A Westchester County man who is a descendant of the royal family of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Dominic von Habsburg, is waiting for the Romanian government to hand him the keys to Dracula's Castle, the 13th-century palace where he grew up before the property was seized by communists.
Mr. von Habsburg fled the communist takeover of his homeland in 1947, when he was 10 years old, and has never returned to his former home, living in Switzerland, Argentina, Italy, and elsewhere before settling permanently in America eight years ago. Last week, Romania's Ministry of Culture said it would return the castle to its previous owners.
"Emotionally, it's very important to me. I still can't quite grasp it," Mr. von Habsburg, an industrial engineer, told The New York Sun in a phone interview. "It is the only home I remember."
Perched on a rocky hilltop in Transylvania, Bran Castle, widely known as Dracula's Castle, was built as a fortress by Teutonic knights in 1212. In the late 15th century, it was home to a prince known as Vlad the Impaler of Wallachia, the inspiration for Bram Stoker's 1897 novel, "Dracula."
In 1920, the inhabitants of the nearby town, Brasov, gave the castle to Queen Maria, Mr. von Habsburg's grandmother.
In preparation for its accession into the European Union next year, Romania has been improving its record of restitution for property seized under Communism.
Mr. von Habsburg said that until last year he feared the castle would forever remain in the state's possession. He had discussed with the Romanian government a financial restitution of about $30 million before the country changed its restitution law. The new law allowed Mr. von Habsburg to apply to reclaim the castle, a popular tourist attraction that is now home to a museum.
"What it is worth depends on what someone is willing to pay for it. But for someone who lost their home, it's priceless," Mr. von Habsburg said. "In the end, it's the moral restitution."
For the next three years the castle will remain a museum. Mr. von Habsburg said he does not know what he will then do with the property, which includes hundreds of acres of surrounding forest. He has ruled out, however, converting the castle into a personal residence.
Mr. von Habsburg said yesterday that he is getting impatient that the transfer has not yet taken place. He was scheduled to fly to Romania this week, returning for the first time in nearly 60 years, but cancelled plans because of administrative problems with the Romanian government.
"They are bureaucrats, and in their heart, I'm afraid to say, they are still left wing," Mr. von Habsburg said.
According to the Financial Times, the Romanian government is establishing a fund, worth about $4.5 billion, that will reimburse people who had their property seized by the Communists that can no longer be returned. Many properties have been lost or destroyed.