Jewish Resistance Against Nazism During the Second World War in Slovakia
By Dr. Benjamin Eichler, Toronto, 1979
(Cherie Korer-Humenne Webmaster- June 10, 2002)
In the following lines I want to try to describe my observations of Jewish resistance against the deportation of Jews and their fighting against Nazism. I am a survivor of this terrible historical period. Slovakia was until the year 1938-1939 an integral part of Czechoslovakia which was founded in the year 1918. Before that time Slovakia was part of Hungary in the Hungarian-Austrian Monarchy. The Jewish population of Slovakia was about 140,000. After Munich (Chamberlain-Hitler) pact in 1938 Hitler invaded and occupied the Sudets (Sudetenland) and in the following year 1939 he was responsible that Czechoslovakia ceased to exist as a country. Bohemia and Moravia was transformed into a Protectorate completely controlled by the German occupants. The southern part of Slovakia was annexed by Hungary. The rest of the country was turned into a new republic called "Slovakia-Slovensky stat. Without Hitler's direct participation the Slovak Republic would have never been created as a separate entity. Hitler helped the Slovak political minority (the Autonomists) to get into power. The government was "gracefully" willing and ready to contribute to Hitler's efforts to conquer other Slovanian states and to enslave their inhabitants. With the same enthusiasm they agreed to deliver the Jews to the German Nazi murderers . All this happened in spite and possible because of the fact the President of the Slovak State was a Roman Catholic priest (Dr. Josef Tiso). All the future events happened with the knowledge of the Vatican. The Pope never protested strongly enough or never considered getting rid of such a "servant" of G-d and "church".
Perhaps the Vatican was also under hard pressure of the Nazis and could not act otherwise? This question should be profoundly researched by responsible historians.
Already in 1939 began the prohibition and expulsion of Jews from certain positions, professions and jobs which culminated in 1941 by issuing the Jewish Code (Judenkodex) a law, which exceeded the brutality of the German laws of Nurnberg (Nurenberger Gesetze). The law was so clear that only a naïve person would not recognize, that its final objective has been a complete deprivation of all human rights and consequently an expulsion of Jews from Slovakia. The Jews themselves believed that the final aim of the law is of their manpower exploitation, deprivation of their property and dislocation of Jews into other territory. See a challenge of the lst issue of the Jewish calendar-almanac-1940. Therefore many preferred to join voluntarily labor camps in Slovakia with a hope to survive even if as slaves. The reality was that those preparing extermination of Jews found a gathered mass of people easy to deport to any destination. In order to miss lead Jewish population the Germans conducted a sophisticated camouflage propaganda. They wanted to play noble people. They were talking about a warhelp of youth in Germany (Reich) where there was no persecution of Jews. They spread false news when crossing the border a transport of Jews from Slovakia to Germany that they accepted. To protect them from persecution in Slovakia the slogans repeated everywhere were: Arbeit und Schutz (Work and protection) and Arbeit macht frei (work liberates). The parents of deported youth often demanded a reunion with their children. The Slovak authorities met this demand with pleasure calling it "humanistic gesture". Later some postcards from Auschwitz and other death camps from threatened prisoners having temporarily survived demanded food parcels to be sent to the camps. All this served to miss lead the naïve Jewish population in order to cover up the horrible mass murders committed in the camps on a regular basis.
That time neither the Jews nor the western information centers would believe that the Germans known as traditionally a high cultural level were mass murderers of innocent people. The sophisticated propaganda machine worked perfectly. Under such conditions and a total cooperation of Slovak authorities with the German occupants, organizing a Jewish resistance against the government was almost unthinkable and out of the question. The only and very late opportunity for an armed resistance was the Slovak National Uprising 1944 or and a flight to USSR to join the Czechoslovak army led by General Svoboda. A high percentage of that army consisted of Jews. In the Protectorates of Bohemia and Moravia the deportation of Jews was performed by the German occupants themselves. In Slovakia the concentration and deportation of Jews was organized by Slovak Nationals in cooperation with Germans. As a reward Hitler promised to create an example Slovak State in his New European Order (Neuordnung). But his real intentions were to create this "exceptional state" only temporarily. The Supermen (Ubermenschen) would not share his power with anybody. The subjugated nations were determined to serve them like slaves before their own extermination or absorption of racially acceptable species. There were European countries which refused to expel their Jews in spite of Hitler's political pressure e.g. Rumania, Bulgaria, and until 1944 also Hungary.
I like to emphasize that generally taken the majority of Slovak people wouldn't agree with a deportation and extermination of the Jewish citizens if they knew this was the real intention of both Slovak and German governments. Many Slovak citizens helped the Jews to hide, escape or fight for reasons of supporting resistance against German and/or fascist rule, rule of a Catholic fascist party, a Catholic priest as the president and a Catholic militia (Hlinka Guards) performing the deportations (equivalent to German SA units). Many Protestants simply did not like and actively resisted a Catholic government and state. The common terror applied upon the Slovak population by German occupants and Slovak Nazi government was hard.
What was the actual reason to annihilate the Jews in Europe on the territories occupied by the German army? I think it seemed to be:
The Slovak Parliament accepted a bill (may 1942) unanimously deciding the deportation of the Jews. It may be interesting to note that the only voice (vote) disagreeing came from the representative of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia (Eszterhazy).
After this introduction I would like to describe several (many) cases of individual heroism of Jews and non Jews who resisted and helped the Jews by risking their personal freedom and even life. I collected this material in Slovakia before my emigration to Canada in 1972. Compared with the Jewish masses in Poland, Hungary, Austria, etc., Slovak Jewish resistance was organized on a high level and was relatively large.
To understand the heroism of several Christian priests one must remember that the Slovak "Law of deportation of Jews" did not apply to Jews converted to Christianity before 1938. This exception was not respected by the Germans in 1944 and 1945. After they occupied Slovakia militarily, deportation of Jews was then based on German "Nurenberg Law" which did not recognize any religious exceptions because of its strictly racial background (e.g. 1/2 or 1/4 and so on Jewish blood, etc.).
The question remains open how culd several Jews help and rescue (others) from deportation? A great part of (the) Slovak population had anti-German feelings; their efforts were (for) the reunification of Slovaks with (the) Czech people in their common state of Czechoslovakia and among them Jews often found men willing to help. The Slovak-German cooperation in regard (to) deportation had its share but favorite sides for persecuted Jews also. Naturally, money played an important role. However most of the time a rescued Jew (released from transport) was replaced by another (usually a poor) Jew to complete a transport group. The Jewish Centre - Ustredna Zidov the quotator played in some cases a dishonorable role.
Following is a list of men and women, Jews and non Jewish fighters against Nazism and helpers whose names should be remembered. This list is of course not complete. Many unknown heroes whose names perhaps never will be discovered are missing from it. They deserve a graceful recognition too, and should not be forgotten. Only their names will be mentioned. Contact me for Dr. Eichler's full comments.
Now follows a list of active Slovak fighters against the Nazis, something about militarily active resistance of Slovak Jews against the Nazis. The question if often raised why, in view of the widespread evil activity of the Nazis, the Jewish population failed to rise in active struggle against the Nazis? Was it due to cowardice? In some cases, perhaps, but not in the Slovak case. Firstly, the Germans led Jews astray. It was wartime. Jews could not be inserted into ordinary military services to serve with weapons or to services. People meant /1942/ the reality for conducting up, was working for war purposes. Secondly, the narrow cooperation of occupants with domestic hostile Nazi people. How could a minority of less than 4% dispersed in cities and small villages face and attack two enemies, internal and external. However, at propitious moments Jewish resistance was on a high level, particularly in Zilina and vicinity, Banska Bystrica and vicinity, (the) Tatra Mountains, and elsewhere. A great number of Jews fled to the USSR and joined there with the Czechoslovak military formations and fought bravely against the Nazis.
An incomplete list of names of heroes compounded from reliable researches and sources (is) presented here:
Functionaries of this community reported to me that at the battle of (The) Slovak National Uprising about 50 Jews were killed in action and in the battles of (the) Czechoslovak Army Corps in the USSR around 40 Jewish fighters were killed in action. I could explore the following names:
Banovce nad Bebravou:
Reported to me the following Jewish fighters: Stefan Eisler, Dr. Otto Freisz, Eugen Lowy, Julius Lowy, Geza Lowinger, Ladislav Reich, Alfred Marer.
Five of them killed I action/Slovak National Uprising. At the Jewish Cemetery in Banovce nad Bebravou are buried: Stafan Eisler, Dr. Otto Preiss, and Dr. Eugen Lowy They at least rest in a Jewish Cemetery and were not burnt into ashes in Auschwitz.
Another 11 active fighters against Nazism, whose names I was able to explore. Certainly there were more of them. Banovce nad Bebravou was the city where Dr. Josef Tiso/Jemach Shemo/ served previously as a Roman Catholic priest. He did not save even his once Jewish friend with whom he played in his childhood , though as the president of the country he had the legal right to grant exemptions from deportation to death camps. Such kind of priests represented the so called Slovak State with no objections form the Vatican. Dr. Josef Tiso became the president of the Fascist Slovak State and eagerly supported the deportation of Jews from Slovakia. After the war (he was) sentenced to death and execution.
The names of Jewish anti Nazi fighters: Jozef Lerner, teacher and lieutenant, killed in action at village of Bobrovec, where he was buried. Dr. Viktor Gartner fought near a village called Klembark. He survived but died later after the war. Dr. Alexander Schwalb and Otto Schwalb, both fought at Hrinov near Zvolen. Dr. Alexander Schwalb was also the possessor of a military medal, granted to heroes of the Slovak National Uprising by the new government.
Ernest Rosin, was deported in 1942 to Auschwitz, from where he escaped in 1944. Afterwards he fought as a partisan in Slovakia. At present he lives in West Germany. His brother Andrej Rosin fought in the British army in Palestine. He now lives in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Please contact me for the names of freedom fighters from the following towns:
Trencin, Levoca, Topolcany, Kosice, Nitra, Cadca, Zilina (Cherie Korer)
Finally I should mention the three Slovak Jewish partisans who escaped from the death camps in Auschwitz in 1944 under miraculous and incredible conditions. They have thoroughly described the CAMP by drawing exact maps showing the location of the railways leading to the camp, the place and the ways the prisoners were gathered and selected, the gas chambers and the extermination process, including the cremation of millions of murdered bodies. This material was submitted to the representatives of the Vatican in Slovakia and other places. The partisans found out by accident that the Vatican knew well about all the atrocities and decided to do nothing against them. So did the rest of the world. No help came from anywhere!
The names of the three escapees are: Alfred (Lanik) Wetzler, Walter Rosenberg, (Rudolf Vrba )(later professor in Vancouver), and Ernest Rosin (Jan Rohac) who lived in West Germany. The Western Allies and their governments were also well informed about the concentration camps and their purpose. The request to the military to damage the tracks leading to the camps by air raids was never granted. Neither the Russians nor the Allies did anything to damage the camps, their roads or tracks, or the equipment to gas and cremate innocent civilians. This sad fact has never been clearly explained or researched. Many thousands or even hundreds of thousands of innocent lives could have been saved by simply making it more difficult to transport the victims to the camp. This applies particularly to the Hungarian and Southern Slovak Jews exterminated just at the end of the war when the Allies were several miles from the extermination camps but did nothing to slow down or prevent the German attrocities.
Toronto, 1979 Dr. Benjamin Eichler