Profiting from persecution

THE NATION'S Memory Institute (ÚPN) has published on its website a list of 2,223 Jewish businesses, which were ‘aryanised’ during the Second World War. Since Jews were banned by law from owning any property between 1940 and 1945, the state (at that time a pro-Nazi independent republic) took their businesses from them and assigned them to non-Jews (or, as they were referred to by the state, ‘Aryans’).

THE NATION'S Memory Institute (ÚPN) has published on its website a list of 2,223 Jewish businesses, which were ‘aryanised’ during the Second World War. Since Jews were banned by law from owning any property between 1940 and 1945, the state (at that time a pro-Nazi independent republic) took their businesses from them and assigned them to non-Jews (or, as they were referred to by the state, ‘Aryans’).

The ÚPN published its list on October 31, complete with the names of those who acquired the Jewish businesses. They included, among other, the Roman-Catholic Episcopate of Spiš represented by Bishop Ján Vojtaššák, and a famous Slovak writer of children’s literature, Ľudo Mistrík Ondrejov.

The list is based on the archived records of the Central Economic Office, the Economy Ministry and the Hlinka Guard (Slovakia’s wartime fascist militia), from between 1942 and 1944. The records include details of earlier confiscations.

The list, however, is still incomplete.

None of the Jewish victims of aryanisation, according to ÚPN historian Ján Hlavinka, received any compensation for their businesses. “They [the beneficiaries] were supposed to pay [an amount reflecting] the value of the business into a blocked account held by state in the name of the original owner. But as the account was blocked, the money did not go to the original owner, but rather to the state,” Hlavinka said at a press conference.

The prices actually paid for the confiscated businesses, which were worth about 530 million crowns in 1940, were often too low, in his opinion. “Aryanisation was characterised by corruption and informality,” Hlavinka explained.

Moreover, as the authorised public authorities often gave preference to inexperienced and non-expert beneficiaries, many businesses went bankrupt after aryanisation, or cut production. In spite of the expected contribution to the public treasury, aryanisation caused significant economic damage, according to the ÚPN historian.

Hlavinka told The Slovak Spectator that the ÚPN has been examining the 1939–1945 persecution of Jews in Slovakia since 2005. In December of that year it published a list of liquidated (as opposed to aryanised) businesses on its website.

According to Hlavinka, when liquidating a business, the goal was to get money for it, or to destroy it: the representatives of the wartime Slovak State (1939-1945) were in favour of closing businesses to end what they viewed as excessive competition.

“The aryanised businesses were simply transferred to other owners, be they private or legal persons,” Hlavinka added. “Of the total number of about 12,300 Jewish businesses, about 10,000 were liquidated and about 2,300 aryanised.”

According to Hlavinka, drawing up the list of aryanised businesses was more demanding, and as a result has taken three years. While the list of liquidated businesses was based on published sources; the database of aryanised businesses had to be created from historical sources. This was a difficult task, as the archived records are in a poor state.

Historian Ľudovít Hallon, who acted as an expert consultant for the project, stressed at the press conference that the ÚPN list included only smaller businesses. “From autumn 1940, [other] crucial businesses were transferred to German owners or Slovak banks,” Hallon added.

The first phase of aryanisation definitively began in April 1940, when the Slovak Parliament passed the Bill on Jewish businesses and Jews employed in businesses.

It defined which businesses could be considered “Jewish” and ordered visible identification of “Jewish businesses” with a sign. It also specified the conditions under which these businesses could be transferred to the ownership of non-Jews, or liquidated.

The second phase of aryanisation of Jewish-owned businesses began in July 1940. The increasing radicalisation of Slovak politics soon led to an acceleration in the process of aryanisation.

“The Slovak Parliament, via a [September 1940] constitutional law, authorised the government to eliminate Jews from Slovak economic and social life,” Hlavinka said. According to Hlavinka, aryanisation was chaotic and riddled with corruption.

“The property of Jews lured not only Slovaks, but also Germans, who increased the pressure,” Hlavinka added.

“The crucial thing was that prospective beneficiaries of aryanisation had to gain necessary approval from the authorities within the regime: the Hlinka People’s Party (HSĽS); the ethnic German Deutsche Partei; the Hlinka Guard, etc,” Hlavinka stressed.

“Any qualifications for managing a business, or its finances, were unimportant.”

Hlavinka described the case of a female beneficiary, aged 21, who received a shop with turnover of more than million crowns a year. Later, the shop was taken from her as someone ‘more important’ wanted it.

But as the young woman had the support of someone from the General Secretariat of the HSĽS, she was offered another, less profitable property.

“None of the people involved thought anything of ‘making business’ out of the livelihood of two Jewish families.”

According to Hlavinka, then-President Jozef Tiso bears the political and moral responsibility for the liquidation and aryanisation of Jewish businesses: he signed the aryanisation law; he also signed the constitutional law of September 1940 which authorised the Slovak government to eradicate Jews from Slovakia’s economic and social life within one year. “He never spoke out against aryanisations as such. He bears full responsibility for what happened,” Hlavinka added.

For Hlavinka, the list of beneficiaries holds few surprises. Jewish property was obtained by the writer Ľudo Ondrejov, who took over a Bratislava bookshop and music shop.

In Starý Smokovec, the Organisation of the Slovak Red Cross assumed ownership of Jewish property, and in Žilina, the Matica Slovenská cultural institution was a beneficiary.

In connection with the aryanisation of the Baldovské Kúpele spa, there are documents proving that the spa was aryanised by the Roman-Catholic Episcopate of Spiš, which was represented by controversial bishop Ján Vojtaššák, according to the legal process then in force.

“Vojtaššák personally signed the application for aryanisation, and used his position to “beg for generosity when deciding to whom the spa would be transferred,” Hlavinka said. “Until 1944, he [Vojtaššák] then argued with the authorities about how much the Episcopate should pay for the aryanised spa.”

The head of the Jewish Museum in Bratislava, Pavol Mešťan, expressed satisfaction with publication of the list of beneficiaries, despite it not being complete.

He told The Slovak Spectator that he expected people whose names appear on the list to make excuses for having obtained Jewish property, predicting that they would claim that, in seizing the property, they intended to save it for Jews.

“The fact is that there were a few people who did so. But as we know, those were a minority of cases,” Mešťan said. “And it must also be said openly that a substantial proportion of [the Jews] did not return, as they did not survive the concentration camps.”

Mešťan pointed out that beneficiaries secured the property legally during the period of the Slovak State, and received a document authorising them to own what was formerly the property of Slovak Jews.

He pointed out that when, following the fall of communism in 1989, nationalised property confiscated after 1948 was restored to its original owners, it was the beneficiaries of aryanisation that obtained the formerly Jewish property again.

“They managed to prove that they had owned the property before 1948. And nobody investigated whether they had acquired it through aryanisation.”

Mešťan further stressed that the liquidation and aryanisation of Jewish property during the Nazi Slovak state was a decisive step towards excluding Jews from economic, but also social, life. “This eventually resulted in deportations,” Mešťan added.

The ÚPN is due to analyse a further 26 sets of records by the end of this year.

The Slovak State’s repression of Jews culminated in the deportation of about 70,000 people to concentration camps, beginning in 1942.

It later emerged that the state had paid Germany 500 Reichsmarks for every deportee. Most of the deported Slovak Jews died in German camps.

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