Czech Radio has received a unique sound recording of events surrounding the mysterious death of Jan Masaryk, the son of Czechoslovakia’s first president. The beloved foreign minister was found dead in the courtyard beneath his apartment window two weeks after the Communist coup of February 1948.
The official line was that Jan Masaryk had committed suicide by jumping out of the bathroom window of his apartment at Černín Palace, the seat of the foreign ministry. The authorities insisted he was suffering from depression and insomnia, fuelled by recriminations from England and America for choosing to remain in the new Communist-led government.
A police inspector named Vilibald Hofmann was among the first called to the scene on 10 March 1948. Twenty years later, in the era of the Prague Spring reforms, the Prosecutor General reinvestigated the case and called him in for questioning. If he had ever truly believed that Masaryk committed suicide, Hofmann left the office with clear doubts.
In May 1968, Hofmann took the risk of recording his impressions on audio tape in the kitchen of Jindřich Grulich, who was married to the police inspector’s cousin and a trusted friend. Mr Grulich, now 95, recalls the circumstances.
“They [the Prosecutor’s Office] asked him if he saw how Masaryk was lying there on the ground. They asked him, ‘Didn’t you notice the scene was being photographed?’ And Hofmann thought, ‘If I tell them no-one was taking pictures, they won’t show me anything’. So he said, ‘I suppose so.’
“When they showed him the photo, he thought, ‘It’s not the original. It’s been altered.’ He was immediately convinced it was done later.”
Hofmann’s kitchen recording is about 20 minutes long in total. In it, he describes everything he remembers happening in 1948 – much of which differs from official records. In one except, the police inspector recalls how the first doctor to examine Masaryk’s body believed he had died many hours earlier.
“Dr. Teplý determined death had come four to six hours earlier...”
His findings contradicted the official Communist line and findings by the doctor who performed Masaryk’s autopsy. (Dr. Teplý was later also found dead – in another contested “suicide”.)
Václava Jandečková, who wrote a book on new findings in the Masaryk case based in part on archives from the Communist-era secret police, is the first historical researcher to have heard the tapes.
“In the recording, Vilibald Hofmann draws attention to details that should lead us to the reality of what did or did not happen. He describes how the body was examined, noting the time frame is important.”
Hofmann does not explicitly say on tape that he believed Masaryk had been murdered. But he makes clear photographic and written evidence was intentionally suppressed or fabricated, Jandečková says.
“I’m now comparing what he says on the recording with documents from March 1948 and the Prosecutor’s Office archives. Already in 1968, he said the official photographs did not correspond to reality. And that the notes he took at the Černín Palace scene were ripped from his hand.”
Police closed the Jan Masaryk case in 2004 with a new verdict: at least one other person contributed to his fall from the bathroom window. But with Russian authorities refusing to provide materials that could help identify a killer, a definitive conclusion remains elusive.
Based on the Hofmann recording, however, the researcher Jandečková has filed a motion with the Prague Prosecutor's Office to reopen the investigation.
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