Jozef Tiso

Monsignor Jozef Tiso Th. D. (October 13, 1887April 18, 1947) was a Slovak politician of the SPP, Roman Catholic priest who became a deputy of the Czechoslovak parliament, a member of the Czechoslovak government, and finally the President of the WWII Slovak Republic from 1939-1945, which was a puppet state of Nazi Germany. After the end of World War II, Tiso was hanged by Czechoslovak authorities.

Early life

Born in Veľká Bytča (Nagybiccse, today's Bytča) to Slovak parents in Austria-Hungary. The Bishop of Nitra (Nyitra) offered Tiso a chance to study for the priesthood, and in 1909, Tiso graduated from the "Pasmaneum" in Vienna. Afterwards he worked as secretary to the Bishop and taught religion at the girls' secondary school in Nitra. Despite accusations by parents of misconduct, he was steadily promoted, and made chaplain in Bánovce nad Bebravou (Trencsénbán), where he continued to speak out against the Hungarians from the pulpit, and in a column in the local newspaper, the Nyitrai Szemle.

When World War I broke out, he served as a chaplain in the Royal Hungarian Army. In 1915 he became the Spiritual Director of the Theological Seminary of Nitra, and a teacher at the Piarist High School in the same town, and when Czechoslovakia became independent upon the dissolution of Austria-Hungary, Tiso joined the Slovak People's Party. From 1921 to 1924 he served as the secretary of the bishop and teacher at the Seminary of Divinity at Nitra. In 1924 he became the dean and parish priest of the town of Bánovce nad Bebravou. After several unsuccessful runs for office, he won a seat in the Czechoslovak Parliament in 1925.

Political ascent

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

Even during his presidency, Tiso continued to work actively as the parish priest of the town of Bánovce nad Bebravou (from 1924 to 1945). From 1925 to 1939 he served as a deputy in the Czechoslovak parliament in Prague, and from 1927 to 1929 as a member of the Czechoslovak government - the Minister of Health and Sports, and 6 October to 28 November 1938 again as Czechoslovak Minister for Slovak Affairs.

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

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

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

Tiso served as the Prime Minister of independent Slovakia from March 14 1939 until October 26, 1939. On October 26 he became President of Slovakia (separate from the Prime Ministerial office). On October 1 1939 he officially became the president of the Slovak People's Party. According to the pro-Nazi nationalist fashion, from 1942 he was self-styled Vodca "Leader", an imitation in the national language of Führer (compare in that article).

Policies and demise

The "independence" of Slovakia remained largely illusory in the sense that Slovakia was a German puppet state. The Slovak People's Party functioned as almost the sole legal political organisation in Slovakia. The Party under Tiso's leadership aligned themselves with Nazi policy on anti-Semitic legislation in Slovakia. This was no hard task, given Hlinka's policy of a "Slovakia for the Slovaks", a line vehemently adhered to by Jozef Tiso. The respective main act was the so-called Jewish Code. Under the anti-Semitic Jewish Code, Jews in Slovakia could not own any real estates or luxury goods, were excluded from public jobs and free occupations, could not participate in sport or cultural events, were excluded from secondary schools and universities, and were required to wear the star of David in public. Tiso himself - like many people in Central Europe at that time - had definite anti-Semitic views (as some of his own letters from the end of World War II suggest). In general, opinions differ widely on his role in the Jewish deportations from Slovakia, but it is known that he adhered to the Nazi line to a considerable extent. Some sources prefer the view that Tiso supported the deportations tacitly; other sources point out that the first deportations had to take place secretly behind his back due to his "personal opposition". As to the then Slovak government, however, documents concerning the holocaust in Slovakia (such as E.Niznansky et al. (eds.), Holokaust na Slovensku, vols. 1-5. Bratislava: NMS/ZNO, 2001-2004) prove that the Slovak government consentingly cooperated with the Nazis and even somewhat helped coordinate the deportations. In fact, Hitler praised the policy concerning the Jews of Slovakia in a meeting with Tiso in the Klassheim Castle in Salzburg (Ostmark) on 22nd April 1942.

The deportations of Jews from Slovakia started in March 1942, but were stopped - despite heavy opposition from Germany, which demanded their resumption - in October 1942 by Slovaks, when it became clear that Nazi Germany had not "only" abused the Slovakian Jews as forced labour workers but had also executed many of them in death camps, and when public protests arose as well as pressure from the Holy See to stop the deportations of Jewish civilians. Slovakia became the first state in the Nazi sphere to stop deportations of Jews, but some 58,000 Jews (75% of Slovak Jewry) had already suffered deportation, mostly to Auschwitz, of whom only a minority survived. Between October 1942 and October 1944, an independent Slovakia even served as a safe last resort for Jews suffering persecution in Nazi-occupied neighbouring countries such as annexed Austria, the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Poland and occupied Ukraine.

Jewish deportations were resumed by German occupation authorities in October 1944 after the Soviet army reached the Slovak border and the Slovak National Uprising took place. As a result of the Uprising and the approach of the Soviet forces, Nazi Germany decided to occupy all of Slovakia and the country lost its independence and saw the deportation of Jews resumed again after two years. During the 1944-1945 German occupation, another 13,500 Jews were deported and 5,000 imprisoned.

Tiso lost power when the Soviet Army conquered the last parts of western Slovakia in April 1945. He faced a charge of "internal treason, treason of the Slovak National Uprising and collaboration with Nazism". On April 15, 1947, the National court (Národný súd) sentenced him to death. President Edvard Beneš declined to grant a reprieve, despite Tiso's popularity among the Slovaks and the threat of a rift between the Czech-dominated government and the Slovak minority. Wearing his clerical outfit, Msgr. Jozef Tiso was hanged in Bratislava on April 18, 1947. The Czech government buried him secretly to avoid having his grave become a shrine.

See also


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