A Fortune loses its owners – Habsburg assets after 1918

Ludwig Rohbock and Carl Rohrich: Schönbrunn Palace, 1873

A page from the Inventory of Aulic Property, c. 1900

What is to be done with all the Habsburgs’ assets when the Monarchy is suddenly abolished and the Republic proclaimed in its place?

Ludwig Rohbock and Carl Rohrich: Schönbrunn Palace, 1873

A page from the Inventory of Aulic Property, c. 1900

The Habsburgs’ assets were a matter Austria had to deal with even after the end of the Monarchy. In 1919 a special Habsburg law was passed, which a year later was given constitutional status. It laid down which of the Habsburgs’ assets were to be transferred to the new state. Ultimately it was Emperor Karl who was responsible for this law, as he had rescinded his renunciation of ‘any participation in the business of State’ as soon as he had crossed the border into Switzerland. As a result the Republic needed a legal handle.

State property included the ‘aulic’ and the ‘tied’ assets, while the Habsburgs’ considerable ‘private’ assets remained in the hands of the family. Exceptions were, for example, the Court Library (now the National Library) and the Albertina Palace. The tied assets included those which the family had at their disposal as the ruling dynasty as well as the family support fund.

In the 1930s, during the years of the Corporate State (Ständestaat), the property which had been confiscated was returned to the Habsburgs, but this measure was rescinded by the National Socialists shortly after the Anschluss in 1938. After the Second World War the laws passed by the Corporate State and the National Socialists were declared null and void, a clause which was also included in the Austrian State Treaty of 1955. Since the end of the Monarchy some members of the Habsburg family have insisted that the ‘tied assets’ be returned and have taken the matter to both the Austrian Constitutional Court and the European Commission of Human Rights. They consider the tied assets to be their private property.

The most recent development has been to link the question of the Habsburg assets to the laws regulating compensation for property lost during the National Socialist era. These stipulate that victims of the National Socialists can demand the return of confiscated property. Some members of Habsburg family cite these laws and demand the return of those assets expropriated by the National Socialists but which have actually been  the property of the Republic since the end of the Monarchy.

Christina Linsboth