Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Luxarazzi 101: Prince Consort Felix - War and Exile

Let's keep above the fray for a moment and head into the second half of January with a look back into history to learn more about Prince Felix. For the first two parts of our biography series about he husband of Grand Duchess Charlotte can be found here and here.


Felix was in New York City visiting the World's Fair with his son Jean and nephew, Archduke Felix of Austria, when the Second World War broke out in September 1939. Before visiting the Fair, the elder Felix and Jean had stayed at the White House for several days as the guest of President and Mrs. Roosevelt. An outbreak of war in Europe had been expected for several weeks. It is possible (even likely) that Felix planned the trip with Jean to try and garner support for the Grand Duchy in the face of war. While the two considered cutting their visit short, Felix and Jean completed their itinerary as planned, returning to Luxembourg on September 18.

The Grand Ducal Family faced little immediate danger in the first eight months of the war, a period now known as the Phoney War. During this time the Prince Consort posed the idea of quickly building the Luxembourg Army up to 7,000 to 8,000 men. The enhanced forces would not be trained specifically to fight, but rather to block roads and destroy bridges in hopes of deterring - or at least slowing - invasion of the country by the Germans. Felix's plan was not widely supported by the people of the country who still hoped to maintain their unarmed neutrality.

Felix and his family in 1940 at Château de Bostz
The invasion of Luxembourg on May 10, 1940, forced the family to flee the country. For the next two months Felix, Charlotte, his sister Zita, and all of their children raced westward across Europe in an effort to escape advancing German forces. The family stayed in various private homes and hideouts in France and Spain before arriving in Portugal at the end of June. Not confident of their safety in Europe, Felix reached out to his American contacts for help, which was granted.

Charlotte remained in Lisbon on July 15, 1940, while Felix and the children departed for the United States. Eight days later the family arrived in Annapolis, Maryland, via the USS Trenton, a US cruiser. The family was welcomed at the White House where they were guests at a lunch hosted by President Franklin Roosevelt. Felix thanked the American people for their hospitality, and sadly reported that he had no idea when they would be reunited with Charlotte. Felix and his children later traveled to New York where they stayed on Long Island as the guests of Joseph E. Davies, a former diplomat to Luxembourg. Felix's mother, Princess Antonia, arrived with her daughter Isabella in New York in early October of 1940. Felix was there to welcome the two along with his sister Zita and some of her children.
Charlotte and Felix in 1940
The Grand Ducal Family received constant news of the events in Europe. Reports of the Germans mistreating the Luxembourgish people in particular shocked and saddened the family. Between late 1940 and 1942, Felix divided his time mostly between the government-in-exile in Montreal and the United States, attending various dinners, rallies, and presentations as a means of gathering support in North America for Luxembourg. During this time Felix and his family were frequent guests of the Roosevelts. At the suggestion of President Roosevelt, Charlotte and Felix conducted a tour of the United States in 1940 and 1941 to keep the plight of Luxembourg present among the American people. Felix concentrated on visiting the midwestern states where there was a larger population of Luxembourgish-Americans.

In the fall of 1942, Felix and Jean joined the British Army. While Jean joined the Irish Guards, Felix served in a variety of capacities, including heading a group of volunteer Luxembourgish soldiers who had fled to Britain at the start of the war as well as acting as a liaison officer with the French Army.  Following D-Day at the beginning of June 1944, Prince Felix began serving with the 12th US Army Group, where he worked at the headquarters of Patton's Third Army in the far western section of European Allied land forces. This was the start of Patton's Lorraine Campaign, although Felix was reassigned at the very beginning of the campaign. Instead, Felix began his service at the headquarters of the Fifth Armored Division of the Fifth American Corps tasked with a specific duty - the liberation of Luxembourg.

American troops first entered the Grand Duchy on September 9, 1944. Felix and Jean rode in with the Fifth Armored Division troops to a now-liberated Luxembourg City the following day, on September 10, 1944. The public was ecstatic to see both the Prince Consort and Hereditary Grand Duke participating in the country's liberation. The two were hoisted on the shoulders of the countrymen and carried around the streets of the city in celebration.

Felix with Sir Winston Churchill and then Hereditary Grand Duke Jean
shortly after the liberation of Luxembourg
Felix was set to serve as head of the temporary government in Charlotte's absence following the liberation. However, he was not entitled to serve in this capacity per the constitution of Luxembourg, and the position instead was filled by Hereditary Grand Duke Jean. In the meantime, the German army was able to re-establish the front in the northeast section of the Grand Duchy in December 1944. This offensive, now known as the Battle of the Bulge, was set to cause heavy damage to that part of the country. Fortunately the majority of the Grand Duchy remained in Allied hands and Grand Duchess Charlotte and all six of the couple's children were able to return to the country in April 1945.

During the spring of 1945, Felix set out on a more personal mission - finding his sister-in-law Antonia. The Bavarian crown princess and her family had lived the majority of the war in exile in northern Italy as Antonia's husband Rupprecht was an open and firm critic of the Nazi regime.  Antonia and a few of her children were shuffled from one hiding place to another, before Antonia contracted typhus in Austria and was then interred for a time in a series of concentration camps.  Using his contacts with the Allies, Felix was finally able to locate his wife's sister at a hospital in Jena, Germany. Felix took an ailing Antonia back to Luxembourg to continue her recuperation, inviting her children to join her.

Sadly, Antonia was not the only member of Felix's family to suffer from the Nazi regime. His brother Xavier had participated in some Resistance activities during the war and also hid labor camp escapees at his estate in Austria. When his actions were discovered, he was arrested by the Gestapo and eventually sent to the Dachau concentration camp, where he was forced to endure bouts of enforced starvation. Felix helped to liberate Dachau at the end of April 1945 in hopes of finding Xavier, speaking with Luxembourgish survivors of the camp during his time there. Although Xavier had been moved shortly before the liberation, he was freed shortly afterward and fully recovered from his experience. 
Gianni Battista Cima's Madonna and Child, one of the recovered
Villa Pianore paintings.  (Photo: Caribinieri)
Felix was also to discover that his Villa Pianore in northwest Italy had been looted by the Nazis during the war. While the majority of the items stolen from the villa were returned, three 15th century paintings used to decorate the SS regional offices in Bolzano could not be located at the close of the war, prompting the Italian government to issue Felix a compensation payment at the end of 1945. Nearly seventy years later, the Italian government located the paintings in the holdings of a private collector in Italy in 2014. The paintings were not returned to the Grand Ducal Family due to the earlier payment compensating for their loss.

No comments:

Post a Comment