In August 1968, Warsaw Pact soldiers invaded Czechoslovakia in response to the government’s reform movement known as the Prague Spring.
In protest, Jan Palach doused himself in petrol and set himself alight in this place on January 16, 1969. He survived for three days. A hunger strike followed Palach’s self-immolation, participated in by his friend and fellow student, Jan Zajíc.
On the 21st anniversary of the Communist takeover (25 February 1969) Zajíc lit himself on fire in the passageway of a building on Wenceslas Square. Unable to get out of the building, he collapsed and died in the hallway.
Jan Zajíc (July 3, 1950 – February 25, 1969) was a student of the Střední průmyslová škola železniční technical college in Šumperk, specializing in railroads, and was also interested in poetry and humanities.
On the day of the twenty-first anniversary of the Communist takeover (25 February 1969), he travelled to Prague accompanied by three other students. He took part in the student-led protests and hunger strikes at Wenceslas Square leading up to Jan Palach’s funeral.
He announced his intentions to immolate himself to his friends. None took him seriously.
He had several letters challenging the people to fight against the Soviet military occupation of the Czechoslovak Republic. Around 1:30 in the afternoon he walked into the passageway of the building at No. 39 on Wenceslas Square and ignited his chemical-soaked clothes. He was unable to run out of the door and collapsed and died in the hallway.
In a letter he left behind he wrote:
“Mother, father, brother, little sister!
When you read this letter, I will already be dead or close to death. I know what a severe blow my act will be to you, but don’t be angry at me. Unfortunately, we are not alone in this world. I am not doing this because I would be tired of life, on the contrary, because I cherish it too much. Hopefully, my act will make life better. I know the price of life and I know it is the most precious thing. But I want a lot for you, for everyone, so I have to pay a lot. Do not lose your heart after my sacrifice, tell Jacek to study harder and Marta too. You must never accept injustice, be it in any form, my death will bind you. I am sorry that I will never see you or that, which I loved so much. Please forgive me that I fought with you so much. Do not let them make me a madman.
Say hi to the boys, the river and the forest.”
Zajic wished his funeral to be held in Prague. The Communist authorities, fearing the mass protests as the result of Jan Palach’s immolation and funeral, prevented the burial in Prague.
On March 2, 1969, accompanied by a throng of thousands, he was buried in his native town Vitkov.