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Respekt in English16. 6. 20026 minut

After all, nobody killed him

After an 11-year struggle, Kristina Colloredo Mansfeld received her inheritance. Last week, the district court in Rychnov nad Kněžnou awarded her Opočno castle, which had been stolen from her father during the war by the Nazis, and stolen again after the war by the communists.

After an 11-year struggle, Kristina Colloredo Mansfeld received her inheritance. Last week, the district court in Rychnov nad Kněžnou awarded her Opočno castle, which had been stolen from her father during the war by the Nazis, and stolen again after the war by the communists. The verdict was immediately denounced by Minister of Culture Pavel Dostál, who claimed that the judge's decision to hand over the castle cast doubt on the validity of the Beneš decrees. No one knows exactly what the minister meant by this, and he himself refused to clarify his statement. „The minister is not going to explain his statements in public“ said his spokesperson Dita Fuchsová, „and I don't have an opinion on the issue, so you are not going to find out anything from me.“

„The castle belongs to us all.“


The Colloredo Mansfeld family has been fighting with the state for the return of Opočno castle since 1991, when Kristina, the daughter of the last owner of the castle, raised a claim for restitution of the estate. Until 1999 she had no success, despite the fact that the district court in Rychnov and subsequently the regional court in Pardubice both recognized that the claim of the Colloredo Mansfeld family to the return of their property was justified. The same judges ruled that since the Mansfelds had not managed to apply for the return of property confiscated by the Germans according to the terms of a special postwar law, they had forfeited their rights to the estate. But Josef Colloredo Mansfeld had not been able to apply, since only at the end of 1948 did the Ministry of Agriculture decide that he had been unjustly deprived of his property according to the Beneš decrees after the war, thus opening the way for their restitution. The catch, of course, was that by that time Mansfeld could not apply, because applications for the return of stolen property had to be submitted before December 1948. An unexpected twist in the story came three years ago, when the Supreme Court ruled that the forfeiture was invalid because the Mansfeld family had had their property confiscated as „enemies of the Reich“ under the same law which the Nazis used to legalize their plunder of Jewish property. The Supreme Court therefore returned the matter to the district court, which ruled last Friday.

The Pardubice managers of the property immediately began to protest. „I don't understand it. The castle should belong to us all; it is part of the national heritage. It isn't possible to right every wrong ad infinitum. Of course we will appeal,“ said castle manager Josef Jirák. Still, if the Germans confiscated Opočno castle from the Mansfeld family because of their principled patriotic stance, and the communists repeated the confiscation for ideological reasons, which amended wrong is Mr. Jirák talking about? „Look, the man didn't suffer during the war like the Jews. They confiscated his castle, but they didn't kill him. His suffering really wasn't that bad,“ said the manager of Opočno castle. To refresh the memory: in 1939 Josef Colloredo Mansfeld signed the Declaration of the Czech Nobility, which proclaimed allegiance to the Czech nationality and demanded that the Sudetenland not be transferred to Germany. Because of the prince's signature, three years later the Germans confiscated his property, expelled him and his family from the castle and assigned him to manual labor in the nearby factory in Plotiště nad Labem, where he worked as a laborer's assistant. After liberation Colloredo Mansfeld found himself in a truly absurd situation: even though his lands had been confiscated in 1942 because of his anti-German stance, in 1945 he lost the castle again on the basis of the Beneš decrees - this time for supposed collaboration with the Germans. Prince Mansfeld of course appealed against this injustice; the authorities ruled in his favor and annulled the postwar confiscation. The decision could not be reconciled with the emerging totalitarian regime, however, and the Opočno domains were again confiscated in 1949. Prince Josef fled to Canada with his gravely ill wife and daughter Kristina. He never returned to Opočno and died 12 years later in Austria.

Justice at last

With few exceptions, the citizens of Opočno happily accepted the decision of magistrate Ondřej Rott. „Someone has finally dared to right the wrong done to the family of Prince Mansfeld. They suffered under the fascists and under the communists. Why for God's sake should they still have to suffer today?“ said a young woman with a baby carriage in the castle park. Friend of the Mansfeld family Růžena Valášková sees the matter the same way. „It is very satisfying for us. The judge gave us hope that justice exists after all,“ said Ms. Valášková. Agreeing with her is a witness to times gone by, 77-year old farmer Václav Zilvar from Záhornice near Opočno. „I knew Mr. Mansfeld personally. That the state has denied the castle to his descendants until now has been a great injustice. Who better for God's sake to return the castle than to someone who lost it twice on account of his principles?“ said Mr. Zilvar. Even the mayor of Opočno, Zdeněk Filip (KDU-ČSL), is happy with the verdict. „The confiscation of the Opočno castle domains was extremely unjust. Everyone who said that the castle should remain state property should be ashamed of themselves,“ said Mr. Filip. His opinion was seconded by representative Jiří Cvejn (ODS). Many Czech politicians agree with the citizens of Opočno. „After all this time, a wrong has finally been redressed. And that of course makes me glad,“ said ODS Chamber of Deputies representative Jaroslav Zvěřina. „The court gave a signal, that there will be atonement for every injustice. That makes me happy,“ echoed deputy chairman of the People's party Jan Kasal. Milan Mrština, head of the ČSSD in the Hradec Králové region, evaluated the judge's decision very differently. „It's a catastrophe. I'm afraid that Ms. Mansfeld will sell the castle and it will be lost to the Czech people.“ The state however has right of preemption on the castle and its contents. „Well, I don't know about that,“ said Mr. Mrština. „What I do know for sure is that the nobility are never good managers.“

The Colloredo Mansfeld family has so far recovered almost 3000 hectares of its former forest and farmland in the mountains Orlické hory. In 1996 the state returned the castle Dobříš and the Zbiroh estate near Rokycany to them. Apparently the case of the Opočno estate will be heard again in the regional court.

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