Photo: They took them from the Jews and gave them to the Russians. The stories of the first republican villas in Prague's Bupensy are full of flaws

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Prague cream began to move to one of the most attractive places in the capital, Bubence. After World War II, some of the luxurious residences, which resemble small palaces, fell into the hands of the Soviet Union and remain in Russian hands today.

We walked several Bubeneč streets with Michal Šedivý, a volunteer of the Open House Prague organization, who tells interested people the stories of the First Republic villas and their former owners. Considering the history of the 20th century, his interpretation is not very happy. The fate of Jewish merchants in particular and their properties was often tragic and flawed.

Stealing without reason

We start at the Governor's Summer Palace on the edge of Stromovka Park. The villa opposite and the whole area belonging to it is surrounded by a wall. However, in winter, when the trees and shrubs are leafless, you still can't see them at any other time of the year. This is the Russian Embassy, ​​housed in the former home of Jewish businessman Petrich Petchko. After the war, President Edward Benes confiscated the pseudo-baroque residence and its extensive garden from the family in May 1945 and donated it to the Soviet Union in gratitude for the liberation. “The villa was stolen without any decoration,” Michael Sediv points out.

Architect Max Spielmann's building, completed in 1927, oozes luxury in French bourgeois style from the Louis XVI era, as well as modern technologies such as central heating and well-equipped bathrooms and kitchens. “The Petches were probably the richest Czechoslovak family in their time,” says the guide. It was started by Mojjis, the grandfather of Ota, Pavel, Petrich and Hanush brothers, with money earned through interest. He already came from Cologne to Prague with a relatively large amount of money, which he invested in mining brown coal and land.

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In the 1920s, the Petch family founded a bank, for which they built a palace between the National Museum and the main station, called Pekerna. During the war, it housed the headquarters of the Gestapo with torture chambers, and today it houses the Ministry of Industry and Trade. The banking house was run by Georg Popper, while he lived in a small villa (Villa Bloch) in the residential complex of his boss Petrich Petchko.

By the time Bedřich and his two brothers built villas in Bubenč (Ottovo was the residence of the American ambassador), the family was already financially secure and could devote themselves solely to property management. “Although Bedřich enjoyed a lavish lifestyle befitting a millionaire, the property was so large that managing it was a daunting task.”

The original owners belonged to one of the few Jews who managed to escape from Czechoslovakia, thanks to which they survived the Holocaust. Petrich's brother Pavel, who lived in Berlin and had better information, warned them about the Nazis. In the autumn of 1945 the remaining real estate of the great banking family was confiscated by the issuing of the Hundred and Eighth Decree of Eduard Benes, with the absurd justification that the Petschks were Germans because they spoke German.

“After November 1989, the Popper family began to claim Petrich's villa, saying that the banker had left it to them. However, I have not found any documents confirming this,” says Michal Šedivý. In addition to the two villas, the smaller one is almost invisible, behind the fence of the Russian embassy there is an administrative building, an Orthodox church and five apartment buildings with apartments for ambassadors.

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First KH Frank, now Russian ambassador

The Russian ambassador has his residence in the former villa of the Jewish banker Max Kantor on Na Zátorca Street. However, unlike buildings used by other embassies for the same purpose, this obscure house is not marked in any way. During the Nazi occupation, State Secretary of the Office of the Reich Protector K.H. Frank lived there, as did, for example, Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.

Among others, Max Kanter, who helped introduce the first Czechoslovak currency, was killed by the Nazis in the early 1940s. In Bubenč, Hanus Petchko and the then Foreign Minister Benes and his wife Hana were his neighbors. “He argued with both families about the garage he wanted to build, and they didn't like it,” says Michal Šedivý.

Former residence of the Benes family, the estate's lavishly restored administration building from the early 19th century has remained in Russian hands since World War II. During the First Republic, according to contemporary journals, Pence hosted expensive banquets for ambassadors and merchants. “I saw articles that limousines were lined up at the villa every night and that one party must have cost the entire minister's income.”

Bad sides of Benes

“In Bubenč, Beneš's worst sides are more visible,” points out Michal Šedivý, pointing to his close friendship with the infamous Zdenek Fierlinger, who lived nearby, in today's home of the Norwegian ambassador. Fierlinger was Ambassador to Moscow, NKVD agent, later Prime Minister, and Speaker of Parliament for over ten years from 1953.

The nearby Russian Federation also owned a villa belonging to a Jewish copper industrialist named Herbert Moritz Bondi von Bondrop, which, like the Petch houses, was confiscated in 1945 under the Benes decrees. The owner managed to escape from the Nazis to Buenos Aires. Ayres in 1939, after which his house was seized by the Gestapo.

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On the same street we find another “Russian” villa, owned during the First Republic by Arnost Brock, the Jewish manager of the Czechoslovak branch of the German company Schenker, one of the largest forwarding companies. Before World War II, it became clear that the company he worked for had used it to spy on its operations in Czechoslovakia after the rise of Nazism.

Today, as part of DB, the company is one of the largest carriers in Central Europe. Arnošt Brock died under strange circumstances before the start of the war. The Nazis confiscated the house in January 1941, and after 1945 it was used by Soviet diplomats, such as trade missions. Recently, for example, the headquarters of LUKOIL Prague was also located here.

In addition to residential houses, the Russian Federation also uses other buildings in Bubenek. One of the few modern buildings, the Russian Science and Culture Center, belongs to them – also on Na Zadors Street. If we head from here towards Sibirské náměstí, we will pass a small housing estate with Russian-speaking residents, a high school at the Russian Embassy or the St. Orthodox Church. Ludmila.

Villas of the First Republic in Bubence, Prague

If you want to learn more about the history of Bubenek villas, sign up for one of the walking tours organized by Open House Prague. openhousepraha.cz/kalendar-akci.

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