New project to commemorate thousands of bells stolen by Nazis

A new project aims to create a new 9,801 kilogramme bell for Prague – to commemorate thousands of Czech church and tower bells stolen and melted down by the Nazis in summer 1942. The cost will be raised via a public collection.

A new project was unveiled in Prague on Thursday with the intriguing title #9801.

That is the number of Czech bells infamously taken and melted down by the Nazis 80 years ago.

It will also be the weight in kilos of a huge new bronze bell in Prague that will commemorate that pillage – with one kilo for every bell destroyed.

Marek Vocel is one of the initiators.

“The German army occupying Czechoslovakia took 9,801 bells from Czech towers and churches and moved them to Hamburg to the war factories, gun factories.

“After World War II the Communist regime didn’t support any renewing of new bells, so more than 50 percent are still missing.

“For us it was a very sad situation now, 30 years after the Velvet Revolution, that Czechs have not been able to renew their bell collection.”

Photo: Sanctus Castulus

Another member of the group behind the project is the well-known architect Josef Pleskot.

“It refers in a very direct way to the tragic that occurred here during World War II. It was a cultural tragedy, a society-wide tragedy.

“Drawing attention to this historical event through this act, this memento, is absolutely wonderful, I think.”

The nearly 10-tonne bell, which is being made in Innsbruck in Austria, will be the second biggest in the Czech Republic.

When it arrives in Prague later this year it will be placed in a temporary location before being installed – in 2024 – on Rohanský Island in Karlín.

That is the same spot where the Nazis assembled the stolen bells eight decades ago, creating an extremely chilling image in period photographs.

The new bell will be outdoors, though its final form has not yet been decided. Its huge size means four ringers will be needed to operate it.

A public collection has just been launched to raise the CZK 9 or CZK 10 million the new bell is expected to cost.

Marek Vocel explains the reason for the public appeal – which also has longer term aims.

“We would like to connect society, which we feel has been divided in the last couple of years because of the political issues, Covid issues and other things.

“We feel this should be a moment where we all stand together and put the money together and renew this big bell together.

“The bell shouldn’t just be a commemorating monument, but it should be a way how to collect money in the distant future to renew the bells which are still missing from the towers.”

As Mr. Vocel alludes to, any contributions beyond the initial amount required will go toward replacing bells at specific locations in the Czech Republic.