The World War II Years

On September 28, 1938 Chamberlain appealed to Hitler for a conference. Hitler met the next day, at Munich, with the chiefs of government of France, Italy, and Britain. The Czechoslovak government was neither invited nor consulted. On September 29, the Munich Agreement was signed by Germany, Italy, France, and Britain. The Czechoslovak government capitulated September 30 and agreed to abide by the agreement.

The Munich Agreement stipulated that Czechoslovakia must cede Sudeten territory to Germany. German occupation of the Sudetenland would be completed by October 10. An international commission (representing Germany, Britain, France, Italy, and Czechoslovakia) would supervise a plebiscite to determine the final frontier. Britain and France promised to join in an international guarantee of the new frontiers against unprovoked aggression. Germany and Italy, however, would not join in the guarantee until the Polish and Hungarian minority problems were settled.

The First Republic

Tiso with Nazi German representatives

Tiso with Nazi German representatives

On March 14, 1939, Slovakia declared its independence, causing itself the Slovak Republic. Monsignor Tiso was elected president of this new republic. A clerical nationalist, Tiso opposed the Nazification of Slovak society and hoped instead to establish Slovakia as a nationalist, Christian, corporative state. His plan conflicted with that of Slovak radicals who were organized into the paramilitary Hlinka Guards. The latter cooperated closely with the Nazi-oriented German minority led by Franz Karmasin. Radicals dominated the Slovak government. Vojtech Tuka, recently released from prison, became prime minister; his associate, Ferdinand Durcansky, was named foreign minister. Alexander Mach, head of the Hlinka Guards, was propaganda minister. German "advisory missions" were appointed to all Slovak ministries, and German troops were stationed in Slovakia beginning March 15, 1939.

The conflict between Tiso and the radicals resulted in the Salzburg Compromise, concluded between Slovakia and the Reich in July 1940. The compromise called for dual command by the Slovak Populist Party and the Hlinka Guards. The Reich appointed storm trooper leader Manfred von Killinger as the German representative in Slovakia. While Tiso successfully restructured the Slovak Populist Party in harmony with Christian corporative principles, Tuka and Mach radicalized Slovak policy toward the Jews (130,000 in the 1930 census). In September 1941, the Slovak government enacted a "Jewish code," providing a legal foundation for property expropriation, internment, and deportation. In 1942 the Slovak government reached an agreement with Germany on the deportation of Jews. The same year, when most of the deportations occurred, approximately 68,000 Slovak Jews were sent out of Slovakia to German-run concentration camps. Many Jews escaped deportation under a provision that allowed Tiso to exempt Jews whose services were considered an economic necessity.

Tiso's power was strengthened in October 1942, when the Slovak Diet proclaimed him leader of the state and Slovak Populist Party, giving him rights of intervention in all affairs of state. The HG was effectively subordinated to party control. The new German representative, Hans Elard Ludin, concentrated his energies on war production. German banks acquired a controlling interest in all Slovak industries. With the aid of German investments and technical advice, Slovakia experienced a considerable economic boom, especially in the armaments industry, which had been controlled by the German government since December 1939. To some extent, Slovakia served as a showcase for Hitler's new order.

Slovak Resistance


In the aftermath of Munich, Slovak politicians from the democratic parties (Republican Party of Farmers and Peasants, Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party, and Czechoslovak National Socialist Party) organized a resistance movement. Individual underground cells sprang up in towns and villages throughout Slovakia. A campaign of "whispering" propaganda was initiated to alert the acquiescent Slovak population to the true nature of the Tiso regime. The goal of the democratic resistance was the restoration of the Czechoslovak Republic, but with greater participation for Slovakia. In the spring of 1939, the "Zeta" headquarters was established in Bratislava to coordinate with the Czech resistance and to transmit intelligence information to the liberation movement abroad. Party Communists remaining in Slovakia formed the underground Communist of Slovakia (Komunisticka strana Slovenska--KSS) and until 1943 favored the creation of an independent "Soviet Slovakia."

The shortage of qualified personnel enabled resistance members to infiltrate all levels of the Tiso administration, where they promoted economic sabotage. Mutiny within the Slovak army (marshaled by the Axis powers for combat against Poland and, later, the Soviet Union) was encouraged and became commonplace. At Kremnica, on September 15, 1939, approximately 3,500 Slovak soldiers abandoned their transport train and marched into the city. Members of the underground Slovak Revolutionary Youth set fire to machinery in factories, emptied the fuel tanks of locomotives, and exploded munitions in warehouses. Slovak youth turned increasingly against the Tiso regime.

In his Christmas broadcast of 1942, Benes called for resistance groups in Slovakia to increase their activity in preparation for a seizure of power. The groups worked to unify their efforts. The following November, negotiations between democratic and communist resistance leaders culminated in the signing of the Christmas Agreement of 1943. The agreement called for the creation of the Slovak National Council to represent the political will of the Slovak nation. The Slovak National Council would act in concert with the Czechoslovak government and liberation movement abroad. The postwar Czechoslovak state would be democratic and organized on the basis of national equality. The Christmas Agreement provided also for a close association with the Soviet Union in foreign policy and military affairs. Benes endorsed the agreement on March 27, 1944.

The Allied powers agreed that Slovakia would be liberated by Soviet armies. In March 1944, with Benes's approval, the Slovak National Council authorized Lieutenant-Colonel Jan Golian to prepare for a national coup to be coordinated with the arrival of Soviet troops. Golian organized a secret military center at Banska Bystrica and created Slovak partisan units composed of escaped prisoners of war and army deserters. The Slovak National Uprising of August 29, however, was premature. The Soviet government, regarding the Slovak resistance as politically suspect, failed to inform the Slovaks of a change in Soviet strategy. Despite American efforts to assist the uprising, the German Wehrmacht occupied Slovakia, and Banska Bystrica fell on October 27. Nonetheless, local partisan warfare continued up to the liberation.