Archduke Otto Von Habsburg and American Hungarian Emigres during and after World War II

By Bela Vardy, Steven | East European Quarterly, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview

Archduke Otto Von Habsburg and American Hungarian Emigres during and after World War II


Bela Vardy, Steven, East European Quarterly


1. OTTO VON HABSBURG AND THE HUNGARIAN POLITICAL EMIGRATION

The Habsburg dynasty had ruled over many provinces, countries, and even empires for six and a half centuries, in the course of which it produced a number of interesting personalities. Yet, few of them were as gifted, affable, and sympathetic as Archduke Otto von Habsburg (b.1912), the son of the unfortunate Emperor Charles I [King Charles IV in Hungary] (r. 1916-1918), who was destined to be the last of the long line of Habsburg rulers. Under more fortunate circumstances Archduke Otto could have turned into the most successful and most liked ruler of the Habsburg realm. Moreover, given his father's death in 1922, by the year 2002 he would have occupied the throne of King St. Stephen of Hungary for eight full decades, which would have made him the longest reigning monarch in the history of European Civilization. (2)

Although living abroad since he was six years old, Otto's tutors included a number of Hungarians. In addition to making him into a native Hungarian speaker, they also inculcated him with an affection for Hungary and Hungarian culture, which affection remained an important component of his personal life and political activities throughout his long life.

Rejecting Hitler's advances, at the beginning of World War II, Archduke Otto ended up in the New World as an exile, where he soon immersed himself in politics. In the course of his stay of nearly five years (1940-1944) he established close contacts with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and many other influential power-brokers in the United States, as well as with the traditional branch of the Hungarian emigre community. He consistently followed an honorable, balanced, and progressive political orientation, championing toleration and rejecting all forms of extremisms. Already in those days he could be characterized as "having more realistic and enlightened views of life than those around him, including the majority of his followers." (3) In addition to the rising nostalgia for the stability and peace of the so-called Dualist Age (1867-1914), it was precisely Otto's realistic and enlightened personality that captured the loyalties of even some wellknown anti-monarchist liberals among emigre Hungarians. An example would be Miksa Fenyo (1877-1972), the founding editor of the influential journal Nyugat [West] (1908-1941), who in the decades prior to this death became a royalist and a faithful supporter of Otto. (4) This was also true for Tibor Eckhardt (1888-1972), the former leader of the Smallholders' Party, who after his emigration in 1941 became a supporter of Archduke Otto. Subsequently, as a member of the New York-based Hungarian National Council (1948-1956), Eckhardt served as a voice of traditionalism, conservatism, and of his never openly proclaimed monarchism. (5)

Otto's relationship to Eckhardt was based on the mutual recognition of the similarity of their goals and ideas. This recognition soon resulted in political cooperation, which became progressively closer during the next three decades. Thus, outside of a few aristocratic families with good Habsburg connections, Eckhardt became Otto's most important spokesman in the Hungarian American community, as well as among the community's recognized political leaders. The development of this friendly liaison is clearly evident from Eckhardt's literary remains in the Archives of the Hoover Institution, even though these remains are very incomplete. (6)

2. OTTO'S AMERICAN ACTIVITIES

The well-prepared, thoroughly cultured, and multilingual European, Otto von Habsburg, first visited the United States in March and April, 1940. At that time he met with a number of top American politicians, as well as with many of the leaders of the Hungarian-American community. Upon his return to Europe at the end of April, he was unaware that within less then two months he would be sailing back to America, but this time as a political refugee, fleeing from the wrath of Hitler and the Nazi Third Reich. …

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