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Life under the Habsburgs

July 8, 2014 14:55

Simon Winder rambles through the landscape of an empire that was home to more than two million Jews prior to 1914.

Otto von Habsburg-Lothringen

The funeral of Otto von Habsburg-Lothringen, the eldest son of the last Austrian emperor, Vienna, July 16, 2011. (photo credit:LEONHARD FOEGER / REUTERS)

Empires seen in retrospect rarely inspire affection. World War I effectively brought down four, and three of them, the Russian, German and the Ottoman, have few members in their fan clubs outside their heartlands, and not that many inside them either.

The Habsburg Empire, which sprawled untidily and illogically across much of central and southeastern Europe, and which more than two million Jews called home prior to 1914, is an exception. While nobody outside die-hard royalists wants the dynasty back, there is an understanding that with its collapse, something culturally and socially wide, spacious and tolerant went with it, and Europe has been poorer ever since.


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