WHEN HITLER TOOK AUSTRIA:
A Memoir of Heroic Faith by the Chancellor's Son
by Kurt von Schuschnigg
(Ignatius Press, 2012, hardback, 330pp, $50.00. ISBN: 978-1-58617-663-1. Available from Freedom Publishing)
Reviewed by Br Barry Coldrey
When Hitler Took Austria is an impressive, handsomely produced hardcover work, richly illustrated with 24 pages of black and white photos.
In a way there are two "stories" in the book: the first is a biography of the author's father, a deeply religious Catholic layman, Kurt von Schuschnigg, Chancellor of Austria, 1934-1938, at a time when the nation was emerging from the Great Depression and menaced by extraordinary political turmoil and threatened by its powerful neighbour, Germany, in the grip of Adolf Hitler and his National Socialists.
At this stage, the future biographer, "Kurti" (b. 1926) was a primary school youngster.
Chancellor Schuschnigg lost the struggle to keep his nation independent after Germany invaded in 1938 and Austria was incorporated into the Reich.
The ex-Chancellor, his wife and small daughter were placed under house arrest in a small villa adjacent to the gruesome Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, near Berlin.
Meanwhile, "Kurti" attended secondary school in Munich and boarded nearby, visiting his family during vacations.
The second and longer story within the book is Kurti's own exciting memoir of his extraordinary wartime experiences as a secondary school student in Munich followed by service in the German Navy's Baltic Fleet and his going AWOL as Nazi Germany collapsed before the Russian invasion to its east and the Allied invasion from the West.
During the last months of Nazi rule, Kurti was pursued across Germany by the Gestapo and military police until he was able to cross into northern Italy where he had relatives. And the tale did not end there.
The 19-year-old was assisted in Italy by his (Gestapo officer) uncle, British SIS officers, a religious community, Italian partisans and a smuggler to reach Switzerland and safety. Kurti remarked that his guardian angel was in overdrive during those months when he was on the run.
The British legation placed him in a comfortable hotel in Geneva and there is a nice touch when a couple of years later, the British legation sent his father a bill for his son's accommodation!
The family survived the war and all four emigrated to the United States where they took American citizenship; but the memoir concludes in 1946.
This is a fascinating political memoir and an exciting story of escape and pursuit which is highly recommended.