Exhibition on humanitarian aid after the war opens at City Hall on Monday
At 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 23, the exhibition “Post-war assistance from the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration” will officially open in the entrance hall of Pilsen City Hall. The exhibition describes the German occupation, damage from the war, raids, the liberation, post-war reconstruction and UNRRA assistance, and makes note of the East Bloc’s rejection of the Marshall Plan and the start of the Cold War. In addition to historical data, it will also feature fascinating photographs and documents. The thirty panels also include exhibits on loan from the Patton Memorial Pilsen.
“The first panels deal with preparations for war. The amount of money used to build defense bunkers, for example, had a significant negative impact on the ravaged Czechoslovak economy,” explains the author of the exhibition, Pilsen historian Stanislav Bukovský. Never-before published photographs from the liberation of Pilsen and the Pilsen region will also appear at the exhibition.
Organized as part of this year’s Liberation Festival, the exhibition can be viewed at City Hall until May 11.
These days perhaps only people who were alive at the time remember what the acronym UNRRA stands for – the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. It was essentially the first international humanitarian and development aid project of its kind managed by the United Nations. Surviving the war was one thing; surviving peace something else. The aim of UNRRA was to prevent hunger and epidemics of contagious diseases (many still had vivid memories of the Spanish flu, which claimed millions of lives after World War I) and help war-torn countries get back up on their own feet. The United States financed over two-thirds of the UNRRA budget. Further funding came from Canada and the United Kingdom, with other countries also making minor contributions. Countries whose claims for UNRRA assistance were recognized, including Czechoslovakia, received the help free of charge and paid only administrative and some transportation costs.
Supplies of canned meat, sardines, grain, rice, pasta, butter, medicines, cookies, cigarettes, coffee, chocolate, chewing gum, clothing and shoes were a thorn in the communists’ side. In every possible manner they tried to boycott and ridicule the assistance, but most people were thrilled with it. Because several of the foods supplied to the country were unknown in these parts, the Ministry of Nutrition released a special brochure in 1946 entitled “How to prepare UNRRA goods” illustrating what could be made from all of the various foods.
People had not seen treats like coffee and chocolate at all through the war and had become used to making do with “mock” versions of their favorite foods. Children born at the beginning of the country’s occupation tasted oranges, cocoa and dates for the first time in their lives. UNRRA did not only supply food to Czechoslovakia, it also brought clothing, fabric, shoes, tires, medicines and medical supplies, even complete hospital equipment including ambulances, dental equipment, X-ray slides, soap, cigarettes, grain (in March 1946, one in three loaves of bread was baked from UNRRA grain), tractors, chemical fertilizer, buses, bridge structures, cows, sheep, horses, even hatchery eggs that hatched chickens right here in Czechoslovakia. In all, Czechoslovakia received aid worth approximately $270 million. In addition, UNRRA helped organize the return of concentration camp prisoners or searched for children who had been stolen and taken to Germany. Its activities in Czechoslovakia officially ended on June 30, 1947, but continued to serve in a limited function for several more months.