Thoughts from Prague, Part II: History and Human Rights brought home

Guidon staffers Sonja Jordan and Michelle Masperi are in Prague during spring break to cover a conference on Human Rights co-organized by Norwich history professor Rowland Brucken.  

Last night we went on a guided tour throughout the city. We were all hungry, jet lagged, and had been on our feet all day. The wind was brisk and my feet were throbbing with every step on the old cobblestone streets. But when you are in the pack, you follow.
  We started first by seeing the Charles bridge. The sun had set and the water was lit up with the reflections of the car and boat lights. It was windy and loud, but oddly, I felt at peace and very quiet when I saw the bridge that had started being built in 1357. This bridge is the oldest man-made structure I have seen in my whole life. This bridge is older than my country.

  We pushed on, and arrived at the Cathedral Church Sts. Cyril and Methodius, otherwise known as the Parachutist’s church.It was here that on June 18, 1942, Operation Anthropoid was carried out. In the church was Reinhard Heydrich, the third-highest ranking Nazi, who was assassinated by seven Czech and Slovak men. This is considered one of the greatest acts of resistance in all of occupied Europe, especially considering Czechs were not allowed to fight in the war due to the Munich Agreement.

  In front of the church is a memorial for the men who took their own lives in the face of being surrounded by the 700 SS and Gestapo troops, who had tried to flood them out of the basement using fire hoses. At the foot of the memorial were candles and purple tulips, no more than a week old.
  Purple tulips are known for representing rebirth, and for the Czechs, I could not pick a flower more fitting.

 

  I’ve noticed that at many monuments in Prague that are decades old, people still leave flowers or candles.At the Jan Palach and Jan Zajíc memorial, there were also candles and flowers, as well as some potpourri left at the base of the stone. The memorial recognized two students who set themselves on fire in an attempt to grab the country’s attention to the Soviet Invasion of 1968.

  Jan Palach, the first student to carry out the act, showered himself in petrol in Wenceslas square, and subsequently died three days later.
Prague is filled with monuments to those who stood up for what they believed, even in the face of imprisonment or execution.

  My personal favorite memorial was to the student leaders executed by the Nazis, the 1200 sent to concentration camps, and the shutdown of the Czech Universities.
The memorial is small and simple, but powerful. The hands that reach out ask to be touched, and made me think of my own privilege of being able to pursue higher education.

  Once more, they are lined with greens and flowers. We globally recognize November 17th as International Students’ Day because of the storming of the University of Prague. As a student myself, it is inspiring to see how prevalent students are on the precipice of change and progression in the society.

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