Weekly insights into our crazy world.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011



Last week, the last emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, OTTO VON HABSBURG, was laid to rest in St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna.  He was 98 years old.   The burial rites were conducted under strict accordance with the detailed laws of the empire.  First, thirteen days of mourning were observed.  Next, five requiem masses were held in three separate nations (Austria, Germany and Hungary).  Finally, over one-hundred-thousand Austrians crammed into the Heldenplatz to pay their final respects before the body was entombed in the IMPERIAL CRYPT.  But...here's the gruesome part...the entire body wasn't laid to rest.  Also part of Habsburg tradition, Otto's heart was removed and buried in an abbey in Budapest.  Why?  To forever show the solemn unity of the two peoples.

Okay...you're confused.  You're asking: "Who is OTTO VON HABSBURG, anyhow?"  Born in 1912, our "King without a Kingdom," was a mere lad when the TREATY OF VERSAILLES was signed a couple years later.  The controversial treaty abolished the monarchy, broke up the empire and founded a new Austrian Republic.  It also forced the royal family into exile in Switzerland.  Our Otto was only nine years old when his father died. Otto was then crowned Emperor...of nation that didn't exist.  However, his mother, EMPRESS ZITA, thought otherwise.  She firmly believed her son would someday rule over the empire again.  Otto became fluent in German, Hungarian, Croatian, English, French and Latin...so he would be able to address his future subjects.  This all may sound crazy; but the empress was right.  It was clear most Austrians despised the proxy "republic" and longed for a return to the glory days of Habsburg rule. 

Another person who also knew how Austrians felt about their government was none other than...get ready to boo...ADOLF HITLER.  He saw Otto...now a respected 37-year-old author and statesmen...as an arch-rival who already owned the hearts and minds of Central Europe.  (Anyone who has ever seen THE SOUND OF MUSIC knows this!)  One of the fist actions Hitler took after the Nazi annexation of Austria was to issue a death sentence for Otto.  RUDOLF HESS even took it a step further; authorizing any German citizen the right to kill Otto on the spot.   Hitler also demanded immediate confiscation and seizure of all Habsburg property to insure Austria could never return to the monarchy he so thoroughly detested.  However, none of this mattered to our brave Otto...he was too busy ferrying 15,000 Austrians (including many Jews) out of the country to safety in neighboring lands.

When World War II began, Otto left Europe altogether.  The Allies also knew of his importance, so our hero was secretly relocated to Washington DC, where he served as an unofficial ambassador of Austria.  When the war ended, there was very little interest in reviving monarchies and Austria was returned to a republic.  Once again, Otto was banned from his native state.  In fact, for the first year after the war, the poor guy didn't even have a passport!  Finally, CHARLES DE GAULLE stepped up and arranged for him to have a one from MONACO.  For the rest of his life, Otto worked tirelessly as an advocate for a united, peaceful Europe where three faiths (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) could all live together.

Too often in European History classrooms, the great Austrian Empires are lumped together with the horrendous German Empires.  In actuality, Vienna fought against Berlin.  The Austrians often lost on the battlefields.  (Not only to the Germans, but the French, Turks and Italians as well.)  However, the Habsburgs were successful in other, much more important realms.  They helped plant the seeds for great cultures that grow in the countries they used to rule.  Their main goals were to build cathedrals, schools, universities and opera houses in the lands the conquered...not death camps.  So, in order for the world to better appreciate these often forgotten achievements, we here at the DUNER BLOG propose that the word for the German language should be renamed to AUSTRIAN.

NOTE: And also...since this is the DUNER BLOG...here is Otto's official name:  He is Franz Joseph Otto Robert Maria Anton Karl Max Heinrich Sixtus Xavier Felix Renatus Ludwig Gaetan Pius Ignatius von Habsburg.

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