This article was written by Peter Medviď and translated into English by Maria Silvestri.
For years, in connection with one of the most important events of modern Slovak history, the Slovak National Uprising, we were influenced by two historical distortions.
First, especially after 1948, when the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia took over power in the former Czechoslovakia, the Slovak National Uprising was written and spoken of as a historical milestone which was due exclusively to the Communists. Today, we know that this is not true. Not only communists took part in the Uprising, it was not organized only by the communists, which gradually began to be exposed to the public, mainly after 1989.
Second, for many years there were no Rusyns in the Slovak National Uprising. This was also due to events after 1945, when the gradual Ukrainization of the Rusyns began, which was completed by the communist regime in the 1950s, when the Rusyn nationality officially ceased to exist in Czechoslovakia and the Rusyns could only declare themselves as part of the Ukrainian minority, or choose the Slovak nationality if they did not identify with the Ukrainization of their ethnicity (which was the majority of Rusyns). Since Rusyns did not exist, they could not be found in the historiography of the Slovak National Uprising.
The Place of Rusyns in the Slovak National Uprising
If the rehabilitation of the status of non-communists in the Slovak National Uprising has been going on for a long time, the rehabilitation of the Rusyns is, so to speak, just beginning.
It was only in 2015, when a delegation of Rusyns from Slovakia was invited to the 71st anniversary of the Slovak National Uprising [SNP] at the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising in Banská Bystrica. The Rusyns were invited on the basis that, after years of correspondence with the representatives of the museum and bringing to their attention that the Rusyns were also at this turning point, a stone with a Rusyn inscription was unveiled on the SNP Memorial.
All the nations that fought in the Uprising, except the Rusyns, had stones bearing their nation’s name. Even nations whose participation in the Uprising counts in the dozens of people. This does not reduce the role and sacrifice of these nations within the SNP, but it was all the more striking that the Rusyns did not have their place on the memorial.
Specific data that would mention the Rusyns in the Slovak National Uprising is still being searched for today, 30 years since the Rusyns “re-existed” and 75 years after this important event. It is very hard, laborious, and is sometimes found only randomly (for example, finding the birthplace of a specific participant in the Uprising).
The only figure that speaks of the number of Rusyns in the SNP is 2000, together with the Czechs. How many participants should represent the Czechs and how many Rusyns are not known to us? But we would dare to question this figure simply because a substantial part of the Uprising was a rebel army, consisting of approximately 60,000 soldiers who, since they came from the territory of the warring state, were especially Slovaks, but also Rusyns. Not to mention the fact that many of the inhabitants of the Rusyn villages in northeast Slovakia helped or fought.
That is another reason why we think that the place of Rusyns in the Slovak National Uprising is still unduly underestimated and unexplored. In this article, we will discuss at least some facts that clearly point to the participation of Rusyns in the Uprising.
The Situation in the Slovak State
Already during the First Czechoslovak Republic, the situation of the Rusyns was split in two. On the one hand, there was the position of Rusyns living in Subcarpathian Rus’ [Podkarkpatská Rus’], where they formed the majority nation. On the other hand, Rusyns remained in the territory of Eastern Slovakia, representing only one of the national minorities in this part of the country. The position of Rusyns in Slovakia was more complicated, under pressure from Slovakization, and this situation became much more acute after the collapse of the Republic and the declaration of the Slovak state.
Even during the First Republic, the Slovakization of Rusyns was criticized many times and sharply in the Slovak periodical press by Rusyn intellectuals, who in many cases were Rusyn Greek Catholic priests. Among them, for example, was Štefan Gojdič, brother of the now-Blessed Bishop Pavel Peter Gojdič.
At the time of the declaration of the Slovak State, the negative attitude of the Slovak government representatives towards Bishop Gojdič was already formed. Slovak government officials were convinced that some priests of the Prešov Eparchy, organized in the Rusyn National Council, wanted to pull the political leadership of the Greek Catholics to themselves, especially to the Rusyns. In the new political organization of the Slovak Republic, the Greek Catholic Church and especially its hierarchy were therefore perceived as a disturbing factor and as a brake on the new national revival process.
“The overwhelming nationalism of the Slovak Republic was a reaction to the previous Czechoslovakist tendencies of the Prague government and to the ethnically-colored tensions that led to the curtailment of Slovakia. One of the victims of these tensions should be the Greek Catholic Church and its bishop Pavel Gojdič. Therefore, some steps were taken by the Slovak Government to “pacify” the bishop. Bishop Gojdič, feeling the aversion of the government circles to his person, did not want to be a pretext for pressure on the whole Greek Catholic Church, and therefore on 22 November 1939, he addressed his request for release from the office of the Apostolic Administrator of the Prešov Eparchy and the Mukachevo Apostolic Administration to the Holy Father. Bishop Gojdič stated the reasons for his resignation in five lines: he simply stated that he was driven by a changed political and ecclesiastical situation and other personal motives. With his resignation, he wanted to allow a stronger personality to be placed at the forefront of the eparchy with the government’s full confidence.”
However, the bishop’s abdication, which was also envisaged by the Slovak government, was of course not accepted by Pope Pius XII. On the contrary, in 1940, Bishop Gojdič was appointed Bishop of Prešov, despite the protests of the Slovak government. And it was Bishop Gojdič who, as the only Catholic bishop in Slovakia, criticized President Joseph Tiso, urged him to give up either the priesthood or the office of the President, opposed the deportation of Jews, helped the persecuted, and in his pastoral letters, called upon his faithful to do so, too.
The opinions of the Rusyn Bishop Gojdič certainly influenced the behavior of the Rusyn population in Slovakia towards the new regime, though not only that. One could say that it was disloyal. Among the Rusyn population, there were many who hid their Jewish fellow citizens. Rusyn villages failed to establish local organizations of the Hlinka Slovak People’s Party. For these purposes, Slovaks were often imported into Rusyn villages, but even this did not succeed in establishing branches of the state party.
The Rusyns were aware that, despite many disappointments from the First Republic, the period of this state was truly beneficial to them in many ways, and it had triggered great progress not only economic area in the Rusyn-inhabited lands, but also in their cultural, national, and political life.
In all these facts, the logical conclusion was that, just as the Rusyns of Subcarpathian Rus’, which had been occupied by Hungary, became part of General Ludvík Svoboda’s First Czechoslovak Army, and in it they formed the second largest national minority after the Czechs, Rusyns from Slovakia should also participate in the struggles to liberate their country, with a vision of the restoration of Czechoslovakia in its interwar form.
As we have already mentioned, searching for facts about Rusyns in the Slovak National Uprising is still very complicated to this day, but we still have historical documents, and also direct testimonies of witnesses that testify to brave people among the Rusyns who participated in the Uprising. The aim of this article is not to name a large number of people of the Rusyn nationality who participated in the SNP, but to point out a few specific cases and maybe it will be possible to awaken the interest of historians to do more detailed research on this still underdeveloped topic.
Violand Pavel Andrejkovič
From the beginning, the Slovak Army had suffered from a lack of officers. Between 1939 and 1944, the quantity and quality of the officer corps increased to some extent. But among the officers were not only Slovaks, but also members of other national minorities, among them the Rusyns.
A specific example is Violand Pavel Andrejkovič, Lieutenant Colonel Chaplain of the Catholic Chaplaincy Administration of the Slovak Army Ground Forces Command; administrator of the Catholic clergy for the 1st Czechoslovak Army in Slovakia.
Andrekovič was born on 1 October 1894 in Sečovce. He received his secondary education at the 8-year high school with baccalaureate exam in Prešov, which he attended from 1906–1914. After his graduation, he continued his studies at the Greek Catholic Theological Seminary in Uzhhorod. On 22 December 1918, he was ordained a priest. Before he joined the military, he was a Greek Catholic priest in Uzhhorod and a drawing teacher in the seminary. On 1 August 1923, he joined the military in Uzhhorod as a lieutenant chaplain in the Czechoslovak Army. On 1 September 1923, after working on the agenda of the spiritual administrator, he was transferred to Khust, where he remained until 31 January 1926. He later served in Mukachevo and Brno.
On 14 March 1939, Andrejkovič was moved to the 3rd Division in Prešov and appointed as the head of the Spiritual Service Division. On 1 July 1940, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel chaplain and on 1 October 1940, he was transferred to Banská Bystrica and established as the head of the Catholic Chaplaincy administration; until the beginning of the Uprising, his functions in the army changed further.
But what is important is that from the beginning of the Slovak National Uprising, Violand Pavel Andrejkovič became a member of the 1st Czechoslovak Army, so he joined the partisans while he was an officer. From 2 October 1944 to 25 October 1944, he was detained in the Ľubietová internment camp.
His fate after returning from the mountains is not plausibly substantiated. We know that on 4 April 1945, he joined the Czechoslovak army in Košice. On 11 July 1945, he was admitted to the army with a proposal for transfer to retirement. On 1 January 1947, he was called to active service and appointed as spiritual administrator of the Roman Catholics and Greek Catholics at the headquarters of the 2nd division in Banská Bystrica. On 1 May 1948, that is, after the communists took power, he was given leave with waiting and on 1 November 1948, transferred to retirement. As a civilian, he was not a pastor at first, but later was the administrator of the parish in Tŕna. Then he retired to Banská Bystrica, where he died on 11 June 1974.
For Rusyns involved in the anti-fascist resistance, we don’t need to look only in the military, but also in the police. An example is Ján Tocimák, who was born on 14 January 1902, in the Rusyn village Čabiny. He was one of the first Rusyns in the new republic who finished the gendarmerie school in Prague, and in the 1930s he served as the head sergeant in several places in Subcarpathian Rus’.
Just before the split of the Republic, in 1938, he was transferred to Prešov, Solivar, where there was a police station at that time, and where he survived the entire war. There are witness statements about his resistance activity during the war.
As a member of the police, he used his information and, for example, in 1942, when the deportations of Jewish fellow citizens took place, he tried to use the information about the transports to warn them so that they could flee. Unfortunately, only one Jewish family among those he contacted believed in his information, the Gellman family (after the war, they changed their name to Galan), who were close friends with Tocimák and his wife Oľga, née Kralická. However, this family told Tocimák that they could not run, because they had a six-month-old child. The family was childless and just before that, they had managed to save a Jewish orphan from the territory of Poland, whom they took in. That same night, Tocimák arranged that a train, which went through Prešov and carried grain, would sneak into the Tatras with the Gellman family on it, where partisans were already waiting for them. There, they took them to the mountains, where they survived the entire war.
Tocimák already had contacts at that time with the resistance and he joined the Slovak National Uprising. In the book Z ilegality do povstania [From Illegality to the Uprising], Jozef Jablonický recalls that when he describes secret partisan meetings in Prešov, that the police officer Ján Tocimák also attended.
He was recognized for his participation in the resistance and the Slovak National Uprising after the war. Unfortunately, he, like Andrejkovič, was negatively affected by the communist coup in 1948. At first, he was retired because he did not join the Communist Party, and later he was sentenced twice, in 1950 and 1959, to unconditional imprisonment for anti-state activity. He died free, but in poor health in Prešov on 18 December 1976, and was fully rehabilitated after 1989.
The Civilian Population — The Tokajík example
However, as we have already mentioned, searching for specific names and documenting their participation in the Uprising is not the goal of this article. And there’s not enough space for it, either. Moreover, we can not only talk about people who were in the military or police forces who were in cooperation with the Slovak National Uprising but also about the number of civilians, without whose support the resistance and SNP can hardly be imagined.
The very existence of the Stropkov — Medzilaborce — Humenné partisan triangle clearly demonstrates that partisans operated in villages inhabited by the Rusyn population. Other historical facts prove that the civilian population also contributed to the success of partisan activity.
The partisan groups Čapajev and Za rodina [For the family] operated in the area. If we talk about the villages that cooperated with the partisans, we find many Rusyn villages among them. Let us at least mention Ruská Poruba, Havaj, Sukov, Prituľany, Mrázovce, Piskorovce, Rohožník, Varechovce, Roškovce, Kalinov, Vydraň and Tokajík. According to historical sources, the whole partisan area supported the partisans however possible, whether it was food, but also reports on the movement of Germans and the spread of anti-state leaflets and illegal press. At the time of the Uprising, the residents and these villages also joined the liberation process with a weapon in hand.
For this support, the Rusyn village Tokajík paid the most. Three residents, Peter Jevočin, Juraj Medzvedz, and Juraj Stropkovský, also actively fought in the Slovak National Uprising. In addition, in August 1944 the local commissioner Peter Pan organized a meeting of the Za rodina partisans with the citizens. On 19 and 20 November 1944, a massacre took place within the cadastral area of village, which is today called the Tokajík Tragedy. It was a retaliatory action by German troops because the local residents were helping the partisans. On 19 November 1944, German troops gathered men from the village at the local church and led them north from the village, where they were shot. The following day, the Nazis burned and plundered Tokajík, and the women and children scattered.
But there are many events that testify to the local Rusyn population’s cooperation with the resistance, or to the direct involvement of Rusyns in the Slovak National Uprising. However, we will recall one more case that we have documented on the basis of a direct testimony.
At Kukorelli’s command
Our respondent in this episode from the history of the Rusyns at the time of the Slovak National Uprising was Demeter Kriško, who was born on 23 October 1927 in Rusyn village of Vyšný Orlík. Today he lives in Prešov. As he remembered, in the Stropkov — Medzilaborce — Humenné partisan triangle, in August 1944, he found himself as the foreman of Peter Barna’s threshers in Rafajovce. He came into contact with one of the most important representatives of the Slovak resistance, Ľudovít Kukorelli.
“One day at the beginning of September 1944, at the rectory of the Greek Catholic priest Bartolomej Schudich, I met with the head of the Čapajev partisan group, Ľudovít Kukorelli. He entrusted me with the task of being an intelligence agent of the partisan staff. After finishing the agricultural work in Rafajovce, I left it at Chief Kukorelli’s command to go to the elementary school in Piskorovce, where I had the deceased principal Kucirka’s office available to me. Every Saturday, partisan leaders met there,” Kriško recalled in an interview.
In this place, which was seen as safe by the partisans, since the Germans did not enter it at all until the Tokajík Tragedy, at the request of a notary from Kelča, Ján Špirko, Kriško had been hiding Doctor Robert Sobel, who was of Jewish descent, since mid-September 1944. He hid him in the school for three months. After the Tokajík Tragedy, they fled from there to the forests.
A specific task, as remembered by Demeter Kriško, was also given by Kukorelli in connection with Tokajík:
“The evening before the tragedy, at about seven o’clock, the assistant chief of staff came to me to Piskorovce and said to me: Dimitrij, at the command of the chief of staff, you must go to Tokajík, call on the village representatives, and convince them that they must evacuate their people without delay,” Kriško remembered in an interview with the newspaper NN Info Rusín.
“If the mayor Peter Pan and the other three members of the village self-governing council had informed all of the residents of Tokajík sooner that the Germans were ready to take revenge on them for helping the partisans, many more people could have saved their lives. This is also evidenced by the fact that three of the men who were aware of the danger, there were two refugees from Vyšný Orlík among them, who lived in the school where our meetings took place, and the son of the mayor Michal Pan managed to escape early in the morning. Maybe the mayor and three other representatives of the village did not believe that the danger was so close, after all, they themselves died among the 32 men. I’m sorry that they didn’t let the villagers know. Maybe they couldn’t imagine evacuating the village at night. I don’t know what I would have done in their place. On a Saturday night, in November. The mayor said he would inform the people in the morning. I said, I just hope it won’t be too late. As it turned out, the Germans occupied the village early in the morning, still in the dark, before five o’clock.”
The distinguished Slovak aviation officer, organizer, and commander of partisan troops in eastern Slovakia died just a few days after the Tokajík villagers who helped the partisans and whom he wanted to warn, on 24 November 1944 in Rusyn village of Habura.
It is indisputable fact that citizens of the Rusyn nationality participated in the Slovak National Uprising: whether as members of the partisan army, members of partisan groups, or as civilians who also helped the partisans.
As some living witnesses confirmed to us, the Rusyns who decided to fight for liberation within the Slovak National Uprising, as well as the Rusyns who fought with General Ludvík Svoboda’s 1st Czechoslovak Army, did so with a vision that after liberation their state — Czechoslovakia, together with the territory of Subcarpathian Rus’, and Rusyns, would live together again freely in one state. Unfortunately, despite the sacrifices of Rusyns in the SNP or in the Carpathian-Dukla Operation, the restored republic for which they did not hesitate to lay down their lives, they never did. First, Czechoslovakia ceded Subcarpathian Rus’ to the Soviet Union, and subsequently Rusyns were removed from the world map for more than 40 years.
Thirty years after the fall of the Communist regime, thanks to newer research and popular research publications, textbooks, etc., nobody doubts that the Slovak National Uprising was just a communist affair. They have gradually begun to reveal and remind the public of the names of non-communist representatives of this important historical milestone, which among other things put the Slovaks on the side of the winners of World War II. After years of communist censorship, the SNP could get a true picture, which did not suit the previous regime.
But 30 years after the fall of the regime, the history of the Rusyns, who also participated in these battles, is still little known. This topic would need extensive research work. We think that all Rusyns, who for us, for our freedom, risked and sacrified their lives in the SNP, are more than owed it in both Rusyn and Slovak historiography. The installation of a stone with a Rusyn inscription on the SNP Memorial in 2015 should only be the beginning of a true and detailed revelation of the Rusyn history of this period.
 See: Vasiľ C.: 90 rokov biskupskej vysviacky vladyku Petra Pavla Gojdiča. In: http://www.archivioradiovaticana.va/storico/2017/03/19/arcib_vasi%C4%BE_90_rokov_biskupskej_vysviacky_vladyku_gojdi%C4%8Da/sk-1299640
 See: Ibid.
 See: Mindoš I.: Tokajík. Východoslovenské vydavateľstvo, 1982, Page 17.
 See: Ed. Syrný M.: Varšavské povstanie a Slovenské národné povstanie — paralely a rozdiely, Múzeum Slovenského národného povstania, 2008. Page 75.
 See: Cséfalvay F. et. al.: Vojenské osobnosti dejín Slovenska 1939–1945. Vojenský historický ústav 2013. Page 12.
 See: Jablonický J.: Z ilegality do povstania. Nakladateľstvo Epocha, 1969. Page 477.
 See: Mindoš I.: Tokajík. Východoslovenské vydavateľstvo, 1982. Page 20.