Georg Moritz von Altenburg: A Model for All of Us

Suppose you were 642nd in line to the British throne, and a close relative of the former Tsar Nicholas II and of the former Kaiser Wilhelm II, could you keep this to yourself? And if at the same time your ancestors included Charlemagne, Albrecht the Proud and Albrecht the Degenerate, as well as Wilhelm I, the One-Eyed, could you keep that a secret?

Georg Moritz von Altenburg, the son and heir of Duke Ernst II of Altenburg-Saxony, who had this ancestry, survived the communists intact until he died at the age of 91 twenty years ago, long after the communist regime had come to an end. They must have known all about his ancestry but they behaved as though there was a silent agreement that if he was a model of discretion they would leave him alone and respect his secret. They left him alone; he must have been a model of discretion. Also, he ran a boarding school for handicapped children in his castle. His father had paved the way. Duke Ernst II was the only former feudal ruler to live in communist East Germany.

Altenburg is a small town, the capital of a modest little (former) duchy, 25 miles south of Dresden, in Thuringia, near the Czech border. Its best known industry is the manufacture of playing cards. The dukes were, of course, related to the Saxe-Coburgs. Hence – via Victoria’s Prince Consort – the connection with the British royal family.

Georg Moritz had had serious trouble with the Nazis. He was an active anthroposophist, i.e., a follower of Rudolf Steiner. Anthroposophy was a sophisticated cult, a little like the Unitarians, which was illegal. He was arrested and had to spend nine and a half months in protective custody.

The story of the Saxe-Altenburgs is very different from that of Hermine, Princess of Reuss, the widowed Princess of Schönaich-Carolath, a Silesian estate that also became communist after WW2. She had become the second wife of Kaiser Wilhelm whom she had married in his Dutch exile in 1922. In the ’thirties, she had strong Nazi sympathies. After the Kaiser’s death in 1941, she was allowed to go home. When the Russians came in 1945, she was put under house arrest and died two years later at the age of sixty.

No sense of discretion, nor any good works she may have done, could have protected her.

Source (in part): “The Vertigo Years” by Philip Blom (pages 36-7)


2 responses to “Georg Moritz von Altenburg: A Model for All of Us

  1. Goodness, Eric, how would we keep up with the remnants of the minor German aristocracy if we didn’t have your blog! Some of them have lived interesting lives, though perhaps not more interesting than common folk, just more subject to ironies.