7: Austria: Pivot of European Stabilty
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EXPANSION OF Germany in central Europe was the main threat to the balance of power in
Europe and thus to European peace. In this respect Austria's independence was the pivot:
As long as it was maintained Germany could not expand in central Europe and in the
Balkans; on the other hand, if Hitler were master of Vienna the road to Constantinople
would be thrown open. This is the reason why the independence of Austria became the number
one question for the Allied powers the minute Hitler rose to power.
The basis of the Axis pact of October 20, 1936, was, as I have said,
Hitler's and Mussolini's mutual pledge not to change the status quo of and in Austria.
Hitler promised to refrain from undermining and destroying Austria's independence -which
of course was a fraud on his part; but what was Italy to do or, rather, not to do?
Certainly she did not want to annex Austria. There was, however, one thing that worried
Hitler: that was Mussolini's apparent inclination to flirt with the possibility of a
monarchist restoration in Vienna as a means of bolstering Austria's self-assurance.
The restoration of the Hapsburgs in either Budapest or Vienna was very
much feared by Hitler. It is odd that we in America consider the Hapsburgs decadent and
think it would make no particular difference whether Hungary or Austria had a Hapsburg
The truth is that Franz Josef was a much better king and emperor than
we credited him with being. To Hungarians and others in central Europe, restoration would
have been a magnet that would have attracted millions of other former subjects,
jeopardizing Hitler's power, as well as the Little Entente. Mussolini had that in mind
when he favored a monarchy for Austria, but this went by the board when he and Hitler were
pushed together. There was another reason why Hitler opposed the monarchy: It was of the
utmost importance for him to achieve his first and decisive territorial conquest without
resort to arms. It is an open question whether a monarchy in Vienna would have succeeded
better than the chancellors Dolifuss and Schuschnigg in stemming the rising tide of
national socialism in that German-speaking country. But Hitler must have realized that a
crowned ruler was much more unlikely than Schuschnigg to surrender without firing a shot
-he knew that the small Austrian army would be bound by stronger ties to a monarch than to
a colorless president in a country without a republican tradition. In his early days as a
violent nationalist, Hitler had a deep contempt for what he and his like called the
boneless, decrepit, supranational dynasty, but the undisguised violence of his aversion to
Hapsburg restoration had still another and more important cause.
Leftist propaganda, largely fed and financed from the outside, has
convinced many Americans that Hitlerism was the child of a conspiracy of German
aristocrats who needed a modernized type of their old militarism. "Nazis and
Junkers" was the slogan. In reality, Hitlerism was mobocracy, it was national
socialism, or the German brand of Stalinism. Hitler's natural enemies were the Junkers and
the other aristocrats, first of all the monarchists. Among them, especially, were those
whom he had cheated into believing that he was the pioneer of a monarchist restoration.
They felt the whole weight of Himmler's cruelty. The monarchists, by no means the
communists, were the only opposition of which Hitler was really and permanently afraid. It
was, in fact, the only opposition which almost succeeded in killing him. Hitler objected
to the restoration of the throne in Austria because he feared the repercussions on
Germany. Finally he invaded Austria because he could not tolerate a plebiscite which would
have shown that the majority of, a German-speaking country was anti-Nazi. In that case,
too, he feared the repercussions. A successful restoration in Austria would have
encouraged the opposition in Germany.
No simple formula could ever do justice to the complexity of the
situation in the Danubian Basin in the Hitler period. On the surface, as we have seen, it
appeared as if there were two camps, one for and one against revision of the
peace-settlements of 1919. Hence Germany, Italy and Hungary stood against France and the
Little Entente, though this grouping was not rigid, because Italy and Hungary felt
jeopardized by Hitler. Now we have another element of division: Hitler's anti-Hapsburg
attitude was very much to the liking of the Little Entente, for, Czechs, Serbs and
Rumanians were afraid of the effect a restoration in Vienna and perhaps in Budapest would
have on the peoples in their countries who favored restoration of Danubian unity.
England's policy in maintaining a balance of power, in the face of the growing power of
Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, hinged, before the first World War, upon
encouragement of all pan-Slavic movements. She was instrumental in dissolving the
Austro-Hungarian Empire and strengthening Slavs through backing the Little Entente -in
which Mr. Benes was her obedient instrument. France had been persuaded to do likewise
because of her constant fear of Germany.
Mr. Benes, during the twenty years which elapsed between the two world
wars, had established a policy in central Europe aimed at the permanent disruption of
Danubian unity. He had obtained power and independence for his nation by means of the
slogan: destroy Austria-Hungary; he continued to pursue that policy when it was very much
outmoded and even dangerous to Czechoslovakia herself.
Relying on French and British support, and later on collaboration with
Soviet Russia, Benes created and obstinately maintained the Little Entente system aimed at
the permanent subjection of Austria and Hungary. He was the standard bearer of the enemies
of Hapsburg restoration, a symbol of Danubian unity which, in most parts of the former
Austro-Hungarian Empire, might have been accepted by the majority of the people. Even
after Hitler's ascension to power, Benes continued his "bad neighbor policy,"
and at the same time antagonized all the national minorities within Czechoslovakia, where,
if the Slovaks are included, the non-Czechs amounted to one half of the population of the
Thus, in spite of democratic appearances, Mr. Benes' regime was
resented as oppressive and hostile to the basic interest of the Danubian peoples, which is
unity. He practically played into the hands of Hitler, whose menace for a long time he did
not recognize. Preceding the Assembly meeting of the League of Nations, in September 1934,
the semiofficial newspaper of the French Foreign Office, Le Temps, seemed to show
sympathy for the restoration of Danubian unity under Hapsburg leadership in order to stop
Nazi expansion. So, on their way to Geneva, the foreign ministers of the Little Entente
held a meeting in Ljubljana (Yugoslavia) where they decided to protest with the French
government against such a change of French policy and to warn the government of France
that should they continue this trend, the Little Entente would break away from France and
join hands with Hitler. On several occasions, Mr. Benes had stated publicly that he would
always get along with the Germans, and his policy betrayed that he considered restoration
of the Hapsburg monarchy and Danubian unity a graver danger than the annexation of Austria
by the Nazis. In March 1938, when Hitler prepared to invade Austria, Mr. Benes did not
move a finger to bolster up Austrian resistance. On the contrary, he had helped to
undermine the internal order of Austria by rearming the Austrian social democrats and
inciting them to revolt against Dollfuss and also by aiding subversive leftist tendencies
against Chancellor Schuschnigg while the latter was desperately trying to stave off Nazi
aggression from the right. All this had considerably contributed to a weakening and
disintegration of Austrian resistance against Hitler.
Thus, Mr. Benes paved the way for Hitler's bloodless victory at Munich,
in September 1938, and for his triumphant march into Prague in March 1939.
Had the old Austro-Hungarian monarchy, which we helped to destroy, been
in existence during Hitler's rise, what a different situation there might have been! The
Austria and Hungary which followed World War I had no military strength, nor had they any
war potential because Austria had lost her best industrial region, the Sudetenland, and
Hungary was chiefly agricultural. How could the appearance of a prince in Vienna or
Budapest have affected the Little Entente, if all the different nationalities in these
countries were as well satisfied as we were led to believe? The truth is that the Czechs
had never really granted equality to Sudetenlanders, Slovaks, Magyars, Ruthenians and
Poles, and the Serbs had to resort to a dictatorship to prevent the secession of the
Croats and maybe Slovenes. The Rumanians were not any too kind to their Magyar subjects
and had not done too well in administering the large territory which they had received
from the victors. They were afraid of what they disparaged as "the ghost of a dead
past." The Serbs, led by Stoyadinovitch, had an open ear to Goering's promptings.
"Look," he whispered, "we Germans are not really interested in acquiring
Slavic areas, but the Hapsburg tradition is very much alive among your Catholic Croats,
and there is Mussolini and the Vatican."
Hitler exaggerated the chances of the Hapsburgs, but it was effective.
In reality, the monarchist movement in Austria was rather weak. The socialists had
successfully spread the notion that monarchy was identical with political and economic
reaction. The nationalists were opposed to that supranational family. They spread the
legend that Empress Zita had betrayed the army to Italy during the armistice negotiations
in 1918. The Catholic Party, which dominated the scene, was not inclined to share its
power with the champions of the pretender, still less to cede it to him. Dollfuss' and
even Schuschnigg's bows to the idea of restoration were little more than empty gestures.
Altogether, the strength of monarchism could not be gauged. There was an undercurrent
nourished by the vague and inarticulate feeling that monarchism meant stability, because
it had given stability in a better past. Prince Starhemberg, the leader of the Heimwehren,
said that Austrians would not mount the barricades for Otto, nor would they do it against
him. Possibly if Otto had returned, the nation might have rallied around him, if only for
the reason that Dollfuss and Schuschnigg were unable to bridge the abyss that separated
them from the socialists.
In Hungary the prospects for restoration were no better than in
Austria, largely on account of the international situation. Hungarians liked the idea of
having a monarchy but the throne had to be kept vacant to placate the Little Entente.
Later, when German pressure grew, it became apparent that even greater risks were caused
by the absence of a monarch. If Horthy had died, Germany would have redoubled her efforts
to give him a quisling successor and it would have been very embarrassing to refuse. But
there also was in Hungary a very strong anti-Hapsburg tradition. Even after centuries of
Hapsburg rule, Magyar nationalists considered them a foreign dynasty. The fact that
one-third of the Magyars in Hungary are Protestants has a strong political effect. The
Turks, while they governed the major part of Hungary until 1698, favored Protestantism
against the Catholic Hapsburgs. This established a tradition that was still noticeable
when I was in Hungary. Restoration seemed to find a better ear among Catholics than among
Protestants. Hungarian nationalists never forgave Franz Josef for calling on Russians to
help put down the Magyar Revolution in 1849. All through the nineteenth century, Hungarian
nationalists were afraid lest the Hapsburg ruler ally himself with the national claims of
Croats and Slovaks against Magyar control. The most serious opposition to a Hapsburg
restoration between the two wars were the so-called Free Electors who stood for monarchy
as against a republic, but did not recognize Otto's claims as legitimate. They wanted a
national king, probably unconnected with Austria. While I could speculate as to what would
happen in Austria if Otto had returned, there was no doubt about Hungary's attitude. Otto
would not have been well received at that time. Official Budapest was not at all enamored
with the idea of restoration in Vienna, because it thought it would increase factionalism
in Hungary, and that it would expose Austria to risks without corresponding benefits. The
Foreign Office always made it clear, however, that it was not Hungary's province to
interfere in Austria's affairs.
This was not the attitude of the Little Entente. Titulescu, the
pro-Russian foreign minister of Rumania, for many years could never forego the pleasure of
telling Hungary and Austria that a Hapsburg restoration would mean war with the Little
Entente. As I have mentioned, Benes echoed it with Yugoslav leaders. Since this was
considered an effrontery, even by antimonarchists, it contributed greatly to keeping the
Hapsburg idea alive. I was startled when on February 22, 1937, Foreign Minister de Kanya
gave me the remarkable information that according to the Czech minister, Mr. Kobr, Prague
had decided to favor restoration in Vienna as an antidote to Anschluss. This must have
been a passing mood, perhaps a trial balloon for some unknown purpose in Czech relations
with Germany. Mr. de Kanya also explained to me that on the other hand the Yugoslavs were
most afraid of restoration in either Budapest or Vienna, since it might look like a
revival of the old dual monarchy. Most probably a non-Hapsburg candidate would have met
with less resistance. However, the value of a monarchy without legitimacy is questionable.
Mussolini undoubtedly toyed with the idea of putting an Italian prince on the Hungarian
throne. A number of times this was mentioned, but received no favor in Hungary.
In November 1937, Tibor Eckhardt created a sensation by making a speech
which was interpreted as monarchistic. His explanation was that he sought to free the
problem from its evil atmosphere of underground conspiracy. Monarchism, he told me,
legitimate or not, had to be the object of popular discussion. As a result of his speech,
there was a great deal of discussion of Dr. Eckhardt, but practically none of restoration.
People seemed quite annoyed that he brought the matter up in such a way. Temporarily he
lost a great deal of his popularity as a result -especially with the pro-Nazi elements.
But Dr. Eckhardt told me that in his conversations with legitimists he had advised them
not to think of a coup-de-main, or any other interference with Hungary's constitutional
and legal institutions.
When President Roosevelt received Otto in 1940 under the auspices of
Mr. Bullitt, who was at that time ambassador to France, this was interpreted by many in
Budapest as a symptom of a French plot aimed at forcing Otto on the Hungarians. Count
Teleki was much upset about it. This was before Hitler's attack on France, when the latter
was still regarded as the decisive power in Europe. Teleki told me that Hungary wanted to
stay absolutely independent and not be connected with or dominated by either Germans or
the French. He said there was no movement in Hungary for restoration; and the question of
whether Hungary would have a king was something that the Hungarian people were capable of
deciding for themselves at the appropriate time. Little Entente spokesmen could not have
been more excited than Teleki and de Kanya on this occasion.
I met Otto a number of times while he was in America. I found him
keen-witted and alert, although somewhat too reliant on his undeniable personal charm. It
must be hard for a man to face the life he is facing after having been brought up from his
childhood as His Majesty. I attended a large dinner in Washington one night and sat at the
same table with Otto. It amused me very much to hear someone at the table address him as
"Archie." I don't know what he thought of it, but he acted as though it were his
I am of the opinion that Otto's stay in America did not further his
cause, as far as this country was concerned. Advised by an unworldly entourage, he
attached too much importance to the friendly remarks of President Roosevelt. Czech
propaganda, of course, held him under concentrated fire which did not allow an unbiased
judgment. Completely disregarding organized teamwork, he exposed himself unnecessarily and
seemed to be animated by the conviction that he bore an historical mission which was more
important than his personal welfare.
The Hapsburg problem in Hungary and Austria has been blamed for the
failure of all attempts to form a republican Danubian confederation. Hungary and Austria,
however, could not be expected to renounce their freedom of decision, and at that time the
economic problems involved seemed insoluble. Though American tourists were very much
interested in the subject, Hungarians seemed to have very little interest in Otto and
seldom voluntarily mentioned him. Whatever concerted movement there was toward
restoration, it was negligible. No one, however, would admit that anyone but a legitimate
Hapsburg heir could be crowned. I never did know whether this was due as much to loyalty
for the Hapsburg family as to the fact that the Little Entente said that a Hapsburg would
not be tolerated. The only person who ever mentioned a republic to me was Baron Apor, who
said that he thought Hungary would some day be considered a republic, should the existing
situation become stabilized, and he called my attention to the fact that it was in effect
a republic on the French model at that time.
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