March 10, 1948: The Strange Death of Jan Masaryk
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At 6.30 on the morning of March 10th, 1948, the body of foreign minister Jan Masaryk was found lying in the cobbled courtyard below the window of his official flat in the palace, dressed only in his pyjamas.
Whether he jumped to his death or was pushed in one of Prague's notorious defenestrations has never been conclusively established. He was 61 years old.
Born in 1886, Jan Masaryk was the son of the great Tomáš Masaryk, academic philosopher and principal founder of Czechoslovakia as an independent nation after the First World War.
Before the First World War he lived in the USA and returned in 1913 and served in the Austro-Hungarian army during the war. After the war he joined diplomatic service and became a temporary ambassador to the USA. In 1925 he became ambassador to Britain.
During the Second World War he resigned from the ambassador function in protest of the occupation. In 1940 he became a Foreign Minister of the Government in exile. He remained the Foreign Minister even after the war and the communist coup until his death on 10 March 1948.
Masaryk always hoped that Czechoslovakia could act as a bridge between the West and the Soviet Union, but Moscow wanted an empire not a bridge and the successful Communist coup of February 1948 was carried out under the supervision of the Soviet assistant foreign minister, Valentin Zorin, who was in Prague at the time.
Three months after Jan Masaryk's death, Benes resigned and Gottwald introduced a Soviet-style constitution and suppressed all opposition.