“It will all end in tears.” That expression might best describe the course of human history. Nothing lasts forever, far from it. The same expression also applies to Central European history, specifically the House of Schwarzenberg in southern Bohemia which took a mighty fall during the first half of the 20th century, one from which it would never recover. Surely there were tears shed by the Schwarzenbergs who were unfortunate enough to live during a time of radical upheaval. It is likely that at some point they broke down, unable to cope with the totalitarian forces which stole their property and stripped them of their livelihood, the only one they had ever known. Such was the insidious nature of the Nazi and Soviet regimes that were responsible for ending the House of Schwarzenberg’s supremacy in the region.
Duty, Honesty, Loyalty – Ideology, Insecurity, Depravity
Perhaps it is only right in a world where almost everything went wrong that a bit of word play on the lead expression is in order. The end time for the House of Schwarzenberg might also be called, “It will all end in fears.” That is because fear ran the family off their ancestral lands. Fear of occupation, fear of theft, fear of imprisonment and fear of even worse to come. This was how one world ended, with both a whimper and a shiver. Ironically, that fear cut both ways. The Nazis and Soviets were in many ways the flipside of the same coin. Just as much as their tyranny arose from radical notions of ideological superiority, their fear was born from deep rooted insecurities.
The Nazis feared the Schwarzenberg’s loyalty to the Czechoslovakian state and their fervent opposition to fascism. The Soviets feared their democratic ideals and the refined sense of noblesse oblige that was diametrically opposed to the vulgar degradation of Stalinism. These fears led the two regimes to cast the Schwarzenbergs as enemies of the state when in fact they were guardians of it. The state that the Schwarzenberg’s stood for believed in duty, honesty and loyalty. And the Schwarzenbergs would not stand for anything less. Totalitarianism feared these values as much as anything else. Thus, the Schwarzenberg’s had to fall. In a sense, they were felled by fear. Both that of their own, as well as that of their enemies.
Photo Finish – Sizing The Situation Up
There are hundreds of photos on display in Cesky Krumlov. Many of these can be found in two of the town’s major attractions, Cesky Krumlov Castle and the Regional Museum in Cesky Krumlov. Two photos remained in my memory long after I visited these sites. I happened upon the first photo in Cesky Krumlov Castle, where the main exhibit is filled with artifacts that represent the three families (Rozmberks, Eggenbergs and Schwarzenbergs) who owned and developed the castle. On display are weapons, uniforms, hunting trophies and paintings along with hundreds of other items. Each preciously crafted and meticulously presented, unique in their own way. Many of the items, such as the decorative weapons from around the world must be of great monetary value. It was all very impressive, but what caught my eye was a simple black and white photo of a couple taken at chest level. The man is wearing a pinstriped suit, has his hair slicked back and looks at the camera with an expression stuck somewhere between serious and skeptical. It as though he is sizing the viewer up. His wife looks straight ahead at the camera, her expression one of placid sincerity.
The couple is Adolph and Hilda Schwarzenberg, the last owners of Cesky Krumlov Castle and many other properties scattered throughout what was then Czechoslovakia. The photo was taken during the 1930’s. By the end of that decade, the Schwarzenbergs would be in exile while fleeing Nazi Germany’s takeover and dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938 and 1939. They first fled to Italy. After a brief sojourn there, they traveled to the United States. This was where they would spend the next five years. It would save their lives, but not their property. Several years later, the Soviets would finish what the Nazi’s started. It was not as easy as one might believe. Adolph Schwarenberg was not a man to give in easily, no matter what the odds were facing him and his family’s legacy.
To Fight Another Day – Warm Welcomes & Cold Shoulders For The Fuhrer
The second photo that lodged memorably in my mind was in the final gallery at the Regional Museum in Cesky Krumlov. Adolf Hitler was shown during his visit to the town on October 20, 1938, following the German annexation of the Sudetenland regions of Czechoslovakia. In the photo, Hitler is reviewing German troops in the main town square (namesti Svornosti). He strides forth between flowers laid out in two parallel rows atop the cobblestones. His right arm is stretched forth in the Sieg Heil (Hail To Victory) salute. In the background can be seen the Town Hall, where a Nazi emblem and several banners have been attached. People peer out intently from open windows. The photograph is a powerfully frightening celebration of occupation and dominance. I found it even more startling because it portrayed the same square where I stood an hour earlier drinking hot chocolate at the annual Christmas market. Times have changed so much that the scene depicted by the photograph is almost inconceivable.
One person who was not there to greet Hitler during his visit to Krummau – as Der Fuhrer and the town’s ethnic German population called it – was Adolph Schwarzenberg. He had refused an invitation to meet Hitler upon his arrival. This was not surprising since Schwarzenberg was a loyal supporter of Czechoslovakia. A year earlier he had met with Czechoslovak President Edvard Benes for breakfast at Cesky Krumlov Castle. At that meeting he gave Benes a substantial sum of money, one million crowns, for Czechoslovakia to defend itself against German aggression. Schwarzenberg was not about to give up his lifelong commitment to the Czechs. He refused to fire Czech workers from his estates, offered support to the Jews and made his contempt for Nazism well known. He was forced into exile due to well- founded fears that he and his wife would be arrested or worse. Schwarzenberg was smart enough to know that he needed to live long enough to fight another day. I got that much from looking at his facial expression in the first photo.
Supposed Strength – The Façade Of Immaculate Superiority
As for the Hitler photo, I would later have second thoughts about my initial impression that it was a show of dominance. All those uniforms, emblems, placards and posturing now seem to me symbolic of a man, an army and a people wanting to give the appearance of strength. It is all too much macho, self-conscious toughness. The idea was to intimidate the opposition and at the same time make the German people swell with ethnic pride, but beneath that façade of immaculate superiority lay a deep rooted fear. Fear that perhaps the German nation was not good enough or strong enough, a pervasive inadequacy that caused it to show off for itself. An arrogance formed from false confidence. The rush to occupy, dominate and unleash war was born from a supposed strength. A strength that in a not so far off future met its match on the Eastern Front. Then it would all end in fear for one regime and begin all over again under another.