61 years on - the Czech Republic commemorates the end of WWII
On Monday the Czech Republic commemorated the 61st anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Over the weekend, ceremonies were held all over the country in honour of those Czechs who lost their lives, and people celebrated the end of over six years of occupation. Amongst the events which took place was the full military burial of wartime Prime Minister Alois Elias in Prague, 64 years after his execution by the Nazis.
One unusual event to mark the anniversary was the burial of the Prime Minister of the wartime Protectorate, Alois Elias, at Prague's Vitkov memorial, no less than 64 years after his execution. Elias was the only wartime prime minister to be sentenced to death by the Nazis in occupied Europe, accused of "treason and espionage". On the 2nd of October 1941 a radio broadcast announced the news of Elias' execution to the nation. Despite collaborating with the Germans for the early part of the occupation, this figurehead of the Czech puppet government was continually a thorn in the side of the Nazi regime, maintaining contact with the exiled Czechoslovak government in London, and supporting underground resistance. It was for this that he was eventually executed by the Nazis. Jaroslav Hrbek from the institute of Contemporary History in Prague believes that despite his apparent collaboration, Elias always had the nation's best interests in mind.
Elias was buried with full military honours alongside his wife, by the current Czech Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek and Defense Minister Karel Kuehnl. Also present at the ceremony was the wartime Prime Minister's now 93 year old nephew, Jiri Elias, who had more personal memories of a highly paradoxical political figure.
The Vitkov memorial was also a focus for remembrance on Monday, when politicians and war veterans alike met to pay tribute to the thousands who died during the War.. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek were among those who paid their respects at the wreath laying ceremony, as were a number of former soldiers, including Jaroslav Cermak, who fought in the French army and participated in the Normandy Landings.
"We want to remind observers how in reality war can take on a most terrible form. We want to make a Hollywood movie from this, as we'd like to show that what we've all read about in books actually happened and has simply never been paralleled."
And so even 61 years on it seems that the tragedy of World War II is still well remembered in the Czech Republic.