Remains of dozens of communist-era political prisoners found at Prague prison

Honorary burial ground of freedom fighters, opponents of communism, executed and martyred political prisoners, Ďáblický hřbitov, Prague 8

Researchers have announced a gruesome find at Prague’s Pankrác jail: the cremated remains of 80-plus communist-era political prisoners. The dead included executed opponents of the regime, though much remains unclear about the victims’ identities.

The incinerated remains of an estimated 80 or more people who died between 1948 and 1965 were discovered beneath the courtyard of Pankrác prison in Prague during a dig in November.

Among those whose bones were found: executed opponents of the then Communist regime from various jails around the country; prisoners who died in the hospital at Pankrác; and soldiers who took part in the anti-Communist resistance.

Alena Šimánková | Photo: Institute for the Study of Totalitarian Regimes

At a presentation this week of the research that resulted in this gruesome find, Alena Šimánková of the Czech National Archive told Czech Television how the remains had ended up where they did.

“There was a store for urns near the execution ground. They evidently just went outside and scattered the remains. It seems that the urns were destroyed.”

That area of the prison was later cleared. The gallows were removed and the site abandoned until 1992, when a place of commemoration was established there.

Pankrác prison commemorative plaque for executed opponents of the regime | Photo: Martina Schneibergová,  Radio Prague International

The aim of the recent research project on that spot was to establish what had become of political prisoners’ remains that were not interred in cemeteries in the city’s Ďáblice or Motol.

Archeologists discovered fragments of organic material in the soil in Pankrác that matched that of human bones. The team came to the conclusion that they had uncovered the remains of people whose ashes had been emptied out of urns.

Aleš Kýr, the Czech prison service’s official historian, said they next had to find numbers showing that the deceased had been cremated.

Then they had to check if urns had been send to the families, though this was a very rare occurrence.

Place of honor at the site of the gallows in Pankrác prison | Photo: Institute of Contemporary History of the Czech Academy of Sciences

Mr. Kýr said the team’s work would help provide at least some solace to family members.

“If the survivors whose relatives don’t lie in either Ďáblice or Motol contact us, we can tell them that we know where their final resting place is.”

However, the researchers do not have a precise list of the victims buried at Pankrác and have had to rely on historical records in their attempt to determine whose remains may be there.

Alena Šimánková of the Czech National Archive said the dead could include resistance fighters Václav Švéda and Zbyňek Janata.

She also pointed out that the remains of journalist Záviš Kalandra, who also received the death sentence in the notorious show trial of Milada Horáková, have never been located.

Ms. Šimánková said Kalandra’s urn was brought to Pankrác, but that is the last thing that can be said about it with certainty.

While it will not be possible to identify individuals using the results of the dig, the researchers have begun contacting the families of those whose remains may be there.

Meanwhile there are plans to hold a commemorative ceremony this autumn for all those whose remains were dumped at Pankrác.

Pankrác prison | Photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio