When The World Will Not Leave You Alone – Maximilian, Duke of Hohenburg

It did not happen very often that a member of the House of Habsburg was reduced to cleaning latrines, but that is precisely what happened to Maximilian Duke of Hohenberg. There is probably no greater anecdotal evidence of the massive changes wrought upon European society in the first half of the 20th century than the fact that the son of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – the man who was heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne until his assassination sparked World War I – ended up orphaned, banished from his home and later from his homeland and was lucky to survive imprisonment at a concentration camp.

The Young Maximilian

The Young Maximilian

Heir To The Fates – Maximilian, Duke Of Hohenburg
The man who would become Maximilian, Duke of Hohenburg was born in 1902, the second child and oldest son of Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie Chotek. The marriage was extremely controversial due to the fact that Sophie was of a lower aristocratic order than Franz Ferdinand and as such was not considered a suitable candidate to marry an heir to the throne. Nonetheless, the couple married and gave birth to three children. Maximilian, being the eldest son would have been in the direct line of succession for the Habsburg Throne, but even before he was born the arrangements of his parent’s marriage made it impossible. Some might say it was fate, others tradition, but one of the conditions of Franz Ferdinand’s marriage to Sophie was that his sons were not allowed in the direct line of succession to the throne. Thus from the very start Maximilian had no hope of gaining the throne. Furthermore, he was not allowed to inherit any titles, incomes or property from his father. Inheritance was only allowed from his mother’s side. This seems quite bizarre, but the aristocratic world of Austria-Hungary, especially the loftiest ranks was wedded to tradition and protocol.

Tradition in the House of Habsburg was often stronger than people. Yet tradition could only go so far in keeping Austria-Hungary together in a 20th century of mass movements and great technological change. Maximillian was unlucky enough to be born into this era. His own father, Franz Ferdinand, had flirted with changing tradition and his offspring ended up paying the price. On June 28, 1914 Maximilian’s parents were both murdered in the streets of Sarajevo by a Bosnian-Serb assassin. This of course was the great spark that ignited World War I, a conflict that would change the order of Europe and the world forever. On a more personal level, the war upset millions of people’s lives. Maximilian’s life was one of these. He and his siblings were now orphans. Their lives were thrown into a state of uncertainty. The war was bad enough, but the aftermath even worse from an aristocratic perspective.

Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie with their three children

Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie with their three children, Maximilian is at the far right

Normality & Domesticity, Imprisonment & Humiliation
The monarchy collapsed and the Habsburg’s lost all power. Being part of the family was no longer a privilege, but now a curse. The newborn nation states of Central and Eastern Europe were led by men who had abhorred Austria-Hungary. They now set about vanquishing the Habsburg legacy. Maximilian had been brought up at the family residence in Konopiste. His life there had continued even after his parents were killed, but in 1919 the new nation of Czechoslovakia expropriated the property. The three siblings now became displaced persons, albeit very unique ones. They moved to another family home, Artstetten Castle, in lower Austria. Possibly the strangest aspect regarding the first half of Maximilian’s life was how normal it was turning out to be. He attended to University of Graz where he acquired a law degree. He was doing a fine job managing the family estates prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. It seemed that his life just might turn out normal.

Millions of others could probably have said the same thing before Nazism changed everything. For Austria, the rise of the Nazis resulted in the Anschluss of 1938 whereby it was absorbed into the greater German Reich. Maximilian, along with his brother Ernst, vehemently opposed this infringement upon Austrian sovereignty. The Nazis would not stand for any opposition. Both brothers were arrested and imprisoned in the Dachau Concentration Camp. In comparison to others who suffered in the camps, there punishment was mild. They were not murdered, but instead forced to perform humiliating duties which included cleaning toilets. In the space of just twenty-five years Maximilian had gone from the exalted heights of royalty to literal servitude at the beck and whim of a depraved ideology. The old Europe was not just a thing of the past it was on the verge of perishing in the camps. And yet Maximilian survived. After only six months inside Dachau he was released. Lucky to be alive, he managed to survive the war. Soon thereafter he was elected mayor of Artstetten. The final period of his life was one of peaceful domesticity.

 Maximilian, Duke of Hohenburg later in life

The survivor – Maximilian, Duke of Hohenburg later in life

A Life of Unequal Measures
There is a precarious balance to the life of Maximilian. His fate often swung from the depths of despair to surreal domesticity. An awful event was often followed by a pleasant surprise. When the worst could be expected, events turned out for the better. The examples of this pattern are numerous. Even though he was orphaned, he was also raised in a castle. After losing every royal title and many ancestral possessions, he lived a relatively carefree life managing the family estates. Thrown into a concentration camp, he spent the time more in servitude than slavery. He avoided murder, likely because of his lineage, but also suffered imprisonment because of it. His life was star crossed, filled with despondencies and satisfactions of unequal measure. It must have all been a bit maddening. Often at the mercy of world historical events far beyond his control, Maximilian made the best of a quixotic situation. Life for him was unique, dreadful and normal. He may have been born different, but in one key respect he was just the same as everyone else who lived through the multiple cataclysms in Europe during the first half of the 20th century. He was a survivor.

A Scene Terrible to Contemplate – Nedjo Cabrinovic & The Unfinished Assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand

The 100th anniversary of the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand will soon be remembered all across Europe. This was the event that sparked the outbreak of the First World War, changing the world forever. The name of the man who carried out the assassination, Gavrilo Princip, will come into the historical consciousness once again. Princip’s fame rests upon his actions on that fateful day. If not for the assassination, he would never have gained any sort of notoriety. He was a lost and troubled soul. Like so many assassins before and after him he clung to the very fringes of society. Militant nationalism was the preferred anecdote to give his life some kind of purpose. Princip and the assassination may be synonymous, but there were several other young men lining the route of the Archduke’s motorcade that early summer day in Sarajevo. Four of the assassins failed to carry through with the original plan. Another, Nedjo Cabrinovic tried and failed. If his action had been successful, Gavrilo Princip would be a mere footnote in history, while Cabrinovic’s name would be on everyone’s lips when the centenary of the assassination is commemorated.

Nedjo Cabrinovic - almost famous, but now only forgotten and infamous.

Nedjo Cabrinovic – almost famous, but now only forgotten and infamous.

A Troubled Youth
Who was Nedjo Cabrinovic? Much like his co-conspirators he was a troubled young man. He began working as a teenager at various jobs all of which he invariably lost. These included stints as a locksmith, sheet metal worker and typesetter at a printing press. He stuck with the last of these, but never at the same place for very long. While working at the printing press he became familiar with radical socialist literature. He spent much of his formative years reading texts calling for revolutionary upheaval. His family life was chaotic. The relationship between Nedjo and his father was difficult in the extreme. They quarreled constantly. On one occasion, Nedjo’s father actually had him jailed for refusing to apologize to a housemaid he had slapped. Even at the printing press trouble proceeded to follow him. He took his readings of such revolutionaries as Marx to heart. He formed a union at the press, gave speeches and incited the worker’s to protest wages and conditions. Cabrinovic ended up losing the job and nearly being thrown into prison. He was also given to fits of anger, illness and non-conformist behavior.

Princip & Cabrinovic – Happenstance Versus Plans
Eventually he joined the Young Bosnians, a radical ethnic Serb group that wanted to see Bosnia throw off the yoke of Austro-Hungarian rule and unite with Serbia. Any possible means necessary would be used to carry this out. This background eventually led Cabrinovic to his place alongside the Appel Quay on the morning of June 28, 1914. Unlike Princip, Cabrinovic’s weapon of choice was a bomb instead of a gun. One thing they did have in common were the cyanide pills each carried with them to commit suicide after the assassination was done. Another similarity was that both turned out to be the only ones of the seven potential assassins in Sarajevo that day who actually tried to kill the archduke. There was a big difference between the two attempts though. Princip’s occurred by happenstance whereas Cabrinovic’s was done according to plan.

The Miljacka river and the Appel Quay to its left - this was the site of Cabrinovic's assassination attempt on the archduke in 1914

The Miljacka river and the Appel Quay to its left – this was the site of Cabrinovic’s assassination attempt on the archduke in 1914

Something To Remember Him By
On the morning of the assassination Cabrinovic did something very strange. Indicative of his mindset on that historic day, he went to a photographer and had several photos of himself made with a friend. Wearing an odd black and gray outfit, the last photos of Cabrinovic as a free man were taken. He asked the friend who had posed with him to make sure that among others, his sister and grandmother received copies. It was as though he was leaving them something to remember him by, as if assassinating the heir to the Habsburg throne was not enough. Not long thereafter, Cabrinovic found a suitable place to carry out his assassination attempt. He stood on the Miljacka River side of the Appel Quay close to a lamppost. This was critical because he needed to strike the bomb against the lamppost to prime it.

The Near Miss
At 10:10 a.m. the archduke’s car came into view for Cabrinovic. Unbeknownst to the passengers they had already safely passed two assassins, both of whom lost their nerve and failed to act. Cabrinovic had no such hesitation. He soon saw the motorcade coming into view and recognized the Archduke by the feathers in his helmet. He took out his bomb, struck it against the lamppost. It made a loud cracking noise. Cabrinovic’s motions in priming the bomb alerted the chauffer of the Archduke’s vehicle that something was amiss. The chauffer sped up, Cabrinovic tossed the bomb, but he was just off the mark. It hit the folded-down hood of the car, landing in the road where a few seconds later it exploded near the back of the next car in the motorcade. Shrapnel flew in several directions. Passengers in this car as well as bystanders had been hit, but none killed. Even the Archduchess Sophie had been grazed on the shoulder by a piece of shrapnel, the wound turned out to be superficial.

The archduke’s car came to a stop. He wanted to see exactly what had happened. After a minute, an officer hastily warned the heir to the throne and his entourage to keep going. The Archduke on learning of a bomb being thrown at him was reported to have said that the assassin “must be insane.” The archduke’s sanity can be called into question as well. He carried on with the morning program, rather than getting out of Sarajevo before another attempt on his life took place. It was a decision that would cost the royal couple their lives later that morning. As for Cabrinovic, he swallowed cyanide pills and jumped a wall, tumbling down into the languid, shallow waters of the Miljacka. In a matter of minutes a group of four men, one a policeman, had apprehended Cabrinovic. He was roughed up by an infuriated crowd before the police hauled him off to jail. It was all over for him, his attempt had failed. The archduke was still alive, but not for long.

Cabrinovic on the far left and Princip on the far right (in the foreground) - escorted by Austro-Hungarian soldiers suring their trial for murder

Cabrinovic on the far left and Princip on the right (in the foreground) – escorted by Austro-Hungarian soldiers suring their trial for murder

Contrition & Oblivion
As for Cabrinovic he actually showed contrition at the trial where he and the other assassins were convicted several months later. When reflecting on the fact that the assassination had led to a full scale war, Cabrinovic said that if he had known what would have transpired from the murder of the archduke, he would have used the bomb on himself instead. The damage had been done though. A worldwide cataclysm was in progress and would not end for another four years, after which millions were dead. Cabrinovic would die in a Bohemian prison from the effects of tuberculosis just a year and a half that day in Sarajevo. He was all but forgotten.

What Might Have Been – A Scene Terrible to Contemplate
Today at the Austrian Military Museum in Vienn,a the car in which the Archduke and Archduchess were riding in Sarajevo is on display. It is a surreal experience to look at the 1911 Graft and Stift Double Phaeton, still in good condition and think that it was nearly blown to pieces that morning. The tunic worn by Franz Ferdinand when he was shot is on display as well. The bloodstains are still visible. It is a humbling experience no matter one’s opinion of what transpired that fateful day in Sarajevo.

There is another way to look at this exhibit though, one that is not surreal or humbling, but truly horrifying. A counter factual approach sets the assassination forward an hour. Cabrinovic’s bomb lands on target. The archduke and archduchess try to scramble away, but the bomb explodes. Bits of their bodies are blown in all directions. Shrapnel incises every limb that is left of them. The screams of bystanders are more animal than human. The car is a heap of metal, glass and fabric, the chauffer and other passengers lay moaning and twitching. That scene is terrible to contemplate, but it was certainly possible. If it had occurred there would almost certainly be a very different exhibit about the archduke’s assassination in the Austrian Military Museum. Perhaps it would showcase bits and pieces of the debris, fragmentary remains of that morning in the Balkans nearly one hundred years ago. There will never be such an exhibit, neither will anyone have Nedja Cabrinovic’s name on their lips at the 100th anniversary ceremonies this June. Instead the man is lost to history, just like that moment in time, just like the world he so wanted to change.

To Be Spared Nothing On This Earth – Franz Josef & The Long Goodbye

It was one thing for a person to live for sixty-eight years around the turn of the 20th century, it was quite another for a monarch to reign that long. Any reign that covers three generations is worthy of note. Longevity becomes an achievement in and of itself. Yet it is also a curse, imposing penalties, fortune as well as misfortunes.

It seems almost unfathomable in retrospect, but the Habsburg Monarch Franz Josef ruled over much of central and eastern Europe from 1848 until 1916. This time period spans several historic eras; beginning with the Revolutions of 1848 and ending in that epically tragic quagmire, World War I.  In between there was industrialization, urbanization and stutter steps towards democracy. Each of these movements occurred in concert with a slow, inexorable slide into mediocrity and decline.

Franz Josef in Prayer

Franz Josef in Prayer

Suffering the Fates
To enjoy such a long reign at the very pinnacle of power, Franz Josef had a considerable amount of luck. His empire weathered losses in multiple wars while its power dwindled in the face of German unification. Nevertheless, Franz Josef and his imperial state were able to outlast, outsmart or just plain out luck all comers when it came to survival. Yet the luck aspect of his time at the helm was a proverbial double edged sword. For all the fortune he enjoyed in keeping the Habsburg Monarchy together on a political level, he suffered an inverse degree of misfortune on a personal level.

Astonishingly, Franz Josef endured the suicide of his son, the Crown Prince Rudolf; the fatal stabbing of his wife, the beloved Queen Elisabeth; and a final tragic act which would eventually lead to the dissolution of the empire, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to Franz Josef’s throne. Franz Josef may have had time on his side, but those most intimately connected to him were to suffer the fates.

More Than A Death
In 1889 Crown Prince Rudolf, the lone son of Franz Josef and his wife Elisabeth and heir to the throne, murdered one of his many lovers, Mary Vetsera and then committed suicide. Though Franz Josef loved his son and the Crown Prince revered his father, they had long been at odds over Rudolf’s dalliances with liberalism. There was love between them, but the relationship had always been fragile. Now with Rudolf’s suicide it turned tragic. The emperor was called to the empress’s boudoir where she delivered the news. They were the only ones present in the room at that horrible moment. We can only guess at the emperor’s first reaction. Perhaps he did not say anything. This was not just a death, it was a murder of one’s self, an escape by Rudolf from the strictures of the Monarchy, the role of heir apparent and a role in life for which he was ill suited. One clue to the emperor’s state of mind after learning the news, is that after leaving the boudoir, Elisabeth’s attendants noticed that though he still walked upright, he seemed to be staggering as if in a drunken stupor.

The gravity of what occurred weighed long after the event itself. Elisabeth would only be seen dressed in black when in the public view for the rest of her life. As for Franz Josef, after Rudolf’s funeral when his coffin was taken into the crypt by monks, the emperor followed, one of the few times Franz Josef broke with traditional protocol. He is said to have kissed the coffin before it was finally placed in the crypt. Here was truly an instance where actions spoke much louder than words.

To Be Spared Nothing On This Earth
Less than a decade later, in 1898, tragedy once again paid an intimate and unwanted visit to the Emperor. While working in his study at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna, the Emperor was brought the news that the Empress Elisabeth had been assassinated in Geneva by a deranged Italian anarchist, Luigi Luchini. The murderer had stabbed her through the breast with a stilleto, penetrating 85 mm, all the way into the left ventricle of her heart. She was dead within a half hour of sustaining the wound. A telegram announcing the tragic news was brought to the emperor by Count Eduard Graf von Paar.

Franz Josef is said to have been frozen for a moment in shock, than as he slumped into his armchair said, “I shall then be spared nothing on this earth.” These words were likely a reference to what he had already experienced with the suicide of Rudolf. Sentimentally his next words were, “Nobody knows how much we loved each other.” The news was the completion of a tragedy, losing both son and wife. The stoicism of the emperor sustained him in the years to come, but it is doubtful that he ever overcame the deep sorrow which consumed him.

A Higher Power At Work
In a final coda to both his life and the empire he led, Franz Josef was to experience the tragedy of death at the family level, one last time. At the beginning of the summer in 1914 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir apparent as well as the emperor’s nephew, was assassinated in Sarajevo.
The old emperor’s reaction to the assassination was much different than his reactions to the deaths of Rudolf and Elisabeth. Franz Josef did not care for the Archduke. When learning the news, he is said to have muttered, “It is terrible, the All-Powerful cannot be defied, A higher power has re-established the order which I had not managed to maintain.”

What Franz Josef seemed to be saying was that God had intervened to ensure that the next occupant of the throne would be someone who followed the traditional order of the Habsburg dynasty. For Franz Ferdinand had committed an unforgivable sin in the eyes of the emperor, he had married below his station in life. In this case, Sophie Chotek, who came from lesser nobility. This would have polluted the blood of the Habsburg royal line. That is why, as a condition of agreeing to the marriage, Franz Josef extracted a promise that none of Franz Ferdinand’s children would ever be in line to the throne. In the end, it did not matter since the hand of fate had carried off the Archduke.

Franz Josef would not live to see it, but the hand of fate that had taken the Archduke away would also bring about the dissolution of the monarchy. For it was the assassination of the archduke which set in motion the Great War, which swept all before it. In the winter of 1916, Franz Josef finally died after nearly seven decades on the throne. The empire was on the verge of implosion, it was just a matter of time. And time itself, was something that Franz Josef in his life, his long reign and his empire had been able to overcome, but finally it had even defeated him.