Friday, April 23, 2010

The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Karel Des Fours Walderode

If the history of the 20th century in Europe could be encapsulated in the life of one man, that man might be Dr. Karel Des Four Walderode. 

He was born in 1904 and died in 2000, and his life sat at the intersection of the social and political upheaval that radically transformed, and re-transformed, and re-transformed again property rights in Europe.

Of French and German descent, he was born in the Kingdom of Bohemia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire, where his wealthy family had lived since the 17th century and owned, among other property, vast estates and a castle.  Until age 14 he was a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian empire.  But the Austro-Hungarian empire ceased to exist in 1918 with the reformation of Europe following World War One.  Walderode found himself situated in the newly formed Czechoslovak Republic, of which he was now a citizen.

In 1939, Germany invaded and occupied the parts of the Czechoslovak Republic it had not already grabbed under the Munich Agreement of 1938.  Germany dissolved the Czechoslovak Republic, and proclaimed the creation of a new state: the German Protectorate of Bohemia.  Walderode now found himself not only living in the German Protectorate of Bohemia, but also declared by Germany a German citizen, because his first language was German. 

In 1945, with the defeat of Germany, the German Protectorate of Bohemia ceased to exist.  The Czechoslovak Republic came back into existence.

The restored democratic Czechoslovak government under Edvard Benes issued what are now known as the Benes Decrees.  Under the Benes Decrees, people of German descent were presumed to have aided the German occupation.  As a result, they had their property confiscated without compensation, had their citizenship revoked, and were expelled from the country (although expulsion is not required under the Decrees, people who lost their citizenship were in fact expelled).   If, however, people of German descent could prove their loyalty to the Czechoslovak Republic during occupation, they could retain their citizenship and stay in the country.  Walderode was one of the very few able to prove that he remained loyal to the Czechoslovak Republic during the occupation (even though he had been conscripted for a year into the Wehrmacht), so he retained his Czechoslovak citizenship and was not expelled.  However, he still lost his property rights in his family's estates.  [You can read more about the seizures of property and expulsions under the Benes Decree in this excellent article by Timothy William Waters].  

In 1948, the Communists seized power in the Czechoslovak Republic, eventually renaming the country the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.  Walderode was forced into exile by the Communists, who didn't care for his privileged lineage and most certainly were not impressed by that fact that he had recently proven his loyalty to the democratic government that they had just overthrown.  When he went into exile, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic revoked his citizenship.

In 1991, after democratic government had been restored, he returned to a country now named the Czechoslovak Federative Republic and settled in Prague.  He was made a Czechoslovak citizen again in 1992.  Also in 1992, the Czechoslovak Federative Republic passed a law for the restitution of agricultural and forest property seized under the Benes Decrees, provided the claimant could demonstrate: (1) he had been a citizen at the time the property was seized; (2) he was now a permanent resident of the country; (3) he was loyal during the German occupation; and (4) he was a citizen at the time he submitted his claim for restitution. 

6 months later Czechoslovak Federative Republic itself ceased to exist, with the creation of separate Czech and Slovak Republics.  Walderode now found himself living in the Czech Republic.  The Czech Republic retained the restitution law.  Walderode met all four of the conditions for restitution, and so submitted his claim.  But . . .  .

What happened next will appear in Part II of this post!

Mark Edwards

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I fail to understand how you can find words of praise for the paper by T. Waters, which actually exhibits a sad tendency to condone legislation such as the Benes Decrees.

I would recommend for your reading the attached paper by J. Cornides:

Posted by: Erwin Zundl | Apr 26, 2010 11:35:27 AM

Hello Erwin -- I don't think I share your reading of the Waters article. I think his point is primarily descriptive rather than prescriptive -- something along the lines of, 'society has apparently condoned this massive instance of ethnic cleansing, so let's not claim we are against all forms of ethnic cleansing. Rather, let's acknowledge that we apparently view some forms of ethnic cleansing as acceptable, and consider where that leads us.' I don't know Professor Waters personally and have never asked him, but based on my reading of the article and his other works, I suspect very strongly that as a prescriptive matter, he is adamantly opposed to the Benes Decrees and their ilk.

I look forward to reading the Cornides article. Thanks very much for the recommendation.

Posted by: Mark Edwards | Apr 27, 2010 8:48:33 AM

Tim Waters is having troube posting a comment, so he asked me to post this one on his behalf:

Mr. Zundl,

Thank you for your comment, such as it is. And it is interesting: If you are going to take offense at every occasion on which the Benes Decrees are condoned, or seem to be, you will be offended almost continuously. Because as you know, most European states and international actors condone, accept, or at least tolerate the Decrees. Even the very interesting article by Jakob Cornides that your recommend (and for which thank you -- I had not come across it yet, but it is excellent on many counts, even as it shares, with you, a fundamental misapprehension of my argument) begins from the entirely uncontroversial premise that the EU did not require the repeal of the Benes Decrees. Dr. Cornides draws a different conclusion than do I about the implication of that -- I see that as implicit acceptance of them, he does not -- but the fact of their non-repeal is undenied and undeniable.

None of which, of course, says anything about my opinion of the Decrees or the expulsions. Professor Edwards has very succinctly glossed the structure of my argument. 'Considering where that leads us' is not the same thing as approving the destination; observing the implications of what we have done is not the same thing as condoning it or them.

Purely from a strategic viewpoint, as someone opposed to the Decrees and the expulsions, you might consider whether sixty years of advocacy to condemn them in direct terms has succeeded; I think it is obvious it has not, and my paper was aimed at addressing the question from a different and more productive angle.

So while I am gratified that you have taken the time to read my article, Professor Edwards is right: you have misread it, fundamentally mistaking its point and purpose. I encourage you to read it again.

Posted by: Mark Edwards | May 10, 2010 5:49:05 PM

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