Born in 1887, Jozef Tiso became a Roman Catholic priest in 1911. Following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Tiso joined the Slovak People’s Party in 1918. He ran for parliament in 1920 but lost. Tiso ran again in 1925, earning a seat in parliament. Following the death of Andrej Hlinka, Tiso became the leader of the Slovak People’s Party.
Following the Munich Agreement in October 1938, the largely German part of Czechoslovakia (Sudetenland) was annexed by Germany. In November, Tiso was able to unify the Slovak People’s Party with the Party of Slovak National Unity. A month later they swept the general election, winning 97 percent of the vote. After being appointed the Slovak premier, he was ousted in a coup on 9 March 1939. Days later he was invited by Hitler to visit Berlin, where the German leader offered to support Slovakian independence. After his meeting with Hitler, Tiso was able to convince the parliament to declare independence. He was appointed prime minister and later became president of the new republic. Tiso remained closely aligned with his fascist neighbors, implementing anti-Semitic legislation and deporting Jews to the concentration camps in neighboring regions. In August 1944 the Slovak National Uprising began with the aim of overthrowing Tiso.
Initial momentum favored the Slovak partisans. After seizing airfields in central and eastern Slovakia, the partisans were able to receive supplies and equipment from Soviet aircraft (the Soviets began an offensive through the Dukla Pass on 8 September, but would find themselves bogged down and unable to support the partisans in time). Countering the Slovak gains, Germany deployed 48,000 troops to help put down the uprising. A second counteroffensive was launched on 17 October 1944, with the deployment of 35,000 German soldiers from Hungary. With the crushing German advance, the partisans were forced to evacuate to the mountains. On 28 October the uprising officially ended, though the partisans would continue to wage a guerrilla war against the Germans.
While the uprising failed, Tiso’s reign would end in April 1945. Following the Soviet advance into Slovakia, he fled to Austria. Tiso was arrested by American forces in June 1945. After being tried and found guilty of treason by the new government of Czechoslovakia, he was executed on 18 April 1947.
Look for more information regarding the Slovak National Upring in the upcoming World at War issue #50 with the article “The Slovak Uprising, August-October 1944” and join the conversation on Facebook!