The City and Region Against the Backdrop of Totalitarianism

Images from the Life in the Slovak Republic (1939–1945), Illustrated by the City of Nitra and Its Surroundings

by Miroslav Palárik (Author) Alena Mikulášová (Author) Martin Hetényi (Author) Róbert Arpáš (Author)
©2018 Monographs 280 Pages


This book draws attention to the manifestation of the totalitarian regime in Slovakia during World War II in its influences on the Nitra region, known for its dominant historical, economic and cultural center, the city of Nitra. The authors capture the reflection of regulations issued by the central government on the lower level of state administration and show to what extent particular decisions intervened in and influenced the lives of ordinary citizens on a regional level. The changes were obvious in the political, economic, social and cultural life. The book, based on detailed archival research, is a collection of human fates and tragedies caused by the events engendered within the framework of «great politics».

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • 1. A Brief Overview of the Historical Development of the Slovak State 1939–1945
  • 1.1 From Autonomy to Independence
  • 1.2 The Slovak State and Its Structure
  • 1.3 The Regime of the Slovak Republic
  • 1.4 Changes in the Cultural Sphere in Slovakia During World War II
  • 1.5 The Slovak Republic in the Background of Foreign Policy
  • 1.6 Solving the So-called Jewish Question as an Example of the Oppressing Character of the Slovak Regime
  • 1.7 From Opposition to the Uprising
  • 1.8 The Dissolution of the Slovak Republic
  • 2. Interventions of the Totalitarian Power into the Life of the Nitra Region
  • 2.1 The Influence of Arbitral Decisions on the Lives of the Inhabitants on Both Sides of the New State Border
  • 2.2 Changes in the Functioning of the Nitra Regional Administration after the Establishment of the Regime of Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party
  • 2.3 The Liberation of the Nitra Region
  • 3. Repressions of Administration Offices and Public Spaces by the Ruling Party in the City of Nitra
  • 3.1 Changes in City Administration after 1938
  • 3.2 Changes in the Names of Nitra’s Streets. New State Heroes in the Collective Memory
  • 3.3 Searching for New Enemies. State and Sacral Symbols, Monuments and Sculptures in the Spotlight of Totalitarianism
  • 3.4 Changes in the Calendar. Celebration of Holidays and Anniversaries under the Guardianship of the State Power
  • 3.5 Other Interventions of the Party in the Functioning of the Public Spaces in Nitra
  • 4. Interventions of Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party into the Cultural Area and into the Ways of Spending Leisure Time in Nitra in the Years between 1939 and 1945
  • 4.1 Libri Prohibiti. Inspections in Nitra’s Libraries
  • 4.1.1 Aryanization of Nitra’s Printing Houses
  • 4.1.2 Inspections of the Library Collection
  • 4.2 The Cinema and Film in the Service of the Propaganda. The Fate of Nitra’s Cinemas During the Second World War
  • 4.3 The Theatrical Scene in Nitra
  • 4.3.1 The Slovak Folk Theater of Fraňo Devinský
  • 4.4 The Influence of War on Selected Leisure Time Activities of Nitra’s Residents
  • Conclusion
  • A List of Used Sources and Literature
  • Index of names
  • Index of subjects

← 6 | 7 →


The development of the international situation in Europe during the 1930’s and the domestic tension culminated in the dissolution of the Czecho-Slovak Republic in March 1939. The internal rupture of the state occurred on various levels. The events that took place on the central plane influenced the life of the residents in the entire state. Specific manifestations of these occurrences, as well as the whole process, displayed common features in different areas. The situation, during these hectic times of the disintegration of the Republic, influenced strongly the entire society and, in particular, the community of one of the oldest cities in Slovakia–Nitra. The consequences of the decisions made by political elites in large cities throughout the country were reflected here as well. Ambitious regional politicians sensed new political options, which could open, at the expense of leaving the government formation. After the adoption of the Vienna Arbitration’s decision in November 1938, Nitra and its adjacent surroundings were directly neighboring Horthy’s Hungary. Issues regarding the migration of population, refugee waves, the transit of resistance fighters, cross-border propaganda and the sinusoidal development of bilateral Slovak-Hungarian relationships were in the foreground. These matters had a deep impact on the daily life of the cross-border population, while at the same time keeping the state offices and power-security forces extremely busy.

This monograph focuses on the manifestations of the totalitarian regime in Slovakia during World War II in the Nitra region. Current research of the history of the Slovak Republic in the years between 1939 and 1945 generally focuses on the research of the nationwide situation, in terms of analyzing individual steps of the new state apparatus in different areas of political, economic, cultural and social life. The authors of the submitted publication intended to capture the reflection of these changes on the lower level of state administration. They, therefore, asked research questions aimed at determining (at least partially) as to what extent these processes interfered with, and influenced the lives of ordinary citizens in regional Slovakia after the establishment of the totalitarian regime and the declaration of autonomy in autumn 1938. The demise and death of the governance system in Slovakia during World War II is questioned by several authors. Regional research may, therefore, provide a new, more detailed view of the operation of Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party and its associated organizations.

The selection of the location was not accidental. The region is known for its dominant historical, economic and cultural-social center, the city of Nitra. ← 7 | 8 → Ancient Nitra played an important role in the rhetoric of the representatives of the new totalitarian power. For a long time, it had the status of being the so-called “mother of Slovak cities”, the residence of the first Slovak King Svätopluk during the Early Middle Ages. In the described period, Nitra was one of the largest cities in Slovakia, with a well-developed infrastructure. From an economic point of view, its main economic focus was on the processing of agricultural products (such as cereals, sugar-beet, tobacco) grown in the region. It was a multi-ethnic city. It had Jewish, Hungarian, German and minor Roma communities. Jewish merchants and businessmen, in particular, contributed to the economic growth of the city. From the Early Middle Ages it also gained the status of an intellectual center. Based on written sources the oldest Christian church in the territory of Central Europe, dated into the first half of the 9th century, was supposed to be located there. Nitra was also a church-administrative center established by Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius in the second half of the 9th century.

During the researched period, the bishop Karol Kmeťko was stationed in the castle area, there were, however, also other church institutions and orders (the Franciscans, the Piarists, the Salesians, the Verbists). From a political point of view, the representatives of all three political parties, which were allowed after 1938, were active in the city: Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party (Hlinkova slovenská ľudová strana – HSĽS), the Unificated Hungarian Party and the German Party (Deutsche Partei).

For a simpler understanding and a deeper look at the issue, the present work starts with a chapter focusing on the beginning of the authoritative regime’s ascent to power in Slovakia and the fundamental milestones of this process. This chapter is followed by a description of events that played a key role in the lives of the residents of the Nitra region during World War II, on which the decision of the Vienna Arbitration had an enormous impact.

The border between both states moved closer to Nitra. The relationships between Slovak and Hungarian political representatives influenced everyday life of the populaces on both sides of the border. Consequently, the region became a bitter landmark where “higher interests” and the reality of everyday life met. It was not only a geographical border between two states, but also a line marking human suffering and individual tragedies. The final chapters of the work describe the specific influence the totalitarian governance had on the social and cultural life of Nitra’s citizens. The occurrences described in this part of the work show the extent to which the central regulations were applied in practice, as well as how the actions of the active members of Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party in the ← 8 | 9 → chosen region strengthened them. It shows in detail how the system functioned between 1939 and 1945 in Slovakia.

Totalitarianism interests not only historians but also philosophers, sociologists, political scientists, ethnologists and scientists from other fields. How it is formed, the appropriation of power, its modus operandi and strategies for surviving are the objects of research for many authors.1

We may use the term totality, referring to the Slovak history in the years between 1939 and 1945 or, more precisely, to the history of the Slovak State (from July 1939, the Slovak Republic). This subject has been a point of interest not only for professional historians of Slovakia but also for amateurs. The communist rule in Czechoslovakia between 1948–1989, which either made this issue taboo or interpreted it according to the communist doctrine as the heroic fight of the communist party against the “clero-fascist” regime of the Slovak State collaborating with Nazi Germany, contributed to it being a topic of a never-ending interest.2 At the same time, the communists claimed credit for the resistance activities which culminated in the Slovak National Uprising.3 The contribution of non-communist opposition, as well as the importance of the resistance army, were intentionally marginalized or dismissed. Instead, the emphasis was put on the achievements of the Partisan movement organized by the communist party and on the importance of the help provided by the Soviet Union.

Despite this, works of great value, which are still part of fundamental literature about the researched period, were created during the time of political thaw.4 They were either editions of contemporary documents providing the reader with ← 9 | 10 → an objective overview of the situation or attempts to map the actual role of the non-communist resistance movement.5

The impossibility of unrestricted research of the history of the Slovak State makes the works authored by Slovak exiles the more important. It has to be noted, however, that the views of these authors differed considerably from the official discourse. The political affiliation of emigrants was the major dividing line, as former allies of the communists in the struggle against the totalitarian, fascist regime, also emigrated after 1948. The new communist regime was eager to get rid of them, perceiving them as a political threat. This was the case with Jozef Lettrich, one of the leading political representatives of the Slovak National Uprising who attempted to inform the American public about the Slovak history during the 19th and the 20th centuries.6 The works by Ladislav Lipscher7 and Miroslav Ličko8 were also seen as problematic. However, Lettrich’s text was simultaneously a response to the publications issued by the second exile wing. These were supporters of the Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party and included its former political exponents such as Karol Sidor,9 Ferdinand Ďurčanský,10 Konštantín Čulen,11 Jozef Kirschbaum12 and ← 10 | 11 → Jozef Paučo.13 They, in turn, attracted capable followers, the most famous among them being Milan Stanislav Ďurica.14

In addition to the Slovak exile, the issue of the regime of Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party was a point of interest for many non-Slovak authors, who attempted to describe it impartially, for instance, Germans writers such as Jörg K. Hoensch and Tatjana Tönsmeyer, the Israeli Yeshayahu A. Jelinek and the American James Mace Ward.15

After the fall of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia and with the allowance of free scientific research an attempt was made to revise and amend national and exile historiography. Common ground was not established due to their utterly different positions concerning the assessment of the regime of the Slovak State. Therefore, a division of historiography based on the perception of the political rule still persists. The attempt at conducting objective research is undertaken in scientific institutions and universities, the employees of which have published numerous significant publications providing new information on the period in question. The works of Valerián Bystrický,16 who focuses on the circumstances of the establishment of the Slovak State and works by Ľubomír Lipták, are some of the most significant ← 11 | 12 → examples.17 Michal Schvarc18 deals with German-Slovak relations during the researched period. The Jewish question is at the center of interest for Katarína Hradská,19 ← 12 | 13 → Eduard Nižnanský20 and also Ivan Kamenec,21 who focuses on the issue of the Slovak Republic in the years 1939–1945. Ľubica Kázmerová,22 on the other hand, concentrated on one of the contributors to the policy of Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party—Karol Sidor. Pavol Mičianik23 and František Cséfalvay24 belong to ← 13 | 14 → the historians dealing with military issues of the time. Samizdat works by Jozef Jablonický, that were permitted to be published during a change in political conditions after 1989, may not be overlooked.25 Collective monographs dedicated to the Slovak National Uprising26 and the history of the Slovak Republic 1939–1945 are also noteworthy.27

The cultural issue, the activities of the society and the protection of monuments have been, until now, only marginally discussed by Slovak historians. A comprehensive elaboration on the cultural image of the Slovak State does not exist. Works by Vladimír Štefko,28 Petra Hanáková,29 Vladimír Draxler,30 Miroslav Palárik and Alena Mikulášová have an outlining character.31 ← 14 | 15 →

On the other hand, there are historians endorsing the existence of the Slovak State. In addition to the above-mentioned Milan Stanislav Ďurica32, a supporter of Hlinka’s Slovak People’s Party, also František Vnuk33 and individual historians such as Róbert Letz34 and Martin Lacko have expressed their more supportive attitude towards the Slovak State.35

The short but rich historical era of the first Slovak Republic in the years between 1939 and 1945 as well as its autonomous development is discussed in a relatively vast number of scientific and professional works. There are not so many texts, however, dealing with regional history, local administration, district or county establishments.36 Historians have recently become more interested in ← 15 | 16 → these issues,37 thus, a more comprehensive analysis of these subjects still remains topical.

A closer look at the history of the Nitra region is provided by some thematically and temporally broader publications.38 Works about Nitra and its adjacent ← 16 | 17 → municipalities published before 1989 focus on the labor history and communist resistance, while the period of autonomy is presented as of marginal importance.39 The more recent work by Ida Zubácka offers the possibility to comprehensively learn about the history of the city between 1918–1938, however, a more complex analysis of the second stage of the Second Czecho-Slovak Republic, or of broader regional issues is still nonexistent.40 In 1998, the City office in Nitra published an encyclopedia Významné osobnosti Nitry [En. Prominent Figures of Nitra] which discusses also politically active authorities at the turn of 1930’s and 1940’s. It is surprising that, for instance, there is no reference to the function of František Mojto, a long-term mayor of Nitra and, undoubtedly, a charismatic figure, who greatly contributed to the city’s improvement, as the government commissioner after 1940.41 The only contemporary contribution by a professional historian is a ← 17 | 18 → chapter in Nitra v období totality (1939–1990) [En. Nitra during the Totalitarian Period (1939–1990)] in a comprehensive work Dejiny Nitry Od najstarších čias po súčasnosť. [En. The history of Nitra. From the Oldest Times to the Present].42 Due to the limited space in this chapter, some facts were only outlined. At present, new studies focusing on various partial questions are being issued.43 However, a monograph about Nitra or its region from 1938 to 1945 has not yet been written.

Except for the aforementioned works, the research on this issue was based on wide source material. Documents of crucial importance have been deposited in the collections of the following institutions: Slovenský národný archív v ← 18 | 19 → Bratislave [En. The Slovak National Archive in Bratislava], Archív Slovenského národného múzea v Bratislave [En. The Archive of the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava], Archív Pamiatkového úradu v Bratislave [En. The Monuments Board of the Slovak Republic in Bratislava], Slovenský filmový ústav v Bratislave [En. The Slovak Film Institute in Bratislava] and Archív Matice slovenskej v Martine [En. The Archive of Matica Slovenská in Martin]. The majority of the issues of the period has been fairly well explored on a national level, we were, therefore, able to use information related to cultural life and the monuments from these archives, considering that a comprehensive perception of these phenomena is, more or less, absent in Slovak historiography. The sources for the elaboration on this issue on a regional level were provided by Štátny archív v Nitre s pobočkami v Ivanke pri Nitre a Horných Krškanoch [En. The State Archive in Nitra with its branches in Ivanka pri Nitre and Horné Krškany], and also by Divadelný ústav v Bratislave [En. The Theater Institute in Bratislava]. Another important source of information concerning the atmosphere and life during the researched period was the regional press—especially the weekly Nitrianska stráž [En. The Nitra Guard] and other contemporary journals and works, which are listed at the end of this publication. The actions of the governing party and its organizations on the national, as well as on the regional level, were more difficult to retrace. The majority of documents was destroyed during the liberation of the territory, either on purpose or due to objective reasons related to the transit of the front line. The absence of official documents may be partially redressed by the output of the press of the time and the accounts of eye-witnesses. ← 19 | 20 →

1 E. g. ARENDT, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York: World Publishing Co., Meridian Books, 1958, 576 p. ARON, Raymond. Demokracie a totalitarismus [Democracy and Totalitarianism]. Brno: Atlantis, 1999, 224 p. POPPER, Karl R. The Open Society and its Enemies. Volume II.: The High Tide of Prophecy: Hegel, Marx, and the Aftermath. New York and Evanston: Harper & Row, Harper Torchbooks, 1967, 420 p.

2 It was greatly manifested in a multi-volume work which focused on the history of Slovakia. Precisely, its fifth volume, dealing with the period of 1939–1945, was to the greatest extent influenced by ideology. KROPILÁK, Miroslav a kol. Dejiny Slovenska V. [The History of Slovakia V]. Bratislava: Veda, 1985, 607 p.

3 See for example HUSÁK, Gustáv. Svedectvo o Slovenskom národnom povstaní. [Testimony of the Slovak National Uprising]. Bratislava: Nakladateľstvo Pravda, 1975, 686 p. KROPILÁK, Miroslav. Povstanie a revolúcia. [Uprising and Revolution]. Bratislava: Obzor, 1984, 208 p.

4 PREČAN, Vilém. (ed.). Slovenské národné povstanie. Dokumenty. [The Slovak National Uprising. Documents]. Bratislava: Vydavateľstvo politickej literatúry, 1966, 1218 p. PREČAN, Vilém (ed.). Slovenské národné povstanie. Nemci a Slovensko. Dokumenty. [The Slovak National Uprising. The Germans and Slovakia. Documents]. Bratislava: Epocha, 1971, 701 p.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
History 20th century Slovak Republic 1939–1945 Public Spaces Everyday Life
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018., 280 pp., 17 fig. b/w

Biographical notes

Miroslav Palárik (Author) Alena Mikulášová (Author) Martin Hetényi (Author) Róbert Arpáš (Author)

Miroslav Palárik is a lecturer at the Department of History at The Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra (Slovakia). His research interests include the history of Slovakia in the first half of the 20th century with an emphasis on the history of museums, museum associations and the history of the town of Nitra. His monography "The Union of Slovak Museums during the Slovak State 1939–1945" was awarded with the Rector’s Award of Constantine the Philosopher University. Alena Mikulášová is a lecturer at The Department of History at The Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra. In her research, she focuses on the history of the 20th century, the history of everyday life and its interpretation in the school practice. In her publications and scientific activities, she specialises in the regional history of Nitra during World War II. Martin Hetényi is an associate professor and a researcher from The Institute for Research of Constantine and Methodius’ Cultural Heritage at The Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra. He focuses on the totalitarian regime in Slovakia in the years 1939–1945, especially in Nitra and nearby places. He has published several monographs and articles in peer-reviewed journals. Róbert Arpáš is a lecturer at the Department of History at The Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra and a researcher at the Institute of History of The Slovak Academy of Science. He deals with the history of Slovakia in the first half of the 20th century with an emphasis on the autonomy movement, the autonomy period and the resistance movement during 1939–1945.


Title: The City and Region Against the Backdrop of Totalitarianism