Carpathian Ruthenia during World War II

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Carpathian Ruthenia was a region in the easternmost part of Czechoslovakia (Subcarpathian Ruthenia, or Transcarpathia) that became autonomous within that country in September 1938, declared its independence as the "Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine” in March 1939, was immediately invaded and annexed by Hungary, invaded by the Soviet Red Army in 1944 and incorporated into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1946.

Independence and annexation by Hungary[edit]

Carpathian Ruthenian Jews arrive at Auschwitz–Birkenau, May 1944. Without being registered to the camp system, most were killed in gas chambers hours after arriving.

In November 1938, under the First Vienna Award which resulted from the Munich Agreement, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy prevailed on the Second Czechoslovak Republic to cede the southern third of Slovakia and southern Carpathian Ruthenia (now called Carpatho-Ukraine) to the Kingdom of Hungary. Between 14 March and 15 March 1939, the Slovak Republic formally declared its independence and Nazi Germany occupied Bohemia and Moravia creating the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. On 15 March, Carpatho-Ukraine declared its independence as the Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine, with the Reverend Avhustyn Voloshyn as head of state. Hungary immediately invaded and annexed the new republic. On 18 March, resistance to the invasion ended. On 23 March Hungary annexed further parts of eastern Slovakia west of Carpatho-Rus.

Soviet occupation[edit]

In October 1944, Carpatho-Ukraine was taken by the Soviets. A Czechoslovak delegation under František Němec was dispatched to the area. The delegation was to mobilize the liberated local population to form a Czechoslovak army and to prepare for elections in cooperation with recently established national committees.

Loyalty to a Czechoslovak state was tenuous in Carpatho-Ukraine. The Czechoslovak government-in-exile led by President Edvard Beneš issued a proclamation in April 1944 excluding from political participation former collaborationist Hungarians, Germans, and the Russophile Ruthenian followers of Andrej Brody and the Fencik Party (who had collaborated with the Hungarians). This amounted to approximately one-third of the population. Another one-third was communist, leaving one-third of the population presumably sympathetic to the Czechoslovak Republic.

Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic[edit]

Upon arrival in Carpatho-Ukraine, the Czechoslovak delegation set up headquarters in Khust and on 30 October issued a mobilization proclamation. Soviet military forces prevented both the printing and the posting of the Czechoslovak proclamation and proceeded instead to organize the local population. Protests from Beneš's government-in-exile went unheeded. Soviet activities led much of the local population to believe that Soviet annexation was imminent. The Czechoslovak delegation was also prevented from establishing a cooperative relationship with the local national committees promoted by the Soviets.

On 19 November, the communists, meeting in Mukachevo, issued a resolution requesting separation of Carpatho-Ukraine from Czechoslovakia and incorporation into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. On November 26, the Congress of National Committees unanimously accepted the resolution of the communists. The Congress elected the National Council and instructed that a delegation be sent to Moscow to discuss union. The Czechoslovak delegation was asked to leave Carpatho-Ukraine.

Negotiations between the Czechoslovak government and Moscow ensued. Both Czech and Slovak communists encouraged Beneš to cede Carpatho-Ukraine. The Soviet Union agreed to postpone annexation until the postwar period to avoid compromising Beneš's policy based on the pre-Munich frontiers.

After World War II, in June 1945, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union signed a treaty ceding Carpatho-Ruthenia to the Soviets. Czechs and Slovaks living in Carpatho-Ukraine and Ukrainians (Ruthenians) living in Czechoslovakia were given the choice of Czechoslovak or Soviet citizenship. In 1946 the area became part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, as the Zakarpattia Oblast ('Transcarpathian Oblast').

Impact on Hungarian population[edit]

The end of the war was a cataclysm for the ethnic Hungarian population of the area: 10,000 fled before the arrival of Soviet forces. Many of the remaining adult men (25,000) were deported to the Soviet Union; about 30% of them died in Soviet gulags. As a result of war losses, emigration and extermination of Hungarian-speaking Jews, the Hungarian-speaking population of Carpathian Ruthenia decreased from 161,000 in 1941 (Hungarian census) to 66,000 in 1947 (Soviet census); the low 1947 number is doubtless in part a result of Hungarians' fear to declare their true nationality.

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