Alois Elias and his sandwich affair

The role of the wartime Prime Minister Alois Elias in resisting the Nazi occupation has always been considered an ambiguous one. While the stance of the Protectorate government at the time was without doubt collaborationist, Elias himself still tried to uphold the integrity of the Czech people. Now new evidence has emerged showing his involvement in a plot to assassinate a number of prominent Nazi journalists, making it increasingly clear that Elias was anything but a traitor.

On the 2nd of October 1941, wirelesses all over the country broadcast the announcement of the execution of Prime Minister Alois Elias, one of the most paradoxical figures in Czech wartime politics. Despite collaborating with the Germans for the early part of the occupation, this figurehead of the Czech puppet government was continually a thorn in the side of the Nazi regime, maintaining contact with the exiled Czechoslovak government in London, and supporting underground resistance. It was for this that he was eventually executed by the Nazis.

Recent findings suggest that Elias took a more direct approach to resistance than was previously thought, becoming involved in a plot to assassinate 7 Nazi sympathisers amongst the Czech press. Jan Uhlir, of the Prague Military History Institute, explains:

"We are effectively filling in smaller tiles into a larger mosaic, so that we have a more complete picture of events. A part of this mosaic was our research into the attempted elimination of the so-called "activist journalists", the seven most famous Nazi journalists of Czech origin in 1941, and into the part played by the Prime Minister of the time, General Alois Elias, in these events. Elias believed that these journalists were influencing Czech society to such an extent that they were too dangerous to be left alone and he wanted to relieve them of their duties. He got together with his pharmacist and together they came up with a plan."

And so the plot took shape: Prime Minister Elias himself bought sandwiches from a local delicatessen, which were then delivered to a friend, a pharmacist, who injected lethal doses of typhus and tuberculosis bacteria along with the meat-sausage infection known as botulotoxin into them. The seven dissident journalists were invited to visit government headquarters, on the pretence of a discussion about the imminent offensive against Russia, the poisoned sandwiches were served and the venom began to take effect:

"Following a long illness, after the first indications of poison were revealed, Karel Laznovsky passed away. Laznovsky's pro-Nazi work had praised the efficiency of the occupation even earlier than Emanuel Moravec, who was later the top of these collaborators. But in total, out of the seven who were present at the gathering, only four fell victim to the disease. That means that either not all reacted to the dose of bacteria as expected, or that they didn't take a poisoned sandwich at all, as only five of all the portions laid out contained the poison."

Historians had suspected such a plan on the part of Alois Elias for some time, but only recently has concrete evidence been discovered, in the form of Laznovsky's post mortem records and above all the notes of Elias' pharmacist. But the research revealed that this attempt was merely the tip of the iceberg. As Jan Uhlir explains, the pair had much grander schemes in mind:

"Prime Minister Elias along with the very same pharmacist intended to try and eliminate the then Secretary of State, Karel Herman Frank, by the same or similar means, but in the end they had no opportunity to do so. Had Reinhard Heydrich not been named Reichsprotektor and had Elias not been arrested and sentenced to death, it's possible they would have tried to see the plan to fruition: eliminating the Nazi's number two man in the Protectorate, State Secretary Frank."

In the end, Alois Elias gave his own life for the sake of the integrity of the Czech nation, executed for betraying the German Reich. For this most ambivalent of Czech politicians, one man's bread can be another man's poison, in more ways than one.