Did Czechoslovakia’s Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk Commit Suicide?

On this day in 1948, the nascent communist-controlled government of Czechoslovakia reports that Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk has committed suicide. The story of the non-communist Masaryk’s death was greeted with justifiable skepticism in the West.

Described by journalist John Gunthe as “a brave, honest, turbulent, and impulsive man,” Masaryk was born in Prague, the son of professor and politician Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk (who became the first President of Czechoslovakia in 1918) and Charlotte Garrigue, the elder Masaryk’s American wife. Young Masaryk was educated in Prague and also in the US, where he for a time lived as a drifter and subsisted on the earnings of his manual labor.

After serving for the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I, he acted as assistant foreign minister in the new Czech government. Later he served as the Czech ambassador to Great Britain, and with the coming of World War 2, he once again took the position of foreign minister, this time with the Czech government-in-exile in London.

After the war, Masaryk returned to Czechoslovakia to serve as foreign minister under President Eduard Benes. It was a tense time in Masaryk’s native country and much of the formative Eastern Bloc; Masaryk, however, was skillful in dealing with the Soviets, assuring them that a democratic Czechoslovakia posed no security threat to Russia.

In 1947 Masaryk made a fateful error in strongly endorsing the US offer of millions in aid under the Marshall Plan. When the US unveiled the brilliantly cunning and generous plan, the Soviets and their Czech lackeys demurred, and by strange coincidence a full-on communist coup was staged in February of ’48. Masaryk was one of the few non-communists left in place, a man largely alone.

On the above date in question, Masaryk was found dead, dressed only in his pajamas, in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry below his bathroom window. The initial investigation by the Ministry of the Interior stated that he had committed suicide by jumping out of the window; notwithstanding, Czechs were known to quietly remark “Jan Masaryk was a very tidy man. He was such a tidy man that when he jumped he shut the window after himself.”

Those who believe that Masaryk was murdered called it the Third Defenestration of Prague, and point to the presence of nail marks on the window sill from which Masaryk fell, as well as smearings of feces and Masaryk’s stated intention to leave Prague the next day for London. While some still insist on the suicide theory, a Prague police report in 2004 concluded after forensic research that Masaryk had indeed been thrown out of the window to his death. This report was seemingly corroborated in 2006 when a Russian journalist claimed that his mother knew the USSR intelligence officer who threw Masaryk out of the window of the west bathroom of Masaryk’s flat.

And here our lesson of idealism, deceit and deviltry endeth.

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