Brno city hall makes U-turn in Tugendhat villa case

Tugendhat villa, photo: CTK

It was a U-turn that few had expected. Less than two months after Brno city hall decided to return the UNESCO-listed villa Tugendhat to the descendants of its pre-WWII Jewish owners, the city authority changed its mind. The original plan was to transfer the functionalist structure to the state which is legally entitled to handle the returns of property confiscated by the Nazis. After the state rejected this procedure, Brno city hall revised its previous decision.

Tugendhat villa,  photo: CTK
The Brno City Council agreed on Monday that the UNESCO landmark which is being claimed back by the descendants of its original owners should remain the property of the city. The decision was approved by a vote of the city hall assembly on Tuesday. The city says its original plan had several loopholes. First, the law under which the property is being claimed only concerns works of art and not immovable property. Another proposal was to circumvent the state by donating the villa to the claimants but in such a case, the Brno authorities say they would have to pay a gift tax amounting to hundreds of millions of crowns. Brno Mayor Roman Onderka.

"The legislation tells us that there is a restitution law which addresses these issues via the state and not through individual cities. If someone says that the city of Brno was able to donate the property or transfer it in some other way, for example by selling it, I say it is not possible. At that moment the city would get in serious trouble and I believe the representatives were aware of it."

The Tugendhat family's lawyer in the case is Augustin Kohoutek. He says his clients are not giving up.

"Basically, now our clients understand that the Brno general assembly refused our request for the return of the villa Tugendhat based on the law No. 212/2000 and that there might be some other solutions which would be acceptable for all parties. At this moment no such solution has been offered to us by the city and we are expecting a proposal of such a solution. If the solution is not acceptable for the family, then the family will very likely start a court action for the return of the villa."

Were your clients disappointed?

"Absolutely. They were very disappointed because the general assembly changed its opinion 180 degrees. Two months ago the assembly said they were willing to return the villa to the family and two months later they are saying there is no possible solution as to how to do it."