A memorial ceremony was held at Czech Radio’s Prague headquarters on Thursday to mark the start of the Prague uprising against years of Nazi oppression at the end of the Second World War. It was a radio broadcast which sparked the rising and the building became the focus for some of the fiercest fighting over the following days in the capital and surrounding countryside.
It’s now 71 years since the Prague uprising on May 5, 1945. The call to rise up was answered by thousands with barricades hastily constructed in the streets of the capital.
Although the war was clearly lost for the Nazis and their leader had already committed suicide, Prague and its surroundings were strongly occupied by German troops, some elite SS divisions, who were determined to make a final stand or at least make sure they could give themselves up to the Americans, some 70 kilometres away.
The US troops were unwilling to budge from the line short of Prague they had agreed to halt at. So, during the fighting in the following days thousands were killed and wounded before the negotiated German capitulation and the Red Army finally rolled in. It’s estimated that around 12,000 could have been killed altogether. Some fighting even took place after the official ceasefire to end WWII in Europe.
One of those speaking at the commemoration was the leader of the upper house of parliament, the Senate, Milan Štěch:
“In many Prague streets there are memorial plaques dedicated to those who fell in the rising. It would be good if at each of these, at least for this day, flowers or candles were laid. That could happen if the city or local councils decided to take care of it. Ideally though this would be spontaneous and flowers and candles were laid, perhaps by those who live near these memorials. When we take everything into account that person or group commemorated by the plaque is partly responsible for the fact that we Czechs can today walk those Prague streets in freedom.”
Minister of Culture, Daniel Herman, representing the Czech government, had personal memories of the Prague uprising from the accounts of his grandmother who had that day in 1945 been bused back to Prague from the Terezín camp, used by the Nazis as a transit site before many were transported to the east and their deaths in the gas chambers. His grandmother recounted how she was immediately caught up in the rising on her return to the capital:
“My grandmother remembers how she lay by the barricades, how there was shooting, and how she saw people dying before her eyes. In Mysíikova Street she later met her brother and he did not recognize her. Later she saw her daughter and she did not recognize her wither after she had been imprisoned in the camp. As a small boy I realized the dramatic events which those people who fought for Prague must have lived through.”