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Slovak Republic

Jana Habrovcová

In March 1939, following the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the German Reich, the independent Slovak Republic was proclaimed. An authoritarian regime headed by the Hlinkova slovenská ľudová strana (Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party, named after the deceased former party chairman, Andrej Hlinka) took power. Under President Jozef Tiso (1887–1947), a radically nationalist Catholic priest, Slovakia became a close ally of the German Reich, which exerted political and economic influence on the satellite state.

The exact number of Roma who lived on the territory of the Slovak state is not known. One estimate puts the number at c. 100,000. This does not, however, include the Slovakian Roma who lived on the territory that was ceded to Hungary as a result of the Munich Agreement of 1938 – the southern Slovakian border region and Carpatho-Ukraine. The vast majority of Roma were sedentary. They earned their livelihoods through handicrafts and trades (blacksmiths, basket weavers, etc.), musical performances or seasonal work in agriculture. Only a small group of Roma spent most of the year as itinerant traders, trading in horses or peddling small items, and they lived in one place during winter.

Stigmatised as ‘Alien Elements’

The law on citizenship of 25 September 1939 defined all ‘nomadic’ Roma, all seasonal workers and those who spoke Romani among themselves as ‘alien elements’. They were deprived of civil and political rights and thus excluded from society. ‘Gypsies’ were denied the right of domicile, while their trade licences and traveller passes were rescinded and they were prohibited from trading in horses.

Roma were ordered to return to their home towns where they were then placed under police supervision. They were now only able to leave their place of residence with special permission. ‘Itinerant’ Roma were forced to sell their caravans and draught animals. Local Roma were compelled to demolish their dwellings close to frequented roads and then forcibly resettled in separate ‘Gypsy settlements’ at remote places. Once there, freedom of movement was prohibited entirely or severely restricted.

Forced Labour in ‘Labour Units’

In 1940, Jews and ‘Gypsies’ were discharged from the armed forces and excluded from military service. Racial origin was to be verified as part of the draft. Instead of military service, Roma were now forced to join separate ‘labour units’. From 1942 through 1944, several labour companies for ‘asocial elements’ were also set up. Because the term ‘asocial’ was interpreted randomly and the decision about who was to be rounded up was supposed to be left to the local municipal committees, Roma soon made up on average half of those interned in the labour camps. For example, during the first round of conscription in 1942 approximately 2,700 people were conscripted, of whom more than half were Roma.

Escalation of Persecution after August 1944

The persecution of Roma escalated with the occupation of Slovakia by the German Army in August 1944. During operations to quell the Slovakian national uprising of August 1944, acts of terror were committed against Roma. Settlements were raided and pillaged, while Roma were murdered for actually or allegedly supporting the partisan movement.

The base used to station the labour unit in Dubnica nad Váhom was turned into a ‘detention camp for Gypsies’ in November 1944. The capacity of the camp was approximately 300 inmates but at the end of 1944, twice as many people were being held there. When a typhus epidemic broke out in the camp, quarantine was imposed in the whole camp. Those infected by typhus were shot dead near the camp at the end of February 1945. The camp was disbanded at the beginning of April 1945, just before the city was liberated.

On the Slovakian state territory ceded to Hungary, Roma were deported at the end of 1944 to a collection camp in Komárno (Hungarian: Komárom) and from there to the Dachau concentration camp.

Effects Continue into Subsequent Generations

Even today, the situation of Roma in Slovakia is still severely affected by the racist state policy during World War II. Family structures, prevailing and respected cultural norms and the basis for their economic livelihood were destroyed and ties with the rest of society were cut. Thousands of Roma were forced to migrate from Slovakia to the Czech Republic, where almost all Roma had been killed.

The first studies of the persecution of Roma in Slovakia during World War II date from the 1970s. Besides archival material, an anthology of contemporary witness accounts recorded by Milena Hübschmannová from the late 1970s onwards has been published. As part of the ‘Ma bisteren!’ project run by the NGO ‘In Minorita’, seven memorial sites commemorating the genocide against Roma have been unveiled since 2005.