The independence of Czechoslovakia, which we celebrate each October 28, was the result of a movement of many decades, and when at least it came, in 1918, after four hard years of war, the joy must have been very palpable. There are so few alive today who can remember that period, but it is certainly not lost to us, and one of the ways we can relive it is through the music of the day.
A monument to Czechoslovak Legionaries who died in Russia fighting the Communists in 1918 was unveiled in Chelyabinsk on Thursday. The ceremony was attended by an official delegation and several hundred locals. An earlier memorial to the 262 dead and missing soldiers had been erected privately by local people, but was destroyed under the Soviet regime. Chelyabinsk was the scene of the Czechoslovaks’ initial revolt against Bolshevik authorities, which led to their well-known march to return home eastward. More than 4,000 of the 60,000 legionaries who fought in Russia died there. A number of memorials in Siberia commemorating the soldiers have been reconstructed since the fall of communism.
The name Jaroslav Preiss does not create many ripples when it is thrown out today. Perhaps one Czech in a hundred could identify who he was. But at the birth of Czechoslovakia and in the 1920s and 1930s, Preiss was an economic and business colossus and contributed to making the country into a major industrial player between the wars. Chris Johnstone looks at the life of the controversial figure.
Some figures are cast as heroes and others as villains. Emanuel Moravec - the face, voice and main force behind Czech collaboration with the occupying Nazis during WWII - unmistakeably belongs to the latter category. For his actions he became dubbed ‛the Czech Quisling’ – a reference the more famous Norwegian collaborator. In this week’s Czechs in History, Chris Johnstone explores Moravec’s complex character and path to collaboration.
At the end of September 1941, Hitler appointed Reinhard Heydrich as acting Reichsprotektor of occupied Bohemia and Moravia. The radio reported on his inauguration at Prague Castle, and the sound of the SS military band hammering out the German national anthem followed by the Horst Wessel song still sends a shiver down the spine.
In 1939, the chairman of the German Social Democratic Workers Party in the Czechoslovak Republic, Wenzel Jaksch, saw himself forced to escape his native land after it was invaded by Germany – staying would have put him, who opposed the growing influence of the Nazis in Sudeten-German politics, in grave danger. Wenzel Jaksch successfully escaped to London, via the Beskydy Mountains and Poland. He later shared his amazing story – and based on his written account, his children, George and Mary Jaksch, have set out for a pilgrimage in their father’s
Thousands of people on Saturday took the opportunity to inspect the historic premises of Prague Castle which are usually off-limits to the public. Thousands queued up since the early morning hours to see the castle’s interior, including the Spanish Hall, the Throne Room and the Mirror Hall. Visitors can see where the presidential elections take place, which rooms former presidents favoured and the dining room used to host banquets for visiting royals and heads of state. The Office of the President opens these premises to the public only on special occasions. The next opportunity to view them will be on October 28, a public holiday marking the birth of independent Czechoslovakia in 1918.
In sombre tones the second Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš announced his resignation on Czechoslovak Radio on October 5 1938. Since becoming president in 1935, he had been haunted by the spectre of Nazi Germany, as Hitler had fuelled separatist sentiment among the country’s 3.5 million German speakers. Here is an extract from one of President Beneš’ vain appeals for reconciliation, in April 1938.
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