PRAGUE — Ctirad Masin, a controversial anti-communist fighter in the former nation of Czechoslovakia who eluded a massive East Bloc manhunt during the Cold War, has died at age 81.
Czech public radio and television said Masin died Saturday of an undisclosed illness in a war veteran’s residence in Cleveland, Ohio.
Masin, his brother Josef and Milan Paumer were part of a resistance cell after the communists took power in 1948 in the Central European nation of Czechoslovakia. They killed two policemen while trying to capture arms in a police station, and also killed a cashier during a robbery to raise funds for their sabotage operations.
In 1953, they fled to the West, killing three police officers in East Germany during their epic escape as tens of thousands of police searched for them. Two other members of the cell were captured, sentenced to death and executed.
The three later settled in the United States and served in the U.S. army. Paumer returned home following the fall of communism and died last year here. But the Masin brothers refused to come home because they claimed the country still has not fully rid itself of its communist past.
The Czechs are divided over them — while some consider them heroes, others call them murderers.
In 1993, the nation split into two countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Although Parliament’s upper house in the Czech Republic, the Senate, has repeatedly proposed that the three be awarded a state medal for their fight against communism, they never received anything besides a prime minister medal in 2008.
Prime Minister Petr Necas said Saturday that Masin was a brave man.
“He proved his heroism by his resistance against the totalitarian dictatorship,” Necas said in a statement.
Josef Masin told Czech public radio his brother will be buried at a military cemetery in the United States.