Rudolf Vrba was anything but naive. He knew Canada’s abysmal failure to help Jews during World War II had been followed by five decades of failing to identify and prosecute Nazis who had taken refuge in Canada.

The Beronville Affair

The Bernonville Affair in Canada.

After Vrba’s death in 2006, Canadians have remained almost entirely ignorant of the extent to which Canada’s toadying complicity with British and American Cold War foreign policy agendae (to “fight against Communism”) frequently included providing safe harbour to Nazis — such as Count Jacques de Bernonville (aka Jacques Duge), right hand man of Klaus Barbie, Gestapo chief of Lyon from 1942 until the liberation of Lyon in 1944 — both of whom were deemed potentially useful to M16 or the CIA. [A French court sentenced Bernonville to death in abstentia in 1947 but he was able to enter Canada illegally, disguised as a priest. With the help of Quebec nationalists and the Catholic Church, Bernonville lived freely in Quebec until he was arrested in 1951 and slated for extradition–only to be forewarned by Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, enabling Barbie’s foremost accomplice to escape to Brazil. According to a 1994 article in the Montreal newspaper, Le Devoir, three other pro-Nazi war criminals who found safe refuge in Quebec were a German SS officer and diplomat named Count Victor Kayserking, who was able to escape to Haiti; a leader of the Vichy militia that murdered partisans, Julien Gaudens Labedan; and a French SS veteran named Dr. Michel-Lucien Seigneur who had been sentenced to death in absentia in Poitiers in March of 1945.]

Yaroslav Hunka waves from the gallery

Yaroslav Hunka waves from the gallery, amid applause, prior to a speech by Ukrainian President Zelenskyy.

The ignorance and stupidity and naivety of Canadians as to the fate of both Jews and Nazis in our midst was made embarrassingly obvious in October of 2023 when the 37th Speaker of the House of Commons of one of the world’s oldest democracies, MP Anthony Rota, was forced to resign his position after he invited his fellow Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) to stand and give a fulsome round of applause to one of his constituents from  his riding of Nipissing-Timiskaming. The elected assembly immediately rose to their feet to enthusiastically honour a Ukrainian/Canadian war veteran named Yaroslav Hunka. The House of Commons had gathered to hear a speech by Ukraine’s President Volodomir Zelenskyy. This round of applause was to serve as a prelude. Evidently, nobody had done due diligence–not the Speaker, his staff, nor the staff at the PMO and not one of the 338 Members of Parliament–to examine Mr. Hunka’s background.

Jews in Canada with a sophisticated knowledge of history soon pointed out that Canada’s entire parliament had just risen and cheered and applauded a man who had, in fact, fought for the Nazis. Rota was obliged to resign and was relegated to the back benches. There were a few days of wringing of hands, leading to calls to declassify the whole of the Deschenes Commission’s 1980s-era report so the country could learn the true extent of Nazi activities in post-Second World War Canada, but precious few Canadians had ever even heard about the Deschenes Commission in the first place.

Nazi Josef Kirschbaum

Jozef Kirschbaum, who was a key figure in Slovakia’s clerico-fascist wartime regime, fled to Canada in 1949. For the next 51 years he was a leader of the Slovak World Congress and the Canadian Slovak League, both chiefly funded by Stefan Roman.

Kirschbaum as an older man

Kirschbaum as an older man, living in Canada as a respected history professor, rewrote Slovakian history to expunge a clear trail of collaboration with the Nazis and responsibility for the deaths of approximately 70,000 Slovakian Jews.

Canada’s special envoy for preserving Holocaust remembrance and combating antisemitism, Irwin Cotler — who was a former federal Liberal justice minister, attorney general and the international chair at the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights–joined the host of CBC’s national affairs program, Sunday Magazine, Rebecca Zandbergen, to discuss how Canada should reckon with its past and future actions, but the country was still primarily concerned with its piety concerning Reconciliation about its mistreatment of Indigenous citizens, having previously taken measures to formally apologize for racism against citizens of Japanese and Chinese origins–but never Jews.

As the foremost whistleblower of World War II, Rudolf Vrba tried to also blow the whistle on Canada’s post-war complicity and naivety on several occasions but to no avail. Later, two attempts by highly distinguished Canadians to have him accorded an Order of Canada were unsuccessful. [Vrba considered himself to an agnostic, a non-religious Jew.]

Here follows a synopsis of Canada’s response to overt awareness that a Slovakian-born professor, Jozef Kirschbaum, had been convicted as a war criminal in Europe but was living freely and openly in Canada under his real name.

THE CASE OF JOZEF KIRSCHBAUM

Popemobile in Newfouondland

The Popemobile travels past a rural home en route to Flatrock where Pope John Paul II blessed the fishing fleet in the harbour on September 12, 1984 during the fourth day of his Canadian visit. (CP PICTURE ARCHIVE/Andy Clark)

On September 9, 1984, Pope John Paul II kissed the tarmac at the Quebec City airport to commence the first-ever papal visit to Canada. The Pontiff visited the Montreal tomb of Blessed Andre Bessette on September 11 and blessed the fishing fleet in Newfoundland on September 12. On September 15, an estimated 300,000 people gathered at the Canadian Forces base at Downsview, north of Toronto, for the Pope’s largest mass during his twelve-day national tour.

On the other side of the continent, at home in Vancouver, Rudolf Vrba was watching television coverage of Pope’s activities in Toronto, largely disinterested, until he suddenly sat bolt upright. There, for all the world to see, serving as an official escort for the Pope in Canada’s largest city, was none other than Jozef Marian Kirschbaum, a man who bore partial responsibility for sending him to Auschwitz.

According to the Ontario journalist Paul McKay who interviewed Vrba at length for the Ottawa Citizen in 2005, “Kirschbaum was responsible for banning Rudolf Vrba (a top student) from school, the seizure of the family sawmill, and ordering Hlinka Guards to beat him up in public.”

Kirschbaum had been a leading figure within the pro-Hitler puppet regime of the fascist politician Jozef Tiso, enabling the confiscation of Jewish wealth and the instigation of mass transports of Jews to the concentration camps.

The first-ever mass transport of Jews to Auschwitz was sent from the Poprad transit camp in Slovakia on March 25, 1942, restricted to 999 mostly young Slovak females who arrived in Auschwitz the following day.

Josef Kirschbaum and John Paul II

Rudolf Vrba tried in vain to expose Jozef M. Kirschbaum as a convicted war criminal who was shielded by the Canadian government for more than fifty years. Having been a diplomatic representative of Slovakia at the Vatican, Kirschbaum later befriended Pope John Paul II and escorted the Polish-born Pope during his tour of Canada in 1984. Here (above) Jozef Marian Kirschbaum is seen shaking hands with Pope John Paul II in Rome. [Photo by Grebert]

Now, 42 years later, Jozef Kirschbaum had been approved to serve as one of the dignitaries who accompanied the Pope. Kirschbaum was securely positioned as an employee of the uranium mining tycoon Stephan Roman, having openly worked for him since 1984.

During his visit to Canada, the Pope took time to consecrate a new Catholic ‘Cathedral of the Transfiguration’ that was still under construction in Markham,  north of Toronto, financed by the wealthy, Slovakian-born, mining billionaire [Štefan Boleslav Roman] who had continuously aided and abetted men who were loyal supporters of Jozef Gašpar Tiso, the Roman Catholic priest who had served Hitler by operating a pro-Nazi regime in Slovakia during World War II.

Vrba’s efforts to sound the alarm on Kirschbaum would fall on deaf ears for several reasons.

  • Canadian federal authorities and the CBC were not keen to be deemed culpable and naive.
  • By 1984, Kirschbaum was well-regarded as a university professor, historian and author, as well as a staunch anti-communist, as he served as the right hand man for the right wing mining industry tycoon Stephen Roman.
  • The history of Vrba’s native state of Slovakia is an obscure subject for nearly everyone on the planet.
  • Kirschbaum was a pawn in a larger geo-political game in which the United States and its allies used former fascists from Europe, including Nazis, to facilitate anti-Soviet, anti-communist espionage, dissent and dissolution.

One of the reasons that Rudolf Vrba was particularly aggrieved about Canada’s protection and retention of Kirschbaum as a seemingly respectable citizen — even though Kirschbaum was a convicted war criminal who had never served any of his twenty-year sentence in Europe — is that Vrba knew Kirschbaum had had input into the drafting of legislation in Slovakia that resulted in the theft of Jewish businesses (businesses akin to his father’s sawmill). Vrba was a rarity in that he long understood, and felt obligated to discuss, the extent to which the Holocaust was almost as much about theft as it was about mass murder. This was a subject that he frequently emphasized when he was invited to speak about the Holocaust.

As there are far fewer books about the impacts of Nazism in Slovakia than in surrounding countries that were more openly conquered, it has been alleged in print–most overtly by journalist Paul McKay–that Kirschbaum, as a history professor, with support from the Kirschbaum Sr.’s employer patron Stephen Roman, had success in literally rewriting the history books to minimize Kirschbaum Sr.’s impact. As McKay writes in The Roman Empire (Key Porter 1990): “Roman and Kirschbaum [Sr.] led the world-wide appeals for clemency at Tiso’s war crimes trial in 1947, and worked tirelessly for the next four decades trying to sanitize and re-write this shameful chapter of Slovak history through Roman-funded newspapers, books, broadcasts and ethnic associations. Among their small group were other former Fascists and convicted Nazi collaborators.” Subsequently, McKay’s essential and extensive article The Kirschbaum File appeared in the Kingston Whig Standard and received the Centre for Investigative Journalism Award for investigative reporting, a National Magazine Award and was a finalist for the 1988 B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award.

Fewer historians have examined the Holocaust as it impacted Jews in Slovakia than has been the case for countries such as France, Holland, Poland and Hungary. Whereas there has been one book by Kirschbaum’s son, a history professor, that obviates his father’s pro-fascist activities in Slovakia, it is relatively easy to find academics who have verified the horrific impact of Hitler’s racist and repressive laws in Hungary:

  • Three acts and 17 decrees specified the appropriation of landed property, at least 850,000 acres of land were “Aryanised”, i.e. handed over to non-Jews. It is impossible to say how many people were ruined as a result of this “Christian changing of the guard”. This legislation did not concern Jewish factories, banks and urban real estate. Anti-Jewish laws affected some 250,000 people particularly disadvantageously of the 800,000 strong Jewish population.” (Gyáni-Kövér, 2003. and Ungváry, 2012.)
  • “Hundreds of thousands were humiliated, robbed of their possessions because they, or their parents, grandparents followed or had followed the Jewish religion. It was at this time that the Hungarian middle classes were corrupted: after 1938, hundreds of thousands of officials, gendarmes, policemen, townspeople, farmers and workers got used to the idea that they can acquire wealth, jobs, land, positions not only by working, enterprising, but also by taking them from their Jewish neighbours with the help of the state.” (Bibó, 1948)

EXPORTING NAZIS TO THE AMERICAS

The most notorious Nazi war criminal never brought to justice was Dr. Josef Mengele. It is globally known that Mengele was able to evade jail time or execution by living successfully undercover due to the feeble policing standards and corrupt officialdom in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. Having fled to South America in July of 1949, Mengele, the so-called Angel of Death (Todesengel in German) was constrained to a furtive life of fear and evasion until he died in 1979, universally reviled, at age 67. It is possible that Mengele never had a moment’s peace.

Mengele was among countless Nazis who took advantage of the so-called “ratlines,” chiefly orchestrated via the Vatican, to reach freedom in the Americas, chiefly via Argentina. Among the thousands of Nazis who did so, some of the more prominent who succeeded were: Andrija Artuković, ·  Klaus Barbie, ·  Otto Skorzeny, ·  Alois Brunner, ·  Herberts Cukurs, ·  Léon Degrelle, ·  Adolf EichmannAribert Heim, ·  Aarne Kauhanen, ·  Sándor Képíró, ·  Ante Pavelić, ·  Erich Priebke, ·  Walter Rauff, ·  Eduard Roschmann, ·  Hans-Ulrich Rudel, ·  Dinko Šakić, ·  Boris Smyslovsky, ·  Franz Stangl, ·  Gustav Wagner

Precious few Canadians today know that Canada had provided a safe haven for Jozef Kirschbaum (translation: cherry tree) who had long been convicted of being a pro-Nazi war criminal and allotted a twenty-year sentence. Even after the world’s most famous Auschwitz escapee, Rudolf Vrba, made efforts to blow the whistle on this fugitive from European justice, the transplanted Slovak remained a free man.

War criminals in CanadaLike Mengele, Kirschbaum had reached the Americas in 1949. Unlike Mengele, he lived openly under his own name, widely respected as a university professor, raising a family, until he died in August of 2001 at age 88, having enjoyed the hospitality of Canada for 51 years. Canada’s representative of the Wiesenthal Center, Sol Littman, pierced the bubble of silence concerning suspected war criminals in Canada when he suggested to the media that Mengele might be in Canada because Mengele had applied to the Canadian embassy in Buenos Aires for admission as a landed immigrant in May or June of 1962. The hornet’s nest stirred up by Littman led to the 1,000-page, “masterpiece of bafflegab” (according to James E. McKenzie, author of War Criminals in Canada), for $4 million, called the Deschenes Commission Report compiled over a two-year period in 1985-86.

Mengele was famous for being evil. He was forced to live clandestinely with false names in three countries for thirty years, and he was the subject of a Hollywood movie in 1978, The Boys of Brazil, in which he was portrayed by Gregory Peck. In stark contrast, Kirschbaum was protected and shielded by successive Canadian governments, both Conservative and Liberal, and the Canadian public has never seen a film or documentary about him, or read a book about him. Better yet, Kirschbaum and his fellow history professor son managed to whitewash the past to some extent by crafting history texts that expunged his actions from modern Slovakian history.

Doubts about Mengele's death in Brazil

KIRSCHBAUM & DURCANSKY IN SLOVAKIA

Josef Tiso

Josef Tiso

Given that Josef Kirschbaum was an influential person in the murderous Slovakian regime of the Catholic priest-turned-dictator Josef Tiso (hanged as a war criminal), the Canadian Jewish News in 1962 identified Kirschbaum as “one of the most ferocious authors” of Slovakia’s “criminal regime.” But, with one noteworthy exception, Canadian journalism mostly failed to expose Kirschbaum’s unserved 20-year sentence in Europe as the Canadian government turned a blind eye.

The outstanding exception to the complicity of Canada’s mostly lacklustre climate for investigative journalism is the veteran journalist Paul McKay. His book The Roman Empire: The Unauthorized Life and Times of Stephen Roman (Key Porter Books, 1990) incorporates just some of the exemplary work McKay undertook to blow the whistle on Kirschbaum in a remarkably in-depth piece he wrote for the Whig-Standard Magazine in 1988. In his book, The Roman Empire—a title that no self-respecting, commercially-motivated publishing house could fail to resist—McKay recounts how Stephen Boleslav Roman was born in Veľký Ruskov, Slovakia, in 1921, and he immigrated to Canada at 16 in 1937. Roman made his fortune as a mining engineer and mining executive, chiefly with Dennison Mines, and died as an alleged billionaire on March 23, 1988. McKay’s biography appeared two years later.

Stephan Roman

Stefan Roman, billionaire, helped Kirschbaum succeed in Canada. Roman twice ran unsuccessfully in federal elections for the Conservative Party. His funeral in 1988 at his yet-to-be-completed cathedral–modelled after the Catholic church Roman had attended as a boy in the village of Veľký Ruskov, now Nový Ruskov–would attract 1,600 people including Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Jozef Kirschbaum, the Archbishop of Toronto, former Ontario premier Bill Davis, former federal finance minister Michael Wilson and various pro-Hitler, former Slovakians.]

In 1945, Roman had co-authored a petition to oppose the arrest of the puppet dictator Josef Tiso and other Slovak leaders and he remained an apologist for Nazi Slovakia until his death. His wealth generated political influence, nonetheless, so he was made a Knight Commander, Order of St. Gregory, by Pope John XXIII (1963) and he received the Order of Canada from Governor-General Sauvé (1987). Posthumously, he was awarded the highest “state honour” of his Slovakia homeland, the Order of the 1st Class White Double Cross, from Slovak President Michal Kovác (1995).

It is possible that the virulently anti-communist, “free enterpriser” Stephen Roman was not fully aware of Kirschbaum’s background. It is conceivable, but unlikely, that Roman did not know that Kirschbaum was invited by the Nazi Party of the Third Reich to attend Hitler’s birthday celebrations in Berlin on April 20, 1939. Kirschbaum did so along with Josef Tiso, the Catholic priest who had recently become the leader of the Slovak puppet state in March of 1939, and Ferdinand Durcansky [Ďurčanský], his mentor, who had negotiated the terms for a nominally independent Slovakia with Hermann Goering.

Kirschbaum’s mentor Durcansky was cited as a Category A war criminal in 1946 and sentenced to death in absentia by Czechoslovakia’s elected communist government in 1947. Having joined the Hlinka Party in 1927, Durcansky had used Nazi funding to create anti-Semitic publications (1936-1938) and later became Nazi Slovakia’s Foreign Minister and Deputy PM, having served as a Cabinet Minister for Justice, Health, Transportation and Public Works portfolios. As a businessman, he owned drug companies in Slovakia and later in Argentina. Afforded refuge by the Vatican, Durcansky would take advantage of the so-called “ratlines” that enabled Nazis to escape to South America–as did Eichmann.

It has been alleged that British agent Kim Philby arranged for Durcansky to make the first of several visits to Canada on a British visa in 1950; or he arrived with an Argentinian passport in Montreal on December 15, 1950, with a three-month visa. Either way, he would have reconnected with his protégé Kirschbaum. Durcansky returned to Canada in the 1970s on speaking engagements. Long associated with the pro-fascist Anti-Bolshevik Block of Nations (ABN), Durcansky was linked to U.S. spy agency program in West Germany known as “Upswing” (1952-1958) coordinated by former Nazi intelligence officer Major General Reinhard Gehlen, previously chief of the Wehrmacht Foreign Armies East military intelligence service on the eastern front. According to Mark Aarons and John Loftus in their book, Unholy Trinity: The Vatican, the Nazis and Soviet Intelligence (also titled The Vatican the Nazis and the Swiss Banks) Ferdinand Durcansky unsuccessfully planned a post-war coup in Slovakia and later “travelled freely in and out of Canada, despite the fact that the government was fully aware of his war crimes.”

As the fanatical leader of the Students Hlinka Guard’s elite detachment of thugs that terrorized the campus of Bratislava University in the late 1930s, Josef Kirschbaum, as a law student, had edited anti-Semitic publications and had input into the drafting of the repressive legislation that confiscated Jewish properties, possessions and businesses and empowered the state to send approximately 70,000 Slovakian Jews to the Nazi death camps—including Rudolf Vrba (still known as Walter Rosenberg at the time).

Under the tutelage of Durcansky, the much younger Kirschbaum, had previously met with Adolph Eichmann in 1938 when Eichmann was sent to Slovakia orchestrate the transition to Tiso’s subservient regime. Trained as a lawyer, Kirschbaum was named Secretary-General of the ruling Hlinka Party in Slovakia in 1939 and 1940, and he delivered speeches extolling the virtues of the totalitarian Slovak state in keeping with Nazi ideals. Eventually, on July 15, 1941, the Ministry of Interior published its infamous degree 7201/II/4 – 1941 which reads as follows:

“In accordance with Paragraph 2 of the Law 190/1939 it is prohibited for all Jews and persons equal status, in the public interest, to

  1. have free access to public baths and parks,
  2. to frequent, or shop in, the public markets before 10 a.m.,
  3. to walk on streets or patronize public places after 9 p.m.,
  4. to visit Aryan households, or for Aryans to visit Jewish families.
Smashed synagogue

On May 2, 1942, when the Hlinka Guards removed 1,400 people from Trebisovo in Slovakia, they destroyed the synagogue
and desecrated or burned religious objects.

“It is mutually prohibited to maintain any social contacts between Jews and Aryans one side, and between Aryans and Jews on the other side.

“The term ‘social contacts’ is to be interpreted as meaning not only contact at homes, but any contact on the streets, public places and the like. The prohibition of social contacts between Jews and Aryans and vice-versa is to be extended throughout the entire territory of Slovakia. Overstepping of this Law is subject to prosecutions, and the offenders will be sentenced to a term of six months in prison.”

On September 10, 1941 the puppet Slovak Government passed a law as to who was to be considered a Jew. In 1942, the mass transports of Jews out of Slovakia would begin. It is estimated that at the outbreak of the war, 89,000 Jews lived in Slovakia; by its end, approximately 70,000 of these would be murdered by their Nazi tormentors.

After Kirschbaum had served as a Slovak diplomat in Rome, where he met the Pope (1941-1942), he became the unofficial Slovak ambassador (“Charge d’Affairs”) in Switzerland (1942-1945). These two seemingly ceremonial postings enabled him to claim he was blameless for the Holocaust even though Kirschbaum had met Hitler, Himmler, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Werner Gottsche and Edmund Vessemeyer. His subsequent associations with the Slovak World Congress [SLC], as well as his prominent role within Canadian Slovak League [SCL], enabled him to further deny and dispel accusations of wartime allegiance to the Nazis. As a history professor in Montreal and Toronto, as well as a co-founder of the University of Ottawa’s Chair in Slovak History, Kirschbaum was cloaked in academic respectability. He was simultaneously buffeted by economic support from the ultra-wealthy, Slovakian-born, uranium mining magnate Stephen Roman. [As early as 1945, the Canadian businessman had co-authored a petition to oppose the arrest of Tiso and other Slovak leaders and he praised Tiso as “a man who confirmed his love to the nation by the highest sacrifice” in 1971. Roman and the SWC rejected appeals from the National Holocaust Survivors Association to condemn the pro-Nazi Tiso regime.]

Although Joseph Kirschbaum had been convicted of complicity with the Nazis and sentenced to a twenty-year prison term, and even though Canadian Jewish groups had pressured the RCMP to investigate and extradite him since 1962, successive Canadian governments failed to have him extradited, consistently ignoring the requests from Jewish groups and Rudolf Vrba.

MCKAY & THE KIRSCHBAUM FILES

Paul McKay

When investigative journalist Paul McKay sought to publish an extensive article about how Canada was serving as a haven for convicted, pro-Nazi war criminal JOSEPH (JOZEF) KIRSCHBAUM—the man that Rudolf Vrba had identified as an influencer for the drafting of the severely oppressive legal statutes that partially enabled the pro-Hitler regime of Joseph Tito in Slovakia to send at least 70,000 Jews to the death camps—the venerable Whig-Standard newspaper (founded in 1908 and purchased by the father of novelist Robertson Davies in 1925) was one of the few places in Canada, possibly the only place, that would consider such a boldly disruptive and deeply disturbing exposé.

During his stellar career as an investigative journalist, Toronto native Paul McKay had already won three national awards for his work in the Whig-Standard. Editor Neil Reynolds welcomed McKay back onto the masthead and added staff writer Beppi Crosariol to augment the Kirschbaum file. They sifted through thirty books on Slovakia, the Holocaust and World War II and unearthed Kirschbaum’s own writing, combing the archives of the Canadian government, the archives in Bratislava and Jewish organizations in Canada.

In June of 1988, when McKay had approached the Whig-Standard, the editors determined that a major retrospective piece about the Holocaust in Slovakia, leading to a story about how Canada shielded a convicted war criminal for almost forty years—a man who had befriended the Pope and never served his twenty-year sentence in Europe—would be an appropriate way to mark the 50th anniversary of the Nazi surge in Europe.

At the time, the Whig-Standard had only the comfort of knowing that McKay’s work had already been heralded as exemplary. He was not a writer with an axe to grind. As a graduate of Trent University, he’d first written a book on the history of Ontario Hydro, Electric Empire, in 1983, and joined the paper as a reporter in 1985. He proceeded to win a National Magazine Award for a series on the Workmen’s Compensation Board, a National Business Writing Award for his investigations of Kingston-based computer company (Documented Circuits) and a Centre for Investigative Journalism national prize for a piece pertaining to falcon smuggling.

It was McKay’s research for an unsanctioned biography of the Slovenian-born, Canadian uranium mining magnate Stephen Roman that alerted him to the need to dig more deeply into Kirschbaum. As preface to the piece on Kirschbaum and his native Slovakia, and as a caution to those connected to both the late Stephan Roman and Kirschbaum who might feel inclined to sue, the Whig-Standard took pains to outline some of the research undertaken.

“Interviews were conducted in Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, Vermont and Czechoslovakia. In Bratislava, McKay obtained Kirschbaum’s court file, checked through original newspaper archives from 1939 to 1945, photographing each relevant page, and went through original Slovak photo archives assembled during the Second World War, obtaining four dozen photos of Kirschbaum at various speeches, ceremonies and government functions. Archival photos were dated and stamped.

“In Slovakia, McKay was assisted by interpreter Eduard Pekarovic, a Slovak lawyer and official translator for the Institute for Foreign Press Relations in Bratislava. His translations were checked against other independent translations. Several key original Slovak documents were also translated by a Queen’s University professor.

“McKay interviewed people in the remote rural village where Kirschbaum was born, the prosecutor who drew up charges against him in 1946, military and academic historians, Jewish survivors of the concentration camps and individual Slovaks who had refused to take part in deporting fellow citizens to Poland. Through this work, McKay and Crosariol built up profiles of Kirschbaum (who refused to be interviewed by the newspaper) and the Slovak World Congress (whose top official also declined to be interviewed).”

Ultimately, the Whig-Standard Magazine showcased a 40,000-word overview, including six viewpoints from witnesses and Holocaust experts, on December, 10, 1988. JOSEPH KIRSCHBAUM had declined to be interviewed by Whig-Standard reporters during the preparation of the article. Also, he had declined to answer written questions submitted to him personally. The Whig-Standard stated that, “Through his lawyers, he has denied playing a major role in the creation of the Slovak state or in the persecution of Slovak Jews. He maintains that he lost his post as secretary-general of the Hlinka Party because he held anti-Nazi attitudes.”

Marian Stastny Kirschbaum

Marian Stastny

An article by Robert Sibley for the Ottawa Citizen on April 20, 1989 supports the contention McKay’s investigative article on Kirschbaum was disqualified from the Canadian Bar Association’s media awards by a “potential law suit” that was never filed. Nonetheless, the convincing article [reproduced below] was not without an impact.

While the article was underway, Kirschbaum lost his long-held position as the executive Vice-President of the Slovak World Congress (since its foundation in Toronto in 1971) and was replaced by the former NHL hockey player, Bratislava-born, Marian Stastny, who had played for the Quebec Nordiques and Toronto Maple Leafs. [Chicago Black Hawks star centre Stan Makita became the first Slovakia-born player to compete in the NHL in 1958.]

According to James E. McKenzie in War Criminals in Canada (Detselig 1995), the threat of potential legal action from either Roman or Kirschbaum proved sufficient to deter most Canadian media outlets from following McKay’s lead, even though threats to sue the Whig-Standard never resulted in a court case. McKenzie writes: “Burnett M. Thall, senior vice-president of the Toronto Star, explained why his paper didn’t tell its readers about the past life of the prominent Toronto businessman and well-known Slovakian patriot. In a letter to Sol Littman of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Thall said: ‘The problem as I understand it, is a legal one. A letter was served on us by Kirschbaum’s lawyer warning us that if any allegations were made in The Star, he would sue. While this was obviously designed to scare us off, it certainly highlighted the legal dilemma we were in. I suspect this is also the reason no other newspaper felt it could run the article.'”

McKenzie also reports that Kirschbaum was able to visit Slovakia in 1992, just prior to formal split of Czechoslovakia on January 1, 1993, whereupon Slovakia reverted to be a separate state–in keeping with Kirschbaum’s hopes.

Here then, with the kind permission of Paul McKay, is the complete and un-edited transcript of coverage afforded by McKay and his Toronto-born colleague Beppie Crosariol, re-typed by Jan Graham from a photocopy provided by Robert Krell. Photocopied images of poor quality were removed; appropriate images have been substituted.

1 A PACT WITH HITLER

Ferdinand_Ďurčanský

Ferdinand Ďurčanský

On Nov. 11, 1938, three men arrived in Berlin on a clandestine political mission. All three were driven by a twin obsession: to divide Czechoslovakia and declare their native province of Slovakia a new sovereign nation. To achieve that end they needed muscle, money and the blessing of Adolf Hitler’s industrial warlord, Nazi Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering.

The secret delegation to Goering’s Berlin headquarters was led by Ferdinand Durcansky, a Slovak politician and lawyer who openly praised Nazi Germany and Hitler. With him was Franz Karmasin, the fascist, anti-Semitic leader of a militant brigade of ethnic German stormtroopers inside Slovakia. He too wanted to wrench Slovakia from the orbit of Prague, capital of Czechoslovakia, and forge an independent fascist state with himself as one of its leading politicians. For his efforts, Karmasin was already secretly being paid 30,000 Reichsmarks per month by Berlin.

The third man who came to Berlin with Durcansky and Karmasin was Joseph Kirschbaum, a young Slovak lawyer who was Durcansky’s favorite protégé and personal secretary. Only 25, Kirschbaum had already proven himself a formidable champion of the Slovak separatist cause. Within weeks of the Berlin meeting, he would become the commander of his own paramilitary Slovak organization modelled on the brownshirts of Nazi Germany and blackshirts of Fascist Italy.

According to German minutes of the secret meeting, found after the war, Goering welcomed the delegation and told the Slovaks that he “would certainly not make concessions to Czechoslovakia, but only to Slovakia.” Goering knew that the hopes of his guests were perfectly matched to the military dreams of Hitler. Austria and its elegant Hapsburg capital of Vienna had been occupied by Nazi Germany that spring, and now Prague was on Hitler’s list for assimilation.

Scarcely a month earlier, Hitler had stunned the world – and even his own doubting generals – with a virtuoso performance at Munich. There he had bluffed and bullied the British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, into signing a treaty that promised “peace in our time.” That autumn the price of peace had seemed cheap for the western powers. At the end of September, Hitler’s Reich had been handed the outer husk of Czechoslovakia: the Sudetenland, then dominated by an ethnic German population. Cheers and thronging crowds had met Chamberlain’s plane on his return to English soil. Only in Prague had there been tears. Historians would later recognize the Munich Agreement as a synonym for infamy, the death-knell for democracy in Czechoslovakia and the point of no return on the road to one of the most inhuman chapters in human history.

Goering also knew how hollow the Munich Agreement would prove to be when he met the secret Slovak delegation on Remembrance Day, 1938. For the previous year Hitler himself had been obsessed with a demonic vision: an imperial German Reich east of Berlin, stretching from the Baltic to the Aegean Sea, where Germans could – after driving out all Jews and racially impure Aryans – enjoy the Lebensraum or living space that was the German birthright.

Eichman

Adolf Eichmann as a young man

That twisted vision had already become a reality in annexed Austria, where in the summer of 1938 an ardent young technocrat named Adolf Eichmann had presided over a ruthlessly efficient “aryanization” program that had stripped 45,000 Jews of their property and citizenship and herded them into concentration and labor camps. Along the way they had been systematically humiliated, beaten and forced to pay bribes, while their synagogues and homes had been vandalized by Nazi stormtroopers.

The obsession with Lebensraum had compelled Hitler to set in motion, on Oct. 21, 1938 – three weeks after Munich – “the liquidation of Czechoslovakia.” There were now 24 Nazi military divisions inside the newly Germanized area of Czechoslovakia, and with the Prague government crumbling, Hitler had told his generals: “It must be possible to smash at any time the remainder of Czechoslovakia. The organizations, order of battle and state of readiness of the units are to be arranged for a surprise assault so that [the Czech provinces] will be deprived of all possibility of organized resistance. The object is the swift occupation of Bohemia and Moravia, and the cutting off of Slovakia.”

This was why the powerful Goering, commander of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s most trusted confidant, received the Slovak emissaries, who were then only minor players in a titanic drama that was to end with 40 million dead, most of Europe in ruins and the enduring tragedy of the Holocaust. Slovakia, as Goering had written in a secret memorandum before the Nov. 22 meeting, would be a strategic key to the coming war in eastern Europe.

Durcansky had first met Goering on Oct. 12. After that meeting, the Reichmarschall’s staff had written: “[Nazi Germany] counts on complete economic assimilation of Slovakia. Czechs and Slovaks to become German dominions. Everything possible must be taken out. The Danube canal has to be speeded up. Searches for oil and ore are to be conducted in Slovakia.”

But more that just canals and war materials were at stake. By mid-October Goering had become deeply intrigued by the military and political advantages of a German puppet government in Slovakia – especially a fascist, anti-Semitic and compliant regime of the kind the Slovak separatists were promising.

Seyss-Inquart

Artur Seyss-Inquart

On Oct. 17, Durcansky, Karmasin and Artur Seyss-Inquart, the Austrian lawyer who had played the lead role in betraying Austria to Hitler, had met Goering again. On that occasion Seyss-Inquart, backing the Slovak separatists, had urged Goering to replay the moves that had transformed Austria into a Nazi puppet state in March 1938. These tactics had included stormtrooper raids, terror campaigns by the SS (the Nazi political police), waves of anti-Semitic propaganda and contrived telegrams asking for German “protection” – all financed and directed by Berlin.

Durcansky and Karmasin had been ready to make the bargain. Minutes of the mid-October meeting reveal that Durcansky had promised exactly what Hitler and Goering wanted to hear: “Greetings to the Fuhrer. Gratitude and thanks to the Fuhrer that the right of self-determination has been made possible for the Slovaks. Slovaks want full independence, the very close economic, political and miliary ties with Germany. Jewish problem will be solved as in Germany. German influence of Slovak government strong. A German minister is promised.”

Goering had listened to Durcansky’s supplications and nodded encouragement but had given no definite promises. Immediately after the meeting, however, he had written: “The efforts of the Slovaks should be suitably supported. A Czech state minus Slovakia is even more at our mercy. Air bases in Slovakia for operation against the east very important.” East, in this case, meant Poland. The Blitzkrieg that launched the Second World War was less than a year away.

Six months later, in the spring of 1938, Durcansky, Karmasin and Kirschbaum would return to Berlin for a final meeting with Goering. This time, their plans would be consummated. Only days later, a Nazi-sponsored insurrection in Slovakia would create a fascist puppet regime in the image of Berlin, with the Slovak trio as leading figures. The president of the new authoritarian Slovak state would be a fascistic, openly anti-Semitic Catholic priest, Joseph Tiso. Simultaneously, Prague would be occupied by Hitler’s army and soon German and Slovakian troops would be invading Poland’s southern flank from Slovakia.

The war would enact an incalculable toll on all of Europe, and Slovakia would not be spared. Almost 70,000 Slovak Jews would be humiliated, dispossessed, arrested and finally exterminated in Nazi death camps. Thousands of anti-Nazi Slovaks would be imprisoned or executed, and tens of thousands would be killed in a dramatic Allied-sponsored partisan uprising against the Slovak puppet regime and the German army in 1944. Finally, in May 1945, Nazi Germany and the collaborationist government in Slovakia would collapse.

Goering and Seyss-Inquart would later be sentenced to death as war criminals. So would the clerical leader of the puppet Slovak state, Joseph Tiso. Ferdinand Durcansky would also receive a death sentence from the restored post-war Czechoslovak government but would escape to Argentina, after attempting to finance his flight with cases of black-market morphine. Franz Karmasin, facing a death sentence, would find refuge in Germany.

Joseph Kirschbaum, a leading Nazi collaborator in the early years of the Slovak government, would be tried in absentia by the post-war Czechoslovak government, found guilty of treason and sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment, 10 of them at hard labor. But Kirschbaum, too, would escape – by coming to Canada. Now a Canadian citizen, he lives in retirement in a quiet, upper-middle-class neighborhood in north Toronto. His home telephone number is unlisted. So is that of the Slovak World Congress, a private foundation which circulates Kirschbaum’s defences of the Nazi satellite state he helped create.

Until this spring, Kirschbaum had one of Canada’s richest and most powerful businessmen as his friend, patron and ideological ally. That man was Stephen Roman, a Slovak-born immigrant who arrived in Canada in 1937 at age 17, then built a $2.5-billion corporate empire. He left behind a personal fortune when he died this past March. (Ed. note: 1988)

In the four decades following the Second World War both Kirschbaum and Roman were adamant apostles of Slovak independence, and both were founding officers of the Slovak World Congress. Its global headquarters are nestled in a downtown Toronto office tower, amid the corporate suites that carry on Roman’s industrial empire. And both considered Joseph Tiso, hanged as a war criminal for his role in the deportation of 70,000 Slovak Jews to Nazi death camps, a martyr.

Roman’s devotion to a sovereign Slovakia was as tireless as Kirschbaum’s. As early as 1945, he wrote to the United Nations to plead for a sovereign Slovakia and forgiveness of the Tiso regime, a declared enemy of the Allies during the Second World War. It was Roman who underwrote the costs of the Slovak World Congress and served as its honorary president. It was Roman who sponsored a final meeting between Kirschbaum and Ferdinand Durcansky in Toronto in 1971. Roman and Kirschbaum both held directorships of a Slovak business association and both attended the same church, the Byzantine Rite of the Catholic Church. They also accompanied each other on special pilgrimages to the Vatican, where both Kirschbaum and Roman were well-known crusaders for an independent Slovakia.

Thanks to Roman’s influence, Kirschbaum – a man whom the Czechoslovak government has sought to extradite since May 29, 1946 – would eventually find himself arm in arm with then Prime Minister Lester Pearson and sharing the stage at Slovak banquets with such political figures as former prime minister Louis St. Laurent, diplomat Paul Martin Sr. and former Ontario premier William Davis.

In 1962, a small ethnic newspaper, the Canadian Jewish News, published an article describing Joseph Kirschbaum as a Nazi collaborator. Kirschbaum denied the charge.

“I was never pro-Nazi. I was never anti-Jewish,” said Kirschbaum. “At no time did my political duties in Slovakia have anything to do with the Jewish question. As a matter of fact, the first laws against the Jews were introduced in Slovakia in 1941, some time after I was forced to resign.”

But Raul Hilberg, a University of Vermont historian and Holocaust scholar, says that Kirschbaum was a willing Nazi collaborator and that the Slovak regime was anti-Semitic from its inception. Hilberg, whose three-volume study The Destruction of European Jewry contains a detailed section on the fate of the Jews in Slovakia, has a thick file on Joseph Kirschbaum.

“Given that Nazi Germany was Nazi Germany, from the point the war began in September 1939, they (the Slovak separatists) became collaborators, every single one of them,” Hilberg says. “They went to Berlin. They talked to Goering and other people. They knew the price before they accepted the goodies.”

Joseph Kirschbaum’s moment in history came a long time ago, a half century ago. At least three distinct regimes have governed Czechoslovakia since that time, each with its different historical perspective. A monumental amount of documentation exists, some of it accurate, some of it forged and much of it contested. This much is clear: Joseph Kirschbaum involved himself freely, by choice, in the creation of a Slovakian nation that itself chose to stand with Adolph Hitler. This much also is clear: Joseph Kirschbaum, ousted from his position of influence in Slovenian affairs early in the Second World War, remained loyal to the fascist and anti-Semitic state throughout the war.

And here, at least three options arise to explain his wartime choice. He could have been aware of the anti-Semitic nature of the Slovakian state and supportive of it – as his foes maintain. He could have been ignorant of it – as his friends claim. Or he could have recognized the direction in which this new nation was headed and worked in secret to mitigate the human consequences – as he himself has suggested.

This much more is clear: bumped from a position of some authority at a pivotal point in the brief history of Slovakia, Joseph Kirschbaum was far away, on the sidelines, when the Holocaust reached out for Slovakia’s Jews. In this sense at least, he was a lucky man.

Now, for the first time, people can read the Kirschbaum file and decide for themselves. This is Joseph Kirschbaum’s story.

The years following the Great Depression of the 1930s brought economic and political turbulence to every corner of Europe, and the province of Slovakia was no exception. In fact, it was a miniature canvas of the violent ideological, social and religious passions that had collided in Europe since the end of the First World War.

In that time Russian peasants had overthrown their feudal Czarist monarchy and seen a brief revolutionary dream unfold before it was replaced by the iron imprint of Stalinism. England had seen an economic civil war between capital and labor, a crumbling class system and a disintegrating overseas empire. In Germany, the easy-going Weimar Republic of the 1920s had been replaced by a messianic fascist dictator, and Italy had its sometimes comical, sometimes dangerous counterpart in Mussolini. Spain had been convulsed by a bloody civil war from which Franco’s Fascists had emerged the winners.

When Czechoslovakia was created as a nation in 1918, it inherited all the passions inflaming the rest of Europe. Welded from parts of the old Hapsburg Empire, Hungary and Poland, the new country was an amalgam of cultures, languages, ideologies and religious convictions. Part of it was urban, industrialized and wealthy, part of it poor, illiterate and rural. At the western end was the baroque, cosmopolitan Prague, at the eastern end a feudal enclave dominated by a conservative Catholic clergy.

Map of CzechoslovakiaThe Czechs, in the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, were the most dominant members of the new country, and they soon established themselves as the administrative and political supervisors of the fledgling republic. Prague was the capital, from which the parliament ruled the eastern provinces of Slovakia and Ruthenia.

In striking contrast to the dictatorships surrounding it, Czechoslovakia remained the outstanding democracy in central Europe. It had a remarkedly tolerant attitude towards the minority groups within the country, and its parliament was designed to reflect their aspirations. Still, the Czechs ruled with an arbitrary and sometimes arrogant hand, and 1930s trade profiles confirm that the favored Czech provinces near Prague benefited most from industrialization and economic development. at the expense of agrarian Slovakia.

These internal tensions were aggravated by the trauma of the Depression, by the advent of fascism and by the success of nationalist movements around the globe. The German ethnic minority, led by admirers of Hitler and Nazism, began to press for closer ties with Berlin. The Slovaks, with their own language and overwhelmingly Catholic culture dating beck 1,100 years, bitterly resented the Czechs and became increasingly nationalistic. The Ruthenians were oriented towards Hungary.

Underscoring these passions was the virulent strain of anti-Semitism that infected most of Europe during the 1930s. It had triggered racial and religious conflicts in eastern Europe for centuries, but the Depression magnified it and gave it focus. With the ascent of Hitler and the apparent success of Nazism, nationalism, fascism and anti-Semitism became inseparably fused. This was true especially in Slovakia.

According to a 1930 census, fully 85 percent of the province’s 2.5 million people were Catholic, 10 percent Protestant and about four percent Jewish. This religious orientation had a political counterpart: the most dominant Slovak political party had a virtually exclusive Catholic membership, and its founding leader, Father Andrej Hlinka, was a Catholic priest. Hlinka had been persecuted by the Hungarians who ruled Slovakia before the First World War and had been a champion of Slovak autonomy within the new Czechoslovak republic, under the banner of the Slovak People’s party, created in 1905. He died in 1938 and his political party was renamed the Hlinka Party in his honor.

His successor was Father Joseph Tiso. Tiso’s political views were dominated by an authoritarian brand of Catholicism, Slovak nationalism, a pronounced antipathy for Czechs and a fierce hatred of socialism.

By contrast the Slovak Protestants were spread over a spectrum of political parties ranging from conservative to communist, as were the Jewish politicians. They both sought an autonomous, equal Slovakia within a federated Czechoslovakia, alliances with the western democracies and a tolerant, if suspicious, attitude towards the new Russia that loomed on their eastern border.

Throughout the early 1930s, democratic national elections confirmed that most Slovaks, despite some resentments, wished to remain as part of Czechoslovakia. In 1929, the Slovak People’s Party captured only 28 percent of the Slovakian vote and 30 percent in 1935. It held only 19 seats in Prague, compared to 45 for the Agrarian Party, 38 for the Social Democrats and 30 for the Communists. Although it remained the largest single party in Slovakia, it had only a limited voice in the Prague parliament.

Vojtek Tuka

Vojtek Tuka, who when he was finally found guilty and executed, it was bungled so badly, it took him ten minutes to die.

Stung by these electoral rebuffs, the Slovak separatists began to add to their nationalism an increasingly strong mixture of fascism and anti-Semitism. Tiso surrounded himself with a close circle of advisors: Ferdinand Durcansky, Alexander Mach, Karol Sidor, Konstantin Culen and Joseph Kirschbaum. This group was joined in 1938, on his release from prison, by its most magnetic and powerful member, Vojtech Tuka. A professor from the Slovak capital of Bratislava, Tuka had, a decade earlier, impressed not only Tiso but also Durcansky and Kirschbaum with his oratorical skills and fascistic bravado. He had established his own paramilitary squads called the Rodobrana and became editor of an overtly fascist, anti-Semitic paper called Slovak, which would later become the official voice of the Tiso government. A typical editorial read: “The brilliant example of Italy lights up the world for us. It calls us to action. We Slovaks shall stand guard. Our gallant Rodobrana, the Slovak Fascists, are fired by enthusiasm, their muscles are straining with self-assurance. They are animated by your phenomenal fascist firmness, resolution and fearlessness.”

In 1929, after refusing Prague’s demand to stop plotting Slovak secession and to disband his paramilitary stormtroopers, Tuka had been thrown in jail for treason, becoming an instant martyr to the Slovak separatists. He had remained imprisoned for nine years. Durcansky had immediately taken up the cause and become a leading editorialist for Nastup, a fascist review, he had founded with this brother.

Another member of the circle, Karol Sidor, trumpeted the anti-Semitic appeal of the Slovak nationalists, including darkly prophetic hints about Lebensraum. He formally proposed in the Czech parliament in 1937 that all Slovak Jews be transferred thousands of miles to Russian Manchuria, “because there is a lack of space in the republic, the Jews have a very high birth rate, and besides, they are communists anyhow.” At a mass meeting in Slovakia, Sidor gave an outline of Slovak “racial history” borrowed from Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He called the Jews “notorious poisoners of pure Christian wells and springs. While of old the Jews poisoned our ancestors with alcohol, at present they infect our youth with Marxism.”

Joseph Kirschbaum entered this select circle by organizing Catholic students at Bratislava University into what Tuka called “Christ’s guards.” Many members of Kirschbaum’s Academic Guard would later hold key positions in the Tiso regime.

“The Academic Guard played an outstanding role since October 1938, but its participation in the struggle for independence was of great importance especially in the decisive days of March 1939,” Kirschbaum wrote in his history of Slovakia. “It was a paramilitary organization of university students, led my me as supreme commander. After March 14, it supplied the Slovak Republic with many outstanding workers in the Slovak public life, namely in Party organization, press, diplomacy and cultural organizations.”

Kirschbaum was well suited to his new avocation. Born in the small rural Slovak village of Dolne Vestenice in 1913, he was a brilliant young student when he came under the spell of Tuka and Durcansky at the Bratislava University law school. He became first a star student, then a dynamic organizer and propagandist for the Slovak cause on campus, then finally a trusted advisor to Tiso. By the age of 25 he was a prominent writer for several pro-fascist Slovak newspapers, Durcansky’s personal secretary and a key policy architect for the Slovak separatist party.

He was also a fervent nationalist. Contemptuously spurning Prague’s offers for autonomous language, education and civil administration rights within a federated Czechoslovakia, Kirschbaum was one of only half a dozen Tiso advisors entrusted with negotiating a secret pact with Berlin.

Those efforts increased after September 1938, when Hitler and Goering, headlining crescendo-pitched mass rallies at Nuremburg and Berlin, alerted the world to their intentions for Prague and Slovakia. “A petty segment of Europe is harassing the human race,” Goering snarled. “This miserable pygmy race [the Czechs] is oppressing a cultured people, and behind it is Moscow and the eternal mask of the Jew devil.”

Hitler was even more venomous towards the Czechs. Having already instructed his generals to draw up an invasion plan for Czechoslovakia, he stopped just short of declaring war. Instead, for the benefit of the western Allies, he demanded the “return” of Czech lands dominated by an ethnic German minority in exchange for peace. Casting himself as the peacemaker before a delirious crowd, the Fuhrer gambled that he could get what he wanted through political cunning instead of arms.

He was right. Two days later Neville Chamberlain was begging Hitler for a meeting at the dictator’s Berchtesgaden retreat, and by the end of the month the Allies had formally agreed to hand Hitler part of Czechoslovakia. With the consent of a feeble Chamberlain, the betrayed Czech government was denied permission even to take part in the discussion.

Following the Munich Agreement (Ed note: Sept. 30, 1938), the British government did pledge, however, to assist Czechoslovakia against any “unprovoked aggression” that might occur, a clear warning to Germany.

Reading all these signals with growing excitement, the Slovak separatists committed themselves irrevocably to Hitler and Nazism. The blunt lesson proved that the Fuhrer was the real power broker in Europe and that with Prague humbled, confused and deserted by Britain and France, their chance for secession was imminent. With little hesitation, Durcansky, Kirschbaum, Tuka and Tiso turned to Berlin.

1938 Map Czechoslovakia

1938 Map of Czechoslovakia, attached to the Munich Agreement

One week after the Munich Agreement of Sept. 30, the separatists, after aligning themselves with the Fascist party and Franz Karmasin’s fifth column Deutsche Party, proclaimed a new Slovak government to “fight against the Marxist-Jewish ideology of disorganization and violence.” Tiso declared himself prime minister of autonomous Slovakia, with Durcansky his second-in-command. Kirschbaum began publishing his ideas for a totalitarian state – the fascist ideal – and organizing his paramilitary Academic Guard. Karol Sidor simultaneously created a Slovak state police force called the Hlinka Guard. Karmasin became secretary of state and began building up his own squad of stormtroopers. Konstantin Culen and Alexander Mach became the official propagandists.

The crumbling government in Prague had no choice but to accept the new semi-independent Slovak government. It had just lost its fortified western border to Germany and the added loss of Slovakia would spell the end of the republic. Its democratic president Eduard Benes, had resigned only days after Munich and, fearing his life, fled to America. Prague’s new president, Emil Hacha, aging and senile, agreed to recognize the Tiso government as an autonomous entity within the republic. Tiso and Durcansky took high-level posts in both Prague and the Slovak capital, Bratislava. In the former they represented a minority within the republican government; in the latter they led the equivalent of a provincial legislature.

The new concessions by Prague, however, were still not enough for the Slovak separatists. They had tasted success. One week after the new Tiso government was proclaimed, it began its secret talks with Berlin. Durcansky, with Joseph Kirschbaum as his personal secretary, became the lead negotiator. Durcansky first met Hermann Goering on Oct. 12, 1938, and several more meetings followed throughout the winter. From the beginning, the Slovaks promised “very close political, economic and military ties with Germany” and assured the Nazis that the “Jewish problem would be solved as in Germany.” Eventually, Durcansky and Tiso would deal with Hitler personally.

Berlin authorized each new meeting with the Slovaks only after the separatists had proved their loyalty and value to Nazi Germany. After the first meeting, for instance, Durcansky returned to see Goering with the Austrian collaborator Seyss-Inquart, after the Slovaks had agreed to have their paramilitary Hlinka Guard trained by the SS in Germany and after Slovak administrators had agreed to intensive study sessions of Hitler’s vaunted Nazi state machinery.

A German foreign office memo of Nov. 29, 1938, confirms the bargain: “The [Nazi] Security Service maintains certain connections in Czechia [the German name for the two provinces of Bohemia and Moravia] which have proved useful in recent months. It has followed, as a result of these connections, that the Security Service has financed certain journeys of Slovak ministers, for instance Durcansky, as well as journeys of other official Slovak persons who were to study State and Party institutions in the Reich.”

Tiso named the swastika-adorned Karmasin as secretary of state, a Hlinka Guard unit was sent to train in Germany, and Durcansky and other Slovak leaders helped launch propaganda broadcasts from Nazi transmitters in Vienna, designed to incite Slovaks against the Jews.

The slogan “A New Slovakia without the Jews!” invariably introduced the daily broadcasts. They ended with the motto: “Slovaks do not forget the Jew was, is and will be the greatest enemy of the Slovak nation. Therefore, with Sidor – Against the Jews!”

Anti-Jewish Poster Slovakia

Slovakian Anti-Jewish Poster 1941

A typically crude broadcast on Dec. 12, 1938, called the Jewish book of scripture “a satanic document, and such is the Jew, the devil incarnate. Even if he is baptized, he will act according to the laws of the Talmud. If he accepts Christianity, he does it only for speculation and profit.” The announcer was a Durcansky ally who also commanded a Hlinka Guard detachment and headed the Slovak legation in Berlin. “It is all in vain,” he continued. “A Jew will always be a Jew. Everyday life confirms that converted Jews are the greatest threat to Christianity. The Slovak people must be watchful, now that they are beginning to build their own independent state, that their national and racial purity be protected.”

Two days before Christmas, the Slovak broadcaster lashed out at Jewish children. “Jewish children by heredity and parental environment acquire abnormal and immoral tendencies. Jews have the devil in them, and this devil awakens at an early age. We could show hundreds of examples of immoral behaviour of Jewish 10- to 12-year-olds, and these children of the devil spread immoral talk among our Christian children in a diabolical manner. Therefore, we must prohibit Jewish children from attending Christian schools, public places like swimming pools, playing fields, etc…

“We must segregate them. Children and youth. That is our golden treasure; the future of our people. We must guard it zealously.”

On Oct. 19, 1938, Durcansky and Tiso had a secret meeting with the Nazi foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, in a Munich hotel. Durcansky pressed for outright Slovak independence. Tiso was more cautious but he did express his gratitude for Hitler, who had “brought the Czechoslovak problem to the attention of the world.” Ribbentrop was intrigued by the prospect of a fascist puppet state in Slovakia but remained noncommittal. A week later Tiso wrote to Ribbentrop: “I place the future of my people and of my country in the hands of the Reich Chancellor and Your Excellency.”

But Berlin was not committing itself. There was still the question of Durcansky’s pledge to “solve the Jewish problem as in Germany.” Even in 1938 Germany, that meant concentration camps, forced-labor brigades, bans on Jewish doctors and educators and mass confiscations of property. The first camps for “political and racial enemies” of the Third Reich had been established in 1933, and the infamous Nuremberg laws, which sanctioned the persecution of Jews, were passed in 1935.

Berlin made it clear that it expected no less in Slovakia.

* * *

In November 1938, the autonomous Slovak government faced, in rapid succession, its first major betrayal by Berlin and the first dramatic test of its loyalty. At the beginning of the month Berlin ordered Slovakia to give a huge slice of its southern flank to another of Hitler’s allies, Hungary. Though devastated by this blow, the Slovaks quickly diverted the blame towards Prague – and the Jews in Slovakia.

Then, on Nov. 3, German SS officer Adolf Eichmann arrived in Bratislava. He knew that, to escape his “aryanization” and deportation machinery, thousands of Austrian Jews had fled to Slovakia, where they had become a burden on the state. He knew, too, that Slovakia’s existing native Jewish population was already a target of hatred. Why not, Eichmann proposed to some of the Slovak separatists, declare all these Jews stateless, seize their property and deport them into the lands given to Hungary?

Finding a willing audience for this idea, Eichmann sent a series of cables from Bratislava police headquarters ordering that the deportations be accomplished within 48 hours. The result was chaos. A wave of panic and confusion swept the country as the Slovak police tried to deport thousands of Jews into the new Hungarian territory and confiscate their property. Overwhelmed by sheer numbers, the police requested further details and support – only to receive a series of new, conflicting orders.

Finally the sordid scheme collapsed. But for the next month hundreds of stateless Jewish families continued to be herded by Slovak stormtroopers across the border into Hungary. The Hungarians threw the Jews back. As winter descended, many perished from hunger and cold. George Kenna, an American diplomat who was chief of the U.S. consulate in Czechoslovakia during the period witnessed the tragedy.

“The local Slovak authorities routed out 200 or 300 stateless Jews who were found to be living in Bratislava and put them across the line on the Hungarian frontier,” he wrote in a 1938 dispatch. “The Hungarian authorities refused to admit them, and these miserable people, among them over 100 women and children and persons in poor health, were forced to camp out for weeks in the field between the two lines.

“Representatives of the Jewish organizations in Bratislava endeavored to provide them with food, clothing and shelter. But the authorities were not always co-operative, and there was evidently real suffering before the Hungarian authorities finally took pity. The fate of two Jewish children, who were found frozen to death in an open truck, appears to have finally made an impression on the authorities on both sides, and to have led to some elementary principles of human decency.”

One week after Eichmann visited Slovakia, Nazi stormtroopers unleashed a wave of official terror on Jews in Germany. After a Jewish refugee assassinated a Nazi official in Paris, German propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels authorized the Kristallnacht inferno, which saw three dozen Jews murdered, 815 Jewish businesses, 29 warehouses and 171 houses destroyed and 191 synagogues set on fire. Two days later, Durcansky, Karmasin and Kirschbaum arrived in Berlin to promote Slovak independence with Goering. By then, the Reichsmarschall had received reports on the terror campaign, publicly praised the stormtroopers and blamed the Jews. By Nov. 11, 1939, there could be no doubt what Nazi Germany stood for.

Tuka meeting Hitler

Tuka meets Hitler

Meanwhile, unaware of the secret, treasonous meetings the Slovak separatists were having in Berlin, the Prague government released Vojtech Tuka, the separatists’ martyr-firebrand, from jail. He immediately reclaimed centre stage among the Slovak separatists and made his own visits to Goering. Finally, on Feb. 12, 1939, Tuka and Karmasin were given a private audience with Hitler himself. German minutes of the meeting show that the Nazi dictator met in Tuka a star-struck admirer who was willing to promise anything to achieve a sovereign, fascist Slovakia.

“After a short welcome Tuka thanked the Fuhrer. He addressed the Fuhrer as “My Fuhrer” and said that he, although a humble person, could nevertheless claim to speak in the name of the Slovak people. He said the Fuhrer had not only raised the Slovak question but was also the first to acknowledge the dignity of the Slovak people. The Slovaks wished too, under the leadership of the Fuhrer, to fight for the preservation of European civilization. Continued co-existence with the Czechs had become impossible.

“I lay the destiny of my people in your hands, my Fuhrer.” Tuka concluded. “My people await their complete liberation by you.”

Hitler replied that it would be “a comfort to know that Slovakia was independent. I could guarantee an independent Slovakia at any time, even today.” He refrained, however, from any definite promises, preferring to keep the servile Tuka on a string. Nevertheless, Tuka would later recall his meeting with the Nazi dictator as “the greatest day of my life.”

By this time, Hitler’s instructions for the destruction of the Czechoslovak republic had been finalized. At the end of January 1939 Hitler had conducted a top-secret meeting with his SS and Gestapo chiefs, plus a top foreign office troubleshooter, Edmund Veesenmayer, who also reported to SS chief Heinrich Himmler. Not even Hitler’s generals knew of the confidential order Hitler gave.

“German foreign policy requires that the Czechoslovak republic be broken and destroyed within the next few months. By force if necessary,” Hitler commanded. “To prepare and facilitate the measures against Czechoslovakia, it seems opportune to support and encourage the Slovaks in their claims for autonomy – after which it will be easy to take action against the Czech portion of the republic.”

AFTER THE MEETING, Veesenmayer and Reinhard Heydrich, head of the secret security service of the SS, developed a two-track plan. On the political side, Veesenmayer began marshalling the Slovak separatists for a united declaration of independence, with the announcement to be timed by Berlin. On the tactical side, Heydrich planned one of his patented campaigns of underground terror.

According to a report in the Hlinka Party newspaper Slovak of Feb. 9, 1939, Veesenmayer and two Gestapo agents met Kirschbaum, Mach and their colleague Karol Murgas to work out the plans for the imminent insurrection in Slovakia. After the meeting, one of the Gestapo agents returned to Berlin. Days later, Tuka received his invitation to meet Hitler on Feb. 12.

One day later, Veesenmayer met Kirschbaum and Durcansky. The German told the Slovak separatists that their dream would come with a price tag: an economic, political and military alliance with Nazi Germany. Durcansky, who had proposed the same terms to Goering the previous October, readily agreed. For Kirschbaum too, there was no alternative.

Summarizing the meeting later, Kirschbaum wrote: “About the middle of February one of the foremost agents of the Third Reich, Dr. Veesenmayer, notified several Slovak political representatives, including this writer, that Hungary wanted to occupy Slovakia on March 15, and indicated that the proclamation of independence by Slovakia could forestall this.”

A flurry of meetings among the Slovak separatists and Nazi officials followed in quick succession. By the end of the month Kirschbaum had met Veesenmayer once again, this time to help finalize a framework of economic and political agreements between Berlin and Bratislava and to set the hour of the insurrection against Prague.

In early March, the leading Slovak separatists went to Berlin for a final meeting with Goering. They were met by Gestapo agent Alfred Naujocks. Later captured by the Allies, he was interrogated in London in March 1945. Notes from that interrogation read:

“A few days before the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Germans, Naujocks received orders from the SD to wait at Templehof Airport for a Slovak delegation which he was to accompany to an audience with Goering.

“Naujocks met this delegation. He remembers the names of these participants: Tuka, Karmasin, Kirschbaum, Mach and Durcansky. Naujocks first took the delegation to the SD, then to Goering in the Luftwaffe Ministry. Naujocks was present for the entire audience.

“The Slovak delegation asked Goering for ‘production’ support and economic aid for an independent Slovak state. Goering almost did not let the delegation get a word in. He kept reassuring the delegation, and declared that the time had not yet come.”

But it was coming fast.

Durcansky and Tuka returned to Nazi-occupied Vienna for a final rendezvous with their German allies. There they met Wilhelm Keppler, the German secretary of state for foreign affairs and an architect of the Nazi occupation of Austria one year earlier. With the consent of Goering and Ribbentrop, Keppler told the grateful Slovaks, the Anschluss betrayal scene would be repeated in Czechoslovakia.

The condition for German help was Slovak agreement on a “detailed technical plan for the establishment of Slovak independence, and also on the terms of a treaty to be concluded between Germany and an independent Slovak state.” Berlin was determined to control events. Durcansky and Tuka took the bait.

The next stop was a Vienna meeting with Seyss-Inquart, the Nazi puppet governor of Austria. The mechanics and timing of the insurrection were fine-tuned: the Hlinka Guard, newly trained in Germany, would join Karmasin’s stormtroopers and “liberate” Slovakia, while the separatists, led by Tiso, announced a new government. If the Czech army intervened, the German army would invade the republic on the pretext of protecting the persecuted Slovaks. As in the case of the occupation of Austria, “Berlin would have a telegram from the Slovaks requesting protection – even before the Berlin-sponsored insurrection began.

Meanwhile, Naujocks and other Nazi SS agents were following a second set of commands approved by Hitler himself. “At the beginning of February, we held a meeting with those Slovak leaders who were to co-operate with the German secret service,” wrote one of those agents, Wilhelm Hottl, in his memoirs. “We agents found the Slovaks eager to fall in with our plans.”

Andre Brissaud Book

One of many books by André Brissaud

Josef Lettrich History Book

Josef Lettrich history book

Hottl’s memoirs are verified by a French author, André Brissaud, who wrote several detailed histories of the Nazi secret service and its major figures. “Agents of the SS, including Hottl, met responsible Slovaks in the outskirts of Bratislava. The German agents received a friendly welcome. No exact information leaked out. It is known that there was a question of propaganda, of German financial support. At the suggestion of Heydrich, the Fuhrer ordered that several “intervention groups” be introduced into Slovakia secretly which, by perpetrating a number of acts of terrorism, would rouse the Czechs from their lethargy. Heydrich appointed his brilliant subordinate, Naujocks, to co-ordinate the clandestine SS actions.”

Details of Naujocks’s action and the names of the Slovak collaborators are provided by Slovak jurist and historian Joseph Lettrich in his book, A History of Modern Slovakia. “The chief of the Reich Security Service, Heydrich, and the chief of the Reich Criminal Police, Nebe, ordered bombs made in the shape of small metal cans to be used in the ‘liberation’ of Slovakia. Naujocks brought these explosives to a suburb of Bratislava, and there delivered them to Karmasin, Durcansky, Mach, Murgas and Joseph Kirschbaum. The explosives as well as weapons were then smuggled over to Bratislava by members of the Rodobrana and Hlinka Guard.”

Then, on March 9, with the Slovak separatists at the point of no return, there was a dramatic set-back. The Czech government learned of the insurrection plot, dismissed Tiso and Durcansky from all government posts and invoked martial law in Slovakia. Tiso and Tuka were placed under house arrest and Durcansky fled to Vienna. Kirschbaum, also facing arrest, went underground in Bratislava.

Berlin was stunned, then enraged by the news from Prague. Goering was on vacation, while Hitler was on his way to Vienna to celebrate the first anniversary of the annexation of Austria. When the Nazi dictator learned that the faltering Prague government had stood up to him, after England and France had capitulated at Munich, he exploded. He instructed his generals to be ready to smash the republic at a moment’s notice, and he ordered his foreign office to produce the planned revolt in Slovakia as well as riots and terror campaigns in the rest of Czechoslovakia.

Now, with the other major leaders under arrest, the key figures for the Slovak separatists became Durcansky and Kirschbaum, even though they were physically separated by the Danube River. The pressing goal was a Slovak declaration of independence.

“After a long discussion with the deposed premier, Father Tiso, I crossed the Danube to meet Durcansky [in Austria],” Kirschbaum later wrote. “There was no doubt that, within two or three days, Germany would occupy Bohemia and that Slovakia’s fate depended on Slovakia’s decision and political adroitness.

“For Durcansky and me, it was clear that the hour of decision on Slovakia’s independence had arrived. In our eyes, it was one of the historical opportunities which numerically small, dominated peoples cannot bypass without paying heavy penalties.

“When we saw that Slovakia could be saved from Hungarian occupation, or division among neighbors, we feverishly worked on preparing Slovakia’s declaration of independence.”

Ribbentrop’s deputy, Keppler, now raced to Vienna to meet Durcansky. By the time he arrived, Durcansky and Kirschbaum had drafted their Slovak independence charter. A list of cabinet members for the rebel government was also waiting. Tiso would be president, Sidor prime minister, Durcansky minister of the interior and of foreign affairs, Kirschbaum communications minister, Tuka justice minister, and Mach chief propagandist. Included in the declaration was the all-important request, from Durcansky, that the new Slovak state “and its government be placed under the protection of the German Reich.”

As Keppler arrived, Kirschbaum took his own copy of the charter of independence and the list of cabinet members back to Bratislava, where he expected quick approval from Tiso and Sidor. Both balked. Tiso, paralysed with fear and doubt about the success of the coup, vanished back to his parish and would emerge only when the Germans gave assurances that they would smash the Czechs. Sidor, offered a last-minute political post by Prague, prevaricated also.

Durcansky and Kirschbaum now grew desperate.

* * *

The two Slovaks gambled on a daring plan. Durcansky gave Keppler the cabinet list and the declaration of independence to take back to Berlin, with the assurance that it had been approved by Tiso. Then Durcansky raced to the Vienna state radio station to declare Slovakia’s independence in a broadcast aimed at Bratislava. He triumphantly declared: “In a few hours a thousand-year-old dream will be fulfilled and we will have an independent Slovak state!”

Kirschbaum, meanwhile, recrossed the Danube between Bratislava and Vienna. He was the link between Berlin and the major Slovak players in this drama. “Being one of those on the list of Prague’s government who were supposed to be arrested on March 10,” Kirschbaum wrote later, “I was from the first moment in contact with Tiso and Sidor on one hand, and with Durcansky across the border in Vienna on the other hand, and of course, with Mach and leaders of the university Hlinka Guards.”

Kirschbaum pleaded with his friend Sidor to declare independence, or at least sign a letter favoring it. Sidor wavered but wouldn’t commit himself. Durcansky phoned, demanding that Sidor declare Slovak independence over the Bratislava radio. Still Sidor delayed. As the hours drained away, Durcansky grew more desperate. Berlin now knew that Tiso had not approved the declaration of independence. An enraged Keppler returned to Vienna. Veesenmayer was also furious: he had cabled Seyss-Inquart from Bratislava on March 11 that the insurrection was progressing well and that he had “all Jews in hand.” Now everything was unravelling.

Durcansky, surrounded by Keppler, Seyss-Inquart, Josef Burckel (head of the Austrian political police) and Karmasin, agreed to an 11th -hour plan: as German secret police detonated diversionary bombs in Bratislava, the three Nazis would personally visit Sidor under armed guard and convince him to declare an independent Slovakia. On March 12, 1939, at 4 a.m., the Nazi officials arrived at Sidor’s apartment. Keppler’s message was restrained but blunt: Hitler wanted Sidor’s signature. When Sidor refused, Burckel exploded. Waving Durcansky’s and Kirschbaum’s declaration, he thundered that “the Fuhrer must not be embarrassed. The Fuhrer cannot be deceived!”

Convinced that Sidor had been bribed by the Czechs, the Nazis finally left Bratislava in dismay. Keppler reported the news to Hitler, who angrily sent another emissary to Durcansky in Vienna. There was a message and a veiled threat. Durcansky must immediately arrange a meeting between Tiso and Hitler in Berlin, or the Slovaks would pay a heavy price for embarrassing the Fuhrer. Durcansky chose Kirschbaum to deliver that message to Tiso. And in the end it was Kirschbaum who succeeded.

“It was this failure of Keppler’s mission which motivated Hitler to send an invitation to Tiso,” Kirschbaum wrote later. “This writer was asked by Durcansky from Vienna to find out if Tiso would accept such an invitation. I called Dr. Tiso around midnight and mentioned that I wished to discuss matters of utmost importance with him. Tiso asked me to call the next morning. I immediately sent two reliable officers of the Academic Guard with a message to Tiso’s parish town, and informed Durcansky in Vienna. Dr. Tiso asked this writer to inform the President of the Slovak Diet, the Slovak Government and the leadership of the Hlinka Party that he would be back in Bratislava that morning.”

At dawn on March 13, Tiso reappeared and agreed to meet Hitler. Crossing the Danube, he reunited with a relieved Durcansky, Karmasin and Keppler, then flew to Berlin under a Nazi escort. At 6:40 p.m. that night, Tiso and Durcansky were ushered into the Nazi chancellery, where an impatient Hitler was flanked by Ribbentrop and two generals. It was an extraordinary visit but an entirely typical performance by Hitler. It started with a head-of-state reception for Tiso and ended with a brutal threat. In between was a maniacal tirade and a contrived “telegram” reporting that Hungary was about to devour Slovakia. In fact, it was the German armies that were poised to invade Czechoslovakia within 48 hours.

Ribbentrop, Hitler, Tuka and Tiso

Ribbentrop, Hitler, Tuka and Tiso

After railing against Czechoslovakia and delivering a lecture on Lebensraum, Hitler turned to the issue of Slovak independence. He had been keenly disappointed, he warned. He had thought, from all the previous talks with Durcansky and Tuka, that the Slovaks genuinely wanted independence. Now he was unsure.

“He had now summoned Tiso in order to clear up this question in a very short time,” the German minutes of the meeting read. “Did Slovakia want to lead an independent existence or not? It was a question not of days but of hours. If Slovakia wished to become independent, he would guarantee it. If she hesitated or refused to be separated from Prague, he would leave the fate of Slovakia to events for which he was no longer responsible.”

Taking that unmistakable threat as his cue, Ribbentrop interrupted the conversation with a carefully timed intelligence dispatch. The Hungarians were swarming up to Slovakia’s southern border, he said. Overcome with tension, Tiso begged for time to consult with Durcansky, promising that the Slovaks would “prove themselves worthy of the Fuhrer’s benevolence.”

But Ribbentrop would not let up. Hours later, the Germans were still “helping” Tiso draft a telegram, which he was to send to Berlin on his arrival back in Bratislava. It was a revised declaration of Slovak independence and a request for German protection. The next morning a compliant Tiso presented the document, already translated into Slovak by Ribbentrop’s foreign office, to his one-party Slovak legislature.

Tiso proudly announced that Hitler had received him in Berlin “with all the honors due a sovereign leader of a free state.” That was enough. At the end of the session, the members unanimously passed a law proclaiming: “The Land of Slovakia declares itself to be an independent and self-governing Slovak State.” It was March 14, 1939. Slovakia was now a new country.

Hitler at Hradcany Castle

Hitler at Hradčany Castle

By noon the next day, another country had disappeared. The German army had occupied Prague after a lightning strike across Bohemia. That night Hitler, always mindful of a propaganda coup, slept in the Hradschin Castle, an ancient and revered fortress that overlooks Prague. It had been the home of Czechoslovakia’s doomed democracy. Now that state had vanished. It had been replaced by a German protectorate in Bohemia and Moravia and a German puppet regime in Slovakia. (Ed. Note: Hradčany Castle)

Back in Britain, Chamberlain used the Slovakian declaration of independence as the reason why Britain would not honor its commitment to aid the Czechs against “unprovoked aggression.” Czechoslovakia had been dismantled as a nation, he said, by “internal disruption,” a reference to the Slovakian action. “Accordingly,” he said, “His Majesty’s government cannot hold themselves bound by this obligation.”

In his history of the Second World War, Winston Churchill concluded that Germany had used the Slovakian separatists “as a pawn.” The secession of Slovakia, he wrote, had occurred only as a result of “constant Nazi intrigue.” Without the secession of Slovakia, Britain might have felt obligated to keep its promise to Czechoslovakia. The Slovak separatists were elated. They had nothing more to fear from the hated Czechs. But they were soon to discover that they had betrayed Prague for an infinitely more cruel and brutal master: Berlin.

2 FASCIST SLOVAKIA

EVEN AS TISO’S supporters moved to consolidate their coup in Slovakia, the new country’s borders were being punctured by Hungarian and German troops. Hitler had betrayed the Slovaks again. At the same time as he was promising them independence and protection, he was strengthening his alliance with his fascist ally Hungary by secretly promising it parts of eastern Slovakia. Stunned, the Slovaks were forced to hand Hungary an entire district as the price of an uneasy truce. And on March 15, the German army swept into both Prague and western Slovakia, occupying a strategic military and industrial gateway to the Danube and Vienna.

Hitler’s commanders in western Slovakia, without notifying Bratislava in advance, began disarming Slovak garrisons and occupying towns, transport centres, airfields and armament factories. Huge stores of arms, fuel and vehicles belonging to the former Czech army were seized and sent back to Germany. The area was placed under Nazi administration. The commanding Nazi general wrote to Berlin: “General [Wilhelm] Keitel shall inform the Slovak government via the Foreign Office that it will not be allowed to keep or garrison armed Slovak units (Hlinka Guards) on this side of the border. They shall be transferred to the new Slovak territory. Hlinka Guards should be disarmed.”

Now the Slovaks knew the hollowness of Hitler’s promise of “protection.” Already their pact with Berlin was coming back to haunt them. Still, they desperately tried to salvage what was left of their nation. Tiso, at the urging of Durcansky and Karmasin, telegraphed Hitler and asked for a formal protection treaty. Durcansky and Kirschbaum, of course, had already helped work out the terms with the Nazis – in advance.

“In the name of the legal Slovak Government,” Tiso wrote Hitler, “I have the honor to inform Your Excellency that the sovereign Slovak Nation has today thrown off the intolerable Czech yoke and, in accordance with the overwhelming wishes of the population, the independence of our state has been proclaimed. Independent Slovakia is determined to live in peace and friendship with all her neighbors. In the early stages of her development, however, the young state requires strong protection.

“In the name of the people and of the Government of the new Slovakia, I request Your Excellency, as the Fuhrer of the Great German Reich, which under your rule has always supported freedom and the self-determination of peoples, to take over the guarantee for the existence of our state and to take immediately all measures necessary for the protection of its frontiers.”

The next day Hitler agreed.

Returning to Vienna from Prague on March 17, the Fuhrer was in a triumphant mood. By annexing Austria and Czechoslovakia, he had doubled the size of the German Reich without firing a shot. As well, he had a servile ally in Slovakia and another in Hungary. Now not only could he attack Poland from three sides, he also had a gateway to the wheatfields of the Russian Ukraine – and the Lebensraum he had promised his “master race.”

On March 18, 1939, Hitler and Durcansky met in Berlin to seal the protection treaty – but not before Hitler had proven what a tough and duplicitous negotiator he could be, especially when he held all the cards. For their parts, Durcansky, Tiso, Tuka and Mach proved themselves power-starved and deluded. The treaty, echoing the promises made to Goering in October 1938, was a blueprint for slavery in the guise of independence. Before signing it, Durcansky and Tiso protested about the German occupation of western Slovakia and the southern threat from Hungary. Hitler ignored them.

“I do not want even an inch of Slovak ground,” Hitler soothed, as his army occupied western Slovakia. “In Slovakia, the Slovaks alone will develop their own national, cultural and economic life. I shall guarantee the full independence and territorial integrity of Slovakia. I shall hold my protective hand over Slovakia, and nobody will reach with stealthy hand for the Slovak state.”

Overjoyed to hear that, Durcansky, Tiso and Tuka signed the formal Treaty of Protection. In return for recognizing Slovakia, the German army had “the right, at all times, to construct miliary installations [in Slovakia] and to keep them garrisoned in the strength they deem necessary.” Slovakia also promised to “organize its military forces in close agreement with the German Armed Forces” and, most importantly, to “conduct its foreign policy in close understanding with the German Government.” Slovakia was now formally a Nazi satellite.

While Hitler returned to Berlin to prepare his coming invasion of Poland, the Slovak separatists returned to their new capital, Bratislava, to strengthen their tenuous grip on their new nation. In doing that, they forged a regime made in the image of Berlin: fascistic, authoritarian and anti-Semitic.

On paper, the new Slovak state guaranteed a power-sharing format between the Hlinka Party, a parliament of elected politicians and an executive that bridged the two. But in practice the regime was dominated by a single-party, authoritarian elite. During the next five years, there was no election. The parliament, composed only of politicians approved by Tiso, was soon eclipsed by an executive dominated by Tiso, his leading cabinet members and the secretary-general of the Hlinka Party, Joseph Kirschbaum. Soon, by design, the party, the parliament and executive would become indivisible.

“The Party must leave its mark on our whole public life, direct it and determine the political line,” Kirschbaum wrote in April 1939. “In transforming Slovak life in an organizational and spiritual sense, the Hlinka Party must be a guide, just as the parties guided the development and growth of new Italy or victorious Germany. A concentration of power in the hands of the supreme body of the Party will be necessary, primarily in the first days of building our state.”

Raul Hilberg, Historian

Raul Hilberg, Historian, Photo: Agence France-Presse

Raul Hilberg, the noted historian of the Holocaust, confirms that Kirschbaum assumed a powerful role in the design and administration of the new Slovak state.

“A man who was secretary-general in the Hlinka Party would have been in contact with Tiso himself almost daily,” says Hilberg. “He would be an impresario, a conduit, a middleman in all kinds of power brokerage activities. It was that kind of a position. That would mean he would be involved in virtually everything that involved economic and political change – including the Jews.

“The party was quite central in policy-making. It was true of all the right-wing regimes like Nazi Germany, the Fascists of Italy or any movement like Hlinka. Once in power, they were going to exercise influence… The position of secretary-general was a highly political position. It dealt with people – who should and who shouldn’t have power.”

Later, in spite of an elaborate constitution guaranteeing full rights and freedoms to all Slovaks, tyranny prevailed. Jews, Czechs and opponents of the Tiso regime were systematically stripped of their citizenship, religious rights, property and physical freedom. Eventually, 70,000 Slovak Jews would be deported to death camps under a constitution that promised justice for all.

Even in its infancy, the Tiso regime had some strong opposition. Less than a third of the population had supported the separatists in the last democratically held election in 1935, and there was bitter criticism from groups representing the social democrats, socialists, communists, Protestants, Jews and Czech-speaking Slovaks. But with opposing political parties banned, there was little organized resistance.

“It was correct for us to liquidate the political parties,” Tuka’s newspaper Slovak would later explain, “because they showed a tendency to create their own legal orders. To tolerate such conduct in a state governed by law is always a dangerous thing, and leads to anarchy.”

The Slovak fascists were also denounced by a high-profile group of First World War Slovak veterans, who had fought for a democratic Slovakia within Czechoslovakia. “We implore you not to tarnish the national honor of Slovaks and the memory of our fallen comrades,” read their telegram to Tiso on March 14. It was ignored.

Another powerful voice of warning came from the Vatican. From the beginning it expressed grave concerns about a Catholic priest being the formal head of a government – especially a Nazi satellite. Tiso, citing an equal duty to both his church and his country, ignored the warning. He would become head of the Slovak state, he said, and was ready “even, if need be, to suffer martyrdom.”

The regime moved quickly to silence the opposition. Tiso’s parliament, 92 per cent of it made up of Catholics (including 12 priests), plus Karmasin’s fascist German members and a handful of Protestant Slovak separatists, presented a united, iron-fisted front. All but a few members, including some priests, wore the Hlinka Guard uniform in parliament – their armbands bearing a stylized episcopal cross, where Nazi uniforms featured swastika – and opened its sessions with a stiff-armed Nazi salute.

Tuka, the man who had called these stormtroopers “Christ’s Guards,” would later write: “I need only point to repeated pronouncements of Hitler himself in which he incessantly invokes Providence and God’s help, and in which he religiously emphasizes that he is nothing but a tool in the hands of just Providence.”

Ten days after the new country was born, it began creating security camps for political opponents of the Tiso regime.

“The Minister of the Interior is authorized to arrange for the jailing of those persons whose activities until now have justified or justify serious apprehensions that they will be an obstacle to the building of the Slovak Sate,” the terse edict read. “The Minister of the Interior will establish a security camp for the detention of such persons, in which camp the prisoners will also be compelled to perform physical labor.”

Internment Camp in an old prison in Ilava

Internment Camp in an old prison in Ilava

Signing the executive order were Durcansky, Tiso and Tuka. It was a licence to jail any and all opposition. Within a week the new “security camp” at Ilava held three former members of parliament, two senators, three journalists, a judge and a dozen prominent anti-fascists. Eventually Ilava would see 3,000 political prisoners, including authors, priests. teachers and journalists. All were arrested and sentenced without trial.

Exactly one month after the Slovak revolt on April 15, 1939, Tuka publicly warned: “Those who spread alarming rumors and false reports are obstructing our way. We have made arrangements to handle all of them at llava. Many of them are there now, and many others will follow them there. It is your duty to denounce these instigators to the police. The Hlinka Guards, and the Slovak Government, will take care of them.”

These threats were augmented by the creation of a Gestapo-style secret police supervised by the Nazi security attaché in Bratislava. Soon police-administered beatings, torture, brutal interrogations and summary imprisonments became commonplace. Thousands were sentenced to work in labor gangs without trial or right of appeal.

Other political suspects were stripped of their property, forbidden to possess radios and forced to carry security passes and submit their letters for censorship. The new state also closed or forced out of existence all but a few minor newspaper and radio outlets. With a controlled press and radio, Konstantin Culen and Mach soon had a formidable propaganda machine which praised Tiso, Hitler and fascism, while denouncing the Czech enemy and degenerate western democracies.

The next targets were the Jews, and here Joseph Kirschbaum’s secretariat played a key role. In recognition of his role in the Gestapo-inspired insurrection, Kirschbaum was declared secretary-general of the Slovak People’s Party on March 16, I939. This effectively made him the top bureaucrat in fascist Slovakia and his office a central conduit for policy.

“The Hlinka Party is a political organization through which the Slovak nation participates in the leadership and management of the state,” reads Statute 245. “Members of the Executive of the Party are the Chairman of the Party; four vice-chairmen; the Secretary General of the Party. The executive decides on organizational, financial and press matters of the Party…  The General Secretariat is the executive organ of the Executive and the Board of Directors of the Party. It is headed by the Secretary General.”

Over the next year, Tiso moulded an authoritarian regime. One of his government’s first moves was to ban Jews from the University of Bratislava, where Kirschbaum’s Academic Guard now controlled appointments, curriculum, research and campus events. Soon afterwards, Jewish children were expelled from many public schools. Then came the dark shadow of Hitler’s Nuremberg laws.

Before the end of 1939, the Tiso regime began counting, codifying and persecuting Slovak Jews. First, their legal status as Jews was certified. Then strict limits on the number of Jewish doctors, lawyers, teachers and even pharmacists were decreed. Then Jewish lawyers were legally obstructed from collecting their fees. By the fall of I939, Jewish property was being confiscated. All this was aimed at a people who constituted less than five per cent of the Slovak population and fuelled a climate of increasingly violent anti-Semitism.

“A rousing anti-Semitism has always been one of the leading planks of their party platform,” wrote American diplomat George Kennan in early 1939. It has proved its worth as a means of enlisting the support of certain elements of the population. However, it has placed the regime in the position of being forced to produce, sooner or later, something in the nature of a Slovak Nuremberg Law.

A current bill, in its present stage envisages the relegation of Jews, together with thieves, criminals, swindlers, insane people and alcoholics, to a so-called ‘second category’ of citizenship, the members of which will be called ‘subjects’ rather than citizens, and will not be permitted to serve in the army, to take part in any political life, or to be members of the state political party, or of social or cultural societies. It also contains provisions for the ‘aryanization’ of Jewish enterprises.”

As Culen and Mach excoriated the Slovak Jews for controlling the economic and professional spheres, Hlinka Guard members, chanting the phrase, “With Sidor, against the Jews!” openly beat Jews in the street, painted their shops with swastikas and the Star of David and desecrated Jewish synagogues and cemeteries.

A British attaché, stationed in Bratislava during the first months of the Slovak regime, wrote a memo to London on Aug. 17, 1939: “Non-Jews, encouraged by Germans, do all they can to rob and plunder Jewish property and persecute the Jewish people. Jewish shops and businesses have been forced to close, and many Slovak Jews are futilely trying to flee to Palestine. Their nerves can stand it no more. Fear of the unknown in other countries is more pleasant to them than the present persecution and feeling that they are trapped.”

The Jews were caught in a vise: bullying, unofficially tolerated stormtroopers in the streets and official decrees that quickly stripped them of their rights and possessions. It was the same nightmare that had already haunted Jews in Germany and Austria. But worse was yet to come.

Evening Standard headline Germany invades Poland

Evening Standard headline Germans invade Poland

At dawn on Sept. 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Striking from the north and west and from Slovakia in the south, Hitler’s mechanized armies shattered 35 Polish divisions and captured Warsaw in only three weeks. Joining the Blitzkrieg were Slovakian and Russian troops. Hitler’s new allies were rewarded with a share of the spoils. Tiso was awarded – and proudly accepted – the Grand Cross of the Order of the German Eagle. But the collaboration also earned Slovakia new enemies: Britain and France. The Second World War had begun, and the tiny Slovak nation was now allied with Hitler.

During the next year, as Hitler’s armies smashed into Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Norway and France, Nazi Germany seemed invincible. In Slovakia, Tiso’s official propagandists hailed each new German victory. Convinced they had placed their bets on a winner, all the members of Tiso’s executive elite – including Kirschbaum – praised both Hitler and fascism.

Kirschbaum attended a ceremony in October 1939 at which Tiso honored German pilots who had attacked Poland. Later, Kirschbaum, Tiso and Durcansky made a triumphant tour of the territory with which Hitler had rewarded Slovakia for its armed support. On Oct. 1, 1939, Tiso himself announced: ‘We chose a German orientation. And we shall continue along this path, because we believe in this orientation. I assured Hitler he would never be disappointed in Slovakia.”

To Tiso’s chief propagandists, Culen and Mach, Hitler was the incarnation of mystical ideals. “They write of Germany as an undemocratic country,” Culen wrote in February 1940. “Yet few democracies in the world have done as much for the little man as has Germany in the last few years. May we be inspired to move forward by the example of German discipline, order, manly courage and purposeful work.” Mach called Hitler “the finger of God pointing the way and showing what has to be done.”

Joseph Kirschbaum was no less admiring of Hitler’s Germany – before and after the invasion of Poland. On June 4, 1939, Kirschbaum gave a speech in the Slovakian town of Devinska Nova Ves in which he violently denounced Slovaks who had secretly distributed leaflets opposing the celebration – complete with official ceremonies, swastikas and military salutes – of Hitler’s 50th birthday.

“Tell me, where do you see the German slavery which the cowardly authors of this leaflet would have you believe?” Kirschbaum demanded. “Every worthy Slovak man and woman knows that the Slovak nation never had such opportunities for living according to its inclinations, as it does today. For that we must thank the great German nation.”

One year later, Kirschbaum joined with Tiso’s executive to publicly celebrate the fall of France to Hitler’s armies. On June 17, 1940, surrounded by swastikas, Slovak flags and members of the Nazi military legation, he spoke from the balcony of the Slovak National Theatre in Bratislava.

* * *

“Today, not only the French army capitulated to the German army, but also that world which we have been against for a long time – when we were one of the nations which began the struggle for the victory of nationalism,” Kirschbaum declared, in a speech reported in the newspaper Slovenska Pravda on June 19, 1940. “Since today we are celebrating the German victory, let us remember the time when our motto was: Hitler-Hlinka!, the same line which triumphed today, and celebrates its victory today.”

Durcansky spoke beside Kirschbaum. “One era is ending, and a new one begins,” he vowed ‘This signifies the end of the democratic ideology, the end of democratic irresponsibility. On the domestic front, we are building a social and authoritarian state. In our foreign relations, we are collaborating with those who apply similar principles to their own internal society. For this reason we are delighted with the German success, for we know that the German victory is a victory of principles which will build a new Europe – a new Europe which will grant rights and justice to the Slovak nation.”

The Slovak minister of defence, Ferdinand Catlos, summed up the surging confidence of the Tiso regime. “We have, at the right time, understood the voice of time and history,” he said “Our army declared itself, at the right time, as an active ally when it concerned Poland. Bonds were sealed with blood, and this friendship with the German army has assured us of constant values for the nation, the people, and our young state.”

Two days later, the Slovenska Pravda of June 21 carried a report of another speech by Kirschbaum. “Our political co-operation with the great German nation,” he said, “is our support and belief that, in the future, we will not only be an island of peace but also of prosperity. We are thankful that we have as our leader Dr. Tiso, we are also thankful that we have the Hlinka Guards. Because these represent our line alongside the great German Empire, the line we will bravely continue in the future.”

The speech also contained an ominous warning: “In every field there comes a time for reckoning. The Jews will be excluded from business – from wherever they can harm us.”

Earlier, in a speech to young farmers on March 3, 1940, Kirschbaum had explained the rationale for aryanization. “What the Slovak government does today is nothing else but a punishment for political betrayal,” Kirschbaum had said, in a speech reported in Slovak on March 5. “It is taking away the property of political profiteers when the Assembly passed the law regulating the ownership of land and is excluding Jews from the economic life, and preventing them from further enslaving the Slovak people, the enemy of which they were not only in the former Hungary, but also in the Czechoslovak state.

“In this case we have no conflicts with our conscience, not with Christianity, which makes the distinction between punishment and reward. When the Jews are touched by a law, we are only punishing the crimes of the members of this race, but not individuals as members of the Jewish religion.”

By then Kirschbaum’s secretariat had played a direct role in implementing the Tiso regime’s officially sanctioned persecution of Jews. Since March 1939, the regime’s de facto executive – of which Kirschbaum was a member – had drafted and proclaimed dozens of anti-Semitic decrees. During that time, Slovak Jews had been – edict by edict – racially codified, banned from schools, forbidden to practise such professions as law and medicine except in limited numbers, expelled from civil service jobs and stripped of property and assets.

On April 24, 1940, the Tiso executive took another step: it formally decreed that “strategic” Jewish enterprises would be taken over, that others would be marked with the Star of David, and that quotas would be set on the number of Jewish employees. In June, Kirschbaum’s general secretariat notified Slovak officials and told them that his office would be centrally involved. Circular number12.550/40 stated:

“The General Secretariat reserves the right to decide in the takeover of the following enterprises: vinegar, soft drinks, flour mills, distilleries, machine shops. quarries, wholesale stores.

“In cases in which it is in the public interest that the takeover of a particular Jewish property falling within the above categories be proceeded with quickly, and in which any delay may be harmful, the County office may make a decision without obtaining the opinion of the General Secretariat. In the case that the County office feels the matter should be attended to by the General Secretary, it may forward the matter without delay.

“If, in any case, the General Secretariat gives its decision, such decision must be accepted by the County office. On Guard!”

With many Jews now being forced to abandon all or part of their businesses, Slovaks loyal to the Tiso regime were lining up to cash in on the misfortune of Jewish business owners – either by direct takeover or by acquiring part ownership at below value prices. Some Jews, particularly those with indispensable technical expertise, were allowed to maintain part ownership of their businesses. Applications flooded in to Kirschbaum’s office, to be approved only after the “political reliability” of the applicants had been cleared.

Thus Kirschbaum’s office was responsible for ensuring that the assets of dispossessed Jews – political plunder – were transferred to friends of the fascist Tiso regime.

These state-sanctioned tactics were a long way from the sadistic, blood-chilling pogroms that Nazi Germany was unleashing on Polish Jews in 1939 and early 1940 – atrocities from which even some German army commanders had recoiled in horror. But the early Slovak anti-Semitic laws did prepare the ground, as they had done in Nazi Germany, for outright barbarism. Roundups, ghettos, concentration camps and genocide were only months away. Soon Slovak Jews would be boarding death trains bound for Auschwitz.

3 THE JEWISH PROBLEM

WHEN THE SLOVAK separatists declared independence on March 14, 1939, the new country found itself in an economic crisis that rivalled the cruellest years of the Great Depression.

Slovakia had no currency of its own, no central bank reserves, no international credit, few cash-earning exports and an economy based almost exclusively on agriculture. As a province, it had always been the poor cousin to the favored Bohemia and Moravia, where mines, factories and an extensive industrial infrastructure had generated surpluses for the Czech national treasury. Slovakia, in contrast, had depended on Prague in the past for huge annual subsidies. With only a skeleton system of roads, railways, power plants, factories and urban centres, it had barely begun entering the industrial age. Now, with independence, Slovakia was destitute – and desperate.

Two months after the Slovak insurrection, the U.S. consul general in Bratislava wrote a detailed report on the Slovak economy. It painted the picture of a country that was all but bankrupt – even after the Tiso regime had seized 90 million crowns from the former Czech national bank and “with well-tried totalitarian methods,” floated an internal bond which raised only one-fifth of the expected revenue.

“The government is already urgently short of cash,” said the consul general’s report, dated May 15, 1939. “With a partially inflated currency, an exhausted internal capital market, with no credit whatsoever beyond its own borders, with a population whose taxable capacity is already unable to bear the costs of public administration, it is declining rapidly. During the two months since the Slovak political crisis, trade between Slovakia and the outside world has been almost at a standstill.” The report concluded that the new country had enough cash reserves to last only four months.

The Tiso separatists had few illusions about the desperate state of their economy. A two-fold strategy of salvation quickly emerged: complete economic assimilation with Nazi Germany and mass expropriations of Jewish and Czech property. Soon, by mutual agreement, Slovakia was completely integrated into Nazi Germany’s war economy. Even before the invasion of Poland. German banks began channelling money into Slovakia for chemical plants, mines, textiles, metallurgical foundries, glass and especially armaments. The most strategic arms plants were incorporated directly into Hermann Goering’s industrial secretariat.

German cash was also infused into such key war-related projects as the construction of roads, the upgrading of railways, the installation of communication systems and the building of power stations. For the duration of the war, similar deals would be negotiated under the German-Slovak treaty of Jan. 30, 1940, “on the exploitation of war economy enterprises in Slovakia for the purposes of the German war economy.” In exchange, Berlin signed a protocol allowing 60,000 Slovaks to work in Nazi Germany, many in war-related industries. Germany paid minimal wages and allowed many of the highly valued German marks to be sent back to Slovakia, where the wages were taxed.

For the Tiso regime, these arrangements with Berlin brought desperately needed jobs, cash, an emerging industrial infrastructure and a foundation for the country’s economy. For Nazi Germany, the agreement meant ore, armaments and cheap Slovak labor for the production of weapons and the network of roads and railways that Hitler’s armies would need for the coming invasion of Russia. For the Allies, who would soon face guns, bullets and tanks produced with Slovak raw materials, factories and labor, it would prove to be an economic marriage made in hell.

During the first year of independence, however, not even these formidable transfusions of German capital could prevent widespread poverty and unemployment in Slovakia. The Tiso regime’s open alliance with Hitler, and its prominent anti-Semitic platform, had triggered a flight of internal capital, largely controlled by Czechs and Jews. This in turn fuelled the anti-Czech and anti-Semitic hatred of the Slovak separatists and made Czech and Jewish assets targets for takeovers. As early as July 1939, American diplomat George Kennin saw omens of the economic persecution that was to come. “There is always the possibility of enriching the government through the obscure process of ‘aryanization,’ and this possibility is doubtless receiving most careful and sympathetic consideration on the part of the Slovak leaders,” Kennan wrote. Later, he would add: “The government has appointed a commission, under the leadership of Sidor [who had earlier argued for the expulsion of all Slovak Jews to Russian Manchuria], the function of which is to work out decrees dealing with the Jewish question.”

Kennan predicted, after interviews with Tiso, that the Slovak separatists would treat Slovak Jews as Adolf Eichmann had treated the Austrian Jews: seize their money and property before expelling them. Anti-Semitism was not only politically popular, it could put money in the bank.

“The present Slovak autonomous regime grew out of the Hlinka movement, which had been subject to extensive and direct German influence for some time before the Munich Agreement,” Kennan concluded in a 1939 dispatch to Washington. “It is not surprising that it should have come into power with an out-and-out anti-Semitism as one of the principal planks in its platform.

“‘There is no point in reciting the various statements of Slovak leaders with respect to the Jewish question. There have been many statements of this sort and their tenor has all been more or less the same: that the influence of Jews in the political and economic life of Slovakia would have to be eliminated, and that the Slovak government would not be shy at extreme measures in pursuing this purpose.

“These views were confirmed by the Slovak prime minister, Tiso, in a personal conversation. He stated that the Slovak government intended to take measures toward the solution of the Jewish question independently, and that these measures would probably go further in scope than any which might be taken by the [Nazi protectorate] in Prague. He also stated the intention of his government to avoid irresponsible excesses and physical cruelty, but I suspect this statement was made largely for the sake of effect and that the policy of the Slovak government on this point will be governed by expediency.”

Kennan was right. The result of Karol Sidor’s commission was a modified version of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg laws drafted in Nazi Germany. The crucial industrial expropriations were placed in the hands of Kirschbaum’s secretariat. In the process, the Slovak state began earning cash from internal industries, and – with Kirschbaum’s office ensuring that the expropriated Jewish industries fell into the right hands – the Tiso regime anchored its political stability.

All this was legally sanctioned. In 1939 the official newspaper Slovak summed up the strategic impact of Kirschbaum’s office.

“According to the proclamation of the Ministry of the Interior concerning the establishment of Jewish labor camps, it is possible to exempt some Jews from their obligation on economic or medical grounds.

“The Hlinka Party is hereby bringing to the attention of the party and its organs that the granting of exemptions on economic grounds is by the General Secretariat in Bratislava, which, in addition to economic grounds, will observe above others, political reasons. Any application will be considered and decided upon on the stand taken by the General Secretariat.

“For this reason neither district secretaries nor other party officers should involve themselves in matters concerning exemption of Jews from their labor obligations, but should refer all matters of this nature to the General Secretariat, the only competent office in this respect.”

In fact, Kirschbaum’s general secretariat had played a decisive role in the Slovak aryanization program from the beginning. As well as identifying and confiscating strategic Jewish enterprises, it organized a series of lectures on aryanization for local Hlinka Guard members and party officials. On March 18, 1940, officials at the Bratislava headquarters of the Slovak League wrote to the government:

“Hearing about the establishment of an Office for the takeover of Jewish Property, the Slovak League begs to offer its co-operation. The Slovak League has worked in the field of taking over Jewish property for more than a year. Therefore, it has an experienced and efficient staff.

“We already came to an agreement with the Office of the General Secretary regarding technical services and other things. We agreed that the personal affairs/political and national reliability are reserved exclusively to the Office of the General Secretary, to whom we shall send a report.”

Another letter, sent to Kirschbaum’s office on June 10, 1940, from a business association, said: “Referring to your letter of June 7, respecting informative lectures on the takeover of Jewish property, we wish to advise that we have prepared such lectures long ago, when we were not aware that such lectures would be organized by the Secretariat General of the Hlinka Party.”

Kirschbaum played a similar role in screening civil servant hirings and police academy graduates. “All ministries must apply to the General Secretary’s office when they appoint new employees to the public service for the statement of their political loyalty,” Kirschbaum wrote on Sept 21, 1939. “I ask that in the future even the Ministry of the Interior always ask for an opinion with regard to the political loyalty of persons. We attach very great importance to the fact that all people appointed to the administration be politically and nationally reliable. On Guard! Dr. Kirschbaum.”

In July 1939, the Slovak state police wrote: ‘”Before nominating the candidates in the police service, the Ministry of the Interior passed the names of the accepted candidates to the General Secretary of the Hlinka Party, who agreed to all candidates. Only then did the Ministry of the Interior proceed to final acceptance.”

* * *

The Slovak record of official anti-Semitism, however, was not enough for Berlin.

German army enters Paris 1940

German army enters Paris 1940 © ullstein bild via Getty Images

By the summer of 1940, Nazi Germany was ascending toward the zenith of its power. Hitler was in an ebullient mood after the fall of Paris in June. Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium and France were now part of his Reich. That summer he would be preoccupied with plans for the invasion of England – and Lebensraum. His three SS chiefs – Himmler, Heydrich and Eichmann – were setting in motion the “final solution” for Europe’s Jews, and tens of thousands more were dying in Nazi forced-labor brigades and concentration camps. The crematoria and mobile gas vans were just being conceived.

Both Eichmann and Heydrich had visited the Slovak capital of Bratislava to monitor the puppet government’s program of anti-Semitism. They were not pleased with what they found. The official anti­ Semitic expropriations, purges, work quotas and labor camps appeared to Heydrich and Eichmann as pale, weak-kneed imitations of the example set by Nazi Germany. They warned the Slovaks to get tougher. Back in Berlin, they reported that the Tiso regime had only a half-hearted approach to the “Jewish problem.”

Compared to the Nazi “protectors” whom Hitler had installed in Poland, Prague, Holland and France, this was true. Although Tiso and his ruling circle were stridently anti-Semitic, most of them had no stomach for outright murder. As author Hannah Arendt later wrote in her report on Eichmann’s trial as a war criminal, “For them, the solution consisted in expelling the Jews and inheriting their property, but not in systematic exterminating.”

There were two other compelling, sometimes conflicting reasons for the Slovaks to temper their anti-Semitism. One was the Catholic Church. The Vatican was critical, behind the scenes, of Tiso’s virulent anti-Semitism, and its opposition increased sharply as reports began to emerge of the genocide being committed by Tiso’s Nazi partners. A strong counter-current, however, existed among prominent Catholic clergy, many of whom advocated the segregation of Jews and the elimination of their influence from political and economic life.

In the first years of independence, the Slovak separatists were also anxious to keep as much Jewish capital as possible within the country and were dependent on Jewish business and technical expertise. This compelled the Tiso regime to moderate its anti-Semitism and to provide special exemptions for Jews whom administrators judged to be indispensable.

Heydrich and Eichmann. however, were implacable. Seeing Tiso as a hand-wringing marionette constrained by the Vatican, but respecting his political appeal to Slovaks, they decided to rearrange his advisors. Berlin wanted absolute control. The purge would mean winners and losers. The winners were the aging firebrand Tuka, who became foreign minister, and Mach, who took over the position of minister of the interior. Both had proven that they would do anything for Hitler – including launching his “final solution” in Slovakia. The loser was Ferdinand Durcansky, who had held both posts since March 15, 1939. And swept up in the purge with him was his former student and personal secretary, Joseph Kirschbaum.

Hitler’s rejection of Durcansky was brutal. At a meeting in Austria with Tiso and his executive elite at the end of July 1940, the Nazi dictator screamed, “I don’t want to ever see this gypsy again.” Tiso protested feebly, but Durcansky’s official career was finished.

Durcansky – who, along with Kirschbaum, had been a long-time, high-profile defender of Nazi Germany, had publicly celebrated the fall of France to Hitler the previous month and had played a key role in the Gestapo-engineered insurrection of March 1939 – could hardly have been suspected of being anti-Nazi. But he had made some key enemies in Hitler’s foreign office. The man he had appointed as Slovak minister to Poland had broken ranks and publicly condemned Nazi Germany – and Durcansky – when Poland was invaded in September 1939. Several other Durcansky diplomatic appointees, appalled at Durcansky’s treacherous deals with Berlin, had joined the Czech government in exile in London.

Finally, Durcansky had been caught playing a double hand. With the Germans eager to buy textiles from Slovakia, Durcansky had tried to arrange a special import of cloth from South America. But that meant trying to sweet-talk his way around a British naval embargo, and when Berlin discovered this, Durcansky’s days were numbered.

The British foreign office was not impressed by Durcansky’s hints about “neutrality.” Noting that Slovakia was officially at war with Britain, it wrote Durcansky’s assistant in Rome on Jan. 30, 1940:

“As Slovakia has been proclaimed to be territory in enemy [German] occupation, and is therefore equivalent to enemy territory insofar as the Trading with the Enemy Act is concerned; it would appear impractical to allow the passage of raw materials to Slovakia as requested.

“Even if such arrangements were practical, I see no reason why they should be made. The present Government of Slovakia is entirely under German influence, and has disowned the Slovak Council in London for having proclaimed itself in sympathy with the Allies.

“Whatever their secret sympathies might be, the Slovak Government is not in a position to pursue an independent policy, or to guarantee an undertaking not to allow the re-exporting of raw materials to Germany.”

* * *

In fact, Durcansky had always been, and would continue to be, a fascist and an anti-Semite. But above all, like Kirschbaum, he was fiercely nationalistic. The Slovak cause was both men’s first passion. And in Berlin that was now a political liability.

The reason for Durcansky’s downfall was confirmed in a Nazi intelligence report submitted to Ribbentrop in June I940. The report first acknowledged Durcansky’s pro-Nazi speeches, the fact that he had recently ordered “Jews Not Wanted” posters for Bratislava and his diplomatic accords with Berlin. These included “financing through the Slovak National Bank of our huge armament orders in Slovakia, and the transfer of the money of laborers sent to Germany, and the placing at our disposal of the entire press and radio for purposes of German propaganda.”

Still, the report concluded, “In my opinion it is proven that Durcansky is a sharp, avaricious politician without character, who supports whatever is expedient at the time. He is unacceptable to Germany. The time has now come to make it perfectly plain that Slovakia is our Lebensraum. That is, that our wishes alone count.”

A few days after Durcansky’s dismissal, the official Nazi newspaper in Slovakia explained that his “crime” had been excess nationalism. “Durcansky and his clique had their own ideas, and Durcansky acted like a minister of a sovereign state,” the Nazi newspaper warned. “All these people must disappear immediately, for they are political Utopians.”

Kirschbaum, Durcansky’s long-time friend and political ally, was also judged “unfavorably disposed towards Germany” by a Nazi intelligence officer in Bratislava and forbidden to publish in the Slovak press. With these dismissals, Berlin made it clear that Slovak nationalism, to be tolerated at all, must be subservient to imperial Berlin.

Historian Raul Hilberg, however, says that Kirschbaum was never on any sort of Nazi blacklist: “Quite the opposite.” According to Hilberg, German intelligence reports from March I940 confirm that Kirschbaum was to receive a German medal.

Kirschbaum, says Hilberg, lost his powerful post not because of any suspicion of anti-Nazi sentiment but because of a power struggle within the Tiso regime. He and Durcansky had been ambushed by a power bloc, led by Tuka and Mach, that saw Durcansky as Tuka’s main rival and that resented Kirschbaum because Tiso had selected him for the post of secretary-general over older, more experienced rivals. The Tuka-Mach faction circulated rumors that Kirschbaum had Jewish ancestors, and the Germans, detecting this internal power struggle, threw their weight behind the men with undiluted allegiance to Hitler.

Both Durcansky and Kirschbaum remained personal favorites of Tiso, and neither was treated harshly by the Nazis. Durcansky retained his status as a member of parliament, became leader of the German-Slovak Friendship Society, carved himself a fortune as a war commodity supplier (of pharmaceutical drugs) and publicly re-emerged in I944 as an even more stridently pro-fascist propagandist for Slovak nationalism.

Kirschbaum served a brief stint in the Slovak army, during which time he collected military intelligence for Tiso on the eastern front, where Nazi SS divisions were openly murdering thousands of Ukrainians, Poles and Jews. Kirschbaum was promoted four times and received a Hlinka Guard medal. ln the fall of 1941, he was awarded a high-level diplomatic post by Tiso. There was no protest from Berlin. Based first in Rome and then in Switzerland, Kirschbaum represented Slovakia, an Axis ally, for the remainder of the war. The Swiss post was Slovakia’s most important after Berlin, and Kirschbaum was the charge d’affaires. (Ironically, he reported directly to his former rival, Tuka.)

During the time that Kirschbaum was in Switzerland, 70,000 Slovak Jews were sent to Nazi extermination camps; Slovak troops fought first Russian, then British and American soldiers; and the Tiso regime joined the Nazis to crush a popular Slovak uprising inside Slovakia. Through it all, Kirschbaum remained a loyal diplomatic spokesman for the Tiso regime.

“If he were anti-German,” comments Hilberg, “I would put it very simply. He was in Switzerland, a neutral country. All he had to do was say, ‘Goodbye. I am not going to have anything to do with Germany.’ Now who would have arrested him in Switzerland? He would have had immediate political asylum. So that is all nonsense. You can dismiss that.”

4 THE HORRORS BEGIN

Jewish forced labour

Jewish inmates at forced labour in the Vyhne concentration camp in Slovakia

ON MAY 29, 1940, two months before Durcansky and Kirschbaum left their official posts with the Tiso government, Slovakia statutory decree number 130 ordered that “Jews and gypsies shall perform labor for the benefit of the state, in lieu of military duties.” That edict, making service In labor camps and brigades mandatory for tens of thousands of Slovakian Jews, proved to be the connecting link between state-sponsored anti-Semitic persecution and mass murder. The death train deportations could take place only if the Jews were segregated and ghettoized. And the most efficient way to do that was to conscript them for forced labor.

From that point on, the Tiso regime played an increasingly direct role in the Holocaust. In August 1940, Reinhard Heydrich stationed one of his key assistants, Dieter Wisliceny, in Bratislava. In Berlin, Wisliceny and Adolf Eichmann had developed Special Bureau IV D-4, whose function was to arrange the forced deportation of millions of European Jews and enemies of the Reich to the “east.” Both Wisliceny and Eichmann were later executed as major war criminals. During their trials, they testified that the Tiso regime had, for the most part, willingly carried out the “final solution” of the SS. “Slovakian officials offered their Jews to us like someone throwing away sour beer,” Eichmann would later testify.

An estimated 70,000 Slovak Jews were murdered. Led by Tuka and Mach, the Slovak puppet government followed the programs that had been perfected in other occupied countries, meeting frequently to discuss deportation train schedules and routes, costs, administrative procedures and propaganda to counter widespread rumors that the deported Jews would be murdered.

Under Wisliceny’s supervision. the Slovaks accelerated the pace of their anti-Semitic laws, formulating them into a “Slovak Jewish Code.” By the end of 1941, 9,950 Jewish businesses had been liquidated and 2,100 had been “transferred” to the Slovak regime or its supporters. Twenty-five per cent of Slovak Jewish real estate had been confiscated. All Slovak Jews had been forced to declare assets over $200; a total of $100 million had been confiscated from 52,000 of them. Out of a population of 90,000 Jews only 3,500 were allowed work permits, and their wages were fixed. The Slovak Jews also endured a crippling special tax and had even had their typewriters and adding machines confiscated. In mid-1941, Slovak Jews were forbidden to use parks or markets except within fixed hours, or to socialize with Aryans. Wearing a yellow Star of David became mandatory. Jews lost the right to vote or hold public office. Religious practices were forbidden. Jewish children were expelled from schools.

“The laws restricted the rights of Jews to acquire tangible property, cash or securities,” wrote Slovak jurist and historian Joseph Lettrich. “Jews were forbidden to possess pictures, statues and busts of national leaders, as well as emblems of the state courts. Jews were not allowed to have cameras, field glasses or records of national tunes. The Code cancelled tenancy agreements and leases, excluded Jews from public life, ordered the dismissal of all Jews from public office, prohibited appeals to the Supreme Administrative Tribunal, and denied the right to make claims for relief in the state courts. In short, the Code outlawed the Jews.”

With Slovak Jews now propertyless and jobless, the next step was labor camps. Tiso defended this by announcing, “The new social and business order can only be established when we shall have completely uprooted the Jews from our national life.” In October 1941, two-thirds of all Jews in Bratislava were ordered expelled from the capital. By Christmas, 7,000 Bratislava Jews had been shipped to one of five forced labor camps. They were allowed 40 pounds of clothes or food for the journey. Hundreds tried to escape and were ruthlessly hunted down by the Hlinka Guard. By the spring of 1942, more than 54,000 Slovak Jews had been rounded up and imprisoned in labor camps.

The first deportations to Auschwitz began on March 25, 1942. By then the Tiso regime had worked out detailed train schedules with the Germans, had volunteered its own unheated, filthy cattle cars and had arranged to compensate Germany for the cost of transporting the Slovak Jews inside Poland. For this the Slovak government asked for, and got, a “group fare” reduction. There were even more grotesque negotiations, ones that would later leave little doubt that the members of the Tiso regime knew the fate of the Jews they were deporting. In early March, Slovakia had been swept with rumors that the Jews were about to be deported. Government sources confirmed the rumors but insisted that the Slovak Jews were to be resettled in eastern Poland, where they could work, educate their children, practise their religion and govern themselves in an exclusively Jewish enclave. But many Slovaks, and most Jews, suspected a more grisly truth: rumors were already trickling out of nearby Poland that the Jews would be “boiled into soap.”

During the weeks leading up to the first deportations, the Roman Catholic papal nuncio in Budapest had received an undated, unsigned note from one of the Jews remaining in Bratislava. It said, “We are condemned to destruction. With certainty, we know we are to be transported to Poland.” That chilling note was quickly passed on to the Vatican in Rome. On March 14, 1942, two weeks before the deportations began, the Tiso government received a formal note of protest from the Vatican.

“These people (some 80,000, and it is alleged some 135,000) are supposed to be deported to Poland and the Lublin region, and such deportation is to be carried out separately for men, women and children. The Secretary of State of the Vatican would like to believe that such reports are unfounded in fact, being unable to presume that in a state which purports to be governed by Catholic principles, such grave measures could be put into effect.” The answer of the Tiso government proved beyond any doubt that it was ruled by Berlin, not by Catholic principles. The deportations began. On March 27, Mach defended them in a radio broadcast: “The Slovak public is not influenced by the whining of the Jews, who on this day want to arouse pity, although they are in no danger – save that of work. No one can save the Jews from their labor commitment. Not even the clergymen who are offering baptism to the Jews. The Jewish question will be solved humanely, without doing violence to Christian principles.” The deportations accelerated. On April I0, 1942, they became part of a formal Slovak-German protocol negotiated by Tuka and a deputy of Heinrich Himmler’s, who was demanding “20,000 young, strong Slovak Jews.” The Slovaks agreed, in exchange for several conditions that were illuminated in a German foreign office memorandum found after the war. A summary reads:

‘The deportation agreement contains two provisions: one a concession to the Slovaks; the other an extraction by the Germans. The concession was a stipulation that ‘no internal difficulties’ were to be permitted to arise from the deportations; that is, no measures were to be taken [by the Germans] that would antagonize the churches to such an extent as to threaten Slovakia’s internal stability.

“The extraction consisted of a bill presented by the Reich to the Slovak government, for ‘shelter, food, clothing and retraining [for the doomed Jews].’ For these fictitious expenses the charge was 500 Reichsmarks per head, or 45 million Reichsmarks if all 90,000 Slovak Jews were to be deported. To the surprise of the German foreign office, the Slovak authorities agreed without any German pressure.” Thus the Tiso regime agreed to pay Berlin 500 Reichsmarks for every Jew the Nazis hauled away. In exchange, the Nazis agreed to waive all claims to the property of the deported Slovak Jews and formally promised that the Jews would never return to Slovakia. Above all, the deportations were to be kept a secret from the churches.

That spring, Wisliceny would later testify, 17,000 Slovak Jews were deported to Poland. For that, the Tiso government immediately paid Germany 100 million crowns. Another 35,000 Jews followed that summer. None made it to the mythical “resettlement” enclave. Most went directly to the death camps at Auschwitz and Treblinka; the strongest and healthiest were forced to serve first in labor brigades, building fortifications. Diaries and other historical records of the Holocaust show that the Slovak Jews were among the first to arrive at Auschwitz.

“The first deportees, 999 Slovak women, were therefore kept in barracks until their arrival at Auschwitz on March 26. In the following four weeks, Jews reached the camp every few days, the majority, more than 6,000, being men and women from Slovakia. On April 2, a further 965 Slovak Jews were deported to Auschwitz and held in the barracks at Birkenau. By the end of the month eight more transports brought the number of Slovak Jews deported to Birkenau to 8,000 in a single month.”

A fate more hideous than death awaited these Slovak Jews. Nazi records confirm that the first Slovak deportees were forced to cremate their own families and friends. “At the nearby village and birch wood of Birkenau, in the summer of 1942, the task of the Auschwitz Sonderkommando [a special detachment of the SS] was to dig up the burial pits near the camp, then drag the corpses from the pits to specially constructed crematoria, where they were burned to ash. Anyone who refused this work was shot on the spot. The first Sonderkommando team at Birkenau consisted of 200 young Slovak Jews who had been deported from Slovakia at the end of March.”

Lilly Kopeck, one of the few Slovak Jews who survived Auschwitz, later told a British film documentary team: ”This is the greatest strength of the whole crime. Its unbelievability. When we came to Auschwitz, we smelt the sweet smell. They said to us, ‘There the people are gassed, three kilometres over there.’ We didn’t believe it.”

At first, the Tiso regime countered the growing protests over the deportations, inside and outside the country, by repeating the more believable fiction that the Slovak Jews had been “resettled” in Poland. What the Nazis were really doing was still unthinkable.

On May 8, 1942, the Tiso regime instructed Karol Sidor, now stationed in Rome as Slovakia’s minister to the Vatican, to repeat the “resettlement” lie. Sidor was instructed to tell the Catholic Church that “the Jews from Slovakia are to be settled in several places in the district of Lublin, where they will remain permanently, be able to live among themselves, and support themselves. Families will remain together. The alarm was caused by the circumstance that able-bodied Jews and Jewesses had first to be sent there to prepare shelter for others, especially the women, the old, the ailing and the children. Jewish families will soon be reunited. The position of these Jews from the standpoint of international and constitutional law will be that of proteges of the German Reich. We have been notified officially that the German government will look after the Jews as humanely as at all possible.”

Sidor complied, but the Vatican believed none of this, especially since Tiso and his ministers, in the same month, had publicly celebrated the deportations and passed a law sanctioning the expulsion of the Jews, confiscating their property and permanently depriving them of citizenship.

If Tiso and his top ministers did not believe that the Slovak Jews were destined for death camps in early May 1942, they knew by the end of that month. On May 29, Mach held a special state banquet for the Nazi architect of the “‘final solution,” Adolf Eichmann, in Bratislava. Following the banquet, Mach and Eichmann went bowling. Eichmann testified that he bad come to Bratislava to discuss “the current evacuation action against the Jews in Slovakia.”

“I told them [the Slovak ministers] in simple terms and without mincing words that all efforts must be made to remove the last Jews from the area. I knew Mach long before he was the minister of the interior. I threatened the [Slovak] ambassador, too, and told him the Reichsfuhrer wanted it all done immediately.”

Knowing that Tiso was facing growing pressure about the deportations from the Vatican and that some members of the Slovak parliament were getting edgy about the emerging evidence of atrocities, Eichmann, Wisliceny and Mach arranged a propaganda counter-offensive. Eichmann hired a Slovak journalist, Fritz Fialla, to visit the Polish “resettlement” camps. Fialla dutifully reported rosy conditions, including quotes from dead Slovak Jews and fake photographs. These were widely printed in Bratislava. The capital was also flooded with postcards from Slovak Jews saying they were happily resettled in Poland – postcards written from the Auschwitz death camp at gunpoint. For some Slovak Jews, it was their last act before being murdered.

Publicly, Tiso and his leading ministers continued to defend the deportations on the strength of such macabre tricks. But as early as Christmas 1942, even this edifice of deception had shattered. By then British intelligence units had verified the existence of the Nazi death camps and collected detailed profiles of the most notorious concentration camp directors. On Dec. 17, 1942, a joint Allied declaration publicly confirmed the unthinkable. It warned that Nazi Germany’s intention was to “exterminate the Jewish people in Europe” and promised the post-war prosecution of those involved in “this bestial policy of cold-blooded extermination.” The Canadian government publicly assented to this declaration against genocide.

One month later, Canada went further. With 17 other Allied nations, Canada declared: “These governments hereby issue a formal warning to all concerned, and in particular to persons in neutral countries, that they intend to do their utmost to defeat the methods of disposition practiced by the governments with which they are at war, against the countries and peoples who have been so wantonly assaulted and despoiled. This warning applies whether such transfers or dealings have taken the form of open looting or plunder, or of transactions apparently legal in form.”

It was a warning and a promise of punishment aimed straight at the aryanization campaigns of such Nazi puppet states as Slovakia, and at the men who were administering them.

* * *

By June 1942, the Vatican had concluded that there was no “resettlement” area for Jews in eastern Poland. Instead, the Nazi deportation trains, leaving from all points in Nazi-occupied Europe, were carrying millions of Jews to death camps in Poland. The Vatican issued secret diplomatic bulletins confirming this to its papal offices across Europe and authorized Catholic clergy to aid the Jews – even if it meant baptisms that would instantly convert Jews into Catholics.

In July, the first murky press reports of Nazi atrocities began appearing in the world press. Both the Catholic Church and the Red Cross in Switzerland, where Joseph Kirschbaum now represented Slovakia, began providing detailed reports on the death trains to diplomatic attaches. The existence of Nazi death camps was no longer secret, although the scale and method of mass murder was still beyond imagining.

The Tiso regime in Slovakia, however, presented an agonizing dilemma for the Vatican. Here was a government that was both devoutly Catholic and fiercely anti-Semitic. More importantly, it stubbornly refused to admit that the deported Slovakian Jews were being murdered en masse – even though the Vatican explicitly informed Tiso of this in July 1942.

A year earlier, on Oct. 7, 1941, members of the Catholic Slovak clergy not associated with the Tiso regime had formally protested the persecution of the Jews. In a memorandum to Tiso, they had asked that the Slovak Jewish Code be “revised in conformance with Catholic doctrine.” The memorandum had been ignored and the clergy had sent a copy to Rome. On Nov. 12, the Vatican had sharply condemned the Jewish Code, saying that it enacted “a detailed racial legislation, which includes a number of rules which are clearly contrary to Catholic principles. When that statement too was ignored by Tiso, dozens of Catholic clergymen in Slovakia, on their own initiative, had begun a massive campaign of baptizing Jews into the Catholic faith. The Vatican had sanctioned this but refrained from publicly rebuking Tiso. On Nov. 21, the Slovak Association of Protestant Clergymen had made a similar appeal, telling the Tiso government, “We, as Lutheran clergymen, can never condone such actions as the illegal extortion of money from Jews, and the removal of innocent people into concentration camps.” They too had been ignored.

By the summer of 1942, with 52,000 Slovak Jews already deported, the clerical pressure on Tiso to stop the death trains became unbearable. The trains were temporarily halted, but thousands of Slovak Jews were gassed at Auschwitz and Treblinka that fall. The Tiso regime, in deference to the Vatican, revised its deportation laws and provided for a special series of executive exemptions.

In the end, these exemptions saved only a small minority of Slovakia’s 90,000 Jews. They also created a grisly circle of corruption for Slovak and Nazi administrators, who collected bribes from desperate Jews in exchange for promised exemptions. Several leading politicians, including Tuka, were later indicted as war criminals for collecting fortunes in bribes. Eichmann’s SS partner, Wisliceny, admitted at his war crimes trial that he had wrung a $50,000 bribe from Bratislava Jews, promised exemptions, then reneged after the money was paid.

In 1943 a furious Adolf Eichmann reasserted his power. He ordered the Slovak deportations resumed, and a distraught Tiso – caught between Berlin and the Vatican – agreed. With thousands more Jews waiting In concentration camps and ready to be herded into cattle cars and sent to Poland, the Vatican demanded a personal meeting between Tuka and its papal nuncio in Bratislava.

That meeting, on April 10, 1943, symbolized the entrenched anti-Semitism of the Tiso regime. The papal nuncio, Guiseppe Burzio, told Tuka flatly that the Slovak Jews were being murdered by the Nazis in Poland. Tuka refused to listen. According to Burzio’s report back to the Vatican, Tuka fumed “that he was not going to be influenced by Jewish propaganda, from not which even the Vatican was immune. He said he attended mass every day, received communion, and relied on his conscience and his confessor.” Concluding his report to the Vatican’s secretary of state, an exasperated Burzio wrote: “Is it worth the trouble to explain to your Eminence the rest of my conversation with this demented man?”

Years after the Second World War, after the extermination of 70,000 Slovak Jews had been confirmed, and after Tuka had been executed as a war criminal, Joseph Kirschbaum would describe Tuka, along with Tiso, Sidor and Durcansky, as a valiant politician “who fought for every inch of Slovak territory and Slovak freedom.”

Despite the failure of the meeting between Burzio and Tuka, the Vatican intensified its pressure on Tiso to stop the death trains. Feebly, he agreed to stop them until the Nazis led a Slovak delegation to the resettlement camps in Poland. When the SS official Wisliceny evaded the issue, the deportations came to a halt. Then Wisliceny went to Berlin and explained to Eichmann why the Slovak death trains had stopped.

A furious Eichmann went to his most secret file cabinet and took out a short memorandum signed by Himmler. It was Hitler’s “final solution” decree: every Jew in Europe was to be exterminated. Eichmann told Wisliceny about the gas chambers and crematoria in Poland, Austria and Germany. He concluded by saying, “Tiso is asking for the impossible. The Jews in question are no longer alive.”

Wisliceny returned to Bratislava and told Tiso that a visit to the resettlement area was impossible because of the war situation. There were no more deportations that summer. In the late fall, however, Berlin revived its pressure on Tiso. In December, Ribbentrop’s special envoy, Veesenmayer, berated Tiso, telling him to “come down to earth” on the issue of Jewish deportations. Cowed, Tiso refused to restart the trains but agreed to place the last 16,000 to 18,000 Jews remaining in Slovakia in concentration camps.

There would be no exemptions, Tiso agreed, and the task would be completed by April 1, 1944. This set the stage for one final, bloody chapter in the history of Tiso’s puppet regime.

* * *

Normandy Landings

Normandy Landing 1944

By the late summer of 1944, Hitler’s 1,000-year Reich was crumbling fast. In the west, the Allies had landed in Normandy and were driving across France toward the Rhine. From the south, Allied armies were pushing northward through Italy. And from the east, Russian troops, along a 2,000-mile front, had sent the German armies reeling back into Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. It was obvious – except in Berlin and Bratislava – that Nazi Germany’s days were numbered. Both capitals had been consumed, more than any other, with the warped vision of Hitler’s Nazism. And there the illusions would be the last to die.

Throughout 1944, the Tiso regime’s hold on Slovakia had begun to weaken seriously. It was now facing sustained opposition from the Slovak churches. The economy, after experiencing an armament-driven boom from 1941 to 1943, had begun faltering badly. There was rationing and food shortages. Berlin was ordering the deportation of the last 18,000 Slovak Jews now in concentration camps, which in tum fired public anger. Many Slovaks were also deeply distraught by the fact that the Tiso regime had signed the Axis Tripartite and Anti-Comintern Pacts – and publicly declared war on the United States and the Allies.

“I see by tonight’s bulletins that the Government of Slovakia has declared the existence of a state of war with the United States,” U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt wrote to his secretary of state on Dec. 12, 1941, five days after Pearl Harbor. “Other puppet governments may join in. It is my present thought that the United States should pay no attention to these declarations of war by puppet governments.”

Lastly, Hitler’s war was finally coming home to Slovakia. Berlin was demanding more Slovak bodies for the eastern front, and Allied-sponsored partisans in Slovakia were beginning to wage an effective underground war against the Tiso regime. The partisan underground, a united front of anti­fascist Slovaks which included former army commanders, democrats and communists, was immensely popular. Supplied with arms by British, American and Russian airlifts and secretly supported by anti-Tiso Slovaks, it became a formidable force.

Alarmed, the Germans – with Tiso’s consent – announced that their armies would occupy all of Slovakia. The same day, Aug. 29, 1944, the partisans declared a national uprising. With the defection of several Slovak army units, 2,000 Jews freed from a concentration camp and the original corps of partisans, the fighting force reached 16,000.

1944 Slovakian uprising

1944 Slovakian Uprising

For a brief few weeks, the partisan uprising held its ground in central Slovakia and formed a provisional government aligned with the Czech government-in-exile in London. Buoyed by Czech, American and British commandos, it gained ground against troops loyal to Tiso and the hated Hlinka Guards. The uprising was cheered in London, Moscow and Washington. “The people inside Czechoslovakia have joined actively and gloriously with their countrymen abroad in the ranks of nations united against tyranny,” Roosevelt said. “We Americans salute our comrades in arms, who today are so bravely contributing to the liberation of their homeland and the rest of Europe.”

For the Tiso regime, however, the uprising was a communist-Czech-Jewish conspiracy of treason. Tiso himself said, ”With the consent of the Slovak government, German troops have entered Slovakia to take part in the fighting against the partisan menace. The government affirms that in the interest of lives, the public weal and the existence of the state, the severest measures, strengthened by all means at hand, be used against the guerrillas. These measures will be taken by the security bodies, as well as the Slovak armed forces in collaboration with the German units.”

Tiso’s new prime minister added, ”We shall bring to book all the Slovaks who betrayed us, and we shall not hesitate to eliminate forever from our national life the Czech and Jewish elements which took part in the bloody attack against the state and the nation.”

When seven German divisions arrived, including tank, mountain and SS corps, the uprising was crushed. Thousands of Slovak partisans, including Jews liberated from concentration camps, were killed outright in the fighting. Then came the massacres. According to a German SS report found after the war, the German and Slovak secret police arrested 18,937 partisans after a meticulous search of 14,000 hotels, restaurants and homes. Those arrested included 9,653 Jews, two partisan army commanders and two Lutheran bishops. According to the report, 2,257 partisans were summarily executed and buried in mass graves. Nine thousand Jews were sent to German concentration camps, and the last remaining Jews in Slovakia, including those with exemptions, were put in Slovak concentration camps.

Then the deportations – despite vigorous protests from a Swiss Red Cross official, Georges Dunand – began again. Another 7,936 Slovak Jews were sent to their deaths at Auschwitz, and 4,370 were shipped in death trains to Sachsenhausen in Nazi Germany. Others, including Slovaks from Kirschbaum’s native village, were shipped to the Malthausen concentration camp in Austria.

With the uprising smashed, Tiso held a mass of thanksgiving attended by German officers. Later, after personally decorating the SS officers and German soldiers, he said in a public speech, “Honor to the protector, Adolf Hitler! Glory to his army and the SS! We have a protector in the German Reich, a magnanimous guardian, Adolf Hitler.”

To Hitler, Tiso sent the following telegram: “With great joy and deep gratitude I have the honor to inform you that troops under the command of SS General of Police Hoffle today liberated Banska Bystrica, and that, co-operating with the Slovak Hlinka Guard, they are successfully clearing territory of Czecho-Bolshevik bandits. The entire Slovak nation joins with me in rejoicing and conveys to Your Excellency the hope that similar blessed successes may accompany the heroic struggle of the Greater German Reich for the life and honor of its nation, and for the protection of European culture.”

Six months later, Hitler had committed suicide, a battered Berlin had been occupied by Allied troops, and Joseph Tiso had been caught hiding in an Austrian monastery with the rag-tag remnants of his puppet government. The Allies arrested Tiso and turned him over to the restored Czech government. He arrived in Bratislava in chains and handcuffs.

1947 Tiso War Crimes Trial

1947 Tiso War Crimes Trial

In 1947, Tiso’s war crimes trial caused worldwide headlines. It lasted four months and contained a 215-page indictment which took 12 hours to read into the court record. In many ways, it put both his Nazi puppet government and the Slovak Catholic clergy on trial. But despite the clear record of treason and persecution, the death of 70,000 Slovak Jews and the brutal response to the popular uprising, Tiso re­ fused to repent.

Speaking for nine unbroken hours at his trial, he declared, “If God allowed me to carry out my policy again under similar circumstances, I would do exactly as I have done.” He added that there was “no proof that I took the initiatives in the events which have taken place or that I ever approved or aided them in any manner. I am responsible, for my part, only for what it was strictly impossible for me to avoid.”

Tiso was found guilty of 97 of his 113 charges and sentenced to death by the Czechoslovak government for treason and crimes against humanity. His last words to the Slovak people were: “In harmony and union pursue always, everywhere, and in every respect the great principle: ‘For God and the Nation.’ That is not only the unequivocal intent of Slovak history but also the explicit command of God. That precept I have served all my life and therefore I consider myself first a martyr to God’s law. I feel I am a martyr of the defence of Christianity against Bolshevism. I beg you to remember me in your prayers.”

Tiso was hanged at dawn on April 18, 1947.

With his death, and the execution or imprisonment of many of his leading Slovak collaborators, Tiso’s dream of a sovereign, Catholic Slovakia passed on to those who would remember him as a martyr. Among them would be Joseph Kirschbaum, Ferdinand Durcansky, Karol Sidor, Konstantin Culen and Stephen Roman.

Soon they would all meet in Canada.

5 THE CANADIAN YEARS

FOUR DAYS AFTER Nazi Germany formally surrendered to the Allies on May 7, 1945, a small band of Slovak nationalists met at a Catholic church in Toronto, Ontario. Wild, spontaneous celebrations had marked the end of the war in Europe – celebrations that these men were in no mood to share.

They were led by an ardent, iron-willed 24-year­old immigrant named Stephen Boreslav Roman, who had arrived in Canada with his brother eight years earlier. Having grown up on a prosperous farm in eastern Slovakia, the pair arrived with $2,000 and bought their own small farm outside Oshawa. Roman also took an assembly-line job at the nearby GM car plant. In his spare time, the ambitious and industrious Roman also became editor of a tiny Slovak-language newspaper, studied English, law and economics and became chairman of the Canadian Slovak League, an association representing several thousand Slovak-Canadian immigrants. It was affiliated with branches in Slovakia and the U.S.

Roman and the other Slovaks who met in Toronto that day were devoted both to their church and to the dream of a sovereign Slovakia. The outcome of their meeting was an appeal, drafted by Roman and the clerical president of the First Catholic Slovak Union, to the Canadian delegates attending the founding convention of the United Nations in San Francisco.

“Whereas the small nations of the world have the right to life, freedom, independence and happiness,” the Slovaks wrote, “and whereas the Slovak people are not Czech people but a distinctly separate people and nation, and whereas the people of Slovakia have been longing and struggling for complete independence, we therefore resolve and propose to the delegates of the World Security Conference that Slovakia be granted complete independence from the Czech nation or state.”

Roman’s appeal was flatly dismissed in both Ottawa and San Francisco. Well aware of the record of the Tiso puppet regime, the Allies had thrown their support behind the restored government of the pre-war Czechoslovakian democrat Eduard Benes. There would be no sovereign Slovakia, the Allies and the UN made it clear, and Tiso himself would likely be tried as a war criminal.

The rejection of his appeal marked the beginning of an unwavering 40-year personal crusade that would make Roman the leading financial and political patron of the Slovak separatist cause in North America. Building a billion-dollar fortune in uranium mining, Roman would develop extensive, high-powered political contacts. Soon such people as former Canadian prime minister Louis St. Laurent would be mingling with the remnants of the Tiso regime’s government-in-exile: Joseph Kirschbaum, Karol Sidor and Konstantin Culen, all of whom would arrive in Canada with the help of Roman’s Canadian Slovak League. All would arrive despite post-war federal passport laws that explicitly prohibited members of the Tiso puppet regime from entering Canada.

As the prospect of an independent Slovakia faded, Roman’s pleas to Canadian government officials grew increasingly strident. In September 1945, he wrote on behalf of the Canadian Slovak League to an international council of foreign ministers. “The Canadian Slovak League, horror-stricken by the unparalleled reign of terror which has taken place In Slovakia since the Benes-communist reoccupation of the country, implores you and the nations you represent to save Slovakia and her people. We deplore the sending of biased, Anglo-American observers and correspondents who are definitely pro-Czech and anti-Slovak. In a matter like this impartial, if not decidedly pro-Slovak ones should be sent to observe and report.

“In dealing with the Slovak problems – in the matter of the 1939-45 government’s ‘collaborational guilt,’ in the matter of judging and punishing ‘quislings, collaborators and political criminals,’ in the matter of Slovakia’s and her people’s legitimate desire for national independence, and the ensuing elections, let Abraham Lincoln’s noble spirit towards the rebellious southern U.S. states prevail, ‘With malice towards none, with charity for all, let us bind up the nation’s wounds, to do all which may achieve a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.'”

That plea too went ignored. Canada recognized the restored Czech government as democratic until a communist coup in 1948, and there simply was no “reign of terror” in 1945. What Benes had publicly promised was punishment for proven Nazi collaborators, including Tiso and the Slovak separatists who had plotted with Nazi Germany to betray Prague in 1939.

Roman wrote again two weeks later.

“Canadian Slovaks, as represented in the CSL, present this plea on behalf of the oppressed and exploited Slovak People:

“The Slovak people are a nation with its own distinct language, its own culture, its own customs, with its own history and a definite national self-consciousness. There have been many incontestable wrongs committed against the Slovak nation by the one-sided, so-called ‘Czecho-Slovak’ democracy. The wrongs recounted are typical of the dictatorial heel under which those Slovaks, who dared to express their rights to live as a nation, were mercilessly crushed. This the Slovak Nation cannot accept, because it means death.

“Mindful of the appalling suffering and heroic sacrifices which the Slovak people endured and still are enduring to obtain justice and freedom for themselves and humanity, we appeal to the Great Powers not to deny the Slovak nation the right to speak for itself, to which it has a natural, God-given right. It is for this reason that we are knocking at the heart of humanity.

“We condemn the arrest and obviously unjust forthcoming trial and condemnation of the Slovak collaborationists and quislings, which is therefore 80 per cent of the Slovak population, because 80 per cent of it favored Slovak independence. We think that the collaborationists and quislings who were in occupied and helpless nations – like Slovakia – are wholly irresponsible and therefore, not guilty, because they acted under grave fear, duress, and brute German force.”

When the Tiso war-crimes trial was announced, the Canadian Slovak League, with Roman as chairman, fired off its final plea to save the Nazi collaborator, a pamphlet entitled Dr. Tiso’s Trial: Perversion of Justice.

”The members of the Canadian Slovak League, like all the Slovaks of Slovakia, are shocked and horrified at the unscrupulous, pre-decided, revengeful Benes-Communist trial of Father Tiso. As Canadians we ask our government and the United Nations to protest and denounce this mockery and prostitution of justice and decency.

“Father Tiso is wholly innocent of any crime or incriminating act. The dis-freedomed Slovak people are clamoring for their beloved President’s liberation, and for freedom and independence for Slovakia from the Czech nation, from communism, and Benes who exploits and embondages, not the Czechs, but the Slovak nation. By dis-industrializing it, by Czeching its people and schools. According to Benes’s concept – similar to Hitler’s – the superior Czech race merits this.

“And please, do not seek confirmation of this from people of Jewish blood. Until 1939, Czecho­Slovakia was a paradise for their race, thanks to Masayrk [the founding Czech president] and Benes. Masayrk’s father was Jewish. Benes, reputedly, is the head of World Masonry.”

Despite the inflated claims, however, neither Roman nor the Canadian Slovak League spoke for all Slovaks. In fact, they represented a die-hard, hot-blooded minority. Both in Canada and in Slovakia itself, there were numerous other Slovak organizations that supported the pre-war model of a semi-autonomous Slovakia within a federated nation. These groups covered the political spectrum and were represented in the 1945 Benes government. Some had been partisans in the 1944 Slovak uprising, some had spent the war in concentration camps, and some were Jewish. What they shared was a common revulsion at the atrocities committed by the Tiso regime.

The Canadian government officially shared that view. On Oct. 31, 1945, the Canadian immigration department formally notified the Czech ambassador to Canada that “all passports issued by the former Slovak State or Tiso government will be considered invalid documents, and that any alien presenting such a document would automatically be refused entry into Canada.”

That promise was backed up by a series of immigration department bulletins to offices and ports of entry across Canada. In 1946, after consultations with Allied intelligence offices in Washington and London, that policy was reaffirmed. It applied not only to war criminals but to Nazi collaborators.

“Under date of October 31/45 a Look-Out notice was issued re: Slovak State or Tiso government passports,” read a I946 Canadian immigration branch bulletin. “The Department is reliably informed that there are a number of aliens travelling on passports issued by the former Slovak State or Tiso government. This government administered the Slovak State when it was a puppet regime established by Hitler, and has not been recognized by either the Czechoslovak or Canadian governments.” Another department of immigration bulletin was more blunt. “Should the politically notorious adherents to the pro-Nazi Tiso regime now in Austria apply for entry to Canada, they should be refused a visa.”

ON MAY 29, 1946, The democratic government of Czechoslovakia, recognized as an Allied country, formally requested that Joseph Kirschbaum’s name be put on the Supreme Allied “wanted form” report for war criminals and security suspects. The request, filed in West Germany, obligated all the Allied nations to send him to Prague for trial if he was discovered. But their reach did not extend to Kirschbaum’s refuge in neutral Switzerland.

While Stephen Roman and the Canadian Slovak League were appealing to the United Nations to protect Slovakia and the discredited Tiso regime, the Canadian government was relying on UN – and Allied – sponsored commissions to screen out the thousands of Nazis and Nazi collaborators hiding among the seven million destitute refugees huddled in post-war Europe. Before 1948, two of the most influential of these commission, considered those Slovaks in Europe who refused to return to Czechoslovakia to be political criminals, not genuine refugees. Included in a secret “List of Persons Inimical to the United States,” drawn up by the U.S. Displaced Persons Commission in Frankfurt, Germany, were former members of the Slovak Hlinka Guards.

The secret report described the Hlinka Guard as “the military arm of the Slovak People’s Party, organized along lines similar to the German SS. The main function of this group after 1942 was to serve as the political police of the Hlinka Party. This party became an organ of the Nazis in 1938 and its members were champions of Slovak autonomy. After the Munich Agreement the Hlinka Party won autonomy by force, and backed by the Germans, its leader Tiso proclaimed Slovakia’s independence on March 14, 1939. Many members of the Hlinka Guard worked for the German RSHS [Heydrich].”

Drawing similar conclusions about the Tiso supporters hiding in refugee camps in Austria, Germany and Italy, the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and the International Relief Organization refused point-blank to endorse such people’s applications to emigrate to Canada and the United States. That effectively excluded any Slovak separatists from legally emigrating to Canada before 1948 and to the United States before 1950.

By 1948, the Canadian government was being hounded to reverse its policy by Stephen Roman’s Canadian Slovak League and by the architect of the 1939 Slovak pact with Berlin, Ferdinand Durcansky. As early as Sept. 10, 1946, writing from Paris to then prime minister Mackenzie King, Durcansky pleaded for Canada to back the Slovak cause in the United Nations.

“I am persuaded that Your Excellency will not disappoint the hopes of the Slovak Nation, because Canada was always the protector of human liberties. The proceeding as if the Slovak Republic (1939-45} never existed contradicts not only the principles of humanity’s evolution, but also the accepted principles of international law.”

Durcansky signed the letter identifying himself as the Slovak minister for foreign affairs. In fact, it was written on behalf of a self-appointed Slovak government-in-exile composed of Durcansky, Kirschbaum, Sidor, Culen and Tiso’s former ambassador to Berlin, Matus Cernak.

Durcansky had emerged at the end of the war a well-connected diplomat without a country. In May 1945 he fled Slovakia, arriving at the Austrian border with 500 pounds of raw morphine destined for the black market. It was seized and he escaped capture only with the help of Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Himmler’s successor as head of the SS, who was himself destined to hang at Nuremberg. Durcansky appointed himself head of the now vanquished “Slovak Republic” and pressed for its revival in the United Nations. With token encouragement from fascist governments in Spain and Argentina, Durcansky formed his Slovak Liberation Committee and toured European refugee camps, building support among the 10,000 Slovaks languishing there.

At the same time, Kirschbaum, his former student and personal secretary, began making his own parallel claim as a legal heir to the Tiso regime. Now having no diplomatic status with the Swiss government, he joined Karol Sidor in Rome, along with Tiso’s chief propagandist, Konstantin Culen. There they formed the Slovak National Council Abroad. They too pressed the Slovak cause in diplomatic circles in Rome, London and Paris, built contacts among Slovaks hiding in the refugee camps and looked for ways to escape the emigration embargo aimed at them.

Durcansky’s letter, co-sponsored by the Canadian Slovak League, was deliberately ignored in Ottawa. Writing later to the Canadian ambassador in France, Canada’s secretary of state for external affairs, G.L. Magann, supplied the blunt reason.

“It was agreed no reply should be made to the letter, but I think you may find the following information useful especially insofar as it concerns the Canadian Slovak League.

“The Government of the Slovak Republic represents a group of Slovak emigres who profess opposition both to Communism and what they describe as ‘Czech imperialism.’ They are apologists for the Tiso regime. Their ‘Minister for Foreign Affairs’ has been president of the Slovak Liberation Committee. The corresponding organization in Canada is the Canadian Slovak League.

“Last year several communications were received from the Canadian Slovak League. Its spokesman, Father Zeman, was received by [external affairs official] Norman Robertson. The attitude adopted by us is indicated in a memorandum by Robertson, from which the following is an extract: ‘I said I thought that the Slovak nationalist movement had, for better or worse, been badly compromised by its collaboration with the Nazis in setting up Father Tiso’s government in the puppet state of Slovakia. No doubt a number of sincere, simple­minded Slovak nationalists had supported this government in good faith. But they could not expect the Allied Governments to have too much sympathy for them.’”

CANADA’S FIRM STAND against allowing Slovak collaborators into Canada began to dissolve in I948. Faced with international and domestic pressure to aid millions of refugees in war-torn Europe and with a critical labor shortage, Ottawa saw a new immigration boom as the answer. Setting up its own labor office in Germany, Canada’s labor department began conscripting armies of refugees for work at Canada’s mines, power dams, factories, railroad and highway projects. At the same time, a series of communist coups in eastern Europe created a new wave of political refugees, including many from Czechoslovakia. Given this huge volume of emigres, it was easy for former Nazis and their collaborators to take advantage of the confusion and slip into the haven offered by Canada and the U.S.

During the next four years, 5,916 Czechoslovaks emigrated to Canada, including 1,500 Slovaks. Among the latter were the leaders of Tiso’s government-in-exile. As Kirschbaum would later write, “From the purely Slovak point of view, the contribution of this wave of Slovak immigrants was made particularly in the religious field and in the struggle for the freedom and independence of Slovakia – a struggle never forgotten by the majority of Slovak Canadians. After the Second World War several leaders of the Slovak exile movement came from their ranks. After I950, Canada became the centre of the Slovak political movement, since the most important of the Slovak exiled political organizations was the Slovak National Council Abroad, with headquarters in Montreal.”

Earlier, in Europe, Kirschbaum, Sidor and Culen had become acknowledged representatives of the Slovak refugees. By late 1947, Kirschbaum, on behalf of the Slovak League of America, was pressing refugee organizations for immigration visas for Slovaks still in European camps. Circulating among the camps, he worked tirelessly for displaced friends of the Tiso regime.

In Canada, the Canadian Slovak League and the First Catholic Slovak Union were also providing a list of proteges they would sponsor for immigration to Canada. At first, tight security on all Czechoslovak immigration applications remained in force, but under relentless pressure the Canadian immigration department soon gave way.

The campaign was led by the league’s secretary-general, Father Fero Zeman. ”The condition of the Slovaks, wandering about Europe, is by far more pitiful and cruel than that of any other racial group, including the Jewish,” Zeman wrote to Ottawa in 1948. “The reason for this is that the Slovak refugee has been considered by the IRO as a collaborator of the priest-president Father Tiso. Penniless, starving, emaciated, unable to get any assistance, he is most desperate – a wretched piece of humanity.”

After repeatedly turning up at the Ottawa immigration offices and sending a barrage of pleas to the minister of labor, Zeman sent the minister a list of 838 Slovaks whom the Slovak League wanted to bring to Canada from European refugee camps. All, Zeman said, had been interviewed and cleared by the league’s own “social committee” in Germany. That committee turned out to be Kirschbaum’s Slovak National Council Abroad. Writing in typical style, Zeman bolstered his demands with a letter to the Canadian consul in Germany on Feb. 19, 1949.

“I have a hunch that Czech-Communist drenched persons in Europe presenting themselves as Czechoslovaks are on the verge of putting a fast one over on you as a Canadian immigration official unless you are wary and on your guard,” Zeman’s letter began. “The fact of the matter is that thousands of fine Slovakians are stranded in Austria, Germany, Italy etc. as oppressed political refugees. Many more are joining these wretched outcasts, and others will continue to join them as long as Slovakia (that portion of Europe peopled by Slovaks since time immemorial) is under foreign heels. “As such, Slovakians should feel insulted, belittled to be asked to accept ‘credentials’ from Czechs or any other form of fraudulent, deceptive, Slovak-annihilating monstrosity whether these openly admit Asiatic-Communist leanings or not.” Slovak refugees in Europe should be aided and encouraged to belong to the branches of the Slovak League, the Slovak Catholic Federation, and especially, the Slovak National Council Abroad. These three organizations should be expected to speak for, and to give credentials to Slovakians. No other non-Slovak, particularly anti-Slovakian group should be allowed to!

“Do not fall prey to Czech or other slick ‘pan­Slav’ [propaganda] – actually Asiatic-Semitic­Communism – which claims that Slovakians are collaborators and Fascists.”

Zeman failed to explain that the leaders of the Slovak National Council Abroad had all been recently convicted in Czechoslovakian courts of treason. Kirschbaum had been sentenced in absentia to 20 years’ imprisonment by a communist People’s Court in May 1948, although the evidence and charges had been assembled under the democratic government of Benes in 1946. Karol Sidor and Konstantin Culen received the same sentences for betraying the democratic Czechoslovak republic. Durcansky, sentenced to death for his role in setting up the Nazi puppet state, had fled to fascist Argentina.

In another 1949 letter to a Canadian cabinet minister, Zeman wrote, “I note with interest that of the 261,260 persons who came to settle in Canada in the last three years, 14,416 are of Jewish ethnic stock. May I humbly suggest that from now on – for a few years – more consideration be given by Canadian authorities to the problem of easing the pressure so persons of Slovak ethnic and linguistic origin may likewise easily leave various D.P. and refugee camps in Europe.”

The Canadian Slovak League’s torrent of appeals was backed up by the Montreal-based First Catholic Slovak Union. It provided its own list of 377 “Slovaks who are refugees from Czech-Hungarian central European Communism. All are splendidly behaved Christians, and excellent prospects for Canadian citizenship.”

Deluged and intimidated, Ottawa finally let down the barriers to Slovak immigration. In a 1949 memorandum, the immigration department acknowledged that European refugee agencies, not to mention Ottawa, were being swamped with names supplied by the Canadian Slovak League. To relieve the administrative burden, it recommended setting a quota for Slovaks, then allowing the Slovak League to supply it with its own choices.

Karol Sidor

Karol Sidor, known fascist and anti-Semite, welcomed into Canada in 1950, one year after Kirschbaum.

That, of course, delighted the Canadian Slovak League. Hundreds of Slovaks began arriving on immigration ships. Included were former members of the Tiso administration and army. Buoyed by the victory, the league began pressing, through the Vatican apostolic delegate in Ottawa, for help in bringing to Canada the last, most controversial Slovaks, led by Karol Sidor.

After the war, Sidor had remained at the Vatican, where he had been Slovakia’s representative during the Tiso regime. It was he who had proposed expelling all of Slovakia’s Jews to Russian Manchuria in 1937 and who had boasted in 1938: “I have only one duty in Prague, and that is to liquidate the centralist regime. [It] made us associate with Red Spain, atheist Russia, and Jewish Geneva. Even in Prague, I wear the uniform of the Hlinka Guard, for I want to look like an honest young Slovak. In matters of foreign policy, I want a policy of collaboration with all nations which oppose Bolshevism and Judaism.”

In August 1949, the Vatican representative wrote to prime minister Louis St. Laurent, “Considering the delicacy of the situation, it is not opportune for Mr. Sidor to protract his residence in the Vatican any longer, while on the other hand he cannot settle down in Europe without undergoing serious inconveniences and vexations.”

Sidor, a known fascist and anti-Semite, could no longer stay in the Vatican. After being briefed on Sidor’s past, the Canadian prime minister instructed his reluctant immigration department to issue a security clearance. By the time Sidor arrived in 1950, his Rome-based colleagues, Kirschbaum – who had landed in Halifax in November 1949, sponsored by a founder of the Canadian Slovak League – and Culen, were waiting for him in Montreal. That December, they would be joined there by Ferdinand Durcansky.

On Dec. 9, 1950, the British foreign office picked up Durcansky’s trail when he applied for a visa to Canada in London. The Allies still held a look-out list for war criminals, and Durcansky’s name was on it. The Canadians were alerted by the British foreign office and given a profile of the man who had cut the infamous deal with Hitler and betrayed Prague.

“Durcansky, the leader of the most radical group of the Hlinka Party, established contact with Seyss­lnquart and Burkell in Vienna in October 1938, and in February 1939, entered into secret negotiations with Hitler and Goering concerning the future of Slovakia. Shortly after Durcansky, backed by the Nazis, returned to Slovakia as the first Foreign Minister of the new independent state….

“He … was … forced to relinquish his post in July 1940. He remained, however, a useful tool of the Germans as Vice-Chairman of the Slovak-German Society until he left Slovakia with the retreating German army in 1945. In 1946 he turned up in Paris, and, allegedly as a result of a meeting with Eva Peron, obtained an invitation to settle in Argentina. There he formed the Slovak Liberation Committee, devoted to opposing the idea of Czecho-Slovak cooperation.

“Durcansky was placed on the list of war criminals wanted by the Czechoslovak government. Because of this, and because of his record, we have taken steps to insure [his visa] will not be extended, and that no further United Kingdom visa will be granted to him.

“We have been advised separately that Durcansky is trying to get Slovak leaders to join forces with him so that the Slovak movement would be under his direction. The Foreign Office saw his main Slovak contact in the U.K and made it clear to him that Durcansky was not in the U.K. with the approval of U.K. authorities. They suggested you may wish to take similar action with respect to Sidor, who is really the main Slovak leader outside Slovakia, and resides in Canada.”

Though they had been forewarned about Durcansky and knew the numbers of his Argentine passport and of his Scandinavian Airline ticket, Canadian immigration officials failed to stop him when he landed at Dorval airport in Montreal on Dec. 15, 1950. He was given a three-month, non-immigrant visa. Discovering their mistake soon after, the Canadian immigration branch alerted the RCMP and London.

“Dr. Durcansky was permitted to enter Canada before it was possible to have the information you forwarded made available to immigration officials,” Canada’s secretary of state for external affairs wrote to London in February 1951. “However, the RCMP has been notified of the particulars of the case.”

When Durcansky left Canada that spring, after a Christmas reunion with his fellow Slovak separatists, it was clear he could never return. But two decades later, with the help of Stephen Roman, he would arrive back in Toronto for a final rendezvous with Joseph Kirschbaum.

* * *

For the first 10 years after the exiled Slovak leaders arrived in Canada, they pursued their crusade with undiminished intensity. Embraced by the Canadian Slovak League and a new generation of immigrants from the Slovak clergy, they quickly became prominent speakers at Slovak dances, religious celebrations, ethnic festivals, picnics and cultural events.

The theme of Slovak independence was always dominant, and few speeches or meetings failed to note the martyrdom of Joseph Tiso. Even in 1970, Kirschbaum would write, “In the eyes of the Slovak people, President Dr. Tiso and members of the Slovak Government were condemned and executed, not as war criminals, but as symbols of Slovak independence. Tiso’s condemnation and execution cannot be justified from the political and moral point of view.”

At first, Karol Sidor assumed the head of the exiled Slovak government, with Kirschbaum and Culen as his lieutenants. In Munich, that government was represented by Tiso’s former ambassador to Berlin, Matus Cernak. Durcansky, deciding it was impossible to restore the Slovak regime from Buenos Aires, soon joined Cernak in Munich.

After Sidor’s illness and death in 1953, Kirschbaum became the leader of the Slovak exiles. That same year the Canadian Slovak League organized a huge banquet in Ottawa “in honor of the Canadian government.” The guests included prime minister Louis St. Laurent and 25 members of the House of Commons. Kirschbaum gave the keynote address in French.

That summer, a delegation from the Slovak National Council Abroad presented to the U.S. State Department a Iong memorandum, written by Kirschbaum and Sidor, pleading for Slovakia to be recognized as a nation. However, memories in Washington were long enough to recall that only eight years earlier the Tiso regime had been an official enemy of the United States. Kirschbaum’s appeal was ignored.

Kirschbaum and Culen spent the next five years publishing a vast number of articles, books, pamphlets and petitions on Slovak history and Slovak politics in Canada and the U.S. In 1952 Culen, Tiso’s former propagandist, became editor of Kanadasky Slovak, the largest Slovak newspaper in Canada. Kirschbaum was one of the main contributors, and the paper was edited exclusively by Slovak political exiles. It championed Slovak independence, defended the Tiso regime and was staunchly anti­Czech and anti-Communist.

Also included in the impressive output of Kirschbaum and Culen were many scholarly, carefully researched papers, books and articles on Slovak history, language, religious customs, folklore and music. The two were dedicated archivists of Slovak culture and soon gained an impressive reputation among Slovaks and other east European ethnic groups. Culen conducted painstaking research into the history of pre-war Slovaks in Canada, and Kirschbaum later incorporated Culen’s work into his own book, Slovaks In Canada.

When Culen left Canada in 1958 and later died in New York, only Kirschbaum and Durcansky remained as the last direct link to the Tiso regime. By then, Kirschbaum and Stephen Roman were friends and allies. Kirschbaum moved to Toronto, took a part-time teaching post at the University of Toronto and became an insurance agent for Edgar T. Albert Ltd. Roman, after a mercurial career as a penny-stock speculator, had made an overnight multi-million-dollar fortune in uranium mining. Both were admirers of Tiso, dedicated to Slovak independence, fiercely anti-Communist and devoutly Catholic.

It was a bond that would last until Roman’s death this spring. (Ed. Note: 1988)

* * *

In 1960, after 15 years of exile, the Slovak separatist cause was beginning to falter badly. Many of its key leaders and writers were now dead, and many of the post-war Slovak immigrants became increasingly immersed in the politics and culture of their adopted home in North America. Memories faded, and the stony reception the remaining Slovak separatist leaders got from western governments brought little hope of victory.

‘”The prolonged exile and unfulfilled dreams of an early return home damped the ardor of the Council,” Kirschbaum wrote later in his book Slovaks In Canada. “The organized activity of the first post-war years became weaker with every passing year and the changing international situation. Some members of the Council did not abandon the struggle, but the activity has been increasingly less organized, and was replaced by individual efforts of the Council’s leading personalities.” Those leading personalities would soon narrow down to Kirschbaum, Durcansky and Stephen Roman.

In 1961, faced with a demoralized and dissipating army of exiles scattered across Canada, the U.S., Argentina, South Africa and Australia, the two remaining Slovak separatist factions merged. Kirschbaum’s Slovak National Council Abroad and Durcansky’s Slovak Liberation Committee met in New York, formed the Slovak Liberation Council and presented yet another futile petition to the United Nations.

Durcansky’s presence in the United States, however, caused a minor diplomatic uproar long before the conference. The Truman administration had twice refused, after being briefed on his history, to grant Durcansky a visa to the United States. One 1954 document, written by the European director of the Allied Joint Commission, summarized Durcansky’s past this way:

“The Slovak Liberation Committee is an extremist group whose members are largely ex-Nazi collaborators. Head of the movement is Dr. Ferdinand Durcansky, now living in Munich, the [former] Minister of the Interior in the Slovak autonomous government created and fostered by Hitler. According to German foreign policy documents, he assured Field Marshall Goering that ‘the Jewish question in Slovakia would be solved as in Germany.’

“After the war he fled to Argentina to escape a war-crimes death sentence, but was able to come to Germany in 1952. The Slovak Liberation Committee is the smaller of the Slovak separatist movements and has little support among Slovak groups in the U.S. The Committee has no publication, but Dr. Durcansky is a frequent contributor to a monthly paper, published in English and German, by a grouping of some of the worst fascist and Nazi elements of the émigré movement.”

Joseph Kirschbaum described Durcansky’s post-war activities differently. “The Slovak Liberation Committee was the first Slovak political organization after the Second World War which attempted to organize not only Slovak political refugees, but all Slovaks on this side of the Iron Curtain for a struggle against communism and for Slovakia’s independence. Under the courageous leadership of Dr. Durcansky, the activities of the Committee reached even the Paris Peace Conference, and later the United Nations and the government of the United States.”

When the news leaked out that the Eisenhower administration had granted Durcansky a visitor’s visa, New York’s Czech immigrant community erupted. Durcansky was denounced by Czechs, anti-fascist Slovaks, U.S. senators, such radio commentators as Walter Winchell and union leaders. Durcansky’s speeches in New York and Chicago, marking the 20th anniversary of the birth of the Nazi puppet state, opened old wounds between immigrant Czechs and Slovaks and between Slovaks and Slovaks.

In Canada, Kirschbaum was far more circumspect. In 1961 he and Stephen Roman, together with members of the Canadian Slovak League, formed a Slovak businessmen’s association in Toronto. Roman, now the personification of a successful immigrant, was named honorary president, Kirschbaum vice-president. At their first banquet, in February 1962, the guest speaker was the federal minister for external affairs, Paul Martin Sr. Later Slovak League banquets featured federal and provincial politicians, including John Diefenbaker, Robert Winters and Allan MacEachen.

In July 1964, Martin spoke again at a Slovak conference organized by Kirschbaum and Roman. In his keynote address, Martin said, “The way in which Slovaks have refused to yield to the ideologies which strive to supplant the principles brought by the two [Slovak] saints, at the same time rising above bitterness, has been a lesson in tolerance to all Canadians.” In 1964, Kirschbaum and Roman travelled to New York to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the birth of Tiso’s puppet government. There the Slovak Liberation Council drafted and delivered “An Appeal to the Free World.” Like past appeals, it was taken seriously by no government.

The pair also went to the Vatican, where they celebrated the anniversary, with papal representatives, of the ancient founding of the Catholic church in Slovakia. Kirschbaum was well known to the Vatican from his post-war liaison with Karol Sidor as a crusader for the Slovak separatist cause. Roman was known for his devotion to Slovak autonomy and to the Catholic Church and as a generous benefactor of both. He had donated to the papal herd a Holstein bull and four heifers from his own prize-winning stock and had poured vast sums into the construction of Slovak Catholic projects in Canada. He had also underwritten the costs of a clerical newsletter founded by the priest who used to give him a private mass in Slovak at his 17-room Tudor mansion in Toronto on Sunday afternoons.

Kirschbaum, meanwhile, continued to work on the Slovak cause. In 1966 he became president of the Ethnic Press Association of Ontario, an avowedly arch-conservative group which strictly excluded left-wing ethnic newspapers and championed the nationalist claims of dozens of East European groups such as the Slovakian separatists. Roman financially sponsored the association. The Canadian Slovak League’s Kanadasky Slovak, edited in the 1950s by Konstantin Culen, was a member paper and at one point, depended on Roman and Kirschbaum for its financial survival.

On a tour of Roman’s uranium mine, organized by Kirschbaum, the association executive enjoyed a lavish luncheon laid on by Roman. There Kirschbaum posed for an arm-in-arm photograph with then prime Minister Lester Pearson.

Slovaks in Canada

Slovaks in Canada

In 1967, Kirschbaum published his massively detailed history Slovaks in Canada, which blended scholarly research with a highly selective explanation of the role Tiso’s regime had played during the war. This is his summary:

“‘The Slovaks were given a choice either to be divided between their neighbors, including Germany, or to declare an independent state bound to adhere to German foreign policy. Since the relations between Slovaks and Czechs were strained, the Slovak Provincial Diet decided unanimously for independence and over 30 states – including Great Britain and the Soviet Union – recognized the Slovak Republic and established diplomatic or consular relations with Slovakia.

“During the war both these great powers and all the Western Allies changed their minds, however, and gave recognition to a committee of Czech and Slovak exiles in London which posed as the ‘Czecho-Slovak government in exile.’ All attempts to pass into the Allied camp at the end of the war as a nation independent from Czechs were unsuccessful. The resulting non-recognition of the Slovaks as an independent state free from Czech or any other rule, created a situation which prompted the Slovak government and a majority of the population to remain on the side of Germany to the bitter end.”

Kirschbaum’s 1967 book, like an earlier history of Slovakia he had written in 1960, made no mention of the 70,000 Slovak Jews who were deported and exterminated in Nazi death camps during the Tiso regime. It did, however, contain a glowing portrait of Stephen Roman. ”The most important and spectacular contribution to Canadian development of industry, finance and agriculture has undoubtedly been made by Stephen B. Roman. He overshadows the contribution of the whole Slovak group, has no counterpart in other ethnic groups, and ranks already now quite closely with the nation’s most successful and financially powerful Canadians.”

In 1970, Kirschbaum, Roman and Durcansky tried to revitalize their crumbling cause by creating a new, more powerful global organization, the Slovak World Congress. Roman was the first president and its chief private financial sponsor. Kirschbaum became a leading spokesman and in-house academic. The headquarters were later established in a suite adjoining Roman’s corporate offices in the Royal Bank tower in downtown Toronto.

In his opening remarks to the 1970 founding convention of the World Slovak Congress at the Americana Hotel in New York, Roman declared: “We contend that the Slovak question is an international problem and therefore we request that international justice be done in Slovakia, justice that will be fulfilled in full democratic statehood. We ask the blessing of Almighty God in this undertaking.” Later, Roman would tell CBC Radio interviewer Barbara Frum, “My ultimate goal is the freedom of Slovakia. Don’t get me into spy systems. I work toward the establishment of the freedom of Slovakia in all my extra hours, through legal organization!”

In June of the following year, the Slovak World Congress met in Toronto at the Royal York Hotel. Roman, Kirschbaum and Durcansky were the dominant personalities. Karol Murgas, a key player in the 1939 revolt and a leader in the Hlinka Guard, also attended. Roman’s friend and Conservative Party ally, former Ontario premier William Davis, led a special candle-lighting ceremony to commemorate “the union of Slovaks throughout the world.” That night, in a keynote speech laced with unknowing irony, Davis warned about the fragility of democracy. It was an eerie echo of the pre-Munich speeches of Eduard Benes, the democratic president of doomed Czechoslovakia and the avowed life-long enemy of Durcansky, Kirschbaum and Roman. “Don’t let us fall into the pitfalls of smugness and overconfidence, “ Davis warned. “Freedom takes many years to grow and only a few hours to die.”

At the same congress, Durcansky delivered one of his last tirades against Benes, who had died a broken man after his country had been betrayed first by Britain and France at Munich in 1938, then by Tiso’s Nazi-backed separatists in 1939 and finally by Moscow in 1948. It was Benes, Durcansky claimed, who had started the Second World War.

“It is certain today that one can blame only Benes and his collaborators in Prague for the creation of the situation which was advantageous to Berlin as well,” Durcansky told the congress. “He wanted to prevent the independence of Slovakia – even by war if necessary.”

Next, Durcansky reiterated his anti-Semitic sentiments, which had remained unchanged by three decades and a Holocaust that saw the murder of 70,000 Slovak Jews. “It is well known that the Jewish element was concentrated mainly in the cities of south Slovakia. There is no doubt of the fact that that was one of the reasons for the growth of anti-Semitism. Another reason was the unnatural economic and social situation in Slovakia. It is a well-known fact that, along with the Czechs, it was mainly Jews who had control of the entire economic life in Slovakia.

“There existed, therefore, a certain parallel between anti-Semitism and a just division of national wealth. As a result, anti-Semitism in Slovakia had no racial, but exclusively political, economic and social roots. Racial elements were imported into Slovakia from the Reich. I hope we live to see the time when the Jews draw from these facts the necessary objective conclusions – and they relinquish their anti-Slovak policy.”

He had this to say about the Allies:

”The hostile, even malicious attitude of the Allies towards the Slovak republic during World War II, and their constant activity in the interests of its destruction, have clearly proven that they did not intend to mend their discriminatory conduct, and that they were determined to consider Slovakia only as an object of their unjust policy in the future.” Durcansky concluded by claiming, “In the end, Berlin learned to respect the independence of this Slovak republic. Thus the Slovak republic was not a creation of Berlin but was just the opposite.”

Durcansky died in 1974 without returning to Canada, but his contorted version of history continued to influence the publications of the Slovak World Congress. Durcansky’s death left Joseph Kirschbaum as the last leading figure from the Tiso regime, and he was revered, along with Roman, by the dwindling number of Slovaks who still held allegiance to the dream of a sovereign Slovakia.

In 1983, to mark his 70th birthday, Kirschbaum’s Slovak admirers around the world agreed to produce a series of essays on Slovakia and its turbulent political history. These were collected and published as a full-length book subtitled Essays on Slovak History in Honor of Joseph Kirschbaum. The essays paint portraits of the Tiso regime that are seldom less than flattering. According to this book, the 1939 break with Prague was ordained by God and destiny; the pact with Berlin was inescapable; the 70,000 doomed Slovak Jews were deported to death camps despite heroic efforts by Tiso to save them; and the 1944 partisan uprising was composed only of communist bandits.

The introductory profile of Kirschbaum makes no mention of his meetings with Goering and Gestapo officials in 1939, no mention of his strategic role in the Nazi-directed coup that brought Tiso to power, no mention of his public celebration of the fall of France to Hitler and no mention of the role his office played in the mass expropriations of Jewish property in Slovakia. Instead, Karol Murin, Tiso’s former secretary, tells the reader:

“Joseph Kirschbaum is certainly among the first, if not the first, politician to bring to Slovak politics characteristically political methods. Politics has been the constant theme and motivating force of his life. He was a successful diplomat, but he viewed diplomacy as applied politics.

He has written many respected and solid books and articles on Slovak history and literature. Yet one need only read the titles of these works to see that they are essentially the vox clamantis of a servant of the Slovak polis whom destiny prevented from fulfilling his admirable moral and intellectual energies in the field of his first choice in his beloved Slovakia: politics.

“A politician he trained himself to be, and a politician in the noblest sense of the word, that is, a statesman, he remains.”

Kirschbaum’s was indeed a political life. Fifty years ago, he travelled to Nazi Berlin as part of his quest to create a new nation, Slovakia. Now, a half century later in Toronto, an aging Joseph Kirschbaum remains a statesman without a state. With the death this spring (Ed. note: 1988)of Stephen Roman, he lost his most powerful patron and ally.

In the interval, his dream flared briefly. The state of Slovakia existed for six years. For Joseph Kirschbaum and his admirers, it was a bright, sacred flame that was extinguished too soon.

But for others, the state of Slovakia evokes only tragic and bitter memories, and it represents not a sacred flame but one that came straight from hell.

WITNESSES

ROBERT SVEC IS 67 years old. Nearly blind, he walks with a painful, halting step and is afflicted with a palsy that makes it impossible for him to light his own cigarette. But he has a sharp memory for dates and names, and he is unmistakably proud of the medals that adorn his faded green military jacket. Svec earned them 44 years ago, at age 23, on the day that German troops, with the help of Polish and Ukrainian fascist units, attacked his isolated rural village of Doine Vestenice. That village was also the birthplace of Joseph Kirschbaum.

Svec joined the Slovak partisan uprising against Nazi Germany in September 1944. On Sept. 14, the partisans were forced to retreat into the mountains. “At that point there were 1,600 men fighting in the partisan brigade,” he recalls, “including more than 800 from nearby villages. The village was marked in a red circle on Nazi field maps for liquidation, since it was a known partisan village.

“On Feb. 23, they surrounded the village and the mountains and attacked the field hospital of the brigades, where a Jewish doctor was injured from frostbite. He and the others were taken to a nearby village and shot.

“There was a 19-year-old Jewish boy who started to run. He was shot, dragged down to the village to a forestry station, and there they burned him on a woodpile. The forester there, who was a partisan, later died in a concentration camp.”

Svec escaped capture and was later decorated for his part in a scouting mission that helped his brigade elude the German cordon. But those in the village were not so lucky. German and Slovak retribution, even in the final months of the war, was brutal.

“On Feb. 20, 1945, 54 men were deported to Malthausen [Austria’s death camp] and the women were sent to the Gestapo concentration camp at Trencin,” Svec says in a low, sombre voice. “My father was sent to Malthausen weighing 80 kilos. On May 20, 1945, he was liberated, weighing 37.5 kilos. Out of the 54 sent there, 11 died in the camps.

“The Germans were doing the deportations, but it was all being done with the help of the government. This was all done with the blessing of Tiso. The Slovak national uprising was partially suppressed and the Nazi murderers were decorated by Tiso.”

Svec last remembers seeing Kirschbaum in 1940, when the latter came to the village to visit a sister who still lives there. “Since he was very active in the Hlinka Party, he became the general secretary,” says Svec. “Kirschbaum saw to it that the village had a paved road. He didn’t do any harm to this village, he protected it. It is positive that they [the Hlinka Party] had profit from the rich Jews. But it cannot be said that Kirschbaum was hated in the village. Nothing happened here while he was general secretary, and the deportations took place only after he left.”

Despite that, Svec says, Kirschbaum is remembered as a man who turned a blind eye to the fate of the Jews. “Kirschbaum, when he was general secretary, must have known about everything. Of course he was anti-Semitic. The whole Hlinka Guard was anti-Semitic, and he was the general secretary.

“Out of this village, three men were executives of the Hlinka Guard in 1940. One of the three men who was guarding the [dispossessed] Jews was not playing the game, and he was sent home. He came here and said, ‘The Jews are being sent to their death.’ And Kirschbaum’s personal secretary, at the end of 1938, lost his position as secretary to Kirschbaum because he didn’t like what was going on with the Jews. He was sent back to the village. He said, ‘The rich Jews are not being sent away, the poor ones are.’ Since he knew that the Jews were being selected and that the poor ones were being sent to death, and he didn’t like this, he lost his post. Afterward, he was active in the uprising, bringing horses and food into the mountains and bringing back wood.”

Asked what he would say to Kirschbaum if he met him again, Svec replies: “I would say to him openly: ‘You knew.’ ”

ANTON RUSHLA

ANTON RUSHLA WAS A 30-year-old Slovak lawyer and military prosecutor when, in the autumn of 1941, he met Joseph Kirschbaum at an army barracks near the town of Drogobych, in the Soviet Ukraine. The town and its surrounding areas had been taken that June by the German army on its drive toward Moscow and were now occupied by Slovak troops. In the army’s wake had come the SS extermination squads, whose explicit purpose was to liquidate all Jews, including women and children. That year an estimated 633,000 Russian Jews were summarily executed, the Einsatzgruppe unit that operated near Drogobych alone accounting for 90,000 of them.

Its commander, later hanged for war crimes, described at Nuremberg how the massacres had taken place. “The unit would enter the village or town and order the prominent Jewish citizens to call together all Jews for the purpose of ‘resettlement.’ They were requested to hand over their valuables and, shortly before execution, to surrender their outer clothing. They were transported to the place of execution, usually anti-tank ditches, in trucks. Then they were shot, kneeling or standing, by firing squads in a military manner and the corpses thrown into the ditch.”

Rushla, who was in Drogobych to prosecute violators of the Slovak army code when Kirschbaum arrived there, says be told Kirschbaum directly about the SS extermination squads and the pitiful forced labor brigades. “In 1941 he came to the eastern front, and he came to our military court of justice, just by coincidence,” Rushla recalls. “We started to talk. I said, ‘So you see this war you say is a fight for the civilization of Europe. The [Slovak] government is proclaiming this as a fight for civilization. So look what they do, how they fight for civilization.’ We told him openly what the Germans were doing to the citizens. They were not shooting the [Russian] prisoners: they were dying from hunger and cold. They were just throwing the dead into a big hole. We told him this, so he knew very well.

“We also told him, in the first place, how the Germans treated the Jews. They made ghettoes everywhere, and the Jews had to carry the yellow star. They made the Jews guard the others.

“He didn’t say he was sorry for the Jews. He just took it like a normal thing. I told him what was going on. I didn’t know, at the time, where they were taking them. They were confined and the Germans were using them for the heaviest work. We told Kirschbaum what the Germans were doing with the citizens. We told him specifically. They were not deporting the Jews to the far [Polish] camps, but we knew that the prisoners were kept under such conditions that they must die.

“Just as we spoke, I asked Kirschbaum: ‘Why did you come?’ because he appeared so suddenly. And he said that he came to collect information and to give a report about the situation in the units, because a lot of officers and soldiers had written home about the behavior of the Germans, about the horrible things the Germans were doing. That they were treating Jews badly, Poles badly. Kirschbaum was supposed to go there [to the Ukraine] and write a report.”

Rushla later left the Slovak army and joined partisan units fighting against the Germans in Slovakia. After the war, he became the chief prosecutor of war criminals in Slovakia, preparing cases against all the leading figures of the Tiso regime. Among those he charged with treason and war crimes were Tiso, Tuka, Mach, Durcansky and Kirschbaum.

Now a retired law faculty head, Rushla maintains that the grounds for charging Kirschbaum were sound and that Kirschbaum’s 20-year sentence, following a trial in absentia, was justified by the evidence. “This is because they didn’t want to have witnesses, the victims of aryanization. We are not charging Kirschbaum that he knew the Jews were being deported to be killed. This was not included in the charge. But they were citizens of our country, and they were deporting them.

“We are not so concerned with whether they knew or not what was going to happen to the Jews. Because the deportations were a crime on their own. Kirschbaum wanted to get rid of the Jews, the ones that were robbed here. From the legal point of view, theft and deportations are crimes. I don’t think that Kirschbaum personally put people on to the trains. It was done by the [Hlinka] Guard. But this is not most significant. In every legal system, in the Canadian as well as ours, it is not only important when something is done directly by a person, but punishment also falls to the organizers and leaders of the crime.”

JURAJ SPITZER

Juraj Spitzer

Juraj Spitzer

HIS SCARRED windbreaker concealing the tough, compact build of a prize­fighter, Juraj Spitzer has the penetrating gaze of a man who has been to hell and back. Forty-four years ago, at the age of 25, he was one of thousands of Jews imprisoned in Slovakia’s infamous Novaky concentration camp, waiting for a death train to take him to Auschwitz. He saw hundreds of his neighbors herded into cattle cars by members of the Hlinka Guard, and only a trickle return after the war. Now Spitzer is the heart and voice of Slovakia’s Jews – only 3,000 of whom remain out of a population that exceeded 90,000 in I939.

As a trail of smoke drifts up from the cheap Czechoslovak cigarette held between his thick knuckles, Spitzer speaks in a gravelly voice with no trace of sentiment. His musty, sombre second­storey flat in Bratislava is now his people’s only synagogue. The others were ransacked and burned by roving bands of Hlinka Guards in 1938 and 1939. On the table are pictures of smashed Jewish tombstones, gutted buildings and laughing Hlinka Guards cutting off the sacred beards of Jewish rabbis.

After March 1939 came aryanization, ghettoes, concentration camps and deportations to Poland. Now all that remains of a culture that predates Christianity in Slovakia is a single wall case full of religious artifacts, a stack of crumbling, water­damaged Hebrew scriptures reclaimed after decades from an underground hiding spot and a picture frame which holds the banknotes that Czechoslovak Jews were allowed to use at the notorious Nazi-run concentration camp at Thierenstadt.

“‘The ‘Jewish question’ was solved here successfully,” Spitzer says with stark finality. “It started with aryanization, which resulted in a social problem because after there was unemployed, property­less Jews. Then the government had to get rid of them. So it was welcomed when the deportations took place, because they [the Tiso regime] had to get rid of the social burden.

“It was easy to pass the aryanization laws, because they could exploit anti-Semitic prejudice. This primitive anti-Semitism, and the aryanization, and the claims that the Jews were making great profits, could be used to pursue the solving of the Jewish question. There was no industrial capital, as in Germany, and the clerical fascist propagandists, among which Mr. Kirschbaum had his role as a journalist and functionary, used those arguments.”

Spitzer, a retired journalist, author and scholar, has carefully followed Kirschbaum’s career and can cite from both his 1948 trial judgement and his post­war writings. He says there is no evidence that Kirschbaum personally ordered or approved the deportations to Poland and warns against exaggerating his role in the anti-Semitic persecution of the Tiso regime. “Only those who make distinctions are good at teaching history,” he warns.

Spitzer says that the word Auschwitz was a synonym for terror among Slovak Jews three years before the war ended. “Even in 1942 in Bratislava, the SS officers came from Auschwitz, and when they invited the Jewish representatives, they told them what was happening in Auschwitz. They told the Jews they must send gold to Auschwitz, because that was the only way other Jews could be saved: by paying bribes. The Jews didn’t believe them at first, then they tried it and gave some gold. And the next time the SS officers came to Bratislava, they brought a written statement that the gold was given to the Jews. Of course, it was all lies.

“At that time I was in Novaky. We didn’t know that we were going to be killed, but we knew we were facing something bad. And we knew the fact that other Jews were dying, because [falsified] letters came, from my uncle, for example, saying that my brother Joseph had returned [from Auschwitz] to the uncle. But I knew my uncle had died earlier. So the letters were false.

“We knew that the people sent to Poland must be dying, but no one could imagine that there was this engine of death. We couldn’t believe the rumors. We even met refugees from Poland, but we couldn’t believe them. We couldn’t imagine that 3,000 people could be killed at once.”

Spitzer adds that a Slovak Jew named Lenart, who escaped from Auschwitz in 1942, crossed the border into Slovakia and took sanctuary in the church of the Bishop of Spis. On learning of the death camps, the bishop told Tiso, Tuka and Mach that resettlement was a euphemism for mass murder. From that point on, the Bishop of Spis remained an outspoken, implacable opponent of the deportations.

When the anti-fascist Slovak partisan uprising broke out in the fall of I944, one of its first actions was to liberate the huge prisoner population at the Novaky concentration camp. Spitzer, along with thousands of other Jews and Slovak anti-fascists, joined the partisans, fought German and Slovak troops from the mountains and escaped the brutal retribution that followed. After the war, his role as a partisan and his talent as a journalist combined to make him a leading Slovak writer. Eventually, he became editor of a newspaper that was banned after the “Prague Spring” of 1968 was shattered by the rumble of Soviet tanks.

Now, just as Spitzer is unofficially excluded from public life, the Jewish faith is also unofficially repressed in modern Czechoslovakia. There is little tolerance of religious belief, either Jewish or Catholic. The Jews of Slovakia have little choice but to practise their faith furtively in a dark and dusty apartment and to acknowledge each other with secret signals on the streets of Bratislava.

Still, Juraj Spitzer is a survivor. Now 69 and again facing a force greater than himself, he does what he can, where he can. He is proud of his tough, unsentimental reputation. A keen student of Slovak history and a blunt judge of character, he delivers his verdict on the men who created and administered the Slovak state without a hint of anger or revenge. For Spitzer, it is a verdict based on cold facts.

“All of them, Kirschbaum, Mach and Tuka, say that what happened in Poland was done by the Germans and that the Slovaks had no choice. That what happened before the deportations was not a crime. That they didn’t know what would happen to the Jews in Poland.

“But, of course, Nuremberg considered this differently. What they did before the deportations was a crime itself. When my neighbors are being taken away with only a 30 kilo bag [holding all their possessions], I know something evil is happening.

“So Mr. Kirschbaum, when he says he had nothing to do with the deportations, it is only partly true. But he was active in the preparations for it: the propaganda and the laws.”

FRANK NASH

THE FOLLOWING IS the text of a sworn statement made by Frank Nash (formerly Nesch) before Barry M. Shiller, notary, in Montreal on Nov. 30, 1988.

“I was born in Malacky, near the city of Bratislava, in 1914. From 1935 until April 1939, when I emigrated to Palestine, I lived in the city of Bratislava, where I was a waiter and a secretary for the hotel and restaurant employees’ trade union. As a head waiter at the Jugoslavsky Podrum wine restaurant in Bratislava during the late 1930s, I would see Joseph Kirschbaum, who was then leader of the Academic Hlinka Guard, enter as a guest on a regular basis, often two or three times a week. I served him personally many times. The restaurant was a popular meeting place for members of the Academic Guard, and Kirschbaum would usually sit with a group of 15 to 20 of them. They were frequently very noisy and would often be wearing the black Hlinka Guard uniform. Kirschbaum wore his uniform to the restaurant many times.

“On literally dozens of occasions I saw Kirschbaum rise up, sometimes on to a table, and lead a group of guards in a chorus of anti-Jewish slogans, like a conductor leading a choir. One typical chant went: ‘In Slovakia it will only be good when from every Vrba tree a Jew will be hanging.’ To this the choir of guards would respond: ‘Jews out from here, out from Slovakia.’ Kirschbaum was the one running the show. He would be the only one conducting the group.

“Other people I recognized who frequented the restaurant were Ferdinand Durcansky, Karol Sidor, Dr. Jozef Falath and Dr. Karol Danihel …

“I do not know if any of the anti-Semitic Academic Guards knew I was Jewish, and I naturally tried to keep it a secret from them, although I was afraid they would find out.

“I also saw Kirschbaum on several occasions leading groups of uniformed Academic Guards down main streets in Bratislava, encouraging them to break Jewish store windows and vandalize Jewish homes, which they did. He would shout such things as ‘Let’s go give it to them.’ He was very provocative, very active.

“Just before I emigrated to Palestine in the spring of 1939, I attended a public speech on the Slovak nation given by Kirschbaum in front of a theatre in Bratislava. He was a very good orator, and during the speech, which was generally very anti-Semitic, Kirschbaum told the crowd that ‘the Jews were, are and will always be the biggest enemies of the Slovak nation, and therefore it is our duty to get rid of them.’ The speech was well publicized beforehand and was sponsored by the Hlinka People’s Party.

“I had not experienced anti-Jewish feelings in Slovakia until the late 1930s when Kirschbaum and his colleagues in the Hlinka Party movement came to prominence. I had very, very few Jewish friends. Most of my friends were Slovaks. We lived very peacefully.”

RAUL HILBERG

IN THE WORDS OF Raul Hilberg, one of the world’s foremost scholars on the Holocaust, Joseph Kirschbaum was a “wheel that turned the machine” that persecuted and dispossessed scores of Jewish citizens in Slovakia. Hilberg, John G. McCullough Professor of Political Science at the University of Vermont, is the author of the books The Destruction of the European Jews (1961) and Sonderzuge Nach Auschwitz (loosely, “Special Trains to Auschwitz”) (1981). From 1978 to I979 he was a member of the U.S. president’s commission on the Holocaust, and he has served as an expert witness for the U.S. in denaturalization and deportation cases and as an expert witness for the Canadian government in extradition and criminal proceedings.

Referring to the former deputy leader of the German Nazi Party and a close confidant of Hitler, Hilberg calls Joseph Kirschbaum Slovakia’s “counterpart to [Rudolph] Hess.”

“He [Kirschbaum] wasn’t there when the Jews were killed,” Hilberg says. “On the other hand, he was there when the basic regime against them was being considered and laid down. And he can’t escape responsibility for being a wheel in that machine.”

He notes that today a considerable amount of misleading propaganda about the nature of the Slovak regime can be found in literature and statements by prominent Slovak nationalists and apologists for the Tiso regime. Kirschbaum, for example, has said publicly that he was banished from Slovakia for being an “anti-Nazi” and sent to Berne, Switzerland, where he became a diplomatic representative for his government. But Hilberg points out that this claim does not square with German secret service reports that describe the young secretary-general as an ambitious politician who, even in 1939 and 1940, was vying for Germany’s favor in a power play with other key party officials. “There is clear evidence,” Hilberg says, “that [he was] still not out of the running [in 1939] for becoming interior minister, no less.”

Another secret service report, from the Vienna representative to Berlin, reveals that Kirschbaum was being considered for a Nazi medal, along with Durcansky, in March 1940. And, says Hilberg, a secret service report of June 19, 1940, describes various party officials – including Tuka, Catlos, Durcansky and Kirschbaum – as all having made recent speeches “in such a way that each one is trying to show that he is more friendly to the Germans than the others.”

Hilberg dismisses Kirschbaum’s published writings on Slovak independence as unscholarly apologia intended, at least partly, to vindicate his own behavior. “He strikes me as a person who is certainly intellectually capable of writing a decent history of Slovakia – if he wanted to do that. But he would have to distance himself from his own role and not write apologies for his life. Obviously he has chosen not to do that.”

Hilberg also finds less than credible the assertion that Kirschbaum had no knowledge of the aryanization campaigns in Slovakia until he was already long gone to neutral Switzerland. “It [the secretary-general’s office in 1939] is not such a huge office that he could be there, at the Olympian height, and not know what was going on below. It was a small country and a relatively small office. I think the secretary-general of the Hlinka Party would be knowledgeable about anything whatsoever. That’s his job: to know, to be the conduit. I don’t find credible the assertion that over a period of more than a year he did not know. Maybe that was not his primary interest; he had his finger in all sorts of other pies. But that he did not know is not credible.” Kirschbaum, Hilberg points out, is an intellectual who writes books, “not the sort of person who sleepwalks through life.”

By Nov. 11, 1938, the date on which Kirschbaum first accompanied Durcansky to Berlin, there could have been no doubt about Germany’s anti-Semitic character, says Hilberg. “No doubt whatsoever. Just to be physically present in Berlin, in a hotel, walking around. You saw the smouldering ruins of synagogues [the result of Kristalnacht the night before]. There could not be any doubt. The sheer visible impact would have been quite strong.”

Hilberg says it is important to understand that such events as the Holocaust arise not only from such direct acts as prodding Jews on to death trains or signing laws into effect. Every action must be seen in the light of the unique context of the political atmosphere in Europe at the time.

“You don’t need a specific law compelling aryanizations,” he says. “The general atmosphere, combined with boycotts and regulations depriving Jewish businesses of raw materials, results in a feeling that he should sell and maybe salvage something, or be a manager and get a pittance out of it, or wait and take the risk that he gets nothing. From that point of view aryanizations really began in March 1939 [in Slovakia] – because the Jewish community knew, from the pronouncements of the Hlinka Party, that this was an organization that was not friendly to Jews, that it was the opposite, and that it owed its existence to Nazi Germany. You didn’t have to be an intellectual to draw the proper conclusions.”

There is no evidence, says Hilberg, that Joseph Kirschbaum had a direct hand in the events that led up to the Holocaust. But neither can it be proved that whatever actions he did commit did not in some way turn out to be instrumental in setting up the Holocaust machinery. “A process of destruction requires multiple talents,” he says. “It involves large segments of a bureaucracy, so that anybody that at any time was in any pivotal position is going to have something to do with that process.” He points out that it is “easier to deport people who have become impoverished and who have become marginal in the economy, or dispensable in it, than it is when they have key positions, be it as manufacturers or managers.”

“As for the claims of some Tiso apologists who say that Slovakia remained a relative haven for Jews in a sea of Nazi oppression, Hilberg says it was primarily the exigencies of the depressed Slovak economy, not any compassion on the part of the Hlinka Party, that dictated that many Jews be exempted from deportation. He notes that a high percentage of enterprises in Slovakia in the 1930s, including medical clinics, legal offices and pharmacies, were owned by Jews. “The real problem for Slovakia was replacing the Jews. So it was easy for them to say, ‘We’ll kick them out.’ But who do you put in their place? Almost half the physicians in Slovakia were Jewish.”

Far from showing mere passive compliance, the Tiso regime in many cases took an active approach to aryanization. “Puppets though they were, they contributed their police, they contributed rolling stock deportation trains, they paid for the deportations, they indicated that their bureaucracy would be doing the undertaking. They did not rise up in arms and say, ‘No, we are not going to do it.’ I think in many cases they did it willingly, with the comfortable excuse that they had to.”

JOSEPH CERMAK

Joseph Cermak

Joseph Cermak

OF ALL THE EXCUSES Joseph Kirschbaum and other prominent Slovak separatists might have offered as justification for their pact with Adolf Hitler, none could be more insulting to Joseph Cermak than the claim that they were doing only what was impossible for them to avoid.

“Kirschbaum had a choice,” Cermak says. “He had a number of choices. He could have done nothing. He was a lawyer, he could have had a decent life without really co-operating [with the Nazis] too much or fighting against them too much. But he decided to go much further. He really decided to join forces with the [Nazis].”

Cermak, a Toronto lawyer and former Czechoslovak newspaper editor, speaks from personal experience. At age 64, he is now a graceful and soft­spoken man with a penetrating smile. But in the late 1930s and early 1940s, he was an outspoken student activist and ardent observer of Czechoslovak politics. Born in the Czech province of Bohemia, he was a mere teenager when, in 1943, he rejected what he considered to be a personal test of allegiance to Nazism.

“When we finished high school they gave us a chance either to go and study at a German university – because Czech universities were closed – or go to forced-labor camps,” says Cermak. “And not a single person in my class decided to go to a German university. That’s one of the things [for which] I am very proud of my class.”

A supporter of Eduard Benes until the president’s death in 1948, Cermak remembers the “grisly, ghastly day” when German troops first marched through the streets near his high school. “We all watched it, because it was the disintegration of the country. The whole thing was so very unfortunate, because I think that the whole people was absolutely prepared to die. It was unfortunate that Benes decided not to fight.”

Cermak not only resisted Hitler’s transformation of eastern Europe, he began actively sabotaging the Fuhrer’s war machine in his own humble – though daring and ingenious – way. The labor camp to which he was assigned, he recalls, served a steel mill for producing airplane parts destined for Goering’s fleet in Austria. Cermak, assigned to work the crucial metal lathes, decided it was an ideal position from which to retard production. With the help of a simple razor blade and no small amount of courage, that’s precisely what he set about doing.

“I was cutting my own and [other] people’s palms so we couldn’t work. And we would feed dirt into it [the cut], so it was really sort of inflamed.” Though Cermak now humbly attributes this action to the recklessness of youth, it involved genuine heroism. “If they had caught you doing it,” he says, “it was death.”

He remained in forced labor from 1943 to 1945: the years Kirschbaum spent in Switzerland as a charge d’affaires for Slovakia. His sabotage efforts undetected, Cernak was released at the end of the war. He enrolled at the university of Prague and became active in anti-communist politics. But by February 1948 the communists rose to power [via a virtual one-party election], and his studies were again interrupted.

Benes was forced out of the presidency in June, just three months before his death. Cermak attended the funeral with a group of friends wearing strips of black cloth to signify mourning. The gesture was condemned by communist party officials, and the mourners were thrown into the former Nazi jail in Prague. No explanation was given for their detention.

Released after three weeks, Cernak escaped to West Germany on Oct. 28, I948. Six months later he emigrated to Canada. Learning basic English-language skills, he began working as a farm laborer. A number of other jobs followed, including ones as a night watchman and as a night porter on the railways. He took English lessons and returned to school, graduating in law.

Even though he was very young at the time, Cermak had already become familiar by the late 1930s with the name of Joseph Kirschbaum. “I remember there were five people who were actually in the leadership of the Hlinka party,” he says. “There was Tiso, there were the three vice-presidents and the secretary-general – that was Kirschbaum. And I think Kirschbaum was a very ambitious guy who I think wanted always to be in the public eye. So he was well known. The name was well known.”

Cermak learned of Kirschbaum’s presence in Canada through a press story describing a delegation, led by Kirschbaum, that met then prime minister Louis St. Laurent in the 1950s: “I sort of started to look into the name and I found undoubtedly that he was the guy who I thought he was and that he played a very major role in Slovakia in the late ’30s and early 1940s.”

Cermak was dispirited to realize that Kirschbaum – whose name he associated with the sell­out of his country to Nazism – was living a life of status and enjoying the privileges that Cernak and other Allied Europeans had risked their lives to protect.

“I think no one put it better than Albert Camus, when he said, ‘All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as it is possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.’ ”

It was Cermak’s official reaction to Kirschbaum’s meeting with St. Laurent that finally transformed the pair into legal as well as ideological adversaries. Beginning in the summer of 1962, Cermak printed a series of articles in Nase Hlasy (“Our Voices”), a democratic Czech weekly in Toronto which he co-founded in the mid-50s. The pieces generally dealt with Kirschbaum’s political activities in Slovakia at the time that anti-Jewish laws were being put into effect.

In one editorial, entitled The Case Of Dr. Kirschbaum, the editors publicly challenged Kirschbaum to explain why, even as thousands of Slovak Jews were being deported to Nazi death camps, he chose to remain an official diplomatic spokesman in Switzerland for his country’s Nazi-allied government. Kirschbaum’s response came in the form not of an explanation but of a million-dollar libel suit ($250,000 from each of the paper’s two publishers and two chief editors) charging that some of the statements made in the editorial were defamatory.

More than 26 years later, the case between Kirschbaum and Nase Hlasy has yet to come before a judge. The defendants, who have never retracted any of the statements in their articles, say that they are still prepared to fight the case, at the very least to recoup their legal costs. But so far the complainant has failed to proceed with prosecution.

For Cermak, entrusted by the other three defendants with co-ordinating their case, the legal battle lines are drawn on a matter of principle. A court case, he believes, would be a way of putting the Tiso regime on trial.

“The dispute between me and Mr. Kirschbaum is definitely not a question of Czechs and Slovaks,” he says. ”The issue is, I think, most of all a question of individual responsibility for one’s acts.

“When it started, when I found out about it [Kirschbaum’s presence in Canada], I was saying to myself, ‘What should one do? Should you just be quiet? We are all in Canada, you know, what does it have to do with Europe?’ And the thing which decided it for me was this. There were about 40 million – I don’t know what the number was, it doesn’t matter – people died. And they died fighting this pestilence. Now I, as a man who was a witness, if nothing more, of that horrible war, how could I stand by and let a man who did join forces with that pestilence be honored, not even say sorry? I just couldn’t. That’s why I wrote it.”

He continues: “There are a few heroes. But most people take the middle ground; they neither co­operate with the evil or oppose it too violently. And I certainly don’t blame anyone for that position. And then you have a small group of people who really join forces with the evil, and I am afraid he was one of them. And it’s a pity, because he is a man of considerable talent. He is a very able man. I think that makes it even worse, somehow.

CAST OF CHARACTERS

The journalists Paul McKay and Beppie Crosariol, realizing the names of the characters in Kirschbaum’s story were hard to grasp for some Canadian readers, provided this checklist with thumbnail bio for twenty individuals, alphabetically.

Matúš Černák

Matúš Černák

Matus Cernak: Slovak politician and separatist who became Slovak ambassador to Germany during Tiso regime. Killed by a parcel bomb in Munich in 1955.

Konstantin Culen: Leading propagandist for Slovak fascists. Praised Hitler and the Slovak puppet state. Later emigrated to Canada. Died in New York in 1964.

Ferdinand Durcansky: Slovak lawyer, journalist and politician who negotiated terms of independent Slovakia with Goering, promising, “The Jewish problem will be solved as in Germany.” Later fell into disfavor with Berlin but re-emerged as a prominent fascist at end of war. Sentenced to death but escaped. Died in 1974.

Adolf Eichmann: SS officer who rose to prominence as the director of anti-Semitic persecutions in Austria in 1939, then organized death trains for most of Europe. Convicted and hanged as a war criminal in Israel.

Reinhard Heydrich: SS officer who directed Berlin-inspired Slovak revolt and had agents deliver bombs to Slovak separatists. Leading proponent of “final solution.” Killed by British commandos in Prague in 1942, in retribution for which the Nazis committed a massacre in the village of Lidice.

Portrait of HImmler

Portrait of HImmler USHMM

Heinrich Himmler: Head of the SS, architect of the “final solution” and second-in-command to Hitler. Committed suicide in May 1945.

Adrej Hlinka: Catholic priest and first organizer of the Slovak nationalist movement after the First World War. After his death in 1938, the political party he founded was renamed the Hlinka Party in his honor.

Franz Karmasin: Leader of ethnic German storm-trooper unit in Slovakia. A key figure in the Slovak separatist revolt, later Berlin’s man in the Slovak satellite government. Now reported to be living in Munich.

Joseph Kirschbaum: Slovak lawyer and politician who was secretary-general of the Hlinka Party in 1939 and 1940. Served as a Slovak diplomat in Switzerland from 1942 to 1945. Came to Canada in 1949. Currently a Toronto insurance executive and spokesman of several Slovak organizations.

Joseph Lettrich: Slovak democrat and partisan, later became leader of Slovaks in postwar Czechoslovak government. Fought communists, escaped to the United states in 1949, where he established an anti-fascist, anti-communist liberation council. Wrote authoritative history of Slovakia. Died in Washington in 1969.

Alexander Mach: Fascist, pro-German Slovak leader who became chief of the Hlinka Guard and Slovak director of Jewish deportations to Poland. Sentenced to 30 years’ of imprisonment after the war. Now deceased.

Alfred Naujocks: SS commando who delivered bombs to Slovak separatists and escorted Slovak delegation to a meeting with Goering in Berlin. Later captured by Allies and interrogated, then escaped. Whereabouts unknown.

Stefan Roman

Stefan Roman

Stephen Roman: Slovak immigrant who arrived in Canada in 1937 and developed a multi-billion-dollar mining and resource conglomerate. Friend and patron of Joseph Kirschbaum. Died in March 1988.

Arthur Seyss-Inquart: Viennese lawyer and politician who secretly negotiated Hitler’s annexation of Austria in 1938 and helped direct Slovak separatist revolt. Later appointed military governor in Poland and Holland; sentenced to death in Nuremburg.

Karol Sidor: Prominent fascist, anti-Semitic Slovak politician who was the first commander of the Hlinka Guard. He was briefly prime minister of Slovakia, then a Slovak diplomat at the Vatican. Later emigrated to Canada. Died in 1953.

Josef Tiso

Josef Tiso

Joseph Tiso: Catholic priest who became leader of the Slovak puppet state in March 1939. Heavily influenced by both Berlin and the Vatican, he pleased neither. Tried, convicted and hanged as a war criminal.

Vojtech Tuka: Charismatic elderly martyr of Slovak separatists, most pro-Nazi of all Slovak leaders, eventually became prime minister of Slovak puppet state. Defended the Jewish deportations to Poland. Sentenced to death after the war.

Edmund Veesenmayer: Agent of SS chief Himmler in German foreign office. Negotiated terms of Slovak-German alliance and helped direct the Slovak separatist revolt. Later helped Eichmann deport thousands of Hungarian Jews to Poland. Convicted as war criminal; now a successful businessman in West Germany.

Dieter Wisliceny: German SS officer who helped design the Nazis’ Jewish deportation system with Adolf Eichmann. Later responsible for deporting Slovak, then Hungarian Jews to Poland. Sentenced to death as a war criminal.

First published in the Whig-Standard Magazine December, 10, 1988

 

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Revisiting this piece by Paul McKay some thirty-five years later–at which time McKay has become an accomplished songwriter, composer and playwright–one wonders whether any mainstream media outlet in Canada would have the means or the inclination or the gumption to foster six months of research and face the inevitable threat of lawsuits for such an in-depth article.

Rudolf Vrba gave his last interview to Paul McKay, months before Vrba’s passing in 2006.

Both Vrba and Kirschbaum emigrated from Slovakia to Canada. “One told the searing truth,” says McKay, “the other denied his own dirty hands.”

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As a result of a libel suit filed by Kirschbaum against Our Voices Publishing Company and its editor, Joseph Cermak, Kirschbaum was required to attend an “Examination for Discovery,” prior to the trial. Here is a transcript of that event. Knowing what we now know about his war time activities, it is fascinating to read how he prevaricates and evades answering so many of the questions put to him and how, in some cases, he is very “economical with the truth” altogether.

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Slovakia was the only country in wartime Europe that paid Nazi Germany to take its Jewish citizens. Josef Kirschbaum was an influential member of the pro-Nazi movement that laid the groundwork for this to happen.

Before he was transferred out of the country to Rome to serve as a Slovakian diplomat to the Vatican in 1941, Kirchsbaum was part of the pro-Tiso movement that soon passed a new law as to who ought to be considered a Jew as of September 10, 1941, leading to mass transports of Jews out of Slovakia in 1942.

Not everyone obeyed. Some, like Rudolf Vrba, knew the Jews were being tricked into obedience. Another man who refused to be subservient as a boy in Slovakia was Louis Mandel who left behind the following memoir of how he managed to evade death in Slovakia.

This following of Mandel’s experiences as a Slovakan Jew was first released in New York in 1950 within a book Mandel edited called The Tragedy of Slovak Jewry in Slovakia. Contents for public awareness have been made accessible by the American Committee of Jews from Czechoslovakia, affiliated with the World Jewish Congress, New York City.

The editor of this website has only supplied an alternative title. The rest is Mandel’s autobiography of life in Slovakia as a Jew during World War II.

First, They Took The Candlesticks…

The month of March 1942 approached. The radio brought an announcement ordering all Jews to report to the draft boards. This was, of course, a trick. The Government radio merely tried to conceal the fact that the Jews were to be drafted for slave labor camps. Prison terms of six months were announced for those who failed to heed the order.

Almost every Jew, not wishing to antagonize the Fascist authorities any more, reported quietly to the draft board. Previously rumors had it that the Jews would be deported to Poland. Many did not believe that deportations to Poland would take place. They preferred to believe that the Jews would be kept in labor camps in Slovakia itself.

My brothers, like the rest of Jewish young men in our town, reported to the draft board. I however, the youngest in our family did not so report. I did not want the Fascists to have any records as to my person. I knew that all this was a mere smokescreen and that the Fascists merely attempted to get a grip on the Jews the easy way. Many young Jews fell for this and were subsequently deported to labor camps in Poland.

The month of March 1942 passed quietly, and Nazi propaganda relented a bit. The entire situation seemed very suspicious to me. I tried to explain to my family that something was afoot, and asked everyone not to be deceived by this apparent lack of wild propaganda in the papers. The war raged in full swing. Hitler advanced and his armies approached Stalingrad. The warm, tepid April days of 1942 arrived. The remaining Jewish population of Slovakia became panicky. Rumors circulated among Jews, and non-Jews, as well, that the Nazis would draft Jewish boys and girls. The girls were to be sent to the front, for the brothels, the boys were to be sent to the task of rebuilding of roads, bridges and houses. Every father and mother not realizing that they, too, would meet their end in tragic death at the hands of the Nazis attempted to save their children from deportation. The only means of escape was to flee to Hungary. Some of those who lived in border regions succeeded in their attempt. Some went into hiding. It was not too easy to hide, for the Fascists installed guards and informers everywhere. The only relatively safe hiding place was the mountains. But then it was necessary to build caves and accumulate enough food and clothing for the winter. This was not easy to accomplish.

Although I was in hiding most of this time, I also wanted to save my sister, who, unmarried was subject to draft into the labor camps. And so I took her to another sister who was married, and who lived some 150 miles away from our family. I secured the services of a dependable taxi driver who took us, at midnight, to our sister. We were very lucky to evade all the roadblocks and control stations. When we arrived at our sister’s house, everyone inside was asleep. We knocked on the door and windows until finally our brother-in-law opened the door. We awoke our sister. Not knowing what was going on she became so frightened that she fainted. I left my unmarried sister there and returned home since our parents were anxious to know how we fared. I came home at dawn. Our parents were still awake.

On April 15, 1942 at 9 a.m. the so-called Hlinka Guards appeared in the streets, taking boys and girls into custody. People cried and shouted. One could see Jewish young men being led away by armed guards. Some youngsters escaped. Fully ninety percent, however, were taken away. The deportees were permitted to take with them some forty pounds of clothing and food for three days.

The guards searched Jewish homes until finally they came to us too. They asked for me and my sister. They turned the house upside down, looking into every corner while menacing our parents and hurled all sorts of insults on them. When our parents declared that we were gone, they were told that they would be shot. Of course, our parents did not reveal that they knew of our whereabouts. The guards finally left and let our parents alone.

In the evening, the guards forced the assembled deportees into a cattle train and subsequently into one of three deportation centers in Slovakia whence the Jews were transported to Poland.

During all this time I was not too much concerned about where to hide. I told myself that either I would come out of this alive or they would not take me alive. I never stayed in one place for more than a day. I slept in a different place each night.

Of course, I could not carry on like this for a long time, and so I decided with my nephew who likewise stayed with me all this time, to make our hiding place in a big stack of straw on the outskirts of our town. We had a supply of food from our parents’ home: dried fruits, canned goods and bread. However, it was impossible to store supplies because the heat in the stack became unbearable and the food spoiled easily. Local police informers soon learned what was going on. They again searched my parents’ home.

One day, as I came home for supplies once more, I didn’t even realize that the guards were on my trail until I saw them coming into the courtyard and entering into the house. I quickly jumped out of the window and ran away through the garden not however without being shot at by the guards who stopped me. They did not hit me though and I escaped empty-handed.

Two days passed. My parents were unable to bring any food to a place previously agreed upon and I decided to try again and see whether I could get home anyway. As soon as I entered I was very surprised to find my sister there, the one which we took away to relative safety three weeks previously. I reprimanded her sharply for having come back. Tired to death, I decided, nevertheless, to spend the night at home.

My sister was very tired too, and frightened. She explained that she could not possibly stay at our sister’s any longer, since her hiding place became known to the police. She declared that she had had enough of this misery, and that she would not budge from our home. She also said that sooner or later the Nazis would deport every Jewish person, and that she intended to stay together with our parents.

Nothing happened during the night, and it was impossible to leave the house during daylight. The next day ended tragically for our family; for the guards surprised us once more. I escaped the same way as before but returned soon thereafter to observe from a safe distance what was going on. My sister, Frieda was her name, first escaped through the back door and hid behind the stable. The Nazi guards, who originally came to get me, were very surprised to find my sister in her hiding place, and without permitting her to say Good-bye to our parents they took her into custody at once; they led her out on the street, stopped a passing automobile, pushed her into the car and ordered the driver of the vehicle to take her to a city prison in Trebisov.

Later on, I learned that they took my sister, with 30 other prisoners, to a concentration camp called Patronka, located near Bratislava. From this camp my sister was transferred, together with 1060 other victims, to the infamous Oswiencim concentration camp in Poland.

As I later learned they crammed 106 people into a boxcar. I also learned that my brother Alexander was caught in the same raid. He was then transported from Trebisov along with 120 persons of Jewish faith to an unknown destruction.

At about the same time another incident occurred in the vicinity of a nearby town called Humenne. There, in the woods, someone killed a gendarme. The Nazis of course claimed that this was the work of Jews. The purpose of spreading such rumors was to make non-Jewish angry and prejudiced, and to facilitate the mass-arrest of the Jewish population. Some 150 persons were arrested in this connection. The Nazi authorities let out rumors that every second person of those arrested would be shot unless the perpetrator or perpetrators of the murder of the gendarme was found. Finally, after two weeks of detention, the arrested were released since the investigation disclosed that the culprit was not a Jew.

Soon the tragic, incredible day May 2, 1942 arrived. It was the day of the Sabbath. The entire Jewish community assembled in the synagogue. A notice was posted on the church wall. The notice was undated, and did not stipulate whether it concerned the young or the old people. It merely stated that every deportee was to carry with him, or her, up to forty pounds of clothing and food. The older folks simply did not believe that they too were to be deported, since the pro-Nazi Government of Tiso and Tuka bellowed time and again that whoever cared to listen that their Government was fighting for Christianity and humanity.

No sooner had we left the church when we saw on the street some hitherto unseen Nazi uniforms. We approached the chairman of the Jewish community and asked him what was this all about. He replied that he feared the worst, that all of us would be deported. I asked him whether we should flee, to which he replied in the negative, adding that according to authorities we were all to remain together, that we would be taken to Poland and that our families would not be split up.

That very same afternoon, at two o’clock, a whole group of Nazi guards were seen searching Jewish houses. Their first victim was a man named Jozef Weinstein. They were leading him through streets. He had a small trunk in his hand. On the way to military barracks the guard beat him. It was one of the local Nazi police who acted most savagely. He was in a rage because Weinstein a few weeks earlier had refused to let him have his textile store.

From a safe distance I observed that Weinstein’s house was sealed. A few minutes later I saw the Nazis leading other Jews away.

Afterwards, I returned home where the rest of our family was gathered. We feverishly discussed the situation. Everyone was crying. My brother Arnold declared that he would go along with the rest of the deportees since he believed that he would thus help our parents. He believed the Nazi Government would really permit the families to stay together. In this he repeated what the chairman of the Jewish community said shortly before. I, however, did not believe the Nazis in the least. I told my family what I saw on the streets and urged everyone to go away and hide. My father, a seventy-year-old and gravely ill, was simply unable to realize any more what he was doing. Laying in bed, he declared that, perhaps they would not dare to take him away in his condition. I decided then that I would not go with the rest of the deportees, and readied myself hastily for a hasty departure. I put some bread into a crude bag, went out a tucked the bag safely in the stack of straw, and remained outside. In the meantime I observed carefully what was going on. I was especially careful not to let myself be seen. I spent the rest of the day in the garden. My head was ready to burst from sorrow and anxiety.

In the meantime the rest of our family made preparations for the inevitable. At six o’clock the guards came. They entered our house and left within a half-hour. From where I stood I could see my brothers and parents being led away. The Nazis put the house under seal. All my family was standing in the courtyard. My late mother went for the last time to the stables where we used to keep three cows. She gave some fodder to the animals. Then she rejoined the rest of the family who were in the courtyard watched over by armed guards.

Then the guards took my parents and the rest of the family away to the military barracks. They did not show the slightest consideration to my parents who were old and ill.

That day I became an orphan.

I remained in hiding in the garden. My heart was heavy from sorrow. Disturbed in the extreme I simply did not know where to turn. Should I give myself up? What was now that I was to become, left entirely on my own?

It was impossible to stay in our garden any longer. It was too easy for anyone to detect my presence, and so I left the garden furtively only to return that same night at about ten o’clock.

Everything was quiet around the house. I broke the seal on the door and stepped in. I found my overcoat and was ready to leave again when our tenant, to whom we leased one storeroom, realized that someone was inside the house. — Who is it? He asked. I changed my voice and said just one word: Gendarmes. There was no further exchange between us and everything went silent. I took some more clothing from my room and left quietly.

At midnight I set out for my former hiding place in the straw stack. When I reached the place I found my nephew who remained hiding in the stack all this time.

He was very impatient to learn what happened. No sooner had I told him what occurred when he fainted. He came to however, and I pushed him out of the stack to breathe some fresh air. At three o’clock in the morning he even went to the shore of Ondava River to get fresh water for us. We were exhausted and desperate, for it was none too wise to stay in the stack any longer. An escape to Hungary, which we discussed thoroughly, seemed too problematic since it involved the added risk of falling into the hands of the border patrols. The surveillance on the borders was growing better every day, and so on the evening of the next day we headed for town.

The purpose was to get our own alcohol heater. When we came to the town we had a sudden change of mind and we decided to try spending the night in our family home. The night was very dark. We approached our house. Everything was silent but for the barking of a dog. Nothing suspicious in the courtyard. We knew that the doors were locked and sealed and that the gendarmes were supposed to stand guard over confiscated Jewish houses. But we knew also that this surveillance was far from perfect or efficient. The gendarmes saw to it that there would be enough sloppiness as to make it possible for the gendarmes themselves to rob these houses at night. In addition, the recently promulgated decree ordering the entire population to stay away from the streets after 8 p.m. under the penalty of loot sequestrated Jewish homes undetected.

We made our way into our house: I pried the seal open again, entered my own room and searched for the heater. All of a sudden I heard someone entering the front room. Sure enough, they were gendarmes. Two of them. They entered through the window and hastily whispered to each other. In a split of a second I ducked under the bed, breathless. I heard them whispering: “Let’s get it quick!”

First, they took the candlesticks, then my sister’s coat and lingerie, and a lot of other things. They piled everything into two trunks and were ready to leave. Shaky and holding my breath, I thought this was the end of me. But they left without noticing my presence or my nephew who stayed outside on the lookout.

I learned afterwards that in the afternoon of the very same day all Jews were taken away from Trebisov’s military garrison and shipped in boxcars to Zilina, and from there to Poland. Part of them was sent to Majdenek while others were shipped to Lublin. None but four families were spared the ordeal. They were so-called Presidential exceptions, the term used for those who were spared on explicit orders of Tiso, the President of the Republic. In this particular case all four were families of dentists.

The clandestine raid of the gendarmes on our house caused us to change our minds again. It was obvious that we could not have waited in the house. We went back to our straw stack, taking the heater with us.

We remained there, inside the stack, for two crucial weeks. The heat inside was unbearable. During the day it was impossible to go out of hiding. At night we crawled out to get fresh air and replenish our supply of water. The heat inside the straw stack was so intense that the water warmed up to point where it was almost possible to cook dough in it.

Then the day May 16, 1942 arrived. From our hiding we saw a peasant cart approaching. As it developed, a neighborhood petty farmer came, with three other men to pick up some straw. The stack did not belong to him. He merely borrowed a load of straw from the owner who did not have the slightest idea about us hiding in his straw stack. The stack itself was located some six miles from the town of Trebisov.

Neither did the Ruthenian farmer who came to pick up the straw know about us being inside the stack. As he searched for a better quality straw and started digging deeper he spotted our hiding place, and started to investigate. I stuck my head out. Taken aback, he asked what we were doing there. I explained why we were there to which they all replied that, in truth, they knew we were hiding in the stack. We then gave each man five hundred crowns (worth then about twenty-five dollars), and begged them not to betray us to the authorities.

They promised that they would not say a word to anyone, accepted the money, and assured us that we would not have to worry about it anymore. Then they piled the vehicle high with straw and left.

We went back to our hole, nervous and frankly worried as to whether those people could be trusted. We decided right then that we must flee that evening. I actually wanted to leave immediately but was unable to move so tired and exhausted was I. I dozed off for a spell while my nephew was trying to read a book in the twilight.

At six o’clock that same evening I suddenly felt that someone on the outside was working feverishly, making his way through the mass of straw to our hiding place.

In a moment we saw men, armed with pitchforks and guns. They immediately ordered us to come out, hands up, and to hand them over our money. They brought two more men with them, all of them from Trebisov. As I learned much later, their names were as follows: Juraj Rusnak, Michal Tudna, Geyza Stanislavsky, Ladislav Hurcik, and few others.

We did not see at once that they were six in number. Two men were hiding behind the stack. As they shouted to us, I quickly grabbed one man, wrestled the pitchfork away from him, hit him hard and started to run away. The two other men, who were hiding all this time behind the straw stack, run after me, firing from their pistols. Fortunately, they missed me, and I out-distanced them rapidly. I stopped running, wondering what was to become of the young boy who was with me. We agreed previously that in the event one of us was captured, the other must give himself up, so that we would be together, come what may. And so I decided to walk back to the straw stack.

As I approached I saw that they had disrobed my nephew completely, looking for money. Of course, they did not find anything on him, since we did not have any money with us at all after we gave them previously all we had. The man I hit earlier in the scuffle jumped at once to me and hit me with the pitchfork so hard that I fainted.

They disrobed me too, completely. They did not find any money on me. They then ordered us to come along with them to the town. On the way we begged them to give us a drink of water. They told us scornfully that we will no longer need any water, and that shall not live long anyway.

However, one of these Nazi thieves did not give up trying to extort money from us by promising us that he would let us go if we could produce a substantial amount of money in cash.

I asked how much they would want, and he said twenty thousand crowns. I told him that I did not have any money on me, but that, perhaps, I would be able to raise some cash in town.

My foremost thought was to escape, although I realized that this was very difficult on account of my young nephew. There was nothing left for me but to continue bartering with my captors.

I promised that I would produce five thousand crowns, but they would not listen to anything else but the full amount demanded.

It should be pointed out that for this amount it was possible to build, at that time, a new solid one-family house.

I kept pleading with them and promised them that I would try to raise 5000 crowns among my acquaintances in Trebisov.

Two of the gangsters, Juraj Rusnak and Michael Trudna, who seemed to be the leaders, would not hear at all of my offer. As we were nearing the town, I agreed, in desperation, to what they demanded. I asked that three of them stay with my nephew while I was to go with Rusnak and Tudna to town.

We came into a house of one of my acquaintances, a liberal-minded farmer’s family, where I previously deposited some money for safekeeping in those troubled times.

I explained what happened and what we came for. The farmer asked first what happened to my nephew, and advised me not to give anything to those gangsters; he pointed out, in the presence of my captors, that the situation on the fronts was worsening for the Germans, and that our suffering might soon end.

When my captors, small-time Nazi thieves and profiteers, heard what the farmer so outspokenly said, they did not want to stay in the house any longer. The farmer gave them the money. I asked him whether he would be so kind as to go along with my captors and see that my nephew was released. My captors did not want to hear about this and replied that they would release us both as soon as we reach the place where my nephew and his three captors were.

While on our way back the two leaders of the gang asked me not to tell the rest of the gang that they had received all of the twenty thousand demanded. They enjoined me to say that I gave them only 15,000 crowns. I agreed to this.

When we came to the appointed place, I asked them to release my nephew at once, and to let us go. Instead of letting us go they grabbed us by our hands, and said: You gave us the money, but we shall not release you. We shall turn you over to the gendarmes. You will then be sent to Poland, and should you come back, we shall give you back your money. We advise you not to brag about having given us any money. Otherwise we shall report this to the Hlinka Guards and they will confiscate all your property. We also would denounce your farmer friend, and tell the authorities that you are collaborating with the anti-Nazi underground.

Not wishing to endanger my farmer friend, I kept silent. They took us to police headquarters. In the morning we were called for interrogation. We explained what happened. The police asked us whether we had given any money to our captors. I said that we did not. Then the police left us alone. We were incarcerated there three weeks, until enough prisoners were gathered to be sent, in a group of 100 persons, to a concentration camp.

While imprisoned in the police station I met a charwoman I knew. She was employed by the police to bring food to the prisoners. I implored her to bring me a file, or to put a file into a loaf of bread, so that I could escape by sawing off the prison’s bars. She replied that she couldn’t possibly do so, since it would have been easy to ascertain who had helped me. So I dropped the whole idea of escaping from the prison and I decided to wait until we were on the train on our way to the concentration camp.

On May 28, 1942 they sent out a big transport from our prison. I was in that transport. We were about 106 in number. Twenty gendarmes were assigned to guard us.

While in prison I made acquaintance with a young man, and we decided to escape together. We were at the railroad station. In the crowd I spotted the wife of a farmer I knew. She was on her way to market with a basket of eggs. I bought about a hundred eggs from her and a loaf of bread.

We boarded the train. The gendarmes were with us and watched us carefully. When we approached the main station in the town of Kosice, I found myself a place near the window. As we came closer I started throwing eggs into the crowd. People thought I was throwing hand grenades on them, or something. Everybody started to run. In the ensuing confusion I went to a washroom in the back of the car, and jumped out from the window.

I landed squarely and found that I was in a patch of cultivated land. I remained there for about fifteen minutes, thinking that I had broken my leg. Then I pulled myself together and set out for town.

I wandered around the town for about two days. Then the police caught up with me. They arrested me again and sent me to a frontier town where they turned me over to a border patrol. Two hours later, I was a free man again. I escaped.

I set out for the town of Presov. There I met a few Jewish families and acquaintances. They, too, were to report for deportation. So I left in a hurry.

Within an hour after I left Presov the gendarmes and the police were on my trail again. I set out at once for the town of Spiska Nova Ves. Again, the police surprised me on my way, and asked for my papers. Not having any, I was re-arrested.

My story was checked and I was sent again to Zilina where I found the deportees with whom I was originally shipped from Trebisov. The police investigated my case thoroughly, and beat me. A police inspector named Vaska was especially brutal during this investigation. He met his death after the war having been condemned by a Peoples’ Court to be hanged for war crimes.

They kept us all in the Zilina camp for a couple of days, waiting until sufficient number of prisoners was gathered to make a convoy. We were herded inside barbed wire enclosure and guarded by a special detachment of the Hlinka Guard in black uniforms.

For supper they used to give us raw sauerkraut, but nothing else. In the morning, a cup of lukewarm ersatz “coffee”.

I kept thinking of the camp in Poland. What would they be like, comparing the treatment we were getting in our own country.

The local press of course tried to paint a rosy picture as to the situation in Polish camps. Imagine, they, the imprisoned Jews, even enjoy some kind of autonomy inside these fine camps!

I could picture the kind of “autonomy” the Jews presumably “enjoyed” in Polish camps. It sufficed to observe what was going on in our own camp in Zilina.

When a transport came the old and ill men and women were thrown out of the boxcars as that they were animals. Many broke their legs or ribs. These unfortunates were then put on stretchers. Red Cross people took them to an infirmary. A few days later the guards kicked them out of the infirmary, fever or no fever.

Every inmate in the camp received a serial number. I noticed that some prisoners carried special white armbands. They were the orderlies. Usually, they were the last ones to be shipped to a death camp. I tried to get possession of such an armband.

One morning while I was arguing with one of the orderlies, a Nazi guard came by. He heard me telling the orderly that I felt ill and was unable to work. The guard immediately took my number down and ordered me to report to the office at noon.

I knew it means a severe beating for me. By sheer luck, I had two serial numbers with me. One belonged to a woman inmate. When I did not report as ordered, the guard set out looking for the holder of the number. He finally learned that he had been fooled and searched for me everywhere.

In the meantime I remained in hiding. I told my fellow prisoners that I intended to escape that very same night. The cautioned me against such action, and asserted that I would be shot while attempting to escape. Not one attempt to escape from this camp had ever met with success they told me.

I tried to induce another nephew of mine, who was with me in the camp, to try to escape with me. He refused.

In desperation, I remained in the camp for two more days.

On the eve of another big convoy to Poland, I escaped, not without being shot at by the guards. They missed me. A few moments after I was in town, Nazi guards were everywhere asking for identification papers. I soon reached the railroad station. I turned around, stepped casually forward along the rails, and posted myself at a safe distance, on the outside of the track, waiting for the train to move.

Eluding the guards and the crowds I jumped aboard while the train was gathering speed.

For a couple of tense moments, I tried to orientate myself. Then, finding that there were no policemen or gendarmes on the train, I fell asleep.

After half way between Zilina and Kosice someone waked me. It was a gendarme. He asked me for my identification papers. I pretended that I was very sleepy and showed him an old social security card which stated that I was working on the railroad. Casually, I explained that I was going home from work and asked him not to bother me. He let it go at that.

Finally, I reached the town of Hanusovce, near Kosice. I stayed there a week in hiding, until hey again caught me.

I experienced the same old routine. Only this time I did not reveal my real name. Back to Zilina again.

By pure chance there was no one in the record room when the gendarmes brought me into camp, but an old inmate, acquaintance of mine. I gave him a false name.

The very next day I was put on a train, with hundreds of other prisoners. Destination: Poland: my hope: a smuggled-in knife.

Each car was jammed to capacity. People began to suffocate from lack of air.

As the train approached the border between Slovakia and Poland, I finally succeeded in trying open a window.

Without losing any time I jumped out from the speeding train. A few others followed me, until the guards became aware of what was going on. They fired from their pistols, but did not order the train be stopped.

I remained in hiding in a field for a couple of hours. In the evening I set out by foot for my native town.

After several days of tribulations, I finally reached the town of Hanusovec, a distance of several miles from my hometown. I stayed there for two weeks.

Bitter experience and past sufferings taught me to try a new angle. From Hanusovce, I sent a messenger to my hometown Trebisov, requesting a member of a respected Christian family from Trebisov to come to see me. The man came. He was very surprised indeed, since he was led to believe that I was in Poland for many months already.

I asked the man whether he would be kind enough to institute a procedure whereby his family would be allowed to take over the possession of our house. It was a difficult and lengthy procedure but finally he succeeded in convincing the authorities of his good faith.

As soon as they let me know that they had moved into our house and that they made arrangements for me to hide inside the house, I moved in too. We dug a hole under the table, put a carpet over it and camouflaged everything very expertly.

I remained there for many months, and came out only at night since the gendarmes came searching for me on several occasions. As a matter of fact, they kept searching for me constantly for about a month. Then they gave up.

It was at that time I found out more about the fate of those Jews who were deported to Poland.

I found out especially that my parents and brothers-in-law were led to believe that I was shot during one of my attempts to escape from a deportation train.

I sent them a letter under an assumed name through the Jewish agency in Bratislava which was still operating at that time. I also succeeded in forwarding five hundred crowns to my parents.

The receipt of said money was acknowledged in my father’s own handwriting. This was to be the last letter I received from my parents before they died. They wrote:

“Dear son, the reading of your letter meant a new lease on life for us. Send us some old things, but no money. May God protect you wherever you are. Gruenfeld and Katz died from illness.

In September 1942 news leaked from Poland that the Nazis began to use gas chambers for the purpose of murdering older inmates of concentration camps. In October of the same year, my parents succumbed to this ordeal.

The year of 1942 was a tragic year not only for myself but for all Jewish people in Slovakia.

Hitler was at the gates of Stalingrad. It was then that I began to think of suicide since I thought I was not able to endure this trial any longer.

Some people were saying that the war might last for at least four more years. The farmer’s family with which I lived in our house and was taking care of me all this time tried to convince me that it was imperative for me to hold out a bit longer, and assured me that the war would soon end. They undoubtedly were in fear that I might be discovered whether dead or alive and that they would be punished by ten years of imprisonment for hiding a Jewish person in their household.

During the day they stayed out working in the fields, and in the evenings they gave me food. And so I remained in hiding there from June 1942 to December 6, 1944, the day of liberation of my hometown by the Russians.

Throughout all this period of two and a half years of hiding I had never seen the sun once. I felt ill and discouraged until the time when the Nazis took their beating at Stalingrad in the Winter of 1943. I read the accounts, however scared, of what happened on the fronts, and I made my mind that I must hold out, although I was very ill and ate very little. I was often desperate reading of Hitler’s boasts of some new arms which would win the war for him.

However, in the first days of June 1944, I heard something about the partisan movement in Slovakia against the Nazis, I knew the people of our town and was informed as to their opinions about the war and their attitude in political matters. It was during this period that I sent several letters using assumed names, to the most rabid of local pro-Nazis. The purpose of these letters was to deter them from any possible further action against the partisans and the democrats in general.

It was also at this time that I got in direct touch with the anti-Nazis partisans themselves through the intermediary of a Jewish doctor named Gyarfas, incidentally the only Jewish doctor who was permitted to continue practice in my hometown (Trebisov).

A partisan liaison contacted him, and through Dr. Gyarfas I, too, gave some money to the partisans.

Later on, this same liaison man came to see me in my hiding place, on information given to him by Dr. Gyarfas. It wasn’t until then that I found out that the liaison man was no one else but my former schoolmate named Deutch. We had not seen each other for over six years.

This man’s job was to seek contacts with those officials of the regime who would be willing to provide the partisans with false identity cards. To this effect, Deutch and I contacted another of my former schoolmates, a man named Sokolov.

I had lost track of Sokolov since we left school and I was not sure at all as to his political convictions. When he saw me at night he became very frightened since he believed I was long dead. Nonetheless, he promised to co-operate with us, however it was necessary to threaten him with reprisals in case of non-cooperation.

This man, to our great satisfaction and astonishment, brought us the very next night ten identity cards, blank ones bearing all necessary seals. Deutch then went away and I took over the leadership of the partisan movement in the vicinity of my hometown.

Sometime later we joined another group of partisans, and after two weeks we took to the mountains where we joined a large group known under the name of Tchapayev partisan group. We engaged the Germans in fight several times, blowing up bridges and holding up Nazi transports.

On December 4, 1944 the oncoming Russian armies liberated our district and I then enlisted in the regular Czechoslovak Army where I served until the end of the war.

Click for more information on THE HOLOCAUST IN SLOVAKIA

And finally, this letter from the publisher, Lyle Stewart, asking Kirschbaum some very hard questions. We do not know if he ever responded.