Today I will be talking about a man that is hotly debated, a character that brought the Slovak Republic to its knees in the second world war. Some argue that this man was only performing what he saw was right for his country, some argue that no matter the circumstances, he committed evil and heinous crimes and deserved his fate. Either way, Jozef Tiso was a man that lead the Slovak Republic down it’s windy path.
Jozef Tiso was born in the city of Bytča, a small city in the northwestern part of Slovakia, right next to the Vah river. During that time period, Slovakia was under Hungarian reign, with heavy influence on the region, particularly Tiso. He went to a Hungarian elementary school in the city of Žilina, because the Slovak grammar schools were closed at the time. It was at this point he adopted the name Tiszó József, which is the Hungarian version of his name. He continued his studies, eventually being accepted into the University of Vienna in 1906, he graduated as a Doctor of Theology in 1911.
After studying at University, the infamous Tiso that people know today started to emerge. Tiso was very active in public works, fighting very hard against poverty and the alcoholism problem that was rampant throughout Slovakia. He blamed the Jewish tavern owners for the raising alcoholism, claiming that they were spreading it far beyond a man of Christ ever could. Eventually, Tiso became part of the Nép párt (Catholic People’s Party), which secured his place in history.
In fall of 1918, the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire was inevitable, with the Czechoslovakian state rising up from its ashes. With the country divided into two separate states, it was unsure whether the Czech side or the Slovak side would have control of Nitra, a city where Tiso studied in his youth. On December 8 1918, Jozef Tiso was declared the secretary of the new Slovak National Council by the Hungarian National Council in Nitra, as a way to negotiate with the Czechoslovakian Army. This was Tiso’s first political position, and with it came many responsibilities and opportunities.
Tiso first became part of the Slovak People’s Party in December of 1918, you can read more about the Slovak People’s Party here. Tiso came into the Slovak People’s Party political scene basically unheard of, but with his high level of education and fantastic public speaking skills, he quickly rose in the ranks of the party. Tiso claimed a parliamentary role in the 1925 election, where he would stay in the Czecho-Slovakian parliament in Prague until 1938.
With the threat of war with Germany and Hungary looming over their heads, the Slovak government and people were fearful, and rightfully so. During a eucharistic congress in Budapest, Tiso held a secret conference with Hungarian Foreign Minister Affairs Kálmán Kánya to discuss the possibility of Slovakia becoming a free state under Hungarian rule if the Czechoslovakian government were to cease existing. The negotiations did not go well however, with the Hungarian Minister having more interest in the dissolution of Czechoslovakia, than Slovakia’s plea for help. In August of 1938, Tiso took control of the Slovak People’s Party, after the previous leader Hlinka passed.
This is when things started to get serious: After the Munich Agreement in October of 1938, Germany began taking control of German speaking Czech-Slovakia, or what we know now as the Sudetenland. The Slovak People’s Party recognized that the Czechoslovak government was weakening, and on October 6 1938, declared the Slovak Republic a autonomous state. The very next day, Jozef Tiso became the Prime Minister of the Slovak Autonomous Region.
Coming up to this point in history, Jozef Tiso seems like a respectable politician, looking out for the people of Slovakia. However, on November 4 1938 he made the fateful decision that would bring him down in history as a supporter of the holocaust. He ordered that all Jews without property or citizenship to be deported to the land the Hungary previously annexed. This only lasted three days, however during that time period 7,500 people were deported, including the elderly, pregnant women, and at least 570 people under the age of 15. This was only the beginning of the worst.
Tiso began eventually negotiating with the Germans in hope of a fully autonomous Slovak Republic, one that was independent of Czechoslovakia. However, it was unlikely that it would happen, as the Czech military eventually took hold of the political system and forced Tiso out of office on March 4 1939. Although out of office, he was invited by Hitler to Berlin, to discuss the support of Slovak nationhood. Hitler craftily planted the suggestion that Slovakia declare its independence under protectorate status, which would ensure the countries protection by Germany. Without giving an answer Tiso left Germany and immediately called the Slovak Diet into congregation. On March 14, he informed the Diet about his conversation with Hitler, and it was fully endorsed. From March 14-October 26 Tiso was the Prime Minister of the newly formed Slovak Republic, and on October 26 1939, he became the President of the Slovak Republic.
After a conference held in Salzburg, Austria on 28 July 1940, the Slovak National Socialist Regime was formed, and anti-semitic legislation was put into place in Slovakia. Initially, the Jew Act was put into place which said that a jew could not own property of luxury goods. Jews in Slovakia were also required to wear the star of David in public. Tiso appeared to fully endorse this, as he had anti-semitic writings documented from that time, and in his youth. In a speech in 1942, he justified Slovakia’s anti-semitic legislation.
Slovakia became the first axis power to agree to the German deportation of Jews, and in Feburary of 1942, Slovakia was requested to deport some 20,000 able bodied Jews for labor. It is estimated that roughly 52,000 Jews were deported, mainly to Auschwitz, to their certain doom. However, the Vatican eventually stepped in, which shut down the deportations as a result of Tiso’s Catholicism. However, that did not last long, as in 1944, Tiso ordered the deportation of the remaining Jews, despite the Vatican’s protest.
After the Soviet Army took Slovakia, Tiso fled to Austria, where he was eventually found by the Americans. He was tried and sentenced to death, where he was hung in the capital city of Bratislava. He was secretly buried in Bratislava, only to have his grave moved to Nitra in 2008.
So that is the infamous man, Jozef Tiso. Was he the evil man that history believes him to be, or was in a bad situation at the wrong time? Either way, with his fascist rule over Slovakia, it helped bread what would eventually be crushed by him and the Germans: the Slovak National Uprising. Thank you for reading!