Sophie and her brothers travelled to Vienna with their aunts and uncles and stayed with their stepgrandmother Maria Theresa at the Belvedere, but they were not allowed to attend their parents’ funeral service. A large wreath with a ribbon bearing their names would be the only reminder that there were now three orphans. They were only allowed to pay their respects six hours after the funeral service and were taken to the chapel by their aunt Henriette. Sophie had said, “God wanted Mami and Papi to join Him at the same time; it’s best that they died together because Papi couldn’t live without Mami.”1 They were buried together at Schloss Artstetten and the children followed the coffins there the day after the funeral service in Vienna. They were allowed to attend the service at Artstetten and held hands as they approached the coffins of their parents.
One of their parents’ assassins, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, would issue an apology to the children and Sophie and Max wrote him a letter. They wrote that they forgave him for his part and that his conscience could be at peace. He died of tuberculosis in 1916. In July 1914, Sophie and her brothers last met Emperor Franz Joseph, and Sophie would later describe the meeting as “a bit cool.”2 Most of Franz Ferdinand’s estate went to his nephew Archduke Karl, but Sophie’s personal estate was divided between the three children. Franz Ferdinand’s private estate went to his eldest son Max while Ernst and Sophie received financial settlements. However, there was little cash in the estate, and Franz Joseph eventually settled a stipend on them. Their aunt Henriette became like a second mother to them, and they were also cared for by their aunt Marie and her husband, Prince Thun.
On 21 November 1916, Emperor Franz Joseph died and was succeeded by Archduke Karl. The new Emperor was more kind to the orphaned children, and he approved a new coat of arms and raised Max from the rank of a prince to a duke, and the House of Hohenberg became part of the Empire’s hereditary peerage. The annual stipend was exchanged for two income-producing estates, so their fortunes were no longer dependent on the Empire. In 1918, the Empire came to an end. For their safety, the children were to be moved to Tetschen. Despite protests, they were expelled from Konopiště, and the property was taken from them. Given only minutes to pack, much of their private items were plundered. They were forbidden from setting foot in the country. They began to divide their time between Tetschen, Vienna and Artstetten, though no place ever felt as much like home as Konopiště.
Sophie was the first to get married. She had met her distant cousin Count Friedrich Nostitz-Rieneck when he came to Konopiště in the spring of 1919, and he was with them when they were expelled from Konopiště. Sophie turned 18 that summer and a romance quickly blossomed. They were married on 8 September 1920 in the Chapel of St. George at Prince Thun’s castle in Tetschen. She was allowed to return to the Czech lands – as she was now married to a Czech – and settled into a private life at her husband’s estates of Falkenau and Heinrichsgrun. She gave birth to four children: Erwein in 1921, Franz in 1923, Alois in 1925 and Sophie in 1929. As her brothers could still not enter the country, she saw very little of them. In 1920, the government allowed Sophie to visit Konopiště, which had been opened to the public. She was forced to walk among the tourists but was allowed to retrieve some personal items from her old rooms. In 1926, Max married Countess Maria Elisabeth Bona von Waldburg zu Wolfegg und Waldsee and Ernst married Marie-Thérèse Wood in 1936. Sophie and her brothers remained in contact as much as they could until 1938 when both brothers were arrested by the Nazis and taken to the Dachau concentration camp.
Meanwhile, Sophie was in Prague and praying for news about her brothers. She offered her sisters-in-law a safe haven in Prague, but they refused to come without their husbands. Sophie tried to negotiate her brothers’ release from Dachau with Heinrich Himmler, and so she travelled to the Gestapo headquarters in Berlin, all alone. She repeatedly returned there, hoping to meet with Himmler. Soon her home in Prague and her husband’s lands were swallowed up in Hitler’s Empire. Sophie – a born Austrian and a Czech by marriage – was designated to be German by Hitler. Their home was searched from top to bottom. Sophie – who had returned home without any news from her brothers – and her husband were interrogated by the Gestapo for hours. Her husband was eventually offered a post in the Wehrmacht Home Guard or the Gestapo – or they would all be imprisoned. He reluctantly joined the Wehrmacht.
In September 1939, Germany invaded Poland, and the United Kingdom and France declared war. The Second World War had begun, and as Dachau was now needed to train military personnel, Max and Ernst were transferred to Flossenbürg where they were put on latrine duty. The brothers were eventually separated, and Max was released under house arrest. Ernst’s fate would remain unknown to the family for quite a while. Sophie faced more worries yet as her 20-year-old son Erwein and his 18-year-old brother Franz were both drafted into the army.
In 1943, Ernst was released from the horrors of several concentration camps. He returned home a broken man and was still required to work long hours in a Vienna factory. He was forbidden from contacting both Sophie and Max though both Max and Ernst attended the funeral of the stepgrandmother in 1944. In Prague, Sophie and her two remaining children anxiously awaited the arrival of the United States Army. However, they had no idea what would happen when the army reached the city. Her husband was tasked with defending the city to the last man. In February 1945, the news arrived that her second son Franz had been killed fighting the Russians in Poland. She had no idea if her eldest son Erwein was even alive somewhere. By May, it was all over.