The Austrians

A Thousand-Year Odyssey


By Gordon Brook-Shepard

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This is a masterful survey of Austria’s controversial place at the heart of European history. From the Reformation through the Napoleonic and Cold Wars to European Union, a superb history of Austria’s central role in uniting Western civilization is covered. 24 pages of photographs and maps are included. “Connoisseurs of Austria and its delightful and infuriating inhabitants will agree that Mr. Brook-Shepherd has got it just about right.’—The Wall Street Journal “Engrossing, elegantly written history.’—Publishers Weekly


The Wall Street Journal praises Gordon Brook-Shepherd’s


“British historian Gordon Brook-Shepherd puzzles out [the Austrians’] long struggle to find their own role in the world . . . . Mr. Brook-Shepherd is uniquely qualified for this task, having drenched himself in the mystery of Austrianness for some 50 years and written more than a dozen books on the subject. . . . Connoisseurs of Austria and its delightful and infuriating inhabitants will agree that Mr. Brook-Shepherd has got it just about right.

After guiding the reader through the little medieval Duchy of Austria, he unfolds the fantastic expansion of this improbable Germanic settlement into the core province of an immense conglomerate of lands and kingdoms. . . . In due course, the Austrian people were dragged by the Habsburgs into defending Europe against the infidel (the Ottoman Turks) and staving off the hegemonic drive of the kings of France.

It is easy to see why the Austrians never became a nationality in the sense that the French and English did and have suffered down the centuries from a nagging identity crises. This unhappy feeling has been only partially balanced, Mr. Brook-Shepherd notes, by a proud historical sense of the grandeur and misery of being Austrian. . . .

In the first half of his book, Mr. Brook-Shepherd presents the events and personalities that shaped the Austrian world—and often the wider world as well—over the first 900 years of its millennium. In the second half, he portrays the difficult destiny of the Austrians in the 20th century, beginning with the fin-de-siècle mixture of glorious cultural flowering and corrosive pessimism, and the consequent desperate frivolity. . . .

His chapters on the ghastly denouement of World War I— which began in an Austrian province—are among the best in print, as is his account of the breakup of the empire in 1918, after 700 years, and its replacement by a small country divided into three irreconcilable camps: the Catholic, the German-nationalist (soon pro-Nazi) and the revolutionary Marxist-Socialist. . . .

At a certain point, though, Mr. Brook-Shepherd shucks his gloom and begins what might be called the “Radetzky March” of postwar Austria. He notes that, in time, a new, self-reliant, unambiguously patriotic Austria was born in the overwhelming disillusionment with everything to do with Hitler. . . .”

By the same author










THE STORM PETRELS (Soviet Pre-war Defectors)




THE STORM BIRDS (Soviet Post-war Defectors)






To the memory of ‘Nata’,
Princess Natalie Höhenlohe-Schillingsfurst

A true Austrian and a much-loved family friend


The victory that launched a dynasty. On 26 August 1278, Count Rudolph Habsburg destroys King Ottokar of Bohemia, his rival for the crown of the Holy Roman Empire, at the battle of the Marchfeld near Vienna. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

The siege of Vienna, 1683. The Austrian relief forces, headed by King Sobieski of Poland, rout the 200,000-strong Turkish army camped at the gates of the beleaguered capital. (Mary Evans Picture Library)

Prince Eugen of Savoy (1663–1736), the French-born servant of the Habsburgs whose military and political deeds first made Austria into a European power. (Mary Evans Picture Library)

Maria Theresa (1717–1780), the only woman to reign over the Habsburg empire. (AKG, London)

The rulers of the rival German dynasties, the Höhenzollern King Frederick II of Prussia and the Emperor Joseph II of Austria, at Mährisch-Neustadt in 1770. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Napoleon, scourge of the old European order. (AKG, London)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Franz Schubert (1797–1828). (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

Prince Clement Metternich (1773–1859), for nearly forty years Foreign Minister of the Monarchy. (AKG, London)

Prince Felix Schwarzenberg (1800–1852). A proud faith in Austria, bad in himself. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Königgrätz, 3 July 1866. The battle at which the disciplined Prussians defeated the poorly-led and badly-equipped Austrians and sealed the supremacy of the Höhenzollerns over the Habsburgs in the German world. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Prince Otto Bismark (1815–1898), Germany’s ‘Iron Chancellor’ from 1871 to 1890 and the greatest European statesman of his time. (AKG, London)

Archduke Rudolph and Princess Stephanie of Belgium, 1881. A disastrous marriage of dynastic convenience. (AKG, London)

Karl Lueger (1844–1910), right-wing Christian-Socialist leader and Vienna’s most famous Mayor. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Georg von Schönerer (1842–1921), the anti-Austria Austrian who argued that the Monarchy should be absorbed into Germany. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Viktor Adler (1852–1918), founder of the Austrian Social-Democratic Party. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

Otto Bauer (1882–1939), the fiery ideologue of the Austrian Socialists, but a revolutionary in words only. (Österreichisches Institut für Zeitgeschichte)

Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) with his daughter Anna. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889–1951). (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951). (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Adolf Loos (1870–1933). (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

Schönbrunn Palace, 8 May 1908. In the sixtieth anniversary year of his accession, the German rulers pay homage to Francis Joseph. (Österreichisches Institut für Zeitgeschichte)

The diligent metronome of the empire: Francis Joseph at his plain work-desk, 1913. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

The ill-fated young Archduke Charles at his wedding to Princess Zita of Bourbon-Parma on 21 October 1911. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Count Leopold Berchtold (1863–1942), Austrian Foreign Minister in the crisis of 1914, and largely responsible for the catastrophe which followed. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Count Stefan Tisza (1861–1918), Hungarian Prime Minister and the only voice in the Monarchy to warn of the dangers of war. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

28 June 1914. Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife Sophie leave the train at Sarajevo. They had barely two hours to live. (AKG, London)

Prince Sixtus of Bourbon-Parma (1886–1934), brother of the Empress Zita and indefatigable searcher for peace – on France’s terms. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Count Ottokar Czernin (1872–1932), Austria’s gifted but unstable Foreign Minister 1916–1918. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

The toll of war: Austro-Hungarian troops after the bloody battle for the key Galician fortress of Przemyśl, 3 June 1915. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

14 August 1918. The Emperor Charles arrives for his last meeting with Emperor William II, held at the Prussian Army Headquarters in Spa, Belgium. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Cheers, and drizzle, outside the Vienna Parliament as the First Austrian Republic is proclaimed, 12 November 1918. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

Karl Renner, the Socialist Chancellor of the post-war Republic, signs the dictated peace of St Germain, 10 September 1919. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

15 July 1927: left-wing mobs set fire to the Ministry of Justice in Vienna. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

February 1934: a victim of the Austrian civil war. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

Ignaz Seipel (1876–1932), the prelate-statesman who dominated the Republic’s right-wing rule in the 1920s. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

Engelbert Dollfuss (1892–1934), the heartbeat of a new Austrian patriotism which Hitler silenced. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

Kurt Schuschnigg (1897–1977), the Austrian Chancellor who yielded to Hitler because he ‘could not shed German blood’. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

Wilhelm Miklas, the right-wing Austrian President who held out against Hitler to the bitter end. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

14 March 1938: Hitler enters a half-passive, half-enthusiastic Vienna after the bloodless Anschluss. (Österreichisches Institut für Zeitgeschichte)

12 March 1938: the mayfly Austrian pro-Nazi Cabinet of Seyss-Inquart. (Österreichisches Institut für Zeitgeschichte)

Rampant anti-Semitism moves in at Hitler’s heels: in Vienna, a portly Austrian Nazi supervises the daubing of ‘Jew’ on one of the capital’s many closed-down Jewish shops. (Österreichisches Institut für Zeitgeschichte)

The grim entrance gates to Mauthausen concentration camp. More than 35,000 prisoners perished here. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

April 1945. Red Army troops storm the outskirts of Vienna. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

Vienna, spring 1945. A start is made on clearing the mounds of rubble. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

1945: military police of the four occupying powers on their daily joint patrols. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

Four-power occupation: the agreeable side. A ‘British soldiers only’ swimming bath in Vienna. (Österreichisches Institut für Zeitgeschichte)

2 July 1948: Vice Chancellor Schärf signs the Marshall Plan accord. (Bildarchiv der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek)

London, 8 May 1952: Leopold Figl meets Winston Churchill. (Hulton Deutsch)

15 May 1955: Foreign Minister Figl holds up the freedom treaty just signed in the Belvedere Palace to the cheering masses below. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

Spontaneous jubilation from a lesser Viennese balcony on the day the treaty was signed. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

October 1955: after ten years the occupation ends. The last Russian soldier boards his train, clutching his final acquisition. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

The Cold War, and the Iron Curtain closes in around Austria. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

Vice-Chancellor Schärf, President Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev at the 1961 Summit Meeting in Vienna. (Hulton Deutsch)

Bruno Kreisky, the longest-serving Socialist Chancellor of the Second Republic. (AKG, London)

Kurt Waldheim, Austria’s pariah President, 1986–1993. (Österreichisches Bundeskanzleramt)

12 June 1994: the Austrians vote to join the European Union by a massive two-thirds majority. (Associated Press)



1996, THE YEAR IN WHICH the Austrians celebrated a thousand years of their recorded existence, seemed a good time to try to sum up their struggle to find their own role in the world. So far as I am concerned, this will be a signing-off as well as a summing-up. Half of my sixteen books have concerned their Habsburg dynasty, the Danube Basin over which it ruled, the Great War which consumed it, and the Austrian Republics which succeeded it. If I put pen to paper again (and that is still the antiquated way I work), it will not be on this subject, on which I have said all I can.

This book is not, however, an exercise in repetition. To begin with, it is the first attempt to tell the millennium story of this fascinating (but often maddening) people right down to the present day, always in terms of their unceasing search for their own identity. Their quest for nationhood has been blocked on the one hand by their multi-national training and traditions, and on the other by the fateful Germanic tie that runs throughout their history. The quest starts afresh now that they are part of a united Europe alongside Germany, with their Danubian neighbours eventually to join in as partners.

The book has a unique feature in that it combines half a century of academic research on the subject with a similar span of personal experience of the country and its people. First as a General Staff officer on the post-war Allied Commission in Vienna, then as a foreign correspondent and, in recent years, as the writer and presenter of various television documentaries on the Monarchy, I have been in continuous contact with Austria and its joys and problems ever since 1945. So much so that the original concept of the work, as agreed with the publisher, was that this fifty-year period should be cast in autobiographical form.

The idea was abandoned at my own suggestion, and this for a variety of reasons. To begin with, though I was a lieutenant-colonel at a precocious age in Vienna, this was a rank at which one could observe and execute policy, but not shape it. Even less did that apply to the twelve succeeding years (1948–60), when I ran the Central and South-East European Bureau of the Daily Telegraph, again based in Vienna. I witnessed many of the seminal events of those years – notably the struggle of Tito’s Yugoslavia with the Kremlin, and the Hungarian revolution – and was able to indulge in some fascinating ‘extra-mural’ activities in the region. But, for the most part, one was on the outside looking in. Too many memoir-writers from the media have tried to inflate their own importance by pretending that, for them, it was the other way round. I wanted to avoid that distortion.

I mention all this because I fear that the reader may well find it irksome that there are so many references in the latter part of the book to my key sources being also my personal friends. I can assure him that this number could, without difficulty, have been trebled. So far as possible, I have confined such references to footnotes linked to direct quotation of original material. Thus, as regards the Monarchy, I have drawn on a friendship of some thirty years with that wonderful royal figure, the former Empress Zita of Austria-Hungary (who only died in 1989, aged nearly ninety-seven), and her eldest son Archduke Otto Habsburg, thankfully still alive and thriving today as the senior member of the Strasbourg European Parliament. Between them, they provided not only a wealth of their own reminiscences but the fullest access ever given to any outside eye to the Habsburg family papers, one of the richest of Europe’s unpublished royal archives.

I got to know well most of the leading figures of the First Austrian Republic (1918–38), including the ill-fated Chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg, while researching my book The Anschluss and a biography of Engelbert Dollfuss. During the Second World War I had been in touch – though intermittently and at far remove – with developments in Austria while serving with Military Intelligence in London. For obvious reasons, my contacts with the leaders of the Second post-war Republic have been the most extensive. I even had the privilege of being ‘per du’, i.e. on the closest friendship terms, with both the great right-wing Chancellor Leopold Figl and his equally formidable socialist rival and successor Bruno Kreisky. (This caused much raising of eyebrows in both camps: the Austrians of the day were not used to their great ideological gap being bridged by anyone.)

I have had dozens of friendly helpers in the preparation of the present work. I would like to single out, on the diplomatic front, the Austrian Foreign Minister, Dr Alois Mock; his genial Secretary-General, Dr Wolfgang Schallenberg; and three successive Austrian envoys to London, Ambassadors Thomas, Magrutsch and Hennig. Dr Bernard Stillfried has been of great assistance in the cultural field, and Dr Man-fried Rauchensteiner, Director of the Military History Museum in Vienna, equally valuable on matters of military history. Fritz Molden and Carl Szokoll were among those who, from their own vivid experiences, provided insights into Austria’s brave but blighted wartime resistance movements. The Governor of Styria, Dr Josef Krainer (whose father I well remember, holding that same post before him), gave a frank picture of Nazi and post-Nazi life in one of Austria’s key provinces. I owe special thanks to Sektionschef Dr Neumayr and his charming deputy, Dr Ingeborg Schweikert, in the Federal Chancellory for organising my recent researches in Vienna.

In London, I have profited from the encyclopaedic knowledge of an old friend, Hans-Heinrich Coudenhove, who pointed out several errors of spelling, time and place in the first draft. This agreeably continued a family tradition: it was his father, Gerolf, who translated two of my earliest books into German, placidly amending the text as he went. Both of my admirable editors, Richard Johnson and Robert Lacey, also gave close attention to the final draft, which was somewhat late in arriving and considerably over-length when it did. I am sure there are still some slips which have eluded all of us. This, after all, is an immensely complex picture: a thousand years of European history passed through the prism of the Austrian experience.

I am aware of inconsistencies as between the English and German spelling of names. They are deliberate in the sense that the form chosen is the one with which I am comfortable. I feel equally at home with Franz Josef or Francis Joseph, but could never think of Karl Lueger, for example, as ‘Charles’, or Georg von Schönerer as ‘George’. The word ‘England’ is used because that was how Great Britain was generally referred to, especially on the Continent, at that time (though ‘British’ was sometimes used as an adjective). As for our sovereigns, Victoria and Edward VII were almost always spoken of as Queen and King of England – and thought of themselves as such.

Finally, I would like to give yet another vote of thanks to my longtime secretary Susan Small, who has once again turned an untidy manuscript into a perfect typescript – this time working from her new home in South Africa. Chapter after chapter has winged its way safely, if not speedily, from the Chilterns to Cape Town and back. Only after the last one had returned did it occur to me that we might have used fax.

Turville Park

Foreword to the Paperback Edition

It is pleasant to be able to report that in the short space of time between the appearance of the hardback and paperback editions of this book, Austria has been able to smooth away one awkward trace of its past. The present republic inherited, along with its post-1918 constitutional laws, the demand that any member of the former Habsburg dynasty who wished to return to the country should renounce not only all dynastic claims, but even the membership of his own family.


On Sale
Jan 27, 2003
Page Count
512 pages
Basic Books

Gordon Brook-Shepard

About the Author

Gordon Brook-Shepherd, a Commander of the British Empire, is author of 16 books, including The Anschluss, The Last Hapsburg, and Victims at Sarajevo. He lives in England.

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