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Czech diplomat and politician Jan Masaryk (1886-1948)

Jan Garrigue Masaryk (September 14, 1886 – March 10, 1948) was a Czech diplomat and politician and Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia from 1940 to 1948.


Early life

Born in Prague, he was a son of professor and politician Tomáš Masaryk (who became the first President of Czechoslovakia in 1918) and his American wife, Charlotte Garrigue. Masaryk was educated in Prague and also in the USA, where he also for a time lived as a drifter and lived on the earnings of his manual labor. He returned home in 1913 and served in the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. He then joined the diplomatic service and became chargé d'affaires to the USA in 1919, a post he held until 1922. In 1925 he was made ambassador to Britain. His father resigned as President in 1935 and died two years later. He was succeeded by Edvard Beneš.


In September 1938 the Sudetenland of Czechoslovakia was occupied by German forces and Masaryk resigned as Ambassador in protest, although he remained in London. Other government members including Beneš also resigned. In March 1939 Germany occupied the remaining Czech provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, and a puppet Slovak state was established in Slovakia. When a Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile was established in Britain in 1940, Masaryk was appointed Foreign Minister. During the war he regularly made broadcasts over the BBC to occupied Czechoslovakia. He had a flat at Westminster Gardens, Marsham Street in London but often stayed at the Czechoslovak Chancellery residence at Wingrave or with President Beneš at Aston Abbotts, both near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. In 1942 Masaryk received a LL.D. from Bates College.

After the war

Masaryk remained Foreign Minister following the liberation of Czechoslovakia as part of the multi-party, communist-dominated National Front government. The Communists under Klement Gottwald saw their position strengthened after the 1946 elections but Masaryk stayed on as Foreign Minister. He was concerned with retaining the friendship of the Soviet Union, but was dismayed by the veto they put on Czechoslovak participation in the Marshall Plan. In February 1948 the majority of the non-communist cabinet members resigned hoping to force new elections, but instead a communist government under Gottwald was formed in what became known as the Czech coup (Victorious February in the Eastern Bloc). Masaryk remained Foreign Minister, although he was apparently uncertain about his decision and possibly regretted his decision not to oppose the communist coup by broadcasting to the Czech people of national radio, where he was a much loved celebrity.


Memorial plaque

On March 10, 1948 Masaryk was found dead, dressed in his pajamas, in the courtyard of the Foreign Ministry below his bathroom window. The initial 'investigation' stated that he had committed suicide by jumping out of the window, although for a long time it has been believed by some that he was murdered by the nascent Communist government.[1] In a second investigation taken in 1968 during the Prague Spring, Masaryk's death was ruled an accident,[2] although a third investigation in the early 1990s after the Velvet Revolution once again concluded that it had been suicide. Despite the outcomes of all three investigations, discussions about the mysterious circumstances of his death are still continuing, without apparent consensus. Those who believe that Masaryk was murdered have 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. Members of Masaryk's family—including his former wife, (Frances Crane Leatherbee), a former in-law named Sylvia E. Crane, and his sister Alice Masaryková —stated their belief that he had indeed killed himself, according to a letter written by Sylvia E. Crane to The New York Times, and considered the possibility of murder a "cold war cliché".[3] However, a Prague police report in 2004 concluded after forensic research that he was indeed murdered.[4] This report was seemingly corroborated in 2006 when a Russian journalist claimed that his mother knew the Russian intelligence office who threw Masaryk out the window.[5]

The highest-ranking Soviet Bloc intelligence defector, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, described his conversation with Nicolae Ceauşescu, who told him about "ten international leaders the Kremlin killed or tried to kill". Jan Masaryk was one of them.[6] es: In the Spring of 1948 there was a rumour in Prague that the Soviet NKVD was responsible for the death of Jan Masaryk. NKVD Major Augustin Schramm, who was involved with the Czechoslovak intelligence, and secret communist police, was according to that rumour responsible for Masaryk's death. Schramm was shot dead in his Prague flat on the 27.05.1948, a possible "silencing" of an inconvenient witness, for which the NKVD and/or KGB were famous. Two young Czech philosophy students were arrested, tortured and later executed for shooting Major Schramm. They were Milan Choc, who, in spite of torture by the Czech secret police, denied any involvement in the shooting to the end. The other youth was Sadek of whom little is known.

Private life

From 1924 until their divorce in 1931, Masaryk was married to Frances Crane Leatherbee. She was an heiress to the Crane plumbing and elevator fortune, the former wife of Robert Leatherbee, a daughter of Charles R. Crane, a U.S. minister to China, and a sister of Richard Teller Crane 2nd, a U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia. By that marriage, he had three stepchildren: Charles Leatherbee, Robert Leatherbee Jr., and Richard Crane Leatherbee.[2] Stepson Charles Leatherbee (Harvard 1929) co-founded the University Players, a summer stock company in Falmouth, Massachusetts, in 1928 with Bretaigne Windust. He married Mary Lee Logan, younger sister of Joshua Logan, who became one of the co-directors of the University Players in 1931.[7]

Masaryk was a skilled amateur pianist. In that capacity, he accompanied Jarmila Novotna in a recital of Czech folk songs issued on 78 RPM records to commemorate the victims of the Nazi eradication of Lidice.[8]

At the time of his death, Masaryk was reportedly planning to marry the American writer Marcia Davenport.


  1. ^ Horáková, Pavla (11-03-2002). "Jan Masaryk died 54 years ago". Radio Prague. Retrieved 4 April 2009. 
  2. ^,9171,942192-1,00.html
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ The Kremlin’s Killing Ways - by Ion Mihai Pacepa, National Review Online, November 28, 2006
  7. ^ See, Houghton, Norris. But Not Forgotten: The Adventure of the University Players. New York, William Sloane Associates: 1951.
  8. ^ [1] Crutchfield, Will, "CLASSICAL MUSIC; Once, the Voice Was Melody Itself. In Fact, It Still Is," The New York Times, March 7, 1993, accessed October 30, 2008.

Further reading

Government offices
Preceded by
German occupational ministry
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Czechoslovakia
Succeeded by
Vladimír Clementis


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