Following the German conquest of Poland in September 1939, Svoboda and his men went to the Soviet Union, where he led a Czechoslovak army corps against the Axis powers, becoming a brigadier general in 1943. Sympathetic to the communists, he secretly joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPCz) during the war. In April 1945, President Edvard Beneš appointed Svoboda minister of defense, and Svoboda was promoted to full general in August 1945.
Svoboda officially and publicly joined the CPCz in October 1948, but the party hierarchy did not trust him and made certain that he had little power. During the Stalinist purges, he lost his positions in 1950 and was briefly imprisoned in 1951, after which he returned to his home village.
During his 1954 visit to Prague, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev personally interceded and demanded that Svoboda be politically rehabilitated. Svoboda then became the director of the Klement Gottwald Military Academy, retiring in 1959. A popular war hero, Svoboda was elected president of Czechoslovakia on 30 March 1968 during the Prague Spring.
After the August Warsaw Pact invasion, Svoboda refused to accept a Soviet puppet government or negotiate with the Soviets until he was assured that the leaders of the Prague Spring would not be harmed. So assured, he then agreed to Soviet demands that the Prague Spring reforms be reversed and accepted the normalization of Czechoslovakia, thereby losing much of his credibility. Illness forced his removal from office on 29 May 1975. Svoboda died in Prague on 20 September 1979.
Gregory C. Ference
Fis, Teodor. Mein Kommandeur, General Svoboda: Von Ural zum Hradschin. Vienna, Austria: Europa Verlag, 1969.; Svoboda, Ludvík. Cestami ñivota [The Journeys of My Life]. 2 vols. Prague: Naše Voskso, 1992.