Exactly 75 years ago, on Valentine’s Day 1945 two confused bomber groups of the USAF accidentally bombed Prague. The raid killed hundreds of Czechs and left over a thousand wounded, while also damaging a number of the capital’s historic buildings. It was subsequently used in Nazi and Communist propaganda and remains a painful memory to this day.
European Commission vice president Věra Jourová, whose portfolio includes promoting EU values, transparency and the rule-of-law, called out Russia last week for “distorting” the history of World War II. Specifically, the former Czech minister objected to attempts “to paint victims, like Poland, as perpetrators”. We look into the ongoing war of words between Moscow and former Soviet satellites, not least the Czech Republic, over historical facts.
In connection with this year’s 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Czech Embassy in London has just launched a special project entitled Never Forgotten. During this year Ambassador Libor Sečka plans to lay flowers at every known grave and memorial of Czechoslovak soldiers who died in the UK in the war years, as well as gathering information on the current state of those sites. I discussed the project with Mr. Sečka on the phone from London.
A few years ago I spent an unforgettable day with Jaroslav and Alžběta Hofrichter. It was 2013, Jaroslav was 93, Alžběta 91, and they were living in sheltered accommodation for Second World War veterans at Prague’s Military Hospital. I was there to hear their life story, a tale of courage, resilience, a touch of luck and, above all, of the enduring power of love. The Hofrichters were known by their many friends as the “turtledoves”. Having met them I could see why. If there is an elixir for a happy marriage, they had found it. Jaroslav spent four
Plans are afoot to move the remains of General František Moravec from the US to his hometown of Čáslav in central Bohemia. If the funding can be raised, the local authorities are offering a new site for the ashes of the man who headed Czechoslovak military intelligence before and during WWII and is said to have ordered Operation Anthropoid.
The local council of Prague’s western Řeporyje district has unanimously voted in favour of building a memorial to the Russian Liberation Army troops that helped fight Nazi forces during the Prague Uprising in May 1945. The vote was preceded by a heated confrontation between the district’s mayor and representatives of the Russian federation about the historical legacy of the troops often referred to in Czech as “Vlasovci”.
The Czech Radio archives include many recordings from the time of World War II. They come from both sides: propaganda from within occupied Bohemia and Moravia aimed at intimidating the population and bullying them into supporting the Reich, but also recordings from abroad. Both the BBC and the government in exile in London were broadcasting to occupied Europe in Czech, at the same time informing the wider world about the fate of Czechoslovakia in English. Some of the extracts we’ll be hearing have become well known, but our archives also hold many
The Russian Embassy in Prague has criticised plans to erect a monument in
the capital’s Řeporyje district to the so-called Vlasov Army, whose
leader was hanged by the Soviets for collaborating with the Germans during
World War II.
The Russian Embassy said in a press release building such a monument would constitute a violation of the Czech commitments to the 1968 Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity, defined at the Nuremberg trials.
At the start of the war, General Andrei Vlasov commanded the Red Army on the Smolensk front. After being captured, he embraced the German cause and went on to lead a collaborationist force comprised mainly of former Soviet prisoners of war.
By February 1945, his “army” – which had only one fully formed division – fought briefly on the Oder Front before switching sides and helping the Czechs liberate Prague from Nazi occupation in early May 1945.
After the end of the Second World War it was often very difficult to catch and bring Nazi war criminals and their collaborators to justice. Historian Vojtěch Kyncl from the Czech Academy of Sciences has written a new book called Beasts: Czechoslovakia and the Persecution of Nazi Criminals, which explores the Czechoslovak side of this endeavour. I began by asking him when the allies, including Czechoslovakia, first committed to bringing Nazi war criminals to justice.