Before the European Union, there was the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It was a true melting pot, comprising different countries and cultures. Born in the country of Austria, Adolf Hitler despised how multi-cultural the Empire had become. Even the royal family was in on the act, with the Emperor’s heir having married a Slav. Hitler may have been slightly mollified by Emperor Franz-Joseph’s decision that Sophie Chotek would not share her husband’s rank or privileges, and that their children would not be in the line of succession, but it was still insulting to him that Archduke Franz-Ferdinand chose her and not a Germanic woman of high standing.
This recently published book by James Longo tells the stories of Hitler and the children of Franz-Ferdinand and Sophie in parallel, and it’s full of surprises. I don’t know if I’d known previously that Hitler’s beloved mother had been tended to by a Jewish physician. Even as the future dictator railed against his precious Vienna being overrun by people from the outer reaches of the empire, he continued a correspondence with the doctor and occasionally sent gifts. In time, he would assist the doctor in emigrating from the country and, therefore, avoiding the Final Solution that befell so many Jews. There were other signs of Hitler’s hypocrisy as well: as much as he couldn’t stand “others” taking advantage of the freedom of movement, he certainly took advantage of it when he moved to Munich.
As Hitler rose to power, the Hohenberg orphans lost not just their parents but their property and possessions as well. Between the two world wars, they pushed for the restoration of the Austrian monarchy and for their cousin – their father’s heir – to claim the throne. To Hitler, they were a threat to his dictatorship and a sign of the former empire’s weakness with their inferior Slavic blood. They weren’t members of the Nazi party either, but that was a minor detail. When Hitler marched into Austria, Maximillian and Ernst Hohenberg were among the first to be arrested and interned in Dachau. As a British woman, I was both horrified and embarrassed to be reminded of how little the British government did not only to get them out of harm’s way but to stop Hitler in his tracks.
Even though the in-depth narrative switches back and forth, the stories of the major players are easy to read and understand. Longo’s writing clearly indicates the character differences between them. While the orphans wished for peace and had no desire for retribution against their parents’ assassin, Hitler eagerly anticipated war and blamed the empire for his problems prior to the summer of 1914. Longo shows that his action against the siblings was personal. He sought revenge, and they were in easy reach. It was, perhaps, another sign of the man’s warped mind. It’s somehow fitting, however, that all of Franz-Ferdinand’s children outlived the monster that would see them dead.
A good quarter of the book’s pages are dedicated to notes and a bibliography. There’s also an interesting author’s note. Longo writes that he once met the final pre-Anschluss Chancellor of Austria, Kurt von Schuschnigg, who had become a political science professor at Saint Louis University. Since he was a child at the time, he didn’t understand who the man was but he decided to find out. That started the journey to this detailed and informative slice of European history.
Disclaimer: I received an electronic Uncorrected Proof of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not required to write a review, and the words above are my own.
Publisher: Diversion Books
Publication Date: 06 November 2018