On November 17, 1939, the German occupation forces that ruled the Czech parts of Czechoslovakia closed universities, murdered nine student representatives, and transported 1,200 students to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In 1941, on the basis of these events -- thanks to Czechoslovak students supported by exiled President Edvard Beneš (pictured) -- November 17 was declared "International Students Day". (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
On November 17, 1939, the German occupation forces that ruled the Czech parts of Czechoslovakia closed universities, murdered nine student representatives, and transported 1,200 students to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In 1941, on the basis of these events -- thanks to Czechoslovak students supported by exiled President Edvard Beneš -- November 17 was declared "International Students Day".
Celebrating it was delayed first in the Czech Republic, by the events of the Velvet Revolution of 1989, then in the world, in favor of celebrating the multiculturalism of foreign students. November 17 is the day to celebrate as the struggle of students from the coalition of anti-fascist United Nations for what U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt called "their freedom
s of belief and their right to teach that belief," and should be commemorated and celebrated again this way worldwide.
According to witnesses, the idea of declaring November 17 International Student Day originated in the meadow in front of Moreton Hall, where former Czechoslovak students -- led by Pavel Kavan and Lubor Zink -- met after work and renewed the National Union of Czechoslovak Students (NUCS). Their application to the Ministry of National Defense and the Interior was submitted about six months later in October. The Ministry approved the request to renew the NUCS for an annual anniversary on November 17, 1940.
On November 16, 1941, a meeting organized by the NUCS was held under the auspices of President Edvard Beneš and the Czechoslovak government in London's Caxton Hall. The statement, declaring International Student Day, and signed by the representative of students of 14 nations, was made by Lubor Zink:
"We, students of Great Britain and its territories and India, North and South America, the USSR, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, China, Holland, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia and all free nations, to honour and commemorate the tortured and executed students who were the first to raise their voices to reject Nazi oppression and condemn the occupation of 1939, proclaim November 17 as International Students Day..."
A year later, on November 16, 1942, another meeting, organized by the NUCS for International Students Day, took place in London's Royal Albert Hall, which has the capacity to hold 7,000 people. The meeting was heralded by a large sign saying, "Youth Fights for Freedom - International Students Day", and before the event, the BBC sent a message from British students to students in Moscow, from where it was further distributed to students in China, New York, North American, and then sent on again, until the message arrived back in London.
The next year, November 17, 1943, a gathering was organized by Lubor Zink and Bohuslav Šulc for NUCS in London's Kingsway Hall; on the stage was a giant map of the world, highlighting where the International Students Day had been observed so far. The following year, on November 17, 1944, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt celebrated it:
Five years ago, on November 17, 1939, occurred the horrible massacre of Czechoslovakian students and professors by the Nazis - a despicable mass murder that subsequent events have proved was but a part of the Nazi design to quiet forever the voices of men who considered death preferable to destruction of their freedom of belief and their right to teach that belief. Since that day, valiant youth from all the United Nations -- especially the youth of those countries which have been occupied by the enemy: China, Ethiopia, Poland, Norway, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Greece, Yugoslavia, Russia and the Philippine Islands – have fought, bled and died to preserve with this freedom the right to build together a future world where free men may be peacefully secure from aggression and force. They are still fighting today, victoriously and discovering under fire their great common unity of purpose. In the world of tomorrow, these youths will be builders of the future of nations. Through courageous and vigorous effort, by friendship and common striving, theirs will be the task of replenishing the intellectual vigor of their war-disrupted countries. In observing November 17 again this year as International Student's Day, American youth joins with the youth of all freedom-loving nations in pledging itself anew to those tasks and that faith in the world of tomorrow toward which we now advance. [Emphases added.]
After the war, the organizer of the NUCS, Lubor Zink, collaborated with the BBC and Czechoslovakian Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk, and, in 1949, thanks to his disagreement with the new communist Czechoslovakian government, became a British citizen. After NATO was founded that same year, he worked there as a political-economic analyst, and in 1958, moved to Canada, where he wrote more than 6,500 articles, mostly for the Toronto Sun. His journalism won him a Canadian National Newspaper Award in 1961 . After acquiring Canadian citizenship, he ran twice for the Progressive Conservative Party, in 1972 and 1974, but during the election campaigns was labeled as a Nazi and a racist. In 1995, Czech president Václav Havel awarded him the Medal of Merit of the First Degree, together with the director Miloš Forman and the author Milan Kundera. Zink also received the Gratias Agit Foreign Ministry Award in 1999.
On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Zink wrote -- along with other veterans of the Western Czechoslovak Army and the NUCS committee -- an appeal to youths to save the Czech national and democratic ideals born after defeating the autocracy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with democracy in 1918 , and the Soviet Bolshevism of Communist Eastern Bloc in 1989. They wrote: "[T]he necessary precondition [to save the Czech national ideals] is still the finalization of 'de-austrization' required by president Masaryk, but now even more difficult 'de-bolshevisation'".
Zink thus followed the pro-national attitude of former Czech patriots and national awakeners, including the philosopher and member of the Austrian parliament in the 19th century, the "Father of the Nation," František Palacký, who said: "Patriotism is the most natural middle level which leads man from animal selfishness to general love for people and to humanity in general."
During this anniversary, it is important not to forget that November 17, as International Students Day, is not a celebration of multiculturalism, which de-nationalizes countries in favor of a usually remote, autocratic, supranational, authority, but a celebration of national freedoms by supporters of free nations whose citizens have united voluntarily as characterized in August 1920 by Czechoslovakia's first President Tomáš G. Masaryk: "Mankind is nothing supranational, but a democratic organization of nations -- conscious, cultural nations."