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Slovak History Which May Surprise

Story ID:4325
Written by:Suzana Margaret Megles (bio, contact, other stories)
Story type:Period Piece
Location:various various Slovakia
Year:1993
Person:various
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There is so much that I could research and tell re my parent's native land-
Slovakia, but since I could not possibly tell it all in one installation, I've
chosen some things which I found interesting, and which I hope you will
too-- especially if your background has anything Slovak in it. Hopefully, even
if not, you may be a history buff who loves to read all things which shed new
light on old countries. You may find it here re Slovakia.

For those of you who know very little about Slovakia - let me refresh you.
It is the small eastern land-locked European country which for too long,
in my opinion, has been associated with the Czechs and before that-
was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until it was dissolved in 1917.
I was thrilled when on January 1, 1993 Slovakia decided to go it alone
and engaged in what has been called the "Velvet Divorce" which would
forever free us from our former association with the now Czech Republic.

When I went to school all of us kids said that our parents were from Czecho-
Slovakia. How did this hypenated name come to be and what were its
implications? After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the
end of WWI, in 1917 Czech and Slovak representatives signed the "Pittsburgh
Accord" which promised a common state consisting of two equal nations,
Slovakia and Czechia. It sounded good on paper but, in reality, Slovakia
was never treated as an equal.

So, now finally, Slovakia had decided that it was time to dissolve the old
Pittsburgh Accord of 1918 despite some people warning that this would never
be good for Slovakia. My reading of this period made me hope that we would
not be swayed by their arguments and we were not. On January 1,1993
the "Velvet Divorce" was signed. One of the participants in this history-
making decision had coined this phrase and it sounded amicable and
good which I believe it was and is.

Before the period of the alliance with the Czechs, both they and us had been
under the thumb and rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (1867-1918). As I saw it, the Czechs
were incredibly lucky to be under the rule of the Austrians who helped them to
industrialize their land and made available educational opportunities for those
who sought it.

The Slovaks, on the other hand, were ruled over by the land-owning Hungarian
Barons who kept them in virtual servitude - working the land while they tried
mostly unsuccessfully to get some education for themselves and their children
who also worked on the Hungarian farms. I know that my parents born in 1892
and 1900 had very little education when they emigrated to America, and I marvel
that they did as well as they did without it.

So much for the basic early differences of the two countries. At least that's
what I came away with after doing research for a Slovak/Czech Monograph for
Cleveland State University in the 1970's. I was not a happy camper reading of
our early history in Slovakia with what I perceived as unfairness to my people.

I'm sure that all of us who were born to immigrant parents eagerly seek to
learn more about our parents' countries and I was no different. I kept looking
and finding more information through the years from books, the internet and
especially the Slovak Insurance Organizations which published monthly
newspapers to help keep the early Slovak people appraised of their new country
and its opportunities. Originally, the papers were all in Slovak. Today they
have an English and Slovak section.

How I wish I could read the Slovak! My parents knew and spoke only Slovak
when they first came to America. But they soon started learning English after
my older sister was kept back in school because she didn't understand English.
By the time I was born, I would not have that difficulty.

As I searched for information re my Slovak ancestry I began to wonder - did
we have any Slovak Americans who had become successful? Every ethnic
group takes pride in the accomplishments of its people. So, I began my search
for people with Slovak ancestry. I found Andy Warhol and at first I just dismissed
him as a pop artist, but then I began to realize that he was esteemed in art
circles and made quite a name for himself. I recently read that he also fostered
a religious side in his art work. I was glad for that. His parents were born in eastern
Slovakia as mine, and he always gave due to his ethnic background. I was
sorry when he died at a rather young age from a preventable hospital mistake.

Paul Newman is from Gr. Cleveland like myself. I loved the "Silver Chalice" - a
first movie he claims not to be proud of. At the time I didn't know that his
mother's family was also from Eastern Slovakia. Sadly, it doesn't seem that
he is proud of his Slovak ancestry. At least I have never seen this mentioned in
his bios. Too bad Paul, you just fell off the pedastal I placed you on. However,
you obviously certainly don't need my adulation or respect.

A wonderful actor whose ethnicity surprised me was Robert Urich. Originally
from Toronto, Ohio I was smitten by his good looks when I saw him in his first
TV series "The Swat Team." I thought with a name like Urich, he must be
German. No, not the case --he was of Slovak and Ruthenian parentage from
eastern Slovakia as well. I was delighted to find him one day on the Merv
Griffen's TV show singing one of our Old Slavonic Christmas carols. What
a guy! Sadly, he too died way too early of cancer some few years ago.

Then, if you've never heard of Michael Strank - he was the young Marine
sargeant who led his men up the hill on Iwo Jima to plant the second flag so
that as he said --everyone on this cruddy island could see it. The "old" man
of the team, he was only 26 when, soon after the flag-planting, he was killed
by artillery mortor fire. His men considered him a Marine's Marine, and he
had promised them he would try to get everyone of them home to their
mothers. He was prominently featured in the 2006 Clint Eastwood movie
"Flags of Our Fathers."

"Mykhal Strenk" in Rusyn, Slovak: Michal Strenk --was born in 1919 in
Jarabina, a small Rusyn-inhabited village in Czechoslovakia. Vasil, the father
came to work in a steel mill in Franklin Borough near Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
When he had saved enough money, he brought Marta and his family over.
Michael and his family survived the Johnstown flood but were close enough
to danger for the young Michael to survey the damage and assure them that
the threat was over and they were safe.

Another Slovak of historic proportions -Stephen Banic. He was born in Slovakia
in 1870 and like so many Slovaks during those decades under oppressive
Hungarian overlords, he emigrated to America in 1907. He settled in Greenville,
PA where he became a coal miner. Remarkably, he found time to use his
inventive instincts and made the first ever parachute. Our first and probably
only inventor!

He demonstrated his parachute in Washington, D.C. jumping from a tall
building. He received his first patent for his parachute from the US. Patent
Office in 19I4. And then he did something I consider special. He donated his
patent to the newly established U.S. Army Signal Corps (today the U.S.Air Force).
As the writer of this article, John Karch noted "His invention must be considered
as an outstanding, historic contribution to the safety of aviation in war and
peace." I concur.

In 1921 Stephen returned back to Smolenice, Slovakia and once more became
"Stefan." He died there in 1941, but he has not been forgotten. In the latter
1980s Slovakia has come to give him a place of honor and here in the US
sky divers have begun to give him long overdue recognition. Among those
who have is Senator Robbins, a West Point grad and Vietnam veteran. As a
skydiving enthusiast, he impressed many by honoring Stefan Banic and stating
his appreciation of Slovakia and its people. Another regular "Banic" skydiver
at the 17th annual Stefan Banic Memorial celebration held recently at SKYDIVE
DALLAS is retired Rear Admiral George Worthington, USN, of San Diego, CA.
The kudos for Stefan came late, but for a man who gave up his patent rights to
a country which welcomed him in, they obviously were not necessary or even
important to him.

And now I salute Alexander Dubchek -- a Communist but a Slovak one with
heart. It was he who as head of the Communist party in Prague, initiated the
"Prague Spring" - an attempt to put a kinder face on Communism. Sadly,
his Communist bosses weren't pleased and they sent in tanks to squelch
his humanitarian attempt. Naturally, he was demoted but he never lost the
love of his Slovak people. He may well have become the first president of the
new Slovakia if he had gone along with the Velvet Divorce, but he died in an
auto accident before this historic event happened.

And for last I applaud two Slovak priests - Msgr. Hlinka and Father Tiso.
Because most of the Slovaks were uneducated, they turned to their priests
for guidance and direction because they were the only ones with higher
education. I am saddened at the ill treatment they both received - Msgr.
Hlinko from the Hungarians and Father Tiso from the Czechs.

Msgr. Hinka who had initially championed the cause of national rights
within the Austro-Hungarian Empire and later in the first republic of Czecho-
Slovakia was imprissoned by both repressive regimes.

He was born of Slovak peasant stock but his brilliant public school record
enabled him to seek highter education. He chose the priesthood and, though
his seminary record was listed as outstanding, he was thought to be "inclined
to Slavism," which was looked upon unfavorably by the Hungarians.

Nevertheless, he was ordained and in 1895 he began to be active as a member
of the Catholic Peoples Party which criticized the social and ethnic policies
of the Hungarian government.

He was imprisoned soon after the new church he built in his native village
of Cernova. The Hungarian bishop would not allow him to be present for the
church blessing and sent his own representative in his place. As the carriage
came upon the entrance to the village, hundreds of the faithful flocked the
carriage. The Hungarian police who accompanied the entourage shot into
the crowd killing and wounding men, women, and children.

As sad as this was, the only bright spot for Msgr. Hlinka was the realization
that this story would find its way into the Western press and the world
might now know the sad plight of the Slovaks under Hungarian rule.

Another sad chapter involving a priest - Father Tiso. Between 1939 and l945
Father Tiso as head of the Slovak's People Party became involved in a strategy
which favored Hitler and allowed him to send his troops into Czech lands.
Further down I will try to explain how this hapenened.

I also read sadly that Slovakia as well as a goodly portion of Central Europe were
anti-Semitic. As a result, we did not treat the Jews well, but the following
paragraph From the Wikipedia article on Josef Tiso succinctly gives at least
some measure of concern for them by the Slovaks:
"The deportations of Jews from Slovakia started in March 1942, but were
stopped-despite heavy opposition from Germany, which demanded their
resumption in October 1942 by Slovaks, when it became clear that Nazi
Germany had not "only" abused the Slovak Jews as forced labour workers
but had also executed many of them in death camps....public protests arose
as well as pressure from the Holy See to stop the deportation of Jewish civilians.
Slovakia became the first state in the Nazi sphere to
stop deportation of Jews, but some 58,000 Jews (75% of Slovak Jewry) had
already suffered deportation, mostly to Auschwitz, of whom only a minority
survived. Between October 1943 and October 1944, an independent Slovakia
even served as a safe last resort for Jews suffering persecution in Nazi-
occupied neighboring countries such as annexed Austria, the protectorate of
Bohemia and Moravia, Poland and occupied Ukraine."

When the Nazis resumed their occupation of Slovakia and it lost its
independence, Nazi Germany saw the deportation of Jews again after two years.
During this 1944-45 German occupation another 13,500 Jews were deported
and 5,000 were imprisoned.

No, I am not proud of this period of our history and I would imagine none of us
of Slovak ancestry are, but I believe it is always better to acknowledge the
truth and hopefully we have.

How did we become in league with the Nazis? That too is a sad story, but
it seems that there were forces at play which propelled us into this untenable
situation:

1. "In 1938 HUNGARY, having never really accepted the separation of Slovakia
from its control in 1918 ...managed to persuade Germany and Italy to FORCE
SLOVAKIA to let Hungarian troops occupy one third of Slovak territory...."

2."On March 9, 1939- CZECH troops occupied Slovakia and Tiso lost his post of
Prime Minister...."

3. "On March 13, 1939, losing patience Hitler "invited" the deposed prime minister
Fr. Tiso and PERSONALLY FORCED HIM TO IMMEDIATELY DECLARE THE
INDEPENDNCE OF SLOVAKIA UNDER GERMAN "PROTECTION." OTHERWISE
GERMANY WOULD ALLOW HUNGARY TO ANNEX THE REMAINING TERRITORY
OF SLOVAKIA."

You might say Tiso and his parliament had really little leverage if any and you
would be right. If they didn't declare their independence and become a puppet
state under Hitler, they would again be annexed to Hungary. What would you do?
I would have done what Tiso and his government did.

AT ONE TIME I HAD THOUGHT FATHER TISO ET AL TERRIBLY MISGUIDED
UNTIL I READ THIS VERSION. No more. These men were put into an
untenable position. God bless them. They did what they thought was best for
Slovakia. Too bad we had no friends in the Czechs, Hungarians, or the
Germans.

After the war and when exiled Czech President Evard Benes returned to
Prague, his government had Father Tiso arrested, tried, and found guilty of
treason. Benes could have interceded I'm sure, but did not. Fr. Tiso was
hung by the Czechoslovak authorities on April 18, 1947. I have never
understood the justice of this. I personally believed Fr. Tiso to be a man of
integrity who tried to help Slovakia become independent. In my opinion,
THAT'S NO CRIME.

History is complex. If anyone has more knowledge and a better explanation
of this time re Father Tiso and the German connection, I am willing to consider
reading anything which is true and unbiased. I am saddened to end on a note
which personally makes me angry at the forces which precipated his hanging.
But finally, because of Fr. Tiso and his cabinet, we survived as a nation.
Hopefully, we will treasure our independence and never again have to answer
to anyone save our own Slovak people.

P.S.After posting this, I can't understand how I
could have forgotten to
mention Sr.Miriam Teresa Demjanovich who died at the age of 24 in 1924.
We are praying that one day she will be
beatified-the first step
in becoming a saint!

I am also surprised that I didn't mention Eugene Cernan - the last astronaut
to walk on the moon and he is of Slovak American descent.

And finally, -- others who deserve mentioning:
George Blanda, a football
legend, Chicago Black Hawk star Mikita and Michael Novak -author and
theologian who wrote "Naked I Leave." It looks
like my researching days
are not over yet.