Holocaust survivor, Edith Hofmann, was an eighteen year old pupil at the Londonderry High School in 1946.
The previous year, she had been liberated from the German concentration camp, Belsen. What follows is Part 3 of her remarkable and harrowing story, which was serialised in the Derry Standard in April and May 1946.
When I recovered from typhus my weight was eighty pounds. However, a few weeks later I set out for the most wonderful journey of my life – back to Prague.
The last day of the German reign was drawing near. But the Germans were still proudly imagining, that with the small remains of their beaten armies they could prevent the hold up of the advance of armies from east and west.
They believed the propaganda reports about a miraculous weapon which would save them in the last minute.
But the military situation was not improving and so to demonstrate their power for the last time, they prepared for the destruction of the beautiful, ancient city of Prague. But the Czechs were not blind.
They saw the situation and knew that now was the right moment to prove to the world and to themselves that they wanted to and could fight for their freedom. Nothing could stop them now. The people of Prague rose against the Germans and started to fight a merciless battle in the streets and on the barricades.
5th May 1945
It was a morning just like any other, but there was something tense and unusual in the heart of every Czech. The German names on shops and streets had disappeared and in vain the police were going from house to house asking for the names to be put up again.
Otherwise, everything was calm and quiet. Later that day the Germans closed the main streets and trained guns on the important buildings. But the Czechs had already started to attack Germans in the streets and were taking away their arms.
The Germans didn’t resist. In the end somebody ventured to hang out from a window the Czech flag and soon afterwards the whole of Prague, the trams and all, were decorated with flags. People were smiling happily at each other, thinking they were free at last.
They didn’t pay much attention at first to the shots they heard, but when the German police went through the streets shooting at passers-by and into the windows decorated with flags and the houses started to tremble under the detonation, they realised that the battle had only just started.
The shooting started at the Hradčany Castle, but the S.S. were in the majority and became masters of the castle. But in the meantime the first German prisoners were taken from their houses. The centre of the battle now became the Prague Broadcasting House.
The desperate call for help by Czech announcers was answered by many brave and determined men. The Germans were in the majority and had weapons, but the Czechs had the will and courage. They fought for every step and won. They knew that the radio station would be a great help in the further development of the battle.
Immediately afterwards they fought for the main Post Office and Telephone Exchange. They surrounded the railway stations, where whole transports of Germans gave themselves up and gave up their weapons. The Germans threatened then that they would wipe out Prague and soon after that German planes came thundering over Prague and poured down a shower of bombs.
The Czech military command gave orders to build barricades and other important commands to maintain order on the streets and prevent chaos on the battle fields.
The Czech political prisoners were to be released from prison, but just when they had emerged through the gate, German planes came and bombed the prison. The whole night barricades were being built, men, women, even children helped and when Sunday morning, the 6th May, came, Prague possessed 1,600 barricades.
But by now the Germans had recovered from the shock. From all parts of Bohemia German tanks and arms were beginning to come to help the Nazis in Prague. They had weapons hidden in shelters, whereas the Czechs had hardly any weapons at all. It was an uneven fight.
At noon, when the main attack on Prague started, the Czechs realised that the situation was serious, but their courage and determination remained. They were determined to win or to die. A great encouragement was the news that the Americans had occupied Plzeň and when asked for help by the Czechs they bombed German munition camps.
They promised to send arms and to come and help with the tanks. The broadcast reported to other countries: “Prague in peril, the situation is critical.” There were many dead and wounded.
The Germans were preparing the deciding attack. They attacked from all sides and penetrated to the centre of the town. They killed every Czech they met. The Czechs had almost no weapons and Prague was in greater peril still.
The American tanks hadn’t yet arrived. Even after capitulation was announced from London, the Germans denied it and continued murdering women and children. The Czech waited in vain for the promised arms. They were losing important positions.
The women were very bravely helping the men. The Germans wanted to surrender under the condition that the railways and roads remain free for the fight against the Red Army. The Czech of course didn’t agree with these conditions and the battle continued. They were fighting courageously against a vast majority. “We won’t give Prague! Away with the Germans,” was their proverb. Many Germans were killed.
The Germans surrendered unconditionally in the whole world, but in Prague they continued to fight. The houses were burning, but the fire-service couldn’t get there, because they were attacked by the Germans on the way. German methods are always cruel. They looted the houses, taking with them furniture and all valuables.
From all parts of Prague the call for help was ringing. The desperate battle for the Guildhall had then started. The Germans had several tanks on the Guildhall Square and shot everyone who came near.
But the brave Czechs fought on. Rescue work was impossible as the Germans were shooting nurses and everyone wearing the Red Cross badge. The Germans threw incendiary bombs into the Guildhall and soon were left only the bare walls, the old historic Guildhall.
But in spite of all, the Germans were forced to retreat a bit and several tanks were destroyed. This weakened the Germans and prevented utter collapse of the Czech defence.
In the meantime the news came that the Red Army was approaching. This had a wonderful effect on the Germans. They threw away their weapons, destroyed them; they were giving themselves up or fled to the West. Only the S.S. kept on murdering.
The Germans offered an armistice. The Czech military command arranged for the Nazi capitulation and their retreat from Prague. At last the battle was over. The Germans withdrew and their confidence was gone.
They went dirty, wounded and discouraged. Only S.S. ignored the capitulation orders. Their fury was indescribable. They murdered, looted, threw children out of windows and shot Red Cross sisters. Their artillery was shelling the hospitals.
On 8th of May, Karl Hermann Frank, the protector, fled from Prague to the West. The echo of the battle was still ringing through Prague when the first tank of the Red Army entered the city. Many others followed. Here and there a group of Germans were trying to resist them but they were soon defeated. And then Prague was free at last. The population welcomed their liberators.
They threw themselves on the friendly tanks, embraced and kissed their liberators. The children jumped on to the tanks and hand in hand with the soldiers they passed through the free, jubilant city.
Prague was free again and Prague lived again! The hearts were gay and strangers shook hands and Czech girls in their colourful national costumes came out to welcome their liberators.
The celebrations lasted many days. Only the sight of the battlefields, where many a hero died, now covered with flowers, brought tears to the eyes of the passers-by, and in their thoughts they see the few years full of misery and offences and in a united voice they cry: “It must never happen again.”