Praha (Dec. 15)
Jewish circles today voiced regret at the resignation yesterday of Dr. Thomas Garrigue Masaryk, president of Czechoslovakia since it became a republic in 1918.
Dr. Masaryk, during his entire career was known as a friend of the Jews, whose interests he always strove to protect, frequently at the cost of personal sacrifice and against severe opposition.
One of the most famous examples of the 85-year-old Liberator’s efforts on behalf of the Jews occurred in 1899 when a Jewish vagrant named Leopold Hilsner was accused of murdering a Christian girl for alleged ritual purposes. Hilsner was convicted on perjured evidence and sentenced to death. The Hilsner trials were accompanied by anti-Jewish excesses throughout the nation.
Prof. Masaryk, then lecturing at the University of Praha, vigorously denounced the ritual murder libel and exerted every effort to prove Hilsner’s innocence. As a result of his efforts in Hilsner’s behalf, Prof. Masaryk was socially and politically boycotted. Hilsner was finally freed, after having had his death sentence commuted, when new evidence was produced establishing his innocence.
Prof. Masaryk also took an active part in refuting the blood ritual libel in another cause celebre, the Mendel Beilis ritual murder trial in Kiev in 1913.
Dr. Masaryk was an active supporter of Zionism. In recognition of his efforts in behalf of the Jewish upbuilding work in Palestine, a Masaryk forest was planted there on the occasion of his eightieth birthday. His name was further honored by the establishment of a Masaryk colony for Czechoslovakian Jews in Palestine.
In 1927, Dr. Masaryk became the first head of any European nation to visit Palestine.
Although long rated as one of the greatest friends the Jews have, Dr. Masaryk once explained that he was not a philosemite. “But all my life,” he added, “I have been careful not to do any injustice to the Jews, and that is the reason that people accuse me of supporting the Jews.
The fear is voiced in Jewish circles that Dr. Masaryk’s resignation may bring to a head anti-Semitic agitation that has for some time been simmering in various sections of Czechoslovakia, particularly the German parts.
The reason for this is that the balance of power is believed to be held by the Nazi leader Konrad Henlein. Both the conservative and liberal parties are accusing each other of seeking Hanlein’s support in the election for a new president, which is expected to be held before Christmas.
This situation is reported to be disturbing both to Dr. Masaryk and Foreign Minister Eduard Benes, who is expected to succeed Dr. Masaryk in the presidency, and who also is known as pro-Jewish.