BUDAPEST, Feb. 28 (JTA) — A Jewish group is protesting a move in Slovakia to honor that nation’s pro-Nazi World War II leader.
A Catholic priest, Father Jozef Tiso was tried and executed after the war as a Nazi collaborator, traitor and war criminal.
B’nai B’rith International and Jewish leaders in Slovakia issued protests after the Slovak town of Zilina announced plans to unveil a plaque honoring Tiso on March 14.
Zilina’s mayor, Jan Slota, is the leader of the far-right Slovak National Party, which supports the rehabilitation of Tiso and regards him as a national hero.
“Any tribute to Tiso is outrageous,” B’nai B’rith International said in a statement from Washington late last week.
“Tiso and his regime must be remembered — not as heroes, but as criminals. Attempts to rehabilitate their memory by appeals to nationalism, anticommunism or other causes dishonor those ideals, distort history, and undermine Slovakia’s attempt to build democracy, rule of law and honorable civic life.”
B’nai B’rith praised Slovak President Rudolf Schuster for condemning the move.
Schuster said that honoring Tiso, “the head of a fascist state that deported 70,000 Jews from Slovakia to concentration camps, is against the moral principles with which Slovakia has identified.”
Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda said he considered the initiative “inappropriate.”
Nostalgia for the wartime independent Slovak state — the only time Slovakia had been independent before 1993 — was a lodestone for many Slovaks during the Communist era.
For many, it represented the pinnacle of Slovak national identity, despite its fascist links and anti-Semitism, and despite the fact that Slovaks themselves rose up against Tiso in 1944.
The Central Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Slovakia called the plan to unveil the plaque “a deliberate effort to revive fascism,” which will hamper Slovakia’s integration into Europe.
The group said the move was “a cynical effort which ignores the suffering brought on all of Europe by fascism and ignores the fact that the basic pillar of the recent cooperation in Europe is the antifascist orientation of the states of the European Union.”
“If the steps towards glorification of Jozef Tiso are not stopped, it will harm the international image of Slovakia,” the group said.
According to Radio Free Europe’s news service, the U.S. Embassy in the Slovak capital of Bratislava also denounced any “intention to rehabilitate Tiso,” saying he must be “remembered for his consciously committed crimes that resulted in the imprisonment, expulsion, and murder of innocent citizens in his own country.”