Slovakia and the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remebrance and Research
Slovakia is an active member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remebrance and Research ITF since November 15, 2005.
In 2008 the ITF celebrated the 10th anniversary of its establishment. This important grouping helps the Slovak Republic as well as the entire international community to remember and pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. We are pleased that the ITF family continues to expand and that more and more countries are now spreading the idea of Holocaust education, remembrance and research.
Slovakia participated in the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust in the year 2000 and its intensive cooperation with the ITF dates from that point. Five years of open cooperation and effort culminated in the Slovak Republic’s acceptance as a full member of the ITF in November 2005 in Cracow. Slovakia attaches great importance to its membership in the group, not least because four decades of Communism distorted the interpretation of historical facts, including the issue of the Holocaust. It wasn’t until 1989 that scientific investigation in this field was renewed without ideological bias and blank spaces in Slovak history began to be filled in. Various projects and programs, implemented nowadays with the support of the ITF and other partners, contribute to and constitute a part of the Holocaust remembrance.”
Slovakia’s membership in the ITF is an expression of its will to be among those states that actively support education on the Holocaust, its remembrance and research. The Holocaust left deep marks on Slovakia. In 1942 and 1944, more than 70,000 Jews were deported from what was then the territory of Slovakia. The majority of them perished in concentration camps. The fascist regime of the wartime Slovak State played an active role in the persecution of the Jews who were gradually excluded from economic and political life, stripped of their fundamental human rights and, ultimately, deported. Its representatives carried a major share of the responsibility for these horrible events.
After the renewal of democracy in Czechoslovakia, in December 1990 the Slovak National Council (Parliament) and the Slovak Government issued a “Declaration on the deportation of Jews from Slovakia to concentration camps in 1942 and 1944”. In the declaration, members of parliament and of the government, as representatives of Slovakia as a whole, showed their sympathy for those Jewish fellow citizens, expressed their regret for the crimes committed against them, and apologised for the acts of their predecessors.
After the declaration, memorials and memorial plaques dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust victims began to be unveiled throughout Slovakia from 1992 onwards (approximately 100 have been unveiled to date), including the Central Memorial to the Holocaust of Jews in Slovakia, which was erected in Bratislava on the site where the Neological Synagogue originally stood. The memorial was officially unveiled on 28 August 1997. All of the various memorials and memorial plaques were unveiled on the initiative of the Slovak Government, individual municipalities, Jewish communities, the Ministry of Culture, the Slovak National Museum – Museum of Jewish Culture, non-governmental organisations and civil society.
In 2001, the National Council of the Slovak Republic promulgated a ‘Memorial Day to the Victims of the Holocaust and Racial Violence’. The day is in remembrance of 9th September 1941, when the government of the then Slovak State issued a decree, the so-called Jewish Codex, which marked the beginning of persecution of Jews in Slovakia. Many events are held every year on this occasion, such as the laying of wreaths at the Holocaust Memorial under the auspices of the President of the Slovak Republic, as well as conferences, seminars and lectures on the Holocaust, racial violence and Anti-Semitism.
Since 2003, as initiated by the Slovak Ministry of Education, 9th September is also commemorated in primary and secondary schools in Slovakia through meetings with Holocaust survivors, visits to memorial sites, exhibitions and discussions on the Holocaust, Anti-Semitism, racism and other themes.
Apart from 9th September, the commemorative event regularly takes place also on 25th March to remember the first Slovak transportation of young Jewish girls and women to Auschwitz, which took place in 1942 in Poprad.
Since 1994, the Bratislava Museum of Jewish Culture has been operating as a specialised museum within the framework of the Slovak National Museum. Its activities focus on developing spiritual and material Jewish culture and documenting the Holocaust in Slovakia. The key activities of the museum include collection, documentation, historical research and exhibition activities. An important section of the permanent exhibition of the museum is the Holocaust Memorial Room with a symbolic gravestone built for all the unburied victims of the Holocaust. It includes a list of people who saved Jewish lives and hold the title “Righteous Among the Nations". Apart from Bratislava, museum has other exhibitions in Trnava, Prešov and Žilina (preserved synagogues). In 2005, the museum opened a permanent exhibition of the Holocaust located in the synagogue building of Nitra. Under the title “Fates of Slovak Jews” the exhibition presents precious and unique artefacts tied to the tragedy of Slovak Jews during the Second World War. In September 2008 the museum assumed administrative responsibility for the five original buildings of the Sered labour and concentration camp. Upon reconstruction a new Museum of the Holocaust shall be created there, devoted to all collection centres in Slovakia and providing education regarding the Holocaust.
In the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising in Banská Bystrica, the permanent exhibition “Slovakia in the Anti-Fascist Resistance Movement of Europe 1939-1945” was created in 2004. The exhibition also covers the tragic fate of the Jews in Slovakia who were deported in 1942 and 1944 to German concentration and death camps on the territory of occupied Poland. In 2007, on the occasion of the 65th anniversary of the beginning of deportation of Slovak Jews, the museum put together a touring exhibition which travelled to Slovak cities under the name “Wagon”. The exhibition was contained in two railroad wagons similar to those used to transport Slovak Jews to the concentration camps. The goal of the exhibition was to provide comprehensive, factual information on the Holocaust in Slovakia connected to the fates of individual people and, thus, more directly reveal and explain the true nature of the Holocaust and document its monstrous nature.
Since 2002, there has been a permanent Slovak National Exhibition of the Holocaust at the State Museum of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland called “The Tragedy of Slovak Jews”.
After the “Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust” was signed by the President of the Slovak Republic in 2000, the Slovak Ministry of Education began to cooperate with the ITF on the international project entitled “Training of Secondary-School Teachers for Holocaust Education”. Its goal is to train selected teachers of history and other social-studies subjects who teach on the Holocaust in order to improve the quality of teaching in line with international standards, and provide tools for the development of better and more effective teaching texts and aids. In 2004, the first Slovak teaching aid was issued for secondary-school teachers – the education packet entitled “Why we learn about the Holocaust” (textbook, exercise book, and videocassette) - for teaching on the subject.
The Holocaust is taught at all levels of the school system, including university. In primary and secondary schools, the Holocaust is not only an integral part of history classes, but also of civic and ethics education. The training of teachers in this field advances successfully also thanks to ITF support. During 2000-2008, in cooperation with partners from Germany, Israel, the US and the Czech Republic, the Ministry of Education sent approximately 180 Slovak teachers (multipliers/trainers) to about 40 international events organised abroad.
In 2006, the Slovak Ministry of Education signed an agreement with the Holocaust Documentation Centre, a non-governmental organisation (www.holokaust.sk). Based on the agreement, the training activities for Slovak teachers are organised in cooperation with the Methodological-Pedagogical Centres in Slovakia. In cooperation with other organisations, the Holocaust Documentation Centre actively engages teachers and students in various projects devoted to the issue of the Holocaust. It also prepares, in cooperation with expert trainers, various educational materials for teaching purposes.
As far as the academic research is concerned the most important results were achieved by the Milan Šimečka Foundation in cooperation with the Jewish Community in Slovakia and The Holocaust Documentation Center. Since 1998 they issued seven volumes of edition of documents “Holokaust na Slovensku” (Holocaust in Slovakia). The group of editors – leading Slovak historians (Eduard Ňižňanský, Ivan Kamenec, Katarína Hradská and Igor Baka) has edited documents which cover almost all basic aspects of the history of anti-Jewish measures and policies in Slovakia 1939 – 1945.
Uncovered aspects of the edition of documents – the process of aryanization of Jewish property and activities of the Slovak Jewish Council (including the activities of the so called illegal Working Group) are being prepared for publication.
Apart from that The Holocaust Documentation Center in cooperation with other organizations prepared several lectures, seminars and scientific events. The Center collaborates with university scientific workers and employees of scientific institutes of the Slovak Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Jewish Studies at the Comenius University in Bratislava; some Holocaust survivors also take active part in its work. It continues in archive research and creation of an electronic database - the list of Holocaust victims in Slovakia.
It is also important to mention the activity of The Nation´s Memory Institute (Ústav pamäti národa) which has published in December 2005 on its internet site the database of 10 000 liquidated Jewish enterprises.
The first initiatives connected with remembrance of the Roma tragedy during the Second World War began in Slovakia at the beginning of the 1990s. The theme was taken up in particular by the Milan Šimečka Foundation, which recorded testimony of Slovak Roma in addition to Jewish testimony under its project “Fates of Those who Survived”. The theme was further covered in the 2006 publication “Roma and the Second World War”. In 2005, the Slovak National Museum and the civic association “In Minorita” implemented a project called “Ma bisteren!” (Don’t Forget!). This project consists of an educational program for the youth, a touring exhibition on the Roma genocide, and the unveiling of memorial plaques in sites that are connected with the persecution of Roma. In total, seven memorial plaques were unveiled by the end of 2007.