17 November is now mostly remembered as the anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. However, it is the day when the International Students' Day is celebrated, originally commemorating student demonstrations against Nazism in 1939.
Masaryk University hosts an event called Student Seventeen on the anniversary, culminating with a debate between Rainer Höss, a grandson of the Auschwitz death camp commandant, and Tal Bahsah, an Israeli journalist whose grandmother died in the Theresienstadt concentration camp and her mother survived internment in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz.
“I know my heritage. I cannot change it," says Rainer Höss. “It's more effective to use the name and show that the idea that evil is in the blood – which is what the Nazis said – is wrong."
Höss uses his surname as a weapon against the doctrine that it used to represent. He speaks at dozens of schools every year, helps lead an anti-extremist group called Loud Against Nazis, and supports a number of other projects. In his talks, Höss describes his family's history and appeals for tolerance. He urges young people to reject bigotry and he often warns that Europe is seeing a resurgence of extremism related to anti-Islam attitudes. However, some if his critics suggest that he uses his name as a commercial good.
A moderated debate (in English with interpreting into Czech) called Freedom Lecture 2015: Humanity vs. Barbarity will take place on 17 November, starting at 3:30 p.m. at the University Cinema Scala. Entry to the debate as well as to the other events on the programme is free. The programme for Student Seventeen also includes the traditional student lantern parade organised by the Student Endowment Fund of the Faculty of Arts of Masaryk University and screening of two films.
This year the parade will go in the opposite direction than it usually does. Participants will meet at 5:30 p.m. at náměstí Míru at the final stop of tram 4. From there the parade will head towards the city centre, passing by the Kounicova Hall, the MU Faculty of Law and Faculty of Arts to Komenského náměstí and then on to the bomb shelter on Husova.
At 2 p.m., before the Freedom Lecture, the University Cinema Scala will screen The Living Dead, a documentary exploring the horrific events that took place in the Auschwitz concentration camp. At 8:30 p.m. the cinema will show another documentary, The Power of Good, about the actions of Nicholas Winton, who saved close to 700 mostly Jewish children during the Nazi occupation. The screening will be followed by a short discussion led by the dramaturge of the documentary Zdeněk Tulis.