of the 19th Regular Convention
Youngstown, Mahoning County, Ohio
August 5-10, 1946
S L O V A K I A
The Homeland of Our Ancestors
This history was written in 1946 for the National Slovak Society Convention and should be read with that post-war perspective in mind.
History tells us that Valentinian was the last Roman emperor who could claim sovereignty over Slovakian soil, upon whose death in the year 375 began the Migration of Nations. The Migration of Nations caused Slavs to appear in Slovakia. Probably they·were pressed there by the Uralo-Altaic Avars.
According to an ancient historical tradition, a Frank, named Samo, united the Slavs in the 7th century for an attack against the Avars and thus checked their advance. After Charlemagne had vanquished· the Avars in 796, they disappear from history.
A few decades afterwards the kingdom of Moravia was organized on the territory of present-day Western Slovakia and Moravia. The first ruler, Mojmir I, adopted Christianity.
His successor, Rostislav, was in direct diplomatic contact with the Byzantine Empire, and in the ninth century called the Greek priests Cyril and Methodius to come to his country to propagate Christianity. They introduced Slavic script and translated the Gospels.
Rostislav's successor Svatopluk was belligerent and extended greatly the boyndaries of his realm, but abandoned relations with the Byzantine Empire. After the death of Methodius, his pupils had to flee to the Balkans. In this period there were Christian churches in Slovakia at Nitra, Devin and Bratislava.
The rulers of the Moravian State resided at Velehrad, which name means great castle. Several historians believe that Velehrad was where Devin is at present.
The Great Moravian kingdom came to an end in the year 906 when it was destroyed by the Germans assisted by the Magyars, a Finno-Ugrian nomadic tribe which had come from the upper Volga.
The Western part of the kingdom was taken possession of by the Czech dukes of Bohemia; the Eastern part, the Slovakia of today, was occupied by the Magyars.
For many years, the Dukes of Bohemia sought to gain possession not only of the Western part of the former realm of Great Moravia, but also of the Eastern part, the Slovakia of today.
The Bohemian Duke Bretislav I and King Premysl Ottokar II invaded Western Slovakia and occupied the frontier fortresses and the cities; but these were only brief episodes and Slovakia remained for centuries under the domination of the Kings of Hungary.
Two of the ten Slav nations, the Czechs and the Slovaks, formed one country in ancient times, until they were conquered and separated by the combined forces of Germans and Magyars.
Tn the ninth century, the Magyars forced a wedge between the northern Slavs - consisting of Czechs, Slovaks, Poles and Russians - and the southern Slavs - consisting of Croats, Serbs and Slovenes - by seizing the wide, fertile plains on the banks of the rivers Danube and Tisa. Ever since, for about ten centuries, the separated Czechs and Slovaks have stemmed the tide of the Germans and the Magyars - the Czechs fighting against the Germans as their bitter enemies, and the Slovaks rebelling against the oppression and tyranny of the Magyars.
But even though a part of the kingdom of Hungary for centuries, Slovakia - the region betwecn the Danube and the Carpathians - always managed to preserve its identity and far into modern times, it retained an individual appellation. It is referred to as "Partes regni superioris" (the upper parts of the kingdom).
During the stormy Middle Ages, Slovakia attempted repeatedly to detach herself from the other parts of Hungary. After the extinction of the Arpad dynasty in 1301, Matus Cak Trenciansky, master of the valley of the Vah and of the Tatra region, filled with oligarchical designs, cstablished his dominion Slovakia and maintained her independence for 20 years. The proud fortress of Trencin still commemorates the haughty will of this feudal knight.
In the fifteenth century, the Hussites from Bohemia repeatedly invaded Hungary.
After the death of King Albert in 1439, Queen Elizabeth sent the famous general, Jan Jiskra of Brandys, into the Northern Parts of Hungary, the present Slovakia, to occupy the land for her son Ladislaus Posthumus. As Captain of Upper Hungary, Jiskra with his troops maintained the independence of these regions for two decades.
This military episode had far-reaching effects upon the cultural development of Slovakia. The Hussites brought the tradition of nafional church services in the national language. Even though they did not succeed in introducing their religion, they created a favorable atmosphere for the later reception of Protestantism which was based on the teaching of the Kralice Bible which had been translated by the Bohemian Brethren. And this bible remains sacred to the Protestant Slovaks until today.
The University of Prague exerted considerable influence. The two kings of Bohemia-Hungary, Wladislaus and Louis, 1490-1526, of the Jagiello dynasty, indirectly fostered mutual relations despite political boundaries.
In 1620, the Czech nobles were wiped out at the Battle of the White Mountain. The Slovaks were soon beaten into submission by the Magyars.
Politically, the Slovaks participated but little in the public affairs of Hungary. As a result of the Turkish wars, in the time of the first Habsburgs, the area of Hungary wars continuously diminished until it included only what today is Slovakia. The remainder was either Turkish or under the rule of their vassals, the princes of Transylvania. The rule of the legitimate dynasty was limited to Slovakia, but here too, there were frequent antiHabsburg revolts. The lesser nobility fought on both sides. This restless period probably made it impossible to create a permanent political and cultural center as happened elsewhere.
At the end of the eighteenth century, the revolutionary emperor, Joseph II, 1780-1790, sought to reform his realm along lines of absolutism. He limited the historical rights of the representatives of Hungary. He did not have himself crowned king of Hungary. By Germanizing, he caused the Hungarian nobility to combine their nationalism with their class politics. Thus their nationalism became the principal factor in their efforts to secure autonomy.
The Slovaks began to recall their autochtony, namely that they were in Hungary prior to the Magyars. They began to think of themselves as members of the great Slavic family and recalled their earlier cultural relations with the Czechs.
It is noteworthy that the smallest Slavic tribe gave the Czech Renaissance the greatest historian and ethnographer, Paul Josepb Safarik and the most inspiring poet, John Kollar.
Magyar and Slovak nationalism came into conflict with each other. The Slovaks, like the Poles and the Irish, kept alive their national culture, agitated for liberation. In 1834, Magyar replaced Latin as the political language. In 1848, the Slovaks attempted an armed rebellion against the Magyars, who, in turn, had revolted from Austria. The history of the last half century of Hungary definitely calls for criticism.
It is true that the Magyars were oppressed for 16 years by the victorious Austrian dynasty and by reactionary Vienna, but they in turn oppressed the Slovaks. During this period, however, the Slovaks secured three secondary schools. The first literary and scientific society, the Matica Slovenska was also established.
In 1866, Austria was defeated in the war with Prussia. Vienna saved her position by compromise with the Magyars. In 1867, the Austrian monarchy was divided into two states - Hungary where Budapest exerted hegemony over the various races dwelling within her bounds; Austria in which Vienna exercised a similar hegemony.
After the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867, the Magyars undertook to subject the non-Magyar races in Hungary to their political control. The major portion of the populatlon of Hungary was non-Magyar. A law protecting the rights of the several nationalities was promulgated in 1867, but it remained a shred of paper and was not heeded.
In 1875, Coloman Tisza, at that time Hungarian Minister of Interior, dissolved tbe Matica Slovenska, which was the principal representative of Slovak cultural aspirations. Its funds were assigned to the Femka society in Nitra which carried on Magyarizing activities. He also closed the three Slovak secondary schools. He acted on the principle that no Slovak nation existed.
From the end of the nineteenth century, the condition of the non-Magyar peoples of Hungary became rapidly worse. The Slovak language disappeared altogether from public life, being replaced by Magyar. The Slovak leaders, especially the editors of newspapers, were persecuted and many of them were imprisoned. In 1907, the Apponyi law changed most of the Slovak primary schools into Magyar ones.
The young enlightened Slovaks recognized two means of saving the nation from becoming completely Magyarized. They sought to improve the material condition of the masses of the people, and they attached themselves to their kinsmen, the Czechs, in order to secure political freedom with their aid.
With World War T came the golden opportunity for the Slovaks to join the cause of the Allies, of which the watchword was "the liberation of the smaller European nations from tyranny, despotism and oppression". The Slovaks beheld the dazzling light of liberty. Possessed of a passionate love of liberty and possessed of a quenchless desire to regain the lands of their ancestors, they readily grasped for that dazzling light. Thus, thousands upon thousands of them, who were forced to serve in the Hungarian Army, willingly deserted their ranks and lost no opportunity to pass over to the forces of the Allies and there took up arms, shoulder to shoulder, with the Allies, to fight for humanity, for democracy and for liberty. Then came the never-to-be-forgotten anabasis of the one hundred thousand volunteer Czech and Slovak troops in Russia and Siberia, who were later christened the Czecho-Slovak Legion.
No one doubts that it was the self-sacrificing valor of the Slovak volunteer troops at the French, Italian and Russian fronts which greatly moved the Allies to acknowledge the right of the remnant of the Slovak nation to once more stand as a free people, and to once more take its place in the family of nations, as an equal partner, in the Republic of Czecho-Slovakia.
In June 1918 Britain recognized the Czecho-Slovak National Council as the representative of the people. This followed the official recognition by Russia, France and Italy.
The victory of the Allies and the determined efforts led by Dr. Thomas G. Masaryk, the son of a Slovak coachman, Dr. Edward Benes a Czech, and General Milan Stefanik, a Slovak scientist living abroad, combined with the opposition at home, led to the creation of the Republic of Czecho-Slovakia on Octdber 28, 1918.
The basis of the new independent state was the union of the Bohemian lands with Slovakia and Carpathian Russia. The Treaty of Trianon on June 4, 1920 confirmed this union. Woodrow Wilson's self-determination of small nations had much to do with the creation of Czecho-Slovakia.
The nationalistic-minded Slovaks and Czechs living in the New World met at Pittsburgh on May 30, 1918 and there signed the famous Pittsburgh Pact, which provided for the union of the Slovaks with the Czechs in the creation of a new country on the lands of their forefathers, wherein both nations would work together for the common good and each nation would be master over its own land.
Thomas G. Masaryk, who then happened to be in America, joined in the signing of this Pact. Upon returning home, he became the new country's first president and remained president for 17 years. After Masaryk's resignation, Dr. Eduard Benes was elected president in 1935.
However, for reasons known best to Masaryk, he never deemed it prudent or advisable to treat the Slovaks as equal partners in the administration of the Republic of Czecho-Slovakia. The same is true of Benes. The centralized "Czechoslovak" Government treated Slovakia as a Czech colony. During all those years, the nationalistic Slovaks pressed for autonomy. Naturally, nationalistic Slovaks had no liking.for a government centralized in Prague, had no love for the Czechs oy Czechophiles who were responsible for it.
On September 29, 1938 came the Pact of Munich. On October S, 1938, Dr. Eduard Benes resigned as president of Czechoslovakia and left for London. He was succeeded by Dr. Hacha. On March 14, 1939, Hitler's army invaded Prague and subjected the inhabitants to Nazi rule.
The Republic was dismembered. Bohemia became a German colony. Carpathian Russia was taken by the Hungarians. Slovakia on March 14, 1939 proclaimed its independence, and became a "free state" with its Priest-president, Joseph Tiso, a "puppet ruler" under Hitler.
Then, during World War II came the official recognition by the Allies - first by Britain on July 18, 1941 and later by Russia and the United States - of Eduard Benes as the head of the Provisional Government-in-exile, which was domiciled in London.
The kind of "independence" possible under the domination of Hitler was not pleasing to thinking and level-headed Slovaks at home, nor to their kinsmen away from the homeland, who were proud of their ancestry and ready and willing to stretch a helping hand from across the Atlantic. Resistance forces developed in Slovakia and everywhere throughout the world where Slovaks lived. Former Prime Minister Milan Hodza, then in America, preached that Slovaks in Slovakia should forget their taste of Independence and co-operate in making a healthy, democratic post-war Czecho-Slovakia.
Slovak troops deserted wholesale rather than fight the Poles and the Russians, and Slovak Partisans were locally active against the German Army. Then, on August 29, 1944, came the Slovakian revolt in Banska Bystrica, which blotted out the Nazi brand which the land of Slovakia bore. True, the soul of Slovakia never bore that brand. The revolt itself was as much a blow to the Germans as a triumph for the Allies - especially Russia, whose armies were then fighting in the Carpathian Mountains.
It was representative of all but the Fascist factions in the coyntry. A Franciscan Monastery served as a storehouse for food and ammunition and also a place of refuge for fugitive Partisans and their leaders. Monks fought side by side witb Socialists, Communists, Protestants and Agrarians. Predominantly and devoutly Catholic, the support received from monks and village priests testifies to the vigorous opposition within the Church against all who espoused pro-German policies. The revolt forms one of the glorious chapters in Slovakian history. To the Partisans and their collaborators goes the highest: praise for undertaking and carrying out their patriotic duty, courageously and fearlessly. Their memory will live forever.
In March of 1945, before leaving Britain with Jan Masaryk for Czecho-Slovakia via Moscow, President Eduard Benes, broadcasting from London to the people in Homeland, spoke these prophetic words:
I am speaking to you for the last time during this war from Britain. I am leaving London, and I shall proceed homeward by way of the Soviet Union. I shall stop in Moscow and then travel to the Republic via Kosice. Perhaps all this is symbolic. I have been in the west and in the east and, in both these quarters, I have worked for the defeat of our enimies; but our final victory this time begins in the east with the liberation of Slovakia. We shall place back into your hands our mandate assigned to us abroad by the course of events, and we will submit to you the result of our labor. You, our people, will decide what has to be done then; the Czechs and Slovaks will decide in common.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.
For the rebirth of Czecho-Slovakia must go the everlasting thanks of the Czechs and the Slovaks to Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.
By reason of the determined efforts of the Slovak National Council - in which all ideological and political movements in a Slovakia for Slovaks has Slovakia are equally represented - resulted.
The name of the new Republic is spelled with a hyphen between Czecho and Slovakia - the hyphen is important to denote the equality of partnership. Today, the Slovak and the Czech enjoys equal rights, equal privileges, equal obligations and equal opportunities, each is the Master of the land of his forefathers.
Just as three races and languages, at peace with each other, have made a model democracy in Switzerland, so two nations and two tongues - as equal partners - will make Czecho-Slovakia another model democracy; a country with two peoples, two languages, but one heart - each freely contributing its share, in its own way, to the good of the whole.
The Slovakia of today comprises 49,015 square kilometers. The capital city is Bratislava. The boundaries are 1,400 kilometers long and touch upon Austria, Poland, Russia and Hungary. It is larger in area than Switzerland, Holland, Belgium or Denmark. It has approximately 4,000,000 inhabitants. Incidentally more than a million Slovaks reside today in America and Canada and a goodly number reside in Sowth America. Its population is comparable to Norway or Ireland.
History tells us that size alone is not the yardstick by which the greatness of nations is measured. Because little nations have been great nations by reason of the industry, the courage, the character, the moral and spiritual standards of their people. According to such a standard of measurement, Slovakia, though a small nation, is a great nation.
The limitation of space forbids writing about the country's natural resources, its industries, its commerce, its finance, its schools, its art, its literature, its museums, the picturesque ruins of its medieval castles, the well-nigh perfect examples of Gothic architecture in many of its churches, led by St. James at Levoca and closely followed by those at Bratislava, Kosice, Bardiov, Presov and Trnava, the architectural influence of Germany in its Protestant churches, the large wooden churches at Kezmarok and at the Village of Velka Paludza, which are unique for Central Europe, and the wooden Greek Catholic churches in Eastern Slovakia which are of special interest since they are creations of the common people.
But I believe there is room for a few lines about the nation's folk songs, costumes and customs of the people.
No other land of Central Europe is able to display as many unspoiled popular and distinctive costumes as Slovakia. They are due to the pure feelings of the people. The simple sense for color and ornamentation which can only spring from the soul of the people if it is to be of value and is to be a true echo of their inner feelings, expresses itself in the costumes and customs spontaneously and characteristically, as can only be the case in a land which lived tranquilly in remote mountains and valleys.
The country being overwhelmingly Catholic, the various Church festivals such as Easter, Ascension, Corpus Christi, and the celebration of the days of the local of the local patron saints - cause the people to display the best and the most beautiful inherited costumes. In many places, a simple folk architecture of the abodes provides a picturesque and appropriate setting for such vivid scenes.
The mountain pasture season ends with the oldtime custom of blessing the cheese. The shepherds and herdsmen thus express their thanks for a safe and successful season. In November and December, the unmarried girls meet in the evenings at some farmhouse for joint spinning and weaving by hand. Naturally, the costumes and customs of the people may be best observed at the weekly and annual markets, the pilgrilnages and the local festivals.
At such a festival, one will see the gayest events ever witnessed. The peasantry from the viilages of the valley and the mountain country-side will give it color and flavor such as one has never seen before. No Slav anywhere, not even in the Soviet Ukraine, can match the Slovakian peasantry in their love of color, their skill in needlework, their talent for decorating a pine sapling or ordinary haywagon so that it glows like a variegated flowerbed.
With boisterous pride, village after village will pass the reviewing stand in ox-drawn hay racks afloat with all the colors of the spectrum and alive with the hcarty gayety so innate in the Slovakian country folk.
The best standard for measuring the cultural condinon of the people is provided by its popular songs. For these songs reflect the activities and customs which are most deeply ingrained. Christian culture which spread in Slovakia from the ninth century onwards awakened popular comprehension of song and ennobled already existing musical inclinations.
Songs provide the means whereby a nation can express its joys and sorrows. Since the Slovak nation was oppressed for so many centuries, the expression of grief is uppermost in its folk songs. Many thousands of Slovakian folk songs have been recorded up to the present time.
They are a veritable treasure trove of melody.
Thus ends a thumb-nail history and sketch of Slovakia, the homeland of our ancestors, the folksongs, costumes and customs of its people.
This history was written in 1946 for the National Slovak Society Convention and should be read with that post-war perspective in mind.
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".
Back to National Slovak Society 1946 Convention Index
Back to Genealogical Research in Slovakia
Back to Genealogical Research in Slovakia