Jan Syrový in 1938
|Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia|
22 September 1938 – 1 December 1938
|Preceded by||Milan Hodža|
|Succeeded by||Rudolf Beran|
24 January 1888|
Třebíč, Moravia, Austria-Hungary
17 October 1970 (aged 82)|
Early life and military career
Jan Syrový studied building at a technical school. Following his graduation in 1906, he became a one-year volunteer in the Austro-Hungarian army. After that, he studied at a technical college in Russia. During World War I, he fought in the Czechoslovak Legions of the Russian army and lost his right eye in the Battle of Zborov. By the end of the war he commanded the Legions and anti-Bolshevik forces on the Trans-Siberian railway. A well-known veteran commander, he served as Chief of Staff of the Czechoslovak Army from 1926 to 1933 and as is general inspector from 1933 to 1938. During this time, helped to prepare the Czechoslovak Air Force with the collaboration of Jan Antonín Baťa and moved military personnel and materials away from Nazi Germany.
Premiership and the "Munich Crisis"
When Milan Hodža's government resigned on 23 September 1938, Syrový was appointed Prime Minister of a national unity government, despite his objections. Syrový had insisted he was just a soldier, not a politician, and that he lacked the qualifications and relevant experience to qualify him for such an important post. President Edvard Beneš told him that the nation needed him and that, as a soldier, he should regard it as an order. With some reluctance, Syrový then accepted, and also took the defence portfolio as well.
As Prime Minister, he was forced to accept the terms of the Munich Agreement on 30 September. In a speech to the nation, he stated Czechoslovakia had no choice but to accept the terms because without British or French support, the country was outnumbered and any conflict would result in severe casualties. "We were abandoned," he said. "We stand alone."  Following the resignation of President Edvard Beneš on 5 October, Syrový temporarily took over some presidential duties (in accord with the Czechoslovak Constitution) until Emil Hácha was duly elected President on 30 November 1938.
He resigned the premiership on 1 December 1938, remaining as Minister of National Defence until 27 April 1939. He did not join the anti-German resistance as he was too well-known a figure for his involvement to be anything other than a liability. However, he did arrange the transfer of substantial sums from a Legionary relief fund to assist the resistance and people facing persecution.
On 14 May 1945, in the immediate aftermath of the war, Syrový was arrested, charged with collaboration (although he had consciously steered clear of this, as far as his office allowed). In a show-trial of alleged collaborators in 1947, the National Court found him guilty (along with Rudolf Beran) and sentenced him to twenty years imprisonment in severe conditions.
Released in 1960 by Novotný's amnesty, Syrový was left with no pension or any means of maintenance. Additionally, the communist regime barred him from employment. Eventually he was allowed to work as a night watchman, ironically guarding Marold's panorama of the Battle of Lipany. Not until late 1967 did the regime grant him a limited retirement pension.
Syrový was deeply wounded by the verdict of the National Court and remained so for the rest of his life. His own conscience was clear and he never came to terms with the apparent injustice of the decision. He reviewed his trial in an interview for the Report Magazine in 1968 and stated that there were three critical pieces of evidence laid against him. Firstly, a snapshot of himself shaking hands with Hitler, during a meeting he was obliged to attend at the Prague Castle. Hitler had made a speech of reassurance as to Czechoslovakia's future under the 'protection' of the Reich; he then held out his hand to Syrový and the photographers immediately took a picture. Another photo provided the second piece of evidence: this photograph was taken at a government banquet and showed Syrový sat alongside Henlein. Syrový stated that the picture was taken out of context, to be used for Nazi propaganda. The final piece of critical evidence was an arms contract with the Nazis. Syrový stated the weapons sold had been obsolete items from the First World War, which were no longer of any use to Czechoslovakia and that the weapons had been sold to German private companies; in addition, he stated that, ultimately, the decision to sell was made not just by him, but by the government as a whole. Syrový felt that had the allies of Czechoslovakia offered their promised help, he would never have had to agree to the Munich Dictate, but that, under the circumstances, the Czechoslovak Army on its own had no chance of success.
Syrový died on 17 October 1970.
Awarded by Belgium:
Awarded by Czechoslovakia:
- Czechoslovak War Cross 1918: with four linden branches 
- Order of the Falcon: with swords 
- Czechoslovak Revolutionary Medal 1914-18 with clasps: "Č.D.", "Zborov" and numbers "1", "2" 
- Czechoslovak Medal of Victory 1918 
Awarded by Estonia:
Awarded by France:
- Légion d'honneur, in the grade of: Grand Officier 
- Croix de Guerre 1914-18: with palme 
Awarded by Italy:
Awarded by Japan:
Awarded by Yugoslavia:
- Order of St. Sava: I. class 
- Order of the White Eagle: I. class 
- Order of the White Eagle: II. class 
- Order of the Karađorđe's Star with Swords : II. class 
Awarded by Lithuania:
Awarded by Latvia:
Awarded by Morocco:
Awarded by Poland:
Awarded by Romania:
- Order of the Star of Romania: I. class 
- Order of the Crown: II. class 
- Order of Loyal Service: I. class 
- Remembrance Cross 1916-19: with the clasp: "Siberia" 
Awarded by Imperial Russia:
- Order of St. Vladimir: IV. class 
- Order of St. Anne: IV. class 
- Order of Saint Stanislaus (Imperial House of Romanov): III. class 
- Cross of St. George: IV. class 
Awarded by Greece:
Awarded by Tunisia:
Awarded by Great Britain:
- (in Czech) Short biography
- Newspaper clippings about Jan Syrový in the 20th Century Press Archives of the German National Library of Economics (ZBW)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Jan Syrový.|
| Minister of Defence of Czechoslovakia
| Minister of Defence of Czechoslovakia
(after World War II)
| Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia
| President of Czechoslovakia (acting)