Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Prince of Starhemberg, dead at 56

March 15, 1956

Ernst Rüdiger, Prince of Starhemberg, a "solder-politician who played an active part in turning the clerical Fascist Government of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss into a dictatorship in 1932," died from a heart attack today. He was stricken while walking at the Hotel Montafon at Schruns in Vorarlberg, Austria.   He was 56 years old, according to the New York Times.

Although,  the 7th Prince of Starhemberg was "too young to see action in World War I,  but he retained the Starhemberg estates and "his illustrious name" allowed him to "indulge his taste for political adventure."

He was an early supporter of National Socialism in Germany, and took part with Adolf Hitler in the "abortive beer-hall putsch in Munich in 1922.  He preferred his own vision of Austro-Facism.

"We have much in common with the Nazis, and "we are equally enemies of democracy and have many of the same ideas about economic reconstruction.  But we in the Heimwehr stand for Austrian independence and support of the Catholic Church and object to the exaggerated racial theories of the Nazis and to their scheme for a semi-pagan German national religion."

The Heimwehr grew out of the Prince's army army of "800 retainers on his estate." When his own personal funds dwindled due to the purchase of weapons and other materiel, he received funding from Benito Mussolini.

After Hitler came to power, Dolfuss' Christian Socialist Government and the Social Democrats "were anxious to preserve Austrian independence."

Mussolini was anxious to maintain a weak Austria "to a strong Germany on his northern border."  He said he would back Dollfuss if he "destroy the Social Democratic movement."

The Prince's Heimwehr played a major role in destroying the Social Democratic Party.  After four days of crushing battles, the Social Democratic Party was banned, and Austrian turned more authoritarian.

The Heimwehr also help defeat the "Nazi putsch" where Dollfuss was assassinated in 1934.  

Prince Starhemberg should have emerged stronger from this political event, but Mussolini chose to become one of Hitler's allies.  This may have had something to do with Prince's private life.  In 1928, he had married Countess Marie Elisabeth of Salm-Reifferscheid-Reitz, but the marriage was childless.   He fell in love with Nora Gregor, a leading actress at Vienna's Burgtheater, who gave birth to his son, Heinrich Rüdiger Gregor on October 4, 1934.

In 1935, the prince sought to have his marriage annulled on the grounds that his wife could not give him a child.  The suit was rejected.   He resigned from the Austrian cabinet in 1936, and again applied for the annulment, this time with the support of his wife.  The annulment was granted in November 1937.  On December 4, 1937, the Prince of Starhemberg and Nora Gregor were married.  Their son became the Prince's legitimate heir.

Hitler's march in Austria in March 1938 changed the Prince of Starhemberg's life forever. He no longer could depend on the Heimwehr, or his own political astuteness to survive.  His new wife was "of Jewish descent."

In May 1938, the Nazis advocated the confiscation of the Prince's thirteen castles and 20,000 acres of forestry.  One official Nazi newspaper wrote:  "His property should be taken from him because he is unworthy to hold such huge properties in Germany.  Nobody in his family is capable of handling them for him as his mother is a fervent Clerical and his brothers are no better than the prince."
The family fled to France.  In November 1938, the Prince and Princess were in Paris, looking for work, and, according to the New York Times, "were considering emigrating to the United States."  They were living in a "modest hotel" with their son.  The princess had "the prospect of a movie engagement."

After the second world war broke out, the Prince "offered to form an Austrian regiment to fight Hitler."  He received a commission as a lieutenant in the Free French forces.

"I have hopes that the French government will give me permission to recruit a regiment among the Austrians in these camps who are ready to fight for France," he told reporters at the time of the commission.  

Not long afterward, in October 1939, the German Reich announced that the prince was one of eleven "German emigrants" whose citizenship was stripped, and property confiscated.

This decision did not sit well with the British House of Commons, and as the criticism grew more intense, Prince Starhemberg was sent in early 1941 to the Belgian Congo.    Colonel Josiah Wedgewood, a Labor member of the House of Commons was indignant when he heard about the commission.  "You allow a scoundrel like that to fight for democracy? Is it not rather indecent that this man who assassinated democracy in Austria should now allowed to fight on our side and should be paid by us in a war for democracy and against all that Prince von Starhemberg stood for?"

Princess Starhemberg and their young son were already in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when the Prince arrived in June 1942. 

After the end of the war,  the Prince of Starhemberg sought to return to Austria, but the Social Democratic Party sought charges of high treason again him.  In July 1949, he told a reporter from United Press that he was willing to return to Austria to face the charges of high treason if he could be guaranteed a fair trial.  He denied that the was guilty of the charges.

"Whatever my mistakes, I can proudly claim that I saved Austrian independence for five years, from 1933 to 1938, in my long fight against Hitler."

von Starhemberg's property.  This was based on "any person in a leading or influential position who has undertaken with the material support of foreign powers anything which has contributed to the destruction of democracy in Austria, or the heirs of such a person."

Although the prince was not specifically named in the new legislation, it was inferred by the Socialists that the Prince, "at the instigation of Mussolini, helped to overthrow democracy in Austria and pave the way for the Nazis."

Two months later, the Austrian Parliament reached a compromise with the Prince.  The new decision allowed the Government to appoint a "public administrator to take charge of the property of any person who is under suspicion of having acted treasonably," which would deny the person of the "benefit of the restitution law until his case has been cleared up."

Thus, no real action was taken on the prince's case. His primary residence remained in Buenos Aires, and his Austrian properties remained in "public hands."

A Vienna court in October 1953 ruled that the Prince would not be tried for treason.  On July 8, 1954,  Austria's highest court, the Constitutional Court ruled that the confiscated estates were to be returned to the Prince.   The court ruled that the two laws passed in 1952 that barred the prince from regaining his estates because he was suspected of high treason were unconstitutional. 
The ruling stated: "The annulment is a victory for the constitutional state, in which all citizens are equal before the law."

The Prince of Starhemberg returned to live in Austria in December 1955.
The Princess of Starhemberg died of a heart attack on January 24, 1949 at Santiago, Chile.    The Prince of Starhemberg is survived by his son, who succeeds him as the the Prince of Starhemberg.

[Heinrich never married.  He died on January 30, 1997 at Buenos Aires.  He was succeeded by his first cousin once removed, Prince Georg Adam, who was born in 1961.  Georg Adam is the son of Prince Franz of Starhemberg (1933-1995), third child of Prince Georg Adam of Starhemberg (1904-1978), younger brother of Prince Ernst Rüdiger.  He married Princess Anna of Isenburg.  The heir is Georg Adam's third child and elder son, Prince Constantin (1992) ]

The Prince of Starhemberg's autobiography:

Between Hitler and Mussolini: Memoirs