the Jachymov Mines, the Czech Republic

The Jachymov region has been an important resource for silver since the late Middle Ages. At the turn of the 20th century, the discovery of radium transformed its focus of activity and up to the beginning of the First World War the predominantly German speaking region was the most important outposts of radium extraction in the world. 1945, the new communist regime of Czechoslavakia signed a treaty with USSR concerning the historical mining region of Jachymov, which were thereby put back into operation for uranium, sent back to the USSR for the Soviets’ nascent atomic warfare program. Demographically, the resource rich area went through severe changes due to the Second World War: the region was annexed by Germany as one of the municipalities in Sudetenland in 1938, and consequently saw the German-speaking population be expelled at the end of the war and replaced by Czech settlers.The first workers in the uranium mines were German prisoners of war but gradually the new communist authorities began conscripting ordinary Czechoslovakian political opponents into dangerous mine work. They were forced to mine uranium ore under extreme conditions and with little protection against radioactivity.  The importance of the mines in the Czechoslovakian mountains began to abate with Stalin’s death and the discovery of uranium on USSR territory, but they were kept active until the 1960s. According to survivors associations, around 50000 people went through this forced labour system, and suffered terminal conditions as a result. The region is mostly closed down today, with few attempts of memorialization on site.