Milada Horáková: Politician and women's rights activist executed by the communists

Milada Horáková, murdered by communists

Czechs are marking 73 years since the death of Milada Horáková, a democratic opposition leader who was sentenced and executed in a communist show trial on June 27, 1950. A host of events is taking place around the country in honour of the brave politician and champion of women’s rights.

Milada Horáková | Photo: Archive of Jana Kánská

Milada Horáková, a democratic politician in Masaryk’s First Republic and a resistance figure during the Second World War, was sentenced to death by a communist jury on June 8, 1950.

She was hanged at dawn on June 27 at Prague’s Pankrác Prison, despite protests from many prominent figures in the West, including Albert Einstein and Winston Churchill.

Milada Horáková was born in Prague on December 25, 1901. She  studied law at Charles University and in 1926, three years after graduating, she joined the Democratic Socialist party.

Bohuslav Horák,  Jana Kánská and Milada Horáková | Photo: Archive of Jana Kánská

With the start of the Second World War, Horáková, who had been working in Prague’s social welfare department and actively fighting for women’s rights, joined the underground anti-Nazi resistance.

She was arrested by the Gestapo in 1940 and sent to the Terezín concentration camp. Four years later, a German court sentenced her to eight years for her political activities, although the Nazi prosecutor had sought a death penalty.

After the war, Horáková re-joined the Social Democrats and served as an MP until the communist takeover in February 1948, when she resigned from parliament in protest.

The Czechoslovak secret police arrested her and fellow party members in September 1949, accusing them of treason and espionage.

Milada Horáková | Photo: Czech National Film Archive

An orchestrated trial, supervised by Soviet advisors, began on May 31, 1950. It was accompanied by a public campaign, organised by the Communist authorities demanding a death penalty for the accused.

Even in her last appearance before the court, Milada Horáková was not broken. In her final statement, she said her conscience was completely clear, as she had betrayed no-one, least of all herself:

“What I did, I did consciously. I take full responsibility for my actions and that is why I will accept the punishment I will be given. I stated to the authorities that I stand by my beliefs.”

Jana Kánská | Photo: Archive of Jana Kánská

The communists didn’t even grant Milada Horáková her last wish that the letters she wrote to her family be given to them. Her daughter Jana Kánská, who was only 16 at the time of her mother’s arrest, only received them 40 years later.

In 1968, during the time of the Prague Spring reforms, the court verdicts were annulled, but it was not until after the Velvet Revolution that Milada Horáková was fully rehabilitated.

Milada Horáková has only a symbolic grave in Prague’s Vyšehrad cemetery. Her ashes were never returned to her family and no one knows where they are.

Grave of Milada Horaková at Vyšehrad cemetery | Photo: Radio Prague International

In 1991, Horáková was awarded the Order of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk.
Since the year 2000, June 27, the day of her execution, is being marked in Czechia as a commemoration day for the victims of the communist regime.