Altogether, the absence of Austria-Hungary helped pave the way to power for Adolf Hitler, a man who despised everything about the “Dual Monarchy”. There was the monarchy, the aristocracy, the multi-cultural nature of it as well as what he viewed as the pandering to the Jewish and Slavic populations by the Hapsburgs. There was nothing about it he liked and the international tensions created by the new borders drawn after World War I all worked together to create a situation the Nazis were only too willing to exploit. Yet, the former Hapsburg lands also posed the greatest threat to the Nazi movement ever gaining the domination in Europe they longed for even after coming to power in Germany. Czechoslovakia stood in the way and had an industrial center that Nazi Germany very much needed. To unite all Germans into a single nation-state also meant that the first “prize” on the Nazi wish-list was Austria and yet Austria was also their first obstacle as Italy supported Austrian independence as a buffer state between Italy and Germany and this also barred the way to the Italo-German alliance which Hitler considered paramount to his plans. A Hapsburg restoration, even if only over Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, would have created a power bloc that would have been a major obstacle to Nazi plans for German expansion considering how militarily weak Germany was at the time, even right up to the outbreak of war.
|Horthy and Hitler|
|Crown Prince Otto|
|Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss|
Banning opposition parties, Dollfuss established a Catholic, corporatist state which has since been termed “Austrofascism”. He did manage to restore a proper patriotic pride to Austria, ended the threat of a leftist revolution and had very close and friendly ties with Benito Mussolini in Rome. He kept monarchists dangling on promises but did see eye-to-eye with Archduke Otto in their mutual loathing of the Nazis. Most importantly, this attitude was shared by Il Duce in Italy. Given the subsequent formation of the Axis, the “Pact of Steel” and so on, it can easily be forgotten that while Hitler hero-worshipped Mussolini since the Blackshirts march on Rome, that sentiment was not returned. Mussolini initially disliked Hitler and even after Hitler came to power and the two met face to face, Mussolini found something unsavory about him. This was important as the Nazis wanted Austria more than anything, it being the largest part of the German population outside Germany itself, and Italy was the one major obstacle to the Nazis being able to take Austria by force. In 1934, when Dollfuss was assassinated by the Nazis in an attempted coup, Mussolini was outraged and rushed Italian troops to the border, forcing Hitler to back down and denounce the Austrian Nazis who had done the deed.
|Schuschnigg and Mussolini|
|Fuhrer & Duce|
|Patriotic rally of the Fatherland Front|
|The anschluss is accomplished|
|The Archduke in Florida, 1942|
When the war progressed in favor of the Allies, ending ultimately in the total destruction of Germany and its division among the Allies, Archduke Otto was on the scene and was briefly able to visit his Austrian homeland in 1945. His immediate concern was lobbying Allied leaders to keep Austria out of the hands of the Soviets. He put forward his own proposal for post-war Central Europe, calling for the creation of a “Danube Federation” that would encompass much of the former territory of the Empire of Austria-Hungary. British Prime Minister Churchill seemed supportive of the idea but, not surprisingly, it was thwarted by the opposition of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. As nearly all of the territory of the proposed federation was within the agreed-to Soviet sphere of influence, Stalin was able to veto the plan. Although it was not stated outright that the “Danube Federation” would be another Hapsburg empire, for the Archduke was certainly not an ambitious man, it stood to reason that he would have been the only logical candidate to assume a position of leadership in such a state. As it was, he busied himself with arguing for the rights of the German-speaking peoples outside of Germany, trying to gain recognition of Austria as a victim of Nazi aggression rather than an accessory and to form an Austrian government-in-exile. The last goal proved unreachable and he also railed against the handing over of Eastern Europe to Stalin and the Soviets which was the primary impediment to most of his plans. Unfortunately, that concerned agreements already made and involved territory that the Red Army already occupied so that, even if the British and Americans had regrets, there was little to nothing they could do about it.
With the situation as it was at the end of the war, hopes for a Hapsburg restoration vanished quickly. However, it is still a mark of how much the power-mad politicians who seized control of Austria in the aftermath of the war were about the possibility of Archduke Otto gaining the throne that, while Austria was purged of all the laws and policies enacted during the union with Nazi Germany, the post-war republican government retained those that were anti-Hapsburg. The Archduke remained banned from Austrian soil for decades until he was obliged to renounce his claim to the throne simply to have the basic freedom enjoyed by any other citizen. It was an obscene injustice for a man who had opposed the Nazi movement from the very beginning, a man who had been singled out by the Nazi regime as an “enemy of the state” and who had devoted his entire life during the war to resisting the Nazis and rescuing Austria and the other Hapsburg realms from their grip.