Jozef Tiso

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Jozef Tiso

Monsignor Jozef Tiso (October 13, 1887April 18, 1947) was a Roman Catholic priest who became a deputy of the Czechoslovak parliament, a member of the Czechoslovak government, and finally the President of Slovakia during World War II when it was a Nazi puppet state.

Born in Veľká Bytča (today's Bytča), he graduated from the "Pasmaneum" in Vienna in 1910 as a theologian, and afterwards worked as a Catholic curate in several towns, teaching Slovak spelling, organising theatre performances and doing cultural work. At the beginning of World War I he served as a military chaplain. In 1915 he became the director of the Theological Seminary of Nitra and a teacher at the Piarist High School in the same town. From 1921 to 1924 - at a very early age - he served as the secretary of the bishop and teacher at the Seminary of Divinity at Nitra. In 1924 he became the dean and parish priest of the town of Bánovce nad Bebravou.

Tiso became one of the leaders of the Slovak People's Party. Father Andrej Hlinka had founded the Slovak People's Party as a Roman Catholic grouping in 1913, while Austria-Hungary still ruled Slovakia. The party sought the autonomy of Slovakia within Czechoslovakia and after 1923 became the largest party in Slovakia . It comprised one of the two purely Slovak parties in Slovakia; the remaining parties either represented national minorities, or functioned (at least nominally) throughout Czechoslovakia. When Hlinka died in 1938, Tiso became de facto leader of the party (officially he served as deputy-leader of the party from 1930 to October 1, 1939, becoming the official party leader only after that date).

Even during his presidency, Tiso continued to work actively as the parish priest of the town of Bánovce nad Bebravou (from 1924 to 1945). From 1925 to 1939 he served as a deputy in the Czechoslovak parliament in Prague, and from 1927 to 1929 as a member of the Czechoslovak government - the Minister of Health and Sports.

Adolf Hitler's Germany annexed the Sudetenland (in the Czech part of Czechoslovakia) and the Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš fled the country in October1938. During the chaos which resulted, the Slovaks (who had lacked any form of autonomy within Czechoslovakia) declared their autonomy within Czechoslovakia and Tiso, as the leader of one of the Slovak parties - the "Hlinka's Slovak People's Party" -, became (until March 9, 1939) the prime minister of this autonomous Slovakia. Hungary, having never really accepted the separation of Slovakia from its control in 1918, took advantage of the situation and managed to persuade Germany and Italy to force Slovakia to let it (Hungary) occupy one third of Slovak territory in November 1938, by the so-called Vienna Award (Vienna Arbitration).

Adolf Hitler and Tiso meet in  1942
Adolf Hitler and Tiso meet in 1942

In the light of this situation, all Czech or Slovak political parties in Slovakia (except for the Communists) voluntarily joined forces and set up the "Hlinka's Slovak People's Party - Party of Slovak National Unity" in November 1938, which created the basis for the future authoritarian regime in Slovakia. (The same happened in the Czech part of the country two weeks later for Czech parties.) In January 1939, the Slovak government officially prohibited all parties apart from the Party of Slovak National Unity, the "Deutsche Partei" (a party of Germans in Slovakia) and the "Unified Hungarian Party" (a party of Hungarians in Slovakia).

From February 1939, representatives of Germany - planning to occupy the Czech part and basically not interested in Slovakia - started to officially persuade Slovak politicians to declare the independence of Slovakia. On March 9, 1939, Czech troops occupied Slovakia and Tiso lost his post of Prime Minister. On March 13, 1939, Adolf Hitler lost his patience. He invited Tiso - as the deposed prime minister - to Berlin, and personally forced him to immediately (as he said "in a flash") declare the independence of Slovakia under German "protection", otherwise Germany would allow Hungary (and partly Poland) to annex the remaining territory of Slovakia. Under these circumstances, Tiso spoke by phone to the Czechoslovak president Emil Hácha and to the then Prime Minister of Slovakia, Karol Sidor, and they agreed to convene the Slovak parliament the next day and let it decide. On March 14, the Slovak parliament unanimously declared the independence of Slovakia, and on March 15, Germany invaded the remaining Czech lands - exactly according to German plans.

Tiso served as the Prime Minister of independent Slovakia from March 14 1939 until October 26, 1939. On October 26 he became President of Slovakia (separate from the Prime Ministerial office). On October 1 1939 he officially became the president of the Slovak People's Party.

The "independence" of Slovakia remained largely illusory in the sense that Slovakia had become a German puppet state. On the other hand, Slovakia had become independent of Prague, and it depended less on Nazi Germany than did Czechoslovakia on the Soviet Union after World War II. (German troops fully occupied Slovakia only at the end of the war in 1944, while Soviet troops remained in Czechoslovakia for more than 20 years).

The Slovak People's Party functioned as almost the sole legal political organisation in Slovakia. Tiso submitted to Nazi demands for anti-Semitic legislation in Slovakia. Tiso himself - like many people in Central Europe at that time - had definite anti-Semitic views (as some of his own letters from the end of World War II suggest), but as an (active) Catholic priest he opposed violence -- even against the Jews. In general, opinions differ widely on his role in the Jewish deportations from Slovakia. He definitely did not initiate or organize these activities. He also granted 2,000 presidential exceptions from the anti-Semitic Jewish Code. (The exact number remains in dispute, as does the question whether this is a relatively high or low number.) Some sources prefer the view that Tiso supported the deportations tacitly; other sources point out that the first deportations had to take place behind his back. As to the then Slovak government, however, documents concerning the holocaust in Slovakia (such as E.Niznansky et al. (eds.), Holokaust na Slovensku, vols. 1-5. Bratislava: NMS/ZNO, 2001-2004) prove that the Slovak government consentingly cooperated with Germans and organized deportations.

The deportations of Jews from Slovakia started in March 1942, but halted - despite heavy opposition from Germany - in October 1942, when it became clear that Germany had not "only" misused the Jews as workers but had also killed them in camps, and when public protests arose. Slovakia became the first state in the Nazi sphere to stop deportations of Jews, but some 58,000 Jews (75% of Slovak Jewry) had already suffered deportation, mostly to Auschwitz. Between October 1942 and October 1944, Slovakia even served as a last resort for Jews suffering persecution in neighbouring countries.

Jewish deportations resumed in October 1944, when the Soviet army reached the Slovak border, and the Slovak National Uprising took place. As a result of these events, Germany decided to occupy all of Slovakia and the country lost its independence. During the German occupation, the country saw 13,500 more Jews deported and 5,000 imprisoned.

Tiso lost power when the Soviet Army liberated Slovakia in April 1945. He faced a charge of treason, and was hanged on April 18, 1947.

See also: History of Slovakia

External link

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