Czech leaders remember Prague uprising at end of WWII

Prague uprising memorial event at Czech Radio’s Prague headquarters, photo: Ondřej Tomšů

Czech Radio’s Prague headquarters was very much the focal point for the Prague uprising against Nazi rule at the end of WWII. And today’s top state personalities assembled on Friday outside the radio building to pay homage to the hundreds who fell at the barricades in Prague and in scattered skirmishes across the country.

Prague uprising memorial event at Czech Radio’s Prague headquarters, photo: Ondřej Tomšů
It’s now 72 years since the Prague uprising on May 5, 1945, which marked the Czech bid to overthrow the long occupation of most of the country since March 1939 when the so-called Nazi Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia began.

Plans for the rising against still powerful Nazi forces in the country had been made for months with little signs the Germans would lay down their arms or retreat to US army lines around 100 kilometres away although the war was clearly lost.

Czech Radio, which had been used for Nazi and collaborationist propaganda over the previous years, finally became the beacon for resistance when the call went out in a broadcast for the rising to start and for citizens to come and help defend the radio building against German attempts to retake it. Barricades went up across Prague on May 5 and in the following three days of fighting it’s estimated that around 12,000 could have been killed in the capital and in the countryside. Some fighting even continued after the official ceasefire to end the war in Europe.

Among those attending Friday’s memorial event were the heads of both Czech house of parliament, Milan Štěch and Jan Hamáček, prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka, and mayor of Prague, Adriana Krnáčová. There were also a handful of participants from those events from over 70 years ago.

Leader of the Upper House, the Senate, Milan Štěch, said the rising was not a meaningless act at the end of the war as it was sometimes portrayed. It is estimated that it helped accelerate the war’s end in Europe by around two weeks and encouraged Nazi forces to quit Prague before it was turned into ruins:

Milan Štěch, photo: CTK
ʺThe Germans were counting on the fact that their main defences would have been on the left bank of the Vltava. That would have meant the whole of Malá Strana and Prague Castle during the fighting would have ended in ruins. Charles Bridge, the Tyn Church, the Powder Tower, and Old Town Hall, everything would have been in ashes as the Germans retreated. That was what they were counting on. There were around a million German soldiers in the whole Bohemian sector. It is necessary to see the all round picture. The Prague rising was far from a pointless act. Not only did it have a tactical, strategic, military, and political significance, but it also helped to unify the nation."

Czech prime minister Bohuslav Sobotka recalled that 90 people alone died on May 5 at the radio headquarters. Commemorating the sacrifices of the past also committed today’s citizens to recognise and fight evil and defend freedom and democracy, he said.