Surprise verdict returns land confiscated after war

Under the post-war Beneš decrees, Czechoslovakia’s ethnic Germans lost both their citizenship and their property. Among them were the Walderodes, an aristocratic family who lived in north Bohemia. Now, in a verdict that surprised many, the heiress to the family’s fortune has won back rights to a forest in the area. It measures only a quarter of a hectare, which may not seem like a big deal. However, Monday’s ruling could affect other restitution cases.

Edvard BenešEdvard Beneš Karl des Fours Walderode was stripped of his family property in 1946. A year later he was granted Czechoslovak citizenship, but didn’t manage to regain his belongings and fled the country after the Communist coup in 1948. The family has been leading a legal battle to reclaim their property since 1992. The Supreme Court on Monday for the first time ruled in their favour, ordering the authorities of the north Bohemian village of Žďárek to return a local forest to the family’s heiress Johanna Kammerlander. Petr Knoetig, spokesman for the Supreme Court, explains why:

“The Supreme Court based its decision on a certificate of Czechoslovak citizenship which was granted to the Walderode family in 1947. There was other evidence as well that during the occupation of Czechoslovakia, Karl des Fours Walderode was loyal to the Czechoslovak people, even when he served as a soldier in the Wehrmacht for about a year.”

Castle Hrubý Rohozec, photo: CzechTourismCastle Hrubý Rohozec, photo: CzechTourism The heiress of the Walderode family is involved in another 20 property claims. The value of all the confiscated property has been estimated at 120 million crowns (approximately 7 million US dollars). It includes the state castle Hrubý Rohozec in the Turnov region as well as thousand of hectares of land. Will the recent ruling be decisive in other restitution cases involving the family?

“The verdict of the Supreme Court applies only to this particular case. It can serve as a guideline for other restitution cases decided by courts of lower instances, which may proceed in the same way in similar cases. But other cases, even those involving the same people, can of course end up very differently.”

The Supreme Court’s Peter Knoetig also stresses that Monday’s ruling does not deny the validity of the Beneš decrees. In the case of Karl des Fours Walderode, he says, they were simply not applied correctly.