Jan Palach Life Suicide Death Wenceslas Square

 & The End Of The Prague Spring

(the euromost  site is dedicated to Jan Palach’s Memory)
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Jan Palach Life And Czech Student

Jan Palach was born in 1948, the son of parents who owned a sweet business which was seized the same year by the Communist regime. His mother then worked in a shop and his father a factory until his death when Jan was 13 years old. He joined the Prague School of economics during the ‘Prague Spring’ in 1968. On August 21st, Soviet led Warsaw Pact forces, crossed the Czech border occupied Czechoslovakia and forcibly evicted the liberal and reforming Czech Government.

In the autumn of that year Jan Palach transferred to Charles University to combine history with his economic studies. There he and his peers actively protested against the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia in the summer. In the new year he continued his studies until Jan 16th 1969 when at dusk he went to Wenceslas Square in the centre of Prague. .He stood on the incline leading up to the National Museum, poured petrol over himself and set himself on fire. He collapsed in the road and was taken to hospital with 85% body burns where he remained until his death on Jan 19th.

Before this happened he left letters stating that he was doing this as a protest against the recent Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.  More detail about why he felt it necessary to do set light to himself has come from a burns specialist Doctor Jaroslava Moserová, who treated Jan Palach at the Charles University Faculty Hospital, Palach before he died. Doctor Moserová who after the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia became a diplomat and then entered politics said that there reason he set himself alight ” was not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in, that people were not only giving up, but giving in. And he wanted to stop that demoralization”  In a statement on Wiki she suggests he said ‘. I think the people in the street, the multitude of people in the street, silent, with sad eyes, serious faces, which when you looked at those people you understood that everyone understands, all the decent people who were on the verge of making compromises.”

Initially it was thought that Jan Palach’s suicide was a lone protest but rumours that he was one of a group of students that had made a pact to end their lives the same way and for the same reasons surfaced. How many people and who they were has never been established but one other student Jan Zajic on February 26th 1968 set light light to himself in a corridor of premises in Wenceslas Square. He collapsed before he could reach the square.  He left letters citing similar reasons to Jan Palach for his own suicide.  He was buried outside Prague on orders of the Czech secret police who did not want another demonstration against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia as had occurred a month earlier at Jan Palach’ s funeral see below.  Another person Evžen  Plocek killed himself in a similar way for similar reasons. He set light to himself in the main square in Jihlava outside Prague on Good Friday 4th April 1969.   Evžen who was the deputy director of a company making car parts died on April 9th.  His action, death and funeral was censored by the Czechoslovakian from all state news coverage.


The Funeral Of Jan Palach

The funeral of Jan Palach took place on January 25th 1969. It became a focal point for the illustrating people of Czechoslovakia unhappiness of the Soviet invasion of the country the previous year. with around 750,000 people from all over the country attending the funeral. The extent of this feeling is  best illustrated that even 40 years later the population of Prague is around 1.3m/ see also Czech Republic remembers Jan Palach today below


image from CTK


Jan Palach Memorial Today

Close to the statute of Dvorak in front of the Czech National Museum at the highest point (top) of Wenceslas Square embedded into stones is s the memorial below to Jan Palach.


photo courtesy of Wiki (useful link for related interest information)

Following the fall of communism and the ‘Velvet Revoultion’ in 1989 another memorial to the victims of communism was erected close by. Though the memorial (pictured below) does not specifically cite Jan Palach by name it has become a place of pilgrimage for many visitors to Prague who have been moved by his death. Many visitors leave floral tributes here:


photo courtsey of scott’s europe


euromost.info tribute to Jan Palach

Somethings you will never forget, personally  I can remember where I was when John Kennedy was assassinated on November 22nd 1963 and when Apollo landed the first men on the moon on July 20th 1969. Then a month later as a politically aware teenager in the middle of the cold war  I can also remember hearing with horror on my transistor radio the news of the Soviet Invasion of Czechoslovakia whilst on holiday in Kent. Where the Americans, in spite of my misgivings about their war in Vietnam,  actually right about the Soviet threat under President Leonid Brezhnev or were they both as bad as one another?

Several months, at the age of 14,  later another more disturbing event would have a lifelong impact on my political thought and steer me well away from the appeal that communism has to many ideologically minded  teenagers. On January 16th 1969 Jan Palach poured petrol over himself and set himself alight in Wenceslas Square in Prague because he was unhappy about the Soviet occupation of his country. After he died three days later I  saw black ans white pictures of him on fire and film of the estimated . 750,00 people who went to his funeral. Obviously I could not go and my attempts to obtain a visa to Czechoslovakia for several years afterwards failed – but vowed one day to place flowers on the spot where this happened in his memory.

My wish was fulfilled thirty two years later on the first of several visits to Prague which were the inspiration for visits to other cities in Eastern Europe. Internet information and city Information on some of these places compared with Western Europe  was ‘skimp’ and what there was centred was focused on selling wealthy visitors accommodation. The concept on these sites that these places had a history which was part of their culture which visitors might need or want to understand was rarely evident.   Addressing these shortcomings became the inspiration for producing more informative online information city guide and euromost.info was born. Since it’s inception in 2004 when Prague was the first city featured on euromost the site has involved and there are several sites in the euromost group including praguemost.info.  The existence of praguemost and all the euromost is dedicated to the memory of Jan Palach.who’s tragic death inspired my interest in Prague and many other places in Europe.



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