Directed by Zuzana Justman
As an addendum to my recent post on The Confession, I watched the 2001 documentary A Trial in Prague. The film's director Zuzana Justman interviewed family members and victims who experienced the purge and the show trial firsthand. The narrative closely parallels the narrative of the Costa-Gavras film and provides some details the film left out.
Participants talked about their reasons for joining the Communist Party during the 1930s. Many viewed the movement as the only viable defense against fascism and many fought for the Popular Front in Spain. Others saw Communism as the prescription to end the global depression and the excesses of capitalism. One participant spoke of what seemed like a rational solution to inequality quickly became irrational.
By 1948, with Soviet support, the Communist Party took total control in Czechoslovakia and brutal crackdowns followed. Stalin was obsessed with dissension from within the Party and ordered anyone that was suspect must be removed. This led to the arrests of 14 high level Czech officials including the second in command of the government Rudolf Slansky.
Family members speak of the uncertainty and terror they experienced. Antisemitism also figured in the arrests. The film never goes too far into Stalin's persecution of Jews, suggesting he held them suspect because of their time with the French Resistance. Most of the suspects were executed in secret, and it's especially tragic to hear family members talk about their lack of closure.
A Trial in Prague provides a powerful and factual account of the political climate in Central Europe during the 1950s. The testimony from those who lived through it are especially moving.