Remembering the liberation of Plzen, sixty years on

Pilsen 1945

At the end of World War II most of Czechoslovakia was liberated from the east by the Red Army, but until the fall of communism, the fact that it was the Americans who liberated the far west of the country was largely ignored. It was sixty years ago this week - on the 18th April 1945 - that General George Patton's 3rd Army entered Czechoslovakia, liberating Western Bohemia from six years of Nazi-German occupation. The largest Czech city they freed was Plzen - about 80 kilometres south-west of Prague - and this year the city is to mark the 60th anniversary with major celebrations.

Pilsen 1945
Thanks to those events 60 years ago the people of Plzen still have a special affection for America, but for years the role played by the US Third Army in the liberation was virtually taboo. Today things are different. Since the fall of communism the city has gone out of its way to remember the events of April and May 1945. This year there will be four days of commemorations, from the 5th to the 8th May. The deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy, Kenneth Hillas, says that the embassy will be very much involved:

"We're going to have bands from the 76th US Army performing here in Plzen, and in other locations around the Czech Republic including Prague. We're going to have color guards and honor units participating in ceremonies, wreath-layings. Altogether we're going to have official US Government representatives in more than 50 locations in Western and Southern Bohemia. We'll have a presidential delegation, led by the Secretary for Veterans' Affairs, Jim Nicholson - he's a cabinet member and will lead it - we will have probably close to a dozen congressmen and we're expecting perhaps upwards of 200 American veterans who participated in the liberation of this part of the Czech Republic."

General George Patton
Obviously the US Government considers this event to be something quite significant - if there's going to be a presidential delegation. Why is it significant - 60 years on?

"It's significant for several reasons. Not least it is probably one of the last times that we will have the chance to honor the American veterans, who put their lives at risk and participated in the defeat of the Nazis. I think it's also significant given the many decades that Czechs were not able to commemorate these important events. We're not exactly making up for lost time but there is a desire on the part of all sides to recognize the importance of those events and developments at the end of WWII. And I think that President Bush sending a presidential delegation is recognition of the close ties between the Czech Republic and the United States."

Events being staged in and around Plzen include a conference on the legacy of the liberation, hosted by the University of West Bohemia; there will also be a huge convoy of historic vehicles - with literally dozens of Jeeps expected to take part - and, of course, on a serious note there will be ceremonies to remember both soldiers and civilians who fell during the fighting.

On the 5th May a small museum will be opened in Plzen, devoted to the role played by General Patton's 3rd Army in the liberation. It will be made up mainly of photographs, uniforms and other memorabilia.

Pilsen 1945
Vladimir Palek from the mayor's office in Plzen says that under communism people were fed with myths, aimed at distorting and playing down the 3rd Army's role. The museum, he says, will help to unravel some of these myths.

"They said that no American soldiers died in West Bohemia, and we know it is not true. There are many dozens of Americans who died. They really fought, and we try to show it."

The museum will be opened on Thursday 5th May. And if you want more information about the commemorations in Plzen, you can go to