Štěpán Bittner

* 1948

  • „He left and I did not meet him after that. Then, suddenly, during the night on the 16th of January, someone called the dorms saying that some boy immolated himself at the St Wenceslas’ Square. After some time we learned that it was Honza Palach. We met in the office to write some declaration. Then we went to the streets. We organised the burial of Honza Palach, it’s a thing I’ll never forget. I stood guard by his coffin in Karolinum for a while. There were worries that something might happen during the funeral. The State Security and the cops were worried that the burial might be used against the government. We, the students, guaranteed that there would be no disturbances. There were students wearing armbands with a a sign of an owl and we guarded so that nobody would cause a disturbance. There were students standing along the whole route of the cortège would be protected against disruptions. Nothing happened, nobody felt like that. No shouts, nothing. There was absolute silence. When you imagine absolute silence in Prague, I haven’t experienced it any other time. Up till now, it feels insane to me.”

  • "On the 21th of August in 1969, there was a protest going on against the occupation on the Wenceslas' Square. It was not pretty. Bullets whizzed around, it was ugly. I remember how I crawled into the Yalta passage because they fired live ammo. Sadly, it was our people who were shooting. Not the army, the mad People's militia. It felt irreal to see the those old blokes beating their own children. At that time, I lost the illusion that this country may ever get somewhere. I had lost them already in 1968 when Dubček et al. returned from Moscow [after having signed the invitation of the Warsaw Pact armies].

  • „An interesting memory, the last one I have of him, and it gives me shivers down the spine. When I recall it. The dormitory, before Christmas, a party was going on as it was usual, boys, girls, beer and so on. Suddenly, someone knocked the door and there he was, Honza Palach. He wore a trench coat and he would always wear a sort of black beret, that was his usual garb. He entered but not at the right time. He did not drink alcohol so he got some water. In the film, they showed him as frequenting pubs but he never did. He spent all his time studying or reading some literature. He sat there for about quarter of an hour and conversation with him just slipped on the surface. How are you, what are you up to these days. We’d rather have him gone because we had different interests. He sensed that he had been there for too long and when he was leabing, he said: ‘So, bye, boys, have a ood time and should something happen, remember the better of me.”

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    Liberec, 07.05.2022

    délka: 01:41:28
    nahrávka pořízena v rámci projektu Stories of 20th Century
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I do not get that Honza Palach did it

Štěpán Bittner in 1971
Štěpán Bittner in 1971
zdroj: Archiv pamětníka

Štěpán Bittner was born on the 5th of July in 1948. His father was a miner and the family moved often. After Štěpán finished basic school, he enrolled secondary school in Nové Město na Moravě and after graduating in 1966, he enrolled the Prague University of Economics and Business. Here, he became friends with Jan Palach. Often, they had discussions and Štěpán visited the Palach family in Všetaty several times. In spring 1968, as a journalist in the Ekonom magazine, he wrote articles critical to the ruling régime and interviewed various interesting people. When he learned about the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the Warsaw Pact armies, he travelled to Prague where he rejoined students’ protests. After the self-immolation of Jan Palach, he and his friends visited factories to inform the workers about the current political events; they also published a newspaper. He took part in the anti-government demonstration on the 21th of August in 1969 on the St. Wenceslas’ square where the protesters clashed with the armed forces. After Štěpán got expelled from school, he moved to Libered where he did various blue-collar jobs in the Czechoslovak Uranium Industry company. After he got married and his two children were born, he did not want to threaten his family and their wellbeing so he tried not to stick out. In the 1980’s, he visited the Soviet Union and was exasperated from the poverty and lack of hygiene. The fall of the Communist régime was a glorious moment for which he had not hoped any more. In 2000, he retired and at the time of recording in 2022, he lived in Liberec.