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  • Zachary Mazur

The von Hochberg family and a 1930s tax scandal

Silesian coal mining operation, 1920s.

In the interwar years, the von Hochberg family was one of the richest in Europe. Hans Heinrich XV von Hochberg (1861-1938) owned a small country unto his own: forests, nine mines, several grand palaces, smelting plants, and over 500 square kilometers of land – more than the total area of Andorra. Much to their disappointment, the postwar settlement of Silesia meant that the von Hochberg properties were split between Poland and Germany.

A map of property in Silesia, the orange is land owned by von Hochberg

The famous Tyskie brewery was one of the family's businesses

Beginning in 1930, the Polish government started to audit the family's taxes and found that they owed millions to the treasury. Rather than pay, the von Hochbergs fought hard in Polish courts and filed a complaint with the League of Nations. They claimed that because of their Germanness, the Polish government was discriminating against them. As the case progressed, von Hochberg – also referred to as von Pless and Prince of Pless or Pleß – refused to pay the back taxes and fines, and Polish tax authorities took possession of continually more of his movable and immovable property.

Using the archives of the family and their businesses in two countries as well as the archives of the League of Nations, my research uses this case study to understand multinational enterprises in the post-imperial period. After the end of World War I, many businesses and families became split between borders and had to deal with new legal and international environments. How the international community adapted reveals some of the first solutions that became necessary all over the world during the era of decolonization (1945-1960).

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