Jan Masaryk and the experiment in vivisection

Jan Masaryk

In 1938 at the height of the Sudeten crisis, Jan Masaryk was Czechoslovakia’s ambassador in London. He was the son of the country’s first President Tomas Garrigue Masaryk and was well known as being both articulate and entertaining. He was also completely bilingual, his mother Charlotte being from the United States. But Jan Masaryk’s abilities as a communicator failed to influence the politicians in Britain, when, in September 1938, they agreed to let Hitler take over the Sudetenland. Masaryk resigned immediately as ambassador and in the following broadcast he makes his reasons only too clear.

“Solemn agreements are being disregarded without even an effort and a true explanation or justification. The League of Nations is laughed at with brazen cynicism. While armaments pile up higher than your tallest skyscrapers, unhappy Europe is asking when, how and who’s the next?”

Rather than return to what remained of his country, Jan Masaryk stayed in London, where he was later to serve as Czechoslovak Foreign Minister in exile during the war. Towards the end of 1938 he gave a number of moving talks to the American radio networks.

“My people, as you know, were ready to die for an ideal. Whether it was a wise readiness, I must leave to history, but it was a glorious one. They were calm, determined and not frightened. But European statesmen decreed otherwise. Our sacrifice was not needed or wanted, they said. We were subjected to what someone called the other day an experiment in vivisection.”

Masaryk continued with a plea to listeners to understand his country’s plight.

“You will see things happening in my little country diametrically opposed to everything my father stood for and I humbly but proudly stand for today. And I beg of you to understand it. My people were terribly hurt. They were suddenly told, with very little ceremony, that they must shut up and give up. Otherwise – it was a terrible otherwise… This is another job for the historians. I am not really complaining. I am just trying to explain in simple words what went on in the heart of the simple Czech and Slovak, man and woman, who trusted their allies and their friends and quite suddenly found themselves alone, bereft and destitute in a blizzard of harshness.”

After the war, Jan Masaryk returned home as Foreign Minister, but the communist coup of February 1948 left him completely isolated. Less than three weeks later he was found lying dead on the courtyard, below his flat in the ministry. His death has never been explained.