of the 19th Regular Convention
Youngstown, Mahoning County, Ohio
August 5-10, 1946
This biography and history was written in 1946 for the National Slovak Society Convention and should be read with that post-war perspective in mind.
The son of poor Moravian peasants, he was born in the small town of Kozlany on May 28th, 1884, then a Drovince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He obtained his early education in Kozlany. He graduated from the gymnasium at Prague. He was a brilliant student.
His higher studies were pursued at the University of Prague and also at the Sorbonne and Paris and Ecole de Science Politique at Dijon, where he received the degree of Doctor of Laws in -1908. At the University of Prague, Thomas G. Masaryk was one of his professors. This, around the year 1904, was the beginning of a long and happy association between the two men, who, together with Milan R. Stefanik, were destined to be the liberators of the Czech and the Slovak peoples.
He took up journalism for a livelihood and wrote articles for a paper in Prague. With the outbreak of the First World War, he immediately grasped the opportunity to work for the freedom of the Czechs, who had lost their freedom in 1620. Masaryk's ideas were the same, not only for the Czechs, however, but also for the Slovaks -- who had been under the Hungarian yoke for almost a thousand years.
In 1915 he, Masaryk and Stefanik, formed a "Maffia" and began their revolutionary work. The CzechoSlovak National Council--the executive body of Nationalist Movement - was formed in Paris in the autumn of that year and Benes was appointed secretary. He became Masaryk's right-hand man in the work of extensive nationalist propaganda. There followed a series of plots and counter-plots, secret messages, forged passports, travel about the country under various disguises and aliases.
In 1917 and 1918, Benes, under a decree signed by President Poincare of the French Republic, he helped Stefanik to recruit a Czecho-Slovak Army in France to serve under Stefanik's command.
Czecho-Slovakia declared its independence on October 28, 1918. After the election of Masaryk as president, Benes was appointed Foreign Minister. He was head of the Czecho-Slovak Delegation at the Paris Peace Conference (1919-1920) and a signatory of the Peace Treaties. As one of the founders of the Little Entente in 1920, he exerted great influence in Central European affairs. From 1923 to 1927, he was a member of the Council of the League of Nations and served several terms as President of the Council.
In 1935, he was elected President of the Assembly of the League. His adroit handling of the affairs of the League gained for him the reputation of being one of Europe's greatest statesmen. He held the high post of Foreign Minister until 1935, when he resigned to replace his beloved friend and leader and assume the Presidency of Czecho-Slovakia vadated by the aged and ailing Masaryk.
During the years he served as Foreign Minister, he proposed and completed many friendly treaties with other nations striving for international peace and security. For more than 20 years, he was the closest disciple and collaborator of Masaryk.
Then came Hitler's rise to power. The world began to show signs of unrest -- war in Spain, war in Africa, war in China, Germany began to shout threats at Czecho-Slovakia; soon it began to act and Austria was occupied. Benes was the next target. Tragic event followed tragic event in rapid succession -- the Pact of Munich came on September 29, 1938. On October 5, 1938, Benes resigned as President of Czecho-Slovakia as a "political necessity" and left for London. He was succeeded by Dr. Emil Hacha.
On March 15, 1939, Hitler's army invaded Prague and subiected the inhabitants to Nazi rule. The Republic was dismembered. Bohemia became a German colony. Ruthenia was taken by the Hungarians. Slovakia proclaimed its independence and became a "free state". This was the low point in Dr. Benes' career. Though everything seemed lost, he threw his heart and soul into the struggle again and once more began to free his country. It must have been most discouraging and disheartening to begin anew everything that had been accomplished 30 years before.
On December 11, 1940, the Czecho-Slovak State Council was formed in London, with Dr. Benes as President. In 1941, the Britisb Government acknowledged this council as the Provisional Government of CzechoSlovakia. In due course, Russian and American recognition followed. He then came to America to seek new friends for the rebirth of Czecho-Slovakia.
He accepted an invitation to become a visiting professor at the University of Chicago. He made countless friends for his cause by his talks over the radio, in nation-wide broadcasts. He was a guest, for days, at the White House. He won the sympathy of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the idea of the rebirth of the Republic of Czecho-Slovakia. Unfortunately, he ignored and slighted many well-meaning and right-thinking Americans of Slovak ancestry during his stay in America, but nevertheless, he performed miracles for his cause, while here.
He is the author of some 12 volumes on political and sociological subjects - universally recognized as authorities.
After the victory of the Allies in World War II -- the Russian armies liberating Slovakia -- the Republic was reborn on May 17, 1945, with the return of the Government-in-exile to Prague. Dr. Eduard Benes continued as its President. Even before the liberation of the country he, without consulting any of the other Big Four Powers, entered into a Peace and security treaty with Russia. Naturally, this did not please America and England.
Victory at last came to his country, but much was to be done, though the war was won, so that the mistakes of the First Republic would not be repeated. After general elections held on May 26, 1946, Dr. Eduard Benes was regularly elected President of the Republic by Parliament. Many are calling it the Second Republic.
Among his biographers and critics -- all of whom appraise him as one of Europe's greatest statesmen there are some who charge him with being an opportunist.
His alliance with Russia, even before the liberation of Czecho-Slovakia, without the knowledge and approval of America and particularly England -- his savior during the dark days of World War II -- would seem to verify this charge. It was England who gave haven to the Czecho-Slovak State Council in London after Munich. It was England who first acknowledged this council as the Provisional Government of CzechoSlovakia, with Eduard Benes as its head.
Unfortunately, history records that in pre-war Czecho-Slovakia, the Slovaks did not enjoy equal rights, privileges, opportunitles and obligations with the Czechs. More often than not, the Slovaks were treated as a subject people in derogation of their rights and privileges as equal partners in the Republic. In practice, Slovakia was looked upon as a Czech colony and as such it was exploited and its people were oppressed.
In the early years of the Republic, because of the then presence of many Magyarones -- renegade Slovak intellectuals -- circumstances may have justified the filling of all responsible offices in the towns and cities of Slovakia with Czechs -- that included public utilities, the railroads, the police and the standing army. The Czechs were imported to Slovakia by the hundreds to wrest these offices and positions from the Slovaks.
But certainly, there was no justification for such an unjust and undemocratic practice during the last dozen years of the First Republic. For years before the dissolution of the Slovakian government in early March of 1939, freedom of the press was unknown in SIovakia - after the "public censor" had done his job, the independent newspapers published in Slovakia had the appearance of a checkerboard by reason of their "blocks of white" Practically all the chairs in the higher institutions of learning in Slovakia were occupied by Czechs.
Most of the subjects were taught not in the native Slovak but in the foreign Czech language. It was virtually impossible for a SIovak to be appointed a teacher in his own native country.
Every fair-minded person conversant with the facts admits that for many years before the Pact of Munich, the Slovak people were prepared for autonomous self-government.
Prior to the creation of the Republic of Czecho-Slovakia, the Slovaks were a distinct nation with their own language, with their own literature and culture, with their own national traits. Though becoming an integral part of the Republic, they Wanted to remain a distinct nation.
The Czechs, however, did all in their power to absorb and obliterate them as a national entity. This sad state of affairs existed under the presidency of Benes as well as under the presidency of Masaryk. But, just as a thousand years of domination by the Magyars could not destroy the national aspirations the Slovaks, neither could a quarter of a century of domination by the Czechs destroy theic national aspiration.
The deadly mistakes of Masaryk and Benes must not be repeated. There must never again be a Czech dominated centralized regime in CzechoSlovakia. The Slovaks must have proportional representation in the national services.
The Slovakian revolt in Banska Bystrica in the fall of 1944 brought to life the Slovak National Council. Due to the firm and determined stand taken by the Slovak patriots who constituted this council, and their countless followers, Benes is the nominal head of the Republic and the National Council is the actual governing body of Slovakia. As a result, virtually all the evils of pre-war Czecho-Slovakia are no more and Slovakia is being democratically revitalized, The National Council held steadfastly to the "Bill of Rights" left to posterity by the immortal Hodza and at its meeting with Benes and the Government-in-Exile at London in 1944, made it the corner-stone of the Plan of Collaboration for the rebirth of the Republic.
Similarly, the Pact of Kosice approved by Benes in early May of 1945 when, en route from Moscow to Prague, he re-entered the country from the east and stopped at Kosice -- is bottomed on the famous "Bill of Rights".
It is the hope and the prayer of every Slovak and of every democracy loving American that the Second Republic will really be "a little America in the heart of Europe"
Enemies of the New Republic are twisting the prosecution of certain clergymen for giving aid and comfort to the Nazis during World War II to mean persecution of religion and a denial of religious freedom in Slovakia.
That is not true. That cannot be true, in a country as Christian, as overwhelmingly Catholic as is Slovakia. The Slovaks, as communicants of Catholic and Protestant creeds, would not tolerate religious persecution. In the general election held on May 26, 1946, the Democratic Party polled 60 per cent, the Communist Party polled 30 per cent and the two remaining parties 10 per cent of the vote cast. What better proof can be had of the fact that the overwhelming majority of the people of Slovakia are not Communists -- but rather are democracy-loving, God-fearing and God-loving people.
The National Slovak Society is very active in America today. For the latest information on the National Slovak Society visit the official National Slovak Society Web Site "Where Fraternal Benefits And Financial Security Have Met Since 1890".
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