860F.001 Beneš/5–2948: Telegram

The Ambassador in Czechoslovakia (Steinhardt) to the Secretary of State

secret   urgent

838. Visited President Beneš yesterday at his country place on occasion of his birthday to convey good wishes of the diplomatic corps. Although he was up and about, his physical and mental condition has deteriorated considerably during the past two months. On the other hand, he has by no means lost possession of his faculties and although at times his speech comes rather slowly, indicating the necessity for intense concentration to express his thoughts, everything he said during an interview of nearly an hour was entirely lucid. Among other things Beneš remarked that he wished to make it unmistakably clear that his views on the subject of democracy had undergone no change. He condemned the methods employed by Communists in seizing power and clearly implied that it was contrary to the will of a majority of the people. He does not believe that what he described as the “present conditions” in Czechoslovakia can continue for any length of time and feels that the country will suffer a serious economic crisis which he described as “necessary” to bring home to the people the unsound policies being pursued by the govt. He said he could not and would not approve the new constitution and ridiculed the impending election which he said obviously would not reflect the will of the people. I gained the impression that Gottwald has subjected him to intense pressure since May 4 not to resign but that being determined to do so, [Page 755] a compromise was reached whereby Gottwald agreed to his resignation after the election. Beneš stated that his resignation would take the form of a letter addressed to Gottwald in about ten days which probably will be published and which I doubt from the President’s remarks will contain any acrimony.1 Although neither the President nor Mrs. Beneš—who was present—would say so, they appear to believe that any request at this time by the President for permission to leave the country would be refused. They apparently do not desire to make an issue of his departure at this time and in consequence they plan to spend two months in the Tatra Mountains after his resignation becomes effective. Beneš expects Gottwald to succeed him but he is by no means certain. As to who would succeed Gottwald as Prime Minister, he and Mrs. Beneš think that it would be Slánský2 or Zápotocký.3

  1. President Beneš’ letter of resignation was dated June 7, 1948, and was given to the press the following day. On June 14 the Czechoslovak National Assembly elected Gottwald President, and he immediately assumed office. Beneš died on September 3, 1948.
  2. Rudolf Slánský, Secretary General of the Czechoslovak Communist Party.
  3. Antonin Zápotocký, Deputy Prime Minister in the Gottwald cabinet; a leader in the Czechoslovak Communist Party and Chairman of the Czechoslovak Central Trade Union Council. Zápotocký was named the Prime Minister on June 15.