Karel Schwarzenberg

* 1937  †︎ 2023

  • "For years I had always wanted to return home and sometimes I managed to go back for at least two or three days, but when it burst, it was unreal, I always say that for me the happiest day of my life was December twenty-ninth, eighty nine, when Václav Havel was elected and I knew that now it was dead sure, now we were really free."

  • "We were extremely patriotic then. Today's generation cannot imagine that. Everything that was going on led us to it. I remember just after that February such a typical event. My father was not a Scout himself, but he was a supporter of Scouting. Probably under the influence of Alfons Paar, a neighbour. Anyway, we had a lot of Scout camps. There was a big Girl Scout camp at the Vltava River, and my sister and I went there for an evening. A big bonfire. That was in the summer of forty-eight, and we all knew it was going downhill, because Jan Masaryk had already been assassinated and so on. I remember we were standing there singing Oh Son, son or Water´s running, water´s running, those Masaryk songs. As we were talking about it, we knew what the times were like, the patriotism was terribly strong."

  • "At that time we talked about the temptation of communism and the temptation of national socialism, i.e. Nazism, fascists and so on. And what the temptations are, which feelings fascism appeals to. And he was explaining to me why many people of his generation became either communists or fascists, and where those temptations were and how they ended up on that wrong path. Of course, normal guys who were just evolving leaned this way or that way, and he saw that partly there's always that point in it where you start to deceive yourself."

  • "At that time, many people hoped that the regime would collapse. I was convinced that I must not leave it. And it was already that morning, at nine o'clock, when I heard that Jan Masaryk was dead. It was clear to me what had happened. That was the time when we all read Foglar's books, and we were brought up in that Foglar Scout spirit. So I stood up next to that radio in my bathrobe and with the flu and promised myself that I would never leave that thing until Czechoslovakia was free again."

  • "The socialist planned economy sometimes didn't quite work. And one day it was not able to produce a sufficient number of women's pads. So they did what they always used to do in the case of shortage goods, they withdrew it from the shops and distributed it through company events. Fine, but only if you were employed. Wives of dissidents and dissident women were excluded from this, of course. So there was a real emergency and Jiřina called me in Vienna to ask if I could help. So I said, 'Of course I'll try,'and I took a big suitcase and I bought a really large number of pads, as many as I could fit in that big suitcase. And I set off, when I got permission again, to go to Bohemia. But of course I was a bit worried, because if I got caught smuggling banned literature, I would be a hero. If I'm caught smuggling women's pads, I'm a pervert. I knew that too. But I had a proven recipe. There's a story that happened a little later. Vasil Trefyanyuk, a Ukrainian who had been kidnapped by the Germans and then stayed in Austria, worked for us. And once he was driving me to the airport in the nineties and he asked me, 'Can I ask you something?' I said, 'Anything.' 'I always buy cigarettes from the tobacconist on Prinz-Eugen-Strasse and he asked me the other day: >What's your boss like? < >Sometimes he gets angry, but otherwise fine, < I told him. >Isn't he weird? < >Why? < >He has come here a number of times in the past, but he hasn´t for a long time now, and he bought the worst pornographic magazines, that even Hustler was among them civilized.< Vasil turned to me, 'Is it true?' I said, 'Yes, of course it is true.' And then I explained to him, using Jiřina Šiklová as an example, that I had been thinking about how to get it across the border. So I hid it in my suitcase, it had to be hidden so that it could be discovered as contraband. I bought a sufficient number of these lousy magazines. At the border, they opened the suitcase, customs searched it and found the magazines. They looked at me sternly and said in German: 'Welche Schweinerei! Wissen sie, das ist in Czechoslowakei verboten, das ist konfisziert.' [What a filth! You know, it is prohibited in Czechoslovakia, it must be confiscated.] So I made a very sad face and they confiscated it. I knew that first of all they were enjoying it themselves, but especially in Brno on the black market it was being sold for about three hundred and fifty crowns, which was quite a lot of money then. So they confiscated it and I carried on driving with my suitcase. At Karlovo Square I handed over a large suitcase with women´s pads to Jiřina Šiklová."

  • Report on the death and funeral of Jan Masaryk "I experienced February [1948] in Prague. Meanwhile, my older sister, who was in the Voršilky [Nuns] grammar school, had to march to the Old Town Square and experienced the whole thing: 'I am just coming from the Castle.' So I wasn't in the grammar school, I was sitting at home. But I remember looking out of the window from Voršilky and hearing and seeing these [People´s] Militiamen, who were already a bit drunk, marching down Národní Street. I remember it well and it was clear to me what had happened. Shortly after that I had a flu, there was no school and I got up, and my sister had got a big radio for Christmas. That was a big thing. So I went to the radio, turned it on, and I don't know whether it was Braník or Vyšehrad. It was quarter to nine, and at nine o'clock the news came that Foreign Minister Jan Masaryk had been found dead in the courtyard of the Czernin Palace. It was quite clear to me what had happened, that he had been murdered, and Honza Masaryk, we all loved him then. Really, it was shocking, it was the last nail in the coffin of our republic when he was murdered. And when the funeral was held a week later, we went to Wenceslas Square, and I remember we were standing on the corner of Vodičková [Street], and the huge crowd. Everybody was looking desperately, many people were crying, and there was this funeral procession. I will never forget that."

  • “At the moment when the Vlajka movement begun to collaborate with the Nazis – before the Munich Agreement – my father resolutely cut off his ties with it. It happened rather comically because during the mobilization he used to live as a cavalry officer with a family in Trenčín who were not all too excited about his presence. One day, to my father’s surprise, there was fire in the stove and the lady told him that he was about to become the Czech king. He then found out that this information was spread by the Nazi propaganda radio in Vienna, realized how dangerous it were, denied it all loudly in Prague and left Vlajka. He retained contact with some of the people but said that in the late years Vlajka took a turn for the worst. Nevertheless, the fact that he joined Vlajka was an important advantage for my development because his example showed me how easy it was to succumb to extremism – either from the left or the right. Because any, especially young, person interested in politics will get across this temptation.”

  • “All of them who signed it were fully resolved. They have among themselves selected František Kinský to pass it to the president. For this, he was then long imprisoned in Germany. I always wondered what it was like when Erich Honecker met uncle František in the hallway since both of them were locked up there but unfortunately he died before I could ask him. Back then the Czech nobility stood firm for the integrity of the Czech state. Some of those who had signed it were closer to the German nationhood but understood that it was crucial to stick together. During the occupation the Nazis would claim that all the nobility is of a German descent and therefore also expected the nobility in Czechoslovakia to claim German nationhood. This had to be resisted. It was interesting to see the declaration signed by many families with non-Czech names but feeling as bound to the territory belonging to the Lands of the Bohemian Crown and later Czechoslovakia.”

  • “My mother was Anglophone and spoke English to her siblings. One day she called for me and told me in my ten years of age that I was no longer a small child because in England I would have already been a teenager. She told me: ‘All of what you love here – Orlík, Čimelice – we are about to lose. You have to realize this. We will probably need to leave the country.’ That was a shock but a great thing was that I then spent hours walking through the Orlice Valley and I kept the memory. Unfortunately, I will never see it anymore because they flooded it when building the Orlík Dam.”

  • “I had different problems, all newspapers were recently writing about it, yes, my father-in-law was a Nazi. It was therefore a problem for me and for my parents as well. When I then went to see my father to tell him about it, father looked at me and said: ´What nonsense are you talking about? We do not recognize Sippenhaft.´ That was a Nazi term established in the Nazi legal code, but the communists then used it as well. It means that everyone vouches for all the members of his family. We experienced the same thing during the communist regime: when somebody was an independent farmer’s son, he was not allowed to study, and so on. Or if one was in the resistance movement, the Nazis imprisoned him or executed his entire family. That was the principle of Sippenhaft. Father said: ´What we care about is the attitude of hers, and we do not give a damn about what her dad has done.´ My father thus nicely taught me that there was a difference.”

  • “Firstly, I was visiting Czechoslovakia more frequently during the 1980s, and so I had some general idea. Secondly, it was the best period of my life, because on December 29, Václav Havel was elected president. He invited me for lunch after that. From the culinary point of view, this lunch was nothing to write home about; however, what was interesting was that the president said to each of us who were sitting there, including me: ´You will do this and this.´ All of a sudden I became employed by the president, something I would not have imagined that very morning. But when the president offered me that I could collaborate on a change of this republic, on building free Czechoslovakia, it was natural that one says ´Yes!´ to it. I didn’t hesitate for a second, because this was a unique offer. I became a chancellor. That was it.”

  • “While still at home (in Czechoslovakia – transl.’s note) I received Svojsík’s book and I read it enthusiastically. To tell the truth, I have read it several times, and I even took it with me when we emigrated. I have read it several times. It got lost somewhere during one of our many movings. Svojsík thus had an enormous influence on me, and the other person who has influenced me most was my father. He was not a Scout himself, but he was a supporter of Scouting. He used to go to summer camps. What I remember most was this: in summer 1948, there was a Girl Scouts’ troop in a camp down by the Vltava River. We were still children; my sister was one year older. But all these Scouts knew that it was over after February 1948. At that time, we still had a great patriotic spirit and we thus stood up in the camp and sang patriotic songs like ´Teče voda, teče´ and a ´Ach synku, synku...´ This has had a great impact on us. Anyway, it has stuck in us for many years after. In the early 1990s I accompanied president Václav Havel to Budeč and suddenly an elderly lady approached me and asked me whether I remembered that camp and the campfire. ´Of course!´ said I. She was one of the Girl Scouts who had also been there. Such was my first encounter with Scouting.”

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Praha, 16.10.2013

    duration: 38:14
    media recorded in project A Century of Boy Scouts
  • 2

    Praha, 11.07.2014

    duration: 01:01:13
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 3

    Praha, 19.02.2021

    duration: 01:50:23
    media recorded in project Stories of the 20th Century TV
  • 4

    Praha, 11.03.2021

    duration: 01:44:07
    media recorded in project Bohemian nobility
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

Human rights and democracy must always be fought for

Karel in his youth
Karel in his youth
photo: Archive Murau

Karel Schwarzenberg was born on 10 December 1937 into a distinguished noble family whose history dates back to the 12th century. Karel’s parents, Antonie Leontina Schwarzenbergová and Karel VI. Schwarzenberg, claimed Czech citizenship at the beginning of World War II. Because of this, their property was placed under forced administration by Reinhard Heydrich in 1942 and the family was obliged to move from Orlík Castle to the chateau in Čimelice, where they also spent the rest of the war. There, Karel’s father founded an underground resistance group in April 1945 and also led the May Uprising events. Two years later, the family suffered another loss of property when the Lex Schwarzenberg Act was passed. In 1948, the family took refuge from the Communist regime in Austria. Karel entered a grammar school there and after graduation began to study forestry and law. However, he did not complete either of his studies, because in 1960, in order to unite the family property, his uncle Jindřich Schwarzenberg adopted him and after his death Karel had to take over full administration of the family estates. Karel Schwarzenberg became politically involved already during his grammar school studies, and human rights gradually became his life’s theme. When the first waves of emigrants began arriving in Vienna after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Warsaw Pact troops in 1968, Karel Schwarzenberg provided them with accommodation and material assistance. In 1984, he became chairman of the International Helsinki Committee for Human Rights. This enabled him to visit his homeland more frequently and in 1988 he attended a human rights conference in Moscow, where he met, for example, nuclear physicist and dissident Andrei Dmitriyevich Sakharov. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, he returned to Czechoslovakia and, after Václav Havel was elected President, joined his staff first as a civil servant and then as Castle Chancellor. After this period he remained fully active in politics. During two different government periods he served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and as a parliamentary senator. In 2009, together with Miroslav Kalousek, he founded the centre-right party TOP 09. In 2013, he ran for President of the Czech Republic and came second in the direct election. He and his wife Therese Schwarzenberg raised three children, Jan Nepomuk, Anna Carolina and Karl Philipp, whom Therese had with Austrian industrialist and politician Thomas Prinzhorn. Because of this, the Schwarzenbergs divorced in 1988. However, twenty years later, they remarried quietly at Obermurau Castle in Styria. Karel Schwarzenberg was living at Dřevíč Castle in 2021. He died on 11 November 2023.