Former Communist-era secret police lieutenant Ladislav Mácha, ultimately held responsible for the torture and death of Catholic priest Josef Toufar in 1950, died a free man some weeks ago. His passing went largely unnoticed until a makeshift memorial to Mácha’s most famous victim appeared on the pavement outside his Prague home.
Father Josef Toufar, a parish priest from the village of Číhošť in Bohemia, died of injuries sustained in beating the StB secret police on 25 February 1950, two years to the day after the Communist coup. While one of hundreds of clerics persecuted by the Stalinist regime, the circumstances of his story, the nature of his “crime” and the contrast between victim and perpetrator are exceptional, says theologian, priest, and religious historian Tomáš Petráček.
“Josef Toufar was a parish priest who really tried to get people together, who helped the non-Catholics and even the Communists in his parish, and tried to act as a priest, as a Christian, as a human being. But for Ladislav Mácha, Catholic priests were just class enemies, and he tried to dehumanise him. And he killed him, I think, with pleasure, without hesitation, as somebody who needed to be put away to make space for building a new, progressive, Communist society. I think this is the most important contrast between these two persons.”
Talk of a “miracle” during one of his Advent mass proved to be Father Toufar’s undoing.
Some parishioners spoke of having seen a metre-long iron cross above the altar behind him move in the middle of his 11 December 1949 sermon, as Toufar spoke the words “one who is unknown is here among us in this tabernacle”. The cross bowed forward three times in all, so one version of the story goes, then stopped in a different position – facing West.
Word of the “Číhošť Miracle” quickly spread at a time when rumours and prophecies were circulating among the faithful that the godless Communist regime would soon come to an end. Although he never embraced talk of the “miracle”, the Communist elite decided to quash the story by forcing Toufar to admit he, an agent of the Vatican and class enemy, had staged it.
It was then StB Lt. Ladislav Mácha who was tasked with getting Toufar’s confession, while the party’s propaganda experts assembled bogus evidence and testimonies to be used against him in a show trial – including that he had abused five boys in his parish.
It took Mácha and his minions four weeks to break Toufar, who witnesses say was savagely beaten, denied sleep and kept in a cold, dark cell at Czechoslovakia’s highest security prison in Valdice.
When he finally signed the StB’s pre-formulated confession, Toufar was taken to Číhošť to demonstrate on film how he had staged the “miracle”. A recently discovered two-minute recording of “the reconstruction” shows the priest in agony, his front teeth missing; his head and hands bruised and swollen.
This incriminating close-up footage, of course, was not included in the 20-minute film the Communists made entitled “Beware He Who Brings Scandal”, in which Toufar is seen manipulating an improbably complex pulley system linking the pulpit and the cross. The film was distributed to cinemas and schools nationwide ahead of his planned trial.
The official cause of Toufar’s death was a burst stomach ulcer. He was buried in an unmarked grave, the whereabouts of his remains unconfirmed until just a few years ago.
As for Mácha, he was criticised in the 1950s for his sadistic use of force – since beatings that resulted in death rather than a show trial undermined propaganda efforts – and moved to another department, but not otherwise punished, says Tomáš Petráček.
“He was seen as somebody who ruined the political process – it wasn’t the death of Josef Toufar, just that they had other plans for him. He was to be the main witness and defendant in the political trial. And by killing him, Mácha ruined this plan. So they were angry with him not because they cared about Josef Toufar but because they had larger plans for him.”
In 1968, during the Prague Spring period, he was also investigated by reformist Communists. But after the Soviet invasion, the inquiry was dropped, and he advanced further in the security forces and later taught law at university.
In 1999, Mácha was sentenced to 5 years in prison, later cut to 2 years, of which served only half due to health reasons. He died on October 30th, at the aged of 95.
“Mácha was really a fanatic, a Stalinist, and became a problem even for the Communists. As such, he was a bit marginalised. But not really – I mean, he still had a beautiful career, a perfect life with a lot of money and esteem. He was brought to justice very late, and this was thanks to the work of another political prisoner, Adolf Rázek, who died two weeks ago, actually.”
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