Holocaust Education in Slovakia

University Lecturer Eduard Niznanský, CSc. Chair of General History, Faculty of Philosophy, Comenius University, Bratislava

By Eduard Niznanský

Short Analysis of the Representation of the Second World War and the Holocaust in Slovakian History Textbooks for Schools. Students in the Slovak Republic are supposed to learn about the Second World War starting from 8th grade in primary school; following the reforms of the school system they will start from 9th grade. There are two history lessons per week; each lesson has 45 minutes. At the 8-year higher level schools, there are two history lessons per week in the fourth year and the seventh year. At vocational training schools and special schools, there is one history lesson per week in the first or second year of school.

After the political change brought by the year 1989, new temporary textbooks were developed by Lubomir Liptak, an author who was not permitted to publish before 1989, and Dusan Kovac. These textbooks were conceptualised for all school forms. The authors of these temporary text books have successfully overcome the previous simplistic interpretations of the history of the 20th century, which were common when Marxist doctrines and the ideology of the communist state party prevailed.

After the change, the Ministry of Education was not immediately able to commission the development of new textbooks. The publishing of the history textbook by M. Durica: "History of Slovakia and Slovakians" in 1996 even received financial support through the EU PHARE 1 programme. The minister of education at that time was Eva Slavkovska of the Slovak National Party, who was heavily influenced by political Catholicism, nationalism and anti-Semitism.

The European Union objected to the textbook, and it had to be withdrawn from schools and school libraries. The Ministry of Education tendered the development of new primary school text books, and a group of authors headed by Dusan Kovác won the tender. All text books were published by Orbis Pictus publishing house in Bratislava. The design was done by Miroslav Cipár.

The textbook about the 20th century for primary schools is divided into two parts: History of Slovakia and World History. The history of Slovakia under the title "Slovakia in the New Century" was written by D. Kovác, I. Kamenec, and V. Kratochvil. It was approved by the Ministry of Education in 1996.

The history of the Second World War has its own chapter, divided into seven topics to be done in seven lessons. The lessons texts are structured according to the respective teaching/learning contents. The text for each lesson consists of two pages. On the left hand page there is a general description including a preface with all important dates and events. Pictures of historic personalities, contemporary illustrations and a glossary are added on a bar in the margin. The right-hand page gives an explanation of the policies of Nazi Germany towards Czechoslovakia, including the Munich Agreement.

The First Slovak Republic is presented as the result of geo-strategic interests of the Third Reich in the conquest and rule of Eastern Europe. The representation of Slovak politicians is ambiguous: on the one hand, they are not to appear as criminals, on the other hand it is not denied that they were collaborators of Nazi Germany. With respect to interior politics, the students get to know the authoritarian one-party regime of Hlinka's catholic-nationalist Slovak People's Party. With respect to foreign politics, they learn about the alliance between the Slovak Republic and Nazi Germany, about the participation in the war against Poland and the Soviet Union as well as about the declaration of war against Great Britain and the USA.

The Holocaust is not addressed in one particular chapter, but about half of the topic "What was the Slovak Republic?" deals with this issue. The role of Slovak politicians V. Tuka and A. Mach is discussed, who were mainly responsible for the legal deprivation and persecution of the Slovak Jews. The illustrations let the students gain a vivid picture of the Holocaust. The discrimination through wearing the Star of David, the events preceding the deportation and the course of the deportations are described. A photograph shows the entrance of the labour camp for Jews at Novaky in Slovakia and a house scrawled with anti-Semitic slogans and drawings. The documents presented include an excerpt from the letter of the rabbis condemning the deportation of the Jews, and an excerpt from a 1942 law legalising the deportation of Jews from Slovakia. Therefore it can be said that the students get an overview of the situation of the Jews in Slovakia, although no special chapter is dedicated to the topic.

In general it can be said that the authors make an effort to keep a democratic perspective in their interpretations, clearly mentioning the difficult issue of Slovak nationalism and especially the national-clerical Slovak People's Party of Hlinka. There is no mystification or glorification of the First Slovak Republic as a state that Slovaks had been awaiting for a thousand years.

The textbook "World History: The World in the 20th Century" by H. Tkadlecková dedicates four chapters to the Second World War. The structure of the book is comparable to that of "History of Slovakia". The war years from 1939 to 1941 in Europe are interpreted from the perspective of the dictators Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. The Holocaust is only addressed as part of the topic "Life in the Occupied Europe". A table renders the statistics of the murdered Jews. The photographs on this double page show ghettos, deportations and concentration camps. Another document provides memories of a concentration camp prisoner. The following two chapters describe the anti-Semitic coalition, the end of the war and the conditions in the post-war period.

Both textbooks contain a wealth of facts and descriptions, although each topic has reserved one page for the analysis and discussion of a document or a photograph. It is up to the teachers to decide whether they prefer to teach half a year of world history and half a year of Slovakian history or teach the history of the 20th century using both textbooks alongside each other. The teacher may decide to put special emphasis on one of the topics, but as both textbooks are very comprehensive, there is not really sufficient time for that.

A history reader by H. Tkadleckova, D. Kovác, I. Kamenec, V. Kratochvil, and V. Jaksiscova provides an additional teaching aid with a great variety of documents and pictures. There are six texts dealing with our topic, for example an excerpt from the memoirs of politician P. Carnogurský of Hlinka's Slovak People's Party about the development of the First Slovak Republic, four fictional texts by Slovakian writers Rudolf Jasík, Milo Urban, Milan Ferko and L. Ballek about their experiences during the war, and an extract from the book of Jewish intellectual Juraj Spitzer: "I did not want to be a Jew".

The variety of texts enables the students to see the problems of the war period from different points of view. These texts are given as homework; they are too long to be read during lessons. Each text has been methodologically prepared, illustrated and completed by some peculiarities, e.g. jokes from that time.

As an alternative, the Ministry of Education has approved one more textbook: "Slovakia in the 20th Century" by R. Letz, published by the Slovakian educational publishing house. Politically, the author belongs to the camp of nationalism and political Catholicism. The structure of the textbook, its content and graphic design, are similar to the system before the change. The chapter "Slovakia between 1938 and 1941" has seven subchapters.

The author's nationalist attitude becomes evident when he interprets the development of the First Slovak Republic as an important step towards the political and national emancipation of Slovaks. The author does not even try to interpret the state elections of 1938. The impression is that he tries to "defend" the former regime.

The participation of Slovakia in the war against Poland and the Soviet Union is presented as if Slovakia had been forced into this war or as if the radical policy of Hlinka's Slovak People's Party (V. Tuka, A.Mach) had been the cause. However, the author ignores the fact that the Slovak Republic declared war to Great Britain and the USA. He explains the persecution of the Jews as caused just by those politicians. The author keeps quiet on the responsibility of other actors, e.g. the Slovakian Parliament, the president or other members of the government. The use of this textbook may give students incorrect and distorted ideas about the political role the politicians in charge played for the development of an authoritarian regime in Slovakia. This also applies to the Holocaust. The author mentions the anti-fascist resistance struggle, but he does not say that only due to its existence, the Allies did not treat Slovakia like the other allies of Germany, e.g. Hungary, Finland or Bulgaria.

The textbook "From the Second World War to the Present Time" by V. Varinský, M. Stefánsky, E. Chylová, V. Stefánsky, and K. Frema was approved by the Ministry of Education for the use at special schools and vocational training schools in 1999. The book was published by Pictus Istropolitana publishing in Bratislava; Miroslav Cipár was responsible for the design. The structure of the textbook is influenced by the group of authors around D. Kovác. The Second World War has been divided into two thematic sections: "The World and the Second World War" (four topics to be taught in four lessons) and "Slovakia during the War Period" (four topics). The text is overburdened with facts, events are listed in a positivist way, without an attempt towards assessment or systematisation. The authors focus on the enumeration of facts and figures about the war events and the development of the anti-Hitler coalition. The Holocaust is mentioned only briefly in the context of the war against the Soviet Union.

The textbook represents the history of the First Slovak Republic in a clearly nationalist way. The authors are of the opinion that the proclamation of the Slovak Republic by the parliament was legitimate and prevented Slovakia from being divided up amongst the neighbouring countries. This interpretation is, however, a mystification of the situation at that time - the development of the Slovak Republic was in actual fact a consequence of German rule in Central Europe, aiming at preventing the neighbouring countries to divide Slovakia among themselves. After all, the war against Poland began only a few months after this event. Nevertheless, the authors respect the authority of the regime.

In the chapter "The Slovak Republic and the War" the authors describe Slovakia's participation in the war against Poland and the Soviet Union; the declaration of war against Great Britain and the USA is at least mentioned. The students are also supposed to learn about the Holocaust is in this context. The representation of the authors, according to which the expropriation of Jewish property happened only after the introduction of the Jewish Codex in 1941, is not correct. The first and the second "Law on Aryanization" came into force already in 1940. The government is seen as overall responsible for anti-Semitism. The anti-fascist resistance struggle is interpreted on the background of the decision to become part of the anti-Hitler coalition of the USA, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, in order to enable the Slovaks to be on the side of the victorious powers at the end of the war (in contrast to Hungary, Bulgaria and Finland).

It is worrying indeed that up until now  - years after November 1989 - no approved textbook on the history of the 20th century is available for higher level schools. The textbook competition was won by a group of authors around J. Hecková of the Institute of History at the University of Nitra. However, this group has not realised any of the three planned editions for higher level schools. The textbook was scheduled to be published this year or next year.

The curriculum includes instructions for teachers how to deal with the topics Second World War and Slovak Republic during the war in 16 lessons. 66 lessons are scheduled for the entire school year. The topic "The Slovak Republic 1939 – 1945" is divided in the following subtopics: The Slovak Republic and Europe - Political, Economic and Cultural Development - Opposition and Resistance - Slovak National Uprising - Liberation of Slovakia - Re-establishment of the Czechoslovakian Republic. This structure would allow teachers to dedicate at least one full lesson to the Holocaust.

This term, the students are supposed to get a history textbook by A. Bartlova and R. Letz. As there is no adequate textbook yet, teachers at higher level schools are compelled to dictate the syllabus to the students, a fact that certainly hampers the learning process.

(September 2005)


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