This Day in Jewish History

1942: Slovakian Jews Sent to Nazi Death Camps in Occupied Poland

On March 25, 999 Jewish women became the first shipped from Slovakia to the death camps.

AP

On March 25, 1942, the first deportation of Jews from the Slovak Republic to Nazi death camps took place, a process that continued until the following October. During this period, some 58,000 Slovakian Jews were sent to their deaths.

On the eve of World War II, Slovakia, which was part of a united Czechoslovakia, had some 135,000 Jews, a population whose roots in the country went back to the 11th century. About 40,000 of them were in the territories ceded by Slovakia to Hungary after the former declared independence, on March 14, 1939. The following day, Nazi Germany occupied Moravia and Bohemia, the Czech parts of the country, while Slovakia became a puppet state of Nazi Germany.

Jozef Tiso, a Catholic priest, became its president, and he and his followers established a one-party dictatorship that took its guidance from the Third Reich.

Within a month, independent Slovakia began adopting increasingly harsh anti-Jewish legislation, whose overall effect was to eliminate Jews from the country’s political, social and economic life. Jews were forbidden to serve in Slovakia’s armed forces, and instead were assigned to forced-labor battalions. Eventually, Jewish-owned business were expropriated by the regime.

In August 1940, the Germans sent an adviser on Jewish affairs to Bratislava, SS-Haupsturmfuhrer Dieter Wislicen, and Slovakia reorganized its fascist militias on the model of the SS. In November, the country formally joined the Tripartite Pact that bound the Axis powers. As a member of the Axis, it was now committed to participating in the invasion of the Soviet Union and declaring war on the United States.

Slovakia also signed an agreement with Germany by which it promised to deport its Jews to the Reich, supposedly to work in labor camps. Slovakia even committed to paying a fixed sum for each Jew taken, and in return, the Germans guaranteed that the Jews would never return.

It was Slovak security forces — according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, they included gendarmes and soldiers, as well as members of the Slovak People’s Party Hlinka Guard paramilitaries, and another ethnic-German paramilitary force, the Volunteer SS — who arrested the Jews.

After they were brought to the border, the Jews were transported to labor camps in the Lublin district. The next stop was Majdanek, Sobibor or Belzec, death camps in the vicinity of Lublin. A smaller number met their deaths at Auschwitz.

The first deportation took place on March 25, 1942, and consisted of 999 young Jewish women, who gathered in the town of Poprad, from which they were sent to Auschwitz, in occupied Poland. The transfers went on until October 25, and were halted partly in response to intervention on the part of the Catholic Church, partly due to bribes paid for by Jewish groups, and partly in response to objections from Tiso, the president. By that point, 57,628 Jews had been deported, of whom it is estimated that only around 300 survived World War II.

Deportations of the country’s remaining 24,000 Jews resumed only after August 29, 1944. On that date, a popular uprising began in Slovakia, which gave the Germans an opportunity to occupy the country. At that point, SS officer and henchman to Adolf Eichmann Alois Brunner arrived, to make sure the job was done right. Whereas previously, certificates of exemption had been given to Jews who could make a case that they were essential to Slovakia’s economy, now there were to be no exceptions.

From then until March 1945, an additional 13,500 Jews were deported, most of them to Auschwitz, where they were murdered upon arrival. An additional 2,000 Slovakian Jews were killed within the country, by members of the Einsatzgruppen and local collaborators.