EXHIBITION TELLS THE STORY OF SLOVAK AIR FORCE OFFICERS IN SECOND WORLD WAR

Struggling into history

AN EXHIBITION celebrating Slovak officers who served with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) during the second world war is now running at the Slovak National Museum under the name Per Ardua Ad Astra.
The title, which is the Latin motto of the RAF, means "through struggles to the stars".
This motto seems to best serve as a description of the challenges Slovak RAF officers faced, not only during their service in the war, but also upon their return home after the war finished, and, finally, in being accepted into history.


THE LIVES of Slovaks in British air force also featured in English.
photo: Courtesy of ACES Bratislava

AN EXHIBITION celebrating Slovak officers who served with the British Royal Air Force (RAF) during the second world war is now running at the Slovak National Museum under the name Per Ardua Ad Astra.

The title, which is the Latin motto of the RAF, means "through struggles to the stars". This motto seems to best serve as a description of the challenges Slovak RAF officers faced, not only during their service in the war, but also upon their return home after the war finished, and, finally, in being accepted into history.

Open until the end of the month, the exhibition is the first independent presentation on this theme in the country. It documents the stories of Slovak officers through photographs, writings, and graphic materials collected from Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Great Britain in collaboration with individuals as well as institutions.

Between the years 1940 and 1945, around 3,500 Czech and Slovak pilots flew in many different operations, including sweeps over occupied Europe, the invasion of Normandy, bombardments of Germany, and night operations.

Ivan Schwarc, a veteran officer now in his late 70s who is pictured at the age of 18 in one of the exhibition's photos, said: "Only two of us [Slovak RAF officers] are still alive today. The situation [for us] is not tragic because an effort has been made to dedicate attention to our actions."

The exhibition features a collection of personal information about 321 Slovak RAF officers - their missions, their equipment, and their daily lives. It contains 230 photographs of pilots, navigators, radio operators, gunners, mechanics, military engineers, specialists, ground personnel, and others. The exhibit also includes uniforms, leather flight helmets, military letters, models of the Supermarine Spitfire and the Hawker Hurricane airplanes, and the wartime log of one officer, Jozef Zvolenský. Some of the photographs and documents had, until now, never been publicised, and were gathered individually from personal collections.

The authors of the exhibit, headed by curator Július Lovecký and designer Pavel Habáň, specifically focused on several members of the Slovak air force, constructing their lives in careful detail. Among them are the fighter pilot generals Ján Ambruš and Oto Smik, and gunners Pavol Pukančík and Ján Šimko, who, together with the other Slovak RAF officers, are now written into the history of the Slovak struggle for freedom.

Czechoslovak president Edvard Beneš praised the air force officers during the war with the words "Your homeland will never forget you!" and ironically, it did not. Victimization, repression, torture, and physical liquidation of all officers from the western resistance and their families at the hands of the communists after their rise to power in February 1948 were the fulfilment of these words. The exhibit documents this sad episode of Slovak history as well.

Opening the exhibit on October 2, the British ambassador to Slovakia, Ric Todd, said that it "offers Slovaks a piece of history denied to them for years".

The exhibition is in English and Slovak. It is open daily, except for Mondays, from 9:00 to 17:00 until October 31. Admission is Sk10 and Sk20. It runs at the Slovak National Museum at Vajanského nábrežie 2, in Bratislava. Tel: 02/5934-9122. The exhibition will then move to the Slovak Technical Museum in Košice.

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