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17 Program on Central and Eastern Europe

The Slánsky Trial Reconsidered

1991 – Audrey L. Helfant


This article reviews and challenges the Soviet-centered interpretation of the 1952 show trial of Czechoslovak Communist party General Secretary Rudolf Shinsky and thirteen others. In particular, it examines this interpretation as presented in Karel Kaplan's 1990 Report on the Murder of the General Secretary. The Shinsky Trial's organizing principle was anti Semitism: all but three of the defendants were Jewish, and the trial rhetoric was virulently anti-Semitic. According to the traditional interpretation, the Soviets engineered the trial in order to facilitate a rapprochement with the Arab countries. This article draws on the memoirs of participant and on the secondary literature to argue that such an account of the Soviet role rests on insufficient, and sometimes unreliable, evidence. In conclusion, it suggests that the importance of Czechoslovak domestic factors, including domestic anti Semitism, has been underestimated.