An iconic photograph of American officer Matt Konop—of Czech origin—liberating Czechoslovakia alongside the US Army. This photograph shows Domažlice citizens carrying Konop on their shoulders on May 4, 1945.
Matt Konop’s native language was Czech; his first contact with English was at school. He never shed his Czech accent. Alongside the US Army, he fought through Europe’s battlefields right up to the borders of his forefathers’ country. Because he spoke Czech, he was sent out to liberate the Domažlice area.
On May 5, 2015, a bronze plaque was mounted at the address Domažlice č.p. 58, on the town square—the building with the name “Hruška” on its facade. The plaque’s relief is based upon a photo of Matt Konop being carried on citizens’ shoulders. The plaque was dedicated to Matt Konop and his heroism during the region’s liberation. Texts in Czech and English appear on the plaque. Konop is shown holding his Kodak camera in his left hand.
Date of events: May 4, 1945.
Writing on plaque :
Plukovník Matt Konop , 4.května 1945
Jsme osvobozeni jedním z nás
KONOP PŘIVEDL PŘEDVOJ 2. PĚŠÍ DIVIZE ARMÁDY USA NA CHODSKO , ZEMĚ JEHO PRARODIČŮ
(“Col. Matt Konop, May 4, 1945 / We are liberated by one of our own / KONOP BROUGHT THE VANGUARD OF THE US ARMY’S 2ND INFANTRY TO THE CHODSKO REGION – THE LAND OF HIS ANCESTORS”)
On the basis of an order by general George S. Patton dated April 30, 1945, the 2nd Infantry Division was relocated to southwestern Czechoslovakia. The commanding officer, general Robertson, was aware of Konop’s fluency in Czech, and so Konop was tasked with leading the vanguard. He and a driver arrived in a jeep on May 2, 1945, in Klenčí—his maternal grandmother’s home village. Here they chanced upon a meeting of the local resistance. Konop informed the resistance members in Czech that his division had come to liberate Czechoslovakia. The people rejoiced—and wondered at the American officer telling them in Czech that they were once again free. It also intrigued them when he introduced himself as Mr. Konop, as this surname is quite typical for the area.
Konop spent the night at the home of the Benda family in the village of Klenčí, while tales of “liberation by one of our own” spread in its surroundings. Two days later, on May 4, Konop arrived at the regional seat, Domažlice, and saw banners on the square welcoming him as a liberator. The locals were out celebrating the end of six years of Nazi terror when suddenly a clump of them on the square noticed Konop, lifted him onto their shoulders, and carried him around the square as a hero restoring their freedom.
One little-known fact is that officer Konop was the first person to announce the city’s liberation on Pilsen’s main square on May 8 over the city’s public address system.
The unusual story of American officer Matt Konop, who arrived quite randomly in the village that had been home to his grandparents, is presented as a play, “The Accidental Hero,” by his grandson Patrick Dewane.
Domažlice was officially liberated on May 5, 1945. Freedom was celebrated by people in other towns and villages the Americans liberated as well, Czech and American flags flew together, and people dressed up in folk costumes to greet soldiers.
No battles occurred in Domažlice; the 2nd infantry division, with the legendary Indian head in its emblem, traveled up the street alongside Chod Castle to Domažlice’s main square. Local citizens welcomed the soldiers. It was raining, but people were happy that it was raining down freedom. Willys MBs rode through the streets and soldiers distributed chewing gum, chocolate, and soup to the children. The men, meanwhile, received cigarettes. In return, the liberators enjoyed local cakes and beer.
These liberators are commemorated in a new monument that was erected at the initiative of US veterans. The sculptor behind this work, located on Chodská street beneath the Chod Castle garden, is Václav Fiala from Klatovy.
“Something exceptional has occurred. The families of American veterans Matt Konop, Robert Gilbert, James Duncan, and Herman Geist have approached us with their wishes for a liberation monument to be built in Domažlice commemorating these men, and meanwhile they themselves have organized a fundraising drive in America for the artwork’s costs,” stated Domažlice’s mayor Zdeněk Novák regarding the event.
A donation was sent from the USA from this drive in the amount of 423,000 Czech crowns, and the town of Domažlice contributed a similar amount towards the memorial’s construction.
The site where this memorial is located was not selected randomly. The first American soldiers who arrived in Domažlice in May 1945 passed by this very place. “We now have a dignified reminder of not only these American soldiers—honorary citizens of this town—but also everyone who took part in the liberation of Domažlice,” stated the mayor.
The memorial plaque at the Domažlice town hall celebrates the liberation of both the town and its surrounding region (“Chodsko”). It reads: “Na věčnou paměť osvobození města Domažlice a celého Chodského kraje slavnou Americkou armádou 5. V. 1945. For the eternal memory of the liberation of the town of Domažlice and of all the country Chodsko by the glorious American army.
The memorial plaque at the town hall has a quite colorful history: