THE QUICK-WITTED COAL INDUSTRY FAMILY

Ignatz Petschek (1857-1934)

was one of three Jewish Czech brothers who started a coal empire in Europe before the Second World War. There was a time when their concern controlled half of the European coal industry and they started their own bank as well. The Petschek family was one of the richest families in Czechoslovakia.

Ignatz Petschek travelled from Prague and started his own coal company in the border town of Usti nad Labem. The town is located about 65 km from Dresden by road and the area was incorporated into the Third Reich in 1938. The border area between Germany and Czechoslovakia was called Sudetenland and many Germans lived on Czechoslovakian land who nevertheless spoke German and regarded themselves as Germans. When Hitler came to power, they wanted to become part of the Third Reich.

After Ignatz Petschek died in 1934, it was his two sons Vilem and Frantisek who continued their company activities.

What do you think happened to the Petschek family’s large properties and companies when the area of Czechoslovakia where they lived was incorporated in the Third Reich?

The Nazis left the properties alone, but arrested the Petschek family.

One of the Nazi methods to rid society of enemies of the National Socialist state was to take all assets, and thus their livelihood, from these people. By removing the literature and books from the shelves in bookshops and libraries, the Nazis removed Jewish thought from the community. By confiscating and taking over the shops and companies that were run by Jewish owners, the Nazis removed any opportunities to purchase goods from Jews and at the same time, destroyed the livelihood of the Jewish owners who then had to find new ways to survive. Crystal Night, 9 November 1938, in German cities was all about just this: all Jewish shopkeepers had their windows smashed, hence the name Crystal Night. On 28 October 1939, the Nazis confiscated the Petschek family businesses, companies and other assets. They confiscated the house in which they lived and all inventory; their books as well.

The Petschek family lost everything they owned, but managed to save their own lives.

Frantisek Petschek was the last of the Petschek family in Usti nad Labem and he left Czechoslovakia on 16 March 1939. The Petschek family, in both Prague and in Usti, understood that they would be pursued by the Nazis because of their Jewish background, and travelled to England. Later, the entire family travelled to the United States. The entire business empire that the three Petschek brothers had built up, disappeared during the Second World War. What was left of their assets, was confiscated under the Communist rule in Czechoslovakia in 1948.

What happened to the Petschek family?

The Petschek family settled in the United States and have since become a large family that still engages in business.

The Petschek family’s large villa in Prague was seized by the Nazis during the Second World War, then by the Soviet Army in 1945 and thereafter leased to the American presence in Czechoslovakia in 1945. The Petschek family’s remaining assets in Czechoslovakia were seized by the authorities during the Communist era.

Today, the Petschek villa belongs to the US embassy in the Czech Republic.