Family Feud

I will probably not hear back from Karl. I know how these things go.

John Prescowitz


Schwarzenberg property portfolio

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Cesky Krumlov castle Photo: ALAMY

Elisabeth von Pezold wants the return of property expropriated by the Czechoslovak state in 1947.

However, her adopted brother, Karel Schwarzenberg, the Czech Republic’s foreign minister, apparently does not.

The homes include the Cesky Krumlov castle, a jewel in the crown of Czech tourism which towers over an ancient town in southern Bohemia.

But Mrs von Pezold claims that her brother, one of the republic’s most popular politicians, has blocked her case.

She argues that the Prince of Schwarzenberg, to use his formal title, has failed to fulfil the wishes of their father, whose will asked that his successor should fight to get the property back.

“It is a question of justice,” Mrs von Pezold told The Daily Telegraph at Cesky Krumlov. “After the end of communism he kept promising that he would claim property restitution but then at the last minute he changed his mind.

“He has never really explained why he did that, and to be honest I really don’t know. Maybe he thought a big restitution case was incompatible with his political career.”

Denied his support, Mrs von Pezold now has some 23 cases in Czech courts and faces a long, lonely battle. So far, she has spent £1.7 million on legal fees.

The roots of the family’s troubles lie in the history of central Europe. The Schwarzenbergs opposed Hitler’s 1938 takeover of Czechoslovakia, a stance that cost them their lands, and earned her father Heinrich a spell in Buchenwald concentration camp.

But that counted for little in post-war communist Czechoslovakia. In 1947, a law was passed targeting the Schwarzenbergs specifically. The family lost everything again, and fled to Austria.

It is this law, argues Mr Schwarzenberg, that means he can do little to help.

“The law is an injustice but legally it is incontestable,” he has told a Czech magazine.

Complicating the issue is his own legal status. The son of the lesser branch of the clan, he was adopted by Mrs von Pezold’s parents to unite the family and provide a male heir.

She claims that by failing to fight for their former property, he has forfeited his right to be sole heir, and jeopardised his ownership of Austrian properties he has already inherited.

Despite promising not to change the use of any of the Czech properties if they are returned, the family have sometimes fallen foul of historic stereotypes portraying them as Germanic foreigners greedy for Czech land.

Opinion polls show that most Czechs favour the restitution of expropriated property.

“If the castle was stolen then it should be returned,” said Petr Novak, who sells ornamental glass in the shadow of Cesky Krumlov castle to the tourists who flock there every year.

“It’s a matter of principle.”

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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