Court reopens treason case against Munich-era Czechoslovak prime minister

Jan Syrový |  Source: National Library of France, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

He was once considered one of the heroes of the Czechoslovak state of the First Republic, a modern-day Jan Žižka, patch and all, who had proven himself leading the Czechoslovak legions out of Russia in the aftermath of World War I. world. However, General Jan Syrový will die in shame as a man convicted of working with the Nazi occupiers before World War II.

His stellar career began to unfold at the time of this speech, broadcast by Czechoslovak radio on September 30, 1938, when the major European powers had just agreed that Czechoslovakia should cede its border territories to Nazi Germany.

“This is the hardest time of my life. I am doing the hardest task, which is worse than death. We will fulfill the conditions imposed on us. We call on the nation and our people to overcome their outrage , their disappointment and pain, and to help secure our future within these new frontiers.

Jan Syrový |  Source: public domain

Syrový had been named the country’s prime minister eight days earlier, after the previous government was forced to resign amid a wave of popular protests against the ceding of territory to the Germans. He would remain in high office until April 1939, when Czechoslovakia had already become an occupied protectorate.

Although he was followed by the Gestapo and supported the resistance, the general was immediately arrested in May 1945 and, in a subsequent trial, sentenced to 20 years in prison for treason. He would die an obscure man, who had to support himself by working as a security guard in a small Czech town.

But now, more than 50 years after his death, Jan Syrový has the chance to be cleared. The High Court in Prague announced on Tuesday that his case would be reopened, after new facts emerged calling into question the previous 1947 ruling. her name.

Lubomir Muller |  Photo: Lubomír Müller archive, Post Bellum

Lubomír Müller, the lawyer for Jan Syrový’s great-grandnephew, told Czech television that the initial trial was politicized. Indeed, some of the charges, such as a staged handshake with Adolf Hitler at Prague Castle in 1939, do not stand up to scrutiny according to the defense. The attorney says that in many of the charges brought by the prosecution, it is not clear how the general should have behaved given his position as a constitutional official.

Furthermore, the defense points out that the prosecutor in the case was Josef Urválek, the Czechoslovak equivalent of Stalin’s infamous prosecutor Andrey Vyshinsky, who would later become the face of Communist show trials and sentence Democratic politicians such as Milada Horakova.

Rudolf Beran |  Photo: Czech Radio

It’s not just General Syrový who gets a second chance at redemption. His successor as Prime Minister, Rudolf Beran, who was head of government from December 1938 to April 1939, will also see his case reviewed. Beran received the same judgment as Syrový after the war, but never came out alive from prison. The judges chose to review his case for similar reasons, noting that several witnesses gave depositions in defense of his conduct.

This is not the first time that calls have been made to reconsider the case of Czechoslovakia’s hero-turned-villain. An attempt to rehabilitate him was overturned by the High Court in 1995 and did so again last year. However, with the court finally approving the defense requests, the eye patch general has more hope than ever.

Berta D. Wells