May 5th marks the 59th anniversary of the Prague Uprising

May 1945 in Prague, photo:

May 5th is the 59th anniversary of the Prague Uprising that saw Czechs engage their German occupiers in deadly battle, in an attempt to take back their city during the final days of the Second World War. At 12:33 on May 5th Prague radio called on all Czechs to take up arms in the organised resistance: it was the beginning of five days of fierce fighting that would see thousands lose their lives.

Antonin Sum,  photo: CTK
"Calling all Czechs! Come to our aid immediately! Calling all Czechs!"

Antonin Sum, who was involved in the resistance movement, remembers those final days of the war: he says Czechs had little choice but to fight. Not to do so would have meant leaving Prague - as well as the rest of the country - at the mercy of the frenzied losing side.

"At that moment the war was not yet officially over, it was necessary to do something against the Germans because the Germans were concentrating around Prague. They had about 1, 100, 000 soldiers and weapons. That would have destroyed our country, which was most probably in Hitler's plan. Before his death Hitler gave strict orders that the war must continue up to complete destruction: Prague would have been destroyed."

General Patton
The uprising also served to prepare the ground for the eventual liberation. Many, including Antonin Sum, expected the western allies - under the American General Patton - to reach Prague first - though, as we know, things turned out quite differently, with Eisenhower explicitly forbidding Patton to move forces into Prague. In the end, says Antonin Sum, the Czechs had to hold out alone for the arrival of the Soviets, though he does recall a curious little-known incident that helped prevent additional bloodshed.

"Patton secretly sent a small Jeep with three French officers to Prague. And these three came to Prague and saw what was going on in the Prague district of Smichov. There, there were SS Wallenstein soldiers, so they asked to be presented to the chief commander of the SS. And, they gave him the order to immediately stop all fighting in Smichov, and this SS general did it. That means they 'liberated' at the last moment, absolutely at the last moment, Smichov."

The Prague Uprising, May 1945. Today it is difficult to imagine the breadth of the destruction and terrible sacrifice 59 years ago: streets torn up, buildings shot out, bodies lining the streets. Antonin Sum, who saw terrible things, stresses that we who never had to live through such days are the lucky ones, compared to those who gave all to liberate their country.