Exile in America (1940-1953)

       With the Anschluss, which bore the military code name of “Operation Otto,” referring to Hitler’s most intractable enemy, the titular Emperor whom the Nazi Party press vilified as that “degenerate Habsburg offspring, fleeing criminal, son of Karl, the traitor Emperor,” Hitler marched into Austria and let loose his anti-Habsburg hatred. Two of the Empress’ children, Felix and Adelheid, were targeted by arrest warrants, but they quickly escaped Austria via Hungary, Yugoslavia, Italy and France in order to meet up with their mother in Belgium. As early as April 1, 1938, a convoy took to Dachau the main leaders of the monarchist pro-Habsburg movement, among them were Otto’s cousins the Princes Max and Ernst of Hohenberg, sons of Archduke Franz-Ferdinand, the orphans of Sarajevo. Otto was officially condemned to death, guilty of high treason in the eyes of the Third Reich, on April 22, 1938.
       On May 9, 1940, the Empress’ birthday, following eight months of feigned war, the Germans attacked Belgium. At dawn on the 10th, dozens of Messerschmitt airplanes flew over the sector. The seventeen occupants of the household (including three nephews, children of the Grand Duchess of Luxemburg) piled into three cars and drove to France. Two hours later, a bomb blew the roof off the castle: “A thoughtful gesture from Hitler,” according to Otto.

       The Quebec Period

       Fortunately, the route had been laid out by the Empress long before. After Spain and Portugal, they embarked for New York in the United States, but the Empress did not want to reside there because the four youngest children had not finished their studies. She chose for them a well known French-speaking Catholic university, Laval University in Québec City[1]. She settled in the suburb of Sillery, at the Villa St. Joseph, borrowed from the Sisters of Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc from 1940 to 1948. It was rather small, but the size of the family had been reduced, since the four oldest were in the United States and England, where they were working for, and defending the interests of, their peoples. Her experience – even from afar - of the political world was useful to the Empress who helped her son by representing him when Roosevelt hosted her at his Hyde Park home (September 11, 1943), as she pleaded for Austria and a plan for a Danubian Federation.


       In Québec, during the war, life was once again very austere: each had to wall paper their own room. Princess Alice[2]  testified that she found their living room without curtains in the windows, and the floor covered with linoleum. Some tea and dry crackers were offered to her, while her hosts satisfied themselves with only a glass of water: “I was under the impression that they were very poor.” They were still living owing to the generosity of faithful subjects. Indeed, the most important for them was to maintain their devotion. A chapel was set up and they had a chaplain celebrate Mass daily.

       This experience of poverty may explain her great sensitivity towards the suffering and distress of her peoples, whom she tried hard to help. She gave herself entirely to the mission of collecting donations for their benefit. She embarked on a series of about fifty conferences throughout Canada on behalf of Catholic charitable organizations. Her children having reached adulthood, she could now take care of her subjects. Donations were many and the Empress, with the help of her mother Duchess Maria-Antonia, her sister Princess Isabelle, and her youngest daughter Elisabeth, assisted by Boy Scouts, sorted, cleaned and packed the donations. The collections received from the first series of conferences were given to the Archdiocese of Salzburg, then under American occupation. After the success of the first series, she organized a second round of conferences in the United States between 1946-1947. She prepared the trip herself, sleeping in religious institutions and travelling second class. She spent entire days giving interviews, despite her natural reserve, in order for the publicity to garner more donations to the Austrians and Hungarians. Thousands of packages were sent thanks to the CARE Foundation (Cooperative for Americans Remittances to Europe), as well as liturgical vessels for the destroyed churches. These charitable activities lasted through 1948.

         The American Period

       At Christmastime in 1948, the Empress moved to a house (once belonging to Mark Twain), that her children, now all working, had bought for her in Tuxedo Park,  60 km northwest of New York. Indeed, the Sisters of Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc needed their house back in Québec, and Zita wanted to move closer to her children who for the most lived in New York state. She rendered one last service to Austria. The Senate wanted to exclude Austria from the Marshall Plan, arguing that Hitler was enthusiastically welcomed there in 1938. After consulting with her son Otto, the Empress invited about fifty of the senators’ wives in order to explain to them the truth of the Anschluss and these ladies were then successful in convincing their husbands to vote in favor of granting aid to Austria. This was her final political act, and it was for the benefit of those who had treated her as an enemy because of her married name, and those who refused to let her back in her own country until 1982! Providentially, God wanted to show the virtues of His faithful servants proclaimed, since during the same time period, on July 11, 1949, the process for the beatification of her spouse was officially opened. Vatican Radio introduced the process thus: “For the honor of God and the glory of the Church, to give in our time in the person of the Servant of God, an intercessor whose image as a Catholic father, spouse and sovereign who is aware of his responsibilities and times, would be so necessary in our time of corruption and moral destruction, and the decline of marriage and the family.

       The Weddings and Births Period

       Zita’s children married relatively late because the war had kept them from any opportunity to meet young people of their rank. The fact is that Zita, in order to approve of the match, expected them not to derogate: her conditions were not as restrictive as they would have been in the Empire, but she expected royal families or high lineage, and above all Catholics. Her wishes were heeded and it is to be noted that her children and grandchildren have been spared mostly the drama of family dislocations. She crossed the Atlantic again and again in order to attend her children’s weddings. Such as:
 - On September 12, 1949, her youngest daughter Elisabeth married Henri, Prince von und zu Liechtenstein, at Lignières (Cher), the castle of Francis-Xavier of Bourbon-Parma.  From this union was born on July 30, 1950, the first grandson for the Servant of God, Vinzenz, Prince von und zu Liechtenstein.
 - On January 17, 1950, Archduke Karl-Ludwig married Princess Yolande of Ligne at the castle of Beloeil (Belgium). From this union was born on November 17, 1950, the first grandson to bear the name of Habsburg and the title of Archduke, Rudolf.
 - On May 10, 1951, the titular Emperor Otto married princess Regina of Saxe-Meiningen in Nancy (Meurthe-et-Moselle).

 - On November 18, 1952, Archduke Felix married Princess Anne-Eugénie of Arenberg in Beaulieu (Alpes-Maritimes).
 - On June 22, 1953, Archduke Rudolf married Countess Xénia Tschernychev-Besobrasoff in Tuxedo Park.


[1] During this period, many royal families were exiled in Canada because of war. Rideau Hall in Ottawa was used primarily as a temporary shelter for those who were usually related to the governor general or his wife.  Such as Crown Prince Olav and the Imperial Princess Martha of Norway, Grand Duchess Charlotte and Prince Felix of Luxemburg (brother of the Servant of God), King Peter of Yugoslavia, King George of Greece, as well as Queen Wilhelmine and her heiress, Princess Juliana, and her granddaughters Princess Beatrix and Princess Margriet of the Netherlands.
[2] Granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Alice, Princess of Great-Britain (1881-1981), was the wife of Major General Prince Alexander de Teck (1874-1957), Count of Athlone, Governor General of Canada. In that capacity, he represented the King of the United Kingdom of Great-Britain and Northern Ireland in this Dominion of the Commonwealth, where he bears the title of King of Canada.