City to buy building where Palach and Toufar died

The derelict building will likely become a memorial to 20th-century history

The former hospital building in Prague where student protester Jan Palach and Catholic priest Josef Toufar both died has fallen into disrepair. Prague City Hall will start negotiations to buy the former Borůvkovo sanatorium on Legerova Street 1627/61 and 1607/63. Street art depictions of Palach and Toufar currently mark the dilapidated facade of the boarded-up building.

The city hopes to turn the building into a dignified place that would remind people of 20th century milestones of Czechoslovak and the Czech history.

Jan Palach set himself on fire Jan. 16, 1969, on Wenceslas Square to protest the demoralizing effects of the Soviet-led August 1968 invasion that ended the Prague Spring reforms. He died in the state-run on Legerova Street hospital three days later.

The 50th anniversary was marked with events on Wenceslas Square on Jan. 16 and 19.

Many politicians also went to his grave in Olšanské hřbitovy to lay wreaths and flowers.

Josef Toufar died Feb. 25, 1950, after being tortured by the Czechoslovak secret police after an alleged miracle took place in his parish church in the village of Číhošť in 1949.

Toufar, after torture, was forced to appear in a propaganda film to explain that the movement of a cross near the altar was a mechanical trick.

His death was kept secret for four years. He was originally secretly buried in a mass grave. In 2015 his grave was moved to the Church of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary in the village of Číhošť.

“We want to actively solve the problem of empty buildings in the city. This year, exactly 50 years have passed since Jan Palach's act of self-sacrifice, with which he wanted to mobilize society. It was at a dark, desperate and despairing time when our country was in the hands of occupiers. The actions of Jan Palach are both shocking and courageous.

The act was supposed to put an end to the Communist government in 1969,” Prague Mayor Zdeněk Hřib (Pirates) said.

The task of buying the former sanatorium will be spearheaded by Petr Zeman, chairman of the Prague City Council’s Committee for Territorial Development, Territorial Planning and Monument Care.

“The first meeting with the owner will take place in January. The actions of Jan Palach and Josef Toufar have fundamentally influenced our history, and the building should be a lively memorial site open to the public. We will show respect to the heroes while saving the empty and dilapidated building,” Zeman said.

Prague representatives will also discuss an honorary citizenship for Jan Palach. “Jan Palach was born in Prague, studied here and made the highest sacrifice for freedom here. For his sacrificial act and his life in this difficult time, he deserves honorary citizenship. Unfortunately, the Decree of Prague from 2018 does not allow us to grant this title in memoriam, so I propose changing it in the nearest City Council meeting,” MEP and Prague City Councilor and Member of European Parliament Jiří Pospíšil said.

The lives of both Palach and Toufar vhave been depicted in Czech culture.
His story has been the subject of films including Burning Bush (2013) and Jan Palach (2018).

His action is also mentioned in books, poems and songs by artists ranging from Salman Rushdie to rock band Kasabian.

Toufar was the inspiration for Josef Škvorecký’s 1972 book Miracle. There was also a TV movie in 2004 called In nomine patris. There have also been plays and an opera.

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