An Enduring Cold War Mystery

Dear Friends,

From the time I was a youngster I was always riveted by the Cold War controversy surrounding the consequential events that led to the tragic death of Jan Masaryk—Czechoslovakia’s Foreign Minister.  Last week was the 75th anniversary of his murder or suicide on March 10, 1948. I was intrigued by the man for a range of reasons, from the mystery of how he died by “defenestration”—falling from a window—to the ambiguity of “who dun it.” The West proclaimed it was Stalin and his henchman; the Soviets said it was the West. Others said he was depressed, even suicidal. Each scenario was accompanied by an equally plausible rationale.

Jan Masaryk, Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia from July 21, 1940, to March 10, 1948.
By Anonymous –, Public Domain,

I was also fascinated by the burden this charismatic man carried as the son of Czechoslovaks’ beloved first president, Tomáš Masaryk, who established the country as a democracy after World War I. So absorbed was I by the violent passing of son Jan, I had a contract to write a book on the subject—a project I voluntarily abandoned when I was unable to offer any new insights into the Minister’s demise.

Over the years, Masaryk was never far from my mind. I especially loved a large painting of Prague that was hung over the mantelpiece in Ike and Mamie’s drawing room at their Gettysburg Farm, a painting he personally gave my grandfather after World War II. Later it hung in my own den, until recently. In September of last year, I loaned the painting to the Eisenhower Farm where it has been returned to the spot it had occupied during my grandparents’ lifetimes. It was hard to remove that painting from my walls—as if saying goodbye to the Czechoslovak minister himself.

The Prague painting being packed up. Photo by Susan Eisenhower.
The Prague painting at the Eisenhower Farm in Gettysburg. Photo by Susan Eisenhower.

Masaryk’s passing has never been conclusively determined. He found the crushing pressures of his office, just after the war, to be irreconcilable. He was caught in the trap that all nations experience when geographically placed between two ideological giants.

Last week writer and documentarian Ernest Kolowrat, who has lived most of his life in the U.S., wrote a piece for publication in the Czech Republic. In it, he asserts that the West may have done the deed, as Masaryk, in Western capitals, was no longer a trustworthy advocate for their interests. While I was unable to reach that conclusion through my own research, Kolowrat raises compelling questions, garnered in part from Madeleine Albright’s memoir, Prague Winter. Being Czech born gave Kolowrat an advantage I do not have. His father and Jan Masaryk were also friends.

Take a moment to read Ernest Kolowrat’s story, in memory of Jan Masaryk. I, too, will take a moment to remember this dynamic, yet tortured, man.

With best wishes, Susan

“Who was in Fact Responsible for Jan Masaryk’s Death?: Surprising Testimony from Beyond the Grave” by Ernest Kolowrat

One thought on “An Enduring Cold War Mystery

  1. Thank you for this, Susan.  Our daughter, Anna, would regularly see a similar painting of Prague (which is now in our home) when she regularly visited her grandparents.  Grandpa Josef Jezek was a believer in real democracy for Czechoslovakia and along with the painting hanging in their dining room was a picture of President Masaryk.   Craig Law Office of Craig W. Lusthoff 2914 S. Harlem Avenue Riverside, IL 60546

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