His schoolmates liked him for his nice and friendly nature. He was quiet, pensive, and very well-read. Since his early childhood, he was interested in nature, technology, and history.
Director’s reference, Všetaty primary school, 3 March 1969
Until 16 January 1969, Jan Palach’s life story was not radically different from those of his peers. He grew up in Všetaty near Mělník, a little town fifty km from Prague, where he was born in a private sanatorium on 11 August 1948.
Since the mid-1930s, his father, Josef Palach, ran a sweets factory with a shop. His wife, Libuše, née Kostomlatská, took care of the household. The parents took an active role in the community: they were members of the Sokol movement and played in an amateur theatre. Josef Palach was a member of the Czech National Socialist Party; Libuše was a member of the Evangelical Church of Czech Brethren based in nearby Libiš. They were trying to bring up their sons – Jan, and older brother Jiří (1941) – according to the traditions of the Republic in Czechoslovakia.
Similar to other self-employed persons at that time, the Palachs had to close down the sweets shop at the beginning of the 1950s; a few years later, they also closed down the sweets factory. Following this, Josef Palach could only get a blue-collar job in a mill and bakery in Brandýs nad Labem, and Libuše Palachová started to work as a saleswoman in a restaurant and canteen at the Všetaty railway station. In spite of this experience, Libuše Palachová joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia in 1957. There was just one single reason – she wanted to ensure that her sons could study in the future. In 1962, the family experienced a great shock: Josef Palach died of a heart attack. The older son, Jiří, was grown up at the time, and Libuše Palachová thus stayed at home only with Jan.
Miroslav Slach, a former history teacher at the Všetaty primary school, remembers Jan Palach to be a passionate chess player and reader. He loved adventure and historical novels. He also liked sports, attended the local Sokol gym, and jogged in the surroundings of Všetaty. In September 1963, Jan Palach started to attend the Mělník Secondary Comprehensive School (today’s grammar school). His teachers remembered him as a rather average pupil; however, he excelled in history, geography, social sciences, and biology. He passed his school leaving exam in June 1966.