Back to the Austrian Commanders page
Ottokar Graf Czernin von und zu Chudenitz
Ottokar Theobald Otto Maria Graf Czernin von und zu Chudenitz was born on 27 September 1872 to an ancient noble family in the Bohemian town of Dimokur.  His family was one of the original noble clans from Electoral Bohemia.  In 1621, one of his ancestors, Johann von Czernin, was hanged along with two dozen other nobles.  Punishment meted out by the vengeful General Wallenstein after he defeated the Czechs at the fateful Battle of White Mountain in 1620.  Wallenstein confiscated the Czernin property for himself, but would lose it after Kaiser Maximilian lost trust in Wallenstein.  The Czernin clan gradually recovered their wealth and standing in the Empire.

On 1 July 1897, he married Grafin Maria Klotilda Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau (born 30 May 1878, died 19 July 1945) at Hermanow Mestec.  All together, they had six children:  Theobald (1898-1975), Marie Anna (1899-1965), Ferdinand (1903-1965), Johann (1905-1980), Peter (1907-1967), and Anna Maria (b. 1914).

Ottokar’s older brother Theobald Josef Ottokar Otto Maria, was an imperial and royal chamberlain, and married Ottokar’s wife’s sister, Maria Anna Kinsky von Wchinitz und Tettau.

Ottokar Czernin became ambassador to Roumania in October 1912, just as the Balkan Wars broke out.  During the first part of WWI, he actively pursued Roumanian neutrality and tried to coax
Kaiser Franz Josef to surrender territory to Roumania in exchange for neutrality, but without success.  Czernin's activities were successful while King Carol remained on the throne, but once King Ferdinand came to rule Roumania in 1916, there was little the ambassador could offer him.  Following Roumania's declaration of war on Austria-Hungary, Czernin returned to Vienna and was later appointed by recently coronated Kaiser Karl to succeed István Burián as Foreign Minister.

GWS, 3/01 [rev. 11/03]
Czernin in His Own Words...

Reaction to Hungarian Premier
István Tisza's statement that Austria-Hungary would correspond with the United States on the subject of peace, 31 January 1917. 

"It is incomprehensible to me how American papers can declare that while our enemies stated their conditions of peace in answer to President Wilson, the Central Powers abstained from doing so. 

"It is a matter of fact, as everybody is able to judge for himself from the text of our notes, that we outlined our conditions of peace in exactly the same general manner as our enemies have theirs.  Condensing the contents of our enemies' statements, we can gather the plain conditions under which they are prepared to make peace, namely, to amputate Germany and deprive her, as far as her internal policy is concerned, of the right of self-determination, to dismember Austria-Hungary, to reduce Bulgaria, and to annihilate Turkey altogether.

"On the other hand, having declared that we are not engaged in a war of conquest, but of defense, we are plainly pointing out our defensive purposes in contradistinction to the offensive aims the Entente has proclaimed in declaring that our war is one of a defensive character and that we are aiming at nothing else than to safeguard our very existence and our free development.

"We have pointed out our war purposes at least as clearly as our enemies.  Which conditions are to be considered moderate or reasonable, ours or those of our enemies?  Which conditions after the war insure the future of Europe and civilisation, as well as a lasting peace?  Which conditions render future reconciliation possible and will not lead to undending hate and discord? 

"These questions I am satisfied leave to the unprejudiced judgment of neutrals who have the welfare of mankind at heart and who are not moved by preference for the one or the other.  We attach the greatest importance to the judgment of the American people.  All we would expect from Americans is that they examine the great questions of humanity at stake with the same earnest and just impartially as distinguishes an American jury.  Our peace proposal was loyal, honest, and straightforward, and by no means a trap or manoeuvre, as our enemies have stated.

"That our proposals were refused we regret and we do not hesitate to admit this, even at the risk that this regret may be interpreted, as has often been the case, as weakness on our part.  Ever since the beginning of the war our enemies have made, especially as concerns Austria-Hungary, so many false statements and prophecies, which have since been refuted by the facts, that they ought, indeed, to be somewhat suspicious regarding their own judgment.

"However, in view of the attitude of our enemies, who simply deny because it does not suit their egotistical theories, there is nothing else left to us, as every fairminded person will admit, but to defend ourselves to the bitter end, and the future will prove that we have strength to do so with success.  Our enemies do not wish peace through mediation.  If they force us to continue the bloodshed, they alone are to blame for it, and we seriously hope that in America this will be realised and our decisions judged accordingly.

"The future will show that the Entente powers' announced design to exterminate us cannot possibly be carried out.  Only when this conviction comes to our enemies will the grand and blessed moment arrive when the peace idea will materialise.  Then will begin the noble work of peace to create a world in which it will be possible for us as well as for all other nations to enjoy free and safe development and in which there can be no recurrence of a world war."
Two views of Czernin during the war.  Left, Czernin at Brest-Litovsk, January 1918; right, Czernin at Laxenberg, October 1918.
The Foreign Minister's Personal Mission...

His first personal mission was to convince Germany to conclude peace, even with the loss of Alsace-Lotharingia and Belgium in exchange for eastern territory.  This route was closed by German obstinancy, but Czernin proceeded to open negotiations with the British and French through Kaiserin Zita's brother,
Prince Sixtus di Bourbon-Parma. Sixtus was then a volunteer fighting in the Belgian Army, of all places.  Czernin claimed he knew nothing of the contents of the March 1917 letter that Prince Sixtus delivered to the Entente from the Kaiser.  In this letter, the Kaiser allegedly spoke of the "just demands" by France for the return of Alsace-Lotharingia. 

In the "Sixtus Affair" that followed: (1) the Kaiser disputed the letter, (2) the French president Georges Clemenceau published the letter in response, (3) the Kaiser learned that the wrong draft of the letter was sent to the Entente [the draft he wanted to send did not mention Alsace-Lotharingia], and (4) the Germans were both dumbfounded and outraged at the double-dealing of the Kaiser [particularly concerning the German territories of Alsace-Lotharingia].  All of this occurred later in the year.  Czernin was left to pick up the pieces and secured both blame from Kaiser Karl for bungling the mission and wrath from the Germans for his support for the affair.  According to Kaiserin Zita, Czernin was on the verge of a nervous breakdown from the stress of the Sixtus Affair and the Russian peace process.  She reported that Czernin, in a candid moment of desperation, suggested that both of them and Kaiser Karl should all commit suicide together.  The Kaiserin wrote angrily in her diary that she could think of better people to spend an eternity in hell with than Czernin. 

GWS, 3/01
Prinz Sixtus Arms of the Czernin family
Richard Kühlmann
Czernin the Peace-Maker

Meanwhile, the Austrian Foreign Minister was appointed to represent the Empire at the peace delegation.  This was held at Brest-Litovsk, the HQ for the German Eastern Command.  The delegation opened on December 22, 1917, and the Germans were represented by von Kühlmann, while the Soviets were represented by Dr. Joffe.  The doctor was sitting for Lev Trotsky, who did not arrive until January 7, 1918.  During this time, Czernin wrote in his diary that Joffe leaned over and told him "I hope we may be able to bring revolution to your country as well."  Czernin wrote "I think we shall not need any help from the good doctor if we cannot secure peace soon."  Czernin was even more nervous about the machinations of the German military than the Soviet revolutionaries.  Pressed by the High Command, the German delegation made significant demands from Russia, which caused the Soviets to walk out on the conference on January 18.  Czernin first threatened to sign a separate peace with the Soviets, but the Germans simply countered with the fact that they controlled the entire Eastern Front and met Czernin's threat with one of their own:  they would remove the forces that were stiffening the Austrian frontier. 

Czernin made a counter-proposal:  a separate peace with the Ukraine.  The Germans accepted this proposal, as it would lend credibility to the Ukrainian Rada and compell the Soviets to make their own peace or risk further losses.  Czernin approached the Ukrainian delegation and offered peace in exchange for a million tonnes of foodstuffs.  There has been much written on the Ukrainian demands from Austria.  The Rada's representatives (Hrushchevsky chief among them) demanded that Austria cede to them the Kholm district of Poland that was under Austrian control, that Austria should form a Ukrainian Crownland out of Bukowina and Eastern Galicia, and that the Ruthene people in the Empire should be given full linguistic and cultural rights. 

Many authors have insisted these terms were part of the peace treaty  and Austria agreed to them.  In fact, it was a verbal matter between Hrushchevsky and Czernin.  Czernin's reply to it was merely to "look into the matter."  However, rumours of the demands were leaked to the Poles, and suddenly there was a crisis unlike any the Empire had faced.  Prior to this time, the Poles were the most loyal members of the monarchy, mostly because of the special arrangements granted to them in the Kingdom of Galicia-Lodomeria.  Most of the accusations by the Poles were poured against Czernin.  The rumours of special concessions to the Ruthenes deeply affected the Poles of the monarchy, who expected to gain advantages from the war.  In spite of assurances by the government, the Poles were dead set against the Empire from then on, and the Poles joined the list of disaffected ethnic groups in Austria-Hungary. 

GWS, 3/01
The Quadruple Alliances' delegations at the Brest-Litovsk peace conference
Czernin signed the peace treaty with the Ukraine on February 9.  Trotsky learned of the separate peace with the Ukraine when he returned on January 30, and announced that the treaty with the Ukraine was an unfriendly act that jeopardised the peace process.  He did not call off the delegations, but demanded that any further discussions reject the idea of "theoretics."  This referred to Germany's demands, of course.  After a short period, the Germans grew tired of the continual stalling of Trotsky, claimed he was playing for time (hoping the delay in the peace would enrage the workers of the Quadruple Alliance and foment revolution), and threatened a renewed war unless he signed the peace immediately. 

Trotsky left the delegations on February 10, and declared the formula of "no peace-no war."  The Germans replied with an invasion of White Russia and the Baltic States, and with Petrograd being threatened, Lenin finally won the argument for immediate peace.  This was not the process that Czernin had planned for.  Even as the Germans marched toward Petrogrd, the Austrian Eastern Army under General
Alfred Krauss was compelled to invade the Ukraine along with the German forces directed by Max Hoffmann to provide protection for that country. 

If anything, Czernin's job had become that much more complicated.   But, he did not have to deal with the problems much longer.  Between the attacks by the Poles and the arguments with the Kaiser over the continuing repercussions from the Sixtus Affair (most recently, the "Mitteleuropa" customs union forced on Kaiser Karl by the Germans), Czernin could no longer handle his position, and he resigned on 15 April 1918.  After the war ended, he wrote to Kaiserin Zita, asking her not to expel him from the Order of the Golden Fleece because of his erratic behaviour. 

Czernin published his book, "In dem Weltkrieg," in 1919.  He died on 4 April 1932 in Vienna.

GWS, 3/01 [rev. 3/05]
Enemy Portrait:  Lev Davidovich Trotsky
Jewish journalist Lev Bronstein, a.k.a. Trotsky, was a true believer in world revolution.  He also believed that this revolution should be led by Russia through the force of a great peasant army.  Lenin, on the other hand, was of the opinion that none of the revolutionaries in Western Europe would ever follow Russia's lead—it was up to Germany's socialists to bring about global industrial revolution.  Lenin also believed that Russia's revolution was premature and hung by a thread.  Therefore, whenever Trotsky suggested that the newly formed Red Army should march against the Central Powers, Lenin would engage in a bitter dispute over how Kerensky's government failed because they prolonged the war.  Ironically, it was Trotsky who was tapped as the most able of the bolsheviki to go to Brest-Litovsk and work out a peace treaty with the Quadruple Alliance.  Most die-hard bolsheviki distrusted Trotsky because he had been a menshevik until 1917.  Others, like Lenin, worried that his volatility might turn the Germans away from making a deal.  And yet, that satisfied Trotsky the most, for he desperately wanted to tie up the peace process until world revolution broke out, allowing Russia a chance to escape its humiliation.  Unfortunately for Trotsky, he was to author Russia's lowest humility once it became apparent that the workers of Germany and France were not prepared to end the war in a great revolution.