A Grandmother for Europe (1953-1989)

       Zita in Luxemburg, Then with Her Children in Germany and Belgium

      After her son Rudolf’s wedding, which closed the American phase, the Empress’ presence in the United States no longer made sense. Because once again, the center of gravity of her family had shifted back to Europe, with the children’s marriages.  Two more of her children were married (only Archduchess Adelheid remained single):
- On December 28, 1953, Robert, now bearing the title of Austria-Este that formerly belonged to Franz-Ferdinand, married Princess Marguerite of Savoy-Aosta at Bourg-en-Bresse.

 - On July 21, 1956, Archduchess Charlotte married Prince Alexander of Mecklemburg-Strelitz, both of whom were older. The couple did not have any children.

        Since her mother, Duchess Maria-Antonia, was elderly, Zita decided in 1953 to relocate to Europe in order to take care of her at the castle of Berg, the residence of the Grand-Dukes of Luxemburg (her brother Felix was the Prince-Consort). The Servant of God cared for her until her death in 1959, but was refused the right to attend her own mother’s funeral because she was buried at the castle of Puchheim, property of the Bourbon-Parma Family, in Upper Austria. After the death of her mother, she alternated visits with some of her children, especially in Pöcking and Brussels. She also enjoyed vacationing in Davos, at the Saint Joseph House, with the Dominicans of Ilanz, which also ended up being her residence for a short period of time (1960-1962).


       The last years of her life in Switzerland, in Zizers (1960-1989)

       In honor of her 70th birthday, on May 9, 1962, a family reunion was organized at Pöcking-am-Starnberg in Bavaria, at her son Otto’s home. The Servant of God felt the need to have a home of her own. She found it for the last 27 years of her life in Zizers, in the Canton of Grisons, Switzerland. This was a centralized location in regard to her children, close to Austria, Bavaria and not far from Belgium. She thus found a home at St. Johannesstift, property of the Diocese of Coire (Chur). This house was used as a retirement and nursing home, under the care of the Franciscan Missionary Sisters of Mary Immaculate (founded by St. Marie Charitas Brader). Her apartment was composed of three small rooms with a veranda, with simple furniture belonging to the sisters. She gave to Thérèse, Countess Korff-Schmising-Kersenbrock, her lady-in-waiting since 1917, the room with the balcony, keeping for herself the least sunny. Zita cared for her and looked after her as she became weaker, until her death on February 10, 1973, faithful to the end.

       The Servant of God continued to live an austere life, rising at 5:30 and spending much of her time in prayer, such as part of the Liturgy of the Hours, attending several masses daily (usually three), and reciting her rosary. But she was always very interested in current events, both in the Church and in the world, keeping up her very voluminous correspondence to which she usually responded personally or through her family. She did not live as a recluse, however, and received many visitors and traveled abroad for religious occasions such as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1962; then to Madeira in 1967 and again in 1968 for the blessing of her husband’s new tomb. Also, she went to Rome three times, once for the canonization of three Austrians by Paul VI in 1975, and again for two private audiences with Pope John-Paul II in May of 1979 and January of 1984. Formal family events, cheerful and painful, also gave her many occasions to travel.


       Return to Austria

        Among her greatest joys, was her triumphant return to Austria in 1982, which was made possible despite the fact that she absolutely refused to sign any renunciation of her titles, thus remaining faithful to her principles that even if she was forced into banishment she would not discard the mission she received from God (the oath taken by her husband during the Hungarian coronation ceremony bound her before God as well). Her son Otto, however, for pragmatic reasons signed several declarations renouncing his rights between 1958 and 1961, but he was not successful in his attempts to return to Austria until 1966.

       Indeed, a decree from the High Court of Administrative Justice recognized that as a member of the Habsburg family by marriage only, the anti-Habsburg law of exile did not apply to Zita[1]. Therefore, the 63 years of exile had been unduly imposed upon the Empress. She returned through Feldkirch, the way she had left Austria soil, with a Spanish passport dating back to before the war. Her arrival in Vienna, on November 13, 1982, was a triumph, with more than 20,000 people wanting to attend the mass offered in her honor at the Cathedral of Saint Stephen. She returned regularly from that time on, with her daughter Elisabeth, Princess of Liechtenstein, or for a pilgrimage to the shrine at Mariazell.


[1] The Social-Democrats voted for the Anti-Habsburg Law on the 3rd of April 1919. It stipulates that all members of the family born before November 1918, if they wish to enter Austrian territory, must renounce their rights to the throne and all property and belongings of the Habsburg family, and declare their loyalty to the Austrian Republic. This Act also provided for the confiscation of all the property belonging to the family, including private properties. This law even became part of the constitution in 1920!  It was unfair in so much as it forbade the right to be Austrian to the very ones who had constructed the country for almost 650 years (1282-1918) and who were the only ones to believe in their country. Let us not forget that the Social-Democrats, as later the Nazis, were some of the promoters of the Anschluss, although for different reasons. The imperial family and the monarchist movement were almost the only ones who believed in the future of an independent Austria from its more powerful neighbor. The Social-Democrats wanted to speed up the advent of a Marxist revolution (revolutionary movements even more radical than the Social-Democrats led to the proclamation of Soviet republics in Berlin from January 5-12, 1919, in Munich from April 7 to May 2, 1919, and in Hungary from May to August 1919). Others wanted to merge Austria with Germany in order to unite all German-speaking people into one country. On July 13, 1935, Chancellor Schuschnigg considerably softens this legislation, allowing the return of the family (some children of the Servant of God studied in Vienna and Wiener Neustadt), but with the arrival of the Nazis, it was reinstated with full force on the personal orders of Hitler on March 14, 1939. The second republic followed their example and the Soviet Union formally imposed the Act in a state treaty, which ended the quadripartite occupation in 1955.