Olbram Zoubek repairing the memorial to Jan Palach after it had been damaged. 24 May  1991 (Source: Czech News Agency, Photo: Michal Doležal)
Picture of the memorial to Jan Palach, 2011 (Photo: Petr Blažek)
Picture of the memorial to Jan Palach, 2011 (Photo: Petr Blažek)
Picture of the memorial to Jan Palach, 2011 (Photo: Petr Blažek)
The square was spontaneously renamed Jan Palach Square in 1969. However, it only bore his name for a short time. It was changed back to Jan Palach Square in December 1989. (Photo: Petr Blažek)
Sign on the Faculty of Arts building, Charles University in Prague (Photo: Petr Blažek)
Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, main building. The memorial to Jan Palach is placed on the left edge of the building. (Photo: Petr Blažek)

Memorial to Jan Palach

Prague 2 – Josefov, Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague

“I told myself, I have to do something. It occurred to me that I could provide a service that I am capable of doing. I contacted my friend, Vladimír Matějíček, who worked in the burn treatment centre. He allowed me to enter the autopsy room in the forensic science building. I took a cast of Palach’s face twice to be sure that it turned out well. Then we went to the atelier where I made a positive out of one cast. I placed it on a black panel and brought it to the National Museum where students were on a hunger strike in reaction to Palach’s death. I probably met Jan Zajíc there who was among those young people. However, I didn’t know it was him.”

Olbram Zoubek

At the end of January 1969, the family of the late Jan Palach gave their consent to create his bust, which was to be placed in the Faculty of Arts building. The academic artist, Antonín Chromek, was supposed to be the main author. The memorial was to be made according to Palach’s death mask taken by Antonín Chromek and Josef Vaculík on 23 January 1969. However, this memorial was not created due to the political situation at that time.

On 19 January 1969, Olbram Zoubek took the Palach’s death mask. Immediately after that, he brought it to the National Museum where it was exhibited near the site of Palach’s act. The mask was then transported by the Czech Catholic intellectual, Tomáš Halík, to St Thomas Church in the Lesser Town where a requiem mass for Palach was held. For a short time, the mask was also placed on the façade of the main Faculty of Arts building.

In 1990, Olbram Zoubek created a metal copy of the plaster cast. This copy then became the centrepiece of the Jan Palach memorial, which was placed on the Faculty of Arts building on Jan Palach Square. Every year on 16 January, remembrance gatherings take place there organized by the university’s Student Council.