May 22, 2002
We are gathered here today to celebrate some extraordinary people who showed remarkable bravery during one of the darkest periods in world history. I am referring to the anti-Nazi resistance during the Second World War by a group of Slovak Jews known as the Nováky Group.
Organized armed resistance movements hold a place of significance in the struggle against Nazi aggression, and the beginnings of such movements across Slovakia can be dated back to 1942 when the deportations of Jews began. It became clear to many young Jews that they were not to be transferred to Poland to work, as official propaganda claimed, but that they would end up in concentration camps and face certain death.
At the Nováky Jewish Labor Camp, Jews refused to succumb to an attitude of defeatism and instead took decisive action. They dissolved the Labor Camp and a good portion of able-bodied youths joined the ranks of the resistance. In fact their entry into resistance in Nováky is considered one of most effective contributions of Jews to the collective effort of the Slovak National Uprising, an important milestone in anti-Nazi resistance in 1944.
Determined to defend their and their families’ lives and freedom from possible deportations to Nazi death camps, the Nováky Group was the biggest and most complex unit of Jewish fighters that saw action on numerous fronts in Slovakia. It suffered a high number of casualties but it prevailed and continued as a Jewish resistance unit until the liberation of Slovakia.
Today we are gathered together to recognize the brave resistance fighters of the Nováky Group. It is a great honor to have among us Mrs. Spitzerova and Zuzana Szatmary, the wife and daughter of the commander of the Nováky Group, Juraj Spitzer. Your husband and father was a great patriot whose leadership during the resistance movement was an inspiration to all.
We would also like to commemorate those people, such as Karol Friedman, Otto Mandler and Mr. Mullen-Millen, and others, who are not represented today but whose role in the Nováky Group was crucial.
We are especially please to have here today a surviving member of the Nováky Group, Alexander Bachnar. Born into a large Jewish family in Topolcany in 1999, Mr. Bachnar was sent to the Nováky Jewish Labor Camp as a young man where he became a member of the illegal underground movement and partisan group there; during the Uprising he became one of the platoon commanders of the Nováky group. For his bravery and resistance efforts he has received a number of awards including the Czech War Cross, the Medal of Valor, and a Medal of the Slovak National Uprising.
Today Lt. Col. Bachnar is here to accept another award on behalf of the Nováky Group. The award, a Medal of Jewish Resistance, is given by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Miles Lerner Center for the Study of Jewish Resistance to the Nováky Group, and I quote “in tribute to their courage and will to fight against insurmountable odds during a time of incomprehensible evil.”
Before I invite Mr. Bachnar to come up and receive this award, I must add that this award ceremony was postponed from one meant to take place at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. On of all days - September 11th last year – when terrorist acts, also of “incomprehensible evil”, took place. Mr. Bachnar, who was present in Washington for the ceremony, showed remarkable calm on that terrible day.
I now present you this richly deserved award on behalf of the Nováky Group.