The Winner Takes It All – The Fate of Adolf Schwarzenberg (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Twelve)

Hope and fear, expectation and trepidation, optimism and desperation. These mixed emotions kept Adolph Schwarzenberg on edge when World War II ended. The Nazis were now history, but they had left many of the Schwarzenberg properties in a state of disrepair. What he expected to find back home was anyone’s guess. Six years of occupation and warfare had taken its toll. This was the case at Adolf and his wife Hilda’s favorite residence, the Stara Oborna hunting lodge. It had been turned into a sanatorium where German officers convalesced. The Nazis had long since taken anything of value from the Schwarzenberg holdings, so that by the time Allied forces occupied Czechoslovakia in May 1945 there was little left of great value.

Part of Schwarzenberg’s vast pre-war holdings were occupied by American troops. This must have offered some hope for the future. Adolph had spent the majority of the war on American soil. His time there had been productive. Among his achievements was a dissertation he had written for a doctorate degree at Columbia University. The dissertation was on one of his greatest ancestors, Prince Felix of Schwarzenberg. Prince Felix had helped restore Habsburg power in Central and Eastern Europe after the 1848 Revolution. Adolph must have hoped that his own efforts to restore his family’s fortunes in postwar Czechoslovakia would meet with the same success. He was certainly on the right side of the Americans. Unfortunately, their presence was temporary, more sinister forces were already at work on creating a permanent presence. The war may have been over on the battlefields of Europe, but a new front was being opened by the Soviet communists. One of their main targets was to be the bourgeoise of Bohemia. Tragically, they were not the only problem Adolph Schwazenberg would be facing.

Down Payments - Edvard Benes & Adolf Schwarzenberg at Cesky Krumlov in 1937

Down Payments – Edvard Benes & Adolf Schwarzenberg at Cesky Krumlov in 1937

From Survivable To Terminal – Postwar Postmortem
Adolph had experience keeping many of the Schwarzenberg properties intact following a worldwide conflagration. In the aftermath of World War I, his fervent support for Czech independence coupled with his service in a Czech legion of the Austro-Hungarian Army had helped him hold on to much of the family’s properties. This was quite a feat of shrewd diplomacy considering the Czechoslovak government abolished all noble titles and effected a major land reform after the war. Schwarzenberg was likely hoping that he could use his negotiating skills to do the same sort of thing again. He was sadly mistaken. The war had damaged the prewar system beyond repair. The virulent toxin of communism had been injected into Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union. The Red Army was on hand to put down any resistance. The odds were stacked heavily against Adolph Schwarzenberg carrying out another negotiated settlement. He would discover that while the aftermath of the First World War had been survivable, the aftermath of the second would be terminal.

Whatever plan of action Adolph had for trying to reclaim the 55,000 hectares of land, castles, hunting lodges and palaces that had been taken from him by the Nazis was pre-empted by the Czechoslovak government. Ironically, the property was nationalized under the Benes Decrees. This was before the communists had total control of Czechoslovakia’s governmental apparatus, but that hardly mattered. The Nazis treatment of the Czech civilian population during the war had transformed the populace’s mood to one seeking both restitution and revenge. Anyone who was an ethnic German or had a German surname was suspect. In Adolph Schwarzenberg’s case it hardly seemed to matter that he had been a lifelong support of the Czech cause or that his estates mostly employed Czechs, including in management roles. This time his lifelong loyalty was met with indifference. Instead, his lands were confiscated by decrees named for and promulgated by the same Edvard Benes who he had given one million crowns just eight years earlier to protect the Czech homeland. None of that mattered now. The years of venal wartime occupation had changed everything for anyone associated with ethnic German interests in Bohemia and Moravia.

Liberation by Occupation - Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev entering Prague at the end of World War II

Liberation by Occupation – Soviet Marshal Ivan Konev entering Prague at the end of World War II (Credit: Karel Hajek)

Lex Schwarzenberg – The “Official” Perspective
Adolph Schwarzenberg was not going down without a fight. After all, he was heir not only to incredibly valuable properties, but to a family legacy that stretched all the way back to the early 18th century. His attorney immediately filed an appeal against the decision to confiscate. The next year, a government committee commissioned a report on Schwarzenberg and his holdings. He was exonerated from any accusations of being a German sympathizer or traitor to the Czech cause. The report also directed the authorities to pay Schwarzenberg a sum of 100,000 Czech crowns for his expenses until the case was resolved. He would never get so much as a single crown. The communist government had been slowly, but inexorably tightening its grip on Czechoslovakia. They would have sooner arrested or murdered aristocrats rather than pay them off. Adding insult to injury, the government passed a special law that came to be known as the “Lex Schwarzenberg”. Since there was no legal justification for the state to confiscate Schwarzenberg’s business assets they passed a law allowing them to anyway.

This contravened both national and international laws. That hardly mattered, Czechoslovakia was no longer a free nation or one where the rule of law was respected. It was a case of might makes right, at least from the “official” perspective. This was also a case of “victor’s justice.” The Czechs were not in any mood to be making amends for all they had suffered from 1938 to 1945. The scars of those grievous wounds could only be salved by ridding themselves of the German problem once and for all. The Soviets were more than happy to help them. The state’s actions were followed by a total communist takeover of the government in 1948. With that, Adolph Schwarzenberg’s hope of justice died. Two years later he did as well, dying at a home he owned in Italy. It was a sad end for a great man. One who had wholeheartedly supported and worked to protect his true ancestral homeland among the Czechs in Bohemia. The illegal seizure of his property has never been settled. After seventy years, hopes for restitution have faded.

Family Remains - Adolph & Hilda Schwarzenberg leading a procession on their wedding day in 1930

Family Remains – Adolph & Hilda Schwarzenberg leading a procession on their wedding day in 1930

A Few Takeaways – The Pleasures Of Theft
Today, many of Adolph Schwarzenberg’s properties can still be visited. They are still under the administration of the Czech state. Hundreds of thousands of tourists come to visit them each year, pouring money into the coffers of the Czech Republic’s tourist industry. Capitalism has long since trumped communism. An entrepreneur and shrewd businessman like Adolph Schwarzenberg would find much to admire in this state of affairs. The sumptuous glories of the House of Schwarzenberg are now open to the world. Sadly, their ownership is closed to Adolph’s heirs. This is one state of affairs that is likely to never change.

Click here for: Crowded Out – Cesky Krumlov: Mass Tourism In A Small Town (A Czech Winter’s Journey: Part Thirteen)

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