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In Slovakia, a Citizen’s Effort To Build a Holocaust Memorial to His City’s Missing Jews

Ladislav Rovinský isn’t Jewish—but that gives him the freedom to insist that Košice confront its wartime history

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Ladislav Rovinsky on the site where he hopes to build a Holocaust memorial in Kosice, Slovakia. (Peter Korchnak)
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Persistent in the political discourse are voices calling for the rehabilitation of wartime Slovakia’s representatives, discounting the country’s active role in the Holocaust, or justifying the regime’s anti-Semitic policies. A notorious 2011 incident involved the unveiling, despite months of protests of historians, activists, and members of the Jewish community, of a statue in the village of Rajec honoring Ferdinand Ďurčanský, who, as wartime Slovakia’s government minister, proposed and executed anti-Jewish policies. Many also continue to issue apologetic statements for the Roman Catholic Bishop Ján Vojtaššák, who participated in aryanizations of Jewish property, or of then-president Jozef Tiso.

In early August, Ján Čarnogurský, former leader of Christian Democratic Movement party and a 2014 presidential candidate, provoked outrage by highlighting the progress the nation’s cultural and art elite made in wartime Slovakia and denying that state’s accepted description as a fascist state. In late August, the mayor of Krupina, a central Slovak town of 7,800, was forced to apologize for disparaging on Facebook the “glorification of Jews” and civilization-destroying actions by “circumcised dudes” in the Middle East.

The current ruling party—the populist, social-democratic party Smer, led by the prime minister Robert Fico—has a mixed record. In August, Fico became Slovakia’s first prime minister to attend a national commemoration of the Roma killed in the Holocaust. But the next day, Fico gave a speech at the annual award ceremony of the Slovak heritage institution Matica Slovenská, where honorees included Imrich Kružliak, the wartime republic’s propaganda office press department chief.

On Sept. 9, Fico gave a speech at a Day of Holocaust and Racial Discrimination Victims ceremony in the Slovak capital, Bratislava, commemorating the passing in 1941 of anti-Jewish laws. The Slovak press agency SITA reported Fico as saying, “Both as a nation and as a country, we wish not to repeat the mistakes of our past.”

The same day the Citizens to Citizens initiative held a small, solemn ceremony on the site in Košice where in Jews were interned and loaded into transport trains in 1944. “The memorial will stand in a respectable public space to remind everyone of the horrors of the Holocaust,” Rovinský told me. “I will work on this until the memorial is finished.”

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In Slovakia, a Citizen’s Effort To Build a Holocaust Memorial to His City’s Missing Jews

Ladislav Rovinský isn’t Jewish—but that gives him the freedom to insist that Košice confront its wartime history

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