Who's Who - Eduard Benes
Emerging from a peasant background in Kozlany, Bohemia Eduard Benes (1884-1948) yet achieved a high standard of education, finally gaining a Sociology doctorate in Paris in 1908.
He was also an early agitator for Czech independence from the Austro-Hungarian empire, campaigning tirelessly if without notable success. The coming of war in July 1914 - which found Benes teaching at Prague University - ultimately assisted the Czech independence campaign, notwithstanding initial support for the war from many of the empire's disparate peoples.
It was during the war's early phase that he first met the exiled Czech nationalist leader Tomas Masaryk. Having attached himself to Masaryk as the latter's point of contact with fellow nationalists in Prague he was himself obliged to seek exile in France in 1915.
Once in Paris however he continued to campaign for Allied recognition of the merits of the establishment of an independent Czech state following the war, working closely with Masaryk in co-founding the Czechoslovak National Council (and becoming its inaugural General Secretary).
With the end of the war in November 1918 Benes became Masaryk's Foreign Minister, serving in this capacity until the latter's retirement in 1935, when he succeeded him as President.
Benes resigned in 1938 over Chamberlain's "betrayal" of Czechoslovakia via the Munich Agreement with Hitler, subsequently entering voluntary exile. In 1941 he established a provisional Czech government in London and in March 1945 travelled to Moscow to accompany the Soviet-backed Czechoslovak Corps that finally liberated his country.
Having returned as President in 1945 Benes remained head of the country until shortly before his death three years later, having resigned in the face of Klement Gottwald's increasingly pro-Communist government.
A "chit" was British slang for a piece of paper.
- Did you know?