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Published: December 31st 2008
Jan Palach Memorial
The memorial at Charles University
Just in front of the big National Museum at the upper end of Wenceslas Square there is a small memorial placed in the sidewalk. I am sure it is not noticed by many tourists, as it is not on the side where most tourists walk.
However, the Czechs know it is there and each time I have viewed the memorial there have been two fresh flowers resting on the memorial in memory of two young men who died in protest of the Communist government and Soviet occupation of the Czech Republic. At the time of his death one was a student at Charles University and the university placed a memorial to him on one of their buildings that is near the Charles Bridge. Note in the photo the flowers behind his head.
Here is the story as I understand it:
Jan Palach and a group of other students signed a suicide pact as a means of protesting the occupation of the Czech Republic by Russia. Palach was the first to set himself on fire. He did this on January 16th, 1969 on the ramp that leads to the National Museum. He ran toward a
Jan Palach Memorial
At the National Museum near the Muzeum subway stop and at the head of Wenceslas Square directly below the museum.
grocery store, but fell in the street where a transport worker threw a coat over him. Still conscious Palach was taken to a hospital. He was burned over 85% of his body and lived three days, dying on January 19th, 1969. He remained conscious and told his fellow students how much pain he was in and that they should not commit suicide. Most of the students honored his request.
Palach's funeral turned into a huge protest against the occupation of the Czech Republic. A month later another student, Jan Zajíc, burned himself to death and this was followed in April of 1969 by Even Plocek in Jihlava, a mining town east and south of Prague. I do not know if there is a memorial to Ploeck in his hometown or not.
Jan Zajic committed suicide as a protest of the government on the 25th of February 1969. He was one of the students who had signed the suicide pact with Jan Palach. On the 25th Zajic soaked his cloths in flammable fluids and walked into the passageway of the building at No. 39 on Wenceslas Square and set himself on fire. He was unable to run
out of the door, and collapsed and died in the hallway.
Fearing large demonstrations, like the ones at Palach's funeral, the state police forbade Zajic's body to be buried in Prague. Instead he was buried in his hometown of Vitkov.
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