International Students’ Day is an international observance of the student community, held annually on 17 November.
The date commemorates the anniversary of the 1939 Nazi storming of the University of Prague after demonstrations against the German occupation of Czechoslovakia and the killings of Jan Opletal and worker Václav Sedláček. The Nazis rounded up the students, murdered nine student leaders and sent over 1,200 students to concentration camps, mainly Sachsenhausen.
They subsequently closed all Czech universities and colleges. By this time Czechoslovakia no longer existed, as it had been divided into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia and the Slovak Republic under a fascist puppet government.
In late 1939 the Nazi authorities in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia suppressed a demonstration in Prague held by students of the Medical Faculty of Charles University.
The demonstration was held on 28 October to commemorate the anniversary of the independence of the Czechoslovak Republic (1918). During this demonstration the student Jan Opletal was shot, and later died from his injuries on 11 November.
On 15 November his body was supposed to be transported from Prague to his home in Moravia. His funeral procession consisted of thousands of students, who turned the event into an anti-Nazi demonstration. However, the Nazi authorities took drastic measures in response, closing all Czech higher education institutions, arresting more than 1,200 students, who were then sent to concentration camps, executing nine students and professors without trial on 17 November.
Historians speculate that the Nazis granted permission for the funeral procession already expecting a violent outcome, in order to use that as a pretext for closing down universities and purging anti-fascist dissidents.
Throughout 1941 efforts were made to convince students of other nations to acknowledge 17 November as a day of commemoration, celebrating and encouraging resistance against the Nazis and the fight for freedom and democracy in all nations.