Translation as a Weapon

Literary Translation under the Slovak State (1939–1945)

By Martin Djovčoš & Matej Laš (Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia)


This article provides an analysis of the publishing policy of the fascist Slovak state (1939-1945), focussing on fiction translation and examining the rapid changes taking place in the period under consideration. The history of translation is a very complex phenomenon, and in order to reconstruct a comprehensive image of the period we make use of the concepts of patronage (Lefevere) and polysystem (Even-Zohar). We show that publishing policy and type of patronage (differentiated or undifferentiated) are closely related, and that both periphery and centre of the polysystem need to be studied.

Keywords: patronage, translation and politics, translation policy, ideology, fascism, Slovak State, history of translation

©inTRAlinea & Martin Djovčoš & Matej Laš (2022).
"Translation as a Weapon Literary Translation under the Slovak State (1939–1945)", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

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1. Introduction

In 1939, Hitler divided the short-lived Second Czechoslovak Republic into two, and as a consequence the First Slovak Republic (referred to as “the Slovak State”until 21 July 1939) was born – a new nationalist client state of Nazi Germany, abruptly breaking loose from the democratic values of the First Czechoslovak Republic and its Masarykian roots (defined below).

The history of translation can tell us a great deal about social changes and values in a given socio-cultural system. In fact, translation is probably one of the most reliable indicators of social and political change, and it could probably even be said: tell me what you translate and I will tell you what kind of regime you live in. The goal of this paper is to illustrate – on the basis of a statistical analysis of fiction translation and domestic fiction during the Slovak State period – what happened to translation policy during the regime, and to provide numerical data on fiction publishing before, during and shortly after the establishment of the Slovak State with regard to the centre of the literary system. The paper by no means tries to offer a complete analysis of the period studied. Such research would require the study of both the centre and the periphery of the literary polysystem and their reciprocity, as well as a comprehensive analysis of the translation strategies used, a study of paratexts and oral history. It should also include study of other arts such as cinema and music.

The Slovak State is sometimes defined as a “leaky totalitarian” (Clementis 1947) or clerical fascist (Szabó 2019) regime; therefore we will try to determine whether it exhibited differentiated or undifferentiated patronage (Lefevere 1992). It needs to be noted that Slovak “leaky fascism” does not fall into the category of parafascist regimes (such as Portugal and Spain as described in Rundle and Sturge 2010), as it shares features of both fascist and parafascist, that is antisemitism on in line with the former but with strong (declared) Catholic values in line with the latter. Like Rundle and Sturge, who state that "[b]y importing ideas, genres and fragments of different cultural worlds, translations will affirm or attack domestic realities; they are never neutral in their impact or in their representation of the sending cultures” (2010: 4), we believe that translation in this case does not attack domestic realities, but affirms them, creates subconscious agreement with the new rule and strengthens the given regime, which itself has been imported and adopted.

2. Historical background

The First Czechoslovak Republic (the first autonomous state of Czechs and Slovaks) was founded on 28 October 1918 and led by Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk – an influential philosopher, journalist and politician nicknamed by many “the father of Czechoslovakia”. Although the country would become a stable democracy, there were many problems regarding economic disparities between the Slovak and Czech regions.[1]

Following Hitler’s rise to power and the subsequent Munich Agreement in 1938, Czechoslovakia was forced to cede its Sudetenland region to Germany, along with some of its other northern and southern regions – the result of an appeasement policy (Kárník 2003). Immediately after the annexation, a second, short-lived Czechoslovakia emerged; it lasted only 169 days.[2] It was dissolved when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939. The Czech region was transformed into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and president Edvard Beneš resigned and was replaced by the fascist Emil Hácha; while the Slovak region became a client state of Nazi Germany under the rule of the Catholic priest and politician Jozef Tiso.[3]

Tiso was the second chairman of Hlinka's Slovak People's Party (named after its first chairman, Andrej Hlinka, who was also a Catholic priest), and was part of the moderate wing. The party, founded in 1931, had a strong Christian and nationalistic ideology, and its members were known as the Ludaks, based on the noun ľud, meaning people.[4] Although the popularity of the party was relatively high (in the first elections it gained 17.6 per cent), it became part of the government only once, in 1927 – when Tiso even became the Minister for Public Health and Physical Education.[5]

The year 1938 saw the establishment of the Hlinka Guard and Hlinka Youth – an organization similar to the Hitler Youth – which organized and headed the Aryanization process and the deportation of Jews. Tiso’s state became officially recognized as an independent Slovak State and fully supported both the non-military economic programmes and the military operations of the Nazis (such as the invasion of Poland), becoming a fully fledged part of the Axis powers in WWII (Petranský 2015a).

Then a revolt broke out: the Slovak National Uprising of 1944. The opposition to the regime was formed and organized into small military units. These units were suppressed on 27 October and the uprising switched to guerrilla warfare. This lasted until the liberation of the Slovak State by the Red Army. Once again, opinions concerning this event vary. By way of reprisal against the uprising, German soldiers destroyed those villages whose inhabitants had helped the partisans and more than 5,000 lives were lost. At the same time, some partisan units, such as the First Czechoslovakian Partisan Brigade of J. V. Stalin, organised attacks on German civilians living in Slovakia. The Slovak National Uprising would become a symbol of the restoration of Czechoslovakia – making it extremely unpopular among Slovak nationalists. Last, but not least, the partisans included in their ranks several communists motivated by Marxist-Leninist ideology. Although the partisans were outnumbered and the uprising was militarily unsuccessful, it proved to be of importance in the geopolitical dispensation that followed WWII (Petranský 2015a).

In 1945, Slovakia was liberated by the Soviet army, and Czechoslovakia was reunited in its second incarnation. Tiso was judged in a political trial and sentenced to execution by hanging. This step proved to be controversial, as he became – and still is to this day – a martyr of the Slovak nation in the eyes of many ultra-right extremists.[6]

The shadow cabinet led by Edvard Beneš – organized in Great Britain during the WWII – took over, and in 1948 a communists’ coup d'état took place. As a result, Czechoslovakia became a satellite state of the Soviet Union (Applebaum 2012). Of course, the process itself was much more complicated, but this brief contextualization serves our purposes.

The Slovak general public has never managed to come to terms with the legacy of the first Slovak State, resulting in the success of a neo-fascist political party in the 2010s. The goal of this paper, however, is not to discuss Slovak society’s struggle with the legacy of the clerofascist state, but to look in more detail at how this regime used literature and particularly translation to subliminally manipulate public opinion. Indeed, this is often one of the main goals of translation: to manipulate (Bassnett and Lefevere 1992).

3. Methodology

Our statistical analysis of the book market was conducted using bibliographical catalogues complied at Matica Slovenská, a scientific and cultural institution which focuses on topics related to the Slovak nation,  during the 1950s, 60s and 70s (Dubay 1948, 1951, 1952; Ferienčíková and Spišková 1967, 1969, 1970a, 1970b). There is no online catalogue of the works published under the Slovak State. All data had to be calculated manually from the printed bibliographies. It is therefore possible that some minor errors occurred, but these errors shouldn’t affect the overall picture.

There is, however, another issue. Bibliographies are not necessarily completely accurate; in a few cases, the publication years of particular books were missing. Also, the archives on which the bibliographies were based are not necessarily complete.

Based on the data gathered and on relevant social changes, we have divided the period 1939–45 into three parts. Our analysis also includes a brief discussion of the pre-war years (1937–38), which were characterised by the rise of nationalism, and of the post war years (1946–47), when a cultural and political struggle between democratic and communist values took place. Indeed, we show that translation seems to have been a highly significant battleground. Each of the three parts is further comprised of descriptive statistical analysis regarding the number of domestic fiction works and fiction translations. In the end, we provide a brief genre analysis of domestic fiction as well as some interesting examples of fiction translations.[7]

4. Theoretical framework

Edwin Gentzler and Maria Tymoczko (2002) coined the often-challenged term power turn, stressing the role of power and ideology in the process of translation. In the USA, this concept was connected to postcolonial processes. In the Central European context it may instead be connected with an attempt to cope with the turbulent history of the region and the totalitarian regimes which troubled it for most of the 20th century.

Also stressing that translation is not only a language-based phenomenon, but involves factors such as power and ideology, Lefevere (1992) defines translation as rewriting and argues that manipulation is carried out in the service of power. However, he considers that positive aspects such as the introduction of new concepts, new genres, new devices, literary innovation etc. can help a particular society to flourish. The process of rewriting begins with the actual selection of a text to be translated. Another important concept introduced by Lefereve (1992) is that of patronage, which he defines as a collective, almost abstract, entity, which is not interested in literature or its poetics but in ideology, and which oversees and regulates relations between different literary systems, thus contributing to the shaping of society and culture. We try to demonstrate that the Slovak State actually had undifferentiated patronage, common in totalitarian regimes, as the three components that according to Lefevere (1992) are associated with patronage (i.e. the ideological, economic and status components) are all concentrated in one person or state-run institution.

As this article deals mainly with fascist ideology, we also draw on Rundle and Sturge (2010) to help us find some common and differentiating features between Slovakia and other fascist and parafascist regimes.

Toury's (1995) concept of preliminary norms, which concern “translation policy”[8] and “directness”, is also important for our purposes. According to Toury (1995: 58) “[t]ranslation policy refers to those factors that govern the choice of text types; or even of individual texts, to be imported through translation into a particular culture/language at a particular point in time”. He adds that “considerations concerning directness of translation involve the threshold of tolerance for translating from languages other than the ultimate source language” (ibid.).

Even-Zohar's (1990) polysystem theory may also be helpful to explain phenomena taking place in totalitarian regimes. It states that smaller literatures (such as Slovak literature) form themselves through translations, in which they try to find new literary models. Larger literatures do not need translations, or rather do not need them anymore, as they pose a threat to the canonized centre of the polysystem. Therefore these literatures translate a lot less: in the USA, for example, translations constitute about 1.8 per cent of the total production of fiction.[9]

As far as the Slovak literary polysystem and canon is concerned, Šmatlák (2001: 474) states that Slovaks wanted a new definition of their own national identity both in relation to the traditional values of Slovak literary history and to the wider aesthetic influences from other languages present in the interwar period. This desire to renew the nation is mentioned by Rundle and Sturge, too, and they consider it “to be one of the defining characteristics of a fascist political programme” (2010: 7-8). The phenomenon was definitely present in the Slovak State’s policy concerning translations of fiction. Bednárová (2015: 24) states that the nationalistic emphasis helped to emancipate Slovak translating from Czech influence[10], although censorship definitely affected the quantity of translations from other countries, particularly with regard to Romanian, Italian, Croatian and German literatures. Vajdová (2000: 55) analysed Romanian literature during WWII in literary magazines such as Elán and Slovenské pohľady and came to the conclusion that all contributions were politically motivated, characterized mainly by nationalist and pro-regime, pro-fascist inclinations. Regarding German literature, Bednárová (2015: 24) states that there also was a continuation of the established tradition – several classic German authors such as Goethe, Schiller, Rilke, Hesse were translated – but there were many politically motivated translations as well. Even an entire issue of Elán was dedicated to German literature and art (Schvarc and Hallon, 2010: 283).

5. Meta-pseudotranslations

A typical feature of the Slovak fascist regime is a significant amount of fictitious translations (Toury 2006) or pseudo-translations (Popovič 1975). Fictitious translations are original texts that present themselves as translations. There are many reasons why they might do so, such as importing a new literary model that is considered unacceptable by domestic readers or simply a deficit of translators of a particular language. According to Rundle and Sturge (2010: 6), for instance, “there was a boom in pseudotranslations [in Franco’s Spain]: non-translated works that claimed to be translations in order to enhance their prestige or market positions”. Sturge, in reference to Nazi Germany, also states that

the home of pseudotranslations and by far the biggest source of actual translations until the war, was popular fiction translated from English, especially detective novels and westerns but flanked by a whole range of successful light or middlebrow fiction. These translations really did offer an alternative reality to the blood and soil of home […]. Publishing them as translations makes it more acceptable or even more exotic. (Sturge 2010: 76)

The situation as far as Slovakia is concerned was rather complicated. Firstly, there were Slovak authors using English or French pseudonyms when writing adventure novels, particularly westerns. This phenomenon was very common between 1940 and 1945, as escapist literature was popular during wartime and adventure genres, though considered second-rate, were in great demand. Therefore, authors tended to use various foreign pseudonyms, as will be pointed out in the analysis.

There was also another group of  pseudo-translations, which we have called second-hand pseudo-translations or meta-pseudotranslations. A rather significant number of adventure novels – especially stories set in the Wild West – were published and labelled as translations of American authors when, in fact, they were translations of novels written mainly by Hungarian writers using pseudonyms. For instance, Hamvas H. Sándor, who wrote under many pseudonyms, one of them being Alex H. Ash.

In Hungary, these writers published their work in hugely popular paperback editions called Közművelődési, which functioned as pseudo-translations. These pseudo-translations were eventually translated into Slovak, creating a very interesting phenomenon. They will be labelled as Undetermined in the figures below, as it’s difficult to say whether the translators were aware that these novellas had in fact been written by Hungarian authors, since no further information could be found.

6. Statistical analysis              

Now let us proceed to the actual statistical analysis in line with the methods described in section 3. Corresponding bibliographies and sources of meta-analysis are cited in footnotes accompanying every figure. We shall also conduct a brief genre analysis of the years 1937–47, divided into logical parts according to the tendencies displayed in each period.

6.1 The pre-war years

In order to fully comprehend the shift of translation policy that occurred somewhere between 1939 and 1940, it is essential to look further back in time. After the birth of Czechoslovakia, the book market in Slovakia flourished. Between 1918 and 1938, 15,676 books were published, on average 750 books per year, and around 15 per cent of these books were fiction. Let us look in detail at the last two years leading up to the dissolution of the first Czechoslovakia.

Figure 1: Number of fiction books published in Slovakia
annually by original language, 1937–38 (Matica slovenská 1979)

Here we can see that translated fiction constituted about half of all fiction production in Slovakia – precisely 60 per cent in 1937 (86 volumes) and 46 per cent in 1938 (54 volumes). The distribution of languages is very varied (17 different languages).

The most translated source language was Czech, constituting 15 per cent (22 volumes) and 10 per cent (12 volumes) of all fiction, for each year respectively. From a contemporary point of view, this may seem rather unusual, since today Slovak publishers tend not to translate Czech-language fiction, as it is generally believed that almost every Slovak understands Czech (though not vice versa); however, in the period of the first Czechoslovakia it was quite normal to do so, as the Slovak part of the republic was mainly agrarian, and many Slovak writers and translators studied in Prague and were hugely influenced by Czech. There weren’t many translators, as there were no training institutions (the first one was established in 1969 at the Univerzita 17 Novembra in Bratislava), and bilingual dictionaries were scarce, so Slovak translators tended to use Czech as an intermediary language in the translation process.

After Czech, the most represented source languages are Russian, French, German, Polish, English and Hungarian. There is no particular pattern, no alpha-language of translation. The most frequently translated languages are the result of historical relations and common roots. Slovakia, as a former part of Austria-Hungary and Mitteleuropa, had naturally formed relations with Hungary, Germany and Poland. France, with its major impact on European literature as the cradle of the Enlightenment, was also well represented.

On the other hand, Russian literary relations are a result of the Slovak national revival in the 19th century led by Ľudovít Štúr, who even went so far as to encourage the Slavic nations to consolidate under the reign of Russia (Štúr 2015). These ideas were also elaborated by Ján Kollár, whose theory of Slavic mutuality articulated a need for cooperation among the Slavic nations in literature and culture (Kollár 2008).

The proportion of Slovak fiction is quite high – 40 per cent in 1937 and 54 per cent in 1938– considering that nowadays translated fiction constitutes around 70 per cent of all fiction production. It is obvious that the diversity of cultural representation is balanced. However, the total number of fiction books published in 1939 decreased by 19 per cent with respect to 1938. The increasing proportion of works written in the national language is itself a signal that a change was about to come.

6.2 Rapid increase of nationalism and rapid changes (1939–41)

The Slovak State was founded on 14 March 1939, and the measures taken in the fiction market were quite drastic. Of course, the state of war in which all of Europe found itself has to be taken into account and was possibly the main reason for the huge decrease in book production.

Figure 2: Number of fiction books published
annually in Slovakia by original language, 1939–41 (Dubay 1948)

In 1939, we can immediately see two obvious shifts: a rapid increase in the proportion of Slovak fiction – 81 per cent of the overall fiction production – and a huge decrease of language variety in translations. Of course, this may have been caused by the total breaking-off of former relationships and the international isolation of the Slovak State. Books were translated from only eight languages; the dominant ones were French and Hungarian, followed by Russian. There are no fiction translations from German.[11] It also needs to be taken into account that publishing plans take some time to be implemented.

The overwhelming dominance of Slovak fiction can be attributed to two factors: a general cultural decline during WWII and nationalistic tendencies – undoubtedly a major characteristic of the first Slovak State, which needed to demonstrate its independence and emphasize its roots. The total number of books published (342) is also extremely low in 1939 compared to the previous two years; however, proportionally speaking, fiction flourished during wartime, constituting about 38 per cent of all the books published as opposed to 15 per cent and 10 per cent in 1937-38.

The dominance of domestic fiction in these years presents a counterexample to the postulates of Even-Zohar’s (1990) polysystem theory stating that small literatures tend to translate more as they require new stimuli and need to implement new literary models. At least for a while this was not the case, as the new stimulus was nationalism. This can be viewed as the result of an attempt to cultivate a national myth. However, the “normal” state of things described by Even-Zohar would soon be realised.

The following two years more or less sustained the shift implemented in 1939. The translation market, however, once again became more diversified, and the phenomenon of pseudonyms and translations of pseudo-translations expanded.

In 1940 we can see the continuation of a strong prevalence of domestic fiction (73 per cent), as well as a general increase in the production of both fiction (281 books) and non-fiction (453 books). The variety of translations (14 source languages) increased, and the dominant source languages were Hungarian (13 books) followed by fiction written in Hungarian but published in Slovakia (13 books), Greek (eight  books – though these were mainly Latin textbooks), Russian (eight books) and German (three books). Despite the relatively small number of translations from German, all in all, the total number of translations from Axis powers constitutes about 62 per cent, which does not seem so high, relatively speaking, but when we add the 31 Undetermined translations the amount of translated fiction from the Axis countries increases to about 76 per cent.

The only translation from Czech was a second-hand translation of a French book written by a priest, Pierre L’Ermite. The translations from German were almost all of theological and educational books written by Catholic priests, pointing to the regime’s purportedly Catholic values.[12]

The year 1941 was once again characterized by an increase in book production (for a total of 978 books as opposed to 746 in 1940). The proportion of domestic fiction (79 per cent) was extremely high, and there were many Slovak authors using pseudonyms; they wrote mainly second-rate adventure novels. This can be compared to the Hungarian writers writing western stories under English pseudonyms – once again, there were 31 translations of Hungarian pseudo-translations – most of them published by the Matej Josko, František Jurák and M. Borovina publishing houses.

The most translated source language was German (9).[13] The most important shift in translation policy was the introduction of the German children’s literature in translation; in fact, three fairy tales and one adventure novel were translated from German, which shows, we would speculate, the first signs of indoctrination. Of course, Christian parables were also still popular.

In total, there were translations from 16 languages. Once again, the most translated language was Hungarian – if we take into account another 31 second-hand pseudo-translations. One of the translations from Czech was just a second-hand translation – another novel by Pierre L’Ermite. In total, 60 out of 73 translations (including the category Undetermined) were from the languages of countries of the Axis powers, or 83 per cent: proof of an ongoing politically motivated shift in translation policy.

6.3 From “autonomy” to a stable relationship with Germany (1942–44)

The years 1942–44 were characterized by the clear influence of German ideology in fiction translations. On the other hand, there was a moderate decrease in domestic fiction – compensated mainly by the translations from German. The translation market yet again underwent a gradual shift in focus from nationalism to Germanization. It was all very subtle, but traceable. Adventure novellas remained the most popular genre in fiction, reaching its peak in 1943; translations of pseudo-translations and English pseudonyms of Slovak authors were still a significant presence in this genre. This phenomenon also implies that the economic component of Lefevere’s (1992) patronage was in the hands of the state – the huge demand for this kind of literature was fulfilled by cooperation with another state of the Axis powers in the form of second-hand pseudo-translations.

In 1942 the Slovak Academy of Sciences and Arts was founded. The goal of the country’s highest cultural body was to improve the development of sciences and arts and to unite defensive authoritativeness with freedom of spirit, discipline with genuine progress, human universalism with Slovak nationalism (Bobák 2000). One of its three departments was the artistic department, and Jozef Tiso was named the “protector” of this institution. Catholic scientists founded their own scientific institution – the Slovak Catholic Academy – and its head was once again Jozef Tiso, replaced in 1943 by the bishop Andrej Škrábik (Petranský 2015a).

According to Schvarc and Hallon (2010: 265), Slovakia and Germany signed an agreement based on the German Kulturpolitik in May 1942, after three years of discussions among the two parties. This agreement strengthened the German influence in the area of culture and science and supported the establishment of German schools and German scientific institutes as well as the strengthening of German as a dominant foreign language – although as early as 1939 a Slovak-German Society had been established with the goal of strengthening relations between Slovakia and Germany, both politically and ideologically. The agreement defined three basic levels of cooperation: German language teaching, provision of grants and cooperation in cultural and scientific areas mainly among scientific institutes. In the same year, the German Scientific Academy was founded. Although such cooperation was presented as mutual it was, in fact, very much unidirectional. Later, after the Slovak National Uprising of 1944, the Slovak-German Society became a political instrument whose aim was to politically re-educate the Slovak nation. However, it was too late.

Despite the relative tolerance in the area of literature (leaky totalitarian regime seems an adequate description in this case), those authors who tried to openly criticize the regime were forbidden from publishing – Janko Jesenský most likely being the best-known such example – and Jewish writers were forbidden from publishing as well. On the other hand, many prominent writers were also given a political function: Tido Jozef Gašpar was the chief of the Propaganda Office; poets Ján Smrek, Ľudo Zúbek and Ján Kostra also worked at the Propaganda Office; Milo Urban was the chief editor of the radical fascist daily newspaper Gardista; and poet Emil Boleslav Lukáč was a member of the Slovak Assembly (Petranský 2015a). This shows that the state conferred prestige (one of Lefevere’s three components of patronage) to those authors who supported the values of the Slovak State, and therefore all three components were in the hands of the state. Ďurkovská (2010: 251) writes that this period gave birth to the controversial tradition of Slovak artists’ political activism. Many poets, writers and other artists entered politics. For example, poet Valentín Beniak became Secretary of the Ministry of Interior, while another poet, Andrej Žarnov, worked at the Slovak Council of State.

Figure 3: Number of fiction books published
annually in Slovakia by original language, 1942–44 (Dubay 1952)

By 1942 the book market was beginning to stabilize. The total number of books published was 998, which is on par with the pre-war period. The proportion of fiction was about 40 per cent, and there was a substantial decrease in the proportion of domestic fiction.

Putting aside the high number of books in the Undetermined category (once again mainly translations of Hungarian pseudo-translations), translations from German dominated the translated fiction market.[14] There were 44 translations from German in total – a sharp increase from the nine of the previous year – and this could be considered the final phase of the shifting process. The first three years of the Slovak State (1939, 1940 and 1941) were characterized by a large number of non-fiction translations from German, and in 1942 the fiction market was taken over, too.[15] This is proof that the German language had slowly but surely became the ultimate original (Toury 1995: 134), the one from which the country translated most frequently, and the heterogeneity of cultures (Venuti 1998) was suppressed by the state’s power and ideology.

We consider the translations from French, Russian, Polish and English to be in opposition to the mainstream. In the case of Russian it should be considered that the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact – an alliance between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union – ended in 1941. Eugene Onegin was translated by the aforementioned Janko Jesenský, demonstrating that certain translators continued to uphold their beliefs and tried their best to oppose the regime. As for Polish, Poland had been under German occupation since 1939 and Slovakia actually cooperated with Germany in the September invasion of Poland. The case of French, however, is less clear cut, since the nation was divided, and Vichy France, led by Pétain, cooperated with the Germans. Therefore we can’t be sure that the translations from French were supported by the government. However, translations from French were very popular in the pre-war period, particularly of surrealist texts (Bednárová 1994). These four languages, taken together, add up to 47 translations, that is 27 per cent of the translations of fiction published.

The category Written in foreign languages stands for the fiction published in foreign languages. It is interesting to note that in 1942 and the following two years, not only was fiction written in Hungarian common, but also fiction written in German,[16] and later, in 1944 and 1945, in Russian, too, as the future direction of the Slovak State was beginning to form.[17] Otherwise the tendencies are similar to the previous years, including 35 Slovak authors writing under English or French pseudonyms.

In 1943, the total number of books published reached its peak (1268 volumes). The proportion of domestic fiction stabilized at 54 per cent. Fiction also increased in numbers and variety, but not in proportion (38 per cent). A strong opposition to fiction translations from Axis-power languages began to emerge. English was the second most translated language, joined by French, Russian and Polish, constituting a strong opposition. However, the English translations consisted mainly of adventure stories[18] and the only classic authors translated were Mark Twain and Charles Dickens. Of course, the translations from English also included some works on Christianity.[19]

Twenty-six Slovak writers wrote under English or French pseudonyms, and there were at least 50 Slovak translations of adventure novellas by Hungarian writers which were listed as translations from English. The popularity of the adventure story was still going strong, above all in 1943.

There was an almost 20 per cent decrease in total production (1051 books), probably due to the intense fighting. It was in 1944 that the last and the most important battle of WWII take place, not only across Europe, but also in Slovakia. On 29 August 1944, the Slovak National Uprising began. Germany was losing the war, but continued to win on the literary battlefield, especially where translations of fiction are concerned. Taken together, translations from Axis-power languages made up about 60 per cent of the fiction translations that year.

The year 1944 continued the trends set in 1943, and the German ideological takeover of literature was more evident than ever. The Christian roots of the Slovak State were confirmed by the works of German theologians translated into Slovak. The Slovak National Uprising was defeated on 27 October 1944, but remaining forces resorted to guerrilla warfare right up to the end of the WWII, leaving indelible proof of an opposition to the regime.

And finally,  a “normal” state, as defined by Even-Zohar’s (1990) polysystem theory, started to form, and the disproportion between domestic fiction and translations began to stabilize.

6.4 Changes of translation policy (1945)

The first and the last year of WWII, based in part on the total number of books published, were the toughest. In 1945, Germany was defeated, its allies liberated by the West or by the Soviet Union, and there was a sense of rebuilding in Europe. However, this quickly devolved into a geopolitical struggle for influence.

Figure 4: Number of works of fiction published
in Slovakia by original language, 1945 (Dubay 1952)

Similarly to the beginning of the war in 1939, the book market suffered a sharp downturn. The total number of books published decreased (398 books), although fiction was still quite strong (124 books). Slovakia was liberated by the Soviet Army in the first half of 1945 and translation from Russian started to be massively represented: some translations of ideological works were published as early as 1944, a biography of Stalin and poems about Lenin being the most evident, so the breeding ground for the communist coup d’état in 1948 was being formed, with translation as one of its crucial instruments.

But the most significant shift can be seen in the case of translations from German. The decrease to only one fiction translation perfectly illustrates our point – and it is worth mentioning that the only fiction book translated from German was in fact the second part of Karl May’s Winnetou,which was probably planned the year before. There was also a massive decrease in the number of translations from Hungarian, and translations of pseudo-translations.

Translations from Russian dominated the translated fiction market which was characterized by translations of classics and children’s literature, with Pushkin’s fairy tales even being published in Russian, together with a collection of Russian and Arabic historical fairy tales by Yevseyev. The second most translated language was French, although we have to mention that four of the books published were just four parts of Alexandre Dumas's novel The Count of Monte Cristo. Translations from English were mainly adventure novels.

6.5 Brief genre analysis

Let us now look at the books published in 1939–45 from the standpoint of genre (Dubay 1948, 1952):

Figure 5: Genre analysis of translations in Slovakia 1939-45

With regard to fiction, children’s books – mainly popular fairy tales – were quite common, and of course adventure novels, mainly “horse operas”, dominated the market. The Aryanization process which took place in the Slovak State is also represented in the topics of the fiction published. This also illustrates that the ideological component (Lefevere 1992) was used to support the state’s values. Literary works in Slovak included novels with titles such as Jeho lordstvo Žid [His Lordship the Jew], a story about the large proportion of Jews in English high society; Za Andrejom Hlinkom [The legacy of Andrej Hlinka], Ziskožravci [Profiteers], written by one of the most prominent ideologists and supporters of the alliance with Nazi German, Tido J. Gašpar;[20] Vodca HM detektívom [The leader of Hlinka’s Youth in the role of Detective], an espionage story with the leader of the Hlinka Youth being the morally-correct detective. These works can be characterized as a way of excusing the dehumanizing banishing of Slovak Jews and their extermination in concentration camps.[21] The most popular translated genre under the Slovak State was the adventure novella. However, towards the end of WWII the popularity of children’s literature increased (judging by the publication figures), and while adventure novels rapidly declined in popularity, some humorous short stories were published in order to lighten up the gloomy reality. It was here that the first works dealing with the Slovak National Uprising emerged.[22] Peter Jilemnický, later one of Czechoslovakia’s most prominent socialist-realist writers, was the most published author, with three novels in total.

In terms of Slovak poetry, there were a lot of patriotic poetry – poems celebrating war and calling to arms. We identified at least 12 collections of poems that featured calls to arms.[23] This is probably connected to the need of a newly-emerged nation to justify its origin; moreover, the establishment of the Slovak State was contingent upon its engagement in the war. The most dominant topics in poetry were nationalistic themes and Christian values. Collections of military and patriotic poetry under the titles Duch a zbraň [Spirit and Rifle] and Hnev svätý [Holy Wrath] are probably the most representative titles, as they embody the ideology of the First Slovak Republic.[24] Towards the end of the war, the poets mourn the victims of the war and express the hope for a better future.[25] Although in 1939 poetry made up about 35 per cent of the total domestic book production, two years after it decreased to 14 per cent. Patriotic poems disappear, replaced by youth-oriented poems related to Christian values. Poems glorifying the love of nation are becoming popular as well.[26]

Christianity and Christian values played a huge role in Slovak publishing policies. This is related to the fact that its constitution defined the Slovak State as a Christian state. In fact, one Christian publishing house, Spolok svätého Vojtecha, was one of the biggest publishers in the country (Petranský 2015a).

As for the theatre, the most popular works were light comedies and short plays for children. One-act comedies become increasingly popular, as well as historical plays.[27] Educational plays with Christian and nationalistic values were the most published drama genre.

6.6 Post-war years

Finally, let us have a look at how the situation developed over the first two years after the war. Book production recovered quite quickly, reaching a total of 884 books in 1946, and 1016 books in 1947. Immediately after the war, a geopolitical struggle for Europe began between the Western and Soviet spheres of influence. Czechoslovakia, thanks to the coup d'état of 1948, ended up in the Soviet sphere, where it remained right up to the 1989 Velvet Revolution.

Figure 6: Number of fiction books published
annually in Slovakia by original language, 1946–47
(Ferienčíková and Spišková 1967, 1967, 1970a, 1970b).

Translations from 18 languages were published. In 1946-47, Russian ceased to be the dominant source language and was overtaken by English; while French remained more stable compared to previous years. The power struggle is clearly evident also in translations of fiction. German fiction translations also increase, going from one book in 1945, to five in 1946 and finally to 18 in 1947.

We didn’t find any evidence of translations of pseudo-translations in these years, and Slovak authors seem to have abandoned their proclivity for pseudonyms. This phenomenon was very popular during WWII, and we believe that it should be studied in more detail. Once again Czech translations began to find their place in the literary canon in Slovak translation.

The Soviet alignment of Czechoslovakia became apparent in the wake of the Czechoslovak communist coup d’état of 1948, as illustrated by Djovčoš and Pliešovská (2011). The proportion of translations from Soviet literatures became stunning: altogether, between 1945 and 1968 the proportion of fiction translations from Soviet literatures constituted 48 per cent of the translation book market, whereas translations from American literature amounted only to 8 per cent (Djovčoš, Pliešovská 2011: 84).  We can conclude that at first sight the shift from German to Russian seems more resolute than the shift in translation policy during the Slovak State. Nevertheless, it would seem that the shifts in translation policy in Slovakia during WWII, first as a satellite state of Nazi Germany and then as a satellite state of Soviet Union, are quite different in nature.

While the takeover by Nazi Germany was mainly characterized by nationalistic tendencies and strong Christian roots, supported, of course, by translations of writings by many German Catholic and Lutheran priests, the translation policy in socialist Czechoslovakia was based on the strictest possible exclusion of opposing political opinions, and the nationalistic elements had to be suppressed, due to the nature of the political ideology.

7. Conclusion

We have attempted to provide an overview of book production under the Slovak State. The selection of works of fiction to translate was subordinated to the predominant ideology: nationalism with strong Christian roots. It could be said that the Slovak State exerted a form of undifferentiated patronage (Lefevere, 1992), as all three components – the ideological, economic and status components – were in the hands of one institution, represented mainly by President Jozef Tiso, the head of the Slovak Academy of Sciences and Arts.

We have tried to show how the ideological component was represented by the values of both translated and domestic fiction, while the economic component was represented by the huge proportion of adventure and western novellas, which often included pseudo-translations: Lastly, Jozef Tiso conferred prestige on authors that supported the state ideology by giving the authors high political functions.[28]

The argument that the Slovak State did not have any totalitarian features (Bobák 2000) in the cultural sphere seems unconvincing, and is not supported by the findings in this article; although the impact of ideology during the this period could be considered substantially lower than in post-1948 Soviet Czechoslovakia. Polices concerning both domestic fiction and translations were greatly influenced by the State’s ideology and were geared to support its values, consisting mainly of nationalism and Christianity; something which is confirmed by the fact that the three most prolific publishing houses were the nationalist Matica Slovenská, and Spolok svätého Vojtecha and Tranoscius which both had strong Christian roots. In fact, all three publishing houses still exist, but have a much lower share of the book market.

All in all, the Nazi control of the Slovak State does not seem to have been as strong and as immediate as that exercised during the Soviet occupation (see Djovčoš and Pliešovská 2011). There was some variety and some relative freedom. During the Slovak State, there wasn’t a single state-sanctioned literary style, in the way that socialist realism was imposed in Soviet Czechoslovakia, but rather a prioritized set of values, with rewards for those who abided by them. There was a certain degree of literary freedom, but it was very limited, and works with different values were in the minority and were suppressed.

Many features of the Slovak State’s translation policy (including for non-fiction publications) need to be studied in more detail in order to fully comprehend the influence of the predominant ideology on its publishing policies. Also, literary magazines have to be studied in order to determine the borders of the literary systems and how they interacted with the polysystem, which would offer a more comprehensive view of the literary situation. However, it is quite clear that translation could function as an ideological weapon, used to protect and empower the regime; and so it can be seen as a litmus test of social change. It can be a powerful tool in the hands of the powerful, but also in the hands of scholars, allowing them to document history and map social development based on translation policy.


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[1] For many historical and political reasons the legislation in each region differed. The Slovak region had higher unemployment, a much lower share in the industrial economy and a different fiscal policy (see Petranský 2015b).

[2] The republic was extremely unstable. It had three different governments, and the Slovak part became politically autonomous. In Slovakia, new nationalist parties emerged (see Petranský 2015a).

[3] Germany skilfully used the opportunity. They gave Slovaks a separate nation and were ready to provide for and defend it on the condition that Slovakia sign the Schutzvertrag – by which Slovakia pledged to pursue its foreign policy in compliance with German foreign policy.

[4] The far-right neo-Nazi political party Ľudová strana naše Slovensko currently represents the values the Ludaks were known to stand for, i.e. nationalist orientation with strong “Christian values”, whatever that might mean.

[5] It was common that parties with the highest number of votes were outnumbered by coalitions of other parties with less votes (Petranský 2015a).

[6] Generally, right-wing nationalists fondly remember and idealize the period of the first Slovak State and its head, president Tiso. Celebrations of Jozef Tiso are used as a way to “legally” express antisemitism and the values of Ludaks. Every year his supporters (as well as members of the party Ľudová strana naše Slovensko) celebrate the establishment of the Slovak State and visit Tiso’s grave (see Hruboň, 2019).

[7] Although we mention some interesting examples of non-fiction, the main goal of this article is to study publishing policy concering translations of fiction; therefore non-fiction will not be described in detail, to be further investigated in a different project. This article does not distinguish between British and American fiction, including both in the same category; however, American fiction constitutes about three quarters of English-language translations. It is not possible to be exact in this case, as not every bibliography distinguishes between American and British. However, generally speaking translations of US books are much more common. It would thus seem reasonable to suggest that Slovakia is culturally much more influenced by US literature and values than by British ones, particularly if we consider the impact of Hollywood.

[8] Popovič (1975) uses the term prekladateľský program [literary translation project].

[9] According to the Petra Recommendations (2012) – the European platform for literary translation – translations of fiction in Slovakia constitute about 70 per cent of the entire output.

[10] In fact, the Slovaks were the third-largest ethnic group in Czechoslovakia, after the Czechs and the Germans. In order to improve the cultural status of the Slovaks as well as the political integrity of Czechoslovakia, the Czechs began to translate Slovak literature. However, the Slovak translation market was largely influenced by Czech translations. In general, it was assumed that the Slovaks would understand the Czech language, sot that once a book was translated into Czech there was allegedly no need to translate it into Slovak (Smrek 1937).

[11] There were, however, some important non-literary translations. We should at least mention a new Slovak translation of the infamous propagandistic forged text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, translated from the 1929 Czech version by Jozef Bilík-Záhorský, famous antisemitic extremist and member of the Hlinka Guard.

[12] Of course, the number of non-fiction translations from German was increasing, but in the following years there would also be a massive increase in fiction.

[13] Among others, the famous Nazi poet laureate Hanns Johst and his drama Propheten [Prophets] was translated into Slovak. A further example is another pro-Nazi writer of Swiss origin: John Knittel and his novel Via Mala – the first of this novel’s many translations.

[14] There were also some German translations of Slovak fiction, although on a much smaller scale. Slovak records mention only a translation of Jozef Mak by Jozef Cíger Hronský which was even critically acclaimed (Schvarc and Hallon 2010: 283).

[15] Again, it has to be stressed that the publishing plans take time to be realized.

[16] Although non-fiction German-language works were very common as well.

[17] Yet again a very hypothetical but interesting question needs to be raised: can publishing activity predict the future ideological direction of the state, or is it the ideological direction that determines translation? This question certainly deserves further research.

[18] Such as the works of Jack London, a humorous short story collection by P. G. Wodehouse and historical novels like Ben Hur by Lew Wallace.

[19] E.g. Paterson Smyth’s “Životopis Ježiša Krista pre ľud” [A People’s Life of Christ], a protestant view of the life of Jesus Christ.

[20] In Ziskožravci, Gašpar criticises capitalism and the Jews for the so-called exploitation of Slovakia. Gašpar’s personal story from bohemian freethinker and writer in the first Czechoslovakia to the head of the Propaganda office is especially mesmerizing (see Hruboň 2019).

[21] Officially, the Slovak State concealed the real fate of the deported Jews. There were even some false stories being circulated about how the Jews were enjoying their new life abroad (see Hruboň 2019).

[22] E.g. in the novel Hrdinovia (Heroes) by Jozef Hutár.

[23] For example, Rudolf Dilong, a representative of Catholic Modern Art, and his collection of poems Gardisti, na stráž [Guardsmen, Stand Guard], in which he celebrates battles and the newly formed independent Slovak State. The movement of Catholic Modern Art is seen in a positive light and even celebrated by contemporary literary theorists. This is connected to the persecutions of its representatives after 1945 (Anoca 2006).

[24] Although the details of non-fiction publishing have yet to be studied in detail, it is important to note that out of 2079 non-fiction publications, as many as 430 – that is more than 20 per cent of non-fiction production – are connected to religion. These include catechism, moral theology, educational books, prayer books, religious songs, Christian art, asceticism, sermons, missions, Church history and religion textbooks. This phenomenon could be attributed to Tiso being a Catholic priest.

[25] Kvety na troskách [Flowers on Ruins] by Svetloslav Veigl and Svitá [It Is Dawning] by Anton Prídavok being the most representative examples of this movement.

[26] Editions of Slovak and world literature classics accompanied by short contextual analyses of the works and authors.

[27] E.g. Kráľ Svätopluk [King Svatopluk I of Moravia] by Ivan Stodola.

[28] E.g. Tido Jozef Gašpar, Ján Smrek, Milo Urban and Emil Boleslav Lukáč.

About the author(s)

Martin Djovčoš is a lecturer at the Department of English and American Studies at the Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia. His teaching and translation research focuses currently mainly on sociological aspects of translation, asymmetries in intercultural communication, translation criticism and interpreting training. He is also practicing translator, interpreter, and co-organiser of the conference series Translation, Interpreting, Culture.

Matej Laš is a lecturer at the Department of English and American Studies at the Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica, Slovakia. In research, he focuses mainly on literary translation criticism, ethics in translation, translation history and audio-visual translation.

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©inTRAlinea & Martin Djovčoš & Matej Laš (2022).
"Translation as a Weapon Literary Translation under the Slovak State (1939–1945)", inTRAlinea Vol. 24.

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