Stars and Stripes Over Pilsen

Pilsen was the only major Czech city liberated by the American army during World War II. How did this happen, why did the Americans not go further, and how do Pilseners still celebrate this fact today?

Enthusiasts Commemorate Liberation Of West Bohemia During World War II. DNESICE, CZECH REPUBLIC - MAY 04: A history enthusiast dressed in WWII U.S. Army uniform poses during stop over the 'Convoy of Liberty' event which drive through west Bohemian cities and villages near Pilsen on. May 4, 2013 in Dnesice, Czech Republic. 'Convoy of Liberty' commemorates the 68th anniversary of the World War II ending in Europe and when in 1945 the western part of the Czech Republic was liberated by the U.S. Army from Nazi oppression.
Enthusiasts Commemorate Liberation Of West Bohemia During World War II. Photo: Matej Divizna / Getty Images

Plzeň, or Pilsen, is a picturesque medium-sized town in West Bohemia. It is home to the world’s first Pilsner beer, created there in 1842. Pilsen is the name of 70% of the beers sold today. In addition to beer, Pilsen is also the home of Spejbl and Hurvínek, the famous Czech puppets.

During the Second World War, Pilsen, like all Czech cities, was occupied by German Nazi troops. Due to its enormous manufacturing potential, the city was bombed several times during the war. During 1944 and 1945, British and American bombers tried to slow down Pilsen’s industry, which unwillingly had to produce military material for the Nazis.

US boots in Bohemia

In May 1945, the first American troops entered Czechoslovakia. These were members of the Third American Army, which had been fighting through France and Germany since the Normandy landings on 6 June 1944. But the Americans were not the only ones operating in Czechoslovakia. Soviet troops were at that time fighting the last organized Nazi units near Pelhřimov.

Then, on the morning of 6 May 1945, the Americans liberated the first major Czech city: Plzeň. After a short street fight, they declared the city liberated without significant losses. Tens of thousands of people immediately flooded the streets, carrying flags of the Stars and Stripes to celebrate their newfound freedom.

The line of doom

Unfortunately, the advance of the American troops was halted not very far from Pilsen near Rokycany. Even though the Americans would have reached Prague before the Soviets, they were prohibited from doing so. The reason for this halt was the so-called Demarcation line. This was an agreement between the Allies and the Soviet Union to redraw the post-war spheres of influence.

The Soviets considered Czechoslovakia to be their sphere of influence, and American tanks in Prague would only complicate the post-war Communist plans that had been devised for Czechoslovakia.
The Americans thus met the Soviets symbolically in Rokycany to shake hands and have their photographs taken together. It was similar to the famous American-Soviet meeting on the Elbe River in Torgau. But this was already the last act of world cooperation and the precursor to the Cold War.

Forbidden celebrations

To this day, Pilsen remains a city that remembers its American liberators often and fondly. And no wonder. American troops stayed in Pilsen for quite some time after the war. The last American soldiers left on 1 December 1945. Pilseners thus experienced a true Independence Day or Thanksgiving celebrations. Just as the welcome to the American troops was joyful, the farewell was sad and heartbreaking. A large military parade was held in Pilsen’s Republic Square, attended by Czechoslovak Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk and Minister of National Defense Ludvík Svoboda.

But any comments and reminders about the Americans were soon put to rest. When Communists seized power in 1948, talk of Americans was strictly forbidden. The new doctrine, also taught in schools, was that the Red Army had liberated the entire territory of Czechoslovakia. But Pilseners still secretly commemorated the anniversary of American liberation.

American Pilsen

And what about the Pilsen of today? Does it remember its liberation? You bet your pants on that! Throughout the city, roughly ten monuments and plaques commemorating the critical liberation.
The largest monument is “Thank you, America!” with two columns. One bears a Czech Lion, and the other an American Eagle. They bear the text: “On May 6, 1945, The City of Pilsen was Liberated by the U.S. Army” in both languages. Behind these magnificent columns, Czech and American flags fly side by side.

On top of that, the so-called Convoy of Liberty passes through the city every year during the Celebration of Freedom Festival. It includes historical and contemporary American military equipment. It is attended by Pilsen residents, history and U.S. enthusiasts from all over the country, and Veterans who participated in the liberation of Pilsen in 1945. The American Ambassador launches this important event annually, and its grand finale is a flyover by U.S. Air Force fighter jets.
For all these reasons, Pilsen is still considered the capital of the USA in the Czech Republic.

Marek Koten

A Ph.D. student in economics, specializing in nuclear energy from the Czech Republic, he also serves as a political consultant to the Czech government and the U.S. Republican Party.

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