Tyden magazine – May 30th 2011


What the Nazis stole, the Czech Republic won’t return




It is the richest aristocratic family in the Czech Republic and one of the wealthiest in

central Europe. In Austria the sister of the principal heir Karel Schwarzenberg is

trying to take part of the family’s property from him. In the Czech Republic Elisabeth

Pezold got nothing, unlike her brother. But now, for the first time in twenty years, a

chance is emerging...


Caption: Deep rift at Hluboká. Karel Schwarzenberg and Elisabeth Pezold spent their

youth under the same roof. Today, however, they are locked in litigation over the

bequeathed legacy of the Hluboká branch of the Schwarzenbergs (the photo-montage

shows the interior of Hluboká chateau, which was confiscated first by the Nazis, then

after the war by the Czechoslovak state).


A carelessly folded blanket lies on an antique blue armchair, as if someone

had been resting here just a moment ago. “Doesn’t it look as if Adolf Schwarzenberg

has just got up?” guide Iveta Balounová asks in one of the chateau rooms. There is an

exquisite porcelain service on a table; the impression is slightly spoilt by the sturdy

filament threaded through it to prevent theft.

In this part of the exposition tourists to one of the most visited monuments in

the Czech Republic are shown how the owner lived before he left Czechoslovakia.

That happened at the start of world war two when he fled from the Nazis. Prince

Adolf never returned to Czechoslovakia; his property here was confiscated, first by

the Nazis, and after 1945 by the Czechoslovak state. “Even the blanket is original.

Every piece of furniture and all the paintings, which are arranged in exactly the way

shown in period photographs, have been preserved. Nothing has been stolen,” claims

Balounová, who a moment earlier had played The Scorpions’ hit Wind of Change on a

19th century piano to an astonished group of Japanese tourists.


Who will get the palaces?

A wind of change, meaning a possible new development in the long-running

restitution dispute being conducted by Elisabeth Pezold, who is claiming the right to

inherit the chateaux of Hluboká, Český Krumlov, Třeboň and Jindřichův Hradec, has

been ushered in by verdicts issued by the Supreme Administrative Court in Brno in

February and March. The judges quashed the previous municipal court verdicts

repeatedly rejecting, over a period of twenty years, the sixty-four-year-old Mrs

Pezold’s claim to the former Schwarzenberg property. Now the courts genuinely have

to consider the claim.

“It’s a breakthrough,” believes Viktor Rossmann, the Prague-based lawyer of

Princess Schwarzenberg, now Pezold by marriage. And he also brings up the October

statement of the Prague Land Office, which refused to repeat the negative decisions of

land offices in other districts and partially opened the door to the acquisition of the

Schwarzenberg Palace and Salmovský Palace in Hradčany.

There are two fundamental obstacles on his client’s path to ultimate success,

however. The obstacles are linked by the name Schwarzenberg: one is Lex, the other


Lex Schwarzenberg is a paradoxical law from 1947. It was tailor-made for the

Hluboká branch of the ancient aristocratic family, so that the state could confiscate its

extensive property. The law still applies to this day, even though by its nature – it is

not generally applicable and only affects a selected group of people – it is repugnant

to both European and Czech legislation.

And as for Karel Schwarzenberg, a descendant of the less wealthy Orlík

branch of the family and today the Czech foreign minister, he is, according to Mrs

Pezold, the spanner in the works blocking her efforts to redress injustices. He refuses

to fight for what his ancestor commanded him to do in his will: to endeavour to

ensure the entire Schwarzenberg property is restored to the Schwarzenberg family,

which came to Bohemia in the 17th century and whose coat-of-arms features a severed

Turkish head, with its eyes being pecked out by a raven. The two aristocrats have

been involved in lawsuit since the start of the millennium.


Fairytale prince

When Karel Schwarzenberg was a little over twenty years old he spent almost every

day in the Schwarzenberg Palace in Vienna, where the ten years younger Elisabeth

then lived with her parents. The reason was that her father Heinrich, a representative

of the Hluboká branch, adopted Karel, a descendant of the Orlík line, in 1960 because

he only had a daughter and the family tradition required a man as heir (see the table

on page 23 for the family ties).


Caption: THE TOMB. The Czech state has been turning down Elisabeth Pezold for a

decade. One exception: the Schwarzenberg tomb at Třeboň, where her ancestors are


Caption: NO CHANCE? The interior of Hluboká chateau, which Pezold wants to gain

from the state. Why didn’t Karel Schwarzenberg file a suit for the chateau. There’s no

point, apparently.


The Austrian press wrote at the time that the descendant of impoverished

aristocrats from the Czech lands had overnight become a “fairytale prince” who

controlled a fortune worth many millions. What is more, after a hundred and fifty

years of fissure the two Schwarzenberg lines were to be merged again: the Orlík line,

which lost everything in Czechoslovakia after the war, and the equally afflicted

Hluboká line, which, however, owned the magnificent palace in Vienna mentioned

above and other extensive property scattered throughout Austria and also Germany.


The godfather prince

It is mainly Russian that is heard in the courtyard of Hluboká chateau today. Russians

accounted for three quarters of the total of 235,000 visitors last year. A little survey of

the Czech tourists shows that most of them would not be against Hluboká being

returned to its original owners, as happened at Orlík, say. “The chateaux that have

been returned have not suffered in my opinion, so why not,” says Renata Zachová

from Prague, a government clerk by profession.

“I was a guide at Orlík for twenty years from 1968, and when I was there

recently I saw that the furnishings on the tour circuits haven’t changed. And they even

kept on the original castellan after restitution,” Miroslav Pavlíček, the present-day

castellan of Hluboká, remarks in a conciliatory tone, adding that as a state employee

he has to keep his clear opinion on the possible restitution to himself.

But opinions vary. “I wouldn’t return it. I mean, the Hluboká Schwarzenbergs

collaborated with the Germans during the war!” says the porter at the nearby five-star

RRC hotel František Skála, parroting decades of communist propaganda.

When someone in south Bohemia says “the prince of Hluboká”, most locals

do not think of Adolf Schwarzenberg, but rather the influential businessman Pavel

Dlouhý, who is denoted as one of the “godfathers” of the ODS. “In twenty years Mr

Dlouhý has amassed property it took our family three hundred years to build up, Karel

Schwarzenberg recently quipped.

Dlouhý, who is also deputy mayor of the little town of Hluboká nad Vltavou,

regularly “holds court” in the restaurant U Huberta situated by the one the chateau car

parks. A line of people wait to be granted roughly a half-hour audience at his table.

They include people wanting to do business in the municipality. The atmosphere here

is utterly singular and it’s a wonder some of them don’t bow before him as before a

real aristocrat. “I don’t care if Hluboká is owned by Mrs Pezold or Joe Bloggs. But

it’s the law that is paramount. For me, Lex Schwarzenberg is the same thing as the

Beneš decrees,” declares Dlouhý, according to local people the true ruler of Hluboká,

during a brief hearing he granted TÝDEN reporters.


BOX: When will the last judgement come?

Elisabeth Pezold began litigating for the family property at the start of the 90s. The

courts have repeatedly rejected her restitution claims, however.

Hluboká and other items of real estate were confiscated first by the Nazis, then by the

Czechoslovak state in 1947 with the help of Lex Schwarzenberg. The courts have

repeatedly referred to the fact that restitution only covers property confiscated in

1948 and later. The Constitutional Court also refused to consider her complaint

regarding the possible unconstitutionality of the law. In 2009, however, it

acknowledged that the tomb at Třeboň was not covered by restitution law and forms

part of the estate of Adolf Schwarzenberg that Elisabeth Pezold is claiming.

Immediately afterwards, however, Karel Schwarzenberg also filed a claim and the

courts now have to decide who is entitled to the tomb. According to the will left by

Pezold’s father, who was also his adoptive father, the present-day foreign minister

was the principal heir to the family property. According to Pezold, however, the

prince from the Orlík line forfeited his entitlement by flouting the will and not

demanding the return of the property of the Hluboká line from the state. The Pezolds

also object that the prince, while declaring in Czech courts that his adoption by

Elisabeth’s father is valid (otherwise he would be excluded from claiming the tomb

and, in future, possibly other property of the Hluboká line), declares in Austrian

courts that the adoption is not valid in Czech territory. That is the only way of ending

the dispute with his adoptive sister. Schwarzenberg did not reply to TÝDEN’s

question why his arguments in the different courts are contradictory. “The decisive

point is not what view the law takes of the adoption: the fact that Karel

Schwarzenberg was designated the universal heir in the will is paramount,” the

minister’s lawyer Petr Vyroubal comments. An Austrian court of first instance agreed

with Schwarzenberg. But Pezold has already appealed twice and within three months

a court in Graz is moreover supposed to rule on the truthfulness of her claim that

Schwarzenberg contravened the will in question “intentionally”. If the court says he

did, at the very least the foreign minister may face proceedings on his loss of rights to

his property in Austria and Germany.


A question of conscience

Karel Schwarzenberg was ten years old in 1947. “I was already reading newspapers at

that time and I remember the headlines like Fight for Four Billion,” the foreign

minister says in his parliamentarian’s office while filling his pipe. That astronomical

sum was the estimated value of the property of Prince Adolf of the Hluboká branch,

the richest man in the country after Baťa. Because Adolf Schwarzenberg had

contributed to the construction of bunkers along the border in the Thirties and had

emigrated in 1939 to Italy and later the USA, and his heir Heinrich, Elisabeth’s father,

was even imprisoned in Buchenwald concentration camp after the Nazi confiscation

of Hluboká, the post-war nationalisers could hardly designate this family as

collaborators and apply the Beneš decrees to it. For that reason a special act (or “lex”)

was passed in 1947, an exceptional piece of legislation targeting a single person,

prince Adolf. “It broke his heart how the Czechs treated him, because he was an anti-

Nazi and a Czech, and he died three years later,” Adolf’s present-day heir Karel



Caption: Zvíkov. The property of the Orlík branch was restored to the

Schwarzenbergs in the 90s. It was only Zvíkov castle that Karel Schwarzenberg did

not get hold of.


After Adolf’s death, Heinrich became the head of the family. He died in 1965,

five years after adopting Karel Schwarzenberg. Heinrich’s will stated, among other

things, that Karel was to strive to get the Hluboká line’s property restored as soon as it

was possible. When that suitable time came at the start of the 90s, Schwarzenberg

happened to become president Havel’s chancellor. And he only demanded the

restitution of the property of his biological father Karel, i.e. the chateaux at Orlík,

Čimelice and others and the concomitant forests and fields. He did not express an

interest in a much bigger prize in the form of the estates of his adoptive father


“He wrote to me saying he could not do it for reasons of conscience. Though I

never did find out exactly why his conscience stopped him,” Elisabeth Pezold says

over the telephone. The mother of seven children who has taken Czech as well as

Austrian citizenship spoke to TÝDEN from Vienna, from where she was about to fly

off to her farm in Zimbabwe.

Twenty years ago she initiated litigation and, after two decades of failure,

even sued Karel himself. According to her, his contravention of the will of his

adoptive father meant he forfeited his right to the property he inherited from him in

Austria, such as the Schwarzenberg Palace, a chateau in Bavaria and twenty thousand

hectares of forest.

Why, then, did the present-day foreign minister satisfy himself with Orlík

twenty years ago and go against his relatives by leaving Hluboká and Český Krumlov

chateau at the mercy of the state? “You mustn’t forget that it wasn’t just about my

relatives: I would have inherited three quarters of the entire property, so it would have

looked like I was greedy. But above all, nothing would have come of it,”

Schwarzenberg says in reference to the still applicable law bearing his name.


Caption: HERE LIVES THE PRINCE. Dřevíč near Beroun – the home of the head of

the Orlík branch of the family, Karel Schwarzenberg

Box: Pezold: Karel should have done it

I like looking at Krumlov, says Schwarzenberg heir Elisabeth Pezold.

Karel Schwarzenberg made no effort to seek the restitution of the Hluboká branch

of the family, in your opinion. He claims, however, that it was not possible, that

Hluboká and the other chateaux do not fall under restitution law. What should he

have done, in your view?

He could have done exactly what I’m doing. Simply demand restitution. If he says

there was no point, that his personal interpretation. Every lawyer will tell you there

are different ways of looking at it and only time will tell what the chances are in


To which of the chateaux you are contesting do you have the strongest emotional


Maybe Český Krumlov, because that one represents our traditions and my father told

me a lot about it. I am always glad when I can look at that beautiful palace. But it’s

hard to talk of an emotional link – those are formed in childhood and I was grown-up

when I first saw those places.

What did your father tell you?

About the bears in the chateau moat, for example. I was surprised when I went there

in 1979, I looked down and there were the bears! Perhaps they were the descendants

of the ones my father told me about. I said to them “good bears” and they started to

beg for a treat. I didn’t have anything for them…

You also have Czech citizenship. Where do you live here?

In Smíchov in Prague, it’s a building from the Thirties. We have a flat on the top

floor, and there’s a beautiful view of the city from there.

You’re about to go to Zimbabwe. What will you do there?

We bought a farm there in 1988. My son has been farming there for ten years. We

grow tobacco, maize, wheat and we have a lot of cattle.

Schwarzenberg: It’s a silly dispute

In childhood we were best friends, Karel Schwarzenberg recalls of Elisabeth

Pezold, who he’s in litigation with today.

What are your memories of Elisabeth Pezold?

I’ve known her from childhood, we were best friends, in fact. Then she got married

and that always sets a woman on a different course. After 1989 the Pezolds asked me

to sue the state, and I refused: I considered it an utterly counterproductive thing to


What shared experiences do you have?

When her father had cancer, the two of us took turns caring for him. To this day I

have her photo on my desk, she’s still my adoptive sister. But regrettably that silly

dispute has come between us.

Today she reproaches you for having contravened the will of the person who

adopted you.

In his will Uncle Heinrich wisely wrote that I should strive for the property, “if it will

be possible”. He also lived in the 20th century, and that’s why he phrased it like that.

Why have you never publicly spoken out against Lex Schwarzenberg?

Am I supposed to make a speech in Wenceslas Square? I have always said it was

criminal. It always looks different from outside, and it is also predicated on the fact

that Mr Pezold is a lawyer by profession. Painters like to paint, sculptors make

statues and lawyers litigate.

Do you enjoy being a minister or being the owner of chateaux and forests?

I enjoy both, but I am a very keen forester and feel better in the countryside. But from

childhood my parents hammered it into me that our families had property so that they

could serve the state and society. And when Václav Havel asked me after 1989 to start

working in the president’s office, it was a matter of course for me, because I was

brought up to do that kind of duty.

Gross on the trail

One thing is clear: an aristocrat contesting some of the most lucrative real estate in the

country with the state in the courts would not be foreign minister today, or even the

chairman of a party that did well in the last general election. “With his connections he

could seek to get the immoral law changed. But he is certainly aware that it would

harm him,” thinks Pezold’s former legal representative Milan Hulík. “Czechs would

definitely hold any such efforts against the prince,” is the conviction of Ema

Majerová from the Schwarzenberg History Club that brings together those interested

in the princely family’s history. Mrs Majerová recalls her father’s motto: “Hold on to

the Schwarzenberg horse, that one will never fall.”

Schwarzenberg had already flirted with high politics before 1989 in Austria,

but without success; then he concentrated on supporting Czech dissidents. So didn’t

the lord of Orlík give his personal political plans, which started to look more and

more realistic in his home country at the side of Václav Havel, precedence over the

family property? “I never had big plans in life; the way my life has developed has

always been a surprise for me,” he declares today.

Austrian journalist Barbara Tóth, the author of a 2005 biography of the

politician, calls the court dispute “distasteful” – on the part of the Pezolds, above all.

In her opinion, this inheritance dispute is “un-Schwarzenberg-like”. But can we be

surprised at Elisabeth, née Princess Schwarzenberg?

While Karel inherited the property of his biological father from the Orlík

branch in the Czech Republic, she came away empty-handed. And while the prince of

Orlík was admired here and has been called a wise aristocrat, she has occasionally

been depicted here as an insatiable foreigner and, under orders from then prime

minister Stanislav Gross, a police task force code-named “Property” secretly gathered

information about her and passed it on to the institutions that were ruling on her case.


Box: Orlík under the rule of the prince’s son

The Lord of Orlík Karel Schwarzenberg does not live in his castle. When he comes

to inspect his estate, he sleeps in a gamekeeper’s lodge hidden in the estate forests.

A hat hangs in the hall of Tyrolean House, as the Schwarzenberg gamekeeper’s lodge

is called. Beneath it leans a walking stick, and a pair of boots stands at the ready.

They all belong to Johannes Schwarzenberg. This forty-year-old man who was put in

charge of managing the family property by his father, the Czech foreign minister,

happens to be in Vienna at the moment. “He is coming next week, but he doesn’t give

interviews,” assures his employee Ivan Bambuškar, director of Orlík Forest

Management, who is showing us around. Mr Bambuškar is showing us the interior of

the two-hundred-year-old lodge, which, however, a certain communist grandee had

rebuilt in the socialist style. He shows us the grounds with greater pride. A herd of

boar swarms around us at feeding time; there are stately Douglas firs that the

Schwarzenbergs once planted here, and in some parts of the forest the sturdy trees

were the only ones to withstand the hurricane-force gales of previous years. Karel

Schwarzenberg descends on his estate about once a year, according to Bambuškar.

As a busy politician he spends most of the year in his flat in Prague, and he has

another home at the chateau in Dřevíč near Beroun.

“When the old lord comes it is a special day for the people,” claims the mayor

of Orlík nad Vltavou Jiří Štrajt, adding: “The young one has not established a

relationship with the locals and what’s more is bit of a penny-pincher.” According to

the mayor, there are several houses owned by the prince in the little town that are in

desolate condition and one has even fallen down, but it doesn’t trouble the owner,

apparently. Štrajt admits, though, that he has made a very good deal with the lords of

the manor: four years ago he reached an agreement with them that weddings would

no longer take place in the town as before, but at the castle. And their number rose to

almost sixty last year, from the previous two or three a year. The municipality today

gets CZK 1500 of the CZK 4000 charged for a wedding. “We are going to consecrate

one chapel soon. We want to invite the young gentleman. Then maybe links with the

locals will get stronger,” the mayor believes.


Fight over coffins

Viennese-born Pezold would not be deterred and, with the help of her husband, the

lawyer Rüdiger Pezold, a descendant of a noble family originally from Estonia, she

has patiently appealed all the courts’ rulings. “The many rejected claims in my

restitution proceedings do not concern me that much, because they are not sustainable

forever,” Elisabeth Pezold believes.

She has even gone so far as to place advertisements in the Austrian press

calling for a boycott of Karel Schwarzenberg’s commercial activities. Maybe that is

one reason that her adoptive father failed to sell his Austrian chateau Murau and

salvage work on his chateau Scheinfeld in Bavaria was seriously jeopardised.

Two years ago Elisabeth Pezold had her first, albeit only partial, success in the

real estate disputes. The Czech Constitutional Court declared that the monumental

Schwarzenberg tomb at Třeboň does not fall under restitution law, thus paving the

way for the aristocratic heirs to acquire it. The foreign minister also laid claim to it

right after Pezold, however. “That’s ridiculous of him, my forebears lie there,”

Elisabeth remarks. “It was me who used to go there in the Eighties to repair the

coffins,” Karel counters.

What would, say, Princess Eleonora, who had the tomb built in the 1870s,

think of this quarrel? And this year has brought the aforementioned favourable

verdicts of the Supreme Administrative Court.


When the time comes

“Lex Schwarzenberg is an injustice, that’s as clear as day,” says Karel

Schwarzenberg. “Nevertheless, it is legally incontestable in the Czech Republic.” He

too believes that the “time may come” and the situation may one day change. The

foreign minister reminds us that the Rothschilds’ big art collections were only

returned to them in Austria around ten years ago. “In the Fifties nobody had an

appetite for it, and things were like they are now in the Czech Republic. I say that

Czechs and Austrians are the same nation in two languages.”

It is not just historians who are keen to see how the riddle will unfold: will the

Orlík and Hluboká branches of the family fall into each others’ embrace again or will

the property dispute prolong the deepest fissure in the nine-hundred-year history of

the Schwarzenbergs?


Box: The Schwarzenberg property yesterday and today

What belongs to Karel Schwarzenberg.

Chateaux: 1 Orlík, 2 Čimelice, 3 Dřevíč, 4 Sedlec u Kutné Hory, 5 Varvažov, 6

Karlov, 7 Rakovice, 8 Hraběšín.

Over twenty other inhabited properties in Prague and central and south Bohemia,

farm buildings.

10,000 hectares of forest, also fields and fishponds.

He also claimed Zvíkov castle in restitution, but did not get it.

Abroad he owns the Schwarzenberg Palace in Vienna, and Murau (Styria) and

Scheinfeld (Bavaria) castles.

What belonged to the ancestors of Elisabeth Pezold and what the litigation concerns

Chateaux: 1 Hluboká, 2 Český Krumlov, 3 Třeboň, 4 Postoloprty, 5 Jindřichův

Hradec, 6 Písek, 7 Červený Dvůr.

Palaces: Schwarzenberg Palace and Salmovský Palace in Hradčany.

9 Zlatá Koruna monastery in Český Krumlov district.

Breweries: in Třeboň and Prachatice.

55,000 hectares of forest and land.

Today her family owns Gusterheim chateau in Austria, a house in Vienna and in total

11,000 hectares of forest in Austria, Scotland and Canada. The Pezolds are the co-

owners of large farms in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Mozambique.


The Schwarzenberg family

Origin: Originally a Frankish family, first documented in the 12th century at

Seinsheim fortress (today’s Bavaria).

Elevation: Erkinger of Seinsheim (1362-1437) bought the Schwarzenberg estate in

Bavaria. He took part in the campaign against the Hussites and lent money to King

Zikmund, in return for which he gained the lien on several Bohemian towns. In 1429

he was elevated to the status of free lord – of Schwarzenberg.

Coat-of-arms: In 1599 Adolf Schwarzenberg (1551-1600) was awarded the title of

imperial duke for his victory over the Turks in the Battle of Raab and his coat-of-arms

was augmented (with the fields of the head of a Turk having its eyes pecked out by a


Property: It was Jan Adolf (1615-1683), regarded as the founder of the

Schwarzenberg’s powerbase in the Czech lands, who began buying up Hluboká and

other property in the Czech lands. In 1670 he was elevated to the status of prince.

Two branches: A treaty between brothers Josef Jan (1769-1833) and Karel Filip

(1771-1820) from 1802 divided the family into the Hluboká-Krumlov branch and the

Orlík branch.

Stuttering reunification: The principal heir of the Hluboká-Krumlov branch of the

Schwarzenbergs Adolf (1890-1950) had no offspring, so in 1940 he adopted his

nephew Heinrich (1903-1965) from the same branch of the family. Heinrich only had

a daughter Elisabeth (born 1937), however, and in his endeavour to ensure a male

descendant for the family in 1960 he adopted Karel Schwarzenberg (born 1937), the

heir to the Orlík branch and now the Czech foreign minister, who has property

disputes with his adoptive sister Elisabeth both in Austria and the Czech Republic.