Dr Milada Horáková was a lawyer and active campaigner for social justice for all of her life. She was imprisoned both by the Gestapo and by the Communists (which is a more common pairing than you might expect – neither the Nazis or the Communists liked people who fought against tyranny). But it was the Communists that managed to kill her in 1950 after one of the most famous communist show trials outside the Soviet Union.
She was born in Prague, and went to law school at Charles University, before graduating, and becoming director of the welfare department for the Prague City Council. She joined the Czechoslovak Nationalist Socialist Party (which was no relation to the Nazi party despite the similar name). She was an active campaigner for women’s rights.
After Germany occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939 (after annexing a lot of it in 1938), Horáková joined a resistance movement. She and her husband, Bohuslav Horak, joined a resistance movement and were arrested by the Gestapo in 1940, before being sent to a concentration camp in 1944.
Once she returned to Prague after WWII, she rejoined the National Socialist Party and became a Member of Parliament in 1945, until the Communist coup of 1948 (as an aside, after WWII, the communist party won 38% of the vote in the first free elections, but after it became clear that the population hated the reality of their minority rule and wouldn’t reelect them even to a minority position in the government, they staged a coup with Soviet Union help). Horáková used her WWII resistance experience to set up a similar group of former members of the National Socialist Party to resist the Communist. She and most of her felow resistors were arrested in 1949.
They were interrogated and tortured (at least I would define it as torture – forced to stand in waist deep water for 24 hours at a time, stuck in tiny one metre square rooms without heat or light for days at a time). In the belief that the Communists wouldn’t hang a woman, Horáková confessed to many of the charges. But the communists were equal opportunity killers, and put 13 resistance group members on trial in a show trial. The trial was broadcast by radio to the nation. Although the parts where Horáková was on the stand were not broadcast much; as she refused to stick to the script provided, but instead argued with her accusers. According to Czech historian Karel Kaplan, the trial was deliberately intended to destroy any political opposition and deter all possible anti-Communist resistance.
On June 8th, 1950, Horáková and three of her co-defendants were sentenced to death. Despite calls for clemency from around the world, she was executed on June 27th, 1950. She left behind her husband, who escaped to Germany after going into hiding after his wife was captured, and a sixteen year old daughter, who stayed in the care of her Horáková’s sister.
Before she was executed, she was allowed a 15-minute visit with her daughter, and her reported final words were:
I fall, I fall, I lost this battle, I leave honourably. I love this country, I love these people, build prosperity for them. I leave without hatred for you. I wish you this, I wish you this.
In 1968, during the Prague Spring, there was an attempt to rehabilitate her reputation, but it came to nothing after the Soviets crushed the reformers. In 1991, after the Velvet Revolution, President Havel posthumously awarded her the Order of T G Masaryk First Class, and named an important street after her.
As an aside, when I was trying to work out who would be an interesting Czech woman to write about, I came across this Wikipedia article – List of people from Prague, which has 4 women on it out of a list of 44 (not including Milada Horáková, or even Madeleine Albright). Those feminists campaigning for more female wikipedists are probably right.
Thanks to the FemBio, a great site with the brief biographies of lots of interesting women, for the inspiration to write about Milada Horáková.