#BookReview: Hitler and the Habsburgs: The Fuhrer's Vendetta Against the Austrian Royals by James Longo

Historical Nonfiction

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Five youthful years in Vienna. It was then and there that Adolf Hitler's obsession with the Habsburg Imperial family became the catalyst for his vendetta against a vanished empire, a dead archduke, and his royal orphans. That hatred drove Hitler's rise to power and led directly to the tragedy of the Second World War and the Holocaust.

The royal orphans of Archduke Franz Ferdinand-offspring of an upstairs-downstairs marriage that scandalized the tradition-bound Habsburg Empire-came to personify to Adolf Hitler, and others, all that was wrong about modernity, the twentieth century, and the Habsburg's multi-ethnic, multi-cultural Austro-Hungarian Empire. They were outsiders in the greatest family of royal insiders in Europe, which put them on a collision course with Adolf Hitler.

As he rose to power Hitler's hatred toward the Habsburgs and their diverse empire fixated on Franz Ferdinand's sons, who became outspoken critics and opponents of the Nazi party and its racist ideology. When Germany seized Austria in 1938, they were the first two Austrians arrested by the Gestapo, deported to Germany, and sent to Dachau. Within hours they went from palace to prison. The women in the family, including the Archduke's only daughter Princess Sophie Hohenberg, declared their own war on Hitler. Their tenacity and personal courage in the face of betrayal, treachery, torture, and starvation sustained the family during the war and in the traumatic years that followed.

Through a decade of research and interviews with the descendants of the royal Habsburgs, scholar James Longo explores the roots of Hitler's determination to destroy the family of the dead Archduke. And he uncovers the family members' courageous fight against the Führer.

I have mixed feelings about James Longo’s Hitler and the Habsburgs. It’s a fascinating volume, but the material doesn’t add much to the narrative put forth in 2013’s The Assassination of the Archduke by Greg King and Sue Woolmans. I don’t want to turn anyone off the book, it’s a fabulous read with a lot of great details, but the only real difference between the two is the biographical information on Hitler and Longo’s thesis which I found interesting, but inconclusive and based on exceedingly narrow subject matter.

Longo makes a solid argument for Hitler’s dislike of the monarchy, but I never felt the obsession angle tangible. This is just me, but I don’t think the tactics exercised against Sophie, Maximilian, Ernst and their families supersede those used against any other high-level political prisoner who found themselves in Nazi crosshairs. The book might have been more insightful if it had delved into the Habsburgergesetz, aka the Law concerning the Expulsion and the Takeover of the Assets of the House Habsburg-Lorraine, but Longo’s work is light on the legal aspects of the bureaucratic harassment of the royal family and centers heavily on the children of Franz Ferdinand while virtually ignoring their extended relations.

I’ll admit the book offers modest details on the family of Charles I, nephew of Franz Ferdinand and last Emperor of Austria, but it is absolutely silent on the family of Archduchess Elisabeth Marie whose second husband, Leopold Petznek, spent time in Dachau and son-in-law, Count Pierre d'Alcantara de Querrieu, died in Sachsenhausen. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t a chronicle of the Führer’s so-called obsession with a royal family extend beyond a single branch?

In sum, the biographic information on both Franz Ferdinand’s family and the Führer is there, but I did not find the thesis of Hitler and the Habsburgs convincing.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: September 14, 2018

The hatred directed toward them was more personal than Hitler's animosity toward their dead paretns or his aversion to the millions of innocent victims about to die in his name.