Edvard Beneš

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Edvard Beneš
Edvard Beneš.jpg
Beneš, c. 1942
2nd & 4th President of Czechoslovakia
In office
2 April 1945 – 7 June 1948
Prime Minister Zdeněk Fierlinger
Klement Gottwald
Preceded by Emil Hácha
Succeeded by Klement Gottwald
In office
18 December 1935 – 5 October 1938
Prime Minister Milan Hodža
Jan Syrový
Preceded by Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
Succeeded by Emil Hácha
President of Czechoslovakia in exile
In office
October 1939 – 2 April 1945
Prime Minister Jan Šrámek
4th Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia
In office
26 September 1921 – 7 October 1922
President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
Preceded by Jan Černý
Succeeded by Antonín Švehla
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Czechoslovakia
In office
14 November 1918 – 18 December 1935
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Milan Hodža
Personal details
Born (1884-05-28)28 May 1884
Kožlany, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary
Died 3 September 1948(1948-09-03) (aged 64)
Sezimovo Ústí, Czechoslovakia
Political party Realist Party
National Social Party
Spouse(s) Hana Benešová (1885-1974)
Alma mater Charles University in Prague
University of Paris
Paris Institute of Political Studies
Beneš with his wife, 1921, autochrome portrait by Josef Jindřich Šechtl.

Edvard Beneš, sometimes anglicised to Edward Benesh (Czech pronunciation: [ˈɛdvard ˈbɛnɛʃ] (About this sound listen); 28 May 1884 – 3 September 1948), was a Czech politician and statesman who was President of Czechoslovakia from 1935 to 1938 and again from 1945 to 1948. As President, Beneš faced two major crises which both resulted in his resignation, his first resignation came after the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938 which resulted in forming of Czechoslovak government in exile and the second regarding the 1948 communist coup d'état. He was also Minister of Foreign Affairs (1918–1935) and 4th Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia (1921–1922). A member of the Czechoslovak National Social Party, he was known as a skilled diplomat.[1]

Early life[edit]

He was born into a peasant family in 1884 in the small town of Kožlany, Bohemia, in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was the son of Matěj Beneš (1843–1910) and wife Anna Petronila (1840–1909),[2][3] his brother was the Czechoslovak politician Vojta Beneš. His nephew Bohuš Beneš, a diplomat and son of his brother Václav, was the father of Emilie Benes Brzezinski and Václav E. Beneš, a Czech-American mathematician.[4]


Beneš spent much of his youth in the Vinohrady district of Prague, where he attended a grammar school from 1896 to 1904, he then played association football for Slavia Prague.[5] After studies at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Charles University in Prague, he left for Paris and continued his studies at the Sorbonne and at the École libre des sciences politiques (Independent School of Political and Social Studies). He completed his first degree in Dijon, where he received his doctorate of law in 1908, he then taught for three years at the Prague Academy of Commerce, and after his 1912 habilitation in philosophy, he became a lecturer in sociology at Charles University. He was also involved in scouting.[6]

Independence activities[edit]

During World War I, Beneš was one of the leading organizers of an independent Czechoslovakia from abroad, he organized a pro-independence and anti-Austrian secret resistance movement, Maffia. In September 1915, he went into exile, and in Paris, he made intricate diplomatic efforts to gain recognition from France and the United Kingdom for Czechoslovak independence, from 1916 to 1918, he was a Secretary of the Czechoslovak National Council in Paris and Minister of the Interior and of Foreign Affairs in the Provisional Czechoslovak government.

In May 1918, Beneš, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and Milan Rastislav Štefánik were reported to be organizing a Czecho-Slovak army to fight for the Western Allies in France, recruited from among Czechs and Slovaks who were able to get to the front and also from the large emigrant populations in the United States, which was said to number more than 1,500,000.[7] The force grew into one of tens of thousands and took part in several battles, including the Battles of Zborov and Bakhmach.

Independent country[edit]

From 1918 to 1935, Beneš was the first and longest-serving Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia. His international stature was such that he held the post through 10 successive governments, one of which that he headed himself from 1921 to 1922, he served in parliament from 1920 to 1925 and from 1929 to 1935. He represented Czechoslovakia at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919, he briefly returned to the academic world as a professor, in 1921.

Between 1923 and 1927, he was a member of the League of Nations Council, serving as president of its committee from 1927 to 1928, he was a renowned and influential figure at international conferences, such as those at Genoa in 1922, Locarno in 1925, The Hague in 1930 and Lausanne in 1932.

Beneš was a member of the Czechoslovak National Social Party, called the Czechoslovak Social Party until 1925. A strong Czechoslovakist, he did not consider Slovaks and Czechs to be separate ethnicities.

First presidency[edit]

When President Tomáš Masaryk retired in 1935, Beneš was the obvious choice as his successor.[citation needed]

He opposed Nazi Germany's claim to the German-speaking Sudetenland in 1938; in October 1938, Italy, France and the United Kingdom signed the Munich Agreement, which allowed for the annexation and the military occupation of the Sudetenland by Germany. Czechoslovakia was not consulted. Beneš agreed, despite opposition from within his country, after France and the United Kingdom warned that they would remain neutral, despite their previous promises, in a war between Germany and Czechoslovakia.[8]

Beneš was forced to resign on 5 October 1938, under German pressure,[8] and was replaced by Emil Hácha. In March 1939, Hácha's government was bullied into allowing the German occupation of the remaining Czech territory. (Slovakia had already declared its nominal independence.)[citation needed]

Renewed exile[edit]

Czechoslovak Brigade Group parade visited by Winston Churchill, September 1943

On 22 October 1938, Beneš went into exile in Putney, London; in October 1939, he organised the Czechoslovak National Liberation Committee. In November 1940, in the wake of the London Blitz, Beneš, his wife, their nieces and his household staff moved to the Abbey at Aston Abbotts, near Aylesbury, in Buckinghamshire. The staff of his private office, including his secretary, Edvard Táborský, and his chief of staff, Jaromír Smutný, moved to the Old Manor House, in the neighbouring village of Wingrave, and his military intelligence staff, headed by František Moravec, was stationed in the nearby village of Addington. In 1940, the United Kingdom recognised the National Liberation Committee as the Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile, with Jan Šrámek as prime minister and Beneš as president. In reclaiming the presidency, Beneš took the line that his 1938 resignation had been under duress and so was void.

In 1941, Beneš and František Moravec planned Operation Anthropoid to assassinate Reinhard Heydrich[9] a high-ranking German official who was responsible for suppressing Czech culture and deporting and executing members of the Czech resistance. Upon learning of the nature of the mission, resistance leaders begged the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to call off the attack, saying that "An attempt against Heydrich's life... would be of no use to the Allies and its consequences for our people would be immeasurable."[10] Beneš personally broadcast a message insisting that the attack go forwards,[10] although he denied any involvement after the war.[11] Professor Vojtěch Mastný argues that he "clung to the scheme as the last resort to dramatize Czech resistance."[11] The 1942 assassination resulted in brutal German reprisals such as the execution of thousands of Czechs and the eradication of two villages: Lidice and Ležáky.

Although not a Communist, Beneš was also on friendly terms with Stalin. Believing that Czechoslovakia had more to gain from an alliance with the Soviet Union than one with Poland, he torpedoed plans for a Polish-Czechoslovak confederation and in 1943, he signed an entente with the Soviets.[12][13][14]

Much controversy remains on the character and the policy of Benes. [15] According to SVR, Beneš had closely co-operated with the Soviet intelligence before the war especially with Soviet agent Pyotr Zubov.[16]

Second presidency[edit]

Beneš' return to Prague, 16 May 1945

After the Prague uprising at the end of World War II, Beneš returned home and resumed his former position as President, he was unanimously confirmed in office the National Assembly on 28 October 1945. Article 58.5 of the Constitution said, "The former president shall stay in his or her function till the new president shall be elected". On 19 June 1946, Beneš was formally elected to his second term as President.[17]

Beneš was strongly opposed to the presence of Germans in the liberated republic. Believing that vigilante justice would be less divisive than trials, upon his arrival in Prague on May 10, he called for the "liquidation" of Germans and Hungarians "in the interest of a united national state of Czechs and Slovaks."[18] The Beneš decrees (officially called "Decrees of the President of the Republic"), among other things, expropriated the property of citizens of German and Hungarian ethnicity and facilitated Article 12 of the Potsdam Agreement by laying down a national legal framework for the loss of citizenship[citation needed] and the expropriation of about three million Germans and Hungarians.

Beneš presided over a coalition government, the National Front, from 1946 headed by Communist leader Klement Gottwald as prime minister. On 21 February 1948, 12 non-Communist ministers resigned to protest Gottwald's refusal to stop the packing of the police with Communists despite the majority of the Cabinet having ordered it to end, the non-Communists believed that Beneš would side with them to allow them to stay in office as a caretaker government until new elections.

Beneš initially refused to accept their resignations and insisted that no government could be formed without the non-Communist parties. However, Gottwald had by this time dropped all pretense of working within the system, he threatened a general strike unless Beneš appointed a Communist-dominated government. The Communists also occupied the offices of the non-Communists who had resigned. Amid fears that civil war was imminent and rumours that the Red Army would sweep in to back Gottwald, Beneš gave way, on 25 February, he accepted the resignations of the non-Communist ministers and appointed a new government in accordance with Gottwald's specifications. It was nominally still a coalition but was dominated by Communists and fellow travelers; in effect, he had given legal sanction to a Communist coup d'état.

Shortly afterward, elections were held in which voters were presented with a single list from the National Front, now a Communist-dominated organization, the newly elected National Assembly approved the Ninth-of-May Constitution shortly after it had been sworn in. Although it was not a completely Communist document, it was close enough to the Soviet Constitution that Beneš refused to sign it, he resigned as President on 7 June 1948, and Gottwald took over most presidential functions until being elected his successor a week later.


Beneš had been in poor health since two strokes in 1947 and was even more broken after he had seen the undoing of his life's work, he died of natural causes at his villa in Sezimovo Ústí in 1948.[2] He is interred in the garden of his villa, and his bust is part of the gravestone, his wife, who lived until 2 December 1974, is interred next to him.

In fiction[edit]

In 1933, H. G. Wells wrote The Shape of Things to Come, a prediction of World War II. In Wells' depiction, the war starts in 1940 and drags on until 1950, and Czechoslovakia avoids being occupied by Germany, with Beneš remaining its president throughout the war. Wells assigns to Beneš the role of initiating a ceasefire, and the book, supposedly written in the 22nd century, remarks, "The Beneš Suspension of Hostilities remains in force to this day".

In Prague Counterpoint, the second volume of Bodie and Brock Thoene's Zion Covenant Series, Hitler plots to kill Beneš by an assassin, who is tackled by an American journalist and captured by Beneš's bodyguards. Hitler later uses the execution of the Sudeten assassin to proclaim him a martyr, as a continuing fuse to the Sudeten Crisis.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Edvard Benes – Prague Castle". Hrad.cz. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Dennis Kavanagh (1998). "Benes, Edvard". A Dictionary of Political Biography. Oxford University Press. p. 43. Retrieved 31 August 2013.  – via Questia (subscription required)
  3. ^ Jandík, Stanislav (7 April 2018). "Edvard Beneš ve vzpomínkách svých aourozenců". Volné myšlenky. Retrieved 7 April 2018 – via Google Books. 
  4. ^ Princeton Alumni Weekly – Knihy Google. Books.google.cz. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  5. ^ "Radio Praha – Stalo se před 100 lety: Robinson a Beneš". Radio.cz. 28 April 2001. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  6. ^ "Skauting »Historie". Junák – svaz skautů a skautek ČR (in Czech). Retrieved 23 September 2007. 
  7. ^ 'Czech Army for France' in The Times, Thursday, 23 May 1918, p. 6, col. F
  8. ^ a b William Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Touchstone Edition) (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990)
  9. ^ "HISTORIE: Špion, kterému nelze věřit – Neviditelný pes". Neviditelnypes.lidovky.cz. 14 March 2008. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  10. ^ a b Mastný 1971, p. 209.
  11. ^ a b Mastný 1971, p. 210.
  12. ^ Andrea Orzoff. Battle for the Castle. Oxford University Press US. p. 199. ISBN 978-0-19-974568-5. Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  13. ^ A. T. Lane; Elżbieta Stadtmüller (2005). Europe on the move: the impact of Eastern enlargement on the European Union. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 190. ISBN 978-3-8258-8947-0. Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  14. ^ Roy Francis Leslie; R. F. Leslie (1983). The History of Poland since 1863. Cambridge University Press. p. 242. ISBN 978-0-521-27501-9. Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  15. ^ Taborsky, Edward (1 July 1958). "The Triumph and Disaster of Eduard Benes". Retrieved 7 April 2018 – via www.foreignaffairs.com. 
  16. ^ http://opensources.info/was-late-czechoslovak-president-benes-soviet-agent-press/
  17. ^ "Prozatimní NS RČS 1945–1946, 2. schůze, část 1/4 (28. 10. 1945)". Psp.cz. Retrieved 19 November 2013. 
  18. ^ Frommer, Benjamin (2005). National Cleansing: Retribution Against Nazi Collaborators in Postwar Czechoslovakia. Cambridge University Press. pp. 41–3. ISBN 9780521008969. 


Primary sources[edit]

  • Hauner, Milan, ed. Edvard Beneš’ Memoirs: the days of Munich (vol.1), War and Resistance (vol.2), Documents (vol.3). First critical edition of reconstructed War Memoirs 1938–45 of President Beneš of Czechoslovakia (published by Academia Prague 2007. ISBN 978-80-200-1529-7)

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
Position established
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Czechoslovakia
Succeeded by
Milan Hodža
Political offices
Preceded by
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
President of Czechoslovakia
Succeeded by
Emil Hácha
Klement Gottwald
Preceded by
Emil Hácha
President of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile
Succeeded by
Position abolished
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Marshal Ferdinand Foch
Cover of Time Magazine
23 March 1925
Succeeded by
George Harold Sisler