A museum, housed in a fantastically futurist-brutalist building in Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia
, that is mainly about the Slovak National Uprising but also has sections on the role of Slovakia in WWI
, the inter-war years and the run-up to WWII, Nazi rule during WWII
and the earlier resistance against it, as well as the aftermath of the uprising and the war.
Also part of the museum is an open-air collection of heavy military hardware such as tanks, cannons, a Soviet plane and an armoured train.
More background info:
The Slovak National Uprising or SNP for short (standing for 'Slovenské národné povstanie' in Slovak) was one of the largest resistance operations against the Nazis
and even though it ultimately failed it became a defining element in Slovak national lore during the communist years after the liberation from Nazi rule and the CSSR
being part of the Eastern Bloc
. Anti-fascist resistance was always celebrated by the socialist
regimes of the time.
After the reconstitution of independent Slovakia, the SNP remained a defining part of Slovak national awareness, even though new right-wing political movements began torpedoing the commemoration of such ant-fascist rebellions.
A bit more historical background: Slovakia
only became an independent state after the (British
Accord forced the then joint state of Czechoslovakia to cede the Sudetenland to Hitler
's Nazi Germany
in 1938. Partly as a reaction to that, Slovakia declared itself independent in March 1939 and Jozef Tiso became president.
Politically, Slovakia was deeply divided at the time. While Tiso was more a Christian clerical nationalist, there were far more right-wing forces at play, especially in the form of the radical Hlinka Guards, a paramilitary Nazi organization (cf. also Hlinka mausoleum
). The radical right-wingers became the dominating faction in government and so Slovakia basically sided with Hitler
. In November 1940, Slovakia formally joined the Axis Powers by signing the Tripartite Pact.
German troops were already stationed in Slovakia and the country's heavy industry had become heavily involved in arms production for the German war effort (cf. Dubnica
). Economically, Slovakia thus benefited greatly from this boom and unemployment dropped to practically zero. At the same time, Slovakia remained relatively untouched at home by the raging of WWII
beyond its borders, especially to the north and east. The Slovak military, however, did take part in the Nazis' invasion of the Soviet Union
and formally also declared war on Britain
and the USA
At the same time, Slovakia's Jewish population came to feel the cost of Slovakia's being in bed with Hitler most bitterly. In 1941 anti-Jewish legislation was introduced, stripping Jews of their businesses and property. In March 1942 Slovakia signed an agreement with Germany
to take part in the deportation of Jews. From October of the same year, some 60,000 of the roughly 90,000 Slovak Jews were deported to German concentration camps
and then onwards to Auschwitz
, where most of them were killed. Only about 300 survived.
Getting wind of the systematic mass murder
, President Tiso then refused to deport the remaining Slovak Jews. Some 6000 of them fled to neighbouring Hungary
(not a good move in the longer run – see Budapest Holocaust Museum
), most of the rest stayed put. Ironically, their relative safety up to then ended with the Slovak National Uprising.
The Slovak resistance against Nazi rule had been forming both at home and abroad during that time. Many members of the Slovak army rather joined the Soviet side and fought alongside the Czechs against Germany as part of the Red Army. At home, underground movements became active, often in collaboration with the Czech
resistance. At the end of 1943 the co-called Slovak National Council was established (illegally, of course). Its formation had been urged by the Czechoslovak “president in exile” Edvard Beneš, who resided in London
and was also involved in the organization of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague
by the Czech resistance in 1942 (see also this chapter
In the summer of 1944 the Soviet Red Army was advancing west fast, pushing the Nazis
back and out of the USSR
's territory and Poland
, and by August 1944 the Soviet troops had reached as far as just across the Slovak border on the other side of the Tatra mountains only dozens of miles away. So the Slovak resistance deemed it the right time to spring into full action and mount the uprising.
The official rallying cry for the uprising came on 29 August following the ambushing of German troops by communist partisans just days before, to which the Germans reacted with sending more troops into Slovakia. The big showdown seemed imminent. The Red Army just had to come over via the Dukla Pass
However, the Soviets mistrusted the Slovak resistance, which wasn't exclusively communist at all, and did not join and assist as had been expected (this inaction is similar to what happened just weeks earlier in the context of the Warsaw Uprising
over in Poland
). Instead Nazi Germany
now launched a large-scale counter-insurgency operation and occupied Slovakia completely – with the approval of the collaborationist government in Bratislava
Initially, the uprising looked successful. It captured the city of Banska Bystrica and made it its HQ. From here its ca. 50,000 troops took control of a sizeable part of central Slovakia
. The Soviets and Western Allies managed to fly in some supplies in aid of the uprising, but these ended up mostly in communist partisan hands and not the Slovak insurgent army. And what's more, the support from the Soviet Army, which had been expected to rush into Slovakia at the same time, did not materialize until much too late (see also Dukla Pass
Without that support, the resistance had little chance of withstanding the massive counteroffensive by Nazi Germany
. It also didn't help that the uprising fell apart from within, with different factions bickering and turning against each other. Before the end of October, the insurgents had to give up Banska Bystrica and flee. The uprising had effectively failed.
The retreating rebels continued some degree of resistance as partisans, from their hideouts in the mountains in the north. Meanwhile, however, the Germans meted out vicious reprisals. Einsatzgruppen
destroyed dozens of villages and executed anybody suspected of having collaborated with the uprising – see under Kalište
. In addition to actual participants in the uprising, some 5000 civilians were murdered.
This wave of retaliation also reached the remaining Jewish population who were now either rounded up by the Germans and sent to concentration camps abroad or were slaughtered at home by the Hlinka Guards. Of the nearly 13,000 Slovak Jews deported to the camps, however, about half managed to survive to the end of the war.
In Slovakia, the German backlash only delayed the inevitable. In the first few months of 1945 the Soviet Red Army did enter Czech
lands from the east and north, advancing fast, capturing Banska Bystrica at the end of March and by April marched into Bratislava
With the defeat of the Nazis, Slovaks and Czechs were left with the difficulties of post-war rebuilding and reforming politically at the same time. President Beneš returned from exile and initially took over the leading of the country (during which time he also saw to the expulsion of the German and Hungarian population). However, he was eventually defeated by the communists under Klement Gottwald (cf. also Prague
) who enjoyed the support of Stalin
. On 9 May 1948, the new constitution of the CSSR
was passed and Beneš resigned. Soon the CSSR would become a firm member of the Eastern Bloc
and thus practically a Soviet puppet state.
During the communist
era the story of the Slovak National Uprising was more or less reinterpreted as a heroic anti-fascist stand by communists only – even though in reality the uprising had many non-communist members and nationalist as well as democratic factions. To this day you can see numerous Soviet-era monuments literally cementing this take on the SNP.
The Muzeum SNP in the uprising's “capital” of Banska Bystrica was no exception at first. An initial museum set up in the old town hall in 1955 (on the tenth anniversary of the liberation) was superseded by the purpose-built grand concrete edifice we see today, which had been constructed from 1964 and was opened in 1969 (on the 25th anniversary of the SNP).
After the fall of communism
and the CSSR
in the Velvet Revolution
, the museum's old exhibition was increasingly regarded as inappropriate and in need of an overhaul. In 2004 a revised and expanded new permanent exhibition was opened.
Since Slovakia's regaining independence in 1993 (in the “Velvet Divorce” from the Czechs
), the country has also seen a renewed rise in Slovak nationalism. While some proudly patriotic Slovaks still see the SNP as a symbol of this nationalism, other more right-wing factions fell back on the Nazi propaganda of regarding it as a treacherous act by “bandits”.
Ironically, it was the very region around Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia
that in late 2013 elected as its governor an ultra-right-winger and outspoken admirer of the Nazi
-collaborationist Slovak government during WWII
. Needless to say, he was not invited to the celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the uprising held at the Muzeum SNP in August 2014 ...
What there is to see:
It is probably fair to say that the most impressive element of the Muzeum SNP is the museum building itself. This futuristic prime example of Soviet
-style brutalist architecture consists of two curved halves of a concrete “bowl”. Its outer walls are windowless, while the inside of the “cut” has floor-to-ceiling glass windows stained in a deep amber or copper colour. A bridge at the second-floor level connects the two halves. This two-halves design is supposed to be symbolic of the deep divisions in Slovak society at the time of WWII
and the uprising.
In the centre between the two wings stands a large bronze sculpture entitled “victims warn us”, consisting of a group of figures lying sideways with feet stretched out (like toppled tin soldiers) and a smaller group standing above them. An eternal flame flickers at the base of the sculpture.
To the side of this central monument are two further installations of red marble blocks. One lists all the nationalities that took part in the uprising, the other honours the victims of the reprisals by the Nazis
– here the marble blocks give the names of villages destroyed in retaliation (cf. Nemecka
Inside the museum two larger exhibits on the ground floor are an old car and a field kitchen. The permanent exhibition as such begins upstairs. On the way up you pass an installation that consists of yet more socialist-realist sculptures, some heavy machine guns and a mock-up of a partisan shelter made from timber.
The main explanatory texts and labels are moistly bilingual or even trilingual – in Slovak and English and occasionally also Russian. The English is alright and sufficient to get the drift (despite typical Slavic grammar problems, especially with articles, and a general stiltedness in style).
The main exhibition is subdivided more or less chronologically, beginning with a bit of prehistory, namely of the Slovak role in World War One
, the aftermath of that war laying the groundwork for the later rise of Nazism and nationalism, and the developments in the new Czechoslovak state in the inter-war years. Next is the emergence of an independent Slovak state and its divided politics and eventual siding with Germany
Exhibits on display are mostly of the rather humdrum traditional type: lots and lots of medals, uniforms and guns, guns, guns and yet more guns. Many of the documents also on display are in either Czech/Slovak or German, without any translations provided, so if you don't speak either language you are left guessing as to their relevance.
Interpretative information is conveyed on labels and backlit text panels in both Slovak and English. In addition there are interactive stations with flat-screens playing videos of relevant footage or stills galleries.
To operate these interactive elements there are little panels with single keys fashioned from old computer keyboards – a sort of ingenious but somewhat amateurish improvisation approach. Quite endearing really. Unfortunately, some of these panels didn't work very well and their 'user interface' functions were not always clear.
Amongst the most chilling exhibits are those about Nazi
repression and in particular the Holocaust. This is illustrated, for instance, by typical striped concentration camp inmate/forced labourer clothes and a label from a Zyklon B
gas canister. Accompanying this are texts briefly outlining the history of the Holocaust
and in particular the role Slovakia
played in it.
You then cross that glass bridge into the second wing of the museum where the exhibition continues on two levels. Topically, this section now concentrates more fully on the SNP itself. Exhibits in numerous glass display cabinets include, yet again, medals, uniforms and guns and other military gear, but also less predictable elements such medical equipment (e.g. a foot-pedal-and-wheel-powered dentist's drill fashioned from a sewing machine).
Content-wise the narrative is carefully celebratory but also restrained – for instance in not mentioning the delay in direct Soviet
military help by the Red Army as a key element in the failure of the uprising. I'm wondering whether that is still a remnant of the old exhibition from the socialist times or just continued “diplomatic” neutrality in the portrayal of the SNP.
What is spelled out clearly enough is the gruesome nature of the Nazi reprisals after the crushing of the uprising, both by German Nazi Einsatzgruppen
and local Hlinka Guard death squads (see above
The exhibition finishes with a chart listing the overall death toll of WWII
per country, and also has a section on the “judiciary” aftermath of the war. This not only includes the Nuremberg Trials
, but also the retribution law courts of Slovakia
which were exploited by the communists rising to power to eliminate their political opposition, including former allies in the resistance. Also covered here are the forced resettlements (expulsions) of Germans and Hungarians in the wake of WWII.
Downstairs on the mezzanine level there was a kind of additional exhibition about the times under communism
in the decades that followed, including the turbulent events of 1968 (see Prague Spring
). This exhibition was all in Slovak only, though, so I couldn't get much of the concrete content, but some of the cartoons included in this part were self-explanatory enough.
As a backdrop to these panels a huge socialist-realist relief adorns the wall of a small auditorium – with classic clenched fists and rifles raised into the air.
On the ground floor was another add-on, this time a temporary photo exhibition about the war in the Pacific
between the USA
, which was apparently compiled by and on loan from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
Outside the museum to the west of the main building is its open-air part. The largest piece on display here is a Russian WWII-era military plane, parked in a plot of grass next to the approach road to the museum and the car park. It's a Lisunov Li-2, a license-built version of the American Douglas DC-3. If you are familiar with this type of plane it is somewhat odd seeing it bearing the Soviet red star markings.
Along the path to the rest of the open-air exhibits is what looks like a recent archaeological dig that unearthed some kind of bunker or shelter – possibly a genuine find or else a reconstruction (my guide was still unfamiliar with it, so it must be a recent addition/find). Some info panels provide some background information about the history of the museum.
The main part of the open-air exhibition is clustered together at the northern end of the premises. Partly sheltered under trees is a collection of big guns/artillery, tanks and an armoured train. Amongst some tanks with markings in the Czech/Slovak colours are also a couple of German tanks with their Nazi-era Wehrmacht markings.
All in all, I gained mixed impressions from the museum. On the one hand I thought it was overladen with too many exhibits of the medal/guns/uniforms category. Much less would actually have been more here. On the other hand, I felt that content-wise it covered a remarkably diverse array of aspects, presented in a fairly neutral and sober style. Also commendable are its efforts in making this content accessible to international visitors – which is clearly the result of the revamp the museum received in the early 2000s. The slight shortcomings in this respect and the occasionally faulty interactive additions do not detract too much from that overall positive verdict.
It would probably go too far to say that this is a must-see attraction worth travelling specifically for, unless your have a really deep interest in the details of Slovak
history (and/or modernist socialist architecture!), but it is most definitely worth popping by when travelling through the area.
in the heart of Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia
, just a few steps from the Old Town core of the city. Its official address is: Kapitulska 23, 97559 Banska Bystrica.
Access and costs: easy to get to from the centre of Banska Bystrica.
Details: From the centre of Banska Bystrica it is easy to get to the museum on foot. From the west, i.e. the Old Town, get to the eastern end of the central square, aptly named namestie SNP (every Slovak town seems to have one of these) and by the clock tower turn right into Kapitulska. The approach road to the museum is on the left after a good 200 yards.
If you are coming by car, it's good to know that the museum has its own car park.
Opening times: daily except Mondays, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., in summer (May to September) and only to 4 p.m. in winter.
Admission: 2 EUR (students 1 EUR, seniors 0.70 EUR)
The museum also offers guided tours in English (10 EUR).
If you also want to stay overnight in Banska Bystrica, one option for accommodation
is the iconic Hotel Lux which actually overlooks the park to the east of the museum, and from the rooms on the upper floors on the western side of the hotel you get a good view of the Muzeum SNP. Rates are a bit higher than in other, more rural parts of Slovakia
(i.e. outside Bratislava
) but by Western standards are not too steep (ca. 50 EUR for a double).
Time required: between one and two hours for the main permanent exhibition, plus extra time for the open-air part (which I did rather swiftly, not having that much interest in tanks and artillery displays – but fans of such things may want to spend up to half an hour here).
Combinations with other dark destinations: East of the museum extends a large open park, and just past the landmark Hotel Lux (overlooking both the park and, to the west, the Muzeum SNP) is an abandoned former cultural centre from the socialist days, in classic modernist concrete architecture. You can't go inside, but if you have the time it's worth checking out the courtyard, have a peek inside the atrium through the glass doors, and admire the overall design. This was once supposed to be the cutting edge of modernity and now it just lies there abandoned, like an unloved toy tossed into a ditch.
Further afield, but still within fairly easy reach (by car) from Banska Bystrica are the sites of, and memorials to, some of the worst of the Nazi reprisals in the wake of the SNP: Kalište
. The latter is more easily accessible, only ca. 20 minutes' driving time and located right by the side of the main road. The former, in contrast, is in a more remote hillside location requiring a drive up a winding narrow road and a hike from the car park to the actual site.
Unrelated to the SNP or any WWII history is the site of the abandoned spa of Korytnica
, which is reached in just over half an hour by car from Banska Bystrica too.
Combinations with non-dark destinations: Banska Bystrica has a pleasant enough little Old Town, with a typical oblong main square (namestie SNP) which is surrounded by restored old buildings, churches and a clock tower, and cobbled little alleys leading off to the sides of the square. It's not spectacular, but quite pretty.
The location of Banska Bystrica also makes it a good base for explorations into the surrounding countryside of central Slovakia
- Muzeum SNP 01 - main building
- Muzeum SNP 02 - by the approach road
- Muzeum SNP 03 - Russian plane
- Muzeum SNP 04 - red star
- Muzeum SNP 05 - interesting modernist architecture
- Muzeum SNP 06 - from the side
- Muzeum SNP 07 - copper reflection
- Muzeum SNP 08 - in between the two halves
- Muzeum SNP 09 - sculpture
- Muzeum SNP 10 - with eternal flame
- Muzeum SNP 11 - nationalities who participated in the uprising
- Muzeum SNP 12 - victims of reprisals
- Muzeum SNP 13 - inside
- Muzeum SNP 14 - field kitchen
- Muzeum SNP 15 - installation
- Muzeum SNP 16 - partisan shelter
- Muzeum SNP 17 - in the first half of the permanent exhibition
- Muzeum SNP 18 - crude interactive elements
- Muzeum SNP 19 - displays
- Muzeum SNP 20 - wooden Nazi
- Muzeum SNP 21 - guns
- Muzeum SNP 22 - more guns
- Muzeum SNP 23 - mines
- Muzeum SNP 24 - Nazi insignia
- Muzeum SNP 25 - Nazi crimes
- Muzeum SNP 26 - the worst of it all
- Muzeum SNP 27 - connecting bridge
- Muzeum SNP 28 - two levels
- Muzeum SNP 29 - the medical side
- Muzeum SNP 30 - bomber jacket
- Muzeum SNP 31 - flags
- Muzeum SNP 32 - deportation
- Muzeum SNP 33 - concentration camps
- Muzeum SNP 34 - imprisonment
- Muzeum SNP 35 - chessboard
- Muzeum SNP 36 - arms up in arms
- Muzeum SNP 37 - exiting
- Muzeum SNP 38 - open-air part
- Muzeum SNP 39 - new excavation
- Muzeum SNP 40 - tanks
- Muzeum SNP 41 - tank train
- Muzeum SNP 42 - German tanks
- Muzeum SNP 43 - StuG IV
- Muzeum SNP 44 - by night
- Muzeum SNP 45 - eternal flame by night
- Muzeum SNP 46 - Banska Bystrica on a Sunday night