Slánský trial

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The official 1953 protocol, printed in Prague in at least seven languages (pictured in German)

The Slánský trial (officially Proces s protistátním spikleneckým centrem Rudolfa Slánského meaning "Trial of anti-state conspiracy centered around Rudolf Slánský") was a show trial against elements of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) who were thought to have adopted the line of the maverick Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito.[1] On 20 November 1952, Rudolf Slánský, General Secretary of the KSČ, and thirteen other leading party members, were accused of participating in a Trotskyite-Titoite-Zionist conspiracy and convicted: eleven including Slánský were hanged in Prague on December 3,[2] and three were sentenced to life imprisonment. The state prosecutor at the trial in Prague was Josef Urválek.[3]


The trial was the result of a split within the Communist leadership on the degree to which the state should emulate the Soviet Union, and was part of a Joseph Stalin-inspired purge of "disloyal" elements in the national Communist parties in Central Europe, as well as a purge of Jews from the leadership of Communist parties. Klement Gottwald, president of Czechoslovakia and leader of the Communist Party, feared being purged, and decided to sacrifice Slánský, a longtime collaborator and personal friend who was the second-in-command of the party. The others were picked to convey a clear threat to different groups in the state bureaucracy. A couple of them (Šváb, Reicin) were brutal sadists conveniently added for a more realistic show.[3]

The trial was orchestrated (and the subsequent terror staged in Czechoslovakia) on the order of Moscow leadership by Soviet advisors, who were invited by Rudolf Slánský and Klement Gottwald, with the help of the Czechoslovak State Security personnel following the László Rajk trial in Budapest in September 1949.[4]

Those put on trial confessed to all crimes (under duress or after torture) and were sentenced to punishment. Slánský attempted suicide while in prison. The people of Czechoslovakia signed petitions asking for death for the alleged traitors.[3] Apropos of the conspiracy theories of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, prosecutors claimed that a "Zionist-Imperialist" summit had taken place in Washington DC in April 1947 with President Truman, undersecretary of state Dean Acheson, former treasury secretary Henry Morgenthau Jr, David Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharret in attendance. The conspiracy charged that defendants were acting in accordance with a so called "Morgenthau Plan" to commit espionage and sabotage against Czechoslovakia for the US in exchange for American support for Israel. Ironically most of the defendants were known to be ardent anti-Zionists.[5]

After the deaths of both Stalin and Gottwald in March 1953, the harshness of the persecutions slowly decreased, and the victims of the trial quietly received amnesty one by one, including those who had survived the Prague Trial. Later, the official historiography of the Communist Party was rather quiet on the trial, vaguely putting blame on errors that happened as a result of a "cult of personality". Many other political trials followed on, sending many innocent victims to jail and hard labour in Jáchymov uranium mines and labour camps.[4]

List of the main defendants[edit]

Slánský at the trial


Czechoslovak President Ludvík Svoboda honoured several defendants on 30 April 1968:[9]


The Slánský trial was dramatised in the 1970 film L'Aveu ("The Confession"), directed by Costa-Gavras and starring Yves Montand and Simone Signoret. The film was based on the book of the same name by Artur London, who was a survivor of the trial.[10]

The Slánský trial is a key element of the book Under a Cruel Star. A memoir by Heda Margolius Kovály, the book follows the life of a Jewish woman, starting with her escape from a concentration camp during World War II, up until her departure from Czechoslovakia after the Warsaw Pact countries invasion of 1968. Kovály's husband, Rudolf Margolius, a fellow Holocaust survivor, was one of the 11 men executed during the Slánský trial.[11] More encompassing information is available in the more recent book Hitler, Stalin and I, an interview of Heda Margolius Kovály by Helena Třeštíková published in 2018.[12]

See also another book about the Slánský trial by the son of Rudolf Margolius, Ivan Margolius: Reflections of Prague: Journeys through the 20th Century (ISBN 0470022191).[4]

The Slánský trial is the subject of the documentary A Trial in Prague, directed by Zuzana Justman (2000, 83min).

In April 2018 The Guardian reported that original film of the Slánský trial had been found near Prague.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Igor Lukes, "The Rudolf Slansky Affair", Slavic Review, Spring 1999
  2. ^ Brent, Jonathan and Naumov, Vladimir P., Stalin's Last Crime, John Murray (Publishers), London, 2003, page 191
  3. ^ a b c Kaplan, Karel (1990). Report on the Murder of the General Secretary. London: I. B. Tauris & Co. ISBN 1-85043-211-2.
  4. ^ a b c Margolius, Ivan (2006). Reflections of Prague: Journeys Through the 20th Century. London: Wiley. ISBN 0-470-02219-1.
  5. ^ Antisemitism and the American Far Left, Stephen H. Norwood, Cambridge University Press, 2013, ISBN 978-1-107-65700-7, pp155-157.
  6. ^ Martin Wein: A History of Czechs and Jews: A Slavic Jerusalem (Routledge Jewish Studies Series, 2015) ISBN 978-1138811652
  7. ^ Wein, Martin (11 February 2015). "A History of Czechs and Jews: A Slavic Jerusalem". Routledge – via Google Books.
  8. ^ Ministerstvo spravedlnosti, Proces s vedením protistátního spikleneckého centra v čele s Rudollfem Slánským, Orbis Praha 1953
  9. ^ Rudé Právo, 30. 4. 1968
  10. ^ London, Artur (1971). Confession. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-22170-2.
  11. ^ Margolius Kovály, Heda. Under A Cruel Star - A Life in Prague 1941-1968. London: Granta. ISBN 978-1-84708-476-7.
  12. ^ Margolius Kovály, Heda and Třeštíková, Helena. Hitler, Stalin and I. Los Angeles: DoppelHouse Press. ISBN 978-0-9987770-0-9.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Tait, Robert (8 April 2018). "Czechs discover hidden film record of Stalin's antisemitic show trial". the Guardian.