Jan Masaryk born 130 years ago

The politician was an important figure in the Czechoslovak government-in-exile during World War II

Czechoslovak diplomat and politician Jan Masaryk was a popular personality in the first half of the 20th century, not only for his political work but also a pianist and public speaker who often appeared on the radio. He was born 130 years ago on Sept. 14, 1896, while Prague was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and died March 10, 1948, in a fall from a window at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Over his career he served as Czechoslovak ambassador to the United Kingdom and foreign minister in the Czechoslovak government-in-exile, among other posts.

Masaryk was born into politics. His father was Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, the first president of the First Republic of the newly independent Czechoslovakia that was formed in 1918 and lasted until 1938. Jan spent some of his early years in the United States, where he did manual labor until 1913, and then returned the Europe and served in World War I. After the war he joined the diplomatic service and was sent back the US as chargé d'affaires from 1919 to '22. He was ambassador to the United Kingdom from 1925 to '38 and foreign minister of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile in London led by Edvard Beneš from 1940 to 1945, and continued in that role in the multi-party communist-led government established after the war ended.

During the war years he made regular radio broadcasts over the BBC aimed at Czechs and Slovaks living in occupied Bohemia and Moravia and the puppet state of Slovakia. He also visited the US during this time, going to the New York World's Fair in 1940 and meeting with US officials at the same time.

As a pianist, he made a 78 rpm record, accompanied by singer Jarmila Novotná, of folk songs to commemorate the victims of the Lidice massacre in 1942.

One of his accomplishments as foreign minister after World War II was an arms deal to sell weapons to Israel during the 1948 Arab–Israeli War. He signed the first contract Jan. 14, 1948. The deal was crucial for the establishment of Israel.

In February 1948 the majority of the non-communist Cabinet members resigned in an attempt to force new elections. The plan did not work, and Communist Party leader Klement Gottwald formed a single-party government in what the west considered a coup, but was known officially in the Soviet-influenced bloc as “Victorious February.”

Masaryk was the only prominent minister in the new government who was not a Communist or sympathizer. He was found dead in the courtyard of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in his pajamas on March 10, 1948, underneath the window of his apartment's bathroom. The circumstances have never been satisfactorily explained. At the time, the communist authorities claimed it was suicide, but provided no motive. A subsequent investigation in 1968 ruled it an accident not excluding murder, and two investigations after the Velvet Revolution found that it was likely murder, though no perpetrator has ever been named. Friends say that he had been planning to move to London to oppose the communist takeover from there.

He had been married to American heiress Frances Crane Leatherbee from 1924 to '31 and at the time of his death was reportedly planning to marry American novelist Marcia Davenport, who lived near Prague Castle in 1947–48.

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