By BosNewsLife News Center in Budapest
BUDAPEST, HUNGARY (BosNewsLife)-- Hungary mourned Monday, July 4, Otto von Habsburg, the oldest son of Austria-Hungary's last emperor and a longtime member of the European Parliament, who has died at age 98.
His family said Habsburg passed away "peacefully and without pain" Monday, July 4, in his sleep at his home in Pocking Germany, where he lived and stayed out of the public eye since his wife's death last year.
As news emerged about his death in Budapest, Hungarian lawmakers held a minute of silence in parliament honoring Habsburg's memory.
He was remembered for his support through speeches given around the world of Hungary's crushed 1956 revolution against Soviet occupation. Habsburg also played a key role in opposition against the Moscow-backed Communist regime in Hungary.
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In 1989, he and Hungarian politician Imre Pozsgay helped to organize a Pan-European Picnic on the border between Austria and Hungary, allowing some 700 East German refugees to escape to the West. A reporter of what is now BosNewsLife witnessed how emotional families and small children ran to freedom.
The move eventually lead to the collapse of the Iron Curtain and, eventually, the fall of the Berlin Wall. He also backed Hungary's efforts to join the European Union.
Following the collapse of communism in 1989, there was even a brief movement in Hungary to make him president, or king, but Habsburg declined. "His life and fate carried with it the history of the 20th century," Hungary's parliamentary speaker Laszlo Kover recalled in remarks on Monday, July 4.
After the fall of communism, "he personally did much to strengthen the process of our European integration," Kover added. Hapsburg was born in 1912 in Reichenau, Austria, the great-great-nephew of Emperor Franz Josef.
His father, Charles, became heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1914 when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated, and became emperor two years later.
The empire ended with its defeat in 1918, and Charles died in 1922.
While Hapsburg did not give up his claim to the throne until 1961, he became actively engaged in European politics and an advocate of European unity and peace.
As a young man, he opposed the German annexation of Austria in 1938 and lived in the United States from 1940 to 1944.He reportedly managed to contact President Franklin D. Roosevelt and later claimed to have prevented Allied bombings of a number of Austrian cities by pleading with the U.S. military.
Habsburg was also credited with having helped about 15,000 Austrians, including many Jews, escape the Nazis. He later negotiated Austria's postwar fate with Roosevelt, Britian's Winston Churchill and France's Charles de Gaulle."Otto von Habsburg was one of the great personalities of modern European history," said Karl Hafen, head of the German chapter of the International Society for Human Rights in an interview.
Habsburg was educated in several European countries and received a doctorate in political and social sciences at the University of Louvain in Belgium.
He and his late long-time wife, Regina, had seven children. Their eldest son, Karl Habsburg-Lothringen, now runs the family's affairs and has been the official head of the House of Habsburg since 2007.
Habsburg will be buried July 16 in the Emperor Tomb in Vienna, below the Austrian capital's Capuchin Church, officials said.Before then, his body will be held in the St. Ulrich church in Poecking for three days for people to pay their respects.
Requiems are also planned for Poecking, Munich, Mariazell, Vienna and Budapest.
Otto Almacht, an aide to Habsburg's son Georg, told The Associated Press news agency that Otto von Habsburg's heart would be buried in the Benedictine Abbey in Pannonhalma, central Hungary, where the Catholic Church is the largest denomination. "My father was a towering personality," Habsburg's oldest son Karl Habsburg-Lothringen told the Austria Press Agency.
"With him we lose a great European who has influenced everything we do today beyond measure." (BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos contributed to the story).
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