We Are Defending Prague! We Will Defend Prague!

On 4 May 1945, authorities of the Nazi occupied Czech Lands, the so-called Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, received a surprising telegram from Minister of Transport Kamenický: “From now on, the Czech language is the only official language in the Protectorate!” Although the Germans immediately deny the telegram, the message spreads quickly.

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People run into the streets and start painting over, covering up and destroying German signs. The first skirmishes with German soldiers take place. The next morning, General František Slunéčko, the last commander of the resistance organization Obrana národa (“Defense of the Nation”), issues an order: “Start the fight!”

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Boj o rozhlas

We are defending Prague! We will defend Prague! Prague is, Prague will remain free!!!

On the orders of General Slunečko, “Bartoš”, the underground military headquarters of Greater Prague, sends Czech police officers, gendarmes and the mostly ceremonial Protectorate Government Army to occupy key positions in Prague.

At Czech Radio, the police unit encounters unexpectedly strong resistance from the Germans. There is shooting both outside and inside of the building, civilians and soldiers die in the streets. The situation is critical.

At exactly 12:30 on 5 May 1945, Czech Radio broadcasts a call for help. Hundreds of people rush to the radio building in Prague-Vinohrady. Radio broadcasts are key to the uprising. Praguers learn from them how to build barricades and where reinforcements are needed. They receive information that German SS units are bearing down on Prague from Benešov and that the Vlasov Army is coming to help the insurgents with tanks. Czech Radio not only informs the population, but also strengthens the people’s courage.

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About 30,000 Praguers take part in the uprising. The insurgents are poorly armed and most of them do not have military training. They have ten improvised armored trains and about ten ground combat vehicles.

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On the night of 5–6 May 1945, the inhabitants of Prague erect more than 2,000 barricades. The capital has become impassable – a major complication for the Wehrmacht.

Entire detachments of the German Army Group Mitte are supposed to retreat westward through Prague. They want to surrender to the Third U.S. Army, who, they hope, will comply with the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war. Under no circumstances do the Germans want to fall into Soviet captivity. They outgun the people of Prague by far and are determined to shoot their way through to the demarcation line at Rokycany, where the U.S. Army has stopped and is awaiting orders.

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Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe General Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke to General Alexei Antonov, Chief of Staff of the Soviet Army, suggesting that the Third Army would have been able to move to  Prague and reach it in two or three hours. Antonov rejected the plan, urging Eisenhower to stick to the previous political agreements according to which Prague should be liberated by the Soviets. Antonov assured the Americans that the Red Army had already started the Prague operation.

But it's not true. The units of the Fourth Ukrainian Army were between Opava and Ostrava, the First Ukrainian Army close to Berlin, the Second  Ukrainian Army at Brno. The Soviets got agreement with the Czech communists to start the uprising on May 7th and to end it not before May 20th.

The people of Prague are on their own. The commanders of the insurgency are desperate. The radio calls out: “Help us!!! We need guns! There are many Germans!”

The SS battle groups Wallenstein and Milowitz, General Reimann's battle group, and the SS battle group “Der Führer” are aiming for Prague. In many places in Prague, the Germans are chasing civilians in front of their armored vehicles as living shields. All the inhabitants of houses from which shots are fired at them are dragged out and executed on the spot. The barricades do not pose insurmountable obstacles for the German tanks either.

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The largest German attack took place on 7 May 1945. If the insurgents had not been reinforced by tanks, cannons, anti-tank weapons and, above all, trained soldiers, they would not have been able to resist the German SS battle groups.

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Josef Pešata: O smrti bratra

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It is difficult to imagine how the Prague Uprising would have turned out, if soldiers of the Russian Liberation Army (ROA), the so-called Vlasov Army, had not come to the aid of the people of Prague. As early as 5 May, this army began to move to Prague from Suchomasty (a village about 40 kilometers southwest of Prague near Beroun).

How many of them were there? In the vicinity of Prague about 25,000, if we count men, women and children, the so-called sons and daughters of the ROA. To this day, however, it is not known exactly how many Vlasov soldiers took part in the Prague Uprising. Experts estimate their number at 5,000 to 7,000. According to documents from 7 May 1945, we know that the commander of the Vlasov Army reported 300 of his soldiers killed or wounded to the Czech National Council.

The Germans established the Russian Liberation Army (ROA) in the second half of 1944 from Russian prisoners of war. General Andrei Andreevich Vlasov became the commander of the ROA. Soldiers dressed in German uniforms, armed with small arms, Soviet T-34 tanks and armored vehicles, entered the territory of the Protectorate in a state of rebellion. They mounted Czechoslovak flags on their vehicles and wore armbands with the inscription “POA” (the letter “R” is written as “P” in Cyrillic).

In many places, the people of Prague welcomed them as liberators and saviors. German troops retreated before them and capitulated on the morning of 8 May, under the onslaught of Prague insurgents and Vlasov soldiers.

The fate of the Vlasov Army – originally allies of Nazi Germany and opponents of Stalin, later saviors of the Prague Uprising – was tragic. When they learned that the Czech Communists and politicians were distancing themselves from them, Vlasov’s troops left for Suchomasty on the morning of 8 May and from there traveled on to the Americans. But the demarcation line was closed. Like German soldiers – and again by political agreement – the Americans left them to the mercy of the Red Army. Vlasov wrote a desperate letter to the U.S. and U.K. governments, explaining the ROA's views and raising concerns about the fate of his troops, but it was too late.

The Soviets dealt with Vlasov’s soldiers in their own way, executing some en masse and sending others to Soviet prisons and labor camps. General Vlasov and other ROA commanders were convicted in Moscow and hanged on 2 August 1946.

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Who were the people who took part in the Prague Uprising? Gendarmes, government soldiers, firefighters, members of the Sokol and Orel sports groups, old and young people.

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The youngest fighters – the Scouts, or Junáci, as Czech Scouts call themselves – are worthy of special attention. This youth organization, banned during the Nazi occupation, was preparing for an uprising illegally throughout the entire war.

In 1940, two friends from the 5th Water Scouts Unit, Jaromír Klika and Adolf Karlovský, met at the Švanda Theater in Prague-Smíchov. They agreed: “It's time to keep the Scout’s promise,” recalls Jaromír Klika, who was 19 at the time, in an interview for Memory of Nations.

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Jaromír Klika: O založení Zbojníka

The meeting of Klika and Karlovský brought about the formation of a 12-member resistance intelligence group named Zbojník. The boys trained with mock weapons, published anti-Nazi leaflets, collected information about military facilities in the Protectorate and transmitted them to London by radio.

From Zbojník the Intelligence Brigade (ZB) formed. By 1943, it had more than 200 members. During the uprising, ZB proved to be one of the best-prepared paramilitary organizations in the Czech anti-Nazi resistance.

“I promise on my honor, to love my country and to serve it at all times,” Scouts swear as an oath. In addition to Zbojník, the Scouts formed other resistance groups in the Protectorate. The average age of these resistance fighters was around 15 years. In military fashion, they broke down into platoons and companies. Older boys who had completed military service were in command and taught them how to handle weapons.

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The Gestapo failed to uncover the Scouts in the Intelligence Brigade during the war, despite their transmitting nearly 8,000 messages to London. Those messages served, among other things, as the basis for British RAF air raids. During the Prague Uprising, Scouts often served as so-called liaison officers. They ran or rode on bikes to pass messages between headquarters. Dozens of Scouts fought on the barricades.

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On 8 May, the fighting in Prague loses its meaning. The Germans did not succeed in passing through the city; front-line Wehrmacht units have to circumvent Prague.

Soviet aircraft attack retreating German columns, destroying roads and bridges. Hundreds of civilians die in air raids.

On the evening of 8 May, the German garrison surrenders. The last German convoy exits through the center of Prague on the morning of 9 May. The first Red Army tanks to enter the capital at 4 o'clock that morning are already attacking the Germans. At that time, SS units were still fighting in Břevnov at Na Malovance, Letenské náměstí and in Zlíchov.

Czech Radio calls on Praguers to remove the barricades to aid the Red Army’s advance. The Soviets clash with the retreating Germans in the morning in Dejvice, at Klárov and at the intersection U Bulhara next to the Main Railway Station.

Prague is battered; dozens of houses have burned down.

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The dead bodies of Germans, insurgents and Vlasov soldiers lie in the streets. Thousands of civilians leave air raid shelters and cellars.

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The Red Army captures 800,000 German soldiers and refugees in the Protectorate. For the captured Germans, their families and collaborators, the Soviets set up, in cooperation with the Czech authorities, more than 40 internment camps in Prague.

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One of the largest is located in Strahov Stadium. Designated as Internment Camp No. 10, according to testimony, it is managed by the Czech SNB Police Guard Regiment. It is strictly forbidden to take photos of the buildings, so we do not have pictorial documentation.

“From the Kinský garden up Na Hřebenkách Street towards Strahov, the corpses of German soldiers were piled. Some deportation transport was marching up there; the Soviets passed by and cut them down with a machine gun. I saw them chasing and beating women collaborators with shaved heads,” recalls Ivan Kvasnička, a former member of the uprising, a former member of the Intelligence Brigade.

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It is difficult to describe the atrocities that the Soviets, Czech police, soldiers and civilians committed at the very end of the war against unarmed and surrendering German soldiers, Nazi officials, women and girls, including children. Hundreds of Praguers lynch Nazi collaborators and innocent German residents in the streets. People dragged their German neighbors out in front of the house and executed them.

People describe cases of prisoners being burnt alive, and the rape of German girls. Women denounced, for example, for having an affair with a German, have their heads shaved completely and are forced to clean the streets together with arrested German men. People shout abuse at them and attack them physically. Literary historian Květoslava Neradová, who witnessed this as a child, can not understand what happened then: “It’s as if a demon entered into people,” she says.

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