Tragedy at the Jachymov Mines: The NYU Political Prisoners Trip

“Nature can be merciful.” -a former political prisoner of the Jáchymov mines

What began as an ambiguous and seemingly ill-fitting sentiment considering the frigid Czech winter this prisoner endured at the Jáchymov mines grew to be a meaningful takeaway from a powerful trip.

The weekend’s hike of over 6 miles took NYU students around the abandoned former political prisons of Jáchymov, a mining district in the Czech Republic. A few things drew me to this trip, but what I was most compelled by the prospect of gaining a greater understanding of Czech national identity by looking at such a complex piece of their history.

The trip’s highlight was of course the hike, which covered miles of former camps. Dissidents and criminals alike were brought to work here, sorting through uranium with their bare hands and facing the cold Czech winters without much comfort. Once the mines were closed, they were virtually abandoned and left with no memorial of their existence.

One organization in the Czech Republic is trying to change this: They led our hike, and painstakingly retold the oral histories of the survivors of this terror. Tomáš and Dan worked hard to point out as many landmarks as they could, despite a lack of funding and community support which has made maintenance of the site difficult, let alone restoration. The snow did little to help: its covering of the camp’s foundations and what few memorials there are was a constant reminder of the refusal of the Jachymov region and the Czech Republic at large to take responsibility for what happened here.

The political imprisonment of Czechoslovak citizens is something that seems almost forgotten by the country, but should never be forgotten. This beautiful, interesting hike was as informative as it was emotionally provocative, and definitely ranks as one of my favorite experiences in the Czech Republic so far.

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