The Associated Press
BRATISLAVA, Slovakia Ä More than 80,000 Slovaks defied the German army 50 years ago in Europe's second-largest uprising against Nazi rule, but history has taken little note of it.
Unlike the larger one in Warsaw, the Slovak revolt is hardly remembered outside this small, poor nation of 5 million people.
In four decades of communist rule, the memory was blunted by ceremonies that gave the Soviet army credit for inspiring the rebellion and freeing Slovakia. For many Slovaks, such dull commemorations provided a haven from more troubling memories: the fact that their country had been a Nazi-puppet state and allowed 70,000 Jews to be deported to death camps.
Now, 20 months after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia, officials hope the anniversary will strengthen the national pride of Slovaks, for whom independence has been a mixed blessing at best.
On Saturday, representatives of 22 countries gathered at Banska Bystrica, the city in central Slovakia where the rebellion began. Among them were Madeleine Albright, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and the presidents of the Czech Republic, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia.
The revolt began Aug. 29, 1944, after Hitler ordered German troops into Slovakia to defend the puppet regime of Josef Tiso, a Roman Catholic priest, from Soviet-trained guerrillas who parachuted in a month earlier.
More than 80,000 armed Slovaks, many of them defectors from Tiso, gained control of mountainous central Slovakia and freed Allied airmen who had been shot down and captured.
"Banska Bystrica was the heart of the uprising because of the land and the people," said Peter Hamala, a local historian. "It was easy to start a resistance movement in the hills, and the people in central Slovakia are independent. They strongly opposed Nazism."
"The vast majority of Slovaks never associated themselves with Germany or Hitler," said Jan Husak, a retired major general who fought in the uprising and now heads the Slovak Anti-Fascist Association.
Decades of communist propaganda reinforce those views, and Slovaks hesitate to question them. Doing so would force a painful examination of popular support for Tiso, who was hanged for treason in 1947.
Their respective conduct during the war was one of many sore points between Czechs and Slovaks before they split apart.
Czechs remember Slovakia breaking away in 1939 to support Hitler, who let the Slovaks run their own affairs but placed the Czech lands under direct German control. Slovaks counter that the Czechs did not rebel until May 1945.
The Tiso era was the only period of independence in nearly 1,000 years for Slovaks, who were ruled by Hungary before World War I and federated with the Czechs before and after World War II.
Because he was a priest, Tiso still is accorded some reverence among devout Catholics in rural areas. Partisan memories also are strong in the countryside.
Polomka, a village of 3,500 east of Banska Bystrica, never forgot the members of U.S. and British intelligence missions who hid in a mountain hut and were captured by the Germans on Dec. 26, 1944.
They and AP correspondent Joseph Morton, who was hiding with them, were taken to Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. Twelve Americans, including Morton, were executed there in January 1945.
After the raid, the Germans burned the hut. The villagers rebuilt it in 1946 and will hold their own anniversary ceremony Sunday, attended by Albright.
The August 1944 uprising did not last long. German forces sent by Hitler regained control within weeks and promised Soviet support did not materialize. At least 3,000 resistance fighters were killed and more than 10,000 captured.
Grim accounts by two survivors of the U.S. intelligence mission, found in military archives in Washington, suggest that Slovaks, unnerved by the Nazi counterattack and harsh winter, swiftly deserted the rebellion.
That left Allied airmen, French fighters and the British and American intelligence agents stranded in the mountains with the last of the fighters.
Only the hardiest survived. Many will attend the ceremonies to bear witness to the stuggle and to keep the memory from being distorted again.
"The uprising has been twisted by history and politicians," said Pavel Kamensky, 72, a partisan who escaped capture at Polomka.
"Communists said they did all the fighting and partisans didn't suffer," he said. "In recent years, politicians have used it for their own means." Read Next Article