by Brackett Lewis

American Friends of Czechoslovakia
New York, New York 1941


Written in 1941, this chapter should be read from the perspective of pre World War II America.

"As a Slovak by origin and Tradition, my feelings are Slovak, and I have alway worked, nor merely talked, for Slovakia."

T. G. Masaryk

Although the two eastern Provinces of Czechoslovakia are of different languages and predominant religions, there is a reason for treating them in one chapter. Their history from the Magyar conquest in the Xth Century, and their political and cultural oppression under Hungary until 1918 were very similar.

The Slovaks are closely related to the Czechs by race and language, their tongues being readily understood mutually. In fact the Slovaks were dependent on Czech literature through the centuries while they had no literature of their own; for instance they used the Czech translation of the Bible until recent years. Up to 1850 Slovak authors such as Kollar wrote and published in the Czech language. The Ruthenians are a branch of the Ukrainian race, some of them speaking Ukrainian, some Russian, and some local dialects.

During the 1,000 years of Magyar domination the two people were among the most suppressed in Europe, tenaciously denied education or politicai life. Before 1918 there were only 429 primary schools where Slovak was taught and 47 with Ruthenian, as against nearly 4,000 Hungarian schools in the area. No town grammar schools, high-schools, commercial, technical or agricultural schools were taught in their native languages. There was no provision for training teachers in Slovak or Ruthenian, much less any university work. No education above the fourth grade was provided in their own language for 1,694,000 Slovaks, 433,000 Ruthenes and 260,900 Germans in the two provinces, according to Hungarian statistics (2,044,300 Slovaks, 464,000 Ruthenes, 156,600 Germans and 155,100 Jews, according to the Czechoslovak census of 1921).

Any one who wished an education had to take it in Hungarian, under the magyarization laws very strictly enforced. Slovakia and Ruthenia were exploited as backward colonial territories, a free field for Hungarian land-owners, officials, and professional men. Thus we are astounded to learn from the Hungarian census of 1910 that the intellectual class of the 2,000,000 Slovaks consisted of 1,488 persons. Exactly nine Slovaks were authors, artists and journalists, 82 lawyers, 68 law clerks, 26 physicians, 21 pharmacists, 2 graduate engineers, 410 teachers, 349 clergymen, 73 chaplains, 29 nuns. There was not a single Slovak judge, exactly 138 Slovak municipal and public officials.

At the other end of the scale, illiteracy was staggering, being 39%, of the population of Slovakia -- ranging from 20% in the cities to 51.4% in Sarys and 53.6% in Zemplin district. Illiteracy in Ruthenia was given by the last Hungarian census as 66% of the population - 80% in the three easternmost districts.

Ruthenia had few industries beside lumbering, as forests covered 49% of the area. The tenants of the hunting estates of Hungarian nobles lived in miserable huts with earth floors, no glass windows. They were filled with smoke, as a chimney was a rarity in Ruthenian villages until after 1918.

The economic development of Slovakia was higher, but only 288,000 Persons were employed in industry (110,000 of them Slovaks). 20,500 of them were employed in restaurants and cafes, but only 1,230 in the printing trades in the whole province in 1910. There were only 2,500 miles of railway and 1,320 miles of state highway. It is not surprising that under these circumstances one-tenth of the Slovaks and Ruthenians had fled from these conditions by emigrating to the United States.

Nor is it surprising that when the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in 1918 both Slovaks and Ruthenians voted to join with the Czechs in the new Czechoslovak Republic. The first steps were taken by the Slovaks in America in a conference in Pittsburgh in June 1918, and by Ruthenians in a conference in Scranton in November 1918, Two days after the country was declared independent in Prague, representatives of all Slovak parties and organizations met in Turcansky St. Martin and voted adhesion to the Republic on October 30, 1918. It was not so simple in Ruthenia, for there were four national councils in the tiny area, and one of them declared itself an independent republic. The majority, however, finally asked the Paris Peace Conference for inclusion in Czechoslovakia on the basis of local autonomy. This was a little incongruous, as the most backward province of the Republic was promised greater rights than the most progressive. Actually, twenty years proved an insufficient term to develop this autonomy for a people with little education and no political experience.

Both Slovakia and Ruthenia were fully and proportionally represented in the Parliament in Prague. All provincial and county presidents were Slovaks and Ruthenes from the beginning. Provincial boards and town councils were elected in proportion to the local population. There were complaints about the number of Czechs in appointive offices and as teachers, but the number was reduced rapidly as Slovaks and Ruthenes received an education in their own languages.

The achievements in democratic government, land reform, building of schools and pubiic works, social legislation, the press, literature and theatre under the Republic were simply stupendous. Experimental farms, inspection of cattle, dairies, seed and improved agriculture all helped improve living conditions of the peasantry, as did wide-spread credit cooperatives and martketing organizations.

The Slovaks received 3,348 new schools and the Germans 117 Primary and three high-schools. The Slovaks received 83 agricultural and technical schools, 14 normal schools, 40 high-schools and a university--none of which existed before 1918. In a short twenty years they have trained a hundred thousand people for the professions and public office-an educated class which they were never permitted to have before.

Before 1918 there were only 61 communities in Slovakia supplied with electric current; ten years later there were 280.

The consumption of electricity in Slovakia increased 6004b in twenty years.

There were 400 kilometers of new railway line in 1938 and 700 kilometers of state highways. 100,000 new homes had been built. The Slovak press had increased from one daily and 32 other periodicals to nine dailies and 280 periodicals.

There was one Slovak public library under Hungary, 3,106 in 1338. 1,503,000 acres of farm land had been transferred to the ownership of over 200,000 families under the land reform of the Republic. Slovak cities increased greatly in population, Bratislava from 70,000 in 1918 to 150,000 in 1938. The public services and conveniences in Slovak cities improved even more remarkably than their size.

Tax income in Slovakia and Ruthenia was never sufficient to cover the cost of administration, let alone Public investments. The taxes of Slovakia provided barely 10% of the budget of the Republic, whereas 20% of all state expenditures went into Slovakia, an excess of expenditures which was $7,500,000 in 1333 for instance. The State invested $330,000,000 in public works in Slovakia during 20 years - a very considerable gift by the Republic to this three million of its population.

It is well known that none of the Slovak leaders wished to secede from the Republic before March 1939, with the exception of Dr. Bela Tuka. He had been educated in Hungary, was a fanatic magyarone, and was convicted of treason in 1929 and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for accepting Hungarian money to lead a separatist movement.

When the Nazis decided to occupy Czechoslovakia completely, they had little time for a propaganda and terrorist campaign, as in the Sudete. They simply bought a small group of secessionists for a short campaign and then threatened through Msgr. Tiso to shell Bratislava from the other side of the Danube if the Slovak Diet did not vote to secede on March 14, 1939. This left Ruthenia severed from the Republic, and Hungary annexed the province.

As soon as salaries and state expenditures from Prague were cut off by secession, when Czech banks recalled the large deposits they had maintained to bolster Slovak banks, and when Czech investors began withdrawing their loans, Slovakia faced a serious crisis. These effects had apparently not been foreseen by the inexperienced puppets of the Nazis, and Slovakia has subsequently fallen entirely under the German yoke, both economically and politically.

The new masters immediately seized the grain reserves in Slovakia, much of the railway rolling-stock, coal and oil supplies, even the funds of the health and accident insurance associations, labor unions and various organitations on flimsy pretexts. The Slovaks have, of course, been disappointed with the results of their "aryanization" after the Natzi pattern.

Businesses, property and professional practices from which Jews and Czechs have been debarred were immediately seized upon by Germans, supported by the weight of Nazi force. The local German minority of 128,000 (after the partition of November 1338), backed by the German army of occupation, dominate Slovakia almost at will. If orders or "advice" by their leader Karmasin are not obeyed by the Bratislava Government, the German Minister quickly secures obedience. Nazi decisions govern in public appointments and Cabinet changes, in fiscal and industrial policy, in public works and investments, in education and cultural life. Siovak exports and imports operate under German quotas. The Slovak army and police are officered by Germans.

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