Jan Masaryk

Last updated
Jan Masaryk
Jan Masaryk.jpg
Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia
In office
21 July 1940 10 March 1948
President Edvard Beneš
Prime Minister Jan Šrámek
Zdeněk Fierlinger
Klement Gottwald
Preceded byGerman occupation
Succeeded by Vladimír Clementis
Czechoslovakia Ambassador to the United Kingdom
In office
1925 September 1938
President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
Edvard Beneš
Personal details
Jan Garrigue Masaryk

14 September 1886
Prague, Austria-Hungary
Died10 March 1948(1948-03-10) (aged 61)
Prague, Czechoslovakia
Cause of death Defenestration (murder or suicide)
Relations Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (father)
Religion Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren
1In exile 1940 – April 1945

Jan Garrigue Masaryk (14 September 1886 – 10 March 1948) was a Czech diplomat and politician who served as the Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia from 1940 to 1948. American journalist John Gunther described Masaryk as "a brave, honest, turbulent, and impulsive man". [1]

Czechoslovakia 1918–1992 country in Central Europe, predecessor of the Czech Republic and Slovakia

Czechoslovakia, or Czecho-Slovakia, was a sovereign state in Central Europe that existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until its peaceful dissolution into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on 1 January 1993.

Diplomat person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with another state or international organization

A diplomat is a person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with one or more other states or international organizations. The main functions of diplomats are: representation and protection of the interests and nationals of the sending state; initiation and facilitation of strategic agreements; treaties and conventions; promotion of information; trade and commerce; technology; and friendly relations. Seasoned diplomats of international repute are used in international organizations as well as multinational companies for their experience in management and negotiating skills. Diplomats are members of foreign services and diplomatic corps of various nations of the world.

A politician is a person active in party politics, or a person holding or seeking office in government. Politicians propose, support and create laws or policies that govern the land and, by extension, its people. Broadly speaking, a "politician" can be anyone who seeks to achieve political power in any bureaucratic institution.


Early life

Born in Prague, he was a son of professor and politician Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (who became the first President of Czechoslovakia in 1918) and Charlotte Garrigue, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk's American wife. Masaryk was educated in Prague and also in the USA, where he also for a time lived as a drifter and lived on the earnings of his manual labor.[ citation needed ] He returned home in 1913 and served in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War. [2] He then joined the diplomatic service and became chargé d'affaires to the USA in 1919, a post he held until 1922. In 1921, he became secretary to the Czech foreign minister Edvard Beneš. In 1925, he was made ambassador to Britain. [3] His father resigned as President in 1935 and died two years later. He was succeeded by Edvard Beneš.

Prague Capital city of the Czech Republic

Prague is the capital and largest city in the Czech Republic, the 14th largest city in the European Union and the historical capital of Bohemia. Situated in the north-west of the country on the Vltava river, the city is home to about 1.3 million people, while its metropolitan area is estimated to have a population of 2.6 million. The city has a temperate climate, with warm summers and chilly winters.

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk First Czechoslovak president

Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, sometimes anglicised to Thomas Masaryk, was a Czechoslovak politician, statesman, sociologist and philosopher.

Charlotte Garrigue First Lady of Czechoslovakia

Charlotte Garrigue Masaryk, Czech: Charlotta Garrigue-Masaryková, was the wife of the Czechoslovak philosopher, sociologist, and politician, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first President of Czechoslovakia.


In September 1938 the Sudetenland was occupied by German forces and Masaryk resigned as ambassador in protest, although he remained in London. Other government members including Beneš also resigned. In March 1939 Germany occupied the remaining parts of the Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, and a puppet Slovak state was established in Slovakia. When a Czechoslovak government-in-exile was established in Britain in 1940, Masaryk was appointed Foreign Minister.[ citation needed ] During the war he regularly made broadcasts over the BBC to occupied Czechoslovakia. [4] He had a flat at Westminster Gardens, Marsham Street in London but often stayed at the Czechoslovak Chancellery residence at Wingrave or with President Beneš at Aston Abbotts, both near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire.[ citation needed ] In 1942 Masaryk received an LL.D. from Bates College.[ citation needed ]

Sudetenland historical German name for areas of Czechoslovakia which were inhabited by Sudeten Germans

The Sudetenland is the historical German name for the northern, southern, and western areas of former Czechoslovakia which were inhabited primarily by Sudeten Germans. These German speakers had predominated in the border districts of Bohemia, Moravia, and Czech Silesia from the time of the Austrian Empire.

Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia former country

The Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was a protectorate of Nazi Germany established on 16 March 1939 following the German occupation of Czechoslovakia on 15 March 1939. Earlier, following the Munich Agreement of September 1938, Nazi Germany had incorporated the Czech Sudetenland territory as a Reichsgau.

Slovak Republic (1939–1945) republic in Central-Eastern Europe between 1939–1943

The (First) Slovak Republic, otherwise known as the Slovak State, was a client state of Nazi Germany which existed between 14 March 1939 and 4 April 1945. It controlled the majority of the territory of present-day Slovakia but without its current southern and eastern parts, which had been ceded to Hungary in 1938. The Republic bordered Germany, constituent parts of "Großdeutschland", the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, Poland – and subsequently the General Government – along with independent Hungary.

After the war

Masaryk remained Foreign Minister following the liberation of Czechoslovakia as part of the multi-party, communist-dominated National Front government. [5] The Communists under Klement Gottwald saw their position strengthened after the 1946 elections but Masaryk stayed on as Foreign Minister. [5] [6] He was concerned with retaining the friendship of the Soviet Union, but was dismayed by the veto they put on Czechoslovak participation in the Marshall Plan. [5] [6]

National Front (Czechoslovakia) coalition of parties which headed the re-established Czechoslovakian government from 1945 to 1948

The National Front was the coalition of parties which headed the re-established Czechoslovakian government from 1945 to 1948. During the Communist era in Czechoslovakia (1948–1989) it was the vehicle for control of all political and social activity by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ). It was also known in English as the National Front of Czechs and Slovaks.

Klement Gottwald 5th President of Czechoslovakia

Klement Gottwald was a Czechoslovak Communist politician, who was the leader of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia from 1929 until his death in 1953–titled as General Secretary until 1945 and as Chairman from 1945 to 1953. He was the first Communist leader of Czechoslovakia from 1948 to 1953.

Marshall Plan U.S. initiative to help Western Europe recover from WWII

The Marshall Plan was an American initiative passed in 1948 to aid Western Europe, in which the United States gave over $12 billion in economic assistance to help rebuild Western European economies after the end of World War II. Replacing the previous Morgenthau Plan, it operated for four years beginning on April 3, 1948. The goals of the United States were to rebuild war-torn regions, remove trade barriers, modernize industry, improve European prosperity, and prevent the spread of Communism. The Marshall Plan required a reduction of interstate barriers, a dropping of many regulations, and encouraged an increase in productivity, as well as the adoption of modern business procedures.

Czechoslovakia sold arms to Israel during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. The deliveries from Czechoslovakia proved important for the establishment of Israel. Masaryk personally signed the first contract on January 14, 1948. [7]

Between June 1947 and October 31, 1949 the Jewish agency seeking weapons for Operation Balak, made several purchases of weapons in Czechoslovakia, some of them of former German army weapons, captured by the Czechoslovak army on its national territory, or newly produced German weapons from Czechoslovakia's post-war production. In this deal, sale activities of Czechoslovak arms factories were coordinated by a special-purpose department of the Československé závody strojírenské a kovodělné, n.p. Holding, called Sekretariát D, headed by Gen. Jan Heřman (ret.).

Israel country in the Middle East

Israel, also known as the State of Israel, is a country in Western Asia, located on the southeastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and the northern shore of the Red Sea. It has land borders with Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan on the east, the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the east and west, respectively, and Egypt to the southwest. The country contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Israel's economic and technological center is Tel Aviv, while its seat of government and proclaimed capital is Jerusalem, although the state's sovereignty over Jerusalem has only partial recognition.

1948 Arab–Israeli War First Arab-Israeli war

The 1948 Arab–Israeli War, or the First Arab–Israeli War, was fought between the newly declared State of Israel and a military coalition of Arab states over the control of former British Palestine, forming the second and final stage of the 1947–49 Palestine war.

In February 1948 the majority of the non-communist cabinet members resigned, hoping to force new elections, but instead a communist government under Gottwald was formed in what became known as the Czech coup (Victorious February in the Eastern Bloc). [5] [6] Masaryk remained Foreign Minister, and was the only prominent minister in the new government who was neither a Communist nor a fellow traveller. [6] However, he was apparently uncertain about his decision[ citation needed ] and possibly regretted his decision not to oppose the communist coup by broadcasting to the Czech people on national radio, where he was a much loved celebrity.

The term fellow traveller identifies a person who is intellectually sympathetic to the ideology of a political organization, and who co-operates in the organization's politics, without being a formal member of that organization. In the early history of the Soviet Union, the Bolshevik revolutionary Trotsky coined the term poputchik to identify the vacillating intellectual supporters of the Bolshevik régime. Likewise for the political characterisation of the Russian intelligentsiya who were philosophically sympathetic to the political, social, and economic goals of the Russian Revolution of 1917, but who chose to not join the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Moreover, during the Stalinist régime, the usage of the term poputchik disappeared from political discourse in the Soviet Union, but the Western world adopted the English term fellow traveller to identify people who sympathised with the Soviets and with Communism.


Memorial plaque with Masaryk's quote "Pravda vitezi, ale da to fusku" (The truth prevails, but it's a chore). It is a reference to the Czechoslovak national motto Pravda vitezi (Truth prevails). Jan Masaryk deska.jpg
Memorial plaque with Masaryk’s quote "Pravda vítězí, ale dá to fušku" (The truth prevails, but it’s a chore). It is a reference to the Czechoslovak national motto Pravda vítězí (Truth prevails).
Jan Masaryk with Laurence Steinhardt, the United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia. Laurence Steinhardt a Jan Masaryk.jpg
Jan Masaryk with Laurence Steinhardt, the United States Ambassador to Czechoslovakia.

On 10 March 1948 Masaryk was found dead, dressed only in his pajamas, in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry (the Černín Palace in Prague) below his bathroom window. [8] The Ministry of the Interior claimed that he had committed suicide by jumping out of the window, but it was at the time, and is still, widely assumed that he was murdered on behest of the nascent Communist government. [5] [8] [9] (Others in the country put it thus: "Jan Masaryk was a very tidy man. He was such a tidy man that when he jumped he shut the window after himself.") On the other hand, many of his close associates (e.g. his secretary Antonín Sum, or Viktor Fischl) have always defended the suicide story.

In a second investigation taken in 1968 during the Prague Spring, Masaryk's death was ruled an accident, not excluding a murder [10] and a third investigation in the early 1990s after the Velvet Revolution concluded that it had been a murder.

Discussions about the mysterious circumstances of his death continued for some time. [8] Those who believe that Masaryk was murdered called it the Third Defenestration of Prague, and point to the presence of nail marks on the window sill from which Masaryk fell, as well as smearings of feces and Masaryk's stated intention to leave Prague the next day for London. Members of Masaryk's family—including his former wife, Frances Crane Leatherbee, a former in-law named Sylvia E. Crane, and his sister Alice Masaryková — stated their belief that he had indeed killed himself, according to a letter written by Sylvia E. Crane to The New York Times, and considered the possibility of murder a "cold war cliché". [11] [12] However, a Prague police report in 2004 concluded after forensic research that Masaryk had indeed been thrown out of the window to his death. [13] This report was seemingly corroborated in 2006 when a Russian journalist claimed that his mother knew the Russian intelligence officer who threw Masaryk out of the window of the west bathroom of Masaryk's flat. [14]

The highest-ranking Soviet Bloc intelligence defector, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, described his conversation with Nicolae Ceauşescu, who told him about "ten international leaders the Kremlin killed or tried to kill". Jan Masaryk was one of them. [15]

Czech historian Václava Jandečková has tentatively suggested in her 2015 monograph "Kauza Jan Masaryk: Nový pohled" [16] (The Jan Masaryk Case: A New Perspective) that Masaryk might have been murdered by Jan Bydžovský and František Fryč, who believed they were working for the British intelligence service SIS, but most probably fell victim to NKVD agents. Bydžovský confessed to murdering Masaryk when interrogated in prison by the Czech secret police StB in the 1950s (in an unrelated case); but later denied it. Jandečková argues that this confession cannot be so easily dismissed as has been believed, especially since Bydžovský certainly was not hallucinating or drugged, and the interrogators seem to have been surprised by his confession (at his trial, the Masaryk murder was not "used" or even mentioned, although a separate re-investigation by the StB continued for more than a year).

Private life

From 1924 until their divorce in 1931, Masaryk was married to Frances Crane Leatherbee (1887-1954). An heiress to the Crane piping, valves and elevator fortune, and the former wife of Robert Leatherbee, she was a daughter of Charles R. Crane, a U.S. minister to China; and a sister of Richard Teller Crane II, a U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia. By that marriage, Masaryk had three stepchildren: Charles Leatherbee, Robert Leatherbee Jr., and Richard Crane Leatherbee. [17] Stepson Charles Leatherbee (Harvard 1929) co-founded the University Players, a summer stock company in Falmouth, Massachusetts, in 1928 with Bretaigne Windust. He married Mary Lee Logan (1910-1972), younger sister of Joshua Logan, who became one of the co-directors of the University Players in 1931. [18]

Masaryk was a skilled amateur pianist. In that capacity, he accompanied Jarmila Novotná in a recital of Czech folk songs issued on 78 RPM records to commemorate the victims of the Nazi eradication of Lidice. [19]

At the time of his death, Masaryk was reportedly planning to marry the American writer Marcia Davenport.

See also

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  1. Gunther, John (1961). Inside Europe Today. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 335. LCCN   61-9706.
  2. PRECLÍK, Vratislav. Masaryk a legie (TGM and legions), váz. kniha, 219 str., vydalo nakladatelství Paris Karviná, Žižkova 2379 (734 01 Karviná) ve spolupráci s Masarykovým demokratickým hnutím (Masaryk democratic movement in Prague), 2019, ISBN   978-80-87173-47-3
  3. Carey, Nick (12 April 2000). "Czechs in History: Jan Masaryk". Radio Prague . Retrieved 28 October 2012.
  4. Masaryk, Jan (2011). Speaking to My Country. Lexington MA: Plunkett Lake Press. Archived from the original on 2012-03-16. Foreword by Madeleine Albright.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Cook, Bernard A. (2001) Europe Since 1945: An Encyclopedia, Volume 1, p. 251 New York: Taylor & Francis
  6. 1 2 3 4 Owen, John M. (2010) The Clash of Ideas in World Politics, p. 185 Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press
  7. Howard M. Sachar (24 March 2010). Israel and Europe: An Appraisal in History. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. pp. 56–. ISBN   978-0-307-48643-1. Early in 1947...Czech weaponry might be available...personally approved by...Jan Masarik. Ideology played no role in these initial transaction. They were exclusively commercial
  8. 1 2 3 Axelrod, Alan (2009) The Real History of the Cold War: A New Look at the Past, p. 133 New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
  9. Horáková, Pavla (11 March 2002). "Jan Masaryk died 54 years ago". Radio Prague. Retrieved 4 April 2009.
  10. "Books: Murder Will Out". Time. January 12, 1970. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
  11. Crane, John O. & Sylvia E. (1991) Czechoslovakia: Anvil of the Cold War, pp. xiv, 321-323 New York: Praeger
  12. "East Europe Could Shed Light on Trotsky and Some Americans; Masaryk a Suicide". The New York Times. January 28, 1990. Retrieved May 5, 2010.
  13. Cameron, Rob, "Police close case on 1948 death of Jan Masaryk - murder, not suicide", Radio Prague, 06-01-2004.
  14. Cameron, Rob, "Masaryk murder mystery back in headlines as Russian journalist speaks out", Radio Prague, 18-12-2006.
  15. The Kremlin’s Killing Ways, at National Review Online, by Ion Mihai Pacepa; published November 28, 2006; retrieved October 15, 2015
  16. "Kauza Jan Masaryk (nový pohled) - Doznání k vraždě a tajný přešetřovací proces StB z let 1950–1951". www.bux.cz (in Czech). Retrieved 2017-05-17.
  17. Leatherbee, Richard, "My Family Tree, 1772 - present" Archived 2007-09-30 at the Wayback Machine , genealogyboard.com, December 13, 2005.
  18. See, Houghton, Norris. But Not Forgotten: The Adventure of the University Players. New York, William Sloane Associates: 1951.
  19. Crutchfield, Will, "CLASSICAL MUSIC; Once, the Voice Was Melody Itself. In Fact, It Still Is", The New York Times, March 7, 1993, accessed October 30, 2008.

Further reading

Government offices
Preceded by
German occupational ministry
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Czechoslovakia
Succeeded by
Vladimír Clementis