There is so much that I could research and tell re my parents' native land-
Slovakia, but since I could not possibly tell it all in an oped piece, I've
chosen some things which I found interesting, and which I hope you will
too-- especially if your background has anything Slovak in it. Hopefully, even
if not, you may be a history buff who loves to read all things which shed new
light on old countries. You may find it here re Slovakia.
For those of you who know very little about Slovakia - let me refresh you.
It is the small eastern land-locked European country which for too long,
in my opinion, has been associated with the Czechs and before that-
was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until it was dissolved in 1917.
I was thrilled when on January 1, 1993 Slovakia decided to go it alone
and engaged in what has been called the "Velvet Divorce" which would
forever free us from our former association with the now Czech Republic.
When I went to school all of us kids said that our parents were from Czecho-
Slovakia. How did this hyphenated name come to be and what were its
implications? After the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the
end of WWI, in 1917 Czech and Slovak representatives signed the "Pittsburgh
Accord" which promised a common state consisting of two equal nations,
Slovakia and Czechia. It sounded good on paper but, in reality, Slovakia
was never treated as an equal.
So, now finally, Slovakia had decided that it was time to dissolve the old
Pittsburgh Accord of 1918 despite some people warning that this would never
be good for Slovakia. My reading of this period made me hope that we would
not be swayed by their arguments and we were not. On January 1,1993
the "Velvet Divorce" was signed. One of the participants in this history-
making decision had coined this phrase and it sounded amicable and
good which I believe it was and is.
Before the period of the alliance with the Czechs, both they and us had been
under the thumb and rule of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (1867-1918). As I saw it, the Czechs
were incredibly lucky to be under the rule of the Austrians who helped them to
industrialize their land and made available educational opportunities for those
who sought it.
The Slovaks, on the other hand, were ruled over by the land-owning Hungarian
Barons who kept them in virtual servitude - working the land while they tried
mostly unsuccessfully to get some education for themselves and their children
who also worked on the Hungarian farms. I know that my parents born in 1892
and 1900 had very little education when they emigrated to America, and I marvel
that they did as well as they did without it.
So much for the basic early differences of the two countries. At least that's
what I came away with after doing research for a Slovak/Czech Monograph for
Cleveland State University in the 1970's. I was not a happy camper reading of
our early history in Slovakia with what I perceived as unfairness to my people.
I'm sure that all of us who were born to immigrant parents eagerly seek to
learn more about our parents' countries and I was no different. I kept looking
and finding more information through the years from books, the internet and
especially the Slovak Insurance Organizations which published monthly
newspapers to help keep the early Slovak people appraised of their new country
and its opportunities. Originally, the papers were all in Slovak. Today they
have an English and Slovak section.
How I wish I could read the Slovak! My parents knew and spoke only Slovak
when they first came to America. But they soon started learning English after
my older sister was kept back in school because she didn't understand English.
By the time I was born, I would not have that difficulty.
As I searched for information re my Slovak ancestry I began to wonder - did
we have any Slovak Americans who had become successful? Every ethnic
group takes pride in the accomplishments of its people. So, I began my search
for people with Slovak ancestry. I found Andy Warhol and at first I just dismissed
him as a pop artist, but then I began to realize that he was esteemed in art
circles and made quite a name for himself. I recently read that he also fostered
a religious side in his art work. I was glad for that. His parents were born in eastern
Slovakia as mine, and he always gave due to his ethnic background. I was
sorry when he died at a rather young age from a preventable hospital mistake.
Paul Newman is from Gr. Cleveland like myself. I loved the "Silver Chalice" - a
first movie he claims not to be proud of. At the time I didn't know that his
mother's family was also from Eastern Slovakia. Sadly, it doesn't seem that
he is proud of his Slovak ancestry. At least I have never seen this mentioned in
his bios. Too bad Paul, you just fell off the pedastal I placed you on. However,
you obviously certainly don't need my adulation or respect.
A wonderful actor whose ethnicity surprised me was Robert Urich. Originally
from Toronto, Ohio I was smitten by his good looks when I saw him in his first
TV series "The Swat Team." I thought with a name like Urich, he must be
German. No, not the case --he was of Slovak and Ruthenian parentage from
eastern Slovakia as well. I was delighted to find him one day on the Merv
Griffen's TV show singing one of our Old Slavonic Christmas carols. What
a guy! Sadly, he too died way too early of cancer some few years ago.
Then, if you've never heard of Michael Strank - he was the young Marine
sargeant who led his men up the hill on Iwo Jima to plant the second flag so
that as he said --everyone on this cruddy island could see it. The "old" man
of the team, he was only 26 when, soon after the flag-planting, he was killed
by artillery mortor fire. His men considered him a Marine's Marine, and he
had promised them he would try to get everyone of them home to their
mothers. He was prominently featured in the 2006 Clint Eastwood movie
"Flags of Our Fathers."
"Mykhal Strenk" in Rusyn, Slovak: Michal Strenk --was born in 1919 in
Jarabina, a small Rusyn-inhabited village in Czechoslovakia. Vasil, the father
came to work in a steel mill in Franklin Borough near Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
When he had saved enough money, he brought Marta and his family over.
Michael and his family survived the Johnstown flood but were close enough
to danger for the young Michael to survey the damage and assure them that
the threat was over and they were safe.
Another Slovak of historic proportions -Stephen Banic. He was born in Slovakia
in 1870 and like so many Slovaks during those decades under oppressive
Hungarian overlords, he emigrated to America in 1907. He settled in Greenville,
PA where he became a coal miner. Remarkably, he found time to use his
inventive instincts and made the first ever parachute. Our first and probably
He demonstrated his parachute in Washington, D.C. jumping from a tall
building. He received his first patent for his parachute from the US. Patent
Office in 19I4. And then he did something I consider special. He donated his
patent to the newly established U.S. Army Signal Corps (today the U.S. Air Force).
[Ed. Note: The U.S Army Signal Corps did not become the U.S. Air Force. On Aug. 1, 1907, the U.S. Army Signal Corps established a small Aeronautical Division which eventually, by the National Security Act of 1947, became on July 26, 1947, the U.S. Air Force.]