The Red Prince

The Secret Lives of a Habsburg Archduke

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Wilhelm Von Habsburg wore the uniform of the Austrian officer, the court regalia of a Habsburg archduke, the simple suit of a Parisian exile, the collar of the Order of the Golden Fleece, and, every so often, a dress. He could handle a saber, a pistol, a rudder, or a golf club; he handled women by necessity and men for pleasure. He spoke the Italian of his archduchess mother, the German of his archduke father, the English of his British royal friends, the Polish of the country his father wished to rule, and the Ukrainian of the land Wilhelm wished to rule himself. In this exhilarating narrative history, prize-winning historian Timothy D. Snyder offers an indelible portrait of an aristocrat whose life personifies the wrenching upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century, as the rule of empire gave way to the new politics of nationalism. Coming of age during the First World War, Wilhelm repudiated his family to fight alongside Ukrainian peasants in hopes that he would become their king. When this dream collapsed he became, by turns, an ally of German imperialists, a notorious French lover, an angry Austrian monarchist, a calm opponent of Hitler, and a British spy against Stalin. Played out in Europe’s glittering capitals and bloody battlefields, in extravagant ski resorts and dank prison cells, The Red Prince captures an extraordinary moment in the history of Europe, in which the old order of the past was giving way to an undefined future-and in which everything, including identity itself, seemed up for grabs.


"Here is a master historian at work--patient, determined, scrupulous and smart. And how many times a year am I told a story that I've never even heard of? Not often. So, caution, highly addictive!" -- Alan Furst, author of The Polish Officer and The Foreign Correspondent

From Publishers Weekly

Part of the family that ruled much of central Europe since 1273, Wilhelm von Habsburg (1895–1949) came of age during the last 23 years of the dynasty's rule. Von Habsburg lived a nomadic and tragic life; he was a bisexual and a political chameleon (including a brief pro-Nazi period) who was implicated in a major financial scandal in Paris during the 1930s. But during WWI, he had become a fervent Ukrainian nationalist, and this became his life's one constant, culminating with efforts to help formerly pro-German Ukraine turn to the West at the end of WWII. As Yale historian Snyder (Sketches from a Secret War) shows, his efforts were futile; he was charged by the Soviets with spying and died in prison. Snyder hews closely to his subject, so that the complexities of 20th-century Ukrainian history sometimes get short shrift, e.g., he devotes only two sentences to the 1933 terror famine that killed three million peasants. Generally, though, this is an interesting biography of a man whose colorful life embodied many of the tensions that plagued Europe in the early 20th century. Illus., maps. (June)
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From Booklist

The dissolution of the Austrian and Russian empires and their replacement with new nation-states after World War I scattered an interesting cast of characters across the landscape of Europe for several decades, including more than a few drifting aristocrats. One of the more intriguing ones was Wilhelm von Habsburg,  the so-called Red Prince. As a scion of the Austrian imperial family, he had many of the predictable aristocratic attributes, including a grasp of several languages, skill at swordplay, and a sense that he was entitled to command and rule others. Yet he turned his back on his family and a life of comfortable exile to engage in a series of dangerous escapades until his death, in a Soviet prison hospital in 1948. Along the way, von Habsburg led Ukrainian nationalists in a futile fight to establish an independent state, fought the Nazis, plotted against the Soviets, and managed to acquire a diverse collection of sexual conquests. Snyder portrays him as a restless spirit with dreams of grandeur who was attractive, even charismatic, without being particularly admirable. --Jay Freeman


"The Red Prince must be devoured by anyone who has any interest in the history of Central and Eastern Europe. But the radius of this book ought to reach beyond that. This is a radiant combination of stunning research, worldly knowledge, and good writing. A very rare achievement." -- John Lukacs, author of Five Days in London"Here is a master historian at work--patient, determined, scrupulous and smart. And how many times a year am I told a story that I've never even heard of? Not often. So, caution, highly addictive!" -- Alan Furst, author of The Polish Officer and The Foreign Correspondent"Timothy Snyder has already shown that he has a masterly intellectual grasp of complex issues such as the identity problems of Central and Eastern Europe. He now demonstrates that he can tell a good tale: lucidly, briskly and seductively. The Red Prince delves into areas of history with which most western readers will be unfamiliar. In consequence, it educates as it informs as it entertains." -- Norman Davies, author of No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe 1939-1945"Timothy Snyder is not only one of the leading authorities on Central European history writing today, he is also an elegant stylist, with a talent for storytelling--a wonderful combination." -- Anne Applebaum, author of the Pulitzer prize-winning Gulag"Timothy Snyder is one of the most remarkable and original historians of Eastern Europe of his generation. His work commands our attention." -- Timothy Garton Ash, author of Free World and The Polish Revolution


“Once upon a time, a lovely young princess named Maria Krystyna lived in a castle, where she read books from the end to the beginning. Then came the Nazis, and after them, the Stalinists. This book is the story of her family, and so it begins with an ending.

An hour before midnight on the eighteenth of August 1948, a Ukrainian colonel lay dead in a Soviet prison in Kiev. He had been a spy in Vienna, working first against Hitler during the Second World War and then against Stalin in the early cold war. He had eluded the Gestapo had left half of his body paralyzed and one of his eyes useless. Retuning home after the Second World War, he tried to claim the family estate. The property was in Poland, and the older brother was Polish. Having been seized by the Nazis in 1939, the estate was confiscated again by the communists in 1945. Knowing that his family had a German background, his Nazi interrogators had wanted him to admit that he was racially German. This he had refused to do. Now he heard the same argument from the new communist regime. he was racially a German, they said, and so had no right to land in the new Poland. What the Nazis had taken, the communists would keep.

Meanwhile, the Polish colonel’s children were having problems adapting to the new communist order. In applications to medical school, his daughter had to define the family’s social class. The options included working class, peasantry, and intelligentsia- the standard categories of a Marxist bureaucracy. After a long hesitation, the puzzled young lady wrote ‘Habsburg.’ This was true. The medical school applicant was the young princess, Maria Krystyna Habsburg. Her father , the Polish colonel, and her uncle, the Ukrainian colonel, were Habsburg princes, descendants of emperors, members of Europe’s grandest family.”

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