Like Yugoslavia and Hungary, Czechoslovakia was a political entity created at the end of World War I, a so-call Versailles state. It included the Czech provinces of Bohemia, Moravia and Slovakia. Despite its multinational population and conflicted relations with neighboring countries, all of which coveted its territory, Czechoslovakia remained a functioning parliamentary democracy until 1938. On September 29, 1938, Hitler, Mussolini, Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain and Edouard Daladier of France signed the Munich Pact, which permitted Nazi Germany to annex the German-speaking Sudetenland, part of Czechoslovakia. The Pact was another unsuccessful attempt by Britain and France to appease Hitler. Six months later, on March 15, 1939, Germany, in flagrant violation of the Munich Pact, invaded and occupied the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia. A partitioned Czechoslovakia was then swallowed up by the Greater Third Reich.
Fascist Priest Heads Slovakia
Slovakia became an “independent” fascist state headed by a Roman Catholic priest, Fr. Jozef Tiso, photo supra, whose followers established, as in Croatia under Ante Pavelic and in Hungary under Ferenc Szálasi , a one-party dictatorship, strongly aligned and supported by the separatist/nationalist Slovakian Roman Catholic hierarchy, and closely allied with Nazi Germany. The ruling party was the Slovak People’s Party. Fr. Tiso’s Slovakia, like Ante Pavelic’s Croatia and Ferenc Szálasi’s Hungary, participated in the Holocaust, with Jews targeted as enemies of the state. Anti-Jewish laws were passed patterned after the Nuremburg Laws of 1935. As in other occupied European countries, transport to death camps became state policy, but, in addition, Tiso’s regime agreed to pay five hundred Reichsmarks to the Third Reich for every Jew deported.
Tiso continued his anti-Jewish policy despite several protests from the Vatican. The apostolic legate to Bratislava protested personally to Tiso, appealing to his “feelings as a priest of the Catholic faith.” That a priest headed the government and that priests held leadership positions in it, no doubt, encouraged the local faithful to believe that the Slovak Catholic Church had given its imprimatur to eliminationist Nazi anti-Semitism. Fr. Tiso, however, did attempt to protect some Jewish converts to Catholicism by issuing approximately 1,100 exemptions from deportation, mainly however, to wealthy Jews.
For his involvement in the Holocaust, Fr. Jozef Tiso, fascist dictator of Slovakia, was hanged as a war criminal after the war. Tiso had claimed that it was “a ‘Christian’ act to expel Jews so that Slovakia could free itself of ‘its pests.’” Monsignor Domenico Tardini, an undersecretary in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, aware of the situation in Slovakia, in an internal Vatican memo dated April 7, 1943, warned, that if the Vatican failed to disassociate itself from the mass murder taking place in Slovakia, it might not be able to avoid being blamed for it at the war’s end.
First reports of the murder of Jews in Slovakia reached the Vatican by late 1941. In March, 1942, Pope Pius XII was asked to intervene to stop deportations, but he declined. The Allies entreated the Pope to condemn publicly atrocities taking place in Slovakia. The Vatican did finally issue a protest statement, but limited itself to cautionary language that generally decried the horrors of war. Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, author of “Hitler’s Willing Executioners,” terms Slovakia and Croatia the “most striking cases of Catholic bishops and priests lending a hand to mass murder.” Goldhagen wrote:
“A priest was the country’s president. An avowedly Catholic party governed the country, seeking to mold it according to Catholic principles. Many priests served in the country’s legislature, which voted, as did all its legislator priests, to deport the country’s Jews to their deaths. The Slovakian clergy, like other clergy, were under the discipline of the Pope. He had absolute authority over them. He could have commanded them to desist from acting in ways that violated the Church’s doctrine and practices. Yet he did not command them not to deport their country’s Jews to their deaths.”
Fr. Tiso was not excommunicated. John Morley, author of “Vatican Diplomacy and the Jews during the Holocaust 1939-1945,” lamenting Tiso’s non- excommunication, wrote:
“Vatican diplomacy…was content to limit itself to the narrow confines of strictly Catholic (institutional) interests, and an opportunity for a great moral and humanitarian gesture was lost.” Sadly, no Catholic war criminal, including Hitler himself, was ever excommunicated.