Masaryk, Thomas Garrigue°

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MASARYK, THOMAS GARRIGUE°

MASARYK, THOMAS GARRIGUE ° (1850–1937), Czech philosopher and statesman, first president of *Czechoslovakia from its foundation (1918) until his retirement (1935). Born into a poor family in Hodonin (southern Moravia), as a child he was imbued with the popular Catholic antisemitism of his surroundings and was brought up to believe in the *blood libel. Impressions gained from Jewish schoolmates and a peddler made him change his opinions, a stage which he expressed in a sketch, Ná pan Fixl ("Our Mr. Fuechsel"). He studied at Vienna University where Theodor *Gompertz was one of his teachers. In 1882 he was appointed professor of philosophy at the newly founded Prague Czech University. He founded his "Realistic Party" and was elected to the Austrian parliament in 1907, and again in 1911. In his Scientific and Philosophical Crisis of Contemporary Marxism (1898) he asserted that, contrary to Marx's definition, Jews are a homogeneous nation, although they have given up their language. Masaryk conceived Zionism mainly in the moral sense. Impressed by the views of *Aḥad Ha-Am, he published in 1905 an essay on him. Believing that it was impossible to be a Christian and an antisemite, Masaryk considered that it was his duty to eradicate antisemitism from his people. In 1899 he took a leading stand in the *Hilsner blood libel case, "not to defend Hilsner, but to defend the Christians against superstition," publishing two pamphlets on the affair (see bibliography of Hilsner). He was attacked by the antisemitic mob and his university lectures were suspended because of student demonstrations against him. Similarly, in 1913 he came to the defense of Menahem Mendel *Beilis. He was enthusiastically received by U.S. Jewry upon his visit there in 1907. As a political émigré during World War i, he established connections with Jewish and Zionist leaders such as Louis Brandeis, Julian Mack, Louis Marshall, Stephen Wise, and the Bohemian-born congressman Adolf Joachim Sabath as well as with Naḥum Sokolow and later Weizmann. When elected president of Czechoslovakia (1918) he declared that Jews would enjoy equal rights with other citizens and expressed sympathy with Zionism. He also supported the claims for recognition of the right of a Czechoslovak citizen to declare his nationality as Jewish.

By his personal example Masaryk did much to combat antisemitism in Czechoslovakia. In 1927 he visited Palestine, taking a special interest in the new settlements, their social problems and aspirations, and the newly established Hebrew University. In 1930 a Masaryk forest was planted near Sarid, and in 1938 *Kefar Masaryk, a settlement founded by pioneers from Czechoslovakia, was named after him. Tel Aviv conferred honorary citizenship on him in 1935.

bibliography:

E. Rychnovsky et al., Masaryk and the Jews (1941); K. Čapek, President Masaryk Tells His Story (1934); T.G. Masaryk, Making of a State (1927); O. Donath, Masaryk und das Judentum (1920).

[Chaim Yahil]