For some reason that I am unlikely to ever truly understand, I am attracted to danger. In other words, I feel most alive in moments most people dread. History is one way for me to satisfy my affinity for danger. I find reading about people in grave danger a source of fascination. That was how I came across stories from one of the most frightening places on earth during the 20th century. It had been said that fear ran so deep in the Soviet Union during the Stalinist era, that people kept a bag packed with clothing just in case they were arrested., The arrests usually happened at night. The potential arrestee might hear a car pull up to their flat or house. This would be followed by a knock at the door.
Opening the door, they would be met by NKVD agents (precursor to the KGB) who had come to take them away. Sometimes people did not answer the door. When the NKVD agents broke through the door, they would find an open window. The person being arrested had jumped out the window. In some cases, they were trying to escape. In other cases, they were committing suicide. Some people would even jump out a window to their death as soon as they heard a car pull up. They had no idea whether it was the NKVD or not, but they many did not care to find out. If there is a greater definition of fear than that, I have not heard of one.
Sheer Despair – An Open Window
We will probably never know if Jan Masaryk, the Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia, had a similar experience to Soviet citizens during the Stalinist era. It is plausible because of what happened the night of March 10, 1948, when Masaryk was either killed or killed himself. There were only two ways about it. Differentiating between the two has always been and will likely always be the problem. Was he aware that someone was coming to kill him? Did he hear a car pull up? Footsteps on the way to his residence? In Masaryk’s case. that someone would likely have been the NKVD or people trained by the NKVD not to arrest Masaryk, but to kill him. They would have been told to make it look like an accident.
Then again, Masaryk may have opened a window and jumped, not to flee, but to commit suicide out of sheer despair. Whatever the case, Masaryk’s body was discovered in the courtyard of Czernin Palace below the second story window to his bathroom. He was dressed in his pajamas, but in this case, Masaryk was not going to bed, he was going to be dead. Since that fateful morning when Masaryk’s body was discovered, there has been speculation about whether he committed suicide or was murdered. Circumstantial evidence points to the latter, but we will probably never know the truth. That has not kept people from having strong opinions on both sides of the matter. Theories of what happened to Masaryk continue to circulate today.
The Fall Guy – Push Comes To Shove
Jan Masaryk did not seem like a candidate for suicide. He was a level headed, fair minded diplomat, whose sense of duty to Czechoslovakia meant that he stayed in the government long after those opposed to its takeover by the communists had resigned. Masaryk was determined to do right by Czechoslovakia. That determination led to his death. Proponents of the theory that Masaryk committed suicide believe that he killed himself out of despair. Those who were close to him in the days leading up to the incident say that Masaryk had grown increasingly despondent over the communist takeover of Czechoslovakia and came to the realization that his position was hopeless. The official determination said as much, but since this came from the communist government many believe that it was a lie. Yet Masaryk’s own secretary believed suicide was the only explanation.
The counterargument is even more compelling. It states something to the effect that Masaryk was thrown out of the window to his death. Some have even called it the “Fourth Defenestration of Prague”, an allusion to the three times in history when crowds took matters into their own hands and tossed officials out the Town Hall window. Whereas those incidents were a case of Hussites or Protestants versus Catholics, in the case of Masaryk, it was ideology rather than religion which formed the basis for his murder. Stalinism was the most virulent strain of communism, one that would not tolerate any opposition. Masaryk’s mere presence in the government was a barrier to creating a totalitarian state. As such, he had to be pushed (quite literally) out of the way or more to the point, out of the window. When push came to shove, Masaryk became the fall guy.
The Only Way Out – Death & Dishonor
Those who believe Masaryk was murdered by the NKVD or agents trained by them, point to his size. It would have been difficult for the heavyset Masaryk to climb out the window. And if he did jump, a forensic study done in 2004 shows that he would not have landed where he did. This points to Masaryk being forced out the window and tossed to an ignominious death. The proponents of this theory also point to feces being smeared about the bathroom. It is highly doubtful that Masaryk would have smeared feces before deciding to depart from the world. Another piece of circumstantial evidence concerned the fact that Masaryk had openly stated he would be traveling to London the next day.
The last thing the communists wanted was Masaryk in Great Britain fulminating against the communist takeover of the Czechoslovak government. This may have been the communist’s last chance to rid themselves of Masaryk.
Throwing him out the window was a convenient way of making the death look like a suicide. The communists then turned the entire suicide story on its head. They claimed that the western world had driven Masaryk to despair by harshly criticizing him for staying in his cabinet position. The National Front government was a mouthpiece for Czechoslovakia’s communists. This theory seems like a stretch. Masaryk felt he had to stay in the government or even worse would come after him. He, like all Czechoslovak citizens, was in no position to protest the prevailing government narrative. They knew that arrest or worse awaited anyone who did not tow the party line. If they had any doubts, the death of Masaryk reminded them of what could happen to dissenters. It may have looked like an accident, but the message was clear. Death was the only way out in communist Czechoslovakia.