Saturday, July 16, 2011

Otto von Habsburg, Archduke of Austria, Prince of Hungary (1912-2011)

Otto Kaiserlicher Prinz, Erzherzog von Österreich, Königlicher Prinz von Ungarn

Born: 20 November 1912, Villa Wartholz in Reichenau an der Rax, Austria-Hungary
Died: 4 July 2011,Pöcking, Germany

The eldest son of Charles I, the last Emperor of Austria and King of Hungary, and his wife, Zita of Bourbon-Parma, Otto was born as third in line to the thrones, as His Imperial and Royal Highness Archduke and Prince Imperial Otto of Austria, Prince Royal of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia. With his father's ascent to the thrones in 1916, he was himself likely to become the Emperor. As his father never abdicated, Otto was considered by himself, his family and Austro-Hungarian legitimists to be the rightful Emperor-King from 1922. Had the dual monarchy still existed, he might have had an 89-year reign.

Marcia Tracy explores the life of this once potential ruler of many lands.

After the Austria-Hungary Royal family’s exile in 1918, he grew up in around various parts of Europe, mostly in Spain, Switzerland, Madeira, Belgium, France, the United States, and from 1954 until his death, finally in Bavaria, in the residence Villa Austria. At the time of his death, he was a citizen of Germany, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, having earlier been stateless de jure and de facto and possessed passports of Monaco, the Order of Malta, and Spain.

His father died prematurely when Otto was 9 years old, leaving him as pretender to the thrones of many lands. His mother spent many hours during his youth “training” him to become a Catholic monarch-he learned German, Hungarian, Croatian, English, Spanish, French and Latin fluently. In later life, he would write books in German, Hungarian, French and Spanish. His mother made him learn many languages because she believed that he one day might rule over many lands. In 1935, he graduated with a doctoral degree in Political and Social Sciences from the University of Louvain in Belgium. From his father's death throughout the remainder of his time in exile, Otto considered himself the rightful emperor of Austria and stated this on many occasions.

In 1937 he wrote:

“I know very well that the overwhelming majority of the Austrian population would like me to assume the heritage of the peace emperor, my beloved father, rather earlier than later. (...) The [Austrian] people have never cast a vote in favor of the republic. They have remained silent as long as they were exhausted from the long fight, and taken by surprise by the audacity of the revolutionaries of 1918 and 1919. They shook off their resignation when they realized that the revolution had raped their right to life and freedom. (...) Such trust places a heavy burden on me. I accept it readily. God willing, the hour of reunion between the Duke and the people will arrive soon.”

The last time we saw him was prior to his wife, German Princess Regina of Saxe-Meiningen’s death in 2010. After her death, he stopped appearing in public.

He was the last Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary from 1916 until the dissolution of the empire in 1918, a realm that comprised modern-day Austria, Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, and parts of Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine. He remained the Crown Prince of Hungary until 1921. He was the head of the House of Habsburg and the Sovereign of the Order of the Golden Fleece between 1922 and 2007, and at the same time, the Habsburg pretender to the former thrones. He lived 98 years.

He married Princess Regina of Saxe-Meiningen in 1951; she died in 2010. They lived near Lake Starnberg in Bavaria and had five daughters and two sons. The eldest son, Karl, becomes head of the house of Habsburg. His younger brother, Archduke Felix of Austria, 7 children, 22 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren, survives him.

He spent time in German diplomatic and political circles and meet men who introduce themselves in the formal German manner – a brief bow from the shoulders followed by an unadorned name straight out of Germanic history. Otto was one of the men instrumental in organizing the so-called Pan-European Picnic, at the Hungary-Austria border on 19 August 1989. This event was considered a milestone in the collapse of communist dictatorships in Europe. He was reportedly a patron of the Three Faiths Forum, a group which aims to encourage friendship, goodwill and understanding amongst people of the three monotheistic faiths of Christianity, Judaism and Islam in the United Kingdom and elsewhere.
In December 2006, he observed that, "The catastrophe of 11 September 2001 struck the United States more profoundly than any of us, whence a certain mutual incomprehension. Until then, the United States felt itself secure, persuaded of its power to bombard any enemy, without anyone being able to strike back. That sentiment vanished in an instant... Americans understand 'viscerally' for the first time the risks they face." On 5 July 2007, Otto von Habsburg received the Freedom of the City of London from the hands of Sir Gavyn Arthur, a former Lord Mayor of London. Otto was known as a supporter of the rights of refugees and displaced people in Europe, notably of the ethnic Germans displaced from Bohemia where he was once the Crown Prince. He was a jury member of the Franz Werfel Human Rights Award. Otto also held Francisco Franco in a high regard and praised him for helping refugees, stating that he was "a dictator of the south American type ... not totalitarian like Hitler or Stalin".In 2002, Otto was named the first ever honorary member of the European People's Party group.

In May 1961, he formally renounced his claim to the Austrian throne and announced that he was a loyal citizen of the republic. As a result, two years later, an Austrian court lifted the ban on his visiting the land of his birth – a decision that proved unpopular in some quarters, precipitating the "Habsburg crisis" in Austrian politics. He was allowed to cross the border in 1966. Towards the end of his life, he admitted that his heart had not been in the renunciation, which he made out of sheer pragmatism.

During World War II, Otto strongly opposed the Anschluss of Austria to Nazi Germany. In 1938 he requested Austrian Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg to resist the Nazis and supported an international intervention, and offered to return from exile to take over the reins of government in order to repel Hitler. According to Gerald Warner, "Austrian Jews were among the strongest supporters of a Habsburg restoration, since they believed the dynasty would give the nation sufficient resolve to stand up to the Third Reich". Following the German annexation of Austria, the Nazis sentenced Otto to death. As ordered by Adolf Hitler, his personal property and that of the House of Habsburg were confiscated and not given back after the war. The leaders of the Austrian legitimist movement, i.e. supporters of Otto, were arrested by the Nazis and largely executed. Otto's cousins Max, Duke of Hohenberg, and Prince Ernst of Hohenberg were arrested in Vienna by the Gestapo and sent to Dachau concentration camp where they remained throughout the Nazi rule. Otto was involved in helping around 15,000 Austrians, including thousands of Austrian Jews; flee the country at the beginning of the Second World War.

At the end of the war, Otto returned to Europe and lived for some years in France and Spain.In 1949, he ennobled several people, granting them Austrian noble titles, although not recognized by the Austrian republic. As he did not possess a passport and was effectively stateless, he was given a passport of the Principality of Monaco, thanks to the intervention of Charles de Gaulle in 1946. As a Knight of Malta, the Order also issued him a diplomatic passport. Later, he was also given a Spanish diplomatic passport. Only in 1965, Otto was recognized as an Austrian citizen by the Lower Austrian state government—and Adolf Hitler's revocation of his citizenship was finally revoked. Otto was given an Austrian passport that was "valid in all countries except Austria". On multiple occasions, and as late as the 1960s, the Austrian police would be looking for Otto, suspecting that the "enemy of the republic" had entered the country.

On 5 July, his body was laid in repose in the Church of St. Ulrich near his home in Pöcking, Bavaria, and a massive 13-day period of mourning started in several countries formerly part of Austria-Hungary. Otto's coffin has been draped with the Habsburg flag decorated with the imperial–royal coats of arms of Austria and Hungary in addition to the Habsburg family coat of arms.

In line with the Habsburg family tradition, Otto von Habsburg is scheduled to be buried in the family's crypt in Vienna, while his heart will be buried in a monastery in Pannonhalma, Hungary.

  1. Van Der Vat, Dan. "Otto Von Habsburg Obituary | World News | The Guardian." Latest News, Comment and Reviews from the Guardian | 4 July 2011. Web. 15 July 2011.
  2.  "Otto Von Habsburg." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 15 July 2011.
  3. "Otto Hapsburg, eldest son of Austria's last emperor, dies at 98". Retrieved 2011-07-06
  4. Kaiser-Sohn Otto von Habsburg gestorben Deutsche Welle, 04 July 2011 (German)
  5. Archduke Otto von Habsburg". Telegraph. Retrieved 2011-07-06

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