In tribute from my home in Italy this 75th anniversary, I say to the Czech nation, Bravo! Your fighting spirit won the battle (and the war for you), and you sacrificed so much for your freedom on May 8, 1945, which sadly lasted only three years, but you didn’t give up through 40 years of hell. You endured the Prague Spring crushing in 1968 and the worst years of communism after that. In 1989, you again emerged victorious, and I hope beyond hope that your democratic ideals not only survive, but flourish.
May 9th was the day touted as liberation day by the Soviets. The Red Army rolled into Prague on May 9th only to find that the Germans had unconditionally surrendered the day before and had signed a formal capitulation to the Czech National Council. Of course, once the Soviets took control of Czechoslovakia in 1948, that date stood for 40 years, until 1989 and the fall of communism.
General Toussaint on his way to sign the capitulation, May 8, 1945
The capitulation signed by the CNC and General Toussaint
My late husband’s father, Prof. Otakar Machotka, was a vice-president of the Czech National Council, a conglomeration of three political parties that guided and lead the Prague Uprising from 3 May to 8 May, 1945.
CNC meeting. Otakar Machotka, second from right.
It was a bloody uprising with over 4,000 dead by the time it ended. Otakar was gone from the apartment those five days, planning, hiding, moving from building to building to avoid being captured. My husband remembers huddling with his mother and sisters in the basement of their apartment building as the fighting intensified in the their area. At one point a German tank blew a hole through the upper apartments, and to this day one can still see the outline of the hole in the plaster.
Otakar Machotka with Czech soldiers and partisans
The Czechs fought bravely and constructed huge street barricades to block the German tanks. They used cobblestones, rusted out cars parts, timber, wooden crates, huge spools of hoses, any material they could find.
Normally, my husband, Pavel Machotka, and I would be in Prague for this anniversary, as we have been at every anniversary since 1990 up until 2018. Our last May 8th celebration in Prague was in 2017, two months before my husband had a massive stroke that left him an invalid. He passed away last year on March 18, 2019. Sadly, even had he lived, we would not be able to be in Prague this year due to COVID.
Every time we went to Prague, we would visit the tomb where Pavel’s parents are buried in the National Cemetery at Vyšehrad. It is the tomb of Milada Horáková containing the remains of brave partisans and exiles from 1939-1945, and 1948-1989. Horáková was one of the bravest people in Czechoslovakia and was tried on trumped up charges of conspiracy and treason and hung for her bravery by the communists in 1950.
I miss you, Prague, on this day but celebrate with you in spirit!
B&W photos are from Otakar Machotka’s book, The Prague Uprising 1945, the Protagonists’ Testimonies (Pražskě Povstání 1945, Svédectví Protagonistů), edited by Pavel Machotka, 2015. Originally published in 1965 without photos, Pavel edited the book, wrote his own chapter of memories, and re-released the book in 2015. The photos were published with the generous approval and permission of the Czech National Archives, Czech TV, and the collection of Mr. Čvančara, photographer.