On January 16, 1969, Charles University philosophy student Jan Palach set fire to himself in front of the National Museum on Wenceslas Square in protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. Three days later he died in a Prague hospital.
Few acts in Czech history of the 20th century have provoked such a passionate and contradictory response as the death of Palach both in January of 1969 and still to the present day.
In 2015, the National Museum purchased a dilapidated building in Všetaty and commenced work on its transformation into a dignified memorial for Czech dissident Jan Palach. Part of the memorial is also an exhibit that examines Palach’s 1969 self-immolation in the context of the history of the 20th century. The grand opening is planned for the end of September.
The creators of the memorial faced a difficult task: capturing and interpreting the heroic deed of Palach, its influence on the destiny of society and the family itself, sensitively incorporating the memorial into the Všetaty space, and navigating the complicated space of the house where Jan Palach spent his childhood and youth.
The project opens Palach’s legacy to the general public via four interactive screens. The exhibit will also show several emotional objects related to the death of Jan Palach: the briefcase he carried on the day of his self-immolation, the national flag that covered his body after death, and the death mask created by sculptor Olbram Zoubek.
Another important aspect of the exhibition will be a screening of a documentary about Jan Palach, specially prepared for the Jan Palach Memorial by Olga Sommerová.
Both the National Museum team and external authors Petr Blažek and Michal Ježek worked on the exhibition.
“After many years of lack of interest in this important place, the National Museum has rescued the Palach family house where Jan Palach had lived since his youth while implementing an ambitious project to transform this place into a dignified and architecturally interesting space,” says National Museum general director Michal Lukeš.
The completion of construction work and preparations for the implementation of the exhibition are currently underway. The grand opening is scheduled for the end of September 2019.