jan palach

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These web pages present the life story of Jan Palach, a student of the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague who set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square on 16 January 1969. By this shocking act, he wanted to arouse the Czech public from lethargy following the August invasion of Czechoslovakia. Palach’s protest caused extraordinary reaction both in the Czech Republic and abroad. To this day, Jan Palach’s name is known worldwide. The above-mentioned events are introduced on these web pages in different ways. The pages contain historical texts, period photos, and archival documents. You may also familiarize yourself with Palach’s legacy through film, television and radio documentaries.

The web pages / were created thanks to a project launched at the beginning of 2007 by the Student Council, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague. Originally, we only wanted to prepare a short publication summarizing what we know about Jan Palach’s life and legacy. The original idea was then transformed into a voluminous collection of authorial texts and archival documents. The book Jan Palach ‘69 was published in January 2009.

As a part of this project, a three-day international conference took place in January 2009, and an exhibition was installed not only in the Karolinum, the historical seat of Charles University in Prague, but also in the Slovak National Museum in Bratislava.

The web pages are the final stage of the project. Besides Jan Palach’s life story, the web pages also deal with the life stories of nine other people who became “living torches” for political reasons both in Czechoslovakia and abroad. Most attention is paid to the North Moravian secondary school pupil, Jan Zajíc, and the Vysočina Region trade union leader, Evžen Plocek. We also look at the first self-immolation case in the Eastern Bloc. In September 1968, Ryszard Siwiec set himself on fire in Warsaw to protest against the Polish troops’ participation in the invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Our work would not be possible without the cooperation of a number of institutions, mainly the Security Services Archives (Archiv bezpečnostních složek), the National Film Archives (Národní filmový archiv), the National Museum (Národní muzeum), Czech Radio Archives (Archiv Českého rozhlasu), Czech Television Archives (Archiv České televize), Libri Prohibiti, and Velehrad. We would also like to thank all those who have provided photos and documents from their personal archives, mainly Jiří Palach. We are also thankful to our colleagues for their assistance, namely Jakub Jareš, Jaroslav Pažout, Viktor Portel, Tomáš Vlček, and Dan Růžička. We thank Peter Smith for providing the web domain.

Petr Blažek, Patrik Eichler, Michal Ježek, Eva Nachmilnerová



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