Jan Palach

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jan Palach (1968)

Jan Palach (born August 11, 1948 in Mělník , † January 19, 1969 in Prague ) was a Czechoslovak student who burned himself to death in protest against the crackdown on the Prague Spring and the dictates of the Soviet Union . Almost five months after the Warsaw Pact troops marched into Czechoslovakia, he wanted to send a signal against the withdrawal of the reforms of Alexander Dubček's government and the resulting lethargy and hopelessness of the Czechoslovak public.

Family and education

Jan Palach's childhood home in Všetaty

Jan Palach was born on August 11, 1948 in Mělník in a private sanatorium; he grew up with his older brother Jiří (* 1941) in the small town of Všetaty north of Prague. The parents were Josef Palach and Libuše Palachová, née Kostomlatská. The father ran since the thirties a sweetshop which, however, in 1948 - the year of birth Palach was also the year of the communist revolution - in Czechoslovakia nationalized was. Josef Palach made his way as a factory worker and died when his son Jan was only thirteen years old.

In 1963 Jan came to the grammar school in Mělník , where he graduated in 1966 to start studying. Although he passed the entrance examination in philosophy, he could not start this course as intended because too many other students had applied for a place. Palach therefore first studied a few semesters at the Prague Business School . At the time of the Prague Spring of 1968, he then moved to Charles University .

Here he came into contact with the student protest against the crackdown on the Prague Spring, which resulted in strikes in the autumn of 1968.


Jan Palach Monument on Jan Palach Square in Prague with the date of the self-immolation
Monument to Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc on Wenceslas Square in front of the National Museum
Position of the monument in front of the National Museum

Jan Palach stood on January 16, 1969 between 3 and 4 p.m. by the stairs of the National Museum , which closes off Prague's Wenceslas Square to the south-east, put down his coat and briefcase on the edge of the fountain, in which there is a copy of a copy of a letter to his relatives and a number of his fellow students found the message sent, poured the contents of a petrol can over himself, lit a match, was instantly aflame all over his body, and ran out into Wenceslas Square.

A dispatcher at the local tram stop saw Palach approaching and threw his coat over him, while Palach asked him to use his coat to smother the flames. Then Palach fell to the ground on the street. The dispatcher accompanied him in the immediately arriving ambulance, in which Jan Palach, who had remained conscious, informed him that the ignition had been his own act. Palach suffered severe burns on 85% of the body surface. His condition was said to be very serious.

Palach's suicide note was not officially published, but on the night of January 20, posters were posted on the walls containing his wording:

“As our country is about to succumb to hopelessness, we have chosen to express our protest in this way in order to shake people up. Our group is made up of volunteers who are willing to burn themselves to death for our cause. The honor of drawing the first lot went to me, so I acquired the right to write the first letter and light the first torch. "

The news also promised that "more torches would go up in flames" if the censorship was not lifted and the distribution of the Zprávy (news), a news paper written under Soviet control and printed in the GDR, ceased. However, details of the group to which Jan Palach belonged were never known.

Jan Palach died from severe burns on January 19, 1969. The day before, he told a doctor that it was his duty to do so and that he did not regret it. He reiterated that there were other members of his group willing to act as he did. The doctor later said that Palach's mind was "clear and logical".

Jan Palach was interrogated by a psychologist from the Czechoslovak State Security . The tapes of this interrogation have been preserved to this day. When asked if it would hurt (the burns), he replied, "Enough".

After his death, the leader of the students who were on strike at the time, Lubomír Holeček, read on the radio the words Palach had dictated to him three hours before his death:

“My deed fulfilled its purpose. But nobody should repeat it. The students should spare their lives so that they can accomplish our goals all their lives, so that they contribute vividly to the struggle. I say goodbye to you. Maybe we'll see each other again. "

A few months earlier, on September 8, 1968, Pole Ryszard Siwiec burned himself to death during a public event in Warsaw's Dziesięciolecia stadium and in the presence of a hundred thousand people - also in protest against the crackdown on the Prague Spring. Four days later he died of burns in the hospital. It can hardly be proven or refuted whether Jan Palach took him as a model, since the authorities of communist Poland put a thick cloak of silence over the incident. Siwiec's deed was made public for the first time two months after Palach's death on Radio Free Europe . There is also no evidence of a connection with the Saigon monk Thích Quảng Đức , who burned himself to death in 1963 in protest against the South Vietnamese President Ngô ziehtình Diệm .


On the afternoon of the day Palach died, around 200,000 people flocked to Wenceslas Square to lay wreaths at the point where Palach had fallen to the ground. Led by Palach's fellow students, the crowd went across Prague's old town to the Philosophical Faculty of Charles University , where they replaced the plaza in front of the main building of the faculty - which was called " Red Army Square " - by changing the signs Renamed “Jan-Palach-Platz”. This measure was immediately reversed by the government, so that an official renaming only took place after the Velvet Revolution of 1989.

Alexander Dubček suffered a nervous breakdown at the news of Palach's death. The Soviet Union preferred not to comment on this incident, although the TASS spoke of an "anti-socialist provocation". However, a little later, the Central Committee of the CPČ tried to downplay Palach's deed by issuing an official statement; Attempts had already been made to portray Palach's deed as the act of a mentally ill person or a person who did not act of his own free will. The official statement claimed that Palach actually wanted to shower himself with a mixture - sourced from West Germany - that is also used by fire-eaters ("cold flame") and that could not have caused serious burns. However, his fellow students would have replaced the mixture with gasoline without his knowledge.

After a minute's silence across the country on January 24th and after a ceremony at Charles University at the feet of a statue of Jan Hus , Palach's funeral turned into a mass demonstration in which over 10,000 people took part.

Jan Palach became a martyr for a free Czechoslovakia and a strong symbolic figure. Not least because of this, in 1973, under pressure from the Czechoslovak authorities, he was reburied in the cemetery of the city of Všetaty, where trains were not allowed to stop around January 16 every year in order to avoid rallies and commemorative events and which were only partially accessible by car during this time was. Jan Palach was only reburied in the Olšany Cemetery in Prague after the Velvet Revolution .


In the week after Palach's death, five other people in Czechoslovakia took their own lives for political reasons, including the student Blanka Nacházelová , who suffocated herself with gas, which she announced in an unofficially distributed suicide note for the same reasons as Jan Palach did. Here the government, with the intention of downplaying its act in public and turning it into its opposite, published a forged suicide note claiming that it was threatened with an acid attack and coerced into its act, giving its signal to begin suicide that a black automobile of a western brand should have been honking from the street.

One month later, Palach's symbolic deed was repeated by Jan Zajíc's “Torch No. 2” , also on Wenceslas Square. In the same year, on April 4, 1969, Evžen Plocek burned himself in Jihlava , which ended the series of burns.

Jan Palach's popularity and possibly extensive descriptions in the media have led to several people in the Czech Republic later getting burned or trying to do so. In the spring of 2003, six young people, such as Zdeněk Adamec, burned themselves to death on March 6, 2003 in the same place in front of the National Museum. Adamec referred explicitly to Jan Palach in a suicide note published on the Internet and wrote in his suicide note that democracy is nothing more than the rule of officials, money and the oppressors of the people.


Monument on Jan Palach Square in Prague

As early as August 22, 1969, the astronomer Luboš Kohoutek named an asteroid after Jan Palach - (1834) Palach . At the point in front of the National Museum, where Jan Palach fell to the ground, a metal cross is now embedded in the pavement, although it is a few meters away from the actual place, as a three-lane road runs there. Not far from there is a memorial to Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc below the Wenceslas Monument . The monument was made by the sculptor Olbram Zoubek .

On October 28, 1991, the then President Václav Havel posthumously awarded Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc the Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk Order of First Class for their contribution to the consolidation of democracy and human rights.

The tomb of Jan Palach, like that of Jan Zajíc, was declared a National Cultural Monument of the Czech Republic on November 23, 2019 .

Graffiti on the building of the student club "Jan Palach" in Rijeka , Croatia .

Numerous streets and squares in the Czech Republic and a few in other European countries are named after Jan Palach. In the Piazza Jan Palach in Rome there is a monument inaugurated on January 18, 1970. Other monuments can be found in London and Vevey .


In memory of the self-immolation, a three-part film with the title " Burning Bush - The Heroes of Prague " (Czech: Hořící keř, English: Burning Bush) was made by the Polish director Agnieszka Holland . This film was broadcast by ORF in January 2014. At the International Film Festival in Rotterdam in 2013 , the film was presented abroad.


  • Jiří Lederer: Jan Palach. A biographical report . Revised edition for the German edition. Unionsverlag, Zurich 1982, ISBN 3-293-00037-1 (Czech: unpublished manuscript . Translated by Roswitha Ripota).
  • Alan Levy: Lost Spring. An American in Prague from 1967 to 1971 . Vitalis, Prague 1998, ISBN 80-85938-31-6 (American English: So many heroes . Translated by Tanja Krombach and Maria Gaul).
  • Sabine Stach: Legacy Policy. Jan Palach and Oskar Brüsewitz as political martyrs . Revised edition for the German edition. Wallstein-Verlag, Göttingen 2016, ISBN 978-3-8353-1815-1 .

Web links

Commons : Jan Palach  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. childhood. In: janpalach.cz, accessed on December 19, 2019.
  2. ^ The grave of Jan Palach. In: knerger.de, accessed on December 19, 2019.
  3. Description as a cultural monument ÚSKP 106393 in the monument catalog pamatkovykatalog.cz (Czech).
  4. The monument to Jan Palach. Rome, Piazza Jan Palach. In: janpalach.cz, accessed on December 19, 2019.
  5. The monument to Jan Palach. London, 22 Ladbroke Square. In: janpalach.cz, accessed on December 19, 2019.
  6. The monument to Jan Palach. Vevey, Switzerland. In: janpalach.cz, accessed on December 19, 2019.
  7. ^ Martina Schneibergová: Film series about Jan Palach premieres in Prague. In: Radio Prag from January 24, 2013, accessed on December 8, 2015.