Jan Masaryk

And now it's time for another edition of Czechs in History, and this week Nick Carey takes a look at the life of ambassador and Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk, the son of Czechoslovakia's first president TG Masaryk.

I'm standing in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry building, not far from Prague Castle. It was here on March 10th 1948, two weeks to the day after the Communist Party seized power, that Jan Masaryk was found dead in his pyjamas, his death officially caused by a fall from the ledge beside his bathroom window. The question as to whether he committed suicide according to the official story, was murdered by the Communists, or fell by accident, will probably never be answered. Thus the death of Czechoslovakia's ambassador to London for thirteen years, the country's Foreign Minister in the Czechoslovak government-in-exile and in the post-war government, is shrouded in mystery...

Jan Masaryk was born in Prague in 1886, the son of Tomas Garrigue Masaryk and his American wife Charlotte Garrigue. During Jan's childhood, his father was a prominent Czech member of the Viennese parliament and a highly respected academic. According to professor of philosophy Erazim Kohak, growing up with such a father had its drawbacks:

This was in 1904. After completing his education at the Prague Academy, Jan Masaryk returned to the United States in 1907, and spent the next six years studying and working in Chicago before returning to Prague in 1913. When the First World War came, he served as an officer in the army of the Habsburg Empire.

It was not until after the founding of Czechoslovakia in 1918, whose first president was his own father, TG Masaryk, that Jan Masaryk came into his own:

Jan Masaryk served as the charge d'affairs in the United States from 1919 to 1922. After that he worked for three years in the Foreign Ministry in Prague, and was then appointed the Czechoslovak ambassador to Great Britain in 1925, at the age of thirty-nine. He was to hold this post until 1938, and fulfilled his diplomatic role as well as possible given the circumstances:

Like his mother Charlotte Garrigue, Jan Masaryk was a talented piano player, and he adapted folk songs for the piano, including this one, which was also his father's favourite, Ach, synku, synku, Oh, my son:

During the 1930s, TG Masaryk's health began to fail, and he resigned as president at the end of 1935, and was replaced as president by Eduard Benes. Shortly before his death he made a special request to his son Jan Masaryk. Erazim Kohak:

Mounting pressure from Nazi Germany concerning the three million Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia led to the Munich Agreement in September 1938, in accordance with which the Sudeten Lands were occupied by the Nazis and President Benes went into exile. Jan Masaryk remained in London, and resigned as ambassador when Nazi Germany seized the remainder of Czechoslovakia. On the eve of the Nazi invasion of Poland, Masaryk spoke out on the situation and the fate of his country on the BBC in London:

The invasion of Poland, however, was inevitable, and throughout the course of the Second World War, Jan Masaryk served as the Foreign Minister in Eduard Benes' government-in-exile in London, and his task was not an easy one:

Following the war, Jan Masaryk returned to Czechoslovakia after living in London for twenty years. He served as Foreign Minister in the government of the National Front, which was made up of all of the main political parties including the Communists. Again, his task was not an easy one:

The situation came to a head in 1947, when the United States offered Czechoslovakia the chance to participate in the Marshall Plan. The Czechoslovak government agreed, but this did not go over well in Moscow:

The events of 1947 gradually led to the Communist coup in February 1948, where the majority of the government ministers, Jan Masaryk not included, handed President Benes their resignation, in the hope that he would not accept and call new elections. Instead, he accepted their resignations, and the Communists came to power.

In the two weeks between the coup and Jan Masaryk's death, there were rumours that he would flee to the West and form a new government-in-exile. Instead, on March 10th 1948, he was found dead in the courtyard at the Foreign Ministry, and the official story was that he had committed suicide by jumping off the window ledge outside his bathroom window. There are, of course, different theories as to what happened. Erazim Kohak again:

It is unlikely that we will ever discover what happened.

Jan Masaryk was the son of Czechoslovakia's first president, an ambassador, and a Foreign Minister, but this does not tell us much about his personality. Erazim Kohak had this to say about him: