On February 10, 2020 my Czech wife and I went to the Czech House in Jerusalem for a unique book presentation of the former Czech Ambassador to Israel, Mr. Milos Pojar, “T. G. Masaryk and the Jewish question”.
The book and it’s English translation were presented by the next (also former) Czech Ambassador to Israel Mr. Tomáš Pojar (his son).
Additionally, guests from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Professor Shlomo Avineri and Professor Alexander Yakobson joined Mr. Tomáš Pojar for the presentation and following discussion in the Jerusalem Cinematheque.
The book traces the history of the first Czech President TG Masaryk and his connections with the Jewish Czech citizens and his fights against Antisemitism in the period before WW II.
The Czech Republic is viewed by many people as a country with a very long and friendly relationship with Israel.
The Czech lands gave the world many notable supporters of Israel and the Zionist movement. Three of these supporters, in particular, are considered to be the most important for the positive development of relations with Israel and they deserve our attention. The first one is the first Czechoslovak president Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk; The book traces Masaryk’s story.
The second is his son Jan Masaryk; and last, but not least, is Václav Havel, the first democratic president after 1989. All of them played an immensely important role in Czech history, and they were all friends of the Jewish nation. Thanks to these three figures, the history of freedom and democracy in Czech lands is also a history of good relations with Jews and Israel.
In the first half of the 20th century, the first Czechoslovak President Tomáš G. Masaryk was well known for his sympathy toward Zionism. Moreover, long before he became president, he had fought anti-Semitism in the Hilsner Affair in the early 1900s, when Leopold Hilsner, a Jewish vagrant, was falsely accused of murdering a non-Jewish woman for ritual purposes. He was also a staunch sympathizer of the Zionist movement and pleaded for the creation of a Jewish state.
It is also worth mentioning that in 1927 he was one of the first state officials to visit the then-British mandate of Palestine. This event was undoubtedly a great moment for the Zionist cause, even though his visit was unofficial. Thus, the roots of Czech strong pro-Zionist, or pro-Israel, sentiment lie in the thoughts and policies of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who influenced the way of thinking of future generations of democratic politicians in the Czech Republic.
Here is some history on Masaryk for those unfamiliar with him.
Tomáš Masaryk, in full Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, (born March 7, 1850, near Göding, Moravia, Austrian Empire [now Hodonín, Czech Republic]—died Sept. 14, 1937, Lány, Czech.), chief founder and first president (1918–35) of Czechoslovakia.
Masaryk was born to a poor, working-class family in the predominantly Catholic city of Hodonín, Moravia, in Moravian Slovakia (in the present-day Czech Republic, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). The nearby Slovak village of Kopčany, the home of his father Josef, also claims to be his birthplace. Masaryk grew up in the village of Čejkovice, in South Moravia, before moving to Brno to study.
His father, Jozef Masárik, was born in Kopčany (then in the Hungarian part of Austria-Hungary). Jozef Masárik was a carter and, later, the steward and coachman at the imperial estate in nearby town Hodonín. Tomáš’s mother, Teresie Masaryková (née Kropáčková), was a Moravian of Slavic origin who received a German education. A cook at the estate, she met Masárik and they married on 15 August 1849.
During the war, Masaryk’s intelligence network of Czech revolutionaries provided critical intelligence to the allies.
Masaryk formed a good connection with supreme commanders Russian army, Mikhail Alekseyev, Aleksei Brusilov, Nikolay Dukhonin and Mikhail Diterikhs, in Mogilev, from May 1917.
Masaryk traveled to the United States in 1918, where he convinced President Woodrow Wilson of the righteousness of his cause. On 5 May 1918, over 150,000 Chicagoans filled the streets to welcome him; Chicago was the center of Czechoslovak immigration to the United States,
He also had strong links to the United States, with his marriage to an American citizen and his friendship with Chicago industrialist Charles R. Crane, who had Masaryk invited to the University of Chicago and introduced to the highest political circles (including Wilson).
On Chicago meeting in 8 October 1918 Chicago industrialist Samuel Insull introduced him as the president of future Czechoslovak Republik de facto and mentioned his legions.
In 18 October 1918 he submitted to president Thomas Woodrow Wilson “Washington Declaration” (Czechoslovak declaration of independence) created with the help of Masaryk American friends (Louis Brandeis, Ira Bennett, Gutzon Borglum, Franklin K. Lane, Edward House, Herbert Adolphus Miller, Charles W. Nichols, Robert M. Calfee, Frank E. J. Warrick, George W. Stearn and Czech Jaroslav Císař) as the basic document for the foundation of a new independent Czechoslovak state.
Speaking on 26 October 1918 as head of the Mid-European Union in Philadelphia, Masaryk called for the independence of Czechoslovaks and the other oppressed peoples of central Europe.
During this entire Period, he stood up for Jewish rights in Czechoslovakia
Even though the geographical distance between the two countries is more than 2,600 km, no European county is closer in relations with Israel than the Czech Republic.