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A Short History of Tachau

Sebastian Schott

The city of Tachau is situated on the river Mies (Czech: Mže) in the northern Bohemian forrest, about 6 miles (10 kilometers) east of the Bavarian-Bohemian frontier.

The first written mentioning of Tachau was in the early 12th century. A first village at this place is mentioned in the year of 1115. Nearby probably existed a small fortification, which was expanded to a royal castle by King Soběslav I. King Přemysl Ottokar II. further enlarged this castle and also planned a - royal privileged - town in its vicinity which is mentioned for the first time in 1285. The city had its first economic heyday during the reign of Emperor Karl IV. (1316 – 1378) when Tachau was situated at the most important trading route from Nuremberg to Prague, the so called “golden road”.

During the Hussite uprising in Bohemia in the first half of the 15th century, a Hussite army under its military leader Prokop the Great defeated an army of crusaders in the Battle of Tachau in 1427. Subsequently the Hussites conquered, plundered and burnt down the city of Tachau – a great victory which secured Hussites power in Bohemia for a longer period.

After the Hussites uprisings Tachau returned to the Roman Catholic faith. To achieve this, a Franciscan monastery was founded. In the second half of the 15th century, when the city was under the rule of the Guttenstein (Gutštejn) family, it burned down in a catastrophic fire in 1492 – also the city archives were completely destroyed.

From 1510 Tachau was under the rule of the Bohemian kings. At the end of the 16th century. because of their financial straits, the inhabitants of Tachau finally were able to buy the right to administer their community as free and independent citizens. During this period also the teachings of Martin Luther became more and more popular in Tachau. In the following decades the city was devastated by three fires in 1536, 1558 and again in1611. Also a plague of locusts afflicted its inhabitants in 1544.

At the beginning of the Thirty Years War (1618 – 1648) Tachau supported the Protestant uprising against the rule of the catholic Hapsburg family in the Kingdom of Bohemia. Therefore, after the battle of the White Mountain near Prague in 1620 and the defeat of the Protestant party in Bohemia, the city lost all its privileges and became a provincial village, ruled by Baron Johann Philipp Husmann of Namedy a Roman-Catholic Rhinelander from 1623. The citizens had to pay a high fine for their participation in the uprising and were forced by Husman (the “evil Husmann” as he was called in later popular tales) to return to the Catholic faith. During the Thirty Years War Tachau was conquered and plundered several times by Swedish troops. After the war the economic backbone of the city was broken for many decades: in 1654 Tachau consisted of merely 95 inhabited houses.

Husmann ́s daughters sold Tachau to Johan Anton Losy of Losinthal in 1664. During his rule the new monastery in Heiligen (Světce) near Tachau was finished and also the old castle was renovated and turned into a Baroque residence. The counts Losy of Losinthal possessed the sovereignty over Tachau for three generations. In 1781 count Joseph-Niklas zu Windisch-Graetz bought Tachau from the widow of the last male member of the Losy family for 250.000 gold pieces and an annuity.

The Windish-Graetz family, who became princes in 1804, resided in Tachau until 1927 when Prince Alfred III. died. The most notable member of this family was Alfred I., an Austrian general and field marshall who suppressed the democratic uprisings in Prague and Vienna during the revolutions of 1848 and saved the throne for 18 year old emperor Franz Joseph I. His son, Alfred II., also became an Austrian general, while his grandson Alfred III. served as Austrian prime minister from 1893 to 1895.

During the rule of the Windisch-Graetz family Tachau ́s castle was rebuilt in neo classical style. Prince Alfred I. also planned a completely new castle in nearby Heiligen. But this project - which was intended to substitute the Baroque monastery - was given up under his son Prince Alfred II. and this castle was never finished. The Windish- Graetz family also built a riding school in Heiligen which was completed in 1859. Allegedly this is Europe ́s second biggest riding hall after the Spanish Riding School in Vienna. Neglected and bound to collapse under Communist rule, this most impressive building was renovated from the 1990s and today is used by the city of Tachau for cultural events.

Tachau ́s economic situation improved rapidly in the second half of the 19th century. Communal self- government was reintroduced and also a railway station was built in 1895.

The city became a center for its surrounding district, and in 1930 about 400 new houses were built. In this year Tachau had a population of 7075 inhabitants. The woodworking industry became more and more important, and up to 1929, twelve woodworking factories had been founded in this place. Besides wood also mother of pearl, and since the 1920s, the plastic material “Galalith” were processed in the Tachau factories. Buttons and dress trimming products were sold from Tachau worldwide. Another important factor in the economic development of Tachau was the state-owned tobacco factory. Built in 1897, it produced nine million cigars and 450 million cigarettes in 1939 and had about 400 employees.

In 1918, after the collapse of the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy, Tachau became part of the new Czechoslovakian Republic. Even so, the number of Czech speaking citizens grew because of the arrival of Czech civil servants and military personnel. In the early 1930s 92 percent of Tachau ́s 6825 inhabitants still spoke German as their first language.

With its export orientated industry, the workers of the Tachau factories suffered severely under the great economic depression starting in 1929. These economic hardships and

the escalating nationality conflict between Czechs and Germans were responsible for a radicalization of the political views of many German citizens in Czechoslovakia. In June 1938, just a few months before the annexation of the German inhabited parts of Czechoslovakia through Nazi Germany, the ultra-nationalistic Sudetengerman Party (SDP) got 3694 votes in Tachau; the German Social Democrats 425 and the Communists 58 votes. The political tensions in Tachau escalated during a violent demonstration of SDP members and supporters on 13 September 1938 when three protesters where shot – presumably by Czechoslovakian military forces.

After the Munich Agreement, the German military also occupied the Tachau district. On 10 October 1938, they were enthusiastically welcomed by most citizens. Supporters of Democratic and Socialist parties soon were persecuted and arrested by the Nazis. Tachau ́s large Jewish community, 311 persons, was forced to flee into the inner Czechoslovakia. Just one old Jew stayed in town. During the pogrom of 9./10. November 1938 the Tachau synagogue, as most Jewish houses of prayer in Germany, was burnt down. The city became part of the Nazi district “Reichsgau Sudetenland”.

In World War II more than 500 men from Tachau were killed or missing in action while fighting in the German army. On 14 February 1945 an air raid of U.S. Air Force bombers caused severe damages in the city and cost the lives of 57 civilians. In April and May 1945 the city ́s inhabitants had to witness the death marches of Concentration Camp prisoners, “evacuated” from the East to the nearby Concentration Camp of Flossenburg in the Upper Palatinate (Bavaria). On 2 May 1945 American Troops occupied Tachau and stayed in this region until the summer. After their retreat to Bavaria the reestablished Czechoslovakian administration prepared the expulsion of the German population. From March to October 1946 more than 23500 men, women and children were deported into the American and Soviet Zones of occupied Germany almost without any possession and valuables. Tachau ́s tobacco factory became infamous as an internment prison for former Nazi supporters and as a deportation camp for the enforcement of the expulsion. The city was afterwards resettled by Czechs and Slovaks and the surrounding district was restructured with large collective farms. It was also well known for the mining of Uranium ore for the Soviet nuclear armament. Since 1989 several medium size Czech and German companies and industrial establishments located themselves in Czech Tachov. Today the city has got about 12500 inhabitants and has a close cultural relationship with the nearby Bavarian village of Baernau.