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Jan Palach profile

Jan Palach - in the name of truth and freedom

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...Talking Point about Jan Palach


The wave of suicide attempts by immolation that ran through the Czech lands in the first months of 1969 was a unique event on a world-wide scale, a result of the social atmosphere at the time. After Palach, 26 people attempted suicide between January 20, 1969 and the end of April that year, 7 of whom died.

Jan. 16, 1969 - Jan Palach, a student at Charles University in Prague, protesting the occupation of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact forces as well as the abandonment of democracy by Czechoslovak politicians, doused himself with flammable liquid, set a match to his clothes and set himself aflame on Wenceslas Square near the statue of St. Wenceslas at 3 p.m.

Jan. 19, 1969 - Jan Palach died as a result of his burns in the Burn Clinic on Legerova Street in Prague. Student sculptor Olbram Zoubek secretly took a death mask of Palach and the next day brought the cast fastened to a black disk to the Museum ramp, where university students held a funeral ceremony for Palach.

From Jan. 16 to Palach's funeral on the 25th, a group of young people held a protest hunger strike at the statue of St. Wenceslas for the fulfillment of his demands. Among them was also the next "torch", Jan Zajic.

Jan. 20, 1969 - A large group of people gathered under the St. Wenceslas statue on Wenceslas Square and soon began to move in a silent procession, adorned with Czechoslovak state flags, black flags and enlarged photographs of Jan Palach. At the head was a sign carried by students that read "We will stay faithful". The procession that Prague doesn't remember slowly, quietly moved on toward Mustek at the bottom of the square, from there to the Powder Gate, along Revolucni and Dlouha streets through Old Town Square toward the campus of Charles University, where Palach studied aesthetics. In the hall of the Philosophical Faculty building, the clocks were stopped so they showed the exact time of Palach's death (3:15). At 5 p.m. the entire square in front of the faculty building, as well as the surrounding streets were full. On the building's balcony there appeared representatives of the faculty, students, workers and politicians. On this day Josef Hlavaty burned himself alive (he died on January 25, 1969).

Jan. 22, 1969 - Miroslav Malinka set himself on fire and Blanka Nachazelova suffocated herself with coal gas.

Jan. 25, 1969 - Jan Palach is buried in Prague at the Olsany cemetaries; the funeral included a ceremony at the Karolinum organized by Petr Josef Vilimek, who was the state's witness of Palach's deed; Zdenek Tous said farewell to Palach for the Prague studentry; the funeral became a large demonstration for freedom and democracy; the coffin with Palach's remains was displayed in the Karolinum as an act of last respects. Academic functionaries, artists, students, and several politicians took their turns at the coffin. The evening after the funeral, church diginitaries held a funeral mass for the deceased.

The attendance of Palach's funeral as well as the demonstrations connected with his act were an excuse for terrible repression and for dealing with personal files through various audits and so-called complex evaluations, which every citizen of an active age had to go through. (The STB studied the photographs from the funeral.)

Feb. 25, 1969 - Jan Zajic, an 18-year-old student at a vocational school in Sumperk sets himself on fire; he left behind a poem about Palach and four letters, in which he described himself as Torch no. 2. He did it in Prague in the passageway of a building on Wenceslas Square and died there. He decided to take this step after seeing that life was returning to its old routine despite Palach's action.

Apr. 4, 1969 - On a square in the southeastern Bohemian city of Jihlava, a forty-year-old technical official named Evzen Plocek sets himself on fire. In August 1968 he'd been a delegate at an illegal high congress of the Czechoslovak Communist Party, and through his actions he knowlingly took up the legacy of Jan Palach and Jan Zajic. He died on April 9, 1969.

palach foto...Jan Palach

zajic foto...Jan Zajic

plocek foto...Evzen Plocek

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