“Once upon a time, a lovely young princess named Maria Krystyna lived in a castle, where she read books from the end to the beginning. Then came the Nazis, and after them, the Stalinists. This book is the story of her family, and so it begins with an ending.
An hour before midnight on the eighteenth of August 1948, a Ukrainian colonel lay dead in a Soviet prison in Kiev. He had been a spy in Vienna, working first against Hitler during the Second World War and then against Stalin in the early cold war. He had eluded the Gestapo had left half of his body paralyzed and one of his eyes useless. Retuning home after the Second World War, he tried to claim the family estate. The property was in Poland, and the older brother was Polish. Having been seized by the Nazis in 1939, the estate was confiscated again by the communists in 1945. Knowing that his family had a German background, his Nazi interrogators had wanted him to admit that he was racially German. This he had refused to do. Now he heard the same argument from the new communist regime. he was racially a German, they said, and so had no right to land in the new Poland. What the Nazis had taken, the communists would keep.
Meanwhile, the Polish colonel’s children were having problems adapting to the new communist order. In applications to medical school, his daughter had to define the family’s social class. The options included working class, peasantry, and intelligentsia- the standard categories of a Marxist bureaucracy. After a long hesitation, the puzzled young lady wrote ‘Habsburg.’ This was true. The medical school applicant was the young princess, Maria Krystyna Habsburg. Her father , the Polish colonel, and her uncle, the Ukrainian colonel, were Habsburg princes, descendants of emperors, members of Europe’s grandest family.”