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Edvard Beneš

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Edvard Beneš

Edvard Beneš
President of Czechoslovakia
In office
18 December 1935 – 5 October 1938
Preceded by Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
Succeeded by Emil Hácha
President of Czechoslovakia in exile
In office
1940 – 2 April 1945
President of Czechoslovakia
In office
28 October 1945 – 7 June 1948
Preceded by Emil Hácha
Succeeded by Klement Gottwald
Prime Minister of Czechoslovakia
In office
26 September 1921 – 7 October 1922
Preceded by Jan Černý
Succeeded by Antonín Švehla
Personal details
Born (1884-05-28)28 May 1884
Kožlany, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary
Died 3 September 1948(1948-09-03) (aged 64)
Sezimovo Ústí, Czechoslovakia
(now Czech Republic)
Political party Czechoslovak
National Socialist Party
Spouse(s) Hana Benešová
Edvard Beneš with wife 1921, autochrome portrait by Josef Jindřich Šechtl
Edvard Beneš with his wife 1934
Statue of Edvard Beneš in front of headquarters of Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Prague
Edvard Benes blue plaque, 26 Gwendolen Avenue, Putney
26 Gwendolen Avenue, Putney

Edvard Beneš (Czech pronunciation:  ( ); 17 May 1884 – 3 September 1948) was a leader of the Czechoslovak independence movement, Minister of Foreign Affairs and the second President of Czechoslovakia from 1935 to 1938 and again from 1940 to 1948. He was known as a skilled diplomat.[1]

Early life and education

Edvard Beneš was born into a peasant family in the small town of Kožlany, Bohemia, on 17 May 1884.[2] His brother was the Czechoslovak politician Vojta Beneš, grandfather of Emilie Benes Brzezinski. His grandnephew is Václav Edvard Beneš, a Czech-American mathematician.[3]

Edvard spent much of his youth in the Vinohrady district of Prague, where he attended a grammar school from 1896 to 1904. During this time he played football for Slavia Prague.[4] After studies at the Faculty of Philosophy of the Charles University in Prague, he left for Paris and continued his studies at the Sorbonne and at the Independent School of Political and Social Studies (École Libre des Sciences Politiques). He completed his first degree in Dijon, where he received his doctorate of law in 1908. Then he taught for three years at the Prague Academy of Commerce, and after his habilitation in the field of philosophy in 1912, he became a lecturer in sociology at Charles University. He was involved in Scouting.[5]

First exile

During exile, and in Paris he made intricate diplomatic efforts to gain recognition from France and the United Kingdom for the Czechoslovak independence movement. From 1916–1918 he was a Secretary of the Czechoslovak National Council in Paris and Minister of the Interior and of Foreign Affairs in the Provisional Czechoslovak government.

In May 1918, Beneš, Czecho-Slovak army to fight for the Western Allies in France, recruited from among Czechs and Slovaks able to get to the front and also from the large emigrant populations in the United States, said to number more than 1,500,000.[6]


From 1918–1935, Beneš was the first and longest serving Foreign Minister of Czechoslovakia, a post he held through 10 successive governments—one of which he headed himself from 1921 to 1922. He served in parliament from 1920–1925 and from 1929–1935. He represented Czechoslovakia in talks on the Treaty of Versailles. He briefly returned to the academic world as a professor in 1921.

Between 1923–1927 he was a member of the League of Nations Council (serving as president of its committee from 1927–1928). He was a renowned and influential figure at international conferences, such as those at Genoa in 1922, Locarno in 1925, The Hague in 1930, and Lausanne in 1932.

Beneš was a member of the Czechoslovak National Socialist Party (until 1925 called the Czechoslovak Socialist Party) and a strong Czechoslovakist - he did not consider Slovaks and Czechs to be separate ethnicities.

First presidency

When President Tomáš Masaryk retired in 1935, Beneš was the obvious choice as his successor. He opposed Nazi Germany's claim to the German-speaking Sudetenland in 1938. In October 1938 Italy, France and Great Britain signed the Munich Agreement, which allowed for the immediate annexation and military occupation of the Sudetenland by Germany. Czechoslovakia was not even consulted on this agreement. Beneš was all but forced to agree to it after France and the United Kingdom let it be known that if he did not do so, they would disinterest themselves in the fate of Czechoslovakia.

Beneš was forced to resign on 5 October 1938 under German pressure, and Emil Hácha was chosen as President. In March 1939, Hácha's government was bullied into authorising the German occupation of the remaining Czech territory. (Slovakia had declared its nominal independence by then.)

Second exile

On 22 October 1938 Beneš went into Czechoslovak Government-in-Exile in London with Jan Šrámek as Prime Minister and himself as President. In reclaiming the presidency, he took the line that his 1938 resignation had been under duress, and was therefore void.

In 1941 Beneš and František Moravec planned Operation Anthropoid, with the intention of assassinating Reinhard Heydrich.[7] This was implemented in 1942, and resulted in brutal German reprisals such as the execution of thousands of Czechs and the eradication of the two villages of Lidice and Ležáky.

Although not a Communist, Beneš was also on friendly terms with Stalin. Believing that Czechoslovakia had more to gain from an alliance with the Soviet Union than with Poland, he torpedoed the plans for a Polish-Czechoslovakian confederation and in 1943 he signed an entente with the Soviet Union.[8][9][10]

Second presidency

After the Prague uprising at the end of World War II, Beneš returned home and reassumed his former position as President. He was unanimously confirmed as the president of the republic by the National Assembly on 28 October 1945. Under article 58.5 of the Constitution, "The former president shall stay in his or her function till the new president shall be elected." On 19 June 1946 Beneš was formally elected to his second term as President.[11]

The Beneš decrees (officially called "Decrees of the President of the Republic"), among other things, expropriated the property of citizens of German and Hungarian ethnicity, and facilitated Article 12 of the Potsdam Agreement by laying down a national legal framework for loss of citizenship and expropriation of property of about three million Germans and Hungarians.

Beneš presided over a coalition government, from 1947 headed by Communist leader Klement Gottwald as prime minister. On 21 February 1948, 12 non-Communist ministers resigned to protest Gottwald's refusal to stop the packing of the police with Communists, despite a majority of the Cabinet ordering it to end. Beneš initially refused to accept their resignations and insisted that no government could be formed without the non-Communist parties. However, Gottwald threatened a general strike unless Beneš appointed a Communist-dominated government. Amid fears that civil war was imminent and rumours that the Red Army would sweep in to back Gottwald, Beneš gave way. On 25 February, he accepted the resignations of the non-Communist ministers and appointed a new government in accordance with Gottwald's specifications. It was nominally still a coalition, but was dominated by Communists—in effect, giving legal sanction to a Communist coup d'état.

Shortly afterward, elections were held in which voters were presented with a single list from the Communist-dominated National Front. The newly elected National Assembly approved the Ninth-of-May Constitution shortly after being sworn in. Although it was not a completely Communist document, it was close enough to the Soviet Constitution that Beneš refused to sign it. He resigned as President on 7 June 1948 and Gottwald succeeded him.


Beneš had been in poor health since suffering two strokes in 1947, and was a broken man after seeing a situation come about that he had made it his life's work to avoid. He died of natural causes at his villa in Sezimovo Ústí, Czechoslovakia on 3 September 1948.[2] He is interred along with his wife (who lived until 2 December 1974) in the garden of his villa and his bust is part of the gravestone.

In fiction

In 1934 H.G.Wells wrote "The Shape of Things to Come", a prediction of the Second World War. In Wells' depiction the war starts in 1940 and drags on until 1950, Czechoslovakia avoids being occupied by Germany, and Beneš remains its President throughout. Wells assigns to Beneš the role of initiating a cease-fire to end the fighting, and the book (supposedly written in the 22nd Century) remarks that "The Beneš Suspension of Hostilities remains in force to this day".

In Prague Counterpoint, the second volume of Bodie and Brock Thoene's Zion Covenant Series, Hitler appoints an assassin to kill Beneš—who fails due to being tackled by an American journalist (and captured by Beneš' bodyguards). But Hitler later uses the execution of this Sudeten Nazi to proclaim him a martyr as a continuing fuse to the Sudeten Crisis.

See also

Further reading

  • Hauner, Milan, ed. "'We Must Push Eastwards!' The Challenges and Dilemmas of President Beneš after Munich," Journal of Contemporary History (2009) 44#4 pp. 619–656 in JSTOR
  • Lukes, Igor. Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler: The Diplomacy of Edvard Benes in the 1930s (1996) online
  • Neville, Peter. Eduard Beneš and Tomáš Masaryk: Czechoslovakia (2011)
  • Rees, Neil (2005). The Secret History of the Czech Connection: The Czechoslovak Government in Exile in London and Buckinghamshire During the Second World War. Buckinghamshire: Neil Rees.  
  • Zbyněk Zeman, Antonín Klimek: The Life of Edvard Beneš 1884-1948: Czechoslovakia in Peace and War, Oxford University Press / Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997, ISBN 0-19-820583-X ISBN 978-0198205838
    Book review by Richard Crampton.[12]
  • Zinner, Paul E. (1994). "Czechoslovakia: The Diplomacy of Eduard Benes". In  
  • John Wheeler-Bennett Munich : Prologue to Tragedy, New York : Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1948.

Primary sources

  • Hauner, Milan, ed. Edvard Beneš’ Memoirs: the days of Munich (vol.1), War and Resistance (vol.2), Documents (vol.3). First critical edition of reconstructed War Memoirs 1938-45 of President Beneš of Czechoslovakia (published by Academia Prague 2007. ISBN 978-80-200-1529-7)


  1. ^ "Edvard Benes - Prague Castle". Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  2. ^ a b Dennis Kavanagh (1998). "Benes, Edvard". A Dictionary of Political Biography. Oxford University Press. p. 43. Retrieved 31 August 2013.  – via Questia (subscription required)
  3. ^ Princeton Alumni Weekly - Knihy Google. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  4. ^ "Radio Praha - Stalo se před 100 lety: Robinson a Beneš". 2001-04-28. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  5. ^ "Skauting »Historie".  
  6. ^ 'Czech Army for France' in The Times, Thursday, 23 May 1918, p. 6, col. F
  7. ^ "HISTORIE: Špion, kterému nelze věřit - Neviditelný pes". 2008-03-14. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  8. ^ Andrea Orzoff. Battle for the Castle. Oxford University Press US. p. 199.  
  9. ^ A. T. Lane; Elżbieta Stadtmüller (2005). Europe on the move: the impact of Eastern enlargement on the European Union. LIT Verlag Münster. p. 190.  
  10. ^ Roy Francis Leslie; R. F. Leslie (1983). The History of Poland since 1863. Cambridge University Press. p. 242.  
  11. ^ "Prozatimní NS RČS 1945-1946, 2. schůze, část 1/4 (28. 10. 1945)". Retrieved 2013-11-19. 
  12. ^ "Central Europe Review - Book Review: The Life of Edvard Benes, 1884-1948". 1999-11-18. Retrieved 2013-11-19. 

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
Minister of Foreign Affairs of Czechoslovakia
Succeeded by
Milan Hodža
Preceded by
Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk
President of Czechoslovakia
Succeeded by
Emil Hácha
Preceded by
Emil Hácha
President of the Czechoslovak government-in-exile and President of Czechoslovakia
1940–1945 and 1945–1948
Succeeded by
Klement Gottwald
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Marshal Ferdinand Foch
Cover of Time Magazine
23 March 1925
Succeeded by
George Harold Sisler
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