Public broadcaster Czech TV will screen a documentary film on Thursday entitled Zabíjení po česku, or ‘Killings Czech style’. It features unique footage of a massacre of over 40 ethnic Germans that took place in Prague in May, 1945, shortly after the end of the war. The authors say they want to draw attention to the atrocities committed on German civilians in post-war Czechoslovakia, though some historians believe this particular murder was carried out by Soviet troops.
The camera follows dozens of German soldiers and civilians – men, women and children – wearing white armbands being herded along a road on the outskirts of Prague by armed Czech militias. The scene changes and we see a line of German men standing on the edge of a ditch. Then someone off screen begins shooting them at random, one after another. Then, another part of the footage shows a military truck running over the bodies, some of which are presumably still alive.
The director of the documentary, David Vondráček, says this unique footage is evidence of the violent post-war days when Czechs, frustrated by six years of Nazi occupation, often took out their anger on anyone they could lay their hands on.
“Around 40 Germans were picked up, regardless of their individual guilt, from the residential areas of Prague – Bubeneč, Ořechovka, and others, and were interned in a cinema at Bořislavka. Prague’s cinemas were converted into internment camps for Germans whose houses and apartments were meanwhile being pillaged. Then they were taken out of the cinema and killed by Czech ‘revolutionary guards’, with participation by some Soviet soldiers.”
The footage was shot by an amateur film maker on May 9, the day the Soviet troops finally reached Prague. His family later kept the film scroll hidden for more than 50 years, as the authorities did not look favourably on anyone possessing evidence of such atrocities.
Other parts of the documentary ‘Killings Czech style’ focus on the murder of more than 1,000 Germans near the north Bohemian town of Žatec in June 1945, which the director says was the biggest post-war mass murder in Europe until the massacre of Srebrenica in 1995.
Sixty-five years after the war, the mass expulsion of around three million ethnic Germans from Czechoslovakia, and the murders of several dozen thousand of them in the process, remain a sore spot for many Czechs. But historian Eduard Stehlík, form Prague’s Military History Institute says in the Prague incident, the German people did not die at the hands of Czechs.
“The truck has a Russian ID number and you can see a bunch of lilac flowers on the bonnet, which Czechs greeted the liberators with. The truck is towing a cart or a field cannon. In the forefront, you can see a Soviet officer in boots with the typical map bag, while in the background is a group of Soviet soldiers, who are watching the truck. From all this, I assume these were Soviet troops who executed a group of German civilians.”
The mass grave outside the former cinema is still there. Volunteer groups are now preparing to exhume the remains of the victims, hoping it will throw more light on one of the most controversial periods in modern Czech history.