Author Topic: Czech republic & Restitution  (Read 22518 times)

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Offline ipflo

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Czech republic & Restitution
« on: May 29, 2007, 04:35:08 PM »
Hi,

Does some one know what the latest information is on the restitutions of the great manor houses and estates in the Czech republic?

For example I know the daughter of the last prince Schwarzenberg of the Hlubloka line is suing to get back the Cesky Krumlov and Hlubloka estates: http://www.restitution.cz/

I read somewhere that the Liechtensteins want their properties back: Lednice and Valtice (and probably also Boskovice and Telc, etc): http://www.blisty.cz/art/17123.html

Further I heard about a prince Kinsky who is fighting to get his rightful inheritance back: http://www.praguepost.com/P03/2003/Art/0710/news1.php

And there is the awful story about Kristina Colleredo Mansfelf who got her castle back in Opocno in 2003, invested a lot of money in it, only to loosen it again in 2007: http://www.radio.cz/en/article/90235

Unfortunately most information is mostly not newer than 2005.

Thx

ipflo


Offline ipflo

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2007, 04:36:06 PM »
PS: an interesting column on the subject is:

http://www.praguepost.com/P03/2005/Art/0324/opin1.php

Waiting & freezing

Castle restitution drags on (and on) as two families fight for justice and their reputations

By Stephen Weeks, March 24, 2005


Among the raft of 60th anniversaries that 2005 brings, one of the most bizarre is that of the lawsuits brought by two families for the return of their estates, lawsuits that have their roots in the 1945 refusal by the Czechoslovak government to hand back (from confiscation by the Nazis) the estates of the main line of the Schwarzenberg family and those of the princes of Liechtenstein. The Schwarzenberg estates, which were mainly in south Bohemia, were centered on Cesky Krumlov and Hluboka castles (see www.restitution.cz); the Liechtenstein estates were in south Moravia, centered on Valtice and Lednice castles.

The Nazis had taken the Schwarzenberg estates because the family was fervently anti-Nazi. Opening the gardens of their palace in Vienna to Jews when they were forbidden to use public parks and refusing to entertain Hitler at Cesky Krumlov were only two of the misdemeanors that got Jindrich Schwarzenberg arrested by the Gestapo and incarcerated in concentration camps until the end of the war. The Liechtensteins likewise had refused to be intimidated by Hitler, and their tiny principality had been one of only two countries to refuse to recognize the 1938 Munich Agreement, which had meant the end of Czechoslovakia. Despite being surrounded by Nazi-overrun Europe, Liechtenstein maintained its neutrality while aiding Edvard Benes's government-in-exile in London.

Both families' roots were sunk deep in the history of the Czech lands, and they considered themselves first and foremost Czechs. But the communists had already taken hold of the country by mid-1945, despite the appearance of normality under a compromised (or maybe simply pragmatic) President Benes. No doubt Stalin had asked who the two biggest landowners in the country were and ordered the expropriation of their property. This illegality seemed modest when at the same time the wholesale confiscation of the Sudeten Germans' property — on a legalized basis — was under way; that property amounted to more than a third of the entire country's assets.

In fact, the government at first tried to use the Benes Decrees to take the Schwarzenberg estates — but it was very soon apparent that neither family was German nor Nazi sympathizers. In desperation, the government in 1947 passed a special law (the infamous Lex Schwarzenberg) that simply took the Schwarzenberg property with no excuse given. The legality of this step was highly questionable, but all these matters got swept under the carpet in 1948 when the communists took power openly — and could help themselves to anything they wanted.


Offline ipflo

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2007, 04:36:21 PM »
To the dismay of both families, the situation hadn't changed by 1991, when property seized by the communists was to be given back. Guided tours at the castles still state that the rightful owners were Nazi collaborators or just Germans. Officially the state gave no reason for holding on, and it is by now clear that some misguided political thinking holds back these claims. Various European courts support the families — but maybe the government is afraid of popular opinion, perceived as set against old landowners after half a century of aggressive communist propaganda including weekly "fairy tales" on TV.

Currently, the castles struggle for their upkeep, underfunded by the state. The estates, should the lawsuits eventually be lost, would be sold off, probably ending up (unless they go to government cronies) in the hands of Austrian or German forestry concerns. The government doesn't seem to realize — or to look to examples in the rest of Europe — that these old landowners are the least-expensive option for historic buildings. They would be happy to spend all the income from the improved management of their estates in restoring and maintaining their castles — giving these buildings also a sense of pride and continuity, which would make them far more attractive to tourists. Also, these families have money to invest in the future of their estates and buildings. In any event, to separate the castles from their hereditary domains is no less than cultural vandalism.

Incredibly, there is still a valid law (from the First Republic) against "unjustified spending" — that is, if you spend on luxury living more than is "accepted." But who determines "accepted"? Maybe these large estates with their castles stuffed with all their centuries-old collections fall foul of this absurd notion, which could still see the state expropriate what it likes of your wealth. Huge castles are, in fact, more liabilities than fabulous assets. As for luxury living, most castle owners I know nearly freeze to death in winter and in summer suffer being overrun by eager visitors. They certainly don't have the "Beckham" lifestyle.

The government's attitude, from the legal standpoint, is that either these properties are the claimants' or they are not — 100 percent and that's it. Whenever the highest court does come to a final decision, it will be win or lose. But isn't there room for compromise? Both families would admit that conditions in 2005 are far different than those of 1945. In the rest of Europe, estates have had two or three generations of stiff taxes during that time, and now their size is more reasonable and more positively linked to historic houses with public access. Surely it is time the state started negotiations and offered reasonable restitution, perhaps linked to undertakings on the castles, rather than keeping alive two of Europe's longest-lasting — and discreditable — lawsuits.


Stephen Weeks is a writer and conservationist based in Prague. He can be reached at stephen.c@stles.org

Offline Duke of New Jersey

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2007, 06:46:23 PM »
How interesting!  I was under the misconception that all estates were given back to their owners after the fall of the communists.  I had no idea that the sucessor states were still holding on these properties. 

-Duke of NJ

Offline Greenowl

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #4 on: June 15, 2007, 06:39:25 PM »
Do you think the Benes decrees should be abolished? I mean to say, if property is restored to one group should it not be restored to all? After all, most of the Sudeten Germans today were either children during the Nazi period or were born after the second world war, therefore they cannot be accused of being Nazis.

I did not notice any reference to it above (perhaps I missed it, although you did mention that the information is mainly from 2005 and earlier, so perhaps that is the reason), but a descendent of the Hohenbergs is trying to reclaim Konopiste castle. On the other hand, some of the Sternbergs got their castle back.....

Offline ipflo

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #5 on: June 16, 2007, 06:09:15 PM »
well you have three things: (1) I am in the opion that the Liechtensteins should be returned what's theirs, as they are unrightful expropriated as they are no Germans (although German speaking) and the Benes decrees are only applicable on Germans. You can not neglect the rights of a very tiny state because it hurts yourself as a state; (2) further I think the Benes decrees were and are against the human rights. It was wrong to transfer such great group of people outside Czech, which was also their land, and confiscate all their belongings. However, I do not think giving everything back now is also a good and wise solution (as most Sudetengermans nowadays already have built up a new life in Germany itself, and probably don't want to go back to the villages of their ancestors; and there are lot of people already living in those sudetenareas, which you also can not move out right away (then you have the same crime as was done years ago)), but would n't they be able to find a wise solution in the middle; and (3) there are the confiscations of the old estates of the nobility/ elite: with this I tend to agree with the author of the column above: a reasonable restitution should be possible, shouldn't it. A state can not take care of all the castles, and if there are families willing to go back to places where there ancestors have lived for more than centuries. Why not, if they want to give their life, wealth and love to these places, that can only be a good thing in my opinion. I think these castles and palaces will be lived in again, instead of old dusty state museums. Most of the castles will still be open for the public, and it saves the Czech state money, which they can spent on other things.

yes, it is true that some estates have been returned (partly): the Schwarzenberg - Orliks , the Sternberks, the Lobkocwicz, the Kolowrats, and Kinksy amongst others. Also the Colloredo's mentioned above, have gotten back an other castle: Dobris, which was not taken back later.

Offline Greenowl

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #6 on: June 17, 2007, 02:33:23 PM »
Yes Ipflo, it is indeed a very difficult and emotive issue. I agree with you that the Benes Decrees were (and are) an abuse of human rights. Having said that, I don’t think Benes could have acted without the knowledge, agreement and support of the allies. Two of those allies (Britain and France) behaved in a shameful manner at the Munich conference in September 1938, and in spite of the fact that France had a defence pact with Czechoslovakia, the country was more or less handed over to Hitler. Had Chamberlain and Daladier NOT appeased Hitler at that stage it just MIGHT have prevented (or minimised) the Second World War. The Nazis committed awful atrocities in Czechoslovakia (think of Lidice) and while I can understand to some extent the reason behind the expulsion, obviously two wrongs don’t make a right and the brutality in the early days of the expulsion was, as I think Vaclav Havel said “not punishment, but revenge”. Ideally at that stage the real Nazis should have been identified and expelled and the other Sudeten Germans left alone. I agree with you that giving everything back now would not be a good and wise solution and almost impossible in practical terms, in addition to which, many of the Sudeten Germans received some form of financial compensation from the German state (the so-called “Lastenausgleich”). Indeed, as you say, most Sudeten Germans built a new life in Germany and elsewhere and probably would not rush to return to the villages of their ancestors on a permanent basis (although they often go there on holiday and look at their former homes). Equally, the people who live in those areas could not be moved, as it would be the same crime as before. However, I beg to disagree on one small point, namely that the Liechtensteins should be returned their property on the grounds that it was unjustly confiscated as they are not Germans (although German speaking). Ironically, the Sudeten Germans, although German speaking, were not technically Germans either until the end of 1938, but Czechoslovak and before that Austrian. As you probably guessed, I am from a Sudeten German family myself, and although 60 years and two generations have passed, we still feel “different” and have a strong affinity with the Czech Republic. My son (now 16 years old and not particularly interested in history) surprised me last year when he stated on a visit to Prague “I really don’t know what nationality I am. Am I Irish (he was born in Dublin), German, Czech, Moravian (his grandparents were from the Zwittau/Svitavy area of Moravia) or Austrian?” At any rate, I feel that from a Sudeten German perspective, any attempt to dismantle the Benes Decrees and make exceptions is unfair.

The situation with Konopiste is different, as the law in question is that by which property belonging to the Habsburgs was confiscated in 1918, and of course as the Grand daughter of Sophie Gräfin Nostitz-Rieneck  (thus the Great granddaughter of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand) claims, the Hohenbergs were not considered a part of the ruling family after the assassination in Sarajevo and thus the confiscation of their property was unfair.

It’s all very complex and confusing, although on the other hand, I don’t know how any private individual (apart from perhaps the super rich, such as the Liechtensteins) could afford the maintain such huge properties. The costs must be staggering. I saw on a TV programme recently that Germans whose parents had been expelled from Poland after the war have recently returned and bought back their former property (a small manor house which had become a ruin) and are now in the process of renovating it. Oh dear, I do hope I have not digressed too far…apologies if so.

Offline ipflo

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #7 on: June 18, 2007, 02:56:16 PM »
With regard to the Liechtensteins: I also agree that Sudetengermans are no Germans. I said Germans, as the Czech republic argues that they are Germans in the sense of the "German" definition of the Benes decrees. I fully agree that German in Sudetengermans hints on the language and not on the people of the German state. I can imagine that is difficult to say what you are: is it bohemian, is it austrian, is it ...

Well both for state or a private individual the costs are staggering. So therefore I also do not understand the Czech state: they should be very happy that are a lot of people who want to spent on their shared cultural heritage. They should support such people, as it helps both people out. but it is as you said: although two generations are passed, the emotions are still there.

with regard to the Hohenbergs I also tend to agree with them in the argument that the Hohenbergs never have been part of the Habsburg family.

do not mind about the digression, I find it a very interesting subject.

Offline Greenowl

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #8 on: June 18, 2007, 06:06:43 PM »
The Czech state may fear that if it hands over historical castles etc to their former owners the site or building itself might be abused, i.e. closed to the public or renovated in an inappropriate way. I don't know how true this is, but I have heard that Castelovice, while lovingly restored in most aspects, has been spoiled by the construction of a restaurant in the court yard...do you know anything about that? Mind you, the Czech state (and in particular the former CSSR) can hardly boast about its treatment of historic buildings. There is an absolutely beautiful Romanesque Basilica in a little village called Tismice, south east of Prague. It really is a little gem. However, in the 1980s the authorities gave planning permission for the erection of a huge slaughter house complex right beside it and now they claim it would cost too much to remove the complex, as apart from the demolition costs, the owner would have to be compensated.....need I say more?

Offline ipflo

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #9 on: June 19, 2007, 02:06:45 PM »
Well I did not know about their treatments of such buildings, but unfortunately it does not suprise me: heritage awareness is in many places not what it should be. and I can imagine that especially in such places, where there is not enough money (Czech), will power (Greece -> Tatoi), too 'many' monuments (Greece/ Turkey), or gap in knowledge or awareness it is very difficult to do what should be done.

I do not know about Castolovice: but when I have a look at their website and their webcams: http://www.zamek-castolovice.cz/ and http://www.zamek-castolovice.cz/camgb.html : I do not see anything what spoils the courtyard. Further, abuse should not be a reason to stop restitution: if Czech would make a good restitution deal it could reach that castles and mansions stay open when the ownership transfers (also in most cases when there was already a transfer, most castles have stayed open (the owners are more than happy with the money the visitors provide)). With regard to renovations Czech should make a good heritage law, what only allows renovations when there is a license. I also think that is something what the Czech state can do better than keeping the buildings: use the money to make good heritage laws, and to assess that these laws are obeyed.

Offline Greenowl

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #10 on: June 20, 2007, 08:20:01 AM »
Thanks for those links Ipflo! The courtyard of Castolovice seems fine. What a relief! I'll be in the Czech Republic again next week, and will try to find out a bit about the laws pertaining to historic buildings.

Offline Norbert

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #11 on: January 10, 2008, 10:22:17 AM »
Surely the idea that property can be taken by the state because the family is "German" is immoral in this modern age and must be against EU laws.

Offline edugraf

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #12 on: August 25, 2009, 08:12:49 PM »
Very interesting and helpfull informations...
Take the case of my family: Lichnowsky, its a Czech family with 15 generations of documented genealogy. Our states lie in the border of Poland and CR and we lost all our properties because of the two great wars. The thing I think is unfair is that the last properties we still had in our possession were taken from us by the Bennes Decret. Our family was native from Silesia in CR and because the Nazis did what they did, we were expelled from our homeland and considered as Germans. Of course my ancestors were working for the Prussian government, and also spoke german, we would have lost everything even earlier if we didint do that, but we had nothing to do with the Nazi Regim and to expelll all sudeten germans without finding who was guilty of not, was an act of oportunity from the Czech Goverment who was wanting to get rid of sudenten germans for a long time...
You can find more informations about our family at http://kitenews.com.br/buzios/lichnowsky.htm
Thanks
Eduardo Lichnowsky

Offline Gabriella

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #13 on: August 26, 2009, 03:33:39 PM »
My father's family belongs to the so-called Sudetendeutsche. They had lived in a village near Sternberk, Morovia, not far from Olomouc.  My father and I, we had been there twice as tourists, and we were welcomed and had the chance to meet people living there today.

Many of them fear that when the properties of these noble families were returned they could be forced, too, to give back the houses they live in.
After the dissipation of the "Sudetendeutsche" their property was given to Czech people that were displaced, too., mostly of parts of former Czeckoslovakia that became part of Soviet Union after WWII.They and their descands had lived there for more than 60 years and had cared for their property.

I can understand their feelings and fears. After the fall of the Berlin wall and the German reunifications there had been many people who
claimed back former family properties.  Some got them back despite the fact that their ancestors had been remunerated in the fifties by the socalled "Lastenausgleich" (it's a fund that had been disposed by the Goverment of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1952. It was disposed so that especially people who had been displaced got a partly remuneration for their lost property).

Regards, Gabriella
As for the Benesch decrets

Offline edugraf

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Re: Czech republic & Restitution
« Reply #14 on: August 26, 2009, 08:06:59 PM »
Gabriela
You are right to say that the people who live in those properties should not be blamed and must stay in the houses they are living. My grand father received the Lastenausgleich, but beleive me, this was nothing compared to the losses he suffered, it was more of a simbolic compensation. What my family built and achieved in 600 years, cannot be compensated with simbolic compensations. They acquired all of their properties and we didint steal nothing from nobody, everything they had they paid for and worked hard for it. The solution must be given by the Czech Government, who created those unfair laws, not by the nice people from the Czech Republic,  whom I am not here to blame...
Thanks for giving your thoughts
Eduardo.