November 17 three times differently
November 17, known worldwide as International Student Day, refers to two historical milestones in the Czech Republic that are half a century apart: the closure of Czech universities in 1939 and the beginning of the Velvet Revolution in 1989.
Since 2000, both events in the Czech Republic have been worshiped on a national holiday. Until then, November 17 had the status of an important day. Citizens of the Slovak Republic also commemorate the anniversary of the struggle for freedom and democracy.
It all began with the violent suppression of a peaceful demonstration on the occasion of the 21st anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia on 28 October 1939 in Prague. In addition to the forces of the riot police, the SS units also participated in suppressing the demonstration held on Wenceslas Square. This was followed by other clashes at other locations in Prague, during which the Germans fired not only for warning but also for demonstrators.
During one of these skirmishes, Jan Opletal was shot and killed on 11 November. His funeral took place on 15 November in Prague’s Albertov, where the coffin and remains were transported to the railway station and sent to Moravia. The ensuing demonstrations, which turned into a protest against the occupation, were attended by thousands of people. Again there were clashes between demonstrators and riot forces. The very next day a meeting was held in Berlin with the participation of Adolf Hitler, which resulted in the decision to close Czech universities for three years, arrest and execute nine leaders of the student organization and internment of hundreds of students in concentration camps.
Even on the night of November 16-17, Czech students were arrested extensively in Prague, Brno and Příbram. Students were arrested by the Gestapo and SS units in Prague and 9 representatives of student organizations were executed. A total of 1,200 arrested students were then transferred to the German concentration camp in Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg, where most of them were released at the end of 1942, the rest in January 1943. Of these 1200 students, 35 did not survive the hardships of the concentration camps.
International Student Day was then proclaimed in 1941 in London on the occasion of the second anniversary of these events.
November 17 is also related to the so-called Velvet Revolution. Originally, a commemorative event for the 50th anniversary of the closure of Czech universities by the Nazis was scheduled for November 17, 1989. The event took a place in Albertov, Prague. The official purpose was to honor the memory of Jan Opletal, but the more radical part of the students intended to use this event to express dissatisfaction with the current social situation and to call for change. It is the Velvet Revolution that marks the period of political change in Czechoslovakia between November 17 and December 29, 1989, which led to the fall of the Communist regime and the transformation of the political system into a pluralistic democracy.
Due to the round anniversaries, 80 years since 1939 and 30 years since 1989, great celebrations can be expected.