By William Walter Kay
TABLE OF CONTENTS
An important feature environmentalism shares with fascism is the centrality, within each movement, of the European aristocracy. However, while aristocrats flaunt their environmental credentials, they conceal their past involvement with fascism. This is why Jonathon Petropoulos’ Royals and the Reich (Oxford, 2006) is so useful.
270 German princes and princesses were Nazi Party members. A sampling of 312 “old aristocratic” families found 3,592 Party members. Every noble family east of the Elbe River had at least one member in the Party. A third of Nazi-aristocrats joined the Party before Hitler became Chancellor; a majority supported the Nazis, or like groups, before this date. Nobles were the most fascistic of any demographically identifiable cohort.
Royal Hohenzollern princes were high-profile Nazi campaigners during the Nazis’ struggle for power.
Aristocrats occupied thousands of top government posts during the Third Reich.
King Edward VIII was a Nazi. He was definitely guilty of treason and possibly guilty of attempted regicide. Edward did not abdicate in order to marry Wallis Simpson. He was forced from the throne by PM Baldwin because Edward was heading up a Nazi fifth column in the UK.
George V, George VI, the Duke of Kent and scores of British aristocrats promoted “appeasement.” This “peace movement” was an effort to steer Britain into the Axis.
Western Europe’s aristocracy, including most German princes, survived World War II. They retained, even supplemented, their land holdings. Over the past few decades they have engineered a remarkable renaissance.
Topping the list of individuals and institutions Petropoulos thanks for helping him write Royals and the Reich are: the House of Hesse, Queen Elizabeth II, and the Duke of Edinburgh. He also acknowledges support from: John and Kingsley Croul, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Cambridge University and Oxford University Press.
By the mid-1920s the “fascist gentleman” was an international phenomenon as evidenced by Lord Londonderry and his British friends; Colonel de la Rocque and the elitist Croix de Feu and the haughty, anti-Semitic Central European nobility. Fascist gentlemen modernized into “new men of action” by adding aviation and car racing to their traditional equestrian and hunting sports.
Mussolini propagated the “glamorous milieu” as a plebiscitary spectacle. Whether in the “white telephone” movies (a genre known for the sleek décor of its sets) or in the society pages of Fascist-approved magazines, the world of privileged leisure was exalted. Across Europe aristocrats led a flaunting of sexual taboos and abstinence-based morals; things they dismissed as mere devices for controlling the masses.
Aristocratic political ideology consisted of an acute class awareness manifested in: extreme anti-Bolshevism; fear of unrest; emphasis on leadership; and a sense of a world in decline. For two decades aristocrats had explored national-socialism and/or argued for “social monarchies” based on “Christian Socialist” principles. Aristocratic social-philanthropy, a tool of social discipline symbolically linked to religion, was pioneered by Britain’s Prince Albert in the mid-19th century and had, by the 1920s, spread across Europe.
Europe’s top aristocrats in 1917 were the: Windsors, Romanovs, Habsburgs, Savoys and Hohenzollerns etc. They were the original European Union, albeit with a north-south fault line corresponding to the Protestant-Catholic divide. They practised endogamy to such an extent that the entire Protestant caste could name Queen Victoria and/or Denmark’s Christian IX as an ancestor.
“Remember, there is every possible type of horse. We are thoroughbreds, however, and when we conclude a marriage such as with Fraulein Salviati, it produces mongrels, and that must not happen.”
The next aristocratic tier consisted of “princely” houses; three types of which were well represented in Germany:
a) sovereign houses which until recently had ruled independent states (Wittelsbach, Hannover, Wurttemburg, and Hessen etc);
b) illustrious and wealthy seigniorial houses (Hohenhole, Thurn and Taxis, Furstenberg, Arenberg, Fugger, and Wallenburg-Schillingfurst etc);
c) princely non-sovereign families (Bismarcks, Hardenbergs and Donha-Schlobitten etc)
Princely families were far more endogamous than the general nobility.
The Holy Roman Empire (“Germany”) had weak central governance and strong princely houses. The Congress of Vienna (1815) reduced the number of independent states from over 300 to 38. While these states were consolidated in 1871, two dozen houses retained their “princely” designation. While aristocratic titles were abolished by the Weimar Republic in 1919, most titles were simply merged into the individual’s name. Thereafter “Prince of Baden” was a name, not a title.
In 1919 German princes possessed: wealth and privilege; awareness of ancestry; loyalty to family; and contempt for the Weimar Republic. They remained a caste apart, controlling vast resources and continuing to wield political power: if not by holding office themselves, then through their contacts and influence. They populated the boards of commercial and cultural institutions.
Rural high society persisted in the Weimar Republic with anachronistic grandeur. Photos from the time show social functions seeming to belong to preceding centuries: men donning elaborate uniforms; Hussars freighted with gold braid and Death’s Head helmets. Agriculture remained the most common subject of study for aristocrats. Horseback riding was universally engaged in. Rural rents remained a major income source.
Young aristocrats turned against the Republic early on and joined right-wing paramilitaries like the Friekorps. They gravitated to Nazism. Older ones pinned their hopes on President Paul von Hindenburg and, after 1932, on Chancellor von Papen and the “cabinets of barons.”
After the Kaiser’s flight to the Netherlands, Hohenzollern property was “reorganized” by the Republic. Likewise, princely houses ceded some property to the state and created foundations to administer much of the remainder. They retained most of their wealth. Weimar reforms enabled the old elite to persist. The Revolution altered the political order, not the economic order.
The Prussian Nobility Law of 1920 did away with egregious feudal privileges such as laws affording aristocrats trials by peers. (Pre-1920 only Hohenzollerns could pass through the central portal of the Brandenburg gate.) However, the Nobility Law also authorized tax havens, “foundations” enabling the nobility to preserve considerable wealth.
In Bavaria, the former ruling Wittelsbachs, ceded some property but used family-controlled foundations to retain custody of much of their art, estates and castles. They retained sufficient rents to maintain a lavish lifestyle.
The Weimar Constitution allowed member states to confiscate property only with proper compensation. Where princes and states could not agree the matter went before the courts. Smaller states could not compensate princes to the measure required by the judges. By 1925 over 100 cases were before the courts. The Hesse-Darmstadt family fought their state through the entirety of the Weimar Republic. A federal moratorium on claims in February 1926 only exacerbated debilitating negotiations.
1926 witnessed a national referendum on whether to confiscate aristocrats without compensation. Constitutionally, such legislation could pass only if a petition, signed by 10% of qualified voters, requested a referendum and then only if 50% of qualified voters voted for the legislation. (Qualified voters numbered 40 million.) After proponents of confiscation secured 12.5 million signatures a referendum was called for June 1926. Campaigning was intense. President Hindenburg came out against expropriation. So did the Nazis.
The initiative garnered 15.5 million votes hence fell short; but this was more votes than Hindenburg received in the 1925 presidential election. The level of support for confiscation shocked aristocrats and buttressed their anti-democratic tendencies.
While aristocrats organized in various ways, four of their organizations stand out: German Aristocrat Association, Steel Helmet, German National People’s Party and Herrenklub.
The German Aristocrat Association was founded in 1874 by northern protestant nobles (see footnote) but expanded nation-wide in 1918. The Association held conventions and published a periodical. 28% of German nobles were members. The Association advocated restoring the Hohenzollern monarchy. Membership could be revoked for supporting the Republic. Jews (1.5% of nobles) were excluded from membership through an Aryan clause passed in the early 1920s. In 1929, the Republic’s War Minister, fearing a coup, prohibited armed forces officers from belonging to the Association. The Association’s younger members, who strongly favoured the Nazis, eventually won out and the Association became thoroughly Nazified. After 1933 Hitler maintained friendly relations with Association leader Prince Adolf zu Bentheim-Teckenburg.
Steel Helmet was a paramilitary under the command of Paul von Hindenburg until 1926 when Hindenburg became President of the Republic. By 1926 Steel Helmet, with 400,000 members, was the largest front soldiers’ association. Steel Helmet was anti-Bolshevik and pro-monarchist. Leaders included Duke Carl Eduard von Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha and all five of the Kaiser’s sons. A 1929 Steel Helmet rally in Munich featured all five Hohenzollern princes marching side by side. In 1931 Steel Helmet joined the Nazis and other right-wing groups in the Harzburg Front.
Also in the Harzburg Front was the monarchist German National People’s Party. This Party was created by media tycoon Alfred Hugenberg to oppose not just the floundering Bruning government but the Republic itself. Hugenberg ultimately threw his support behind Hitler.
The century-old Herrenklub was an exclusive discussion circle for wealthy nobles. Hindenburg was surrounded by Herrenklubbers who eventually convinced him to anoint Hitler as Chancellor on January 30, 1930.
At least 270 members of princely families joined the Nazi Party. 50% of princes and princesses eligible to join the Party did so. Of the 270 card-carrying Nazi princes and princesses, 80 joined before January 30, 1933.
One survey of 312 “old aristocratic” families found 3,592 Nazi Party members; 962 of whom joined the Party before 1933. This is hardly an exhaustive list of aristocratic Nazis.
No one has ventured a guess as to what percentage of Germany’s 70,000 nobles were Nazi Party members; but this percentage was far higher than that for the general public. The nobility were probably the most Nazi-friendly demographically identifiable cohort. Every noble family east of the Elbe River had at least one member in the Party.
Princely support was tremendously important and was recognized as such at the time. Princes made the Nazis acceptable. Their presence at Nazi functions added lustre. Princes helped recruit industrialists like the Thyssens, Krupps and Bechsteins whose donations were crucial to the cash-strapped Party.
Nazi leaders posed as frugal populists but consorted with wealthy elites and depended on them financially. The Nazis’ brown-shirted paramilitary (SA) spouted leftist, anti-aristocratic refrains, but SA leaders lived extravagantly often treating themselves to lavish banquets.
A “Nazi high society” existed well before 1933. Aristocrats, industrialists and movie stars lounged in Goring’s and Goebbels’s parlours. Few from this scene bothered to read abstruse ideological screeds like Mein Kampf.
30% of aristocratic Nazis were women. Hitler and Goring set aside deep misogynistic impulses to charm them. Princess Gisela zu Wied, a woman of maximum bulk and minimal beauty, maintained a Nazi salon. The princesses made Hitler “salonfahig” (suitable for a salon). To the horror of his plebeian comrades, they dressed Hitler up in a dinner jacket, starched shirt and patent leather shoes.
The Nazis successfully assured the aristocrats, that despite Nazi populist rhetoric, the aristocrats’ estates would be protected. By 1932 aristocrats opposed to the Nazis were in a distinct minority among aristocrats. Opponents of the Nazis, such the Wittelsbachs and the Habsburgs, opposed not their fascism but their pan-Germanism.
Monarchists supported the Nazis. There was a groundswell of support for Hohenzollern restoration amongst the right of the military. Hitler let it be understood that he intended to restore a Hohenzollern monarchy.
The Nazis best electoral performance was the July 1932 election where they received 37% of the vote. In the November 1932 election their support dropped 4%. They were clearly losing momentum and were in a financial crisis when the Herrenklub clique rode to the rescue.
In mid-January 1933 Goring assured Hindenburg’s chief of staff that a Hitler cabinet would restore the monarchy. Von Papen believed restoration was an “absolute certainty.”
On January 22, 1933 Hitler promised Hindenburg’s son, Oskar, that amongst other things, Hindenburg’s estate would pass to Oskar exempt from death duties.
When Chancellor Hitler first met the armed forces commanders, 3 February 1933, in attendance were five barons including Army Chief von Hammerstein and Commando-Group General von Seutter von Lotzen.
The Rohm Purge (June 1934), which dispelled any notion of Nazi social revolution, was roundly applauded by Hindenburg, the aristocratic military brass, and the landed elites.
By 1935 22% of armed forces officers were nobles. The inevitable attack on the Soviet Union was desperately important to the aristocrats who dominated the upper reaches of the officer corps because their estates lay to the East.
During the Thuringian-Hessen War of Succession (1247-64) Heinrich von Hessen I made Marburg his capital. In the ensuing centuries the Hessens divided into three branches: the older northern Hesse-Kassels, the southern Grand Ducal Hesse-Darmstadts and a side branch: the Hesse-Philippsthal-Barchfelds. The House of Hesse embraced Nazism with undiluted enthusiasm. Its three branches boasted 14 Party members.
Hesse-Kassel founder, Philipp the Magnanimous, was a staunch supporter of Martin Luther. Subsequent Hesse-Kassel patriarchs (“Landgraves”) upheld Lutheranism. Germans tend to adhere to their princes’ religion.
Hessen princes grew rich by confiscating Catholic Church property and by selling mercenaries. Landgrave Frederick II sold mercenaries to the British during the American Revolutionary War.
During the Austro-Prussian War (1866) the Hesse-Kassels siding with the losing Austrians thus lost their status as a ruling family. Moreover, Bismarck confiscated much family property. Landgrave Friedrich Wilhelm retrieved most of this property with the help of his wife, Princess Anna, the Kaiser’s niece. Friedrich Wilhelm abandoned claims to the Hessen throne in exchange for three castles and surrounding estates; income from the Prussian state; and the return of the family’s art collection.
The Grand Dukes of Hesse-Darmstadt were a ruling family in 1918 with a castle plopped in Darmstadt city centre. At the future Duke Georg’s 1931 marriage well-wishers so thickly crowded Darmstadt’s streets the bridal couple’s car could not move. For the 1937 funeral for several Hesse-Darmstadts killed in an airplane crash, Darmstadt was blanketed in black flags and the public came out en masse to watch a procession led by an array of princes.
By 1918 Hesse-Kassel property holdings were immense, but did not approach the holdings of the Hohenzollerns, Hohenlohes or Ratibors (Germany’s largest landowners). The Hohenzollerns owned over 100 grand residences.
A majestic 18th century baroque castle, Philippsruhe, was the residence of Landgrave Alexander until 1925 when, to marry a mere Baroness, he abdicated in favour of his brother Friedrich Karl. Philippsruhe became the family foundation’s headquarters while Friedrichshof Castle in Kronberg became their primary residence. This immense structure, commissioned in 1892, had an electrical generator, an elevator, and hot and cold running water. Friedrichshof was the prototype for numerous castle-like mansions in Europe and America.
The Hesse-Kassels, prohibited by aristocratic custom from engaging in retail trade, invested their wealth in land, art and precious metals. They considered commerce “dirty.” They owned several vast agricultural estates not just in Hesse but across northern Germany, above all in Holstein, near the Danish border. To run these estates they hired managers. They treated domestic servants as property.
Property negotiations between the Hesse-Kassels and republican officials lasted until 1928 when their family foundation came into existence. The Hesse-Kassels transferred many assets to the foundation while acquiring new properties in Berlin, Frankfurt and Munich. Their 31 properties in Munich included some of the best addresses on Leopoldstrasse but also many tenement houses in working class districts.
The Hesse-Kassels owned shares in I. G. Farben, AEG and Lowenbrau. They were also partners in local mining and metal firms. The bulk of their wealth remained in real estate and cultural property. Their art collection included masterpieces by Rembrandt and Rubens. Their jewellery, furniture, carpets, fixtures and porcelain were legendary.
Landgrave Friedrich Karl married Princess Margarethe whose mother (the original owner of Friedrichshof Castle) was Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter. Her father was Kaiser Friedrich III. Her brother was Kaiser Wilhelm II. Margarethe was very much the matriarch.
Of Friedrich Karl and Margarethe six sons, the two eldest perished in World War I. Twins, Philipp and Wolfgang, were born in 1896. Philipp, being born first, was destined to be Landgrave. Another set of twins, Christoph and Richard, arrived five years later. Three of the six boys went to Lichterfelde Cadet Academy to endure a brutal Spartan education. Friedrich Karl, Margarethe and their four surviving sons each joined the Nazi Party.
In October 1918, the Finnish parliament anointed Friedrich Karl “King Vaino of Finland” and presented him with gold buttons bearing the Finnish coat of arms. The German Foreign Office complained the untimely appointment suggested a German imperialist program in the East. The Allies said they would never accept a Kaiser’s brother-in-law as Finnish King. In any event, after German capitulation the appointment made no geopolitical sense. Finland became a republic.
The last Imperial Chancellor, Prince Max von Baden was: Friedrich Karl’s friend, Margerethe’s first love interest, and Wolfgang’s future father-in-law. On 9 November 1918 Prince Max announced the Kaiser’s abdication without consulting the Kaiser who was at the Belgian resort of Spa. Prince Max believed abdication would ensure favourable terms from the Allies and would remove a pretext for revolutionary activism. Max asked Friedrich Karl to go to Spa and explain to the Kaiser the necessity of stepping down. Friedrich Karl refused because he did not believe abdication was necessary. In any event, Max overdosed on flu medicine, slept for 36 hours, and awoke to be told Social Democratic Friedrich Ebert was the new head of state.
In the bedlam Frankfurt crowds stole the Hesse-Kassels’ car, horses and wagons and drove them about the region waving red banners. There were no physical attacks on Hessens but the events of November 1918 were terrifying. All four sons joined paramilitaries. They violently suppressed disturbances in the city of Kassel.
In 1926 Wolfgang attended a Nazi rally in Frankfurt where the confiscation referendum was discussed. This may have been the first contact between a Hessen and the Nazis. Wolfgang did not join the Party until 1933 when, because membership had become restricted, he had to first receive an SA education. This consisted of evening meetings concluding with a rousing singing of an anti-Semitic anthem.
After 1933 Wolfgang, as part of Goring’s menagerie, became County Commissioner of Bad Hamburg (north of Frankfurt) – one of Germany’s wealthiest areas. Commissioner Wolfgang had authority over taxation, housing and civic affairs.
Margarethe and Friedrich Karl hosted Hitler for tea in 1931. Their flying of swastikas over their castles attracted great attention.
Prince Richard joined the Party and the SS in 1932. He was already in the SA. He helped stage the 1932 Nuremburg rally. He was a General in the Nazi Drivers’ Corps – originally an organization that later became a military force. Richard participated in the Autobahn’s planning. Richard (and Wolfgang) pulled strings so they could participate in the occupation of Norway
Prince Wilhelm von Hessen-Philippsthal-Barchfeld joined the Nazi Party and the SS in April 1932. Self-described as a manager of forests and farms, Wilhelm lived in the castle where he was born. (The castle remains in the family.). His SS activism was local.
Another Wilhelm von Hessen-Philippsthal-Barchfeld, also in the SS, spent two years in a motorcycle regiment attached to the Second Panzer Division until his 1942 combat death. He received an Iron Cross.
In 1940, after Friedrich Karl’s death, Margarethe wrote Hitler describing her late husband’s “ceaseless admiration and loyalty that he felt for you” noting how “Not a day passed when the deceased did not speak of you.” From his deathbed Friedrich Karl would raise his arm in the Nazi salute upon hearing news of German victories.
After the war, Margarethe was treated well by the American Military Government to whom she became “Auntie Mossy” – a welcome guest, oftentimes a candid and friendly adviser. After the Americans assisted in the reburial of Friedrich Wilhelm I and Friedrich the Great, Margarethe declared “my own people could not have done better” and abandoned her vendetta against Americans.
Richard and Wolfgang were free men in 1946. Both were treated leniently at denazification trials. Wolfgang’s designation as a “Category V” was generous given that this required the individual to have actively resisted Nazi rule, something he never did.
Wolfgang, as the family foundation’s business manager, sold certain properties and found ways to generate revenues from others. Friedichshof Castle, now a luxurious hotel, is a favoured meeting place for Frankfurt’s elite, famous for its piano bar with walls layered with masterpiece paintings. Wolfgang’s personal palace is now arguably Frankfurt’s finest hotel. Another Hessen property became a lucrative golf course. The family owns a 50 acre vineyard and adjoining winery from which they produce the popular Weingut Prince von Hessen.
Petropoulos guesses Hesse-Kassel land holdings are worth well over $100 million. The family jewellery was valued at $6 million in 1945. Had the war gone the other way they would have been much richer – they were set to acquire huge tracts of Poland.
In the 1960s, the Hesse-Darmstadt patriarch adopted his nephew, Hesse-Kassel heir, Moritz. Thus in 1997 Moritz (“His Royal Highness”) became chief of both houses.The Hessens have re-emerged very wealthy and highly visible.
Christoph dreamed of a military career but was too young to fight in World War I and was hardly motivated to defend the Republic. Without completing high school he gained admission to Munich University’s agricultural program. He never graduated. His passions were race cars, flying and equestrian sports; at the latter he was a world class competitor.
He briefly helped oversee one of his family’s rural estates in Holstein. Conflict between Christoph and the managers resulted in Christoph moving to another family estate in Pomerania. Christoph then briefly worked for a manufacturing firm before becoming an insurance agent relying on family contacts for clients.
In 1930 Prince Christoph, age 29, married Princess Sophia of Greece and Denmark. The ring bearer at the wedding was Sophia’s nine year old brother Philip - the future Duke of Edinburgh. Sophia’s mother was a Battenberg, a morganatic branch of the Hesse-Darmstadts.
Sophia’s three sisters, Margarita, Theodora and Cecile, each married Nazi-aristocrats.
Margarita married Prince Gottfried zu Hohenlohe-Langenburg – a great-grandson of Queen Victoria. He was a Nazi Party member in contact with Nazi leaders, and an Army commander during the 1938 occupation of Austria. Nazi Party Foreign Policy Office head, Alfred Rosenberg, turned to Gottfried to solicit British royals.
Theodora married Berthold of Baden – owner of the castle near Lake Constance housing the Salem boarding school. Salem’s mission was to create princes, who, once freed of the enervating sense of privilege, could become Machiavellian leaders. In the early 1930s, school founder Kurt Hahn, being Jewish, was replaced by Berthold himself who introduced a pro-Nazi regime. Theodora and Berthold induced Philip, the future Duke of Edinburgh, to attend Salem, and paid his way. The Duke recalls: “much heel-clicking and shouts of Heil Hitler.”
Cecile, herself a Nazi, married Grand Duke Georg Donatus von Hesse-Darmstadt, an officer in both the Nazi Drivers’ Corps and the reserve Luftwaffe.
Christoph’s involvement in the Nazi Party began at a private gathering at Goring’s home in October 1930. Goring and Christoph took a liking to one another. One year later Christoph filled out a Party application form in Goring’s office.
Christoph joined the SS in February 1932 and rose rapidly, becoming a Lieutenant in March 1933 and commander of a 160-man company that September. In 1934 he was inducted into Himmler’s Personal Staff. Christoph loyally paid his SS dues and fully subscribed to the SS ideology of racism and conquest. He was in the Well of Life Society - an SS subsidiary dedicated to breeding a master race that only the hard-core SS men joined. In 1936 Christoph received his Death’s Head ring for his cap. (Death’s Head men later ran death camps.) Christoph received a candelabrum from Himmler for use in pagan celebrations. He became an SS Oberfuhrer in 1939.
Christoph began working for Goring immediately after January 30, 1933 and was appointed “first secretary” in May. At this time he began clandestine work at Goring’s intelligence agency, the Reich Air Ministry Research Office (Forschungamt or “FA”).
In the build up to the June 1934 Rohm Purge the FA intercepted Rohm’s communications and used them to convince Hitler to act. During the Purge, FA reports determined the fate of the SA leadership, including the 200 who were shot. Christoph spent the day of the Purge alongside Goring – the Purge’s mastermind.
After 2 years of quiet work Goring promoted Christoph to Director of the FA. The promotion came a day after the previous Director was mysteriously murdered. Under Christoph’s watch the FA became one of the most powerful agencies in the Third Reich.
With 6,000 expert employees, the FA was the most capable information collecting agency in the world. Focussing strictly on telecommunications, the FA daily intercepted 34,000 domestic telegrams and 9,000 from abroad. Telephone lines were tapped at the main exchanges with the wires running to FA offices. The FA pioneered silent interception and tape recording. The FA pioneered the use of computers (metallic syncopation technology) in its sorting operations.
The FA initially monitored the telecommunications of leftists, trade unionists, and church leaders etc. They later eavesdropped on fellow government agencies, even on the Chancellery.
Most FA staffers were Nazi Party members. Most employees at its Berlin HQ were SS men. There were many nobles in the FA, especially among those stationed abroad, who posed as diplomats. During the war the FA had offices in several European capitals. At HQ most managers were aristocrats.
The FA had elaborate security procedures. Every piece of paper was numbered and registered. In a 1938 directive Prince Christoph declared:
“The work of the FA will have both point and profit only if its secrecy is safeguarded by every possible means. Inadequate security will result in the enemy taking precautions, and our sources drying up.”
Recipients of FA intelligence swore oaths of secrecy under penalty of death. A friend of Abwehr Chief General Canaris revealed FA secrets and was executed.
In 1936 Christoph constructed a beautiful red brick villa with spacious gardens in Berlin’s exclusive Dahlem neighbourhood. Financing came from the family foundation.
As he held romanticized notions of flying combat, Christoph opted for active service in the Luftwaffe once war broke out in Poland (September 1939). (He joined the Luftwaffe in 1935.) During his tenure with the Luftwaffe Christoph returned to Berlin regularly, however his involvement with the FA is unclear. He was “Director-on-leave” but appears to have remained involved in FA operations.
The Luftwaffe awarded Christoph an Iron Cross for his helping to plan the gratuitous bombing of Rotterdam in May 1940 that killed 1,000 civilians and left 78,000 homeless.
Many believe Christoph bombed Buckingham Palace. Petropoulos does not believe Christoph flew any plane involved in bombing the Palace although he concedes Christoph may have been a navigator during one attack. As Christoph attended meetings where air raids on London were planned, he probably helped plan Palace attacks.
Christoph transferred to the Eastern Front in June 1941. He fervently wanted to see combat and was devoted to the Soviet invasion. He flew with the Third Fighter Squadron of Central Army Group as it pushed toward Moscow. Christoph was called back December 1941 because Goring feared that if captured Christoph could be forced to reveal FA secrets. Christoph received another Iron Cross.
In January 1942 Christoph departed for Sicily to be second-in-command of Fighter Squadron 53 under Colonel (Baron) von Maltzahn. In December 1942 the Squadron went to Tunisia where they remained until May 1943 when Christoph escaped on the last plane. After a furlough at Kronberg, Christoph returned to Sicily in June to take command of the Squadron (von Maltzahn contracted malaria).
On 5:30 pm 7 October 1943 Christoph was flying from Rome to Germany when his plane mysteriously crashed into a small mountain. There may have been a bomb aboard. There was little public acknowledgement of Christoph’s death as the Nazi elite had grown wary of the mobilizing potential of aristocratic funerals.
After the war a posthumous denazification trial was held for Christoph to determine Princess Sophia’s eligibility for her inheritance. (War criminals were stripped of their assets.) Christoph was declared to not have been a serious war criminal hence restrictions on his estate were lifted.
In 1946 the widowed Sophia (a Nazi women’s auxiliary activist) married Prince Georg von Hannover, son of well-known Nazi patron Duke Ernst August von Braunschweig. Georg became headmaster of Salem School.
Philipp joined the Hessian Dragoon Regiment two days after Germany’s invasion of Belgium started World War I. He was granted leave to finish school in 1915 and then, following the deaths of his older brothers, the Kaiser ordered Philipp and his twin be kept from harm’s way. For a desk jockey Philipp accumulated a surprizing array of medals.
When Philipp studied art and architecture at Darmstadt University he was looked after by his “Uncle Ernie” – Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig (Hesse-Darmstadt): a man surrounded by artists. Philipp skipped classes for trips to Italy and Greece. At Athens he stayed with his uncle, King Constantine I. He left university without a degree in 1922.
As an interior designer in Rome, Philipp specialized in remodelling rooms in the grand style. He relied on family connections for clients. As during his student years he frequently ran out of money, yet kept a valet.
In Rome Philipp socialized with known homosexual Count Albrecht (“Eddie”) von Bismarck and with Harold Nicholson and his wife Vita Sackville-West: both snobs and racists who boasted many same-sex relationships. Philipp had a lengthy affair with British writer Siegfried Sassoon.
Philipp’s financial woes ended after he was invited by Yugoslavia’s Prince Paul to a party at Rome’s Villa Demidoff. There he met Princess Mafalda – daughter of Italian King Vittorio III (Savoy). They married on 23 September 1925.
Being a Savoy, Mafalda was an observant Catholic. (Only Savoyard women may wear white in the presence of a pope.) Phillip, as future Landgrave, could not convert to Catholicism. Papal criticism of Philipp’s refusal to convert resulted in the wedding’s venue moving from Rome to the Savoy’s Raconiggi Palace in Turin. While the Kaiser was notoriously hostile to Catholicism, he forgave Philipp for marrying Mafalda and agreed to be godfather of their first-born. Philipp had many dealings with the next Pope, Pius XII.
The wedding was high-profile. Royalty from across Europe attended. Mussolini led the festivities and posed for photos with the king and bridal couple.
Philipp and Mafalda moved into a villa owned by the Italian royals and relied on the king and queen for money. Mafalda later purchased Villa Mura in Capri (the property remained a Savoy possession well into the 1990s).
The couple had four children. The youngest was given the middle name “Adolph” after his godfather.
Philipp was in the Italian royal inner circle – a milieu very supportive of the Fascists. Philipp also supported Fascism. On a resume he submitted to the Nazi Party, he claimed to have been an active Fascist before their 1922 assumption of power. From then on, he advocated transferring Fascism to Germany.
Philipp possessed a corporatist outlook tinged with seigniorialism and motivated by the fear that a discontented proletariat was susceptible to Bolshevism. His views centered on his commitment to his class. He shared his mother’s wish for a restoration of the Kaiser and he regularly visited the Kaiser at Doorn.
Philipp’s Hohenzollern connections enabled him to re-establish German-Italian royal relations. He remained close to his Hohenzollern cousins, especially Prince August Wilhelm (“Auwi”) who recruited Philipp into the Nazis.
It is not clear when Philipp first met Goring; possibly before World War I; possibly in Rome after the failed 1923 Beer Hall Putsch when Goring was seeking funds from Mussolini. There was definitely a meeting between Philipp and Goring arranged by Auwi in 1930.
Philipp met Hitler in 1930 and joined the Nazi Party that October in Goring’s Berlin apartment with Carin Goring spurring him on. Mafalda joined the Nazi women’s auxiliary. Their two eldest boys were in the Hitler Youth.
Philipp joined the SA in 1931 and soon participated in marches. He attended annual Nuremberg rallies from 1933 to 1938. In 1937 Hitler personally promoted him to SA General. Philipp received the Golden Party Badge – the Party’s highest honour. He sat in the Prussian Staatsrat and the Reichstag.
Philipp was arguably Hitler’s closest confidante. He was the only person who could boast:
“I always had access to Hitler if I wanted it.”
Hitler and Philipp’s closeness may be due to their mutual homosexuality, but it is unlikely their relationship was physical. The SA was a homosexual milieu. Rohm’s orientation was no secret.
The nightmare years of repression began with the suspicious Reichstag fire on 27 February 1933. On that night Philipp and Auwi were with Goring in the Reichstag presidential palace. Concentration camps in Hesse-Nassau date to this event. These were the “wild camps” where the SA rounded up opponents into whatever building or field available.
In March 1933 Goring asked Philipp to be Oberprasident (governor) of the province of Hesse-Nassau. Philipp assumed this position in June in a ceremony draped in a feudal-Nazi symbolic synthesis at Kassel’s Red Palace. After being sworn in by Goring, the two made a triumphal trip from Kassel to Frankfurt in an open car past cheering crowds.
Oberprasident Philipp moved into the family’s Palais Bellevue in Kassel – a five minute walk from his offices at Adolph Hitler Platz. An Italian Foreign Ministry official who observed Oberprasident Philipp for several days in 1936 commented:
“The prince, blond and in brown uniform with a swastika band around the arm, sauntered through the city like a landlord who had just come back into money.”
Oberprasident Philipp held forth at numerous ceremonies and exhibitions. The Nazi-controlled media was always complimentary. A typical notice accompanied his swearing in:
Oberprasident Philipp ordered a crucifix removed from a church because he disliked its style. He replaced it with a Gothic cross. He offered interior decorating advice to other churches in his domain. His art projects blurred the line between the House of Hesse and the state but always favoured traditionalism. His pet project was the Landgrave Museum to which his father donated a metre-high Hesse-Kassel coat of arms for the museum’s throne chamber.
The Law Concerning the Expansion of Authority of the Oberprasident, passed 15 December 1935, transferred the powers of many municipal councils to Oberprasidents. This enhanced Philipp’s authority over a range of state facilities, including the Hadamar Sanatorium.
Philipp supported the Third Reich’s forced sterilization of 300,000 people. In 1935 he ordered a stifling of local clerical criticism of this program. Hadamar was the site of numerous sterilizations including one of an epileptic member of Hesse family who died after the operation.
Hadamar was one of six killing centres in the T-4 program to exterminate disabled persons. This program, launched in 1939, was co-managed by the Interior Ministry and the Chancellery (located at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin, hence “T-4”). 70,000 people were killed. T-4 executioners later figured prominently in the Holocaust. T-4 was officially halted in 1941 in response to clerical denunciation, but the killing continued. 5,000 were killed at Hadamar after T-4 program officially ended. In total 10,000 were killed at Hadamar. Philipp ignored letters from distraught citizens with relatives caught up in T-4; including a letter from one of his civil servants whose son perished at Hadamar.
Hadamar’s executioners previously conducted T-4 operations at a castle near Stuttgart where another 10,000 were murdered in a 14 month period beginning October 1939. The newly fitted facility at Hadamar became T-4’s last killing centre in December 1940. Hadamar featured a gas chamber disguised as a shower room and a crematorium whose belching chimney informed locals of its operations. Hadamar’s manager terrorized staff and inmates alike. He escaped justice and died of natural causes running a tobacco shop in Fulda.
There were 58,000 Jews in Hessen in 1933. There were 600 in 1945.
Oberprasident Philipp remonstrated against Jewish cattle swindlers and promised to remedy this outrage. He denounced Jewish assertiveness. While discussing the Jewish exodus from Austria, he mused: “We could get rid of the entire scum like that.”
Kassel was home to 3,000 Jews in 1933; about 2% of the city’s population. On 10 November 1938 (Kristallnacht) 258 Jewish males were taken from their Kassel homes and sent to Buchenwald. Philipp was not in Hessen as the mobs rampaged. He was in Munich celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch. After Kristallnacht, Jews across Hessen were paraded through the streets with placards around their necks featuring denigrating slogans.
Large scale deportations began December 1941. Philipp was informed by the Gestapo about the seizure and sale of Jewish property. He helped a few Jews escape, like Baroness Marion von Goldschmidt-Rothschild. Prince Wolfgang did the same for Rudolf von Goldschmidt-Rothschild.
Upon his father’s death in 1940, Philipp became Landgrave and Chair of the family foundation. His personal annual take from the foundation, from 1940 to 1944, varied from 24,000 to 183,000 RM. At the time an industrial worker earned 1,800 RM per year.
The nobility’s bible, Almanach de Gotha, placed a photo of Philipp on the frontispiece of its 1941 edition – an extraordinary testimony to his stature. Philipp was touted as a king for Austria and/or Romania. In the photo Philipp’s swastika armband is prominently displayed.
In early 1934 Philipp arranged meetings between Hitler and King Vittorio and Mussolini, then worked to create a positive lasting impression. The Hitler-Mussolini meeting went badly because Mussolini suspected German involvement in the recent assassination of his ally, Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss.
By 1936 Philipp was the main liaison between Hitler and Mussolini and the President of the German-Italian Society – a 1,500-member Berlin-based group financed by the Adolf Hitler Fund.
In 1938 Philipp’s job was to convince Mussolini that the Austrian question was a German problem into which Mussolini did not want to meddle. On the eve of the Anschluss, Philipp flew to Rome to deliver a sealed letter from Hitler to Mussolini who then reversed Italian policy and permitted Austria to be absorbed by the Reich.
Five months later, Hitler ordered Sudeten Nazi leaders to agitate vigorously. On 15 September 1938 British PM Chamberlain made his appeasement deal. Philipp attended all relevant meetings during this affair and accompanied Hitler on a triumphal tour of Sudeten territories.
After the German invasion of the rump state of Czechoslovakia (15 March 1939) Philipp was again dispatched to assuage Mussolini. Philipp also worked on the signing of the Pact of Steel (May 1939) which assured Italy’s entry into World War II.
Philipp was also Germany’s liaison to King Vittorio. Here his loyalties were divided. Vittorio pressured Philipp to keep Hitler and Mussolini apart during the “Sitzkrieg” standoff with France. Philipp’s subsequent steps were determined by his father-in-law’s influence. Some Nazi leaders believed Philipp was sharing sensitive information with Vittorio.
Philipp purchased art for Hitler’s Fuhrermuseum. Hitler spent long hours planning this museum even when confined to the Berlin bunker. Much of its collection was acquired by plunder. While the expropriation of art from Jews in Hessen occurred under Philipp’s watch, it was his purchases in Italy for the Reichsmuseum that induced Allied investigators to place him on the list of “Individuals Involved in Art Looting.”
Philipp procured 90 works for Hitler (a fraction of the 8,000 Hitler acquired). Philipp transferred large sums of money from Hitler to Italian aristocrat families (Spiridon, Corsini and Lancelotti etc) and used his Italian connections to secure export waivers. Philipp pocketed substantial commissions. Eddie von Bismarck helped in this endeavour.
This was part of a pattern. Crown Prince Wilhelm gave Hitler a painting in exchange for a large parcel of public land. Baron von Frankenstein, the Duke of Oldenburg and Prince von Schaumburg-Lippe and others offloaded high-priced art onto the Nazi state.
Philipp’s relationship with Hitler deteriorated in April 1943 after Philipp relayed to Hitler the Italian Crown Prince’s view that Italy had to replace Mussolini. Hitler ordered Philipp to check in to a hotel near the Berghof and await instructions.
On 25 July 1943 Mussolini was abducted at the Villa Savoia and secreted to prison via ambulance. This operation was deftly designed by Pietro d’ Acquarone: a Genoese duke and master of intrigue. King Vittorio held himself aloof from the plotters so he could refute them if they failed. The Nazi Party newspaper ran the headline “Thus the Liar-King Betrays the Duce.”
On the evening of Italy’s surrender, 8 September 1943, Philipp dined and blabbed with Hitler until 4 a.m. As Philipp was about to leave he was taken by the SS to a bunker where he was kept literally and figuratively in the dark for days before being shipped to Flossenburg concentration camp.
Flossenburg opened in 1938. At one point it held 65,000 political prisoners including Austrian Chancellor von Schuschnigg, members of the Wittelsbach dynasty and several July 20 conspirators. Of the 100,000 prisoners who entered its gates, 30,000 never left. Phillip was a privileged prisoner.
On 8 September 1943 Princess Mafalda was in Bulgaria attending the funeral of her brother-in-law King Boris III who had died mysteriously. Goebbels believed Boris was poisoned by Italian royals, possibly by Mafalda: “the greatest bitch in the entire Italian royal house.”
On September 21 Mafalda took refuge in the Vatican. Tricked into believing she was being flown to see Philipp, Mafalda was taken to a barracks in Buchenwald near a munitions factory which the Americans bombed killing 400 inmates, including Mafalda.
In 1945 Philipp, like many prominent prisoners, was shuttled from camp to camp by the SS. In May SS guards transporting Philipp and others were forced by a German Army unit to hand over the prisoners. This Army unit then surrendered to the US Army.
The Americans put Philipp up at the Hotel Paradiso in the village of Anacapri overlooking the Mediterranean and later at Luxemburg’s Palace Hotel. Despite being the 53rd most wanted Nazi, Philipp was granted furloughs. On the other hand, Petropoulos, complains of how Phillip, “this quiet and sensitive man” was “browbeaten” by American investigators.
Philipp mustered support from: the German Foreign Minister; the Italian Queen, and the Bishop of Limburg. In 1946 a US officer, sent by George VI, spoke privately with Philipp for hours.
Amazingly, Philipp volunteered to be a witness for the defense for three notorious SS guards from Flossenburg. Philipp took the stand to say the guards were decent men who treated him well and that Flossenburg’s forced labourers were pampered. On cross-examination he admitted to hearing a routine crack from firing squads and frequently saw corpses dragged past his window. Two of the guards were sentenced to death.
At the Hadamar trial while Philip was declared to have “retained ultimate responsibility” for the sanatorium, and to have “played a decisive role in the killing,” he went unpunished. Three of his Hadamar co-defendants were sentenced to death.
Retired provincial court president, Dr. Schulte, was appointed trustee of Hesse-Kassel property. Hesse-Kassels were prohibited from disposing assets and had to request even pocket money from Schulte. Philipp’s second son, aspiring artist Prince Heinrich, was given a free room at Adolphseck Castle but was not allowed to entertain. Schulte opposed Phillip’s release from prison and called for the nationalization of Hessen assets. Most outrageously, he asked young Heinrich: “why don’t you get a real job?”
For an attorney at his denazification trial Philipp hired Fabian von Schlabrendorff, a man with a sterling reputation as a member of the resistance who later assisted the prosecution at the Nuremberg trials.
Schlabrendorff recast Philipp as a victimized member of the resistance. Most of the 17 witnesses called were sympathetic to Philipp.
The verdict, rendered December 1947, declared Philipp a Category II offender and sentenced him to two years forced labour and a 30% property forfeiture. As he had been incarcerated since1945, he was released.
Philipp hired Ferdinand de la Fontaine (the Rothschild’s lawyer) to appeal the sentence. De la Fontaine claimed Philipp and the Italian royals were instrumental in toppling Mussolini. The appeal verdict designated Philipp a Category III offender thus lessening penalties. He now faced a total fine of DM 36,568.
Determining Philipp’s net worth proved challenging. The tendered estimate, DM 686,000, is absurdly low as it did not mention jewellery, art or assets in the family foundation (five castles, forests, and other properties). With the conclusion of the appeals process, the trusteeship was removed, Dr. Schulte resigned, and the Hesse-Kassels were back in charge of their foundation. Thus the DM 36,568 fine was joke. Philipp ended his obligations by transferring a single property, Palais Bellevue, to the city of Kassel for use as a museum.
Philipp moved into Kronberg Castle, a stunning fortress with towering ramparts, and set about restoring its walls, chapel and the Hessen crypt.
Italian royalists erected a large bronze bust of Princess Mafalda at the Hessen crypt. A sizable royalist movement persists in Italy to whom Mafalda is a martyr. They carry a torch to her grave on the anniversaries of her birth and death.
Philipp restored the baroque Adolphseck castle (renamed Fasanerie) and converted it into a privately run museum with 60 exhibition rooms. He haunted the museum at night moving or removing objects. He decreed that classical art students should have free passes.
Philipp divided his time between Italy and Germany until his 1980 death. He maintained friendships with fascist aristocrats like the Duke of Windsor. As part of their campaign to relativize Nazi crimes and emphasize German suffering, the radical right made an issue of how Philipp had not been properly compensated for his Allied imprisonment or his loss of property.
Philipp received respectful notices in the press on his birthdays. His funeral received considerable coverage. His elder son, Moritz, succeeded him as Landgrave. His younger son, Heinrich (a.k.a. Enrico d’Assia), is a renowned Italian set designer who resides at the family’s Villa Polissena in Rome.
Other aristocrats shared the von Hessens’ enthusiasm for Nazism. The Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha family had 9 members in the Nazi Party; the Schaumburg-Lippes had 10; the Lippes had 18; and the Hohenlohes had 20.
The royal Hohenzollerns maintained good relations with the Nazi elite from 1929 to 1943. Their support was highly visible. In the early 1930s, as the Nazis struggled, Hohenzollerns appeared in Nazi advertisements and were seated at Nazi rallies where they could be seen by all.
Prince Auwi, the Kaiser’s fourth son, joined the Party on 1 April 1930 but his involvement clearly pre-dates that. He held Nazi membership card number 24. (Hitler’s number was 55.) As a designated Party “national speaker” he famously quipped: “where a Hitler leads a Hohenzollern can follow.”
Auwi and his son Alexander vigorously campaigned for the Nazis with Auwi often joining Hitler on stage. Auwi recruited many aristocrats. Auwi was elected to the Reichstag and appointed to the Prussian Staatsrat in early 1933. He was an SA General by 1938 and was sporting a Golden Party badge in 1939.
Crown Prince Wilhelm (“Wilhelm”), long an admirer of Italian Fascism, enjoyed a successful meeting with Mussolini in 1928. On the paramilitary front, Wilhelm was a Steel Helmet leader and a colleague of SA creator Rohm to whom he had gifted a fine horse. Wilhelm joined an SA’s Motor Division commanded of his cousin, Duke Carl Eduard von Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha. Goring was Wilhelm’s subordinate during WWI. Wilhelm’s sons were both Party members.
Wilhelm campaigned for the Nazis, in SA uniform, in the watershed 1932 Hitler-versus-Hindenburg election. He used his influence in 1932 to help rescind the government ban on the SA and SS. On 21 March 1933 Wilhelm starred in the ‘Day at Potsdam’ theatrics when parliament re-opened after the Reichstag fire. In the mid-1930s Wilhelm frequently met Hitler and joined him at public ceremonies. In 1940 he wrote Hitler praising the Fuhrer’s inspired leadership. This correspondence, and others, was published and broadcasted.
Kaiser Wilhelm regularly contacted Hitler and penned letters praising him. He shared Hitler’s vision of a remilitarized Germany and he espoused anti-Semitic views. In 1940 he wrote:
“We are becoming the US of Europe under German leadership…the Jews (are) being thrust out of their nefarious positions in all countries.”
After Germany’s victory over Poland, the Kaiser wrote Hitler saying the House of Hohenzollern remained steadfast; adding that 9 Hohenzollern princes fought on the Polish Front.
A mid-1933 agreement provided the Hohenzollerns with a substantial subsidy from the Prussian state. (The Hohenzollerns’ porcelain factory did a brisk business turning out busts of Hitler.)
The House of Schaumburg-Lippe amassed huge land-holdings in Eastern Europe in the Middle Ages. During the Weimar Republic, Prince Adolf von Schaumburg-Lippe divided his estate in half with the government and still had “enough money to throw handfuls out the window.”
Prince Friedrich Christian zu Schaumburg-Lippe worked for the Nazis for a year before joining the Party and becoming a “national speaker” in 1929. Though posturing as a “leftist” the Prince was one of Germany’s wealthiest men. He lived, surrounded by servants, in a villa overlooking the Rhine. The Prince engineered the famous May 1933 book burning in the main square of Berlin university campus. For 12 years he was Goebbels’s adjutant in the Ministry for People’s Enlightenment and Propaganda. He hoped to be crowned King of Iceland.
The Princes zu Waldeck and Pyrmont acquired their family seat, Burg Waldeck, in 1150 and have been rich and powerful since. Prince Josias zu Waldeck und Pyrmont (“Waldeck”) fought for the Friekorps in Upper Silesia in 1919. Waldeck joined the Nazi Party in 1929 and the SS in early 1930. He was close to Himmler who appointed him SS Chief of Staff and chief aide to the head of Hitler’s personal security team. Waldeck ran the SS equestrian club. He was an SS-General and a Foreign Office Councillor. He held a Reichstag seat from 1933 to 1945. To promote SS settlements in Eastern Europe Waldeck created the Bureau for Germanification of Eastern Peoples.
For bearing five children, Waldeck’s wife received the Gold Mother Cross. (Himmler was godfather to her only son, Volkwin.) She was a sister of Grand Duke Nikolaus von Oldenburg whose first wife was Waldeck’s sister. Grand Duke Nikolaus had two other sisters; one married to SS-Major Prince zu Schaumburg and the other married SA-Colonel von Hedemann.
In 1939 Waldeck’s appointment to the Higher SS and Police Leader of Weimar gave him authority over the Buchenwald concentration camp which he regularly inspected. Buchenwald was equipped with equestrian facilities. In 1941 Hitler inducted Waldeck into the Order Police – the force overseeing much of the Holocaust.
Waldeck was severe, hard-driving and ambitious. He commanded a firing squad during the Rohm Purge that dispatched many of his former comrades. On the eve of Anschluss he begged Himmler for deployment to Austria. His SS unit began attacking local Jews two days before Kristallnacht.
Waldeck was one of many princes who benefited from Nazi land legislation. The Nazi’s “Erbhof” law, officially passed to protect small farmers, provided various tax and legal preferences. Waldeck had his 12,350 acre estate declared an Erbhof.
Waldeck gifted Himmler a train car at the 1943 SS meeting in Posen where Himmler detailed the Holocaust. In the same year Waldeck received the Military Service Cross with Swords, the highest SS award.
Waldeck was captured by Patton’s forces at Buchenwald in April 1945. Days before, to conceal Buchenwald’s horrors, Waldeck shipped out 3,105 inmates in sealed boxcars without provisions. 90% died. The Allies placed him on trial and gave him a life sentence. A denazification trial seized 70% of his assets.
Waldeck was released in 1950 and, on appeal, received a huge reduction in his fine. He was thus fabulously wealthy when he passed away in his castle at age 72. His son, a Lt-Colonel in the West German Army, named his son Josias to honour his father.
SS-General Erich von dem Bach-Zelewski grew up on his father’s Pomeranian estate. On the Eastern Front he commanded notorious partisan units. In July 1941 he requested permission from Himmler to carry out mass liquidations. Himmler responded: “Drive Jewish women into the swamps.” Within two weeks Bach-Zelewiski’s men killed 15,000 civilians. He showcased mass shootings to Himmler in August 1941 at Minsk.
At the Nuremburg trials Bach-Zelewski revealed Himmler’s plan to reduce the Soviet population to 30 million. To execute this plan Bach-Zelewski’s job was to exterminate 20 million civilians. He got off with a mere 10-year prison term. In 1961 he publically bragged about being a mass murderer and an “absolute Hitler man.”
The punishments meted to Waldeck and Bach-Zelewski were typical. Prince Auwi got “time served” and 40% asset confiscation. Crown Prince Wilhelm went entirely unpunished. (After the war he lived in one of his Swiss villas selling painting after painting. His comportment shocked royal observers.) Prince Friedrich Christian zu Schaumburg-Lippe was released as part of the early 1950s general amnesty. Few severe penalties survived the legal wrangling and appeals.
Nazi aristocrats were avid art looters. SS Major Baron von Kunsberg was a prodigious plunderer in the Soviet Union and France. (Nazis stole one third of all art in France.) Baron von Behr oversaw the seizure of French Jews’ furniture. Prince Franz zu Sayn-Wittgenstein led a team of photographers that inventoried stolen art.
Prince Bernhard zur Lippe-Biesterfeld became Prince of the Netherlands by marrying Princess Juliana in 1937. At the time Bernhard was a member of the SA, SS and Nazi League of Air Sports. He was put in contact with Juliana while doing industrial espionage in Paris. After a private meeting with Hitler he renounced his German citizenship and announced his marriage to Juliana. The Fuhrer viewed the wedding as an international alliance. From 1942 to 1944 Bernhard was in the British Royal Air Force. Eisenhower never trusted him and blocked his access to Allied intelligence.
Duke Carl Eduard von Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha was a German National People Party leader before joining the Nazi Party in 1933. He was a: Reichstag speaker, SA General, Nazi Motor Corps General, and German Red Cross President. He strutted about with a ceremonial Fascist dagger Mussolini gave him.
Grand Duke Friedrich von Mecklenburg-Schwerin joined the SS in 1931. He was personal aide to the Nazi plenipotentiary in Denmark and later commanded a Waffen-SS tank corps.
SS-Major Prince Carl Christian zur Lippe-Weisenfeld was the Silesian County Commissioner until his 1942 death. His sister betrothed Wilhelm von Oswald an SS-Major on Himmler’s personal staff.
Duke Adolf Friedrich von Mecklenburg-Schwerin never joined the Party but threw himself into the Cause, travelling abroad to sell Nazi ideas and to conduct espionage. Baroness Wally von Richthofen was a Nazi high society spy who entertained lavishly in her elegant Potsdam home; with the Gestapo picking up the tab in exchange for information. Count Gottfried von Bismarck-Schonhausen was an SS-Lieutenant Colonel, a District Governor of Potsdam, and a Reichstag Deputy. Prince Ratibor-Corvey was one of the Nazi Party’s largest donors. Luftwaffe Major Prince zu Sayn-Wittgenstein shot down 83 Allied planes. The Reich Finance Minister after 1940 was Count von Krosigk. Rocket scientist Baron Werner von Braun was an SS man. Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop was an aristocrat, albeit of recent vintage. Wiesbaden government chief and SA General, Friedrich von Salomon was also an aristocrat. SS Major Prince Stephan zu Schaumburg-Lippe was a German diplomat in Argentina and so on…
The Third Reich’s plebeian frontmen: Goring, Himmler and Darre were submerged in the aristocracy.
As the son of a high colonial official, Goring, although not an aristocrat, was born unto the upper-class establishment. His first wife was a Swedish Baroness.
Goring visited Kaiser Wilhelm at Doorn in January 1931 and May 1932. The second visit lasted a week. During the first visit Princess Hermo pressed a wad of banknotes on him. The Kaiser later sold Goring a hunting lodge in East Prussia.
Goring, as the Nazi’s parliamentary leader, became Reichstag President after the July 1932 elections. After 1933 he held an array of offices: Prussian President, Aviation Minister, Hunting Master, and Four-Year Plan Chief. As the creator of the Gestapo, he set up the first permanent concentration camps for political prisoners. In the 1930s, Goring’s empire was unsurpassed among sub-leaders.
Goring’s second wedding, April 1935, was attended by 208 illustrious guests including many aristocrats. For a honeymoon the couple went to Bulgaria to socialize with King Boris III and then to Belgrade to be feted by King Paul.
The Gorings were often guests of Prince Philipp von Hessen in Germany and in Capri. When Philipp was in Berlin he stayed at Goring’s residence. Hessen princes were part of the “Goring tribe.”
Heinrich Himmler’s father was the Wittelsbach’s tutor. In 1913 the Himmler family moved to the Wittelsbach’s administrative centre, famous for its mediaeval splendour. One student described the senior Himmler as: “a terrible snob, favouring the young titled members of his class and bearing down contemptuously on commoners.”
In 1917 Himmler received 1,000 RM from the Wittelsbachs to pay for his officer training course at the First Bavarian Infantry.
Himmler broke with the Wittelsbachs after Crown Prince Rupprecht refused to support the 1923 Beer Hall Putsch during which Himmler manned the barricades.
Himmler loved the aristocracies’ connection to history, martial heritage and sense of duty. He created a pseudo-knightly order at Wewelsburg Castle and planned an ideological school at Grunwald Castle (birthplace of Kaiser Ludwig). Himmler obsessed over Saxon dynasty founder, King Heinrich I – the conqueror of Slavs. On the anniversary of the king’s death Himmler would visit his tomb, and at the stroke of midnight, sit alone in the cold crypt to commune with his namesake. He regarded himself as the king’s reincarnation.
There was a special connection between Himmler’s SS and the aristocracy. The aristocracies’ ancestry conformed to SS racial ideals. Himmler envisioned the SS as the new nobility.
The SS was an aristocrat magnet. There were far too many SS aristocrats for Petropoulos to list. Over 70 Barons were top SS men. Before the Nazis assumed power SS leaders included: Prince zu Waldeck und Pyrmont, Prince Franz Josef von Hohenzollern-Emden, Grand Duke Friedrich Franz von Mecklenburg, Prince Raphael von Thurn und Taxis, Prince Ernst zur Lippe, Prince Stephen zu Schaumburg-Lippe and Prince Alexander zu Dohna-Schlobitten etc.
In 1938, 19% of SS Lt. Generals, 10% of SS Major-Generals, 14% of SS Brigadier-Generals and 18% Higher SS/Police Leaders were aristocrats.
Himmler’s closest colleague, Baron Karl von Eberstein, traversed Germany recruiting for the SS. As Munich’s police chief from 1936 to 1945 Baron Karl reigned over that city.
Reich Agricultural Minister Richard Walter Darre was an inflexible neo-feudalist ideologue. His chief assistant, Prince Ernst zur Lippe, was a notably zealous Nazi who joined the Party in early 1928. Princess Marie zur Lippe, also on Darre’s staff, penned several books extolling “blood and soil.”
Before 1943 the Nazi elite and the aristocracy were inseparable.
A slight process of estrangement was evident in 1934 when the Nazi elite took over monarchist associations and skirted the issue of restoration.
At the same time, aristocrats believed themselves exempt from censorship and from laws restricting foreign information. They criticized the regime and kept in touch with family members in hostile countries. The Crown Prince disregarded international currency restrictions, as did Prince Philipp von Hesse. Hitler called the aristocracy the “Purple International.”
In May 1940 Crown Prince’s eldest son was killed in combat in France. 50,000 attended his funeral. The Nazi elite found this display of monarchical enthusiasm threatening. Hitler ordered royal family members withdrawn from exposed positions.
When the Kaiser died in June 1941 Hitler wanted a state funeral in Berlin in which he himself would star. The Kaiser’s instructions were that he was to be buried in Doorn. Hitler restricted attendance to the funeral and blocked coverage.
In late 1941 aristocratic consternation arose after a number of princes were pulled from combat. Prince Philipp von Hessen took the matter up with Hitler in February 1942. Hitler assured him:
“A decree in such a form does not exist and your sons can naturally become officers at any time. I must however, refuse entry into the army of the sons of Royal Houses who have either verbally or by their actions opposed the National Socialist State or me.”
The effort to limit the Princes’ combat role was applied haphazardly. Prince Friedrich Karl Hohenzollern continued to serve in the Sixth Army advancing toward Stalingrad. Prince Georg Wilhelm von Hannover kept his position as a general staff officer with the Second Panzer Group fighting at Smolensk. Prince Ernst August von Hannover and Prince Ludwig von Hessen-Darmstadt remained on active duty in the East.
The real clash began at the end of 1942 as the battles of Stalingrad and El Alamein convinced the German elite that the war was unwinnable. Naval losses and a growing French Resistance provoked suspicion of spy networks. The July 1943 overthrow of Mussolini by Italian aristocrats stunned Nazi leaders.
Discharging Prince Welf von Hannover from the Army in 1942 elicited protests from princely families. Late that year Prince Auwi was denounced by Party leaders and dropped as a national speaker for criticising Goebbels.
Hitler grew anxious in early 1943. He sacked Wilhelm Frick as Interior Minister, replacing him with Himmler. In April 1943 Himmler fired his adjutant, the aristocrat-friendly Karl Wolff.
Prince Richard von Hessen was forced to resign his Army post in early 1943. His brother Wolfgang was dismissed soon after. Richard was told by Reichsleiter Bormann that any involvement by him in the armed forces was “completely intolerable.” Richard was also fired as a General in the Nazi Motor Corps.
In May 1943 Hitler approved The Decree Concerning Internationally Connected Men in the State, Party and the Armed Forces. This decree subjected high nobles to a vetting process to determine their suitability to keep their positions. This decree was not mentioned in the media.
In December 1943 Goebbels went to Hitler to keep Prince zu Schaumburg-Lippe on his staff. Hitler conceded. The Prince blamed Bormann for the May 1943 decree; saying of Bormann: “in his deepest depths he is a Marxist.”
A 1944 Nazi document lists 39 members of princely houses dismissed from the armed forces. These included 10 Hohenzollerns (not Prince Auwi), and members from the Hannover, Habsburg and Hessen families. The same document lists 17 princes still serving in active posts.
The July 20 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler was an act of class conscious aristocrats. The main conspirators were: Count Claus von Stauffenberg, Count Ewald von Kliest-Schmenzin, Count Helmuth James von Moltke, Count Wolf-Heinrich von Helldorf, Count Friedrich Werner von der Wartenburg, Baron Rudolf von Gersdorff and Count Peter Yorck von Wartenburg. Prince Louis Hohenzollern was willing to lend his support. Crown Prince Wilhelm’s former adjutant, Count Heinrich Dohna-Schlobitten, was hanged for his involvement.
The July 20 plotters envisioned a “revolution from above” leading to a new order based on conservative, corporatist and monarchist ideas. While the Prussian tradition was central to the resistance many, like von Stauffenberg, came from the southern German aristocracy. They were not liberals. They enthusiastically participated in Hitlerian war policies.
After July 20, the Nazi elite arrested thousands of aristocrat family members who had committed no treason. 12 Wittelsbachs went to concentration camps, as did 10 von Stauffenbergs and 8 Goerdelers.
A post war myth held that 5,000 aristocratic family members perished in the camps. Recent scholarship places the figure in the hundreds. Most aristocrat prisoners were interned for less than a year and enjoyed privileged treatment.
In the 1930s and 1940s George V, Edward VIII, George VI, and the Duke of Kent worked for a German-British alliance. They led the anti-Churchill “peace movement” through to 1941. Their rhetoric of “peace and reconciliation” masked a fascist sentiment.
The British royal family descends from the German Houses of Hannover and Sachsen-Coburg. They retain a decidedly German cast. Queen Victoria spoke German without accent and steered her daughters into marriages with German princes. When Victoria fell gravely ill, in 1901, Kaiser Wilhelm II rushed from the Weimar opera house and braved stormy seas to be by her side. She died in his arms.
George V (r. 1910-36) married a German Princess, Mary of Teck. They would wait for their English courtiers to leave the room and then comfortably lapse into speaking flawless German. They entertained a parade of German aristocrats.
The Hohenzollern and Hessen princes were the same age as their cousins, George V’s three sons. Royal cousins have close relationships due their elders’ efforts to forge a “cousinhood.”
George V used the surname Saxon-Coburg until 1917 when, with the inspired flamboyance of a medieval monarch, he renounced his German ancestry and proclaimed the House of Windsor. In the same year Battenburgs became Mountbattens and Mary of Teck became Mary of Cambridge.
Edward VIII frequently visited Germany as a youth. In 1913 and 1919 he was billeted with the Kaiser’s sister. Immediately upon ascending the throne in 1936 Edward relayed a message to Hitler through Duke Carl Eduard Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha that the King regarded an alliance between Britain and Germany as a political and military necessity.
(Duke Carl had attended George V’s funeral decked out in full Nazi regalia. Despite this, he was well received in the Court of St James and Buckingham Palace. After Edward’s abdication, Duke Carl remained in the UK to send Hitler reports. As President of Berlin’s German-English Society, Duke Carl was the honoured guest at the 1937 Anglo-German Fellowship dinner in London. In attendance were: Lord Halifax, Earl of Glasgow, Viscountess Snowden, Ribbentrop and Prince Frederick Hohenzollern.)
King Edward received many German princes. He entertained card-carrying Nazi Crown Prince Wilhelm and SS stalwart Grand Duke von Mecklenburg in 1933; however he made sure their names did not appear in the court circular.
Regarding Edward’s abdication and the Wallis Simpson myth, Petropoulos writes:
Edward’s abdication was seen not only in Germany but also in certain circles in Britain and the United States as “a behind-the-scenes conspiracy to remove the Nazi-friendly king.” Ambassador Ribbentrop reported to Hitler “that the whole marriage question was a false front that (Prime Minister) Baldwin had utilized to get rid of the king because of the latter’s pro-German views.” Even the New York Times included the observation after the Windsors’ 1937 German tour that the Duke “demonstrated adequately that the Abdication did rob Germany of a firm friend, if not indeed a devoted admirer, on the British throne.”
Post-abdication Edward (renamed “Duke of Windsor”) flaunted pro-Nazi, pro-German views. The German government paid for his October 1937 German tour precisely because of his Nazi sympathies. On October 19 the Coburgs hosted a dinner for the Windsors at Nuremburg’s Grand Hotel. 100 guests attended, many aristocrats. On October 22 the Windsors met Hitler at the Berghof. When Hitler escorted them to their car the two men shook hands and after a long goodbye Hitler stiffened to a rigid Nazi salute that the Duke returned. The Duke made several Nazi salutes during the trip, some caught on newsreels. When the Duke inspected the Pomeranian SS Death’s Head Regiment their band played God Save the King. The Duke sipped tea with Goring at Carinhall. Ribbentrop hosted a dinner at the famous Horchers restaurant in Berlin where the Windsors sat with Goebbels. The final evening was spent at a dinner party at Rudolf Hess’s house.
On the heels of the Windsors’ tour, the Duke of Westminster traveled to Berlin to meet Nazi leaders, especially Goring. Lord Halifax went fox hunting with Goring in October 1937. Lords Londonderry, Lothian and Beaverbrook and Allen of Hurtwood each met Hitler and/or Goring and came away impressed. After meeting Hitler, former British PM David Lloyd George called him “the greatest living German.”
“Appeasement” was extremely popular among British aristocrats. Many expressed definite sympathies for Hitler and PM Chamberlain’s Germanophile inclinations.
Another constituency: the British Fascists, Germano-maniacs, and obsessive anti-Semites, expressed explicit pro-Nazi views. Prominent among them was the “Cliveden Set” (Tory MP Nancy Astor et al) who met at the Berkshire manor house west of London. Certain media outlets fawned over the Cliveden Set to make it easier for others to adopt pro-Hitler views.
British Union of Fascists leader, Sir Oswald Mosley described his party as “youthful, vigorous (and) aristocratic.” He recruited many aristocrats including Churchill’s son Randolph and Harold Nicholson. Mosley’s influence declined due to his incautious statements and the violence of his thugs.
“The Link” attracted media coverage and a wide readership for their pro-Nazi Patriot magazine. Their leader, naval veteran Admiral Sir Barry Domville, had close ties with Mosley. The royals may have supported The Link. Domville and Mosley were imprisoned early in the war.
In the mid-1930s Lord Redesdale daughters, Diana and Unity Mitford, befriended Hitler and provided him with useful intelligence. Unity conversed with Hitler on numerous occasions. Diana and Oswald Mosley were married in October 1936 at a clandestine ceremony in Goebbels’s ministerial residence. Hitler was present. At the following luncheon Diana provided a blow-by-blow account of the then still private Edward VIII/Wallis Simpson affair.
Third Reich policy wonk, Prince Ludwig von Hessen-Darmstadt, worked with closely Ribbentrop in the late 1930s. As “Prince Lu” was a cousin of the British royals, the Mountbattens planned a special family party at their spectacular Park Lane home so George VI could be re-acquainted with Lu. Hitler was so angry about Edward VIII’s abdication he forbade Lu’s attendance.
In mid-1938, George VI, seeking to strengthen Anglo-German relations, accepted Goring’s invitation to join the German Hunting Brotherhood. George VI, an enthusiastic appeaser, repeatedly offered to make his own appeal to Hitler. As this was discouraged, he deployed his younger brother, the Duke of Kent, as his envoy.
Private journeys of royals are often political missions. Thus it was with the Duke of Kent’s trip to Poland in 1937 at the invite of Count Potocki and his frequent trips to Germany. In 1940 he travelled to Portugal to speak with the dictator Salazar. The Duke had real influence on political events because he was uniquely placed between high ranking Nazis and the movers and shakers of British society. (He had innumerable homosexual encounters upper class men and was a chronic injector of cocaine and morphine.)
In 1934 the Duke of Kent married Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark. Marina’s sister Olga married Prince Paul of Yugoslavia. Another of Marina’s sisters married the fabulously wealthy Count Karl Theodor zu Toerring-Jettenbach: a Nazi-sympathizer.
The Duke of Kent and Marina professed great interest in Nazism. In 1938 Prince Lu described the Duke as:
“Very German friendly. Clearly against France…Entirely for strengthening German-English ties.”
An important princely confab took place in Florence at the July 1939 wedding of Princess Irene (the Greek King’s daughter) to the Duke of Spoleto (the Italian king’s cousin). The list of royals attending runs seven pages. The wedding was the last meeting between the Duke of Kent and Prince Philipp von Hessen. In the behind-the-scenes discussions the Duke contravened instructions given him by the Prime Minister and pursued appeasement even though the invasion of Czechoslovakia had rendered this strategy treasonous. (The Duke of Kent died in a mysterious plane crash in northern Scotland in 1942.)
Prince Max Egon Hohenlohe-Langeburg was the intermediary between Goring’s “moderate Germans” and the British before the Munich agreement. (Prince Max owned vast estates in Central Europe and Spain. He was a close confidante of Himmler and Pius XII.) In 1939 Max sent Goring a memorandum on how to win over the British. In early 1941 Prince Max met the British Ambassador in Madrid to plot an alliance between the German and British aristocracies.
In the late 1930s, Unity Mitford pleaded with Hitler to make a deal with England. In spite of Hitler’s discouraging reserve, she never abandoned her efforts. On the day of Britain’s declaration of war (3 September 1939) Unity shot herself with a pistol in Munich’s English Garden Park.
By early 1940 Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax was deluged with letters from Britain’s grandest aristocrats imploring him to seek peace. Britain was on the brink of peace with Germany in June 1940.
The Germans put great stock in the Duke of Windsor’s ability, once back on the throne, to pull Britain out of the war. As part of “Operation Willi” German agents met the Duke on the Iberian Peninsula to plot his restoration. These efforts came to a head after the fall of France on June 22.
Germany’s victory in the Battle of France confounds military historians. The Western Powers had a material advantage. Anglo-French planes shot down more planes than did their German counterparts. In computerized simulations the Allies invariably win. The simplest explanation out of this conundrum is that Germany possessed superior strategy resulting from superior espionage. Many believe the Duke of Windsor transmitted vital intelligence to the Germans. He was certainly guilty of “unguarded conversations” about Allied defences and strategies through which intelligence was communicated to the Germans.
The Duke’s Parisian residence, personal property and bank account were protected by German occupation forces. The Duke continued denouncing Churchill and the war. His pro-German statements were, by this time, treasonous.
To remove the Duke of Windsor from the theatre, Churchill appointed him Governor of the Bahamas. The Duke delayed of his departure from Lisbon in July to give the Germans time. Churchill told him to get to the Bahamas or get court martialed. Ribbentrop’s final appeal to the Duke was delivered by the Duke’s friend, Spanish Falangist leader Duke Don Miguel Primo de Rivera. The Duke was offered $12 million.
Before the Duke left Lisbon, on 1 August 1940, he told his Portuguese host that he might fly back on short notice. He passed on a code word by which this plan would be executed. This information was relayed to Ribbentrop by Ambassador (Baron) Hoyningen-Huene.
Over the next several weeks Buckingham Palace was bombed nine times in a manner indicating attempted regicide. On September 9 a bomb struck just below the King’s study. On September 13, six bombs hit the Palace. George VI was lucky to survive. The imminence of the peril of the King was kept secret even from Churchill. George VI took the attacks personally and said they were directed by a member of his family.
British royals are among the most secretive of royals. Many documents in their archives from the 1930s and 1940s are held back. Inquiries into the Royal-Nazi connection make the archivists visibly nervous. After the Duchess of Windsor’s death in 1986, royal archivists swooped in to remove letters from her estate. Astonishingly few of the Duke of Kent’s papers are accounted for. Many royal documents from the 1930s and 1940s are classified until 2037.
After the war George VI sent Anthony Blunt to retrieve an incriminating “Windsor file” from the von Hessen’s Friedrichschof Castle. Similar motives prompted Blunt’s trip to Marienburg Castle near Hanover. Blunt’s acts of removal from the Kaiser’s estate in Doorn are clearly suspect. (Blunt was outed as a Soviet spy in 1964 but because he possessed so much damaging information he was kept on as the Surveyor of the Queen’s Pictures until 1972.)
When the German Foreign Ministry’s “Windsor file” was discovered in 1945, Churchill found it so distressing he tried to expunge it from history. After reading extracts, Churchill wrote to PM Clement Atlee:
“I earnestly trust it may be possible to destroy all traces of these German intrigues.”
Upon learning the Americans had microfilmed the file Churchill asked Eisenhower to embargo them for at least 10 years. The documents were published in the 1950s.
After the war the Duke of Windsor grew close to Sir Oswald Mosley. Their elegant French manor houses were a few miles apart. Also in their circle was Countess Mona Bismarck. This clique remained apolitical; at least publically. In 1963 Mosley sent a note congratulating the Duke for his response to recent criticism of “the true patriotism of striving to avert the catastrophe of a second world war.”
While Prince Philip slipped back into Germany to attend the wedding of his sister Sophia, his sisters were not invited to celebrate his marriage to Princess Elizabeth in 1947. The offense was aggravated when invitations were sent to Queen Helen of Romania and the Duchess of Aosta, both from Axis states. Princess Sophia opined to her uncle Louis Mountbatten about how annoying it was for the press to imply their family was estranged when they were not. Philip often accepted numerous hunting invitations from his German friends.
Despite foreign travel being denied Germans until the 1950s, Philip’s sisters began visiting Britain in 1948. Normal family relations resumed “without a whisper in the British newspapers.”
At Elizabeth II’s coronation (June 1953) Philip’s mother and sisters (and their husbands and children) sat in the royal box behind the Queen Mother. The fact that Philip’s family were all Nazis remained a touchy subject.
When Petropoulos interviewed Philip for this book, Philip started the conversation by blunting asking: “Why did you pick on the Hessens?” Petropolous responded it was because they had all joined the Nazi Party. Philip interjected “they did not.” When Petropolous referenced incontrovertible Party records, the interview proceeded. Philip’s reflex was to tell a bold lie. Philip went on to speak well of his late brother-in-law Prince Philipp von Hessen.
In the immediate post-war years, it was generally understood that the pernicious influence of autocratic, illiberal old elites lay at the root of the “German catastrophe.” Princes, monarchists and other anachronistic elites made an obvious, major contribution to Nazism and World War II.
World War II inflicted substantial damage on the German aristocracy. 5,000 German nobles died in combat and several hundred more were killed by the captive foreigners who had been toiling on their estates. Many aristocrats, including the Hohenzollerns, survived the war but lost much property and clout due to nationalizations in East Germany.
In the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) the mastering of the past began in 1945. One nurtured myth was that the Holocaust had been perpetrated by a small gang. Another myth was that aristocrats opposed the Nazis. Chancellor Adenhauer et al were ambivalent toward aristocrats. As a few aristocrats had joined the resistance and as many aristocrats remained in the economic elite, figures from this milieu were selected for praise. The aristocratic cabal of July 20 conspirators and outlier dynasts like the Wittelsbach and Habsburg were elevated through martyrdom to beatitude. In a 1954 speech marking the 10th anniversary of the July 20 plot, President Heuss thanked the “Christian aristocracy of the German nation” for their “uprising of the conscience.” This selective history erased negative images of militaristic Junkers and undermined the prosecution of high-born Nazis.
Historian Christian Gerlach wrote an article pointing out that the July 20 conspirators eagerly participated in genocide. Gerlach’s piece elicited a response in Die Zeit from several luminaries including former President Richard von Weizsacker (whose unit was implicated). Die Zeit refused to publish Gerlach’s rebuttal. (Die Zeit is published by an émigré Prussian Countess.)
Until his death, Prince Rupprecht advocated monarchist restoration, claiming the support of 65% of the Bavarian population. His funeral in 1955 was that of a monarch; tens of thousands lined up to view the coffin. The weak-long ceremonies included a church service attended by most Bavarian government officials and every Bavarian bishop.
Aristocracies have developed antennae for survival. After 1945 many aristocrats retreated to their castles and quietly managed their properties. Defeats suffered after World War I taught them how to lie low and protect their assets. They preserved their wealth and their contempt for republicanism. They retained some political power, especially on the local level. Heads of the princely houses continued to convene regularly to talk politics.
The royalist movement convened in Marburg in 1952 but decided against forming a political party. Funds were raised and an organizational structure was created. A card index listing all known monarchists was complied. Parliamentarians of every affiliation were systematically approached as were all German princely houses.
The Soviet Empire’s collapse, and German reunification, emboldened aristocrats. To be a prince became fashionable again. Before unification (1990) the use of aristocratic titles was out of fashion (although many kept “von” in their names). After 1990 using titles became the thing to do. Germany is a class-conscious country where nobility commands respect. Germans use expressions like ‘Royal Highness’ oblivious to the fact that they live in a Republic.
As anti-royal sentiment dissipated aristocrats resurfaced. Many aristocrats sit on corporate and philanthropic boards. There is a clear over-representation of aristocrats in the art and publishing worlds.
Aristocracies adroitly manage public perception. Far more media outlets focus on German princes now than did during the 1950s and 1960s. Glossy magazines like Bunte, Gala, Neue Revue (Germany) Monarchy, Royalty (UK) Point of Vue, Paris Match (France), Hola (Spain), and Gente (Italy) glamourize royalty. German princes enjoy greater popularity now than at any time since the end of World War II.
At the 2003 birthday party for Duke Franz (Wittelsbach), none of the 3,100 invited guests declined. The party was shown live from Nymphenburg Castle on Bavarian TV for seven hours.
Elsewhere in Europe: a 2003 referendum orchestrated by Liechtenstein’s Prince Hans Adam II gave him authority to dismiss governments, approve judicial nominees and veto laws. He now has more direct power than any of the other eight reigning European monarchs.
Even as private citizens the Habsburgs have been profoundly influential. Archduke Otto and his son, Karl, were both prominent members of the European Union Parliament. Pan-European activism has contributed to the aristocratic resurgence.
One sign of aristocratic resurgence is the claims for vast tracts of ancestral property in former Communist-dominated states of Eastern Europe. While these claims are not limited to princes, they are in the forefront. Among the princely families claiming property are the Schwarzenbergs and Lobkowiczes (Czech Republic) and the Potockis and Lanckoronskis (Poland). The Habsburgs are suing Austria for compensation. Junkers are preparing claims on 2.5 million parcels of real estate in the former East Germany. In the Czech Republic, the return of 40 castles (500 were confiscated) gave aristocrats across Europe reason to hope.
The aristocratic renaissance does not constitute a revival of the old order. The wealth, power and visibility of the princes are presently counter-balanced by other forces. Aristocrats are not on top of Europe’s political, economic or cultural system, yet.
Early economists discerned three factors of production: Land, Labour and Capital. Each factor is a tectonic plate grinding and lurching for supremacy. Great masses of people cling to these factors like life rafts. The fact that many people depend on more than one factor is irrelevant. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Each factor has a life of its own.
Persons aboard the factor of Capital favour economic liberalism. Those representing Labour favour some hue, from pale pink to crimson red, of socialism. Those fighting for Land have been variously named: conservatives, reactionaries, fascists and now: environmentalists.
On 21 August 2011 The Telegraph ran the headline: Aristocrats cashing in on Britain’s wind farm subsidies. The article profiles several British aristocrats with wind farms on their properties. The Duke of Roxburghe (worth $160 million) is installing 48 giant turbines on his estate which should provide him with $4 million per year. Duke of Beaufort (worth $180 million) has 19 smaller turbines netting him $450,000 per year. Earl of Seafield, who owns 100,000 acres, has 8 turbines spinning in $200,000 per year. About half this windfall flowing to the land magnates is government subsidy.
The Telegraph article betrays astonishment but there is nothing surprising here. Wind farms and solar farms are on farms. Germany’s 21,607 wind turbines, all built during the last 25 years of Climate Change hype, are mostly on privately-owned rural land. Europe sprouted 13,525 turbines since January 1, 2009. The three countries with the most turbines are Germany, Spain and Italy – three countries with the most flamboyantly fascist pasts.
“Green energy” and “clean energy” are euphemisms for wind power, solar power, and bio fuels. These types of energy are affronts to market economics and modern engineering. They are expensive and unreliable. Their implementation is not the result of policies predicated on providing the greatest good for the greatest number; rather their implementation is the result of policies predicated on providing the greatest rents for the greatest landlords.
Environmental policies are by and for the “land interest.” Environmentalists fight for restrictive land use policies. Restricting the supply of land drives up the value of land. Organic and free range foods are land intensive agricultural products.
The modern rural economic system is neither capitalist nor socialist. Subsidies account for much of farm income. The production of agricultural commodities is controlled by corporatist boards and shielded from competition. Wealth extracted from urbanites in the form of taxes and inflated food prices is transferred to rural landowners.
When digesting Petropoulos’ data remember: German fascism was among the least aristocratic of the national fascist movements.Fascist regimes in Italy, Spain, Japan and the Balkans were more dominated by aristocrats and more monarchist than the Third Reich.
Petropoulos’ book is a sample, not a directory, of fascist aristocrats. Nevertheless, his book uncovers 52 individuals who were: a) members of wealthy aristocratic/oligarchic dynasties; b) committed fascists; and c) alive and kicking in the 1960s and beyond. This latter period corresponds with the launch of environmentalism. In other words: a few thousand people fitting all three above categories were present when The Movement donned its green colouration.
Many individuals and families mentioned by Petropoulos bridged the divide between fascism and environmentalism: HRH Prince Philip (indeed the entire House of Windsor), Prince Bernhard zur Lippe-Biesterfeld, Charles Lindberg, Walter Darre, the Belgian and Swedish royal families, the Thurn and Taxis family, the Kennedys etc. This is 1% of the individuals and dynasties that were deeply involved with fascism in the 1917-to-1945 era and who then re-appeared as leaders of environmentalism in the modern era.
Except for the facts appearing in the “Conclusion,” all facts in the above text are from:
Petropoulos, Jonathan; Royals and the Reich: the Princes von Hessen in Nazi Germany, Oxford University Press, 2006, Oxford, UK.
*Unfortunately and un-scientifically, Petropoulos uses the terms “noble” and “aristocrat” interchangeably. To maintain fidelity to his text this abridgement will use whatever word he used when he used it.
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