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German Order wants Czech castles back

Date

Matthew Day

Bouzov Castle in the Czech Republic

Bouzov Castle in the Czech Republic Photo: Courtesy: Bjalek Michal

Warsaw: The successors of the Teutonic Knights, a sword-wielding religious order that once controlled swathes of Central Europe, are going into battle again to fight for the return of their former Czech castles.

The German Order, as the old Teutonic order is now known, is fighting a legal case in the Czech courts for the return of its property seized by the Czechoslovak state after the end of the Second World War, including thousands of acres of land and Bouzov Castle, one of the Czech Republic's premier tourist attractions.

Established in the 12th century, the knights of the Teutonic Order rose to prominence as the armed defenders of Christian Europe from the pagan east, and the leaders of crusades into central and eastern Europe.

But much of their property in what is now the Czech Republic was expropriated under the so-called Benes decrees. Named after Edvard Benes, the then Czechoslovak president, the decrees allowed for the seizure of German-owned property after 1945, and ever since have remained a bone of contention between the Czech Republic and the descendants of those who lost land.

"I believe in justice," Bruno Platter, grand master of the German Order, told the Czech newspaper Dnes. "Austria has given our property back, and so has Slovenia."

The German Order argues that as it is a religious order, it was exempt from the decrees, and now claims to have evidence that a court ruled in its favour in 1950, although this ruling was never communicated to it at the time.

The new order also says that the old Teutonic Knights were wound up by Hitler when he declared the order illegal in 1939, and that the Nazis seized all their property before it was taken from them again by the Czechoslovak government.

Unlike their predecessors who may have been tempted to use the sword to regain their loss, members of the German Order are priests and nuns who dedicate much of their work to charity.

But the prospect of grand castles such as Bouzov changing hands has aroused mixed emotions in the Czech Republic.

"It's a sensitive subject," said Zdenek Foltyn, the mayor of Bouzov.

The Daily Telegraph

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