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  • Das Dritte Reich und die Slowakei 1939–1945: Politischer Alltag zwischen Kooperation und Eigensinn
  • James Mace Ward
Tatjana Tönsmeyer , Das Dritte Reich und die Slowakei 1939–1945: Politischer Alltag zwischen Kooperation und Eigensinn. Paderborn, Germany: Ferdinand Schöningh, 2003. 387 pp. $48.00.

For those comfortable with traditional interpretations of the 1939–1945 Slovak Republic as a Nazi puppet or satellite state, Tatjana Tönsmeyer's monograph will come as a challenge. This book, originally a dissertation for Berlin's Humboldt University, aims to restore considerable dignity and agency (though not moral legitimacy) to the Slovak actors, arguing that at the level of the "political everyday" they successfully opposed Nazi efforts to reshape their society. Tönsmeyer acknowledges, however, that Germany did indeed dominate Slovakia's economy and foreign policy.

Tönsmeyer's subject is the German adviser system that was set up to steer Slovak policy through the daily interaction of German experts with high-ranking Slovak officials. Her theoretical framework stems from Alltagsgeschichte, which she claims to apply to state functionaries for the first time, and from the literature on international relations theory, the most important part of which explores how German and Slovak perceptions of each other and of themselves shaped their interstate relations. The core of the monograph focuses on individual advisers (twenty-eight of whom Tönsmeyer profiles as a social group) and their Slovak counterparts. In concluding reflections, she calls for the application of her findings to Germany's other Danubian allies and for a shift from the label of "collaboration" to "an understanding of governance as a social process that 'materializes' itself in the everyday" (p. 347).

According to Tönsmeyer, the adviser system grew out of conflicting Slovak and German visions of Slovak independence. In the beginning, Slovakia was off the German ideological map. When Hitler decided to use Slovak nationalists in 1939 as a lever with which to dismantle Czechoslovakia, this German tradition of not noticing Slovakia (or, more important, not thinking negatively about Slovaks) opened up the possibility of Slovak statehood. The Germans assumed that they would dominate [End Page 132] their new ally, but Slovak nationalism soon inspired independent behavior. After the defeat of France in 1940, Germany moved to consolidate control over the Danube region. As part of this effort, Adolf Hitler exploited a Slovak power struggle to secure key Slovak ministries under Germanophiles. At the same time, he dispatched to Bratislava a group of advisers to guide the reconstructed regime.

The advisers achieved mixed results. They were most successful when they formally treated Slovakia as sovereign, when cooperation promised a transfer of technology or skills, and when the topic under discussion was the state. In contrast, when the Germans acted superior, when the transfer offered was mainly of an ideological nature, and when the topic was the nation, the Slovaks dissented through such tactics as foot-dragging. Lacking institutional authority because of Slovakia's independent status, many advisers found their hands bound. They could not, after all, threaten to occupy Slovakia after every minor conflict. Yet, despite such tensions, each side secured its respective primary interest—war supplies for Germany and relative domestic autonomy for Slovakia—and at times their interests even overlapped harmoniously, especially in regard to the "Jewish question." Consequently, Tönsmeyer characterizes the overall German-Slovak relationship as fundamentally problem-free.

Tönsmeyer's reading is a unique synthesis of competing interpretations of the Slovak state. She sides with the state's defenders in emphasizing the sincere nationalist motives of the Slovak leaders and their efforts (often successful) to act independently of Germany. But she supports the state's harshest critics in finding almost no German manipulation behind the Slovak decision to declare war on the Soviet Union and in identifying Slovak anti-Semitism, not German influence, as the driving force behind the Holocaust in Slovakia.

My main criticism of this work concerns its source base. Although Tönsmeyer has assembled an impressive array of documents, she herself acknowledges that serious gaps remain in her evidence. She relies heavily on German sources, and the Slovak items she uses are mainly postwar recollections rather than wartime documents. Nazi observers, however, often saw...