Old Town Square in May 1945 / via Vojenský historický archiv VÚA

Prague uncovered: The end of World War II is captured in newsreels and re-enactments

Significant anniversaries of the end of World War II usually are marked with parades and re-creations of significant events. This year, which is the 75th anniversary, will be an exception due to restrictions on large gatherings due to the coronavirus.

Prague saw some of the last fighting of World War II in Europe. Historians say between 1,694 and 2,898 Czechs were killed and 3.000 were wounded, as well as up to 1,000 Germans,  during the May 5–8 uprising in Prague and several thousand more across the country. Soviet forces arrived in Prague on May 9. Plaques marking where fighters fell can be found across the city.

Some of the past anniversaries have been preserved online, and there is also newsreel footage of the Prague Uprising, the subsequent liberation of Prague by Soviet forces, and the return of President Edvard Beneš from his exile in Britain.

Prague City Hall has also put together an online gallery of historical photographs called V for Victory 75 (V jako vítězství 75).

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In 2015, one of the highlights of the celebrations was videomapping on a facade at Old Town Square, staged by The Macula. The seven-minute show, called Radio 45, depicted the events of the May 5–8 Prague Uprising in a graphic novel style.

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Czech Radio on May 4, 1945, sent out the message “Calling all Czechs! Come quickly to our aid! Calling all Czechs!” which started some of the last fighting in Europe in World War II.

“For some time radio staff had been working secretly with the Czech underground to prepare the ground for the uprising. Their radio appeal marked the beginning of the battle. In the confusion of the following three days with street battles going on around the city, radio was to play an important role, and the radio building also became the focus of much of the fighting. On some recordings that survive you can still clearly hear gunfire in the background,” The Macula said of their show.

In 2015 there was also a live two-hour re-enactment in Prague’s Žižkov neighborhood at Havlíčkovo náměstí called Barikáda 2015. It involved approximately 400 actors in period costume ranging from Czech, German and Russian military uniforms to butchers’ aprons, nurses’ outfits and civilian suits and dresses.

The 2015 re-enactment was the largest since a 2010 event to mark the 65th anniversary of the end of the war. That event was held at Na Pražačce on Nad Ohradou street in Prague 3. In 2005, the Barikáda event took place at the waterfront in Braník.

There was also a reconstruction of the fighting outside the Czech Radio building in 2005, using actors and historical vehicles.

Silent newsreel footage from May 1945 can be seen in the British Pathé clip called Prague Liberated. It includes street fighting, the building of barricades from paving stones, burning of German banners, scenes of the destruction in Old Town Square, and the arrival of Soviet troops, who were welcomed by the civilian population, and the return of Edvard Beneš. Czech women can be seen with flowers in their hair, cheering on the soldiers as they go by.

The National Film Archives has a half-hour film, made largely of amateur footage, called May Revolution in Prague 1945 (Květnová revoluce v Praze 1945), covers the same events with some rather shaky footage.

The role that Soviet forces played in the liberation of Prague has been in the news recently due to the statue of Soviet Marshal Konev being removed from a square in Prague 6.Many sources now say the role of soviets in liberating Prague has been exaggerated, as German forces had already left the city or surrendered.

British Pathé’s archives also has a nine-minute segment called Beneš Returns To Prague – 1945, with clear black-and-white images but some hard to decipher audio. Another version of the same footage can be found on British Movietone’s YouTube page.

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