In 1938, the Nazis moved against Czechoslovakia claiming it as their territory. Throughout the war years, Czechoslovakia remained under the brutal control of the Third Reich. When the war ended in 1945, the Czechs and Slovaks remained united as one country, and for a brief period controlled their own affairs. Out of the ashes of the Third Reich rose the Soviet Union, which took advantage of the power vacuum following the war to seize Eastern European countries.
The Czechs and Slovaks had managed to shake the chains of one master, only to have it replaced by another. The communist party, under Stalin, was a brutal regime which did not tolerate any expression of opposition. Freedoms which had been enjoyed for the brief period between 1945-48 (open elections, speech, thought, movement) were erased. The secret police was everywhere. Anyone who dared speak out against the Soviets quickly found themselves considered enemies of the state. The punishment for this ranged from being kicked out of the party (thus ended your chances of employment and your children's chances of being accepted into University) to imprisonment. The Czechoslovakian prisons quickly filled up with those who dared to speak up. A dark cloud hung over Czechoslovakia, with people living under such tight controls and such a miserable existence that a smile was rare and laughter ever rarer.
In January of 1968, a Czech poet named Alexander Dubcek became the leader of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia. Dubcek brought with him reforms which stunned the world and brought hope back to Czechoslovakia. He opened the prisons, releasing political dissidents. Some had been imprisoned for their thoughts for close to twenty years. He allowed the people of Czechoslovakia control over their own lives. The impact which Dubcek had was like opening a release valve. People smiled and looked towards the future. The repression of the Soviet Union was lifted from the shoulders of the Czech people like an overcoat being taken off on a Spring day. The Soviet Union looked on as the world held its breath.
In August of 1968, the Soviet's answer came in the form of tanks which entered the streets of Prague. The people took to the streets encircling the Parliament buildings in the hope of protecting Dubcek and the reforms he had brought in. Two days later, as the world listened in horror, the people of Prague pleaded that they should not be forgotten. The reforms came to an end.
The iron fist and boot of the Soviet Union brought Czechoslovakia back into the Communist fold. Hundreds of thousands were removed from the party. Thousands were imprisoned, sentenced to decades of hard work as punishment for daring to challenge the Soviet authority. Thousands more managed to get out of Czechoslovakia and some, like the Jiraneks, managed to make it to Canada, much to the benefit of Canadian culture.