50 years ago the 20-year-old student Jan Palach set himself alight in protest at apathy in the face of the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. Now, the house where he grew up (in the town of Všetaty, Central Bohemia), is to open as a special museum in August.
The museum will feature – among other items – Palach’s briefcase and a letter found within it.
Jan Palach spent most of his life in Všetaty, where he grew up and went to elementary school. He lived in a house where his parents used to run a sweetshop.
The small house is located near the Tišický stream, at the end of Smetanova street. Jan Palach’s room was at the first floor. On 16 January 1969, he left the house for the train station in Všetaty, where he took the 6:10 train to Prague. Libuše Palachová continued to live in the house for a few more years. Then she sold the house and moved to Kamenický Šenov to live with her second son Jiří. She died there on 24 September 1980.
As early as in 1969, proposals were made in Všetaty to place a commemorative plaque on the house in Smetanova street. This, however, did not happen until 1993, when the Jan Palach Society provided for its installation. The plaque reads “This is the place where Jan Palach lived and which he left in order to die for the FREEDOM of the Czech nation (1948-1969)”. There are regular commemorative events held at the house.
January 16, 1968
Jan Palach had seen the hope of Dubcek’s promise of a better life and it must have been hard when this hope was crushed. He and others like him were sure to protest but about what? In the case of Jan Palach it was not to protest the Soviet invasion, it was to protest the effect on the Czech population that had become despondent and demoralized to the point where “acceptance of the new order” and “apathy” in respect to the choice of not protesting were widespread.
Jan Palach then decides to do something which eventually will turn him into a national icon. Having walked to the top of Wenceslas Square and standing directly in front of the National Museum, he poured petrol over his clothes and set himself on fire.
After being taken to hospital he was looked after by Dr. Jaroslava Moserova (she ran for the post of Czech President in 2005) and she listened to his reasoning until Jan Palach died on January 19th 1969.