Sixty years on, the mystery of Jan Masaryk’s tragic death remains unresolved

Jan Masaryk

Monday marks the 60th anniversary of the mysterious death of Jan Masaryk, foreign minister of Czechoslovakia in the 1940s and son of the country’s founder and its first president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. On the morning of March 10, Jan Masaryk’s body was found in the courtyard of Černín Palace, the seat of the Foreign Ministry. To this day his tragic death remains unexplained and is one of the great mysteries of modern Czech history.

“You will be seeing things happening in my little country diametrically opposite to what my father stood for, and I humbly and proudly stand for today. And I beg of you to understand it. My people were terribly hurt. They were told, with very little ceremony, to shut up and give up.”

When Jan Masaryk addressed listeners in the United States in November 1938, he was talking about the dark times that befell Czechoslovakia after the Munich Agreement in the wake of the Second World War. He had just stepped down as the Czechoslovak ambassador to the U.S. and was soon to become the foreign minister of the Czechoslovak government in exile, a position he was to hold until his mysterious death ten years later. He could have used the same words to describe the situation in Czechoslovakia following the communist takeover of February 1948 – but he didn’t. Two weeks after the putsch, Jan Masaryk was found dead in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry where he resided. Robert Janás of the Ministry’s press department showed me around Jan Masaryk’s apartment in Černín Palace.

“This is the window under which Masaryk’s body was found on the morning of March 1948. The bathroom is by the way the only room of the minister’s flat which has survived in its original state.”

What do you think – who murdered Jan Masaryk?

Jiří Pernes
“It’s difficult to say really. Some theories say it was suicide but I think it much more probable that he was murdered by the communist police in March 1948, after the communist putsch.”

Jiří Pernes, a historian at the Institute of Contemporary History, does not believe that Jan Masaryk was murdered by Czechoslovak communists.

“I am convinced that the communists didn’t have the slightest interest in his death. The Communist Party considered it a great thing that after the putsch, he stayed on in the new government of communist leader Klement Gottwald. I am inclined to agree with criminologist Jan Havel who has the theory that Jan Masaryk was murdered by a ‘partisan’ commando sent in by the Soviet secret service to kill him.”

Jiří Pernes says that possible Soviet involvement in Masaryk’s death will remain unconfirmed until the archives in Moscow finally open up. Only then will historians be able to establish whether or not post-war Soviet policy towards Czechoslovakia included murdering one of its top non-communist politicians.