In 1942, Slovak War State officials dispatched the first transports of Slovak Jews branded with the star of David. In a highly bizarre commemoration of this seminal event fifty-five years ago, officials from the Education Ministry have dispatched to all grade schools in Slovakia a history book that has inflamed the country's Jewish community and drawn harsh criticism from at least one state-run historical science institute.
At issue is a book called "The History of Slovakia and the Slovaks" by Milan S. Ďurica, a Slovak priest and historian, and currently a professor at the University of Padova in Italy.
While praising Ďurica for undertaking virtually a pioneering historiographical trip, Valerián Bystrický, deputy director of the Slovak Academy of Science's Institute of History, said that the author has tripped one too many times on his journey. "It was a helpful undertaking, because such a book is much needed," Bystrický said, "but the author's choice and presentation of many facts is too biased and one-sided."
"Ďurica is a well-known apologist of the Slovak War State from 1939-1945," Bystrický added, "and it shows in the book."
That much is apparent in the institute's critique. The 12-page review specifies 36 factual errors or serious ideological twists that "contradict the current level of historical knowledge," the report stated. At the book's end, the review noted that the 36 cases are only the tip of the iceberg.
"All limits of poor taste are exceeded in the description of life in the Jewish work camps (p.162) that seems like paradise," reads a part of the review extensively criticizing Ďurica's explanation of the Holocaust. "The book claims that Jewish dentists in the camps received gold for teeth, something that regular Slovak citizens could not afford."
In the same section, Ďurica wrote that in a "work camp" in the western Slovak town of Sereď, prisoners could use "the most advanced carpentry equipment available at the time."
The review also includes Ďurica's explanation that the Slovak prime minister at the time, Vojtech Tuka, and the minister of interior, Alexander Mach, defended the mass transports of Jews, saying that they didn't want their families to be torn apart by the send-offs. "Therefore from April 11, 1942," Ďurica wrote, "they began to deport whole families."
The period from 1939-45 takes up 70 pages, or more than one-quarter of the whole book; by comparison, the era from the year 1 to the year 1848 takes up 75 pages.
Bystrický delivered his opinion on the book back in February 1995, when its first edition was to be published by Slovenské Pedagogické Nakladateľstvo (SPN), a state-run publishing house that prints primarily educational materials.
Based on Bystrický's opinion, SPN declined to print the book. But Bystrický said that later Ďurica found "a rather obscure way" to publish it with PRESSKO, a company located in Košice.
Then the Ministry of Education joined in. With Eva Slavkovská, a member of the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) at its helm, the ministry sponsored the 80,000 print run of the book's second edition in late summer 1996. At the end of 1996, the ministry began sending the book to all grade schools in Slovakia. Though it's not a textbook, it may be recommended by teachers to pupils for follow-up study. Nevertheless, the ministry told schools they must receive it.
Bystrický doubted it will help pupils much. "Since it's a calendar, it can't be used in a didactic way," he said. "A pupil would be stupid after reading this."
The book's imprint says that it is a "special publication of the Ministry of Education." But the pilot turns to Pilate in the following sentence that dumps all responsibility for the book's content on the author.
Slavkovská and other ministry officials refused repeated attempts by The Slovak Spectator for comment.
The country's Jewish community, however, haven't remained mute. Community leaders issued a statement on April 9 voicing anxiety over what they claim is one too many displays of the government pricking a deaf ear to growing Anti-Semitism in Slovak society.
While criticizing the police for their lethargy in investigating "the continued Anti-Semitic vandalism" that fulminated over the Easter weekend with the desecration of two Jewish cemeteries in Nové Zámky and Košice, the statement issued by the Central Association of Jewish Religious Communities and Jewish humanitarian society B'nai B'rith focused on Ďurica's book.
"We have to highlight again... the distribution of Anti-Semitic and extreme nationalist literature which, paid for by taxpayers' money, is being distributed administratively to basic schools...," the statement read. The government hasn't responded to the appeal. "I would actually be surprised if the cabinet responded to anything that is coming from our side," said Pavol Franek, the association's spokesman.
24. Apr 1997 at 0:00 | Daniel Borský