"For me it was, I admit, perhaps the proudest and best day of my political campaign," Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg wrote retrospectively of May 14, 1933. As if the weather had anticipated the impending event and its impact, the sun burst through the clouds on this Sunday morning in Vienna and warmed the spring breeze until the afternoon, when heavy thunderstorms were accompanied by rain and hail. Two years later Starhemberg remembered May 14, 1933, as the "eruption of the new era," as the day "when 40,000 Homeland Protectors [Heimatschützer] saved the fatherland by marching in Schönbrunn." It was also the day, according to Starhemberg's memoirs, that established his friendship with Engelbert Dollfuss, then federal chancellor of Austria. However, when he dictated these memories to his secretary in the winter of 1938/39, Dollfuss was long dead and Starhemberg was in exile in France.
Before falling from grace, Starhemberg had risen to heady heights, and on the day in question he took a great leap up. In his eyes it was not only a turning point in his own life, but also in the history of Austria. For this reason he went into great detail about the preparations and the impact of May 14, 1933, in his memoirs, the first edition of which was published in English in 1942. According to this account, Starhemberg had a momentous conversation with Dollfuss in spring 1933. The situation was extremely fraught because the National Socialists, having come to power in Germany at the beginning of the year, were also on the rise in Austria. Starhemberg allegedly advised Dollfuss that it was precisely at this point that one had to develop "an Austrian strength" that would give the people security and confidence. Whereas the federal chancellor was planning on holding a Christian Social Party conference as a large patriotic event, Starhemberg advocated a rally of the Austrian Homeland Protection (Heimatschutz), the paramilitary organization that he had overseen as its federal leader since 1930.
To secure financing for this mass rally, Starhemberg traveled to Rome to , whom he knew personally. According to his memoirs, he described to the Italian prime minister the plan for "a systematic wave of propaganda for Austria and against National Socialism." Due to their shared language, "the Greater German feeling" was very pronounced in Austria, but precisely therein lay the critical issue: "We must finally muster the courage," said Starhemberg, "to juxtapose the idea of a Greater Germany with an entirely unrelated idea of Austria." Allegedly, Mussolini emphatically welcomed this suggestion and named the concept of italianità in Fascist Italy as a model: "You must create something like that in Austria." Having already supplied weapons to the Austrian Home Guards (Heimwehren) at the beginning of the year, Mussolini now also provided the money for Starhemberg's propagandist event.
Although in the memoirs he wrote in exile, Starhemberg stresses that the rally was in opposition to National Socialism, he makes no secret of the fact that the event was also intended to seal the "abolition of degenerate democracy." In his view Austria was not mature enough for a democratic system of government in 1918, when the Habsburg Monarchy collapsed with the end of World War I. As stated by Starhemberg, hardly anyone had believed in the survival chances of the small republic that was left of the empire. The political parties had not been concerned about the country and its people, he continues, but rather about their own interests, which they had proclaimed at the top of their voices on the streets of Vienna and on the front pages of the newspapers: "The result was a parliamentarianism that became the stomping ground of rampant party demagoguery and wild battles for party-political gains at the cost of the population as a whole." When in March 1933 Dollfuss used a parliamentary crisis regarding the rules of procedure to start governing as a dictator using emergency decrees, he had simply "put an end to a circumstance that had become untenable."
According to Starhemberg, therefore, a twofold sign was required in spring 1933: for Austria as an independent state with an authoritarian government and against Austria's enemies, whether that be National Socialism, which wanted to absorb the country in a Greater German Reich, or , which was committed to establishing an international "dictatorship of the proletariat." This sovereign sign would be made in the form of a mass rally by the Austrian Homeland Protection League (Heimatschutzverband), which Starhemberg staged as a "Turks Deliverance Celebration" (Türkenbefreiungsfeier). In 1933 Vienna's liberation from the second Ottoman siege lay 250 years in the past. The state anniversary celebrations, however, only took place in late summer, in view of the fact that it was the famous Battle of Vienna on September 12, 1683, that had brought the roughly two-month siege to an end. Why did Starhemberg call his event in May a "Turks Deliverance Celebration" contrary to historical fact? He does not explain his choice in his memoirs, but it can be assumed that his family history provides the reasons. Had the Habsburg Monarchy and with it the Austrian nobility survived World War I, then when his father Ernst Rüdiger died in 1927, the Starhemberg rank of prince would have gone to him, the Imperial Count von Starhemberg, who was born Ernst Rüdiger Camillo Maria on May 10, 1899, at Eferding Palace in Upper Austria.
The Starhemberg family was one of the oldest aristocratic dynasties in the Habsburg Monarchy. Its progenitor is believed to be a Gundacker from the twelfth century whose grandson of the same name built Starhemberg (Storichenberch) Castle on the Hausruck hills in Upper Austria from which the family later derived its surname. A crucial role in the family's history was played by Erasmus I (1503–1560), who married Anna von Schaunberg, meaning that the majority of the rich Schaunberg inheritance went to the House of Starhemberg. With his sons Rüdiger, Gundaker, and Heinrich, Erasmus founded the three main branches of the family, of which the Rüdiger lineage survives to the present day. Once the family, which had aligned itself with the Reformation, converted back to Catholicism, it was ennobled in 1643 to the rank of imperial count.
The family member most celebrated and honored as a national hero—not only in 1933—was called Count Heinrich Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg (1638–1701), who as military commander of Vienna had played a leading role in the city's defense against the Ottoman troops in 1683. The grandson of his stepbrother Franz Ottokar, Georg Adam (1724–1807), who was the imperial ambassador to the French court and a confidant of Maria Theresa, was ennobled to the rank of imperial prince in 1765 by Emperor Joseph II. His grandson of the same name was childless, meaning that his property and princeship passed to a distant cousin, namely Camillo Rüdiger von Starhemberg. Yet in 1927 his great-grandson Ernst Rüdiger, who fought on the Italian front in World War I and participated in the National Socialist putsch in Munich in 1923, only inherited the extensive family property: the parliament of the newly founded Republic of German-Austria had passed a law abolishing the nobility in 1919.
The so-called Law on the Abolition of the Nobility (Adelsaufhebungsgesetz), which still applies in Austria, prohibits the use of not only noble titles, but also noble coats of arms. That means that Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg was neither allowed to refer to himself as the Seventh Prince von Starhemberg, nor was he permitted to wear the Starhemberg coat of arms, which illustrates on a visual level why he wanted to hold his propaganda event of May 14, 1933, as a "Turks Deliverance Celebration." The family's original arms is considered to be the seal of the aforementioned Gundacker III, who built Starhemberg Castle in the thirteenth century. It is divided horizontally; in the top half there is a panther, which was initially green and later blue, on a silver or white background. This is the heraldic animal of the Styrian dukes whom Gundacker I, the Starhemberg progenitor, served as a knight. However, the heraldic panther, which remains a feature of the Styrian provincial coat of arms to this day, does not depict a black leopard, but rather a fire-breathing chimera formed from parts of various animals. The family arms were altered considerably in the mid-sixteenth century, when the Schaunberger arms were made over to the House of Starhemberg along with the inheritance.
After Vienna's liberation from the second Ottoman siege in 1683, Emperor Leopold I expressed his gratitude to the city's military commander, Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, by conferring on him a further enhancement of his noble coat of arms: instead of three jousting helmets, the spire of Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral with its new double cross featuring a sunburst and crescent moon tumbling from its apex formed the crest of the now four-part coat of arms. On the two-part inescutcheon, the panther was given a sword wrapped in laurel in its left paw and a severed Turkish head (Türkenschädel) in its right; a gold, crowned L (for Emperor Leopold I) was added to the red lower half. The last alteration to the coat of arms was made in 1765 to commemorate the conferral of the princeship to Georg Adam von Starhemberg. On this occasion, the panther, which now holds the Turkish head in its left and the sword in its right paw, is turned to face the opposite direction on the inescutcheon. In addition, the spire of St. Stephen's Cathedral no longer towers over the entire coat of arms but rather is located in the left (heraldic right) upper field behind a depiction of the bastion of Vienna, i.e., the city's fortifications constructed since the sixteenth century. This final version of the Starhemberg arms is topped by a princely crown and draped in a cloak lined with ermine.
Yet de jure is not the same as de facto—in other words, while the nobility had been abolished in Austria since 1919, the Home Guard members persistently addressed Starhemberg as Prince. Whether the Starhemberg arms were in fact displayed on one of the many flags waved at the "" in Vienna on May 14, 1933, is hard to confirm or indeed rule out. In any case, the following day the Austrian Homeland Protection's press declared a great victory for their federal leader, Prince Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg. Thus the Wiener Mittagsblatt from May 15, 1933, twisted the historical facts when it stated:
The celebrations began early in the morning, at 7:30 a.m., at the Liebenberg memorial opposite the University of Vienna, a victory monument erected in the 1880s in honor of Johann Andreas von Liebenberg, the Viennese mayor in 1683. Starhemberg first laid a wreath here, at the foot of the obelisk, and then marched with his assault company down the Ringstrasse to the Rathausplatz in front of City Hall, coming to a halt before another monument, namely that of Count Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, where a further wreath was laid. Security Minister Emil Fey, who was also provincial leader (Landesführer) of the Viennese Homeland Protection, related Count Starhemberg's campaign during the deliverance of Vienna in 1683 and described the critical role now being played by his descendant of the same name in the defense of Austria.
Around 10 a.m. Starhemberg arrived at Schönbrunn Palace, in whose the actual "Turks Deliverance Celebration" opened with a Catholic Mass. Afterward Emil Fey again had the floor, delivering the first speech in front of the legion Home Guard members, who had arrived overnight from all over Austria by chartered trains. Fey, whom Dollfuss had included in his cabinet as his security minister at Starhemberg's recommendation, reminded the audience how in 1683 Count Starhemberg had understood how "to fill his soldiers and the citizens of Vienna with enthusiasm and his own heroic courage so that the well-nigh incredible actually came to pass, so that this then weak city could hold its ground against the vast Turkish army, could hold back this vast army." And 250 years later it was again an Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg "who has assumed the leadership of many thousands of men who are loyal to their homeland and thirsty for battle, who have congregated in voluntary discipline and patriotism to protect the people and homeland."
After this introduction Starhemberg himself began to speak. He wore the green uniform of the Homeland Protection, his medals pinned above his left breast pocket, under them the Silver Medal for Bravery First Class, which he had been awarded in World War I. Surrounded by his adjutants, invited guests, photographers, cameramen, and radio technicians, Starhemberg stepped onto the speaker's podium on the garden-side balcony of the palace in his tall black leather boots and raised his right arm. The thousands of Home Guard members standing in formation in the Baroque gardens reciprocated the greeting with long cheers of "heil." Once they had lowered their arms and the cheers had subsided, Starhemberg started his speech, .
He reminded his supporters how often in the past the "Eastern March Germans" (Ostmarkdeutschen) had defended themselves "against a world of enemies," and highlighted three events that in his eyes were significant in world history: 1683, when "the Christian cross prevailed over the crescent moon"; the victory of "Austria's Germans" over the Napoleonic army at in 1809; and the "heroic deeds" of Austrian soldiers in the World War. Considering this valiant history, it was the duty of the Homeland Protection "to preserve the liberty and independence of our beautiful Austria, hallowed as it is by the death of thousands." Since 1918, however, "party politics" and "class warfare" had demoralized the Austrian people, who needed a savior, demanded a savior. "Be that savior," said Starhemberg to Federal Chancellor Dollfuss, "and be confident that everything supports you and everything is with you when you set about saving Austria."
Dollfuss also commemorated the historical events of 1683, yet he emphasized not only Count von Starhemberg but also the then barely twenty-year-old Prince Eugene of Savoy, who fought bravely in the Battle of Vienna and subsequently "warded off the danger of the Asian incursion into Western Christian civilization for all time." However, after the World War, in which Dollfuss had himself performed his duty as a soldier at the front, the enemy had infiltrated the Austrian people via "foreign ideas." He wanted to fight these socialist ideologies and build a "Christian German state under the rule of law" whose population would be grouped according to profession. Finally, the federal chancellor pledged "allegiance upon allegiance" to "Prince Starhemberg," the federal leader of the Austrian Homeland Protection, and ended his speech with the proclamation: "Austria above everything, if she only will!" Starhemberg wrote in his memoirs that Dollfuss had repeated this oath of allegiance again in a tête-à-tête that evening. The federal chancellor was—as was he—deeply impressed by the rally in Schönbrunn and the that followed, during which "the hobnailed boots of our Alpine formations [marched] down Mariahilferstrasse into the city." Starhemberg strode ahead of his Home Guard members before standing next to Dollfuss on to review the parading troops who followed him.
The "Fatherland Front" (Vaterländische Front), which the federal chancellor had heralded during his speech in Schönbrunn, was founded just a week later as the successor organization to the Christian Social Party. While Dollfuss referred to the authoritarian regime that was now established in Austria as a "corporative state" (Ständestaat), Starhemberg expressly spoke of "Austrofascism." In a speech entitled "Austria's Path" (Österreichs Weg) that he held in March 1934 and subsequently had published, Starhemberg praised the ruthless course of action taken against the Republican Protection League (Republikanischer Schutzbund), the paramilitary organization of the Austrian Social Democratic Workers' Party, which had been banned by Dollfuss and whose armed insurgency had just been violently countered by the Austrian Armed Forces, the police, and the Home Guards. He claimed that the Homeland Protection had bravely defended its fatherland in these critical February days of 1934 against "Austro-bolshevism," against this regional variant of Marxist false doctrines. Not only in Austria but around the world the "age of parliamentarianism" and of "democratic liberalism," as well as of "individualist capitalism," was drawing to an end.
In Starhemberg's opinion there were two reasons why the expression "corporative state" was an inadequate name for these radical political changes: First, because the new state had to prioritize the interests of the public over those of the individual professions; and second, because this public interest could only be enforced with corresponding authority in the state leadership. Incidentally, he continues, "Austrofascism" expressly adhered to the "Greater German idea," though merely in the form of a friendly cooperation between independent and autonomous states. The undeniable commonalities with National Socialism ended where Austria's sovereignty was called into question.
Then, on May 1, 1934, not only did the constitution of the Christian German corporative state heralded by Dollfuss during his speech in Schönbrunn come into force, but Starhemberg was also appointed its vice chancellor. Shortly afterward, on July 25, while the Home Guard leader was visiting Mussolini in Venice, Dollfuss was assassinated in the Federal Chancellery in Vienna by National Socialists during an attempted coup d'état. Instead of ascending to the role of federal chancellor, Starhemberg voluntarily remained vice chancellor under the former Justice and Education Minister Kurt Schuschnigg, though he was also appointed federal leader of the Fatherland Front. On May 14, 1936, after he had congratulated Mussolini on the "victory of the Fascist spirit over democratic dishonesty and hypocrisy" during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War, which violated international law, Schuschnigg removed him from office "due to a material difference of opinion"—three years to the day after the "Turks Deliverance Celebration." Both the Austrian federal chancellor and the Italian prime minister subsequently made a pact with Adolf Hitler, the chancellor of the German Reich. Starhemberg, by contrast, withdrew from politics to live a private life.
In December 1937 he traveled with his second wife, the then famous Burgtheater actress Nora Gregor, and their son Heinrich to the Swiss mountains for a skiing holiday. In late March 1938, roughly a fortnight after the German army had marched into Austria, Starhemberg sent a letter from Davos to Hitler, whom he had known personally since the 1920s. Contrary to his statements in his memoirs, in the letter he emphasized that it had always been the aim of the Homeland Protection "to unite Austria with the German Reich as a single state entity." Even though he was primarily asking for mercy for his comrades, Starhemberg stressed that he "was one of your fiercest supporters [as early as] in 1923" and now considered it his duty "to place myself at the disposal of you, my Führer, for the people and the fatherland." The offer went unanswered, but when Starhemberg started fighting against Germany from France in 1939, the National Socialists seized his property in Austria.
Exile took him and his family to South America, initially to Argentina, where he worked as a gaucho, then to Chile, where he lived with his son after the death of his wife. In the mid-1950s, when his assets were restituted to him despite vehement left-wing protests, Starhemberg returned home to Austria. He died of a heart attack only a few months later, on March 15, 1956, while staying at a health spa in Schruns in Vorarlberg, after a communist journalist had taken a photograph of him without his permission while he was out walking. A plaque was put up in his memory on the Litz chapel in Schruns where Starhemberg collapsed. In defiance of the law abolishing the nobility that has been in force since 1919, under the Starhemberg arms the copper plaque reads:
Monument to Count Starhemberg
Laying of a wreath
N 48.210411° | E 16.359453°
1933 a 133 d 8 h 0 min p. Chr.
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