A minor scion of the illustrious Habsburg dynasty, Wilhelm von Habsburg, alias Vasyl Vishyvanyi, rebelled against both the wider cosmopolitan tradition of his family and his father’s own pro-Polish leanings, using his military training to promote the cause of Ukrainian independence during the First World War. Failing to become Ukraine’s king, he wandered dissolutely through the inter-war years, becoming embroiled in scandal in Paris before returning to Austria.
Increasingly sympathetic to authoritarian government, he supported first the Austrian dictatorship and then hoped to profit from the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union to rekindle his Ukrainian ambitions. Disappointed once more, he worked as a contact for Allied spies before eventually being arrested in postwar Vienna by the Soviets, in whose captivity he died in 1948.
The talented historian Timothy Snyder recounts an intriguing life-history against the turbulent backdrop of east-central Europe in the first half of the 20th century.
Laurence Cole is lecturer in modern European history at the University of East Anglia