Major General Karel Lukas: The first victim of the Communist purges of 1948

February 1948 brought great political change in Czechoslovakia. On the 25th of that month, the Communist Party took power and declared the country a "people's democracy", as the first step towards achieving Socialism and ultimately Communism. As one of the first steps of the new regime, the Czechoslovak Social Democratic Party began to purge dissidents from all social levels, according to Marxist-Leninist principles. The very first victim of these purges was Major General Karel Lukas, who was assassinated in prison after the Communist takeover. But it was something much simpler than politics that led the Secret Police to eliminate this particular military figure.

Major General Karel Lukas, colonel of the Czechoslovak general military staff and former military attaché in the U.S.A. was murdered by the Communist Secret Police while being held in prison at the end of May 1949. Although charged with political dissidence and treason, the real reason for Lukas' elimination was much, much simpler. As a widely travelled military tactician, Lukas had acquired a wealth of rare and valuable western goods during his lifetime and recent research has shown that this prominent officer met his end simply due to the envy of others. Dr. Eduard Stehlik of the Czech Military History Institute headed the research into Lukas' case:

"Karel Lukas was arrested in March 1949 by the Communist Secret Police, accused of aiding in the escape of his former superior General Liskov to the West. This accusation, as it turned out, was fabricated. The real reason for his arrest was that people at the time were in fact envious of his car, made by the American firm Packard, which he'd had imported from the United States. As well as his car, Lukas' entire flat was also confiscated, where he kept stores of alcohol and certain other items, also brought back from his stay in the U.S.A. These included rare goods, such as cigarettes, ladies' tights and so on. Furthermore, he had a valuable collection of paintings including some unique pieces from the 17th and 18th centuries. On the whole these items were lost."

Indeed for the people of Prague Lukas' wealth was plain to see. When his arrest came on the 29th of March 1949, he was reportedly driving around town in his grey Packard sedan, which at the time was seen as a great luxury. After Lukas' death, the Secret Police then divided his wealth between them, as Dr. Stehlik explains:

Dr. Eduard StehlikDr. Eduard Stehlik "The family with whom Lukas lived, who owned the two rooms he occupied, saw systematic visits by officers of the Communist Secret Police, mainly two male and two female officers, who came late in the evening to Lukas' former apartment in the two months that followed his arrest. They confiscated a number of items and could be heard through the walls dividing the goods between them, saying things like "I found this and you found that, so I'll take this and you can have the other one". In truth, this sharing of goods was going on even during Lukas' lifetime, while he was still in prison."

Although it was the circumstances of Lukas' tragic death which drew Prague's attention to the purges, he had been a prominent figure in foreign resistance for many years. He served as a legionnaire in France and then in the Czech Tesinsko region, and later, as leader of a tactical educational taskforce, he took part in the construction of fortifications against Hitler's armies. After the Second World War, he served in Britain, North Africa and Italy, and even before the end of the war was appointed military attaché in the USA. But this successful career was brought to an abrupt end after February 1948 when he was dismissed from the army, later to be arrested by the Secret Police, and killed in prison, a crime for which no one has ever been punished.