They claimed to have also sabotaged the Czechoslovak economy by making trade agreements with Israel under which the latter paid 17% less than it should have done for goods which it imported from Czechoslovakia.
The Slansky trial: contents.
Otto Sling, one-time CPC Brno Regional Secretary, “confessed” to having been part of a British espionage organisation and to having prevented accurate information about anti-Czechoslovak conspiracies from reaching Gottwald.
Sling also outlined the role of the “conspiratorial centre” in the event of war:
“Our anti-state conspiratorial centre was a fifth column in Czechoslovakia, constituting the internal offensive of American imperialism against Czechoslovakia.”
Vavro Hajdu and Artur London, both of whom had previously held the post of Deputy Foreign Minister, confessed to having undermined relations between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union, and to having abused their posts in order to appoint “Trotskyites, Zionists and other bourgeois nationalists” to domestic and international diplomatic posts.
London confessed that he was “a Trotskyite and a United States intelligence agent.” Hajdu confessed that he was a Zionist who had been recruited to work for British intelligence while living in England in 1941.
The confessions of the three non-Jewish defendants — Vladmir Clementis (former Foreign Minister), Josef Frank (former CPC Deputy General Secretary) and Karel Svab (former Deputy Minister of National Security) — corroborated those of their co-accused.
Clementis confessed to being a “Slovak bourgeois nationalist” who had joined the Slansky conspiratorial centre in 1948, having been an agent of the French intelligence services, organising an espionage ring in Hungary, and supplying Czech state secrets to the French, British and American ambassadors in Prague. He also confessed to co-operating with the American ambassador (Laurence Steinhardt) to facilitate the emigration of wealthy Czechoslovak families such as the Schwarzenberg and Lobovitz families.
Frank confessed that he had tortured to death Soviet and French prisoners of war in Nazi concentration camps. After the war he had undermined Czechoslovak foreign trade by selling goods cheaper to capitalist states than to the “people’s democracies”, and by overfilling orders to the former and under-supplying orders to the latter.
Svab confessed that he too had tortured prisoners of war in Nazi concentration camps. After the war he had recruited “Zionists and other hostile elements” into the Czech security services, and had also sabotaged the investigation of a spy ring in Czechoslovakia after the Rajk Trial in Hungary.
Witnesses — many of whom received long prison sentences in later show-trials — confirmed these confessions.
Two of the witnesses were Israeli nationals: Mordecai Oren, a leader of the Israeli (pro-Soviet) Mapam party and a member of the Knesset, and Shimon Orenstein, an assistant trade attaché in the Israeli Legation in Prague until 1950.
Described by the prosecutor as “the notorious Zionist deceiver”, Oren confessed that he had been one of Slansky’s go-betweens with English Labour MPs, American capitalists, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and Marshall Tito:
“In the interests of Zionism and of British intelligence I had meetings with the Tito fascist clique. In conversation... I learned of Rudolf Slansky’s collaboration with this clique.
“I was requested to transmit to Slansky all documents concerning the attitude of Titoists regarding the decisions of the Cominform and the workers’ parties.”
Orenstein confessed to having been present at a secret meeting held in Washington in 1947 where future Israeli leaders promised:
“Zionist organisations would be available for espionage and other subversive activity in the people’s democracies in exchange for United States support for the Zionists’ aims in Palestine.”
Leading American-Jewish politicians and financiers, Orenstein explained, were part of a huge international Zionist conspiracy, corroborating the allegations about Israeli subversive activities contained in the trial’s indictment:
“The former Israeli ambassador to Czechoslovakia as well as embassy officials established an espionage network with Geminder and Fischl. Israeli diplomats in the service of American intelligence committed, together with the plotters, acts of sabotage and wrecking which caused heavy damage to Czechoslovakia.”
What distinguished the Slansky Trial from its predecessors was its anti-semitism. But it would be remiss not to mention another of the trial’s innovations.
During the Soviet show-trials of the 1930s it was not unknown for the children of the trials’ victims to have to raise their hands when schoolteachers demanded of their classes that they support a motion in favour of the death penalty for the “people’s enemies”.
The scriptwriters of the Slansky Trial went one better. On the fifth day of the trial the judge read out a letter from the teenage son of Ludvik Frejka:
“Dear Court! I demand the ultimate penalty for my father — the death penalty. I have realised that this creature, who cannot even be described as a human being, because he lacks even a trace of emotion and human dignity, has been my greatest and bitterest enemy.
“I pledge that I will always work as a loyal communist. I will strengthen my hatred of all our enemies, who want to destroy our life which is becoming ever richer and happier, and above all I will never allow my hatred of my father to die away, so that I can work all the better for the communist future of our people.”
Frejka’s son did not live up to his pledge to be a loyal communist. After Czechoslovak radio had announced his father’s execution, he hanged himself.
A second letter read out by the judge was from London’s wife, Lisa Londonova:
“My husband was a traitor to his party and a traitor to our fatherland. That is a terrible blow for me and my children — never before has a traitor lived in our family. My children have promised me to behave as loyal communists throughout their lives.
“But as a communist and as a mother I am happy, for the sake of the Czechoslovak people and world peace, that the band of traitors has been exposed and rendered incapable of inflicting further harm. I can do no more than join all honourable people in demanding the ultimate penalty for the traitors.”
The Slansky Trial lasted just eight days.
In his concluding speech the prosecutor stressed the important role which the trial had played in revealing the supposedly true nature of Zionism:
“The defendants include 11 alumni of Zionist organizations who entered the service of American imperialism... The trial shows all Communist and workers’ parties the danger of Zionism as an agency of American imperialism.
“The Zionist movement is not a system of ideas [nor] even a fallacious ideology. The Zionist movement consists of the Zionist organizations in America, plus the ruling clique of the state of Israel, plus the Zionist capitalists all over the world, linked by the intimate ties of their factories, companies, and business deals with American imperialists.
“It is self-evident that Slansky put only Zionists into high positions, that he received the diplomatic representatives of Israel, that he protected their criminal activities. That was because Slansky himself was, by his very nature, a Zionist.”
The prosecutor and the accused alike demanded that the judge impose the death penalty on all defendants.
“I am guilty of the most heinous crimes that a man can commit,” said Slansky. “For me there cannot be any extenuating or mitigating circumstances, nor any mercy. I rightly deserve only contempt. I deserve no other end to my life than that proposed by the prosecutor.”
Simone agreed: “I was a writer. There is a fine saying according to which the writer is an engineer of the human soul. But what kind of an engineer have I been — I who poisoned souls? An engineer of the soul such as myself belongs on the gallows.”
In a letter to Gottwald written after the verdicts had been announced, Svab wrote: “I consider the verdict fully justified and I shall pass away with the knowledge that this solution is the only correct one.”
Geminder wrote, also in a letter to Gottwald following the announcement of the verdicts:
“I am walking to the gallows with a heavy heart but relatively calm. The air is becoming purer and one obstacle along the victorious road to socialism is being removed. The party is always right, which my case corroborates once again.”
Eleven of the defendants were condemned to death and executed on 3 December. The other three (Loebl, Hajdu and London) were sentenced to life imprisonment.
The trial had been an unprecedented exercise in state-sponsored and orchestrated anti-semitism. The conspiracy involved was similar to those “uncovered” in other show-trials. But in this case, beneath a thin veneer of the new Stalinist political orthodoxy of “anti-Zionism”, the “conspiracy” incorporated traditional anti-semitic stereotypes.