The Battle of Austerlitz was fought on 2 December 1805 between the armies of France, Austria, and Russia, commanded in person by Napoleon, Francis II, and Alexander I respectively. It was the culmination of a war that had begun in late August with the Austrian invasion of Bavaria and the Battle of Ulm, which destroyed the main Austrian army in Germany. By November, Napoleon had chased the Austrian remnants and General Mikhail Kutuzov's auxiliary Russian corps into Moravia, where they joined with rein for cements coming from Russia at Olmütz (modern-day Olomouc). Napoleon feared that a hostile Prussia might intervene against him and that Austrian rein for cements commanded by Archduke Charles might arrive in his rear. He launched diplomatic feelers toward Alexander to explore the possibilities for a negotiated peace, and simultaneously prepared for a climactic battle he hoped would end the war.
Alexander, exhilarated by his first appearance at the head of an army and encouraged by the size of the force at his command, rudely rejected Napoleon's peace overtures. The tsar and his advisors believed that they might be able to isolate Napoleon's main body, concentrated at Brünn (modern-day Brno), from reinforcements near Vienna by enveloping the French from the south. The difficulties of supplying the Allied army in the poor lands of Moravia contributed to this decision. The Allied army accordingly marched southwest from Olmütz in the last days of November, and by 1 December had taken up position near the village of Austerlitz (modern-day Slavkov u Brna).
The Allied battle plan came from the Austrian chief of staff, Colonel Franz von Weyrother, and was approved by Tsar Alexander over the objections of the nominal commander in chief, General Kutuzov. Alexander was eager to attack; Kutuzov feared to fight with the patchwork Allied force he commanded. The tsar supported Weyrother's plan because it promised the action he wanted, and Kutuzov, unable to derail the unwise decision, remained silent about the plan's obvious flaws.
Napoleon had initially occupied a formidable defensive position anchored on the Pratzen Heights to the west of Austerlitz. He feared, however, that the Allies would not attack so strong a position, and so withdrew from it, leaving the high ground to the Allies. On 2 December the Allies attacked in accord with Weyrother's plan. The bulk of the Allied army streamed to the southwest from the Pratzen Heights in four columns, while a separate corps commanded by Prince Peter Bagration held the army's northern flank. The Allies aimed to turn Napoleon's right flank and envelop and then destroy his army from two directions.
Napoleon had prepared for precisely just such a maneuver, which the nature of the terrain strongly encouraged. He waited until most of the Allied troops had left the Pratzen Heights and then struck with his main forces against the Allied center. The fight for control of the Pratzen was fierce, and Napoleon's commanders nearly gave in at a critical moment. But the French had the great advantage of knowing what they were doing, while the Allies tried desperately to react to the total collapse of their own plans and preconceptions. The determination of the French generals contrasted with the confusion that swept the Allied upper echelons at this critical moment, and allowed the French finally to drive the defenders away from the Pratzen and retake the heights they had abandoned a few days before. Napoleon was aided in this effort by the timely arrival of Marshal Louis-Nicolas Davout with reinforcements from Vienna after a three-day, 145-kilometer (90-mile) forced march.
The French command of the Pratzen Heights allowed Napoleon to turn the Allies' retreat into a rout by stationing artillery on the dominating hills at the southern end of the range beyond which the Russians tried to withdraw. Even so, the Allied army lost only about a third of its strength in the battle, and the remnant still outnumbered Napoleon's disposable forces when the fighting stopped. Archduke Charles continued his northward march with reinforcements, and Prussia continued its preparations to enter the fight on the Allies' side.
Napoleon now brought his diplomatic skill to bear to turn a solid victory into a decisive one. He began at once to negotiate with both the Austrians and the Prussians and succeeded in driving the Prussian emissary, Count Christian von Haugwitz, to a treaty on 15 December (the Treaty of Schönbrunn). Tsar Alexander had been devastated by the loss of his first battle and had withdrawn in haste as soon as he had collected his army. The beleaguered and abandoned Austrians were forced to accept the disastrous Treaty of Pressburg on 26 December, yielding Napoleon substantial Austrian territory, including the Tyrol, Venice, and Dalmatia.
The opposing armies at Austerlitz were evenly matched in tactical skill. Russian, Austrian, and French soldiers all fought using roughly similar techniques and equal determination. The outcome of the battle resulted from political complexities within the Allied command structure that led to a premature and ill-considered attack, and from Napoleon's skill in setting the terms of the battle very much in his favor from the outset. At that, had Alexander kept his nerve or Napoleon not been as skillful a diplomat as he was a warrior, the battle would not have ended the war. It might, in fact, have been simply the prelude to the early destruction of the French army and Napoleon's rule.
Duffy, Christopher. Austerlitz, 1805. London, 1977.
Frederick W. Kagan
Novel by W.G. Sebald, 2001
W.G. Sebald's final novel, Austerlitz, published in German and in English translation in 2001, tells the story of a Jewish child who escapes the Holocaust by being part of a children's transport to Britain. He thus gains his life by circumventing the Nazi occupation, but he loses his identity when his foster parents withhold his real name and origin. As an adult, in his quest for self-knowledge, Austerlitz recounts his stark childhood in Wales, his adolescence in boarding schools and college, his work as an architectural historian, and finally his wrenching search for his identity in Europe.
In 1939 four-and-a-half-year-old Jacquot Austerlitz is put aboard a children's transport by his mother, Agáta Austerlitzová. She acts out of fear and love, desperate to save him from the Nazis. Leaving behind his mother and his mother's best friend, Vera Ryšanová, who has been his loving nanny, Austerlitz travels by train with the other children. They pass through the German Reich and The Netherlands to Holland, where they board the ferry Prague. In England his journey continues, by train again, to London where, surrounded by strangers whose words he does not understand, young Austerlitz loses his past among the omnipresent shadows of a strange land. His foster parents, Emyr Elias, a Calvinist preacher, and his timid wife take Austerlitz to their home in Bala, Wales, a cold setting that is physically and emotionally isolated. Austerlitz begins life over as their child, with a new name, Dafydd Elias, and a new language. During his 12th year, when his foster mother dies, Austerlitz enters a boarding school, where the activity and opportunities to learn stimulate his physical and intellectual life. Eventually he makes a close friend, Gerald, whose mother and uncle provide a sense of family during Austerlitz's remaining years of adolescence. It is also at this time that Austerlitz learns his true name.
As Austerlitz goes through adulthood, he shuns efforts to trace his origins. Apart from friendships with Gerald and a teacher who encourages him in his studies, Austerlitz never forms close relationships. He avoids thinking deeply about his identity and cannot express his emotions to the one woman in his life, Marie de Verneuil. When Gerald dies, Austerlitz's emotional health begins to decline until, in 1992, he suffers a total breakdown and finds himself hospitalized. Finally he hears a broadcast about children's transports prior to the war, and they arouse fleeting memories. In particular the narrative of a woman from Prague inspires him to embark on a journey of self-discovery. In Prague he finds his aged caregiver, Vera, whose tales reconstruct the story of Austerlitz's mother, Agáta, and the secret of his own origin. Austerlitz discovers that Agáta was sent from Prague to the Theresienstadt ghetto in 1941 and then to her death in 1944. He also learns that his father, Maximilian Aychenwald, had gone to Paris before its occupation but that Agáta had never heard from him again. Austerlitz then travels to decrepit Terezín, where his mother spent her final years as a prisoner in the Nazi-constructed ghetto. Using books and a Nazi propaganda film about Terezín, Austerlitz investigates the circumstances of his mother's fate. As the novel ends, he plans to learn more about his father and to find Marie, the woman whose love Austerlitz could not accept earlier in his life.
Austerlitz's life resembles the lives of characters from Sebald's The Emigrants (1996). As in that work and others by Sebald, characters who physically avoid the Holocaust do not manage to escape it emotionally. There are further similarities between this and other works by Sebald in style. Similar to Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, Sebald's novels make use of details from the present to develop the characters' past lives. The minutiae of observations trigger feelings of uncertainty and hazy recollections in Austerlitz throughout his life until his odyssey brings him back to the city of his birth. The haphazard odyssey, comprised of several journeys, provides a narrative structure for the novel, which utilizes the characteristics of memoir and travel book.
All of these events in Austerlitz's life are recounted by a nameless narrator whose meetings with Austerlitz, some random and some planned, take place 20 years apart. Similar to the intent listener on the ship in Elie Wiesel 's The Accident, the narrator provides catharsis for the estranged Holocaust victim. But unlike the unwilling repository of painful memories in Wiesel's work, Sebald's listener relishes every word that Austerlitz speaks and desires to hear more. The meetings occur internationally, in keeping with the travel motif established as part of Austerlitz's life, whose work as an architectural historian takes him to cities throughout Europe. Many times on his journeys Austerlitz has a sense of déjá vu without realizing that, on his childhood journey from Prague to London, he had actually seen the sights that stir his memory. Austerlitz describes each of these locations in explicit detail to his acquaintance who, in turn, writes about their conversations in memoir fashion. The stories of Austerlitz's youth weave in and out of the descriptions of the places he has been and the intriguing accounts of books he has read, museums he has visited, natural phenomenon he has studied, and existential thoughts he has had about the passing of time.
As a further distinguishing trait, the book includes photography that illustrates places and people Austerlitz has described. These photos have been included, ostensibly, because as Austerlitz embarks on the last segment of his quest he hands the narrator the key to his London home and offers him access to the photos he has acquired of all the places he has been. The narrator then uses these photos to document Austerlitz's life and to support recollections of the conversations. Their effect is to add such validity to the work that a reader could believe he is reading a nonfiction memoir or a travel book. They also engage the reader so that, by the end, Sebald has succeeded in extending to the reader the narrator's fondness and hope for Austerlitz.
Austerlitz, Battle of
AUSTERLITZ, BATTLE OF
The Battle of Austerlitz, which occurred on December 2, 1805, was the climactic battle of the War of the Third Coalition (August–December 1805). Having forced an Austrian army to surrender at Ulm in September, Napoleon then chased the Russian army of Mikhail Ilarionovich Kutuzov from the Austrian border on the River Inn to Moravia. There Kutuzov's army linked up with reinforcements from Russia and Tsar Alexander I joined his troops. Also known as the Battle of the Three Emperors, because Napoleon, Emperor Franz of Austria, and Alexander I were all present on the field, Austerlitz was a crushing French victory that sealed the fate of the Third Coalition (Russia, Austria, Great Britain, Naples, and Sweden).
Napoleon's forces were inferior to those of the coalition, so the French emperor developed a ruse. Having initially seized the dominant Pratzen Heights in the middle of the battlefield, he withdrew from that position, feigning weakness, in order to entice the allies to attack his right flank. When they did so, Napoleon's forces retook the Pratzen Heights, where Kutuzov and Alexander himself urged their troops to resist, and then surrounded the remnants of the allied army, inflicting approximately 30 percent casualties on the Russian and Austrian troops.
The victory was so one-sided that Alexander withdrew his army from the campaign altogether, retreating rapidly back to Russian Poland. His departure compelled Emperor Franz to sue for peace, resulting in the lopsided Treaty of Pressburg (1806), that formally ended the war and dissolved the coalition. Although little studied by Russians and Austrians (for reasons of national pride), Austerlitz elsewhere became the paradigm of decisive battles in the nineteenth century, and generals across the continent and even in the United States sought to emulate Napoleon's accomplishment.
See also: alexander i; kutuzov, mikhail ilarionovich; napoleon i
Bowden, Scott. (1997). Napoleon and Austerlitz : An Unprecedentedly Detailed Combat Study of Napoleon's Epic Ulm-Austerlitz campaigns of 1805. Chicago: Emperor's Press.
Duffy, Christopher. (1999). Austerlitz, 1805. London: Cassell.
Frederick W. Kagan
AUSTERLITZ (Cz. Slavkov u Brna ; also Nové Sedlice ; Ger. Neu-Sedlitz ), town in S. Moravia, now the Czech Republic, famous as the site of Napoleon's victory in 1806. Its Jewish community was one of the oldest in Moravia. It had a cemetery dating from the 12th century and is first mentioned as the place of origin of Moses b. Tobiah, whose Sefer ha-Minhagim is dated 1294; about the same time the existence of a yeshivah there is mentioned. In 1567 the sale of houses between Jews and Gentiles was prohibited, and its Jews owned fields. There were 65 houses in Jewish ownership in Austerlitz before the Thirty Years' War (1618–48), and 30 after it. In 1662 and 1722 the Moravian synod (see *Landesjudenschaft) convened there, and the "shai" (311 = שי״א) takkanot were signed there. At the end of the 17th century the destruction of the Jewish cemetery was ordered. Most of the Jewish quarter, with the synagogue, was burnt down in 1762 and all the Moravian communities contributed toward its reconstruction. Seventy-two families were authorized to reside in Austerlitz in 1798 (see *Familiants). A new synagogue was built in 1857, at which time the Jewish population was 544. In 1905 there was an outbreak of antisemitic riots. There were only 66 Jews living in Austerlitz in 1930. Under the Nazi occupation they were deported to Theresienstadt in 1942, and from there to Auschwitz. Synagogue equipment was sent to the Central Jewish Museum in Prague. The Jewish quarter is preserved in its original form.
Austerlitz gave its name to several Jewish families who are found in Central Europe.
H. Gold (ed.), Die Juden und Judengemeinden Maehrens (1929), 111–6; Flesh, in: jjv (1924–25), 564–616; B. Bretholz, Geschichte der Juden in Maehren (1934), index; I. Halpern, Takkanot Medinat Mehrin (1942), 114–8, 212–8; S. Hock, Die Familien Prags (1892), index; B. Wachstein, Die Inschriften des alten Judenfriedhofes in Wien, 1 (1912), index; idem, Die Grabschriften des alten Judenfriedhofes in Eisenstadt (1922), index. add. bibliography: J. Fiedler, Jewish Sights of Bohemia and Moravia (1991), 164.