Memorandum of Conversation, by Mr. Harold C. Vedeler, Principal Assistant to the Officer in Charge of Polish, Baltic, and Czechoslovak Affairs, Office of Eastern European Affairs
|Participants:||Mr. P. Jamriska, President, Slovak League of America|
|Mr. P. A. Hrobak, Vice President, Slovak League of America|
|Mr. J. J. Sirotnak|
|Congressman Harry P. O’Neill1|
|Mr. Yost, Director of Eastern European Affairs2|
|H. C. Vedeler—EE|
Mr. Hrobak and his group called at his request to ask a number of questions of the Department concerning its attitude toward the political organization of the Slovaks. He commenced the discussion by asking whether the Department was opposed to the creation of a separate Slovak state. He declared that Americans of Slovak descent were discouraged because they had the impression that the Department was fully committed to the continuance of a Czechoslovak state and would never give the Slovaks a chance to have their own political organization. He maintained that the people of Slovakia strongly desired to end the domination which he asserted had been exercised over them by the Czechs since 1918. He affirmed that the Slovaks were strongly anti-Communist and had always been so while the Czechs were “Reds” who along with Slovak collaborationists like Lettrich [Page 345] were responsible for the present plight of the Slovaks. He insisted that Lettrich3 had given speeches favoring Communism. After voicing with some heat other complaints of the Slovak-American supporters of Slovak separatism, he paused long enough to ask again for an expression of the Department’s attitude.
Mr. Yost replied that the Department had never resisted the aspirations of any people in Europe to determine by their own free choice the state or form of political organization under which they wished to live. On the contrary, self-determination had been our policy in Europe since Woodrow Wilson, and we had not departed from it in the case of the Slovaks. Insofar as he was aware, the Department had never made a statement or had taken other action to indicate that we would oppose the formation of a Slovak state if this represented the will of the Slovak people as determined by orderly processes under free conditions. It was his experience, however, as a result of considerable travel in Slovakia while he was attached to the American Embassy in Prague in 1947,4 that the Slovak population was generally satisfied to continue the tie with the Czechs in a Czechoslovak Republic in which they had a certain degree of autonomy. As regards Mr. Lettrich, Mr. Yost had seen and heard him in Czechoslovakia and only knew him as a political leader strongly opposed to Communism who had expressed his anti-Communist views at a time when it was not without danger to do so.
Mr. Hrobak and his group insisted that the prejudice of the Department against the existence of a Slovak state was evident in the failure of the United States to recognize the Slovak Republic while twenty-nine other states had done so. He stressed the alleged benefits accruing to the Slovaks under the Slovak Republic and commented that the Slovak-Americans whom he represented could not understand the attitude of the Department in this matter. He recognized that officers in the Department had long had contacts with Czechoslovaks, that it was difficult for the proponents of a Slovak state to contend against the long-established Czechoslovak Republic and that the information available to the Department was consistently biased in favor of a Czechoslovak state.
It was pointed out to the group that the United States did not recognize the Slovak Republic because the Department had considered that it was formed as a result of Hitler’s domination of that area and was compromised by association with National Socialism. A Czechoslovak Republic had existed since 1918 with the exception of the war period and the Department could take no action against a recognized territorial state which might be tantamount to seeking its destruction. [Page 346] If it were the unalterable will of the Slovak people as a whole to have a separate state, confidence was felt that this would be realized once free political conditions were restored in Czechoslovakia. The Department would certainly interpose no obstacle to any expression or political embodiment of the will of the Slovak people.
The group expressed their feelings against the Council of Free Czechoslovakia, its alleged domination by the National Socialists, the favorable attitude of the Department towards the Council, and the acceptance of information by the Department from members of the Council.
Mr. Yost suggested that in the struggle against international Communism it was desirable for the political emigration to achieve as great a degree of unity as possible among both Czechs and Slovaks. The Council had been formed for this purpose by refugees who had come to the US on their initiative and who organized the Council through their own decisions. He added that it was our impression that this organization was representative of the main anti-Communist orientations among the refugees. Mr. Vedeler stated that members of the Department were anxious to receive any useful information on the Czechoslovak situation or Communist methods in that country from all sources, including members of the Council, if they could supply it. For example, Dr. Heidrich,5 the Secretary General of the Foreign Office for some years, had supplied information on Communist methods of infiltration in Czechoslovakia which had proved useful.
An effort was made to ascertain what they considered the most desirable form of political organization for Slovakia and whether they supported Sidor6 or Durcansky.7 They did not entirely reject a fully autonomous status for Slovakia in a federal Czechoslovakia but preferred a separate Slovak state in a European federation. Nor did they give the impression that they supported either Sidor or Durcansky to the exclusion of the other.
They finally asked why the Department had always refused visas to their leaders (of the Slovak National Council abroad) such as Sidor, Boehm (Emanuel) and Blasko (Stefan). They raised questions in connection with letters received from the Department explaining why the issuance of a visa had been denied Sidor. Mr. Vedeler stated when the question of a visa for Sidor had previously been raised the Department could not view the matter favorably, not because [Page 347] Sidor was a separatist, but because he was identified in a prominent official capacity with the Slovak Republic created in association with National Socialist Germany and as a result of the Nazi domination of the Czechoslovak area. EE was not aware that either Boehm or Blasko had ever applied for a visa. If they should do so, the question of a visa would be decided on the merits of each case in accordance with existing laws and regulations governing the entry of aliens to the United States.
They said that since Sidor was now in Canada they would greatly appreciate a visa for him for a short stay in the US in order that he might address the Congress of the Slovak League of America meeting in Cleveland during the latter part of May. Congressman O’Neill urged that a visa be granted Sidor for this purpose. They were advised that any application would receive careful consideration but no commitment could be made as to possible action in the matter.8
- Representative of the 10th Congressional District of Pennsylvania.↩
- Charles W. Yost, Director of the Office of Eastern European Affairs.↩
- Jozef Lettrich, Vice Chairman of the Council of Free Czechoslovakia; until 1948 Chairman of the Slovak National Council and Chairman of the Slovak Democratic Party.↩
- Yost served as First Secretary in the Embassy in Praha in 1946.↩
- Arnost Heidrich, Secretary General of the Council of Free Czechoslovakia, residing in the United States; Secretary General of the Czechoslovak Foreign Ministry, 1945–1948.↩
- Karol Sidor, Chairman of the Slovak National Council Abroad, residing in Canada; Prime Minister of the Autonomous Slovak Government, October 1938–March 1939; Slovak Minister to the Vatican, 1940–1945.↩
- Ferdinand Durčanský, President of the Slovak Liberation Committee, residing in Argentina; Slovak Foreign Minister, 1939–1940; sentenced to death in absentia by a Czechoslovak court in 1947 for alleged war crimes.↩
- In June 1950, Sidor was granted a temporary visa to visit the United States. According to a memorandum of conversation by Vedeler, June 14, not printed, Sidor, accompanied by Hrobak and Sirotnak, called on Yost to discuss his program and plans. Yost took the occasion to urge that during his public appearances in the United States Sidor not speak against other groups of refugees but endeavor to contribute toward a common effort in the struggle for liberation (749.00/6–1450). A delegation of officers of the Council of Free Czechoslovakia, headed by Chairman Peter Zenkl and Vice Chairman Jozef Lettrich, called on Yost on June 12 to protest against the visit of Sidor to the United States. According to Vedeler’s memorandum of the conversation, not printed, Yost assured the delegation that the issuance of a visa to Sidor meant in no sense a revision of the traditional policy of the United States towards Czechoslovakia and the Czechoslovak people (749.00/6–1250).↩