Remains of forced labor camp found on Letná Hill in Prague


La place ‘Staline’,  photo : Aktron,  Wikimedia Commons,  CC BY-SA 3.0<!–

The Letná park, which dominates the Czech capital, is today a popular place for strolling by Prague residents and tourists, where, apart from a pandemic, it is good to sip a beer in the Biergarten while enjoying a breathtaking view of the city. If today, a metronome rises on the hill, between 1955 and 1962 its base, still existing and meeting place of skateboarders, supported the weight of one of the largest group statues ever erected in honor of Stalin.


Des fouilles préventives ont dévoilé l’existence d’un ancien camp de travail forcé sur la colline de Letná,  photo: Daniel Mrázek,  ČRo
Preventive excavations have revealed the existence of a former forced labor camp on Letná hill, photo: Daniel Mrázek, ČRo<!–

Czech historians have always known that this megalomaniac monument was built by these workers nicknamed the Black Barons, immortalized in the eponymous novel and film. These men had been sentenced to forced labor and integrated into the Technical Auxiliary Battalions (PTP), a special army unit responsible for “re-educating” individuals considered enemies of the Communist regime. But the existence of barracks on the work site had gradually faded into oblivion. At the microphone of Czech Radio, the site manager, Jan Hasil, from the Institute of Archeology of the Academy of Sciences:


Jan Hasil,  photo: Daniel Mrázek,  ČRo
Jan Hasil, photo: Daniel Mrázek, Czech Radio<!–

“Here, we can see that this barracks was 10×18 meters. 40 people were reportedly accommodated there. It was bulldozed down to the foundations which are only visible thanks to the remains of a tar-based insulating material, which was between the foundation pit and the wooden structure. Otherwise, the only other remains are those of the networks: the wastewater drain pipes and those of the water inlet. They are always located deeper than the foundations, and it is for this reason that they have not been totally destroyed. “

Preventive archaeological excavations were launched at the beginning of January and must continue until the end of April, in place of a future water reservoir which must be built there. Several trenches, or bleeding more than a meter deep have been made on the site, as Jan Hasil explains:

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Des fouilles préventives ont dévoilé l’existence d’un ancien camp de travail forcé sur la colline de Letná,  photo: Daniel Mrázek,  ČRo
Preventive excavations have revealed the existence of a former forced labor camp on Letná hill, photo: Daniel Mrázek, ČRo<!–

“These bleedings were carried out in such a way that we can see the state of conservation of one of the houses in this labor camp. Very little has come down to us. This is a fairly classic rule: in general, when an authoritarian regime decides to liquidate this type of construction that it has itself built, it takes special care to make all traces of its existence disappear as much as possible. “

120 workers were housed in the three barracks of the camp. Until the recent discovery of these remains, only a few writings dating from 1951 mentioned them, as well as an aerial photo from 1953 and a sequence from a 1955 propaganda film about the construction of the statue and entitled: “A monument to love and friendship”.

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Video of Monument of Love and Friendship (1955)

In addition to the rare remains of wooden structures, objects have also been found by archaeologists. Ivana Hrušková is one of the scientists responsible for classifying the debris:


Des objets ont également été retrouvés par les archéologues,  photo: Daniel Mrázek,  ČRo
Objects were also found by archaeologists, photo: Daniel Mrázek, ČRo<!–

“We are cleaning up and sorting out the debris that we have unearthed. We classify them by type of material: building ceramics, such as these tiles, roof coverings, or porcelain. We also found glass. All these remains are classified and transmitted to experts who analyze the materials. “

This discovery complements the very special and dark history of the top of Letná Hill in Prague. Begun in 1952, the construction of the colossal group statue, ironically nicknamed at the time by the people of Prague “the queue at the butcher’s house”, was completed in 1955, two years after Stalin’s death and a year later. before the Khrushchev report denouncing the cult of personality. The author of the project, the sculptor Otakar Švec, committed suicide shortly before the inauguration of his work, a tragic fate which inspired Elsa Triolet’s novel, “The Monument”, published in 1957. It will take a few years so that Czechoslovakia begins its de-Stalinization, and that the communist authorities decide to get rid of this granite monument, cumbersome from all points of view: it will be dynamited in November 1962.


Le monument de Stalin,  photo: Miroslav Vopata,  CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported
Le monument de Stalin,  photo: Miroslav Vopata,  CC BY-SA 3.0 Unported<!–


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