Maria Gulovich Liu Joined the Czech Resistance, Won the bronze star and became an American citizen
by Kathy Warnes
When she was a young schoolteacher in Slovakia during World War II, Maria Gulovich Liu joined the underground resistance as a courier. Later she helped a small group of American and British intelligence agents evade the German Army as they fled through the rugged mountains to safety.
Maria Gulovich was born in Jakubany, Slovakia, in 1921, the blue eyed daughter of a Greek Catholic village priest and an elementary school teacher mother. After attending the Greek Catholic Institute for Teachers in Presov, she became a school teacher in Jarabina in 1940 and later in Hrinova.
Maria Made a Fateful Decision
Maria kept teaching after the Nazis occupied Slovakia in 1939 and in early 1944, she faced a crucial decision. A Jewish friend asked her to temporarily hide his sister and her five year old son until he could find another place for her. Maria ended up hiding them in the schoolhouse where she taught from April through June 1944. Someone reported her to the Slovakian authorities and a Slovak Army captain questioned her. Luckily for her, the Army captain was part of the anti-fascist resistance and he offered to find a new hiding place for the woman and her son if Maria would work as a courier for the resistance. She agreed and moved to Banski Bystric and accepted dressmaking work for an underground sympathizer.
Maria Worked for the Czech Resistance and the OSS
Since she was fluent in five languages including Russian, Hungarian, Slovak, German, and a little English, the Czech resistance assigned Maria Gulovich to work as a translator for the resistance. During the Slovak National Uprising she worked in rebel headquarters translating documents from Slovak into Russian for Russian military intelligence.
In the summer of 1944, the resistance fighters introduced Maria to American OSS agents who were there to assist the Slovak uprising and rescue downed American airmen.
Joe Horvath’s family had moved from Polomka to Cleveland when he was nine years ago and now twenty five years later, he found himself back in Slovakia spending Christmas in a hunting shack perched in the hills above the village. The Americans asked Maria to join them as their translator and guide for what the OSS called the Dawes mission. She agreed and helped the Americans obtain supplies and intelligence as they made their way through the Slovak countryside.
Maria Gulovich Escaped the Nazis
The elite German Edelweiss Anti-Partisan unit was sent to the Czech mountains to track down the Dawes mission. A blizzard enveloped Maria and the Americans as they climbed Mt. Dumbier, the highest mountain in the Low Tatra Range in central Slovakia.
By December 1944, Marie and the Americans had been hiding at the Homolka cabin above the village of Polomka where Joe Horvath had been born and where his cousin still lived, for two weeks. They had planned to leave the lodge on Christmas Day, but stayed over a day waiting for an airdrop of supplies that were overdue.
The extra day proved to be a fatal day for the Dawes Mission. Joe Horvath’s cousin had been worried about security because too many people knew that they were hiding in the hut above the village and journalist Joseph Morton who joined the Mission at the last minute also worried about security. As it turned out, someone did betray them to the Nazis.
Maria and two Americans and two British fugitives left the lodge on December 26, 1944, seeking food and shelter and medical supplies at a resort hotel higher up the mountain. She said that the Associated Press reporter Joe Morton “walked with us half an hour or longer, and then he said, ‘Well, I have to go back’ and we hugged.
While they were gone the Edelweiss Anti-Partisan Unit, 300 strong, under Commander Ladislav Niznanzy surrounded the hunting lodge and captured the Americans. Joseph Morton and his comrades. The prisoners were taken to Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, tortured and executed on January 24, 1945.
Between November 6 and December 26, 1944, 15 Dawes agents were captured along with two American civilians, two British officers and one private, and a Czech officer who had joined the group. Maria and her party escaped.
Maria Gulovich and four of her companions took nine more weeks to reach the Russian lines. She remembered that they didn’t feel safe for even a minute and they often moved to new locations each night to avoid being captured. They hid in a mine and a barn, and endured lice and frostbite. Maria developed serious frostbite on her foot, but she refused to seek medical attention. Later she explained that she avoided hospitals because, “I knew I would never come out. The Germans had my number. I thought, better to die on my feet than in a concentration camp.”
Maria Won the Bronze Star and Became an American Citizen
Maria arrived in Bucharest, Romania, on March 1, 1945, and the OSS flew her to its headquarters in Italy. The agency put her on “Army status” so that she could be paid and later she was assigned to Prague as an interpreter. In Prague, she met Allen Dulles, an officer of the OSS who later became the director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Allen Dulles and William Donovan, OSS chief, arranged for Maria to immigrate to the United States armed with a scholarship to Vassar College because of her service to the OSS. In 1946, Donovan personally presented Maria the Bronze Star at a ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York.
In 1952, Maria became an American citizen and moved to Oxnard, California where she worked as a real estate agent for many years. She married twice and had two children with her first husband. Later she married Hans P. Liu.
In 1989, the OSS honored Maria Liu and other women who had served the agency with a black tie dinner in Washington, D.C., called “The Ladies of the OSS.”
Maria Gulovich Liu died in September 2009, at age 87.
Downs, Jim. World War II: OSS Tragedy in Slovakia. 2002.
Jason, Sonya N. Maria Gulovich, OSS Heroine of World War II: The Schoolteacher who Saved American Lives in Slovakia. McFarland, 2008.