Student Activist. Born the son of Libuše Kostomlatská and Josef Palach, a sweets manufacturer. The family business was confiscated by the communist regime in the early 1950s, and the senior Palach resorted to work in a mill, he died when Jan was 14. After secondary school, denied a place in the Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague, he enrolled in the University of Economics. In 1968, he co-founded the Academic Council of Students at the University. During the so-called Prague Spring that year, his interest in politics peaked, he was allowed to travel both to the Soviet Union and France. That August, he was approved to transfer to the Faculty of Arts. Days later, on August 20, Soviet forces invaded the country, hard line communists retook positions of power, and reforms were curtailed. Jan took part in protests and strikes against the occupation to little effect. He decided more radical protests were required if only to encourage fellow Czechs, who seemed to accept occupation. He apparently saw their stance as beaten down and too accepting, and he wanted to inspire resistance. In his final letter, he demanded the end of press censorship and called on the people to strike. On 16 January 1969, he went to Wenceslas Square, poured gasoline over himself and set himself alight. He ran towards the St Wenceslas statue before falling, when passers-by smothered the flames with their coats. Still conscious, with burns over 85 percent of his body, he was taken to hospital. From his hospital bed, he was quoted as saying, “[The protest] was not so much in opposition to the Soviet occupation, but the demoralization which was setting in; that people were not only giving up, but giving in.” He succumbed to his injuries three days later. Tens of thousands queued to pay respects while his casket lay in Charles University. His funeral turned into a mass demonstration of opposition against the Soviet occupation. His grave in Prague, became a shrine. Guards were posted at the graveside to deter visitors. Eventually, the regime removed the headstone and sent his ashes to his mother in Všetaty. In October 1990, following the fall of the communist state, the ashes were returned to Prague.
Bio by: Iola