Memorable Funerals


The on-line collection called MEMORABLE FUNERALS consists of film footage from the public funerals of major figures from Czech history – national luminaries as well as ordinary victims of disasters and tragic events. It is a compilation of 61 newsreel segments made by Czech film production studios between 1918 and 1945. The first part of the collection offers scenes from funeral ceremonies from the First Republic, which became important socio-political events, and often also demonstrations of national confidence and cohesion.

The funerals organised for leading Czech officials were structured in an almost identical manner. The coffin, flanked by a guard of honour, was displayed in the Pantheon of the National Museum and then carried in a funeral procession across the city, often accompanied by Sokols and representatives of the army and clergy. The route of the deceased’s last journey was also symbolic, just as the place of their internment, be it the Slavín Tomb at the Old Slavonic Vyšehrad, the capitular Vyšehrad Cemetery or, a few years later the National Liberation Monument at Vítkov in Prague.

The funerals of politicians and public figures of the First Czechoslovak Republic were among the most closely followed social events. One of the first consisted of the last farewell ceremonies held in Bratislava, Brezové pod Bradlom, and Prague for the tragically deceased Milan Rastislav Štefánik. The first major state funeral dates to 1923 when the Minister of Finance Alois Rašín was assassinated, and it became a collective expression of the sense of belonging to the new Czechoslovak state and its ideals. The presented public funeral services for Czech politicians include those of Minister of Social Affairs and Dean of the Faculty of Law Josef Gruber, Minister of Education and Agriculture Otakar Srdínko, Senator Gustav Habrman in Pilsen, entrepreneur Tomáš Baťa in Zlín, Minister of National Defence Karel Viškovský, the Mayor of the City of Prague Karel Baxa, and former Czechoslovak Prime Ministers Antonín Švehla in Hostivař, Karel Kramář in Prague, and František Udržal in Pardubice.

An important category of funeral ceremonies during the First Czechoslovak Republic is represented by national commemorations, including the internment at Olšany Cemetery of the remains of forty-two Czechoslovak legionnaires who were executed at the Italian front lines, and then the funerals of the legionnaire General Stanislav Čeček and the President’s wife Charlotte Garrigue-Masaryk in Lány, and the last farewell to historian Renata Tyršová, who was the daughter of Sokol co-founder Jindřich Fügner and the wife of Miroslav Tyrš.

Yet another category of funeral ceremonies was constituted by the funerals of representatives of Czech culture and clergy. Huge crowds appeared to bid a final farewell to writers Karel Matěj Čapek-Chod, František Herites, Josef Holeček, Alois Jirásek, Jan Herben and Karel Čapek; folklorist Karel Weis; poets Adolf Heyduk, Antonín Sova, Otokar Březina and Xaver Dvořák; journalist František Xaver Svoboda; composers Leoš Janáček, Karel Pospíšil and Josef Suk; violinist Jan Kubelík; theatre professionals Vendelín Budil and František Neumann; actors Eduard Vojan, Karel Vávra and Marie Hübnerová; opera singers Ema Destinová and Otakar Mařák; artists František and Joža Úprka in Kněždub; and aviation pioneer Jan Kašpar in Pardubice. The collection also includes several funerals of church officials: Bishops Jan Sedlák, Josef Gross and Antonín Podlaha, Pater Ildefons of Lichtenstein, and Cardinal Karel Kašpar.

A unique mood accompanied the last farewell ceremonies held for the first Czechoslovak President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk in Prague and in Lány on 21 September 1937. What was at that time the largest state funeral, attended by hundreds of thousands people from Czechoslovakia as well as from around the world, was held during an already unfavourable international situation, which certainly contributed to the fact that it appeared to express the ideas of national belonging.

The period of the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia saw two types of funerals. The first category consisted of last farewells that turned into manifestations of the cohesion and unity of the nation under an existential threat and expressions of resistance against the Nazi occupation. This was the case of the interment of the remains of poet Karel Hynek Mácha at Vyšehrad Cemetery and the funeral of inventor František Křižík in Prague. In contrast, the collection also includes footage from the funeral ceremonies of prominent figures of the Nazi regime, such as the treasonous journalist Karel Lažnovský, Protectorate diplomat and Minister of Foreign Affairs František Chvalkovský, the Protectorate’s Generalarbeitsführer Alexander Commichau, and the pompous military ceremony held for the Deputy Reich Protector, SS Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich.

The featured traditional national funerals include expressions of sympathy with victims of disasters, such as the funerals of American cinematographer James B. McCreary in Prague, the people killed by the collapse of a house in Na Poříčí Street, three tragically deceased Czechoslovak Army pilots, the victims of the explosion in the Nelson Mine in Osek, as well as the large funerals of the victims of air-raids in Pardubice and Prague towards the end of WWII.

The segments included in the collection MEMORABLE FUNERALS serve not only as a gallery of public figures, historical facts and social rituals but also as reflections of the contemporary political and cultural state of the nation, its values and its ability of introspection.

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