4,943 Jews, about 40 percent of it arable, over to the State Land Office; the land officially passed to the state in May 1942. The First Aryanization Law was passed in April 1940. Through a process known as "voluntary Aryanization", Jewish business owners could suggest a "qualified Christian candidate" who would assume at least a 51-percent stake in the company. Under the law, 50 businesses out of 12,300 were Aryanized and 179 were liquidated. HSĽS radicals and the Slovak State's German backers believed that voluntary Aryanization was too soft on the Jews.
At the July 1940 Salzburg Conference, German negotiators convinced the Slovaks to replace a number of moderates in the cabinet (including Ferdinand Ďurčanský) with radicals. Another result of the Salzburg talks was the appointment of SS officer Dieter Wisliceny as a "Jewish adviser" for Slovakia; he arrived in Slovakia in August. He aimed to impoverish the Jewish community so it became a burden on gentile Slovaks, who would then agree to deport them. Wisliceny convinced the Slovak parliament to pass a law creating the Central Economic Office (ÚHÚ), led by Slovak official Augustín Morávek and under Tuka's control, in September 1940. The ÚHÚ was tasked with assuming ownership of Jewish-owned property. Jews were required to register their property; their bank accounts (valued at 245 million Ks in August 1941)[f] were frozen, and Jews were allowed to withdraw only 1,000 Ks (later 150 Ks) per week. Aryans had to obtain ÚHÚ permission to employ Jews, and had to pay a fee of 50 to 5,000 Ks. The licenses had to be renewed periodically.
A second Aryanization law was passed in November, mandating the expropriation of Jewish property and the dismissal of Jewish employees. In a corrupt process overseen by Morávek's office (which held "dictatorial" power over the Jews), 10,000 Jewish businesses were liquidated and the remainder – about 2,300 – were Aryanized. Liquidation benefited small Slovak businesses competing with Jewish enterprises, and Aryanization was applied to larger Jewish-owned companies which were acquired by Aryan-owned competitors. In many cases, Aryanizers inexpert in business struck deals with former Jewish owners and employees so the Jews would keep working for the company. The Aryanization of businesses did not bring the anticipated revenue into the Slovak treasury, and only 288 of the liquidated businesses produced income for the state by July 1942. The Aryanization and liquidation of businesses was nearly complete by January 1942, resulting in unemployment for 64,000 of 89,000 Jews. Jewish impoverishment manufactured a pressing social problem for the Slovak government, which it "solved" in early 1942 by deporting the unemployed Jews.
Despite the populist appeal of Aryanization, it resulted in immense financial loss to Slovakia and great destruction of wealth. The state failed to raise substantial funds from the sale of Jewish property and businesses, and most of its gains came from the confiscation of Jewish-owned bank accounts and financial securities. The main beneficiaries of Aryanization were members of Slovak fascist political parties and paramilitary groups, who were eager to acquire Jewish property but had little interest (or expertise) in running Jewish businesses. During the republic's existence, the government gained 1.1 billion Ks from Aryanization and spent 900–950 million Ks on enforcing anti-Jewish measures.[g] In 1942, it paid the German government an additional 300 million Ks for the deportation of 58,000 Jews.
When Wisliceny arrived, all Jewish community organizations were dissolved and the Jews were forced to form the Ústredňa Židov (Jewish Center, ÚŽ, subordinate to the ÚHÚ) in September 1940. The first Judenrat outside the Reich and German-occupied Poland, the ÚŽ was the only secular Jewish organization allowed to exist; membership was required of all Jews. Leaders of the Jewish community were divided about how to respond to this development. Although some refused to associate with the ÚŽ, believing that it would be used to implement anti-Jewish measures, more saw participation in the ÚŽ as a way to help their fellow Jews by delaying the implementation of such measures and alleviating poverty. The first leader of the ÚŽ was Heinrich Schwartz, longtime secretary of the Orthodox Jewish community, who was chosen for his fluency in Slovak. Schwartz thwarted anti-Jewish orders to the best of his ability by delaying their implementation. In particular, he sabotaged a census of Jews in eastern Slovakia which was intended to justify their removal to the west of the country; Wisliceny had him arrested in April 1941. The Central Economic Office appointed Arpad Sebestyen, who cooperated with Wisliceny, as Schwartz' replacement. Wisliceny set up a Department for Special Affairs in the ÚŽ to ensure the prompt implementation of Nazi decrees, appointing Karol Hochberg (a Viennese Jew) as its director. The ambitious Hochberg had no reservations about implementing anti-Jewish measures to increase his own standing.
Jews serving in the army were segregated in a labor unit in April 1939, and were stripped of their rank at the end of the year. From 1940, male Jews and Romani people were obliged to work for the national defense (generally manual labor on construction projects) for two months every year. Along with ethnic Slovak convicts, 1,540 Jews and Romani people served in segregated labor companies between January and April 1940. All recruits considered Jewish or Romani were allocated to the Sixth Labor Battalion, which worked at military construction sites at Sabinov, Liptovský Svätý Peter, Láb, Svätý Jur, Zohor and other locations, the following year. Although the Ministry of Defense was pressured by the Ministry of the Interior to release the Jews for deportation in 1942, it refused. The battalion was disbanded in 1943, and the Jewish laborers were sent to a number of work camps.
The first labor centers were established in early 1941 by the ÚŽ as retraining courses for Jews forced into unemployment; 13,612 Jews had applied for the courses by February, far exceeding the programs' capacity. In July, the Slovak government issued a decree conscripting all Jewish men aged 18 to 60 for labor. Although the ÚŽ had to supplement the workers' pay to meet the legal minimum, Slovak historian Ivan Kamenec notes that the labor camps greatly increased the living standard of Jews impoverished by Aryanization. By September 5,500 Jews were performing manual labor for private companies at about 80 small labor centers, most of which were dissolved in the final months of 1941 as part of the preparation for deportation. Construction began on three larger camps – Sereď, Nováky, and Vyhne – in September of that year.
Initially, antisemitic laws defined Jews by religion rather than ancestry; Jews who were baptized before 1918 were considered Christian. Local authorities had imposed anti-Jewish measures on their own; the head of the Šariš-Zemplín region ordered local Jews to wear a yellow band around their left arm in April 1941, leading to attacks. As the focus shifted to restricting Jews' civil rights rather than depriving them of their property, Department 14 of the Ministry of the Interior (headed by Gejza Konka) was formed to enforce anti-Jewish measures. To systematize antisemitic legislation, Slovak legislators passed the Jewish Code on 9 September 1941: 270 anti-Jewish articles, largely focused on removing Jews from the economy.
Based on the Nuremberg Laws, the code defined Jews in terms of ancestry, banned intermarriage, and required that all Jews over six years old wear a yellow star. The Jewish Code excluded Jews from public life, forbidding them from traveling at certain times, using radios or phones, shopping at certain hours, or belonging to clubs or organizations. Slovak propaganda boasted that the Jewish Code was the strictest set of anti-Jewish laws in Europe. The president, however, could issue exemptions protecting individual Jews from the law. Employed Jews were initially exempt from some of the code's requirements, such as wearing the star.
The racial definition of Jews was criticized by the Catholic Church, which successfully lobbied the state to exempt converts from some of the laws. The Hlinka Guard and Freiwillige Schutzstaffel increased assaults on Jews and denounced non-Jews perceived as sympathetic to them as "white Jews", engaging in antisemitic demonstrations on a daily basis. The law enabled the Central Economic Office to force Jews to change their residence. This provision was put into effect on 4 October 1941, when 10,000 of 15,000 Jews in Bratislava (who were not employed or intermarried) were ordered to move to fourteen towns. The relocation was paid for and carried out by the ÚŽ's Department of Special Tasks. Although the Jews were ordered to move by 31 December 1941, due to logistical setbacks fewer than 7,000 people had moved by March 1942.
The highest levels of the Slovak government were aware early of mass murders of Jews in German-occupied territories. Wisliceny organized a visit by several Slovak government officials to a forced-labor camp for Jews in East Upper Silesia in July 1941, making some realize that Jews in Poland lived under conditions which would eventually cause mass death. Slovak soldiers fighting in the Soviet Union also brought word of the mass shootings of Jews, and participated in at least one of the massacres. Although papal chargé d'affaires Giuseppe Burzio told Tiso and other government officials that the Germans were shooting Jewish men, women, and children in the Ukraine, neither the Slovak authorities nor the victims knew about the Final Solution.
In mid-1941, the Germans demanded 20,000 men from Slovakia for forced labor. Slovakia did not want to send gentile Slovaks or care for the families of deported Jews. Jews were forbidden to leave Nazi Germany in October 1941, despite having previously been encouraged to do so. This ban, which paved the way for deportation and murder, affected all countries in the German sphere of influence. A letter sent 15 October 1941 indicates that plans were being made for the mass murder of Jews in the Lublin Reservation of the General Government to make room for deported Jews from Slovakia and Germany.
On 23–24 October 1941, Tiso, Tuka, Mach, and Ferdinand Čatloš visited the Wolf's Lair (near Rastenburg, East Prussia) and met with Adolf Hitler. No record survives of this meeting at which the deportation of Jews from Slovakia was probably first discussed, leading to historiographical debate over whether the Slovak or German government proposed the idea.[h] Even if the Germans made the offer, the HSĽS regime found deportation an attractive way to deal with the "Jewish problem".
In November 1941, the Slovak government permitted the German government to deport the 659 Slovak Jews living in the Reich and the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia with the proviso that their confiscated property be passed to Slovakia. This was the first step towards deporting Jews from Slovakia, which Tuka discussed with the German government in early 1942. As indicated by a cable from the German ambassador to Slovakia, Hanns Ludin, the Slovaks responded "with enthusiasm" to the idea; at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, Reinhard Heydrich said that implementing the Final Solution in Slovakia "will not be very difficult". Although the negotiations were conducted by Tuka, Tiso was almost certainly informed of them and did not interfere; according to James Mace Ward, his biographer, Tiso probably helped initiate the deportations.
Tuka presented the deportation proposals to the government on 3 March, and they were debated in parliament three days later. Discussions over the following months were extensive and resulted in the passage of 68/1942 on 15 May, which retroactively legalized the deportation of Jews, authorized the removal of their citizenship, and regulated exemptions. Opposition centered on economic, moral, and legal obstacles, but, as Mach later stated, "every [legislator] who has spoken on this issue has said that we should get rid of Jews". The official Catholic and Lutheran representatives, Ján Vojtaššák and Bohuslav Klimo, issued vague and contradictory statements during the debates. The Slovaks agreed to pay 500 Reichsmarks per Jew deported (supposedly to cover the cost of resettlement and retraining) and an additional fee to the Deutsche Reichsbahn for transport. (The 500 Reichsmark fee was equivalent to about $125 at the time, or $1,917 today). The Germans promised in exchange that the Jews would never return, and Slovakia could keep all confiscated property. Except for Croatia (which paid 30 Reichsmarks per person), Slovakia was the only country which paid to deport its Jewish population.
The original deportation plan, approved in February 1942, entailed the deportation of 7,000 women to Auschwitz and 13,000 men to Majdanek as forced laborers. Department 14 organized the transports, while the Slovak Transport Ministry provided the cattle cars. On 25 March 1942, the first train departed from Poprad transit camp for Auschwitz with 1,000 unmarried Jewish women between the ages of 16 and 45. Slovak officials promised that deportees would not be mistreated, and would be allowed to return home after a fixed period. Initially, most Jews believed that it was better to report for deportation rather than risk reprisals against their families. During the first wave of deportations (which ended on 2 April), 6,000 young, single Jews were deported to Auschwitz and Majdanek.
The deportations were marked by scenes that horrified many non-Jewish Slovaks, such as Hlinka Guardsmen chasing and assaulting Jews in the streets and stealing the last of their possessions. Members of the Hlinka Guard, the Freiwillige Schutzstaffel, and the gendarmerie were in charge of rounding up the Jews, guarding the transit centers, and eventually loading them into overcrowded cattle cars for deportation. Official exemptions were supposed to keep Jews from being deported, but local authorities sometimes deported exemption-holders. The victims were given only four hours' warning, to prevent them from escaping. Beatings and forcible shaving were commonplace, as was subjecting Jews to invasive searches to uncover hidden valuables. Although some guards and local officials accepted bribes to keep Jews off the transports, the victim would typically be deported on the next train. Others took advantage of their power to rape Jewish women.
On 3 April, Anton Vašek was appointed head of Department 14. Although Vašek accepted thousands of koruna in bribes, he continued to organize transports and said that the "Jewish question must be solved 100 percent". Due to his high-handedness in exercising power over life and death, Vašek became known as the "king of the Jews"; he was known to pull Jews out of cattle cars after receiving a bribe, only to send them on the next transport. SS leader Reinhard Heydrich visited Bratislava on 10 April, and he and Tuka agreed that further deportations would target whole families and eventually remove all Jews from Slovakia. According to Hanns Ludin, the Slovak government had agreed to deport all its Jewish citizens "without any German pressure".
The family transports began on 11 April, and took their victims to the Lublin district. Most of the trains brought their victims (30,000 in total) to ghettos whose inhabitants had been recently deported to the Bełżec or Sobibór death camps. Some groups stayed only briefly before they were deported again to the death camps, while other groups remained in the ghettos for months or years. During the first half of June 1942 ten transports stopped briefly at Majdanek, where able-bodied men were selected for labor; the trains continued to Sobibór, where the remaining victims were murdered. Transports went to Auschwitz after mid-June, where a minority of the victims were selected for labor and the remainder were killed in the gas chambers. This occurred for eight transports, the last of which arrived on 21 October 1942. By 1 August 1942, most of the Jews not exempt from deportation had already been deported or had fled to Hungary, leading to a six-week halt in the transports. To justify the slowdown, Tiso gave a speech in Holič in which he described Jews as "parasites" and the "eternal enemy" and attempted to justify the deportations relative to Christian ethics. The final transports, in September and October 1942, targeted Jews in the labor camps who were mentally or physically disabled.
Between 25 March and 20 October 1942, about 57,000 Jews (two-thirds of the population) were deported. The deportations disproportionately affected poor, rural, and Orthodox Jews; although the Šariš-Zemplín region in eastern Slovakia lost 85 to 90 percent of its Jewish population, Žilina reported that almost half of its Jews remained after the deportation. The deportees were held briefly in camps in Slovakia before deportation; 26,384 from Žilina, 7,500 from Patrónka, 7,000 from Poprad, 4,160 (or 4,463) from Sereď, and 4,000 to 5,000 from Nováky. Eighteen trains with 18,746 victims went to Auschwitz, and another thirty-nine went to ghettos and concentration and extermination camps in the Lublin district. Only a few hundred (estimated at 250 or 800) survived the war. Most of the survivors had been at Auschwitz; almost no one survived in Lublin. The last 600 male Slovak Jews surviving at Majdanek were shot during Operation Harvest Festival on 3–4 November 1943.
Acting on behalf of the Vatican in April 1942, Giuseppe Burzio condemned the deportations and threatened Tiso with an interdict if he went through with them. The Slovak Catholic bishops and the Lutheran Church issued statements which repeated antisemitic canards such as the accusation of deicide and the claim that Jewish prosperity was stolen from Slovaks, but argued that the methods used to suppress the Jews had to be "Christian". Catholics were decisive in the implementation of anti-Jewish policy, and the church did not strongly object to the deportations after being assured that converts would be settled separately from Jews. Some clergy protested the actions of the government but, according to Canadian historian Nina Paulovičová, none of the protests were effective. Christian clergy baptized Jews (exempting them from deportation), and the Lutheran Church baptized twice as many as the Catholic Church despite its smaller size.
Petitions were sent by Jewish groups to Tiso. The ÚŽ set up a Claims Department, led by Tibor Kováč, to help Jews obtain exemptions from transport and ensure that the Slovak government would honor exemptions already issued. These efforts did not halt (or delay) the deportations. By March 1942, the Working Group (an underground organization which operated under the auspices of the ÚŽ) had formed to oppose the deportations. Its leaders, Zionist organizer Gisi Fleischmann and Orthodox rabbi Michael Dov Weissmandl, bribed Vašek and Wisliceny. Many Jewish communities heard about the mass deaths in Poland from the deportees during the first half of 1942, from letters or escapees. Members of the banned Zionist youth movements traveled around the country to warn Jews to hide or flee, and the ÚŽ inserted covert warnings into official circulars (despite increased censorship). Several thousand[i] Jews fled to Hungary, aided by Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Ungar and the youth movements, in early 1942. Most of those who were successful in crossing the border bribed the guards to let them through or paid smugglers. Many others were arrested at the border and were immediately deported to Poland. Widespread resistance drove the Hlinka Guard to forcibly round up Jews to fill transports and deport Jews who had been promised immunity to labor camps.
According to Kamenec, the brutality of the family deportations in April and May caused many Slovaks to doubt the regime's purportedly Christian character. In June, Ludin reported that popular opinion in Slovakia had turned against the deportations because gentile Slovaks saw the Hlinka Guard's violence against Jews. According to a 29 September Sicherheitsdienst (SD) report, however, "Half of Bratislava was on its feet this morning to watch the show of the Judenevakuierung ... so was the kick, administered by an S.S.-man to a tardy Jew received by the large crowd ... with hand claps and cries of support and encouragement". Although many owners of Aryanized businesses applied for work exemptions for the Jewish former owners, their motivation is unclear. Most Slovaks supported (or were indifferent to) the deportations, and only individual acts of aid were reported. Although Germany encouraged Slovakia to hand over the remaining Jews, it did not exert strong pressure (possibly because the large population of Jews in German-occupied countries such as Poland could be exterminated with fewer political repercussions).
|Women performing forced labor at Nóvaky|
At the end of the deportations, about 24,000 Jews were still in Slovakia. Some 16,000 Jews had exemptions; there were 4,217 converts to Christianity before 1939, 985 Jews in mixed marriages, and 9,687 holders of economic exemptions (particularly doctors, pharmacists, veterinarians, engineers, and agricultural experts, whose professions had shortages). One thousand Jews were protected by presidential exemptions, although three-quarters also had other exemptions. In addition to the exempted Jews, 2,500 Jews were living in the Sereď, Nováky, and Vyhne labor camps. Additional Jews were living in smaller camps, and about a thousand were serving in the Sixth Labor Battalion. Thousands of Jews were living illegally, often under false papers identifying them as "Aryans" or with forged baptismal records making them ineligible for deportation.[j] When the deportations were halted, the government knew the whereabouts of only 2,500 Jews without exemptions. Unlike German-occupied countries whose the governments tried to kill every Jew, the exemptions prevented the full implementation of the Final Solution.
The enforcement of anti-Jewish laws grew less severe with time, and many Jews stopped wearing the yellow star. Nevertheless, the remaining Jews – even those with exemptions – lived in constant fear of deportation. Jews continued to flee to Hungary, with some desperate parents sending their children across the border unaccompanied. Others obtained false papers or refused to register with the authorities. The ÚŽ worked to improve conditions for laborers in the Slovak camps and to convert the camps to productive industrial centers to create an incentive to keep their workers. The number of Jews in the camps increased, eventually totaling 4,000. The labor camps earned 39 million Ks for the Slovak State.[k]
The halt in deportations from Slovakia enabled the Working Group to expand its bribery scheme to Jews outside the country. In an operation known as the Europa Plan, the Working Group tried to bribe SS chief Heinrich Himmler with $3 million to stop the transports of Jews from western and southeastern Europe to the death camps in Poland. It also tracked the locations of the deportees, smuggled aid, and helped 2,000 to 2,500 Polish Jews escape to Hungary via Slovakia. In late April 1944 two Auschwitz escapees, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, reached Slovakia. The Working Group sent a report to Hungary and Switzerland.
With the deportation of the Jews, the Slovak State was left with a surplus of confiscated property which it tried to sell. Although the state had only limited success at recouping the value of Jewish businesses from Aryanizers and selling vacated houses, many ordinary Slovaks bought discounted furniture and other items at auctions. After the Battle of Stalingrad, Slovak politicians realized that their treatment of the Jews would not reflect well on them if Germany lost the war. However, some HSĽS politicians (especially those in the radical faction) blamed the economic setbacks on the Jews and agitated for the deportation of the remaining population.
On 7 February 1943, HSĽS radical Alexander Mach announced at a rally in Ružomberok that the transports would soon resume. In early 1943, the Hlinka Guard and Vašek's department prepared for the resumption of deportations: registering Jews, canceling economic exemptions, and hunting down Jews in hiding. A plan to dispatch four trains between 18 and 22 April was not implemented. In response to the threatened resumption, the Catholic Church issued a pastoral letter in Latin on 8 March condemning antisemitism and totalitarianism and defending the rights of all Jews. Although Slovak priests had to read it from the pulpit, many altered the text. The Working Group mobilized to prevent further deportations, increasing its bribes to Vašek and Wisliceny. Germany put increasing pressure on the Slovak State to hand over its remaining Jews in 1943 and 1944, but Slovak politicians did not agree to resume the deportations.
Resumption of deportations (1944–1945)Edit
After the battle of Stalingrad it was evident to the Slovaks that Germany would not win the war, and high casualties on the Eastern Front caused many to turn against the fascist regime. In late 1943, leading army officers and intelligentsia formed the Slovak National Council to plan an insurrection against the regime; other anti-fascists retreated to the Carpathian mountains and formed partisan groups. Preparations for the uprising evoked mixed feelings in the remaining Slovak Jews. Although they were eager to fight against fascism, they feared that an uprising would bring about a crackdown on their community. By this time the Jews were aware that their deported relatives were no longer alive, although information on the causes of death was lacking. The increased partisan activity led many Jews to escape from the labor camps and join the partisans; underground movements formed at Sereď and Nováky.
Slovak authorities began to re-register Jews in January 1944, prompting some to flee to Hungary. According to Israeli historian Gila Fatran, there were about 22,000 Jews in Slovakia at the beginning of March 1944. On 19 March 1944 Germany invaded Hungary, including Carpathian Ruthenia and the areas ceded by Slovakia in 1938. The Slovak Jews who had fled to Hungary tried to return, but many were arrested at the border and deported. About 3,000 Jews succeeded in fleeing to Slovakia, bringing the total Jewish population to 25,000. Between 14 May and 7 July 437,000 Jews were deported from Hungary, most to Auschwitz; many of the trains passed through Slovakia. In light of this, Germany placed increased pressure on Slovak politicians to resume the deportation of the country's remaining Jews. To counter the perceived security threat of Jews in the Šariš-Zemplín region with the front line moving westward, the Slovak government proposed roundups. The Working Group convinced the government to resettle Jews in western Slovakia instead. On 15 May 1944, the Slovak government issued that order; 451 Jews were exempt because they were doctors, pharmacists, or married to non-Jews. Others disobeyed the order in the hope that they would be liberated sooner.
Concerned about the increase in resistance and suspicious about Slovak loyalty, Germany invaded Slovakia; this precipitated the Slovak National Uprising, which broke out on 29 August 1944. Fearing that they would be rounded up and deported, many Jews fled to the mountainous interior and partisan-controlled areas around Banská Bystrica; however, they were not greeted warmly by the local population. Guards at the three main labor camps (Sereď, Nováky, and Vyhne) fled during the uprising, and most of the Jewish prisoners left. About 1,600 to 2,000 Jews fought as partisans, ten percent of the total insurgent force. Fifteen percent of the Jewish partisans were killed. Many Jewish fighters hid their religious affiliation, due to antisemitism in the partisan movement. Unprepared for the events, many Jews hastily attempted to arrange false papers or hiding places. Going into hiding was not easy; one needed enough money for several months of living expenses, to arrange false papers and hiding places, and depend on non-Jews for food and assistance. Jews who hid in the mountains over the winter of 1944–1945 were unprepared for the six to eight months they waited for liberation, and many faced a choice between starvation and surrender.
|The Mittelman family hid in the Carpathians during the uprising.|
The Germans forced a change in the Slovak government, replacing Vojtech Tuka with Jozef Tiso's cousin Štefan as prime minister; Jozef remained president. Jewish affairs were controlled under the new government by the Ministry of Defense, which was led by pro-Nazi Hlinka Guardsman Otomar Kubala. German and Slovak authorities collaborated to round up and deport Jews, known euphemistically as a "radical solution" (German: radikalen Lösung). During cabinet meetings on 11 and 15 September, the government decided that all Jews except for doctors, pharmacists, and those in married to non-Jews would be concentrated at Sereď (the only one of the three large labor camps for Jews which had not fallen into rebel hands during the uprising).
German and Slovak propaganda blamed the Jews for the uprising, providing the Germans with an excuse to implement the Final Solution. Nazi authorities were eager to eradicate Slovakia's remaining Jews before the Red Army advanced further into Poland; Auschwitz would shut down its gas chambers in November 1944. Einsatzgruppe H, commanded by SS-Obersturmbannführer Joseph Witiska and consisting of Einsatzkommando 13, Einsatzkommando 14 and a number of Sonderkommando ("special units"), was formed to suppress the uprising immediately after it began and round up Jews and Romani people. Einsatzgruppe H was aided by local collaborators, including SS-Heimatschutz (HS), Abwehrgruppe 218 and the Hlinka Guard Emergency Divisions (POHG). These forces began by disarming the Slovak Army, but quickly focused on rounding up Jews throughout Slovakia and sending them to Sereď for deportation. According to Einsatzgruppe H records, 9,653 of the 9,937 people arrested by 9 December were Jews.
Roundups in western SlovakiaEdit
Most Jews who fell victim to the second wave of persecution were captured during roundups by Einsatzgruppe H or local collaborators. They were briefly imprisoned at local prisons or the Einsatzgruppe H office in Bratislava, from which they were sent to Sereď for deportation. In many cases, local authorities provided lists of Jews. Over 1,000 Jews were at Sereď by 11 September, including some who had returned to the camp after escaping; others were rounded up in surrounding areas. The number of prisoners increased to 1,500 three days later. Although there were no deportations during the first two weeks, the Jews experienced harsh treatment (including murder) and severe overcrowding as the population swelled to 3,000 – twice the intended capacity. Alois Brunner took over the camp's administration in the final days of September and began to organize transports to Auschwitz, the first of which departed on 30 September. Anton Vašek attempted to increase production in Sereď, claiming at his postwar trial that the Jews had asked him to. The Germans had no interest in production at Sereď because they intended to use it as a transit camp for Auschwitz. After the deportations began, the Slovak government ineffectually protested against German interference with Slovak sovereignty and for arousing the ire of the Holy See and Switzerland.
Meanwhile, the Jewish leadership in Bratislava was conflicted about how to react to the uprising. After it learned that Brunner was coming to Bratislava, the Working Group attempted to bribe Otto Koslowski (head of the SD in Slovakia) to stop the deportations. The Working Group later tried to negotiate with Brunner (despite warnings from less-extreme elements of the SS), and Brunner continued the negotiations to distract the group. The largest roundup was carried out in Bratislava during the night of 28–29 September by Einsatzkommando 29, aided by 600 HS and POHG collaborators. Between 1,600 and 1,800 Jews were arrested, including most of the ÚŽ and Working Group leadership. The German security services used a list of Jews found in Gisi Fleischmann's office and searched the houses of Slovak gentiles suspected of hiding Jews. Those arrested were held at the Jewish Council's headquarters until 6 am, when they were crowded into freight cars and transported to Sereď (arriving at 2 am on 30 September). The first transport from Sereď to Auschwitz, with 1,860 deportees, departed that day.
After the September operation, Einsatzkommando 29 established an office in the former Jewish Center to hunt down Jews in hiding. Half of the arrested Jews were found in Bratislava after 19 November, typically in hiding with false papers. When Jews were captured, they were interrogated and tortured if they did not provide the names and addresses of other Jews in hiding. At Sereď, many Jews claimed marriage to non-Jews in the hope of being spared from deportation. Eleven transports, with about 11,500 people, left from Sereď. The first five transports (from 30 September to 17 October) went to Auschwitz, where most of the victims were gassed. The final transport to Auschwitz, on 2 November, arrived after the gas chambers were shut down. Later transports left for Sachsenhausen, Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbrück, and Theresienstadt.
News of the German invasion of Slovakia spread quickly to the Western Allies, who (with the end of the war in sight) intervened to save the Slovak Jews. Yitzhak Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Palestine, made an impassioned plea to a papal representative in Cairo on 9 September. When his letter was not answered, Herzog requested an audience with Pope Pius XII. Papal representative Giuseppe Burzio met with Tiso on 22 and 29 September, reportedly calling Tiso a liar when the president denied knowledge of deportations. Burzio determined that Tiso had no sympathy for the Jews, and further intervention would provide no benefits. Pius XII sent a private message to Tiso condemning the persecution of individuals for their race or nationality. Tiso was furious that some Jews to whom he had granted presidential deportation exemptions had joined the partisans. He refused to interfere and canceled some exemptions, which the Germans were not honoring anyway. Tiso claimed in his reply to the pope that the reports of mass Jewish deaths were enemy propaganda, and his anti-Jewish actions were motivated by the threat posed by the Jews.
Ireland, the JDC and Switzerland issued formal protests, and the Red Cross sent representative Georges Dunand. In early November, Dunand met with Tiso and persuaded him to exempt the ill, the elderly, children of mixed marriages and doctors; however, the exemptions were ignored by the Germans. The Czechoslovak government-in-exile protested on behalf of its Jewish citizens and the Czech minority in Slovakia, which was also persecuted because of alleged disloyalty. The United States embassy organized protection for some 300 Jews with foreign citizenship, housing them in Marianka (a castle near Bratislava). Brunner raided the castle on 11 October; the prisoners (except for three Jews with American citizenship, but including several dozen other United States citizens) were taken to Sereď and deported to Auschwitz on 17 October.  This incident aroused stronger diplomatic protests, which only arrived weeks after the deaths of most of the victims. Although it is unclear whether Tiso had the power to stop the transports, his response to the protests made it clear that he supported the murder of Jews.
Roundups and massacres in eastern SlovakiaEdit
The roundup and murder of Jews in Eastern Slovakia was begun by the German paramilitary HS, joined by units of the POHG in mid-November. When Banská Bystrica (the last opposition stronghold) fell on 27 October, Jews, Romani people, and actual and suspected partisans were rounded up and held in a prison with little food and water before being brought to Kremnička or Nemecká for execution. In a series of massacres at Kremnička, 747 people (including 211 women and 58 children) were murdered by Einsatzgruppe H and the POHG; half of the victims were Jewish. There were an estimated 900 victims at Nemecká, where the victims' bodies were burned after they were shot. Zvolen's Jewish cemetery was used as an execution site; 218 bodies were exhumed after the end of the war. The massacres, some of which were public, created an atmosphere of terror. In all, 211 mass graves with 5,304 victims shot by Axis forces in late 1944 and early 1945 were discovered after the end of the war. About 90 villages were razed. Estimates of the number of Jewish victims range from several hundred to 2,000, and about 2,000 Romani people were killed.
A number of small transports left Čadca for Auschwitz, the first on 1 September. Another transport left on 5 September; a third transport on 20 September contained 177 people, 146 of whom were gassed on arrival. The number of victims on the other transports is unknown, although Fatran estimates that the total of all three was about 400. In November, additional transports left Čadca for concentration camps in the Reich. A transport with 100 people left Prešov for Auschwitz in November, from where the deportees were transferred to Ravensbrück. An additional transport with 100 people departed from Ilava Prison. During these roundups, gentiles caught sheltering Jews were deported with the Jews they attempted to rescue.
In September, it was announced that all gentile Slovaks caught assisting Jews would be killed. The attitude of the local population varied; some risked their lives to hide Jews, and others turned them in to the police. The success of Einsatzgruppe H was largely due to denunciations and the cooperation of the POHG and the HS, who could impersonate partisans due to their local knowledge and ability to speak Slovak. These collaborators aided with interrogations and searched houses for Jews in hiding. However, according to survivor testimony, the majority of arrests were made by German forces. Before November, most Jews were arrested at their registered address or workplace hours or days after German troops arrived in the area. Later, most of those arrested were in hiding or had false papers. About 13,500 Jews were deported in the second round, of whom 10,000 died. The exact number is unknown, because much of the documentation was destroyed by the perpetrators. Aware of the extermination camps, Jews tried to jump from the trains. Many Jews in essential occupations were deported or forced into hiding, leading to catastrophic shortages of doctors, veterinarians, and other specialists. About 10,850 Jews survived in Slovakia, and they were liberated by the Red Army in March and April 1945.
A total of 68,000 to 71,000 Slovak Jews were murdered, more than 80 percent of the prewar population. After the liberation of Slovakia by the Red Army in 1945, it became part of the Third Czechoslovak Republic. In addition to those who had survived in Slovakia, 9,000 Jews returned from concentration camps and Hungary and 10,000 Jews survived in the annexed territories; by the end of 1945, 33,000 Jews were living in Slovakia. Many survivors had lost their entire families, and were in poor health. Jews who tried to regain stolen property faced an uphill battle, because Aryanization was legally recognized by the postwar government. Abandoned and heirless property was nationalized rather than given to Jewish organizations, as required by international law. Those who had stolen Jewish property were reluctant to return it; former resistance members had also appropriated some stolen property, a just reward (in their view) for their opposition to Nazism. The two groups began an intimidation campaign to force Jews to leave and relinquish their property claims. Violent attacks also occurred; the most severe was the September 1945 Topoľčany pogrom, in which 47 Jews were injured. At least 36 Jews were murdered and more than 100 injured in postwar violence.
Tiso (who had fled to Austria) was extradited to Czechoslovakia, convicted of treason and collaboration, sentenced to death on 15 April 1947, and executed three days later. According to the court, his "most immoral, most unchristian, and most inhuman" action was ordering the deportation of the Slovak Jews. Other perpetrators, including Tuka and Kubala, were also convicted and executed.[l] The trials painted Slovak State officials as traitors, thereby exonerating Slovak society from responsibility for the Holocaust. The Czechoslovak government, initially supportive of Zionism, insisted that Jews assimilate into Czechoslovak culture or emigrate to Israel. Although a postwar law negated property transactions arising from Nazi persecution, the autonomous Slovak government did not enforce it. Jews who had declared German or Hungarian nationality on a prewar census were accused of disloyalty to Czechoslovakia and stripped of their citizenship, losing any right to restitution. Heirless property was nationalized in 1947 into the Currency Liquidation Fund. Most Jews in Czechoslovakia emigrated to Israel or other countries in the years after the war. Emigration accelerated in 1948, due to the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia and the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which eliminated British restrictions on immigration. Between 14,000 and 18,000 Jews remained in Czechoslovakia at the end of 1950. Many emigrated during the Communist era; the 2016 Slovak Jewish population was estimated at 2,600, 0.05 percent of the total population.
The government's attitude to Jews and Zionism shifted after 1948, leading to the 1952 Slánský trial in which the Czechoslovak government accused 14 Communists (11 of them Jewish) of belonging to a Zionist conspiracy. The Communist government obliged historians to conform to Marxist historiography (preventing study of the Holocaust), and Communist memorials to the victims of fascism did not mention Jews or Romani people. In the 1960s, which were characterized by a liberalization known as the Prague Spring, discussion of the Holocaust begin in Slovakia. The political climate was more favorable to exploration of the Holocaust in fiction than in academic history, leading to the publication of memoirs and novels by Holocaust survivors. A popular 1965 film, The Shop on Main Street, focused on Slovak culpability for the Holocaust. During the normalization period after the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, free expression was discouraged and the anti-Zionism which had followed the 1967 Six-Day War intensified.
After the fall of the Communist regime in 1989, the Holocaust could be discussed openly by the public and in academia. The Slovak government viewed remembering the Holocaust as a way of demonstrating the country's European identity before it joined the European Union in 2004. Memorials were constructed in many Slovak cities during the 1990s to commemorate Holocaust victims, and in October 2001 Slovakia designated 9 September (the anniversary of the passage of the Jewish Code) as Holocaust Victims and Racial Hatred Day.[m] According to a 1991 survey, a great majority of Slovak people believe that the actions taken against the Jewish people were criminal and not deserved. The post-Communist government enacted various laws for the restitution of Jewish property, but residency and citizenship requirements prevented emigrants from filing claims. In 2002, ten percent of the value of the nationalized heirless property was released into a fund that paid for Jewish education and Holocaust memorials. The Holocaust continues to be explored, and the 2004 documentary Miluj blížneho svojho was controversial in its depiction of Slovak perpetrators of the Topoľčany pogrom. As of January 2019[update], Yad Vashem (the official Israeli memorial to the Holocaust) had recognized 602 Slovaks as Righteous Among the Nations for risking their lives to save Jews.
For the most part, Holocaust relativism in Slovakia manifests as attempts to deflect the blame for it onto Germans and Jews rather than outright denial. A 1997 textbook by Milan Stanislav Ďurica and endorsed by the government sparked international controversy (and was eventually withdrawn from circulation) because it portrayed Jews as living happily in labor camps during the war. Jozef Tiso and the Slovak State have been the focus of Catholic and ultranationalist commemorations. The neo-Nazi Kotleba party states that it "continues the legacy of our national heroes—Ľudovít Štúr, Dr. Andrej Hlinka and Dr. Jozef Tiso". Members of the party have been charged with Holocaust denial, which has been a criminal offense since 2001. The Holocaust continues to be a contentious issue in Slovakia because it highlights the political divisions between ethnic and civic nationalists.
- 2,650 Jews immigrated from Austria to Slovakia between 1938 and 1945.
- Views differ on this point. István Deák writes, "Despite the claims of some historians, [Slovakia] functioned not as a puppet state but as Nazi Germany’s first but not last Slavic-speaking military ally". Tatjana Tönsmeyer, who maintains that the puppet-state narrative overstates German influence and understates Slovakia's autonomy, notes that Slovak authorities frequently avoided implementing measures pushed by the Germans when such measures did not suit Slovak priorities. According to German historian Barbara Hutzelmann, "Although the country was not independent, in the full sense of the word, it would be too simplistic to see this German-protected state (Schutzstaat) simply as a 'puppet regime'." Ivan Kamenec, however, emphasizes German influence on Slovak internal and external politics and describes it as a "German satellite".
- The radical wing of the party was more vocal in its antisemitism, more stridently separatist, and more pro-German in orientation, while the conservatives preferred not to be beholden to foreign interests and emphasized Catholic clericalism. The party's radical wing controlled the Hlinka Guard, whose leader, Alexander Mach, who was appointed interior minister in 1940 at German request; the conservative branch had the support of the clergy and the population.
- 2.6 million people lived within the 1939 borders of the Slovak State, and 85 percent had declared Slovak nationality on the 1938 census. Minorities included Germans (4.8 percent), Czechs (2.9 percent), Rusyns (2.4 percent), Hungarians (2.1 percent), Jews (1.1 percent), and Romani people (0.9 percent). Unlike other countries, Czechoslovak Jews could define their nationality as Jewish or by primary language on prewar censuses. Seventy-five percent of Slovaks were Catholics, and most of the remainder belonged to the Lutheran and Greek Catholic churches.
- Equivalent to USD$108 million at the time, or $1,656,073,320 today. All currency conversions are made from the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission's determination of wartime exchange rate.
- Equivalent to USD$6.125 million at the time, or $93,920,825 today.
- Gain equivalent to USD$27.5 million at the time, or $421,685,336 today. Loss eqivalent to $22.5 million or $345,015,275 today.
- Among the historians who suggest a Slovak initiative are Yehuda Bauer, Livia Rothkirchen, and Ladislav Lipscher. Those who maintain that it is unknown include Ivan Kamenec, James Mace Ward, and Eduard Nižňanský. Katarína Hradská is one of the scholars who has argued for a German initiative.
- Estimates vary widely because the illegal crossings were not recorded. Rajcan, Vadkerty & Hlavinka (2018, p. 847) gave a figure of 5,000–6,000. In 1992 and 2011, Slovak historian Ivan Kamenec stated that 6,000 Jews escaped to Hungary. Bauer (1994, pp. 73–74) stated that 8,000 had escaped; in 2002, he revised the figure to 7,000. In 1992 Fatran estimated that 5,000–6,000 Jews crossed the border, but four years later she changed the estimate to 10,000.
- Some were purchased from the non-Jews to whom they had been issued, others were bought from Slovak forgers, some created by Jewish forgers, and others by priests who edited parish records to pre-date baptisms.
- Equivalent to USD$975,000 at the time, or $14,950,662 today.
- All three perpetrators were tried under Decree 33/1945, an ex post facto law that instituted a mandatory death sentence for treason and collaboration. In the cases of Tuka and Tiso, their roles in the Holocaust were a subset of the crimes for which they were convicted.
- Slovak: Pamätný deň obetí holokaustu a rasového násilia
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