Rahul Sharma (Editor)

First Vienna Award

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Signed  November 2, 1938
First Vienna Award
Location  Belvedere Palace, Vienna
Signatories  Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Germany and Italy
Parties  Hungary and Czechoslovakia

The First Vienna Award was a treaty signed on November 2, 1938, as a result of the First Vienna Arbitration. The Arbitration took place at Vienna's Belvedere Palace. The Arbitration and Award were direct consequences of the Munich Agreement the previous month and decided the partitioning of Czechoslovakia.


Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy sought a non-violent way to enforce the territorial claims of the Kingdom of Hungary and to revise the Treaty of Trianon of 1920. Nazi Germany was by this point well into its own revision of the Versailles Treaty, with the remilitarization of the Rhineland (7 March 1936) and the Anschluss of Austria (March 12, 1938).

The First Vienna Award separated largely Magyar-populated territories in southern Slovakia and southern Carpathian Rus from Czechoslovakia and awarded them to Hungary. Hungary thus regained some of the territories in present-day Slovakia and Ukraine lost in the Treaty of Trianon in the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after World War I.

In mid-March 1939, Adolf Hitler gave Hungary permission to occupy the rest of Carpatho-Ukraine, taking territory further north up to the Polish border, thus creating a common Hungarian-Polish border, as had existed prior to the 18th-century Partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Before the end of the First World War and the Treaties of Trianon and Saint Germain, the Carpathian region of the former Kingdom of Hungary (Transleithania) in the Austro-Hungarian Empire had bordered to the north on the province of Galicia, which had been part of the Cisleithanian part of the Dual Monarchy.

Six months after Hungary had occupied the rest of Carpatho-Ukraine, in September 1939, the Polish government and part of its military escaped to Hungary and Romania, and from there to France and French-mandated Syria, to carry on the war against Hitler's Germany.

After World War II, the 1947 Treaty of Paris declared the Vienna Award null and void.

International situation

From 1933, Hungarian foreign policy closely collaborated with Nazi Germany in the hope of revising the borders established by the Treaty of Trianon. In March 1933, Hungarian prime minister declared that Hungary "requests justice in the historical principle", looking for the annexation of Hungarian-inhabited territories lost after the World War I. In June 1933, Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Gömbös visited Germany and together with Adolf Hitler concluded that Czechoslovakia was the main obstacle for "rearrangement" of central Europe and that Czechoslovakia should be internally disintegrated, internationally isolated and then eliminated by military power. During a meeting with Hitler in August 1936, Miklós Horthy explained the purpose of a common attack against Czechoslovakia as removing a "cancer tumor from the heart of Europe". At the end of 1937, Hitler decided to start action against Czechoslovakia. In 1938 Germany and Hungary focused on creation of a common platform against Czechoslovakia and, in November, Hitler negotiated with the Hungarian government where they placed importance on destiny of Czechoslovakia.

Hungarian representatives considered an attack to be too dangerous and wanted to preserve Hungary's relationships with France and Great Britain, whose support for the problem of Hungarian minorities came on the condition of Hungary not engaging on German military actions. This outraged Adolf Hitler and led to a change in the German view of the territorial demands of Hungary in the eastern part of Czechoslovakia.

Before the Munich Agreement, a Hungarian government emissary officially asked the German and Italian delegations to resolve Hungarian demands together with the questions of Sudeten Germans. However, Hitler did not agree, because he was not satisfied with the previous passivity of Hungary and had his own plans for Central Europe. The French and British delegates (Édouard Daladier and Neville Chamberlain) saw potential danger in such a complex solution, but thanks to Benito Mussolini, Hungarian demands were reflected in an appendix to the agreement. This attachment requested Czechoslovakia to resolve the minority question with Hungary and Poland within three months through bilateral negotiations; otherwise matters would be resolved by the four signatories of the agreement. After the annexation of Zaolzie and Český Těšín by Poland, the Hungarian question remained open. Poland later annexed further territories in northern Slovakia (on December 1, 1938, villages in Kysuce, Orava a Spiš) comprising 226 km², with 4,280 inhabitants. The Hungarian government understood the appendix of the Munich Agreement as an agreement of the Great Powers for the revision of peace treaties and emphasized that it did not mean only the revision of borders based on ethnicity but also that it opened the way for restoration of territory of Hungary before 1918 (i.e. the creation of a common border with Poland). Official Hungarian circles were aware that Hungary alone was too weak to enforce territorial demands towards Czechoslovakia, because they knew that any attack would encounter the resistance of Czechoslovakia's more modern army. In this situation, Hungary decided to fight with Czechoslovakia in the diplomatic field and to push for territorial revision in the spirit of Munich Agreement.

Border conflicts and sabotage

The Munich Agreement defined a three-month period to resolve Hungarian demands, and the Hungarian government pushed to start negotiations immediately. The pressure was increased on the Hungarian side by border conflicts and by diversion actions on the Czechoslovak territory. The first conflict occurred in the early morning of October 5, 1938, when troops of the Royal Hungarian Army (Magyar Királyi Honvédség) crossed the border and attacked Czechoslovak positions near Jesenské with the goal of capturing Rimavská Sobota. Hungarian troops withdrew after the arrival of Czechoslovak reinforcements, who killed nine Hungarians and captured prisoners. Two days later, Hungarian troops tried to cross the Danube near Štúrovo (Párkány), but failed again. Their situation was worse in Carpathian Ruthenia with its lower density of fortifications, where paramilitary units of Rongyos Gárda infiltrated Czechoslovak territory. The first two units of the Rongyos Gárda crossed the border on October 6, 1938, and two days later they blew up the bridge over the Borozhava River. Such actions continued during the negotiations and after the First Vienna Award. During the second day of bilateral negotiations (October 10, 1938) Hungarian troops murdered a railway officer in Borozhava and damaged railway facilities.

Internal situation in Czechoslovakia

Czechoslovakia had an interest in stabilizing the situation, because the foreign ministry had to resolve problems with Poland and Germany and did not want to start negotiations before October 15. The Czechoslovak minister of foreign affairs was focused on building new relationships with Germany and Italy to negotiate guarantees for new borders. After the Munich Agreement all political subjects in Slovakia concluded that it is necessary to change the position of Slovakia within the state and declared autonomy (October 6, 1938). The new, autonomous government understood the definition of borders as a priority and the Slovak People's Party requested participation in the negotiations. The central government in Prague was aware that the delegation should be led by a Slovak and considered Milan Hodža or Imrich Karvaš. However, after the creation of an autonomous government, foreign minister František Chvalkovský proposed its representatives – Jozef Tiso or Ferdinand Ďurčanský. Both politicians refused with the justification that the role was in competition with the central government. When it was emphasized that it is mainly the interest of Slovakia, they accepted. Moreover, Jozef Tiso hoped that Hungarian partners would accept concessions easier if they did not negotiate with representatives of the central government. Under the pressure of the threat of internal destabilization of Czechoslovakia because of diverting actions and further radicalization of the situation in Hungary, Czechoslovakia agreed to begin negotiations on October 9.

Negotiations in Komárno

Negotiations were held between October 9 and October 13, 1938, in Komárno on the Slovak northern bank of the Danube River, just on the border with Hungary. The Czechoslovak delegation was led by Jozef Tiso (the prime minister of the autonomous government) without any experience with similar negotiations, and included Ferdinand Ďurčanský, Minister of Justice in the Slovak cabinet, and General Rudolf Viest. The central government of Czechoslovakia was represented by Dr. Ivan Krno, Political Director of the Czechoslovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who held rank of Ambassador Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary. Autonomous Carpathian Ruthenia was represented by Ivan Párkányi (minister without portfolio). The Czechoslovak (Slovak and Ruthenian) delegation was not completely prepared because a lack of time. By contrast, the Hungarian delegation comprised experienced individuals and was led by the Foreign Minister Kálmán Kánya, and the Minister of Education, Pál Teleki. The Hungarian government welcomed the composition of Czechoslovak delegation and believed that it would be easier to influence inexperienced Slovak politicians by promises. This expectation was not fulfilled; more Slovak delegates also refused any possibility for return into Kingdom of Hungary.

The Hungarian government's strategy for the negotiations was to demand areas where at least 50% of Hungarians lived, according to the 1910 census. This formulation was chosen with respect to the signers of the Munich Agreement; however Hungary also requested areas which did not match this criteria. On the first day, Hungary supplied memorandum with requested territorial changes. The Hungarians further demanded a plebiscite in the remaining territory, in which Slovaks and Ruthenians would declare whether they wanted to be incorporated into Hungary.

Hungary demanded territories up to and including a line defined by Devín (Hungarian: Dévény), Bratislava (Pozsony), Nitra (Nyitra), Tlmače (Garamtolmács), Levice (Léva), Lučenec (Losonc), Rimavská Sobota (Rimaszombat), Jelšava (Jolsva), Rožňava (Rozsnyó), Košice (Kassa), Trebišov (Tőketerebes), Pavlovce nad Uhom (Pálóc), Uzhhorod (Slovak: Užhorod, Hungarian: Ungvár), Mukacheve (Mukačevo, Munkács), and Vinogradiv (Nagyszőlős). The territory was 14,106 km² (with 12,124 km² in Slovakia and 1,982 km² in Carpatian Ruthenia). It included 1,346,000 citizens (1,136,000 in Slovakia, 210,000 in Carpathian Ruthenia). According to the last census from 1930, 678,000 of them declared other than Hungarian nationality (553,000 in Slovakia, 125,000 in Carpathian Ruthenia).

Hungary also requested immediate annexation of two border-crossing towns from Czechoslovakia as a "goodwill gesture". The Czechoslovak delegation agreed on the railway town of Slovenské Nové Mesto (until 1918 a suburb of the Hungarian town of Sátoraljaújhely) as well as the town of Šahy (Hungarian: Ipolyság). Both were occupied by Hungary on October 12.

The basic difference between the arguments of the two parties was that the Hungarians presented the 1910 census figures (as had Germany during the Munich Conference) while Czechoslovakia presented the latest 1930 figures and contested the validity of the 1910 census. Later it also presented figures from Hungarian censuses before 1900. The census from 1910 was unacceptable for the Czechoslovak delegation, because it represented the peak of magyarization and it differed from previous Hungarian and later Czechoslovak censuses as well as from postwar censuses from other countries where Hungarian minority lived (Austria, Romania, Yugoslavia). (Jozef Tiso gave an example as he was also counted as a Hungarian during this census). In the case, that Hungarian does not accept result of Czechoslovak census they proposed to use Hungarian census from 1880 (before the peak of magyarization) as a compromise. They also did not agree on definition of "pure Hungarian" towns like Košice as were understood by Hungarian delegates.

The request for a plebiscite for Slovaks and Ruthenians about rejoining Hungary was refused as irrelevant, because the Munich Agreement did not address question of these two nations, because it violated the sovereignty of Czechoslovakia and because the Ruthenian delegate declared that the Ruthenian nation (except communists) had already expressed their will to live in Czechoslovakia in the past.

The Hungarian delegation refused several Czechoslovak proposals. The Czechoslovak delegation offered Hungary the creation of an autonomous Hungarian territory within Slovakia. Kánya characterized the proposal as a "bad joke" and declared that it was "absolutely impossible to discuss this question". Czechoslovakia then offered to cede Great Rye Island (Slovak: Žitný ostrov, Hungarian: Csallóköz, 1838 km², with 105,418 inhabitants of whom an overwhelming majority were Hungarians), the creation of a free port in the town of Komárno, and a population exchange in the remaining frontier regions.

Since Hungary turned down this offer as well, on October 13 the Czechoslovak delegation proposed another solution. The goal of this Czechoslovak proposal was to the create borders with balanced minorities in both states (including Slovaks in Békés County). As well as the principle of balanced minorities, the proposal included the Czechoslovak strategic interest of preserving the railway to Carpathian Ruthenia. Pál Teleki refused the proposal without a deeper study as a "humorous border" and that Hungarian delegation "analyzed the map only to be polite".

Although the Czechoslovak delegation declared that it was open for further discussion about its proposal and offered consultation with their experts, the Hungarian delegation refused further discussion. On the evening of October 13, after consultations in Budapest, Kánya declared that the negotiations had failed and asked the four signatories of the Munich Agreement to be the adjudicator. As the United Kingdom and France had decided not to make any decision, the adjudicators became Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German Foreign Minister, and Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister.

German mediation

On October 13, the day the negotiations deadlocked, Hungary conducted a partial mobilization. Czechoslovakia performed actions to strengthen its security and declared martial law in the frontier region. After the failure of bilateral negotiations, the dispute about borders escalated into the wider international level. The Axis powers took the initiative in favor of Hungary to realize their own plans in the region.

Hungary sent delegations both to Italy and to Germany. Count Csáky went to Rome and Kálmán Darányi to Germany. Kálmán Darányi told Adolf Hitler that Hungary was ready to fight and "[would] not accept behavior of Slovaks". However, the situation in central Europe changed after the Munich Agreement and the German-Hungarian-Polish bloc was over. Germany refused to take steps to strengthen Hungary. Hitler declared that, if Hungary started a conflict, nobody would help her. He refused the idea of a common conference of the four signers of the Munich Agreement, the demands for plebiscite in Slovakia and Carpathian Ruthenia and the Hungarian claims for Bratislava. Instead, he advised Hungary to continue the negotiations and to preserve the ethnic principle. He proposed that Germany would act as a mediator. Ribbentrop and Darányi agreed on a map which would be offered to Czechoslovakia ("Ribbentrop line"). This line later became source of misunderstanding between Hungary and Germany. According to Darányi, Ribbentrop did not accept his requests because several important towns remained on the Czechoslovak side (Bratislava, Nitra, Uzhorod and Mukachevo; the question of Košice was open). Germany refused such accusations and declared that Ribbentrop line was created after consultation and with Darányi and with his agreement. When the Hungarian government insisted on its opinion, Ribbentrop announced that German mediation had ended.

At the same time as Darányi, Czechoslovak foreign minister František Chvalkovský also visited Germany to negotiate with Nazi representatives. Adolf Hitler blamed Czechoslovakia for the failure of negotiations with Hungary and requested their restoration. He gave Chvalkovský a map with the Ribbentrop line and promised to guarantee new borders based on this proposal. Back in Prague, Chvalkovský recommended accepting the Ribbentrop line. However, the Slovak autonomous government was against such a solution and hoped that it would be possible to achieve further corrections. On October 19, Tiso and Ďurčanský met with Ribbentrop in Munich and managed to persuade him to assign Košice to Czechoslovakia and to accept the prior proposal that there should remain balanced minorities both in Czechoslovakia and Hungary. Czechoslovak experts prepared material that argued that the Hungarian statistics were unreliable and that Hungarian demands were not compliant with the ethnic principle but were driven by foreign policy and strategic factors. They argued that the Hungarian claim for Košice was not motivated by ethnic or historical reasons, but was focused on elimination of the largest communication, economic and cultural center it the east and on the interruption of the railway to Carpatian Ruthenia and allied Romania, therefore totally isolating the eastern part of the republic which could be later annexed by Hungary. Both Tiso and Ďurčanský believed that they persuaded Hitler. Tiso sent letter to Prague to notify about positive results.

A few days later, Ribbentrop revealed himself to be quite hostile to the Hungarians. As Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano saw it, "The truth is that he intends to protect Czechoslovakia as far as he can and sacrifice the ambitions, even the legitimate ambitions, of Hungary".

After October 17, activities around Subcarpathian Rus intensified. Poland proposed a partition of Subcarpathian Rus among Hungary, Poland and Romania. Romania, a staunch ally of Czechoslovakia against Hungary, refused the proposal, even offering military support for Czechoslovakia in Subcarpathia. Hungary, in turn, attempted to persuade the Carpathorusyn representatives to become part of Hungary. A common Polish-Hungarian frontier, which would arise by a Hungarian annexation of Subcarpathian Rus, had been a long-time dream of both Poland and Hungary, Poland was moving troops toward that frontier for support. However, since a common Polish-Hungarian frontier would mean a flanking of Germany, Germany was willing to face such a frontier only if Poland made compensation by giving up the Danzig corridor to East Prussia. Poland refused the German proposal. On October 20, the Rusyns produced a resolution more or less in favor of a plebiscite concerning the entirety of Carpathorus becoming part of Hungary. Five days later Subcarpathian Prime Minister Andriy Borody was placed under arrest in Prague, and Subcarpathian Foreign Minister Avhustyn Voloshyn was appointed prime minister in his stead. He was willing to consider the cession only of ethnically Hungarian territories to Hungary, and rejected the idea of a plebiscite.

Final failure of bilateral negotiations

Negotiations between Czechoslovakia and Hungary resumed via diplomatic channels. Czechoslovakia adopted the "Ribbentrop line" in the hope that it would receive a guarantee of new borders from the side of Axis powers and proposed it officially on October 22. Czechoslovakia offered to cede Hungary territory with 494,646 Hungarians and 168,632 Slovaks. Czechoslovakia would retain Bratislava, Nitra and Košice. Hungary turned down the proposal, causing Germany to withdraw its position as mediator. Hungary demanded that the territories offered by Czechoslovakia be immediately occupied by Hungary, that there be a plebiscite in the disputed territory, and that Subcarpathia "decide its own future". For Czechoslovakia, it was unacceptable to cede territories which were not subject of discussion immediately and to resolve the question of the remaining parts later. By accepting the proposal, Czechoslovak boundary fortifications would stay on the Hungarian side and the Hungarian army could potentially break in deeper into Czechoslovak territory. Hungary also warned that if Czechoslovakia refused this proposal, Hungary would demand arbitration (Italo-German in Western Slovakia, Italo-German-Polish in Eastern Slovakia and Subcarpathian Rus). In this situation, Czechoslovakia had no choice but to accept Hungarian demands or to agree with arbitration. This decision was forced also by fact that France and Great Britain lost interest on Czechoslovakia and considered the region to be in the German sphere of influence. Both parties hoped that Germany would support their demands. The Slovak autonomous government also accepted the idea of arbitration with unrealistic expectations based on assurances of Ribbentrop.

Although the Hungarian government demanded arbitration, it did not have the prior approval of Germany. Germany insisted on its negative opinion and argued of Hitler's disagreement, Ribbentrop's disappointment with previous negotiations with Darányi and danger of military conflict in the case if one part does not accept results. Hungary managed to persuade Italy that the powerful German influence exercised through Czechoslovakia could be eliminated by a strong Hungary. Galeazzo Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister, accepted this proposal and promised to advocate Hungarian interests. During Ribbentrop's visit to Rome (October 27–30, 1938) Ciano persuaded Ribbentrop about the importance of arbitration for the future position of Axis powers in the region and Ribbentrop promised to persuade Hitler. Italy took the initiative and proposed to achieve common agreement in Rome as a basis for arbitration. Ciano, already briefed by Hungarian experts, was in better position than less informed Ribbentrop and achieved several important concessions. On October 31, the Hungarian envoy in Rome confidentially informed Hungarian government that "Ribbentrop definitely agreed with return of Košice, Uzhorod and Mukachevo".

On October 29, 1938, Czechoslovakia and Hungary officially asked Germany and Italy to arbitrate, and declared in advance that they would abide by the results.


The award was made in Vienna by the foreign ministers of Germany (Joachim von Ribbentrop) and Italy (Galeazzo Ciano). The Hungarian delegation was led by Foreign Minister Kálmán Kánya, accompanied by Minister of Education Pál Teleki. The Czechoslovak delegation was led by the Foreign Minister, František Chvalkovský, and by Ivan Krno. Important members of the Czechoslovak delegation included representatives of Subcarpathian Rus — Prime Minister Avgustyn Voloshyn — and of Slovakia – Prime Minister Jozef Tiso and Minister of Justice Ferdinand Ďurčanský. Hermann Göring was also present.

The arbitration began in the Belvedere Palace, in Vienna, at noon on November 2, 1938. The Czechoslovak and Hungarian delegations were allowed to present their arguments. Chvalkovský was brief and left the task of presenting the Czechoslovak case to Krno. Although it was explicitly demanded by Czechoslovak representatives, both arbiters refused to let Slovak Prime Minister Tiso and Subcarpathian Prime Minister Voloshyn participate. Ribbentrop and Ciano reasoned that only the representatives of the central governments could participate (namely Czechoslovakia in this case rather than the partially autonomous Slovakia or Carpatho-Ruthenia). They assumed that Chvalkovský would be more submissive and Tiso would complicate the negotiations. The negotiation was a formality and a new border was drawn after half a day. When the award was announced by Ribbentrop around 7 p.m., the Czechoslovak delegation was so shocked that Jozef Tiso actually had to be talked by Ribbentrop and Chvalkovský into signing the document.


Czechoslovakia was obliged to surrender the territories in southern Slovakia and southern Carpathian Ruthenia south of the line (and inclusive of the towns of) Senec (Szenc), Galanta (Galánta), Vráble (Verebély), Levice (Léva), Lučenec (Losonc), Rimavská Sobota (Rimaszombat), Jelšava (Jolsva), Rožnava (Rozsnyó), Košice (Kassa), Michaľany (Szentmihályfalva), Veľké Kapušany (Nagykapos), Uzhhorod (Ungvár), and Mukachevo (Munkács) – to the border with Romania. Slovakia lost 10,390 km² with 854,277 inhabitants – 503,980 Hungarians (58,99%), 272,145 Slovaks or Czechs (32,43%), 26,151 Jews (3,06%), 8,947 Germans (1,05%), 1,825 Ruthenians, 14,617 other and 26,005 foreign citizens (according to the Czechoslovak census from 1930). Considering average population growth since the last census, it is possible to estimate the total size of population in the time of the arbitration to 935,000 people, 300,000 of whom were Slovaks and Czechs Czechoslovakia lost also additional territory in Carpathian Ruthenia.

Slovaks in the annexed territory joined the existing Slovak minority in Hungary, while only about 60,000 Hungarians remained in the non-annexed part of Slovakia. The new border did not respect the principle of ethnic borders requested by Hungary as a "correction of injustices of Treaty of Trianon" nor the Hungarian census from 1910. The most obvious violations of ethnic principle occurred in areas around Nové Zámky–Vráble–Hurbanovo, the area around Jelšava and the area around Košice. Only 8 of 79 villages around Košice had a majority Hungarian population, beside 42,245 Slovaks in Košice. Czechoslovakia lost direct railway connection to Carpathian Ruthenia and to allied Romania.

Tiso took the result as a personal failure especially because he had not arranged evacuation of Košice. He announced the results of the award on radio late in the evening, accused the central government of fault for its long term policy but accepted the result.

The ceded territories were occupied by Hungarian honvéds (Magyar Királyi Honvédség) between November 5 and 10, 1938. On November 11, Hungarian Regent Miklós Horthy solemnly entered the principal town, Košice (Kassa).

The recovered Upper Hungary territories were incorporated into Hungary on November 12, 1938, by an act of the Hungarian Parliament. Following the ancient counties of the Kingdom of Hungary, the occupied territory was divided into two new counties with seats in Nové Zámky and Levice, while some lands became part of other Hungarian counties.

Slovak–Hungarian relationships

The First Vienna Award led to worsening anti-Hungarian sentiments in Slovakia. Shortly after the award had been announced, János Esterházy, a leader of the Hungarian minority in Slovakia, proposed that Hungary return to Slovakia 1000 km² of the territory that Hungary had received (predominantly Slovak lands between Šurany (Nagysurány) and Palárikovo (Tótmegyer)) in order to ensure long-term peaceful coexistence between the two nations. His proposal was not accepted by the Hungarian government. The obvious violation of the ethnic balance between the two countries' minorities that had repeatedly been endorsed years before by Hungary, as well as the short period between the award and a Hungarian attack against Slovakia in March 1939, caused the anti-Hungarian mood and social mobilizations against Hungarians to become a significant unifying element in Slovaks during World War II. Anti-Hungarian demonstrations were held on each anniversary of the award. During demonstrations, anti-Hungarian slogans were shouted and Hungarian houses or cultural institutions were damaged. On the third anniversary, a mob furious because of the shooting of Slovaks by Hungarian police in Komját destroyed the Hungarian Cultural House.

Radicalization of Central Europe

Hungary annulled point 4 of article 27 of the Treaty of Trianon where it committed to respect new borders defined in the peace treaty. Hungary also violated articles 48 and 49 of the treaty which guaranteed independence and rights of new Czechoslovak state. In addition to territorial gains based on the First Vienna Award, Hungary ignored the results of the arbitration and tried to annex Carpathian Ruthenia few weeks later.

From the Middle Ages well into the 18th century, Hungary and Poland had shared a historic common border, and the two peoples had always enjoyed good-neighborly relations. Following the Munich Agreement (September 30, 1938) the two countries had worked together to restore their historic common border. A step toward their goal was realized with the First Vienna Award (November 2, 1938).

Under pressure from Hitler, Slovakia declared total independence on March 14, 1939, and Czechoslovakia ceased to exist. Two days earlier, Hitler had given Hungary permission to occupy the rest of Carpatho-Ruthenia within 24 hours, but to abstain from attempting to annex the remainder of Slovakia, which Hitler wanted to turn into a strategically located German ally, especially for his planned invasion of Poland. On March 14–15, what remained of Carpatho-Ruthenia declared its independence as Carpatho-Ukraine, and shortly after, between March 15 and 18, was occupied by Hungary. After Carpatho-Ukraine, Hungary occupied a small part of Slovakia on March 15. Seeing no substantial reaction, Hungary on March 23 launched a larger attack on Eastern Slovakia. The plan was to "advance as far west as possible." After a short Slovak-Hungarian War (with several Hungarian air raids, e.g. March 24 on Spišská Nová Ves), Hungary was forced by Germany to stop and negotiate. As a result of the negotiations (March 27 – April 4), Hungary received further territories in Eastern Slovakia (1,897 km²) with 69,630 inhabitants, almost exclusively Slovaks or Rusyns. Unlike the earlier Vienna Award, these annexed territories were not justified on ethnic grounds. (The Hungarians justified this under the grounds that the Vienna award was an arbitration between Hungary and Czechoslovakia, and the latter had ceased to exist a few days earlier.)

Until mid-March 1939, Germany had considered that "for military reasons a common Hungarian-Polish frontier was undesirable". Indeed, Hitler had warned Hungary not to touch the remainder of Slovakia, when he authorized Hungary to occupy the rest of Carpathorus in March 1939. He meant to use Slovakia as a staging ground for his planned invasion of Poland. In March 1939 Hitler changed his mind about the common Hungarian-Polish frontier, and decided to betray Germany's ally, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, who had already in 1938 begun organizing Ukrainian military units in a sich outside Uzhhorod under German tutelage. Polish political and military authorities saw the sich as a real and present danger to nearby southeastern Poland, with its largely Ukrainian population. Hitler, however, was concerned that if a Ukrainian army organized in Rus were to accompany German forces invading the Soviet Union, Ukrainian nationalists would insist on the establishment of an independent Ukraine; Hitler, who had plans for the natural and farming resources of Ukraine, did not want to have to deal with an independent Ukrainian government.

Hitler would soon have cause to regret his decision regarding the fate of Carpatho-Ukraine. In six months, during his 1939 invasion of Poland, the common Hungarian-Polish border would become of major importance when Admiral Horthy's government, on the ground of long-time friendship between Poles and Hungarians, declined, as a matter of Hungarian honor, Hitler's request to transit German forces across Carpathian Rus into southeastern Poland to speed Poland's conquest. This in turn allowed the Polish government and tens of thousands of Polish military personnel to escape into neighboring Hungary and Romania, and from there to France and French-mandated Syria to carry on operations as the third-strongest Allied belligerent after Britain and France. Also, for a time Polish and British intelligence agents and couriers, including the notable Krystyna Skarbek, used Hungary's Carpathorus as a route across the Carpathian Mountains to and from Poland.

First deportations of Jews

The Vienna Award escalated in Slovakia into the first deportations of Jews. Tiso and his collaborators looked for a scapegoat which was found in Jews, because of their demonstration in favour of the annexation of Bratislava into Hungary in the evening before the arbitration. Between November 4 and 5, 1938, Slovakia's autonomous government deported 7,500 Jews into the annexed territory (Tiso justified this step as "letting them go where they wanted"). Hungary refused to accept these people, which included some who were elderly or children, and the deported Jews found themselves imprisoned in no man's land in the cold autumn weather. Hundreds of Jews stayed in a camp in Veľký Kýr and Miloslavov, where they were unable to move to residences in either Slovakia or Hungary.

Political situation on the annexed territory

After the Vienna Award, the Hungarian government and United Hungarian Party together organized celebrations and a triumphant entry of the Hungarian army into the annexed territories. Organizers consciously imitated the entry of Hitler's army into the Sudetenland. The result of arbitration was met by the most of the Hungarian population with local statements of disagreement. Hungarian Honvéds were not welcomed also in some "pure Hungarian" villages and in one village their accommodation had to be arranged by force. A few days before the arbitration, Budapest also received messages from some of borderline villages refusing annexation by Hungary ("Stay there, do not liberate us. We ae re having a good time, better than you, liberate yourself"). The Vienna Award finally refuted inter-war Hungarian propaganda that "Slovak brothers" dreamed about return to the thousand-years-old Hungarian empire, and that they merely could not openly declare their opinion under Czech domination.

Hungary imposed military administration on the annexed territories. Between October 28 and 29, 1938, Béla Imrédy and the leader of the United Hungarian Party Andor Jaross made an agreement that representatives of the party who stayed in annexed territories would be part of a civic group of general staff, which should hold supreme authority. One of its parts (the Upper Country Unification Group) later became the basis for the Ministry for Upper Country, led by Jaross. All other political parties were banned and obstacles were made for the introduction of other parties from Hungary. The United Hungarian Party then used its power for the persecution of Slovaks, but also of Hungarians who had disagreed with the activities against Czechoslovakia before the award. Military administration was changed to civilian on December 21, 1938.


Hungary performed a new census in the annexed territory in December 1938. The census took place in an atmosphere of expulsions, persecutions, restriction of civil rights and psychological coercion of Hungarian authorities. In addition, it was performed under direct control of military bodies and violated several principles for taking a census of nationalities. According to the results, the population consisted of 86.5% Hungarians and 9.8% Slovaks. The total size of Slovak population was reduced to 121,603; 67 villages lost Slovak majority; the size of the Slovak population was decreased by 74,100; and the Hungarian population increased by 77,715. Contrary to the Czechoslovak census from 1930, the Hungarian census again did not count the nationality declared by citizens, but the "mother tongue" registered by census commissars, as in the Hungarian census from 1910. The two censuses significantly differed in the view on Jewish population. In Czechoslovakia, Jews were allowed to declare separate Jewish nationality, but in Hungarian census they missed own mother tongue and their real numbers can be estimated only by declared religion.

For a full comparison of the censuses, it is necessary to take into account the population transfer after the annexation (voluntary or forced), the demographic changes during the previous 20 years of Czechoslovakia (such as the arrival of Czechoslovak state employees and colonists and natural domestic migration), bilingualism of population and the reliability of previous statistics, particularly of the 1910 census from the peak of magyarization).

Persecutions against non-Hungarian population

The non-Hungarian population of the territory ceded by the First Vienna Award can be divided into three groups – those who left already before the Award came into force, those who remained in their place during the war and until it was integrated to Czechoslovakia again and those who were expelled from the region. The Czechoslovak press reported after the Munich Agreement that border adjustments with Hungary were imminent, so the Czechoslovaks had five weeks to decide whether they stayed or left. According to Janics those officials and farmers who opted to move away (81,000 people) were given administrative, military and public safety support and they were provided road vehicles and railway wagons to transport their property. Deák estimates the number of state employees and Czech colonists who left territory before the arrival of the Hungarian army as one half while the total number of Slovaks who left territory before December 1938 (voluntarily or by forced expulsion) is unknown and can be estimated only by comparison of two censuses from 1930 and 1938 and assumed population growth. His estimate is about 50,000 people of Slovak nationality.

Hungary breached several points of the agreement about evacuation and transfer of territory from the beginning, particularly its commitment to prevent violent acts on territory under its administration. The nationalist Hungarian thinking considered the Czech and Slovak colonists – who got their lands in the ethnic Hungarian territories by the nationalist Czechoslovak land reform – as aliens. While some of these colonists left before the Award and others stayed where they were, a number of them were expelled by force and intimidation. Tilkovszky puts the number of expelled families to 647.

Deák documents that the expulsion of "colonists" was not realized as an arbitrary act of nationalists but that the Hungarian General Staff gave an order to expel all Slovak and Czech colonists on November 5, 1938. This also included their family members and descendants. On November 11, 1938, the Hungarian General Staff issued a new edict which imposed measures against colonists and ordered their immediate expulsion and defined them as enemies of the state; the organized persecution of non-Hungarian population was based on these orders. Soldiers and police could freely perform home inspections without needing official authorization; they could also confiscate stocks of food, livestock, grain. The term "colonists" did not cover only agricultural colonists, but it was interpreted by Hungarian government as any non-Hungarian population which settled in the annexed territory since 1918 for whatever reason. Exceptions were not allowed even for persons who declared Hungarian nationality and beside Slovaks, Moravians and Czechs forced expulsion also affected Germans Forced expulsion was frequently preceded by arrest and imprisonment related to physical torturing; in others it involved transportation to border with Czechoslovakia with military assistance.

The colonists were followed by state employees, by Slovak farmers (including those who inherited land or bought it in a standard legal way with their own money) and later by anybody denoted as an unreliable. Lists of unreliable persons were prepared by members of the Hungarian United Party already before the First Vienna Award. The measures took place in a violent way with shooting, casualties and looting of Slovak and Czech stores and property. Military bodies usually did not react to complaints, or they openly declared that they would not do anything against offenders and violence. Under such conditions, many Slovaks and Czechs decided to leave the territory. In addition, they signed official statement that they moved voluntarily and all of their property (except items allowed to be exported) passed into the ownership of Hungary. In Gbelce (Köbölkút), three Czech colonists were shot dead and one hanged. Employees of public administration had to leave territory in 48 hours and they were replaced by administration from Hungary.

As a reaction to the expulsion of colonists, Czechoslovakia started to take countermeasures and declared that further expelled civilians would be settled on land belonging to members of the Hungarian minority and Hungarian state citizens (the Hungarian aristocracy owned 50,000 ha of agricultural land and 14,000 ha of woods in Slovakia). The Hungarian government rapidly changed its approach and the commission which had to resolve problems of colonists met from Hungarian initiative on December 1, 1938. Hungary promised that it would stop mass expulsions and was open to negotiations about property issues. Changes in Hungarian policy were driven by several factors. The new Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs, István Csáky, advocated the opinion that Hungarian steps did not have the expected effects, increased anti-Hungarian moods, caused disillusionment of the last Hungarophiles and pushed the Slovak government into cooperation with the central Czechoslovak government. The Hungarian government continued with expulsion, but claimed that it was not mass expulsion, that Slovaks and Czechs left the territory voluntarily and that Hungary had not prevented them from doing so.

Although Miklós Horthy promised to guarantee the freedom of Slovak language and culture in the annexed territory, Hungary failed to protect its new minorities. The promise of the Slovak government of "adequate help and protection" of non-Hungarian citizens, and its recommendation to stay in the annexed territory was also naive, counterproductive and led to unnecessary losses of lives and property.

All non-Hungarian organizations were dissolved and their property was confiscated or given to Hungarian organisations. In Nové Zámky Jewish citizens were interned in a colony abandoned by Slovaks and Czechs shortly after annexation, Jewish lease agreements were canceled and office spaces were given to Christians.

All schools built by Slovak League (approximately 150) were declared to be the property of the Hungarian state. According to Jablonický, Deák and other authors, 862 of 1,119 teachers lost their jobs by the end of 1938; others followed in the next years. Janics puts the total number of teachers at 1,088, adding that most of them left voluntarily already before the Award came into effect. At the beginning of 1939, the Slovak government protested against the expulsion of Slovak teachers and the liquidation of Slovak schools and threatened reciprocal measures against Hungarian minority schools in the case if Hungary's policy continued.

The expulsion of teachers was often related to violence and public degradation. In Losonc, Hungary deported 54 Slovak teachers on the demarcation line (Deák documents further examples of steps which eliminated Slovak schools). Slovaks lost 386 primary schools attended by 45,709 Slovak children and 29 council schools ("burgher schools") attended by 10,750 children. Four grammar school were closed in Kassa, and six in other towns. Remaining Slovak state employees (like railway workers) were forced to enrol their children into Hungarian schools. In several Slovak villages, police dispersed parents' associations and parents who demanded Slovak schools were beaten. Parents from Regeteruszka and Balogd who demanded Slovak school were imprisoned for two weeks. In several places Hungarian police burned Slovak school supplies, requested that they be burned by the school director or simply confiscated them. However, this pressure was not sufficient in general; for instance, in Nagysurány Slovaks excluded from their community anybody who enrolled children to Hungarian schools. Overcrowding of Hungarian classes with Slovaks had negative impact also on quality of education of local Hungarian population.

The slow adoption of the Hungarian language confirmed that the idea of Hungarian state remained fictitious for Slovaks. In the fall of 1943, the Hungarian government came to the conclusion that direct magyarization trends would be replaced by educational activities in the mother tongue of minorities. This plan did not take place because of the later occupation of Hungary by Germany.

Social rights and economy

The Hungarian government ordered the revision of trade licences for Jews on annexed territory. This anti-Jewish measure was not applied for the rest of Hungary in that time. 80% of Jews lost their license with significant impact on economic life; in towns like Kassa, Érsekújvár or Losonc every second shop was closed.

Slovakia lost 41% of its agricultural soil, which produced approximately 80% of products required for food supply. This was a notable loss for Slovakia, but was not of clear benefit for Hungary. Due to existing problems with overproduction, annexation caused problems both for local farmers and for the economic policy of Hungary. Only half of Southern Slovakia's 400,000 tons of wheat production was used locally, and the second half had no consumers. The border between the annexed territory and Hungary proper was closed during the military administration, so distribution in this direction was impossible. The situation improved only partially during the civilian administration, when grain and livestock prices remained low. The Hungarian government tried to improve the situation by state intervention purchases, but this failed to resolve the long-term implications of the overproduction. Prices of agricultural goods decreased by 20–30%. Existing cartels in Hungary had limited possibilities to grow the most profitable crops. This included in particular sugar-beet and tobacco, areas which became constrained and for which the conditions of farmers growing such crops became worse. This resulted in The Economic Association of Nitra County demanding the right "to grow sugar-beet under the same conditions as during Czech rule"; the request was refused. On February 24, 1939, the government cabinet restricted growing of red pepper only to limited areas around Érsekújvár.

Czechoslovakia provided more job opportunities by construction of roads, regulation of rivers and building construction. These projects were stopped after annexation. Unemployment rates increased, and unlike Czechoslovakia Hungary did not provide any unemployment benefits or state health insurance for workers in agriculture. Retirement and disability pensions were also lower. Unemployed workers who received support under Czechoslovakian rule requested the same from Hungary. Salaries and as working conditions worsened, but taxes increased in the same time. Money conversion at exchange rates disadvantageous for local citizens (7:1) automatically decreased salaries by 20%. Hungarian soldiers profited from the exchange rate and bought up the remaining cheap Czechoslovak goods at the expense of their sellers. New goods from Hungary were 20–30% more expensive. Electricity, radio and railway tickets became also more expensive.

Local Hungarians had difficulties understanding these problems, because interwar propaganda had portrayed reunification of the ethnically Hungarian territories as mutually beneficial for both parties. However, in many aspects, Czechoslovakia gave Hungarians more civic and social rights than Hungary did just a year later. The Hungarian government answered by appealing to Hungarian patriotism. In April 1939, Hungarian professors wrote demands to the Hungarian government and protested against price rates and their bad social situation.

Social problems on annexed territory were discussed in the cabinet meeting on December 22, 1939. The interior minister, Ferenc Keresztes-Fischer, who was responsible for questions of common goods, health service and social policy, proposed a solution based on unification. The Minister for Upper Country, Andor Jaross, disagreed with this solution and proposed providing the Czechoslovak welfare system for those in the annexed areas for a transitional period, but had no objections to decreasing it to the Hungarian level. The cabinet finally agreed on a compromise. The elimination of Czechoslovak laws from annexed territory was understood as a duty, but it had to be done step by step. The first step was to decrease the value of a retirement pension from its Czechoslovak value (150 pengő) to its Hungarian value (60 pengő) through a transition value of 120 pengő. Sickness insurance for workers in agriculture was preserved in the form of Czechoslovak regulation for the moment, but it was changed from compulsory to voluntary. In Slovakia, the Czechoslovak system of welfare was preserved after the break-up of Czechoslovakia.


In terms of international law, the Vienna Award was later ruled to be null and void. Although it was presented as a voluntary act of two sovereign states in arbitration, the Czechoslovak government had accepted arbitration under a presumed threat from both arbiters (Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy) and under heavy influence of the ultimate demands of Hungary. Under international law, the act is considered to have been illegal and its result could not be accepted as valid. Just as the Munich agreement was later nullified as Czechoslovakia's interests were largely ignored and the arbiters had used their military prowess to pressure those in the agreement, the Vienna Award was also found to be illegal at the end of World War II. From this legal standpoint, the Vienna Award never existed as a valid legal act.

On December 11, 1940, the British ministry of foreign affairs confirmed to the Czechoslovak government that Great Britain was not bound to Munich Agreement in question of Czechoslovak borders. In their interpretation, the Munich Agreement was signed properly, but became invalid on March 15, 1939. Negotiations about the British standpoint continued until halfway through 1942. On June 9, 1942, the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov confirmed restoration of Czechoslovakia to its borders before the Munich Agreement. On September 26, 1944, the Italian foreign minister Carlo Sforza informed a Czechoslovak representative that Italy had considered the Munich Agreement and the First Vienna Award to be invalid from their beginnings. This was confirmed in the peace treaty with Hungary (Treaty of Paris) signed February 10, 1947, whose Article 1 (4a) stated that "The decisions of the Vienna Award of November 2, 1938, are declared null and void". The Treaty went on to declare that the frontier between Hungary and Czechoslovakia was to be fixed along the former frontier between Hungary and Czechoslovakia as it existed on January 1, 1938 (except three villages south of Bratislava, which were given as a bridgehead to Czechoslovakia).

Post war persecutions

The Munich Agreement, the First Vienna Award and participation of minority parties on the break-up of Czechoslovakia resulted in the redefinition of Czechoslovak minority policy after war. While interwar Czechoslovakia guaranteed relatively high minority rights and civic and social rights of Hungarians were higher than in Hungary, they became the target of serious discrimination in the period after war. The Hungarian question had to be resolved by population exchange between Czechoslovakia and Hungary, slovakization and deportations of Hungarians within Czechoslovakia (particularly to the Sudetenland). The Government Program of Košice (April 5, 1945) accepted the principle of collective guilt for German and Hungarian minorities. articles X. and XI. ordered the seizure of their property and article XV. the closure of minority schools. Measures against minorities were reasoned by "terrible experience of Czechs and Slovaks with German and Hungarian minorities, which largely become willing tool in the services of aggressive policy from outside; and where especially Czechoslovak Germans cooperated directly on extermination campaign against the Czech and Slovak nation". The government program was followed by series of regulations in the same spirit. Except anti-fascist fighters, Hungarians lost Czechoslovak citizenship because of the presidential decree on August 2, 1945. The presidential decree "About amnesty for acts performed during anti-fascistic fight" prevented punishment of the most cruel crimes against Hungarian minority. The two countries did mutual population exchange (68,407 Hungarians and 59,774 Slovaks). A further 31,780 Hungarians were expelled because they had settled in these territories only after the Vienna Award.

The communistic coup in Czechoslovakia in February 1948 did not immediately improve status of Hungarians, but relationships began to normalize in the second half of 1948. During his visit in Budapest on March 15, 1948, the chairman of the Czechoslovak Constitutional National Assembly declared that the Hungarian people was not responsible for oppression of Slovak people in the past, for the crimes of Hungarian noblemen nor for the regime of Miklós Horthy. In October 1948 the Czechoslovak parliament restored Czechoslovak citizenship to Hungarians who were residents in Slovakia on November 1, 1938, and who had not been convicted of crime. The return of property disappeared in the context of communist collectivization and became irrelevant. On April 16, 1949, the two countries signed an agreement about friendship and cooperation. On July 25, 1949, Hungarian government committed to return artistic and historical relics seized after the First Vienna Award. The final agreement was signed on November 11, 1951 with validity for ten years, but has not been fully realized until nowadays.


First Vienna Award Wikipedia