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Priest, Politician, Collaborator: Jozef Tiso and the Making of Fascist Slovakia

Priest, Politician, Collaborator: Jozef Tiso and the Making of Fascist Slovakia

by James Mace Ward

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In Priest, Politician, Collaborator, James Mace Ward offers the first comprehensive and scholarly English-language biography of the Catholic priest and Slovak nationalist Jozef Tiso (1887–1947). The first president of an independent Slovakia, established as a satellite of Nazi Germany, Tiso was ultimately hanged for treason and (in effect) crimes


In Priest, Politician, Collaborator, James Mace Ward offers the first comprehensive and scholarly English-language biography of the Catholic priest and Slovak nationalist Jozef Tiso (1887–1947). The first president of an independent Slovakia, established as a satellite of Nazi Germany, Tiso was ultimately hanged for treason and (in effect) crimes against humanity by a postwar reunified Czechoslovakia. Drawing on extensive archival research, Ward portrays Tiso as a devoutly religious man who came to privilege the maintenance of a Slovak state over all other concerns, helping thus to condemn Slovak Jewry to destruction. Ward, however, refuses to reduce Tiso to a mere opportunist, portraying him also as a man of principle and a victim of international circumstances. This potent mix, combined with an almost epic ability to deny the consequences of his own actions, ultimately led to Tiso's undoing.

Tiso began his career as a fervent priest seeking to defend the church and pursue social justice within the Kingdom of Hungary. With the breakup of Austria-Hungary in 1918 and the creation of a Czechoslovak Republic, these missions then fused with a parochial Slovak nationalist agenda, a complex process that is the core narrative of the book. Ward presents the strongest case yet for Tiso's heavy responsibility in the Holocaust, crimes that he investigates as an outcome of the interplay between Tiso's lifelong pattern of collaboration and the murderous international politics of Hitler's Europe. To this day memories of Tiso divide opinion within Slovakia, burdening the country’s efforts to come to terms with its own history. As portrayed in this masterful biography, Tiso’s life not only illuminates the history of a small state but also supplies a missing piece of the larger puzzle that was interwar and wartime Europe.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"It is a rare political figure who is reprehensible both for his opportunism and his dogmatism, but then it is a rare president who is also an ordained priest. Such was Jozef Tiso, leader of Slovakia during its spell as a German Schutzstaat (protected state) from 1939 to 1945. As James Mace Ward argues in his definitive account, Priest, Politician, Collaborator, Tiso was guided throughout his life by a set of deeply held values, but was also a talented Machiavellian able to reconcile those values to the exigencies of power. . . . Ward masterfully reconstructs the factional differences and power struggles over which Tiso presided, showing that he was never truly the moderate he may liked to think he was or wanted to appear to be."—Kieran Williams, The Times Literary Supplement (October 25, 2013)

"James Mace Ward has given English-language students and historians, as well as the contentious national historiography in Slovakia, a much-needed biography on Fr. Josef Tiso. Fluidly written and highly engaging, Ward's terse analysis of Tiso’s world-view integrates the volatile context that facilitated his rise to ignominy.... Ward’s balanced and insightful assessment of Tiso and his world comes highly recommended for both scholars and undergraduates." — Andrew Demshuk, The Slavonic and East European Review (January 2014)

"Fluidly written and highly engaging, Ward's terse analysis of Tiso’s world-view integrates the volatile context that facilitated his rise to ignominy. . . . Ward’s balanced and insightful assessment of Tiso and his world comes highly recommended for both scholars and undergraduates."
—Andrew Demshuk, The Slavonic and East European Review (Jan 2014)

"Unusually for a political biography, Priest, Politician, Collaborator provides an evocative portrait not only of Tiso but also of public culture and political life in interwar Czechoslovakia."—American Historical Review

"Ward's biography is an essential resource for everybody interested not only in the history of twentieth-century Slovakia, but also Catholic-social politics, Central European nationalism, the Holocaust, and even memory studies. A compelling read, it offers new avenues for understanding the life and myths surrounding the life of a controversial Central European statesman. Tiso remained a priest for his entire life and in 1918 became a politician who helped set the direction of mainstream Slovak national politics for three decades. However, the pursuit of his ideals led Tiso to collaboration and ultimately the gallows. Ward masterfully documents the decisions and activities that elevated him to the presidential office, but later brought about his downfall. Although a priest, Tiso was 'no saint.'"—Holocaust and Genocide Studies

"As the first rigorous biography of Slovakia's priest-president Jozef Tiso available in English, this book addresses a major gap in Czech and Slovak studies and represents a considerable contribution to the study of political Catholicism. World War II collaborationist regimes, the Holocaust, and the politics of nationalism in twentieth-century Europe. James Mace Ward casts Tiso as a cunning, dynamic player in a "modern, Central European story." Ward draws on extensive research in Slovak, Czech, Hungarian, and Austrian archives to provide a chronological account of the priest's early training and influences, first forays into interwar politics, gradual radicalization, and ascent to the presidency of the Nazi-allied First Slovak Republic (1939-1945)."—Journal of Cold War Studies

"Ward's book is an outstanding work of scholarship and essential reading for anyone interested in the history of nationalism, Catholicism, state-building, genocide, fascism, and post-Communism. It is a must read for scholars and students of modern (Czecho)Slovak history."—Anna Cichopek-Gajraj,History: Reviews of New Books(2014)

"James Mace Ward's excellent book offers the first political biography in English to follow Kamenec in seeking to understand, rather than simply to praise or condemn, the controversial Slovak dictator. Only by taking account of the successive dramatic shifts that occurred in the political landscape of Central Europe over the course of the twentieth century, Ward argues, can one begin to make sense of the apprent contradictions in Tiso's life."—Mary Heimann, English Historical Review (February 2015)

"James Ward has written a thoroughly researched and most thought-provoking book on a fascinating figure. Jozef Tiso, 1887-1947, poses a double enigma—as an ostensibly Magyarized Slovak who in late 1918 suddenly threw himself into the Slovak national cause he had previously ignored and as a Catholic priest reputedly on the moderate wing of Slovak politics who in World War II led a satellite Slovak state into collaboration with Hitler and the Holocaust. As Ward demonstrates, his life is interesting not only for its personal drama and divisive role in modern Slovakia but also for questions of political Catholicism, nationalism, and genocide in a turbulent epoch....Ward's deliberate chronological approach suggeeds in its goal of showing nuances in Tiso's stances...The masterly, consistently incisive chapter introductions and conclusions are all the more welcome. The overall conclusion effectively ccaps previous insights on Tiso's personality contradictions and his role as political priest, as reflected in his fondness for dualisms, themselves inherent in 'political Catholicism as an exercise in pursuing the eternal within the confines of the temporal' (288)."—Robin Okey, The Journal of Modern History (March 2015)

"Ward focuses on the life and career of Tiso, presenting him, as the title indicates, in his roles as priest, politician, and wartime collaborator. The order in the title approximates the evolution of Tiso's identity during the first half of the twentieth century. . . .The study is more history than biography, focusing on both Tiso’s career and the environment and era that shaped that career. It has been said that one’s culture is the water one swims in; over the span of his life, Tiso swam in vastly different waters, not necessarily by choice. . . .Since the collapse of Communism, and especially after independence, Slovak historians have been engaged in challenging the politicized stories of Tiso, instead producing thoroughly researched academic studies. Nearly all their work, however, is in Slovak, so Ward’s summation of their efforts is welcome."—Susan Mikula,Austrian History Yearbook(April 2015)

"This objective biography will remain a classic in English as Tiso will no longer be presented in simple black and white terms as in the past. It is an excellent source for students of nationalism, political Catholicism, the history of Czechoslovakia and Slovakia, and post-Communism."—Gregory C. Ference, Slovakia(2015)

"James Mace Ward has done a real service to that audience by providing the first in-depth, scholarly biography of the infamous president of wartime Slovakia, Father Jozef Tiso…. His attention to chronology and detail – as well as his chosen method of historical biography verging on microhistory – assures that we are provided with a more nuanced, variegated understanding of the man's political options, experiences, and motivations. For this reason alone, Ward has provided a salutary addition to the literature on midcentury European political extremism." – Richard Steigmann-Gall, Fascism (2016)

"In Hitler's disposition of Czechoslovakia, Slovakia became an independent state, subordinate to the
Reich but formally sovereign. As James Mace Ward shows in his finely researched biography, the
Slovak leader Monsignor Jozef Tiso understood this new beginning as a chance for Christian, national, and social revolution. The end of Czechoslovakia deprived the Jews of their previous civil status; the new Slovak state denied them equal citizenship and deprived them of property rights."—Timothy Snyder, The New York Review of Books (October 24, 2013)

"This is a brilliant, mature work from a young scholar. Its maturity derives from the balance that it brings to a charged subject . . ., from the intelligence of the argument that Ward melds with this disconcerting biography, and from the unpretentious clarity with which it is written. . . . Ward depicts Tiso as defined by dualities—conviction and convenience, faith and politics, Christianity and Nazism—and embodying the complexity, hopes, and tragedies of the Czechs and the Slovaks during the 1930s."—Robert Legvold, Foreign Affairs (September/October 2013)

"Ward provides as accurate an account of Tiso's life and legacy as possible, all the while acknowledging that he remains a highly contested, controversial, and complex character in Slovak history. This book will be of interest to a wide range of readers . . . and provides a regional approach to Holocaust studies. Overall, Ward resists portraying Tiso as a mere opportunist, providing instead a thoughtful interpretation of how experiences of Catholicism, nationalism, and state building can combine to produce genocide."—Choice (September 2013)

"As historians focus more attention on the role that religion (and especially Catholicism) played in twentieth-century European politics, many will want to learn more about the Slovak nationalist movement and the World War II–era Slovak state. Priest, Politician, Collaborator focuses attention squarely on the arresting figure of Father Tiso, a priest who was also a head of state. James Mace Ward's command of the secondary literature on Slovak political life in the period is absolute; in addition, he scoured numerous archives and paged through an incredible number of published sources for every last trace of Jozef Tiso's activities and utterances. Even more impressive is Ward’s ability to find his way through the minefields that surround the interpretation of crucial chapters in Tiso’s life. Ward takes up Tiso’s responsibility for the demise of Czechoslovakia in 1939, his responsibility for the deportation of Slovak Jews, and his role in the suppression of the Slovak Uprising. In each case, Ward’s conclusions are convincing and fair."—Paul Hanebrink, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, author of In Defense of Christian Hungary: Religion, Nationalism, and Antisemitism, 1890–1944

"Priest, Politician, Collaborator is a major and innovative book that shows Jozef Tiso to have been one of the principal figures of Catholic politics in interwar Central Europe, as well as the architect of the independent Slovak state's subsequent collaboration with Nazi Germany."—Martin Conway, University of Oxford, author of Catholic Politics in Europe 1918–1945

"The Catholic Church of the 1930s opposed racism and preached love of neighbor. How then could a Catholic priest preside over a fascist state in league with Nazi Germany and become complicit in genocide? In the most revealing study of clerico-fascism that we possess, James Mace Ward answers these and other urgent questions, with consummate mastery of historical sources, and a profound comprehension of the interrelation of theology and politics. His work is essential reading for students of World War II and the Holocaust."—John Connelly, University of California, Berkeley, author of From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933–1965

"In Priest, Politician, Collaborator, James Mace Ward has produced the definitive biography of one of twentieth-century Europe's most fascinating figures: the Slovak clergyman and wartime president, Jozef Tiso. Ward captures Tiso in all his complexity: as a true believer in Catholicism, a fervent Slovak nationalist, and a calculating politician determined to protect his own reputation and room to maneuver. Ward does not shy from the most controversial chapters of Tiso’s life—in particular, the Slovak leader’s wartime alliance with Nazi Germany and his responsibility for the expropriation, deportation, and ultimate murder of his country’s Jews. Nor does the book succumb to a simple black-and-white portrait of the man as a Nazi henchman or atavistic nationalist. Instead, based on a wealth of archival sources, Ward skillfully demonstrates the complexity and contradictions of Tiso’s thoughts and actions. Priest, Politician, Collaborator is a major achievement: a pathbreaking, impeccably researched work that fundamentally reorients our understanding of Tiso and the Slovak nation he aimed, and claimed, to lead."—Benjamin Frommer, Northwestern University, author of National Cleansing: Retribution against Nazi Collaborators in Postwar Czechoslovakia

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Cornell University Press
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6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

James Mace Ward is Assistant Professor of History at DePauw University.

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