Czech history

News and updates about Prague and the Czech Republic

Information and news about Czech history

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  • Petra Tonder, pt. 1: My RAF pilot father, the Great Escapee

    16.07. 2018

    RAF officer Ivo Tonder played an important part in what became known as the Great Escape, a mass breakout by Allied airmen from a German prisoner of war camp in March 1944. But this was only one of many escapes by the Czech pilot, who evidently had nerves of steel – and a lot of luck. I recently spoke with his daughter, Petra Tonder, who came to our studios with a copy of In the Heavens and in Hell, a book by Tonder and the famous photographer Ladislav Sitenský. In the first half of a two-part interview, Petra Tonder describes her father’s remarkable adventures during the war.

  • Czechs celebrate legacy of reformer priest Jan Hus

    06.07. 2018

    July 6th is a public holiday in the Czech Republic marking the 603rd anniversary of the burning at stake of reformer priest Jan Hus. Masses are celebrated around the country, among others in Jan Hus’ birthplace Husinec and at Bethlehem chapel in Prague, where the reformer priest preached.

  • Czechs celebrate legacy of Saints Cyril and Methodius

    05.07. 2018

    July 5th is a public holiday in the Czech Republic honouring the legacy of Saints Cyril and Methodius who came to Great Moravia 1153 to spread the Christian faith and lay the foundations of literacy with the Glagolitic alphabet.

  • Ostrava and its Jews: 'Now No-One Sings You Lullabies'

    02.07. 2018

    David Lawson had never heard of Ostrava when, fifteen years ago, his London synagogue received a Sefer Torah that had belonged to a once vibrant community in that industrial city. Now, it’s fair to say, he is an expert on both the history of Ostrava and the key role Jews played in its development over centuries. I asked Mr. Lawson, co-author of the new book “Ostrava and its Jews: Now no-one sings you lullabies”, how it all came about.

  • Julius Tomin, pt. 2: The police made it absolutely clear I was untouchable

    02.07. 2018

    Philosopher Julius Tomin left communist Czechoslovakia for the UK a few years after signing Charter 77. As he explained when we spoke, the Plato expert found it near impossible to find a job in academia in his adopted country. But the second half of our two-part interview begins with his underground seminars in Prague; they led to the creation of the Jan Hus Educational Foundation in Oxford after Mr. Tomin invited leading Western philosophers to deliver clandestine lectures.

  • Julius Tomin, pt. 1: I wouldn’t swop my year in Hawaii for my 15 months in jail

    30.06. 2018

    The Czech philosopher and Charter 77 signatory Julius Tomin is perhaps best-known for inviting top Western philosophers to speak at clandestine seminars he ran in Prague during the late communist era. Recently the UK-based Mr. Tomin visited his native city for events marking the 40th anniversary of that move, which eventually gave rise to the Oxford-based Jan Hus Educational Foundation. But when we met I first asked the 79-year-old ex-dissident about his family background.

  • In the turbulent year of 1968, Radio Prague was "freer" than Radio Free Europe

    22.06. 2018

    In the early years of Radio Free Europe, the U.S. station – although initially founded and largely secretly funded by the CIA – played a critical role in providing balanced, objective news to listeners in the Eastern Bloc, especially during turbulent periods of history. Having failed to live up its own standards when covering the Hungarian Revolution in 1956, RFE took a radically different approach to its coverage of the Prague Spring and Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, says former RFE director A. Ross Johnson.

  • Restoration work on Prague’s Astronomical Clock reveals hidden secrets

    12.06. 2018

    Restoration work on Prague’s famous medieval Astronomical Clock at the city’s Old Town Hall has revealed hidden secrets; a number of objects which were placed in the tower by former restorers. The discovered objects include small stone statues of animals and a letter hidden in the hollow of the statue of St. Thomas, which was left there in 1948.

  • J. R. Pick and a brilliant novel of the Holocaust: Part 2

    09.06. 2018

    In the last edition of Czech Books we featured an interview with Zuzana Justman, who with her older brother and mother survived the wartime Terezín ghetto. Her brother Jiří Robert Pick later wrote a remarkable novel set in the ghetto, under the title “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals”. The book draws richly from his own memories; with an unexpected lightness and humour it tells the story of a teenage boy and the people around him – his friends and the older men sharing a ward with him in the ghetto infirmary. Thanks to Zuzana Justman it has just been published for the first time in English. This week David Vaughan continues his conversation with Zuzana.

  • Karlštejn castle marks 670 years since its foundation

    07.06. 2018

    The Czech Republic’s famous Karlštejn castle, built by the Bohemian King and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, as a treasury for the crown jewels and other precious royal artefacts, is marking an important anniversary this week. It is exactly 670 years ago, in 1348, when the foundation stone of the Gothic castle was ceremoniously laid.

  • Document creating Kings of Bohemia goes on show in Prague

    05.06. 2018

    The Golden Bull of Sicily, one of the founding documents of the mediaeval Czech state, has gone on display at Prague Castle. The valuable artefact, which is only rarely accessible to the public, is part of a major exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Czechoslovakia.

  • Czechs and Slovaks mark 100th anniversary of ‘Pittsburgh Agreement’ leading to statehood

    30.05. 2018

    One hundred years ago this autumn, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk stood atop the stairs of Independence Hall in Philadelphia – where both the American Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were adopted – to proclaim the creation of a new sovereign state, Czechoslovakia. But the seeds of liberty first took firm root in the spring of 1918 with the May 31st signing of the “Pittsburgh Agreement”, a memorandum of understanding between the Czech and Slovak immigrant communities to create an independent republic.

  • Prague exhibition highlights Bohemian Celts at centre of advanced civilisation

    30.05. 2018

    A new exhibition put together by Prague’s National Museum traces the around 500 year history of the Celts as the dominant culture across most of Europe. It draws on one of the richest collections of Celtic artefacts in Europe, which is held by the museum, and showcases some of the recent thinking about this Iron Age civilisation.

  • The Defenestration of Prague 400 years on

    28.05. 2018

    400 years ago this May, Bohemian noblemen threw a pair of Hapsburg officials out a Prague Castle window. That act of rebellion, known as the “Defenestration of Prague”, sparked a revolt in the Czech lands. It was also a catalyst for the outbreak of the “30 Years’ War” in Europe – one of the longest, most destructive conflicts in human history, waged in the name of religion.

  • J. R. Pick and a brilliant novel of the Holocaust – at last available in English: Part 1

    26.05. 2018

    “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals” is a remarkable book by many standards. It is a comic novel set in the wartime Jewish ghetto in Terezín, written by the Czech satirist Jiří Robert Pick some twenty years after he survived the ghetto. The book is a classic, sparkling with life and humour, in defiance of the dehumanizing environment about which it was written. Thanks to J. R. Pick’s sister, the award-winning documentary film-maker Zuzana Justman, the book has just been published in English translation. In a two-part special, Zuzana talks about the book and the ways in which both she and her brother dealt with their childhood memories of the Holocaust. She talks to David Vaughan.

  • Owners of Czech historic buildings open doors

    25.05. 2018

    Private owners of historic buildings in the Czech Republic have opened their doors to the public and organised special events for their visitors as part of European Private Heritage Week, which takes place until Sunday. The aim of the event, which takes place under the banner ‘Our House, Your Heritage’ is to raise awareness about the contribution private owners of heritage buildings make to society as a whole.

  • Czech Radio saves audio material from Communist era Slánský show trial

    25.05. 2018

    Czech Radio has managed to save material from recently discovered audio reels of one of the Czechoslovak Communist era’s biggest show trials – that of top party leader Rudolf Slánský and 13 co-accused. The salvaged sound has now been made public.

  • Czech Radio’s buildings - past and present

    18.05. 2018

    Czech Radio is celebrating its 95th anniversary this year. The Czech national radio broadcaster has come a long way since its pioneering days. Today it is the biggest radio broadcaster in the country with 9 channels, manned not only by its Prague staff but 14 regional branches providing news and reports from around the country. The station’s buildings are also an important part of its history. On the occasion of Czech Radio’s 95th anniversary we have prepared a photo gallery of its buildings, some of them valuable architectural landmarks.

  • Listening sessions at a Prague cinema: Czech Radio’s first broadcasts recalled, 95 years later

    17.05. 2018

    Czech Radio is on Friday marking the 95th anniversary of the station’s first ever broadcast from a military airfield in Prague. The public will be able to join in celebrations the following day in the form of an open day and a free concert at a nearby park.

  • Czechs showcase destruction and conservation of Syrian heritage during civil war

    09.05. 2018

    Czechs have been in the forefront of worldwide attempts to save Syria’s significant archaeological heritage. The Czech National Museum has been one of the major players in those moves and on Wednesday it opened an exhibition in Prague outlining what has been lost and what has been saved during the country’s civil war.

  • Mobile museum tracks Czechoslovaks epic fights and flight from Russia

    08.05. 2018

    A mobile museum on rails is criss-crossing the Czech Republic is a bid to recreate the exploits of Czech soldiers serving in allied armies during WWI. The main focus is on the so-called Czechoslovak legionnaires in Russia, when they started out fighting against Austro-Hungarian and German armies and eventually found themselves battling the new Bolshevik regime in an epic struggle along around 5,000 kilometres of the Trans-Siberian railway.

  • Wife of a WWII war hero: Zuzana Wienerová

    08.05. 2018

    Zuzana Wienerová emigrated to the United States in the 1960’s with her late husband, RAF pilot and World War II hero Jan Wiener. Mr. Wiener was imprisoned by the Communists for five years after returning from Britain. We spoke today about their romantic love story, their life in the U.S. and the challenges they faced. I first asked her how she and her husband met.

  • The US Army and the liberation of Czechoslovakia in 1945

    05.05. 2018

    At the beginning of May 1945 fighting was still going on in Prague. The Czech lands were one of the last places in Europe where people were dying even after the official end of hostilities between the German Army and the Allies on May 8. There was a last-minute uprising in the Czech capital and the US 3rd Army was only some 80 kilometers (or about 50 miles) away, near the western city of Plzeň.

  • Prague archaeologists shed light on medieval city

    03.05. 2018

    The City of Prague Museum has published the results of two unique archaeological digs carried out in the centre of the city. Among the discoveries are everyday objects from Wenceslas Square dating to back to Medieval Times which shed light on everyday life. They also include a rare statuette of a Madonna.

  • I was very keen on teaching the Germans a lesson, says Tomáš Lom, one of few surviving Czech RAF vets

    28.04. 2018

    Tomáš Lom is one of the very few surviving Czechoslovaks who served in Britain’s RAF during World War II. Born Tomáš Löwenstein into a Jewish family in Prague, he signed up in London the moment he turned 18 and ended up serving as a wireless operator in the Bahamas in the latter period of the conflict.

  • Dissident group that aided political prisoners recalled, 40 years later

    26.04. 2018

    Friday marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most significant dissident organisations in communist Czechoslovakia. The Committee for the Defence of the Unjustly Prosecuted helped the families of victims of the regime and succeeded in winning international attention for political prisoners.

  • Fighter against dictatorships: Cardinal Josef Beran

    23.04. 2018

    Archbishop, later Cardinal, Josef Beran, become a symbol of opposition to totalitarian regimes. He was dubbed the archbishop who refused to be silenced. The punishment for speaking out was imprisonment first under the Nazi occupation and then the Communists. In this week’s Czechs in History we look at Josef Beran’s exemplary life on the 40th anniversary of his death in exile.

  • Czech Cardinal’s last wish to be respected after almost 50 years

    20.04. 2018

    The remains of exiled Czech Cardinal Josef Beran have been taken from the Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica. On Friday, they will be flown to Prague and later buried in Prague’s St. Vitus Cathedral. Cardinal Beran was exiled to Rome in 1965 and died there four years later. He was buried in the Vatican because the communist authorities didn’t approve his final wish for his body to be returned to his homeland.

  • Charlotta Kotik: the independent great-granddaughter of the first Czechoslovak president TGM

    14.04. 2018

    Czechs have only one president instantly recognizable by his initials: TGM for Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. He was an icon of the newly-independent Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1935. Venerated by most, denigrated only by some, he has always remained a powerful symbol of the Czech democratic state. I recently met with Charlotta Kotik, the great-granddaughter of the first Czechoslovak president, to talk about her family heritage.

  • Former US ambassador to Prague, William Luers, on what it was like to serve in Communist Czechoslovakia

    12.04. 2018

    Former US ambassador to Czechoslovakia William Luers and his wife Wendy recently visited Prague and gave a talk at the American Centre about what it was like to be posted in Communist Czechoslovakia in the 1980s, how they were able to support dissidents such as Václav Havel and how they later helped the country on the road to democracy. I spoke to them after the debate and began by asking the former ambassador what it had been like to serve behind the Iron Curtain.