Monday, July 20, 2015

The Royals and the Nazis

The photo of Queen Elizabeth II as a seven-year-old girl giving the Nazi salute, along with her mother and little sister in 1933, has somehow found its way, after eighty years, from the private royal archives to the London tabloid, The Sun, which will publish nearly anything sensational.  The Guardian reported on the photo in the past few days.

But there's more to the story, which interests me because of the pro-German, often fascist and pro-Nazi sympathies of many at the highest level of society in Britain during the Thirties.

My first reaction was: what children in that time, having fun, would not mock the then-new Nazi salute, along with the ridiculous goose-stepping that went along with it?  I grew up later in America, where films about the Nazis became a natural subject of parody, even after the war, after the Holocaust. The royal family on display in these family pictures, which are private and should not be published without permission, are having fun with Herr Hitler soon after he came to power, with no knowledge of the horror to come.  The bottom line: they are having fun.

At the same time, we see in the photo two adults giving the salute: one in fun--the Queen Mum--the other, Elizabeth's uncle, the future Edward VIII, who, after his marriage to the American divorcee, became the Duke of Windsor and a well-documented Nazi sympathizer.  He is shown in the photo behind the children prompting them to salute.

Now the image becomes more chilling, at leas to me, having read a good deal about the Duke of Windsor and the forgotten  royal, Prince George, Duke of Kent, whose mysterious death in 1942 has been hushed up, along with many other details of his life. Records about this "special mission" that crashed in Scotland have been, like most documents about sensitive topics, kept in the royal archives, to be opened by the Queen.  This is unfortunate for historians wanting to write a biography of the colorful, talented man who was her uncle or to learn more about Anglo-German relations leading up to World War II.

He was also, according to most sources that we have, doing intelligence work during the war, flying back and forth to Nazi Germany and supporting his brother, the Duke of Windsor in his naïve hope of gaining peace with Hitler--at the very time the Churchill government was beginning to wage war against Nazi Germany.

The Duke of Kent was but one of many nobles at the time who were either members of the Anglo-German alliance or fascist sympathizers.   Those in the royal family were of German stock, with royal cousins in the Germany, including several princes of Hesse who were active Nazis.  Many facts about this have been documented by Philip Ziegler and others reputable scholars.

No sensible historian would question the loyalty of King George VI or his wife, the future Queen Mother, whose earlier Nazi salute was done in jest, in innocence, I am sure. But they are right to be concerned about the ex-king Edward (Windsor), who came close to being accused of treason for his statements and actions around 1940.

The whole story can only be told if the royal archives are opened to historians now, seventy-five years after the major events happened, if nothing else than to put to rest the rumors about being pro-Nazi that continue to haunt the House of Windsor.

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