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Jan Syrový

Jan Syrový in 1938

Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia
In office
September 22, 1938 – December 1, 1938
Preceded by Milan Hodža
Succeeded by Rudolf Beran

Born January 24, 1888(1888-01-24)
Třebíč, Moravia, Austria-Hungary
Died October 17, 1970 (aged 82)
Prague, Czechoslovakia
Nationality Czech
Military service
Rank General

Jan Syrový (January 24, 1888 - October 17, 1970) was a Czechoslovak Army four star general and the prime minister during the Munich Crisis.

Contents

Pre-political life

Jan Syrový studied building at a technical school. Following his graduation in 1906, he became a one year volunteer in the Austro-Hungarian army. After that, he studied at a technical college in Russia. During World War I, he fought in the Czechoslovak Legion of the Russian army and lost his right eye in the Battle of Zborov. Later he was in command of the Legion and anti-bolshevik forces on the Trans-Siberian railway. This of course earned him recognition, and after the war, he was the Chief of Staff of the Czechoslovak Army (1927-1933), and then its general inspector (1933-1938).[1]

The 'Munich Crisis': Autumn 1938

When Milan Hodža's government resigned on September 23, 1938, Syrový was appointed Prime Minister and Minister of National defence despite his objections. Syrový had insisted he was just a soldier, not a politician, and that he lacked the qualifications and relevant experience to qualify him for such an important post. President Beneš told him that the nation needed him and that, as a soldier, he should regard it as an order. With some reluctance, Syrový then accepted.

As Prime Minister, he was forced to accept the terms of the Munich Agreement on September 30. In his radio speech to the nation, he stated Czechoslovakia had no choice but to accept the terms because it was outnumbered and any conflict would result in casualties to men, women and children. "We were abandoned," he said. "We stand alone." [2] Following the resignation of the President Edvard Beneš on October 5, Prime Minister temporarily took over some presidential duties (in accord with the Czechoslovak Constitution) until Emil Hácha was duly elected President on November 30, 1938.

He resigned the prime ministership on December 1, 1938, remaining the Minister of National Defence until April 27, 1939. He did not join the anti-German resistance as he was too well-known a figure for his involvement to be anything other than a liability. However, he did arrange the transfer of substantial sums from a Legionary relief fund to assist the resistance and people facing persecution.

Jan Antonin Bata

Mr. Bata helped General Syrovy prepare for the defense of Czechoslovakia prior to Munich with the training of hundreds of pilots for the Czechoslovak Air Force. Later these pilots escaped to England where they joined the RAF as bomber pilots and fighter pilots. Huge stores of raw materials, equipment and people were removed from Czechoslovakia to points beyond the Nazi'a reach.

Post-War fate

On May 14, 1945, in the immediate aftermath of the war, Syrový was arrested, charged with collaboration (although he had consciously steered clear of this, as far as his office allowed) and put on trial. In a show-trial of alleged collaborators in 1947, the National Court found him guilty (as well as, e.g. Rudolf Beran) and sentenced him to 20 years imprisonment, in severe conditions.

He was released in 1960, in Novotný's amnesty, but was left with no pension or any means of maintenance. To top it all, the communist regime prevented him from having a job. Later on, he was allowed to work as a night watchman, ironically enough guarding Marold's Panorama of the Battle of Lipany. Not until late 1967 did the regime grant him a limited retirement pension.

Syrový was deeply wounded by the verdict of the National Court and remained so for the rest of his life. His own conscience was clear and he never came to terms with the apparent injustice of the decision. He reviewed his trial in an interview for the Report Magazine in 1968 and stated that there were three critical pieces of evidence laid against him. Firstly, a snapshot of himself shaking hands with Hitler, during a meeting he was obliged to attend at the Prague Castle . Hitler had made a speech of reassurance as to Czechoslovakia's future under the 'protection' of the Reich; he then held out his hand to Syrový and the photographers immediately took a picture. Another photo provided the second piece of evidence: this photograph was taken at a government banquet and showed Syrový sat alongside Henlein. Syrový stated that the picture was taken out of context, to be used for nazi propaganda. The final piece of critical evidence was an arms contract with the Nazis. Syrový stated the weapons sold had been obsolete items from the First World War, which were no longer of any use to Czechoslovakia and that the weapons had been sold to German private companies; in addition, he stated that, ultimately, the decision to sell was made not just by him, but by the government as a whole. Syrový felt that had the allies of Czechoslovakia offered their promised help, he would never have had to agree to the Munich Dictate, but that, under the circumstances, the Czechoslovak Army on its own had no chance of success.[3]

Syrový died on October 17, 1970.

Decorations

Awarded by Belgium:

  • The Order of the Crown: II. class [1]
  • Croix de Guerre 1914-18 [1]

Awarded by Czechoslovakia:

  • Czechoslovak Military Cross 1918: with four tilia sprouts [1]
  • The Order of the Hawk: with swords [1]
  • Czechoslovak Revolutionary Medal 1914-18 with clasps: "Č.D.", "Zborov" and numbers "1", "2" [1]
  • Czechoslovak Medal of Victory 1918 [1]

Awarded by Estonia:

  • The Order of the Eagle, for the Protection of the Country: I. class [1]

Awarded by France:

  • Légion d'honneur, in the grade of: Grand Officier [1]
  • Légion d'honneur, in the grade of: Commandeur [1]
  • Légion d'honneur, in the grade of: Officier [1]
  • Légion d'honneur, in the grade of: Chevalier [Knight] [1]
  • Croix de Guerre 1914-18: with palme [1]
From the right: Špidlík, Švec, Syrový
Image taken one day before Syrový lost his eye.

Awarded by Italy:

  • The Order of the Italian Crown: II. class [1]
  • Military Cross of Merit [1]

Awarded by Japan:

  • The Order of the Holy Treasure: II. class [1]

Awarded by Yugoslavia:

  • The Order of St. Sava: I. class [1]
  • The Order of the White Eagle: I. class [1]
  • The Order of the White Eagle: II. class [1]
  • The Order of Karadjordjević: Star, II. class [1]

Awarded by Lithuania:

  • The Order of Vytis: Cross, II. class [1]

Awarded by Latvia:

  • The Order of the Bear: Fighter, II. class [1]
  • The Order of Three Stars: II. class [1]

Awarded by Morocco:

  • The Order of Nischan el Quissam Alaouite: I. class [1]

Awarded by Poland:

  • The Order of Polonia Restituta: II. class [1]

Awarded by Romania:

  • The Order of the Romanian Star: I. class [1]
  • The Order of the Romanian Crown: II. class [1]
  • The Order for Loyal Services: I. class [1]
  • Remembrance Cross 1916-19: with the clasp: "Siberia" [1]

Awarded by Imperial Russia:

  • The Order of St. Vladimir: IV. class [1]
  • The Order of St. Anne: IV. class [1]
  • The Order of St. Stanislav: III. class [1]
  • The Cross of St. George: IV. class [1]

Awarded by Greece:

  • The Order of the Phoenix: I. class [1]
  • The Medal of military merit [1]

Awarded by Tunisia:

  • The Order of Nischan el Iftikchar: I. class [1]

Awarded by Great Britain:

  • The Order of the Bath, in the grade of: Knight Commander [KCB] [1]

See also

External links

References

Preceded by
Milan Hodža
Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia
1938
Succeeded by
Rudolf Beran
Preceded by
Edvard Beneš
President of Czechoslovakia (acting)
1938
Succeeded by
Emil Hácha
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