On September 9, 1941, the Nazi-puppet state of Slovakia ratified the Jewish Codex, paving the way for the exclusion, deportation, and mass extermination of Slovak Jews during the second half of World War II.
In September 1938, the Munich agreement sanctioned Nazi Germany’s annexation of the Sudetenland, while the First Vienna Award in November forced Czechoslovakia to surrender large parts of southern Slovakia to Hungary. One day before Nazi troops entered the Czech lands from the west in March 1939, Slovak authorities nominally declared independence to become a puppet state of the Third Reich, led by Catholic priest Jozef Tiso.
Drawing on deeply-rooted anti-Semitism which, for centuries, had blamed Jews for the exploitation of ethnic Slovaks, anti-Jewish propaganda and the harassment of Jews throughout began soon after the declaration of “independence”: racial measures passed between 1939 and 1941 included the firing of Jewish employees from state institutions, robberies and physical attacks against Jewish-owned businesses – often instigated by the infamous Hlinka Guard – and the gradual dispossession of their wealth, land and goods through government regulations.
Ratified by Slovakia’s Parliament on September 9,1941, the Jewish Codex was a series of laws effectively stripping Slovakia’s 80,000 Jews of their fundamental civil rights and excluding them from the social, cultural and economic spheres. Codifying previous regulations and paving the way for their deportation, the Jewish Codex was considered even more radical than Germany’s own 1935 Nuremberg laws.
“In 1940 and 1941, degrading measures arrived,” recounts Holocaust survivor Eli Vago. “I think there wasn’t a day when a new one wasn’t issued. They drove us out of schools. They forced us to wear a yellow star […] We weren’t allowed to go to cinemas. We were prohibited from leaving our homes in the evening.”
Slovakia’s ultimate solution to the “Jewish Question” would become all too evident the following year. During the first wave of deportations, from March to October 1942, nearly 58,000 Slovak Jews were sent to Nazi concentration and extermination camps. The Slovak state even paid 500 Reich marks per deportee as an evacuation fee, something unprecedented among Germany’s satellite states.
Shortly after Nazi troops invaded Slovakia to crush the national uprising in August 1944, an additional 14,000 Jewish people were deported from September to November, mostly to Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland and Terezin, north of Prague.
In total, about 70,000 Slovak Jews were murdered during the Second World War, representing about 80% of the country’s pre-war Jewish population.
In 2000, Slovakia’s lawmakers established the Memorial Day for Victims of the Holocaust and Racial Violence on September 9, on the same day the Jewish Codex was ratified more than 50 years earlier.
On the eve of the 80th anniversary of its adoption, on September 8, 2021, the Slovak government issued a historic public apology to “express sorrow over the crimes committed by the government of the day, especially over the fact that on 9 September 1941 it passed a shameful decree restricting the basic human rights and freedoms of citizens of Jewish origin.” A commemoration ceremony was held the next day at the Sereď Holocaust Museum, attended by Slovak President Zuzana Caputova and other high-ranking officials and representatives of the Jewish community.
The discrimination and deportation of Jews in Slovakia, including the “Aryanisation” policy, are famously depicted in the 1965 Oscar-winning film The Shop on Main Street, directed by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos.
Find out more about Central European history in our On this Day series.