Franta Kocourek - courage in the face of occupation in March 1939


We don't usually use archive recordings for Witness, but today we'll make an exception. This year is the 65th anniversary of the tragic day in March 1939, when German troops marched into Prague, beginning six years of Nazi occupation. At the time, Franta Kocourek was one of Czechoslovak Radio's star reporters. Four days after Bohemia and Moravia had been declared a "Protectorate of the German Reich", he reported live on the huge military parade that the Germans had organized on Prague's Wenceslas Square. He made no attempt to conceal his sense of horror at this show of Nazi military might. This was the first of many acts of defiance that soon led to Franta Kocourek being arrested. He died in Auschwitz in 1942, at the age of forty. Part of his live report from the balcony of the Hotel Sroubek on Wenceslas Square, on the 19th March 1939, survives to this day, and has become legendary in the history of Czech broadcasting.

Franta Kocourek reports on military parade of German troops
"As we wait for further divisions to arrive, I'd like to recall a memory from one of my last visits to Germany. I was reporting on the state visit by the Italian leader Benito Mussolini to Berlin in September 1937. I went to Potsdam and walked in the famous and beautiful park there, a place that's so beautiful it makes you want to smile - especially when you compare it with today.

"There, by the palace - the Neues Palais - I happened to witness the way that German military bands practice marching. It is something that to us seems incomprehensibly automatic, mechanical and dreadfully precise...

"Please allow me to interrupt this sentence. At this moment further motorized divisions are passing. Huge anti-aircraft artillery is now passing, pulled on tractors, each manned by twelve soldiers. Behind them are further, smaller anti-aircraft guns and searchlights

"I would also like to talk about one thing that has nothing to do with the military. From somewhere far away, a huge, black crow has flown into Prague. I have seen it spread its wings and sweep down the square over the searchlights and listening devices being paraded here by the German army. It must be surprised at the noise and all that is going on beneath it."