Archaeologists search for remains of Zdena Mašínová in Prague mass grave

Zdena Mašínová, photo: Public Domain

Archaeologists are searching for the remains of Zdena Mašínová, a WWII resister whose family left a deep mark on modern Czech history. Following her death in a Communist jail, Mašínová’s remains were dumped in a mass grave in Prague – and her daughter says may know where to find them.

The Mašín family left an indelible mark on Czech 20th century history. Josef Mašín was a senior figure in the Czechoslovak interwar army and was executed for his part in the anti-Nazi resistance.

Sons Josef and Ctirad resisted the Communists and escaped to the West despite a massive manhunt.

Their mother Zdena Mašínová was treated inhumanely by the Communists and died in jail in 1956, just one year into a 25-year term.

Zdena Mašínová’s remains were dumped in a notorious mass grave at the Ďáblice cemetery in north Prague.

While there is today a tombstone to her at the graveyard, her actual remains have never been found.

However, her daughter, also named Zdena Mašínová, told Czech Radio she has a good idea of where they are.

Ďáblice cemetery, photo: Mojmir Churavy, CC BY-SA 4.0

“I have known it since the initial days after her death. By a complete coincidence I found myself then at Ďáblice cemetery. And there, also by chance, I learned from an unnamed person, who did not introduce himself, where the place is.”

There is no written record of where Zdena Mašínová’s remains ended up. All archaeologists have to go on is a statement made by gravediggers in 1968. Jan Havrda from the National Monuments Institute is taking part in the excavation.

“They describe how people were buried in that part of the cemetery in so-called common graves. And they state that there were 70 to 72 such graves.”

Researchers believe Zdena Mašínová’s remains may be in the upper part of shaft number 52. Havrda continues:

“We will uncover an area of two and half metres by two and half metres. We will gradually cover the individual layers, as they were laid in the first place. Hopefully the outline of the burial pit will be revealed. But as we don’t yet know where the pit is, this will become clear during the exhumation.”

Zdena Mašínová, who is now 86, has been seeking the recovery of her mother’s remains since the 1990s.

Historian Petr Blažek told Czech Radio, however, that some exhumations had actually taken place under communism.

“The first exhumation was in 1951. There was also one 1963. These concerned the one-time commander of the StB, Osvald Závodský. So he had the right to a dignified burial. Zdena Mašínová and other victims of the Communist regime, with the exception of Father Toufar, have not yet had such a right.”

DNA tests will be required to prove any remains do indeed belong to Zdena Mašínová. The results of the latest research should be known next year.