At the beginning of May 1945 fighting was still going on in Prague. The Czech lands were one of the last places in Europe where people were dying even after the official end of hostilities between the German Army and the Allies on May 8. There was a last-minute uprising in the Czech capital and the US 3rd Army was only some 80 kilometers (or about 50 miles) away, near the western city of Plzeň.
The City of Prague Museum has published the results of two unique archaeological digs carried out in the centre of the city. Among the discoveries are everyday objects from Wenceslas Square dating to back to Medieval Times which shed light on everyday life. They also include a rare statuette of a Madonna.
Tomáš Lom is one of the very few surviving Czechoslovaks who served in Britain’s RAF during World War II. Born Tomáš Löwenstein into a Jewish family in Prague, he signed up in London the moment he turned 18 and ended up serving as a wireless operator in the Bahamas in the latter period of the conflict.
Archbishop, later Cardinal, Josef Beran, become a symbol of opposition to totalitarian regimes. He was dubbed the archbishop who refused to be silenced. The punishment for speaking out was imprisonment first under the Nazi occupation and then the Communists. In this week’s Czechs in History we look at Josef Beran’s exemplary life on the 40th anniversary of his death in exile.
The remains of exiled Czech Cardinal Josef Beran have been taken from the Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica. On Friday, they will be flown to Prague and later buried in Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral. Cardinal Beran was exiled to Rome in 1965 and died there four years later. He was buried in the Vatican because the communist authorities didn’t approve his final wish for his body to be returned to his homeland.
Czechs have only one president instantly recognizable by his initials: TGM for Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. He was an icon of the newly-independent Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1935. Venerated by most, denigrated only by some, he has always remained a powerful symbol of the Czech democratic state. I recently met with Charlotta Kotik, the great-granddaughter of the first Czechoslovak president, to talk about her family heritage.
Former US ambassador to Czechoslovakia William Luers and his wife Wendy recently visited Prague and gave a talk at the American Centre about what it was like to be posted in Communist Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, how they were able to support dissidents such as Václav Havel and how they later helped the country on the road to democracy. I spoke to them after the debate and began by asking the former ambassador what it had been like to serve behind the Iron Curtain.
Martin Šmok moved to the US in the 1990s to work with the USC Shoah Foundation, which has recorded video interviews with more than 50,000 Holocaust survivors. Long back in Prague, he remains a senior international program consultant with the project and is also active in the field of education. When we spoke, the conversation took in Czech attitudes to the Holocaust, “constructs of the enemy” in Czech society and more. But I first asked Šmok how he had been shaped by working with the testimonies of Holocaust survivors for over two decades.
An exhibition showcasing items and documents from Czech collections recently listed on a UNESCO list of world documentary treasures has got underway in Prague. Visitors can see the Great Siege of Malta Map from the 16th century, the Kynžvart daguerreotype or items from composer Leoš Janáček’s archive.