Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Slánský, Rudolf Salzmann (1901–1952)

Czechoslovak communist politician, general-secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPCz) during 1946–1951, and deputy prime minister during 1948–1951. Rudolf Slánský was born into a Jewish family in Nezvěstice, Bohemia, on 31 July 1901. He was a founding member of the CPCz in 1921, becoming editor of its daily newspaper Rudé právo in 1924. Later, he became the Ostrava regional party secretary and joined the Central Committee of the CPCz. He was elected to the National Assembly in 1935.

Following the 1938 Munich Agreement, Slánský moved to the Soviet Union, where he worked with the exiled CPCz in Moscow, becoming a close friend of Czechoslovak leader Klement Gottwald. Slánský returned to occupied Czechoslovakia in 1944 and took part as a partisan in that year's unsuccessful Slovak National Uprising.

After the war, Slánský returned to his seat in the Czechoslovak National Assembly and became the CPCz general secretary in 1946. He played an instrumental role in the CPCz's February 1948 coup, after which he became deputy prime minister. He then helped introduce Stalinism in Czechoslovakia.

In 1951 the Czechoslovak government began a search for scapegoat communist leaders in order to stage Stalinist-style purges and show trials, and Slánský was targeted because of his Jewish background. In September 1951 he was removed as CPCz general secretary and stripped of the deputy premiership. Two months later he was arrested on charges of being a Zionist, spying for the West, and conspiring to assassinate President Gottwald.

After enduring psychological and physical torture, Slánský was placed on trial. His show trial, along with those of thirteen other former high-ranking CPCz members, took place in November 1952. Eleven of the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. Slánský was hanged in Prague on 3 December 1952. He received posthumous rehabilitation in 1963, and his party membership was restored in 1968.

Gregory C. Ference


Further Reading
London, Artur. On Trial. Translated by Alastair Hamilton. London: Macdonald, 1970.; Slánská, Josefa. Report on My Husband. Translated by Edith Pargeter. New York: Atheneum, 1969.
 

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