JFK’s Last Trip to Fort Worth and Dallas

The murder of President Kennedy in Dallas on November 22nd, 1963 is possibly one of the most well-known news stories from the 20th century. Since then, most theories put forward by both the official prosecutors and wannabe investigators after the crime never appeared completely acceptable.

The main defendant, Lee Harvey Oswald, was shot dead by likely-mafia-affiliated Jack Ruby, two days after Kennedy had been shot. This happened before any court hearing of Oswald, who always protested his complete innocence.

But Oswald was spotted on the crime scene, and his life before that fatal day had not been normal in any respect. Grown up a very poor man from the New Orleans, he enlisted in the USMC, spent years in Japan, changed home at a high pace in the continental US, between New York and Louisiana, learned Russian, applied for Soviet citizenship, established himself in an fantastic flat in Minsk, Belarus (see this account about Minsk), at the height of the Cold War, married a lady from the USSR, moved back to the US with his wife and their baby, collaborated with  communist movements in America while living of nothing in the south of the Nation, appeared in Cuba and Mexico in the years of the Kennedy administration, and finally decided it was time to kill President Kennedy, accused by a part of the military and political establishment of being excessively left-leaning during his years at the White House.

Maybe this man materially acted alone on the day of the shooting – something strongly adversed by many eyewitnesses and even scientists and analysts, based on ballistics – but with a curriculum so pointed of oddities, especially for the geopolitical situation of the 1950s and early 1960s, it is hard to imagine he was not part of something bigger.

An excessive number of pretended coincidences in the reconstruction by the investigators have largely discredited the official theories, in turn creating a mystery around the actual crime.

As time is passing and people involved are disappearing, chance to find the truth about the intricate plot behind the assassination are waning. Yet this unsolved crime has fueled decades of controversy, with tens if not hundreds of books written, as well as TV series and blockbuster movies produced – and it is still an intriguing topic for many, who come to see the famous Dealey Plaza in Dallas, where the shooting took place, making the local museum in the Texas School Book Repository one of Texas’ five all-time most visited attractions.

Being in the exact place where the famous Zapruder movie was recorded produces of course a strong impression. Yet there are more places in Dallas and Fort Worth related to the famous last visit of JFK to this major industrial focus of the nation, which albeit less impressive than the actual crime scene, may be interesting to find and visit for the most committed visitors.

This post portrays some of the most famous and of the least known places connected with Kennedy fateful 1963 trip to Texas. Photographs were taken in summer 2018.

Map

This map reports the focal points of President Kennedy’s visit to Texas on November 21st-22nd, 1963.

Kennedy flew in and out Fort Worth from Carswell AFB (now NAS Fort Worth reserve base), arriving on November 21st, and departing in the morning of November 22nd to Dallas Love Field – a very short hop for Air Force One.

You can see places in Fort Worth and Dallas connected with both the actual and scheduled route of Kennedy’s visit (blue placeholders), plus the route of the motorcade from Love Field to Dealey Plaza and back (blue line), with a stop at Parkland Memorial Hospital, where JFK was pronounced dead at 1:00 pm, November 22nd.

Orange placeholders are locations connected with the shooting – where JFK was (surely) hit, famous spots on the crime scene, etc.

The movements of L.H. Oswald have been partly reconstructed by the prosecutors, where some have been ascertained based on sightings by witnesses. These are shown in yellow and red respectively on the map. Red placeholders show the location of Oswald sightings or places connected with his story.

Green placeholders show the positions of notable monuments connected with the assassination of President Kennedy.

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Sights

Sights are listed going along the time-line of the days of JFK’s visit.

Hotel Texas (now Hilton) & JFK Tribute, Fort Worth

President Kennedy spent the night between November 21st and 22nd in the Texas Hotel, located on Main Street in central Fort Worth. Today this nice, early 1920s building is still there, listed among historic landmarks. It has changed hands more times in the last decades, and is now run by Hilton, with the name Hilton Fort Worth. Built on the opposite side of the square where the convention center is located, it is still today a primary business hotel in town.

In the square ahead of the hotel is a monument dedicated to JFK, with a statue and citations. This was the location of the last public speech the President gave, before breakfast on November 22nd.

Later on that day, he held a scheduled speech in a hall of Hotel Texas, before going to Carswell AFB (now NAS Fort Worth), west of downtown, to board Air Force One to Dallas Love Field. Air Force Two soon followed.

Dealey Plaza, Dallas

Monuments in Dealey Plaza

The curious composition of white colonnades and pergola-shaped monuments in Dealey Plaza is the result of an architectural master plan for the area, completed in 1940.

Despite the weird aura that will enshroud the square for many years to come, the composition is actually very nice, with two opposing fountains ahead of the colonnades welcoming you when entering the square from Main Street. This is exactly what the motorcade did, turning right on Houston Street and first left on Elm street, where JFK was hit (see map).

The pergola on the ‘grassy knoll’

The northernmost part of the composition in Dealey Plaza is a curved white pergola, placed on top of a knoll, at an elevation of roughly 10 ft above the road. This is a vantage point for watching Elm street, which starts descending gently from Houston Street towards the railway triple underpass. It was here that Zapruder was standing, together with many eyewitnesses, shooting his now super-famous video (see map).

You can get a 360° view from close where Zapruder was standing from this video.

Here you see an example photo sequence of a car passing by along Elm Street, following the same route of the presidential motorcade.

A crowd was standing also on the southern side of Elm Street, at the level of the road, from where the pergola and the wooden fence on top of the grassy knoll can be seen very clearly. Looking uphill towards Houston Street, you can see the Texas School Book Repository, and the half-open window from were somebody fired at the motorcade.

‘X-marks’ on Elm Street

Two white X-marks have been painted on the ground where, based on official investigation and findings, President Kennedy was hit, while his motorcade was driving along Elm Street.

The first is located immediately after the crossing with Houston Street, where the motorcade turned left. The pictures below shows the window on the sixth floor of the book repository from the spot of the hit (actually behind a tree), and the wooden fence under the trees on top of the grassy knoll. The wooden fence has been indicated by many as the position of a second shooter, and some have sustained they saw shots coming from there.

Taking into account the elevation from the ground of the window on the sixth floor of the book repository, the total distance to this first X-mark is similar to that from the fence. Yet the trajectory of a shot from the fence would have come dangerously close to Zapruder and all folks between the knoll and the sidewalk.

The second X-mark, that of the fatal shot to the President’s head, is located further west. Looking from here again to the window on the sixth floor and to the fence, it is apparent that the latter spot would be a far easier point for shooting – very close -, while on the other hand recording a hit from the former would be a real challenge.

Close by the X-mark corresponding to the fatal shot, the National Historic Landmark placard of Dealey Plaza has been placed on the sidewalk.

You can get a clear impression of how fast everything must have happened watching this video of my car running along the route of the motorcade, from Main Street down to under the triple underpass.

The wooden fence on top of the ‘grassy knoll’

The fence on top of the grassy knoll divides the grass on the northern end of Dealey Plaza from a parking area on the side of the book repository. The elevation over Elm Street and the little distance from it, makes this place a good spot for targeting a car passing on the position of the second X-mark – that corresponding to the fatal shot.

To the back of the fence, the old railway switching tower from the 1910s played a part in the mystery. On the morning of the assassination, Lee Bowers was on service in the tower. He reported to the prosecutors that about 15 minutes before the shooting he had noticed a car slowly circling in the parking. At the time of the shooting two figures were standing by the fence, and he saw fire and smoke coming from their position. He provided details about the cars and an these men.

Lee Bowers died in a car crash without witnesses in summer 1966, when he gently launched his car out of the road while driving alone in the countryside somewhere near Midlothian, south of Dallas.

The triple underpass

This Art Deco railway bridge, dating from older times than the monuments in Dealey Plaza, is another good vantage point for a comprehensive sight of the stage of the assassination.

It has been supported that a witness standing on the grass south of Elm Street and close to the underpass was wounded by a fragment of the curb, produced by a bullet hit. This might have been a missed shot.

Texas School Book Repository & Sixth Floor Museum, Dallas

The building of the book repository, located on the northern side of the crossing between Houston and Elm, has been taken over by the city government for administrative functions. A museum has been opened on the sixth floor, from where shots were allegedly fired against the motorcade.

The museum is very modern. After paying by the entrance, you are given an audio-guide and you are directed to an elevator going up to the sixth floor.

You can walk along a nice exhibition mostly based on tons of photographs and reproductions of original documents, papers, agencies, documents, dossiers, and so on. Before showing the chronicle of events during the last trip of JFK and the events of the assassination, you are told about the general political and social situation in the years of Kennedy administration, so as to reconstruct the big picture and the meaning of this trip. There was much criticism about it, and you can see some unwelcoming headlines from newspapers, telling about a tense political situation in Texas. There are several videos playing loop.

Of course, an accurate reconstruction of the shooting is the main topic of the exhibition. Frames from the many videos recorded by the witnesses allow to have an almost second-by-second account of the last minute in the life of JFK.

Far less known than others are some pictures of the motorcade taken seconds after the shooting, when the cars accelerated under the triple underpass, with men of the secret service bent over the wounded President. Witnesses on the opposite side of the underpass had not noticed the shooting, and they were probably stunned watching the motorcade rushing away.

There is a dinner set from the scheduled luncheon Kennedy was heading to, prepared in the Dallas Trade Mart. A picture of the announcement of the assassination to the attendees of the luncheon waiting for the President is particularly striking. Detailed maps are displayed of the motorcade route, of the movements of L.H. Oswald, and of the emergency rooms of the Parkland Memorial Hospital where JFK, Vice President Johnson and Governor Connelly were given medical assistance.

A highlight of the museum is the area around the corner window from where shots were fired. An accurate reconstruction of the exact position of the boxes around the shooter’s position has been set up, based on photographs from the time.

Access to the window is interdicted, but you can get an idea of the view enjoyed from there from the third window from the corner.

Further items of interest include cameras and video recorders used by the witnesses, and a detailed map of the standpoints of most witnesses who made a video recording, or did take pictures.

An area of the exhibition is dedicated to Oswald, his arrest and his murder in the Police headquarters, which took place on November 24th, 2 days after JFK was killed. You can see copies of official documents, a ring belonging to L.H.Oswald, and the suit worn by Detective Jim Leavelle – the man portrayed in the video of the assassination of L.H. Oswald by Jack Ruby, leading Oswald out. At the time of writing, Texas-borne Jim Leavelle, borne 1920, is one of the few living primary witnesses of that dramatic episode.

Finally, the place where the old rifle used to fire at the motorcade from the window was found soon after the shooting, with Oswald fingerprints, has been reconstructed with the same accuracy of the firing position.

Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas

After the shooting, the motorcade accelerated keeping on the scheduled route (see map). It is noteworthy that the Trade Mart, where JFK should have had lunch, is not far from the Parkland Memorial Hospital, which is between the Trade Mart building and Love Field (see map).

President Kennedy and Governor Connelly were quickly drawn into emergency rooms, whereas soon-to-be-president Lyndon B. Johnson received medical attention in another area.

Officer Tippit’s Murder Scene, Dallas

Soon after he was spotted in the Texas School Book Repository minutes after the shooting, L.H. Oswald left for home. Initially caught in the traffic after taking a bus, he moved around pointlessly not far from Dealey Plaza, finally taking a cab to go home. He got off some blocks past his house, where he returned by foot (see map). He soon left, and at about 1:15 pm, 45 minutes after the assassination of JFK, he reportedly killed police officer Tippit in a quiet residential area. The place is marked by a placard (see map).

Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested less than an hour later, on account of Tippit’s murder. Only hours after his arrest, during the night of November 22nd, he was accused of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Texas Theater, Dallas

After shooting officer Tippit, Oswald left along Jefferson Boulevard, presumably walking to the Texas Theater. This movie theater, with a flamboyant front facade, used to be owned by Howard Hughes, and it was the first in Texas with air conditioning.

L.H. Oswald was arrested at about 1:50 pm, about ten minutes after he had entered the theater, 1 hour and 20 minutes after the murder of JFK.

JFK Memorial Plaza, Dallas

A monument to President Kennedy, designed by Philip Johnson, was erected in 1970 one block east of Dealey Plaza (see map). The monument, made of concrete, resembles an empty tomb.

Getting There and Moving Around

The JFK monument in Fort Worth is in a public park, as well as the JFK memorial in Dallas. They can be neared at all times.

Dealey Plaza is regularly open to car traffic, as you can see from the videos above. Parking is possible in the many public parkings around the area. Once there, you can move around freely at all times.

I drove along all the route of Kennedy’s motorcade, which except for a few closed roads can be done still today. Very nice indeed, as you will cross beautiful downtown Dallas. Of course, you can follow the route of Kennedy’s car in Dealey Plaza, as shown in the videos above.

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza is a world-class, up-to-date museum, and one of the most visited attractions in Texas. Website here.

Plokstine – A Preserved Nuclear Missile Site in Lithuania

While almost all nuclear sites you can find in European Countries once beyond the Iron Curtain are today totally abandoned and fairly unaccessible, there exists a perhaps unique exception. The Plokstine site in northwestern Lithuania has been selected around 2010 for complete refurbishment with the help of public money, and in 2012 it has opened its doors as a museum. Located in a beautiful natural setting crowded with hikers – namely Zemaitija National Park, a national recreation area around Plateliai lake – it has quickly grown to international fame, and is now recording several thousands visitors per year, with guided tours in multiple languages – including English – offered on a regular basis during the warm season.

What is today an intriguing tourist destination, used to be part of a large Soviet installation for launching ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads. It is worth mentioning that Lithuania was a ‘Soviet Socialist Republic’ in the realm of the USSR, i.e. not just a satellite country of the Soviet Union, but part of it. Actually, this small country on the shores of the Baltic Sea, on the extreme western border of Soviet territory, was an ideal location for deploying weapons to hit European targets from within the Union. Furthermore, the Plokstine forest was – and still is – a little populated area, where construction works for a large top-secret military facility for storing and operating offensive cutting-edge hi-tech warfare would go likely unnoticed.

The missile complex was completed in December 1962, in the years of Khrushchev and Kennedy. The Plokstine site comprises of four interred silos and an extensive underground command station in the middle – the ensemble constituted a so-called ‘Dvina’ launch complex.

The ‘Dvina’ site in Plokstine was actually the last part of the missile base to be built. Two more sister surface sites, with four launchpads each, had been completed one year before, just west of the nearby village of Saiteikiai. These surface sites were similar to those you can find in Latvia (see this post), a neighbor country where unfortunately the last remaining ‘Dvina’ site was demolished in 2017, but abundant traces of the Soviet presence can still be found.

All three launch complexes in this region were designed around the R-12 missile. The R-12U missile was actually used in the underground ‘Dvina’ complex, slightly different from the surface-launched R-12. This weapon was better known by its NATO designation – SS-4 Sandal – and was a 2.3 megaton, single warhead, single stage nuclear missile. It reached true international notoriety before the base in Plokstine was activated, for this was the type deployed to Cuba in the missile crisis of 1962. Coincidentally, part of the staff transferred to Cuba in the days preceding the crisis was from the same rocket regiment of the Red Army (the 79th) stationed in Plokstine. Sandal missiles from here were reportedly transferred in complete secrecy to Cuba, via the port town of Sevastopol in Crimea in that occasion.

The base remained operational until the last missile – by then obsolete – left in 1978.

The Baltics were the first republics to leave the dying Soviet Union, openly defying the military authority of neighbor Russia. After the collapse of the Union and the end of communism in Europe, these three states – which historically do not belong to Russian culture – quickly joined the NATO and European Union, to escape Russian influence as much as possible. Most Soviet military installations were shut down and abandoned, and have been for two decades an interesting destination for explorers and war historians (see this post for many examples). Later on, most sites have been slowly demolished or converted into something else. Really a few of them have been preserved for posterity.

In this post you can find photographs from the Cold War Museum now open in the former ‘Dvina’ site of Plokstine, from a visit in 2017. Close to the bottom, you can find a few further photographs from a previous visit made by appointment in 2009, before the site was selected for renovation – these may be more appealing for Soviet-aura lovers!

Sights

What can be visited today is all in the area of the old ‘Dvina’ complex. The complex is mainly composed of four interred silos, covered by heavy steel & concrete bulged covers, placed on the four corners of a square. These gigantic caps are the most prominent components of the site from the outside. Today, an observation deck has been erected on the south of the area. From there, you can appreciate the distinctive plan of the ‘Dvina’ complex, with an access road terminating in a loop touching all four armored silo covers.

The weight of each cover is told to be around 100 tonnes, as it was armored to withstand a nuclear explosion. The covers would be pulled sideward with a sled mechanism, to open the silos before launch. Unmovable missile launch complexes, like the ‘Dvina’ site in Plokstine, were easy and attractive targets for western weapons, thus requiring a very strong defense barrier. Similar considerations led the design of the Titan missile sites in the US, which albeit more powerful and capable of a greater range, are roughly from the same era (see this post).

To get near the silos or get access to the museum, you need to pay a ticket and join a guided tour. The visit includes a tour of the Cold War Museum, which has been prepared inside the rooms of the former control center. The tour will start from the visitor center, a new modern building. You will soon go through a specimen of the original fences which ran around the ‘Dvina’ complex, and which included barbed wire and high-voltage electrified lines. Close by, you can find traces of original unarmored constructions, likely service buildings. The missile site was operated by more than 300 troops stationing in a number of smaller centers in the area around the complex.

The guide will lead you along a walk around the surface part of the complex, where you can see the construction of the caps from very close. The metal part is very rusty, but the concrete cover has been refurbished and looks like new – a pretty unusual sight, for connoisseurs of Soviet military relics!

Access to the underground missile service and control center is via a small metal door, right in the middle of the square formed by the four silos.

A few rooms in the control center today host the exhibitions of the Cold War Museum. A room displays a quick time-line of the Cold War, since the end of WWII to the end of the USSR. In the adjoining rooms you can find propaganda items

Another room is about defense against nuclear threat. This is interesting, with many artifacts like dosimeters and medical tools, plus easily readable instructions of ‘dos and don’ts’ in case of nuclear attack.

Another room is about the evolution of weapons over the Cold War decades, with original material from the time, including heavier tactical weapons.

The exhibition is modern, small but not superficial, and may appeal to any public, including children. Besides the exhibits, you can appreciate the relatively small size of all rooms and connecting corridors in the former control center.

As you are driven next to the missile operation part, you can find a scale model of the ‘Dvina’ complex and a cut-out of a R-12U silo, together with a map of the relatively few missile sites in Lithuania – from the map, it can be argued that, for some reason, many more sites were prepared in nearby Latvia.

Resting quarters for the troops and a communication station with original electronic gear have been reconstructed based on original footage and pics. Communication with the military headquarters was clearly an essential task – it was the only way an order to launch could be issued – and the serviceman on duty was responsible for assuring a permanent link with the chain of command. In other words, he was instructed not to leave his headphones under any circumstances, during a several hours-long shift!

On the sides of the corridors you can see holes for the extensive network of cables and pipes. Further on, you meet the most ‘hardware’ part of the exhibition. First, the original diesel-fueled power generator has been refurbished and is standing in its original room. The underground complex was designed not only to withstand a nuclear blast, but also to provide shelter for all servicemen for several days following an attack. This meant air filters, food, water, technical supplies and of course electrical power, were all essential assets. Oil for the generator was stored in a container in an adjoining room.

Finally, you get access to one of the four silos. You need to go through a tight door opened on the wall of the concrete structure of the control center. Writings in Cyrillic can be spotted on the walls in this area. From there, you will see the cylindrical shape of the metal structure of the silo from the side. This metal canister is really big, the ‘Dvina’ silos featured a much greater diameter than the SS-4 missile they were built for. This was somewhat different from their US counterpart (see this post), where the missile diameter fits the size of the silo without much margin.

You can get access to the silo via the original hatch, cut in the metal wall close to the rim on top of the silo, just beneath the external cap. Going through this hatch is incredibly difficult – it is extremely narrow, much longer than the size of a human step, and tilted upwards! It is hard to understand why the Soviets built it in a size so small – this applies to the control center too, for all corridors are really narrow and the ceiling in the rooms is so low you may easily need to bend forward! For those who don’t want to try the original entry to the silo, there is now a non-original door cut in the side of the canister.

The inside of the silo can be observed from an original service deck, immediately under the external cover. From here you can clearly appreciate the size of the construction – the missile was more than 70 ft long, and sat here in a vertical position. The SS-4 was among the first missiles to make use of a storable liquid propellant, which allowed it to stay in almost-launch-ready conditions for a prolonged time, if resting in a silo. Nonetheless, the time for opening the armored caps was about 30 minutes, which meant this was not exactly quick to launch. The understructure of the armored caps can be clearly appreciated from inside the silo.

Photographs Before Restoration Works – Ghost Base

When I visited this site for the first time in 2009, it was open only by appointment. Unfortunately, I had only a compact camera at the time, and the very low light inside plus a rainy day outside, meant I could take only a few acceptable pictures.

However, they provide an idea of the state of the ‘Dvina’ complex before it was decided to reconfigure it as a museum.

As you can see, the armored silo caps were in a worse shape than today, yet not heavily damaged. The barbed wire fence around the four silos was probably original Soviet.

Inside, the control rooms were basically empty, except for some communist emblems and flags. Green wall paint and Cyrillic writings could be found even at the time, so what you see today is likely original. The generator, whilst in bad shape, was there.

The silo could be accessed only via the original hatch, and except for the partial darkness, its appearance is similar today.

It is out of doubt that the ‘Soviet ghost aura’ of the base was somewhat lost in the restoration process, yet credit must be given to the effort of the local government in preserving a rare and relevant trace of military history through an expensive restoration process.

Getting there and moving around

The Cold War Museum (Šaltojo karo muziejus in the local idiom) is located in the Zemaitija National Park, northwestern Lithuania, east of lake Plateliai. Access is via the road 2302. The place is totally accessible and well advertised locally. Visiting the outside of the armored caps and inside is possible only with a guided tour, offered in many languages including English, and lasting about 50 minutes. No fee is required for climbing on top of the observation deck. Full information through the official website here.

Communist Highlights in Prague and the Czech Republic

Czechoslovakia had existed as an independent state since the end of WWI and the dissolution of the Austrian Empire. However, this small yet economically advanced province was soon to be caught right in the middle of a storm which insisted on central Europe until the 1990s, at which time this country finally gained its true independence.

Back in the Thirties, Czechoslovakia was forcibly annexed to the Third Reich as a result of the Munich Agreement in 1938. This event can be seen a major destabilizing step in Hitler’s foreign relations, clearly showing that the situation was deteriorating fast in central Europe.

Following the troublesome years of Nazi rule, this region was captured by Soviet and US troops at the end of the war. A new republic was founded, but the local communist party was very well organized, so Czechoslovakia shared the destiny of many neighbor countries which had been occupied by the Red Army in the final stage of the war. Backed by Stalin, a communist coup d’état in 1948 led to the establishment of a Soviet-style dictatorship, which was to last until 1989, making Czechoslovakia a Soviet satellite country.

Despite the relatively small size on the map, Czechoslovakia played a significant role in the economy of the Eastern Bloc. This country had a well established tradition in the production of weapons, metal hardware and machinery. Its soil is rich in Uranium. Furthermore, the forward position on the border with non-communist Western Germany and Austria further raised its strategic significance. When a secession from Moscow was tried by the local communist government, led by reformer Alexander Dubcek in 1968 – a phase known as the ‘Prague Spring’ -, the USSR reacted with all its military might, staging a full-scale invasion of the country by land and air, overturning the high ranks of the unreliable Czechoslovakian government, and putting this valuable region under a stricter communist leadership.

Clearly, the end of the communist dictatorship is today duly celebrated as a historical achievement both in the Czech Republic and Slovakia – respectively the western and eastern portions of Czechoslovakia, which peacefully split in 1993. The more than 40 years of struggle against Soviet rule constitute the theme of several interesting permanent exhibitions, but these are not the only witnesses of those troubled times. More tangible relics – all open to the public – are former border posts with former West Germany, a one-of-a-kind original communist prison camp for political prisoners, as well as some pieces of architectures and bunkers from the Cold War age.

This post is dedicated to these highlights, all to be found in the region between Prague and the border with Bavaria, in todays Czech Republic. Photographs were collected on a short trip in summer 2018.

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Sights

Museum of Communism, Prague

Far from a cheesy description of everyday life in the years of the Cold War, or an inaccurate account of the history of the communist plague as a social phenomenon, this permanent exhibition takes you in detail along the history of Czechoslovakia in the years immediately before WWII, when it basically lost its independence to the Germans, and going on to 1989, when with the so-called Velvet Revolution Czechoslovakia abandoned the Soviet sphere of influence and overthrew the communist dictatorship.

The exhibition features an equilibrated mixture of original artifacts – paintings, statues, memorabilia,… -, photographs, models, dioramas and explicative panels.

Interestingly, speaking of the Thirties and the imposed annexation to the Third Reich, you can see models of the border forts along the former German (now Polish) border. These are covered in this dedicated post.

The history of the anti-fascist operations, and of the role of the communist party in them, are thoroughly analyzed, and so are the decisive years immediately following the war. It is recalled how this nation was partly invaded by US troops, hence it was contested as a pure-Soviet conquer. A short-lived free Czechoslovakian republic was founded, which fell under communist control, and in the years of Stalin, with a Soviet military presence in the country, this meant the end of any independence from the USSR.

Similar to East Berlin, Prague ended up to host a huge monument to Stalin. This was built on top of a hill facing the city, on the north bank of the river. It was suddenly blown after the death of the Soviet dictator, leaving an empty esplanade which can be still seen today (see a section below).

The establishment of a communist rule since the start meant the implementation of brutal repressive measures, including prison camps for political opponents, which were largely employed as forced laborers all over the territory of the state, especially for mining activities. Preventive imprisonment, extorted confessions and executions were typical to the years of Stalin. Even the troops who had come in contact with the western Allies during the war were exonerated and imprisoned, to perfectly guarantee the stability of the communist leadership of the army. A detailed account of this little-know, large-scale repressive activity is documented also by means of reconstructed interrogation rooms, as well as spy gear used by the Czechoslovakian communist political police, the StB.

A related interesting chapter is that of the border shared with neighbor western countries. Similar to the German Democratic Republic (see this post), the border with West Germany and Austria was heavily guarded to stop those who wanted to flee the country. A fence of many kilometers was erected and modernized on more instances. A number of citizens were sent to prison or even lost their lives trying to escape to the West. More on this can be found today on the border with Germany (see a section below).

A significant area is devoted to the wannabe-reformer Alexander Dubcek and the 1968 ‘Prague Spring’. The aggressive Soviet reaction to the experiment, backed by the new Brezhnev leadership, provided an example for other Soviet satellite countries seeking for independence. The invasion of Czechoslovakia, called ‘Operation Danube’, was carried out as a surprise attack, paralyzing all urban infrastructures by quickly landing troops and material with a well-organized airlift on the nation’s major civil airports, including Prague and Brno. Simultaneously, land troops of many countries of the Eastern Bloc crossed the border and rapidly occupied all military installations. Guerrilla actions took place especially in Prague, but it was soon clear that an action so massive could not be counteracted by the sole Czechoslovakian forces.

The Soviet aggression cleared any doubt about the attitude of the new leadership of the USSR. It was generally condemned even by the communist parties of the western world, but this was not helpful for Czechoslovakia, which could not overthrow the re-established Soviet-style dictatorship until the almost simultaneous collapse of the communist regimes bound to the USSR in 1989.

Getting there and moving around

This museum is an excellent resource and a starting point for gaining an insight on the history of Czechoslovakia from the late 1930s to the 1990s. A general knowledge of the Cold War history may help to better collocate the facts reported in the exhibition on the world stage, yet even if this is the first museum of the kind you may