Late in 1939, the Nazi occupants of Czechoslovakia (at that time called the protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia) suppressed a demonstration held by students of the Medical Faculty of the Charles University. The demonstration was held on the 28th of October to commemorate the anniversary of the independence of the Czechoslovak Republic.
During the demonstration, student Jan Opletal was shot and died from wounds on the 11th of November. On the 15th of November his body was meant to be transported from Prague back to his home in Moravia. His funeral procession consisted of thousands of students, who turned the event to an anti-Nazi demonstration.
This, however, resulted, in drastic measures being taken by the Nazis. All Czech higher education institutions were closed down, more than 1200 students were sent to concentration camps, and nine students and professors were executed without trial on the 17th of November.
The idea to memorialize the atrocities and honor the fallen was discussed among the Czechs in exile in Britain. The USCS (Central Association of Czechoslovak Students) was reestablished in London on 17 November 1940.
Thereafter, efforts were made to convince students of other nations to acknowledge November 17 as a day of commemoration, celebrating and encouraging resistance against the inhumane regimes and the fight for freedom and democracy in all nations.
In 1989, independent student leaders together with the Socialist Union of Youth (SSM/SZM) organised a mass demonstration to commemorate the 50th anniversary of International Students Day. The event gave students an opportunity to voice their displeasures with the communist party of Czechoslovakia.
About 15 000 people took part in the demonstration, which began peacefully but turned violent and resulted in the beating of many students by riot police. The same night, students together with actors from theatres agreed to go on strike. These events triggered the Velvet Revolution brought about the downfall of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia.
November 17 has been celebrated since 2000 in Czechoslovakia as Struggle for Freedom and Democracy Day.
This is an image of the Monument to the Student Manifestations of November 17th in Prague, repressed by the police, that led to the fall of communism in Czechoslovakia and is in the public domain.