LONDON — In April 1945, code-breakers at Bletchley Park, England, intercepted the following telegram from Adolf Hitler, who was then under siege in his bunker in Berlin: “The Führer attaches importance to the President of the Red Cross, the Duke of Coburg, on no account falling into enemy hands.”
Karina Urbach, a German historian, believes that whatever information Hitler shared with Carl Edward, the Duke of Coburg — who was a grandson of Queen Victoria, and a close blood relative to the current British monarchy — it was damning enough to warrant an assassination request. Coburg, though, would manage to escape such a drastic fate and eventually died in 1954 of natural causes, aged 69.
Urbach has recently published “Go Betweens For Hitler,” a book that explores how members of the aristocratic class across Europe worked as secret negotiators for Hitler during the interwar years.
The go-betweens were unofficial, invisible actors who secretly delivered messages between heads of state to ensure that off-the-record conversations could happen at the highest levels in the murky world of international relations.
While research hitherto has focused on the support German aristocrats secretly provided Hitler within Germany, Urbach’s book discusses an additional, international dimension to this secret diplomatic back channel, most notably from members of the British royal family.
This flirting with Nazism on the part of the royal family caused a media storm Saturday as Britain’s The Sun published a cover story with the headline “Their Royal Heilnesses.” The newspaper’s front page photo showed the seven-year-old future Queen Elizabeth II performing a Nazi salute in a hitherto-secret 1933 family video.
In the 17-second video from which the still was taken, young Elizabeth is seen playing with her corgi, dancing, and also raising her right arm three times, alongside her mother, Queen Elizabeth, sister Princess Margaret, and uncle Edward VIII. Buckingham Palace announced Sunday an investigation into how the video was procured by The Sun.
The Sun’s publication has caused immense debate in the UK. Are the pictures an outrageous invasion of privacy, or a timely reminder, in the words of one commentator, that Edward VIII, briefly Britain’s king, dabbled with fascism?
Is it possible that certain British historians have consistently tried to play down anti-Semitism in the British royal family during the 1930s?
“Edward VIII was particularly attracted to the Nazis because of their social ideas,” says Urbach, an assertion that contrasts with that of the British historian Philip Ziegler. In 2012, Ziegle published a biography of Edward VIII, who was king for six months in 1936 only to voluntarily abdicate so he could marry an American divorcee. Ziegler has written that Edward VIII was only “mildly anti-Semitic.”
In her book, much of Urbach’s narrative focuses on royal relative Carl Edward and his loyalty to the Nazi movement for nearly two decades. It would appear his ties to Hitler helped to create a widespread culture of anti-Semitism among the British monarchy.
“Carl Edward’s British network was very useful for Hitler,” the German historian explains from an University of London office in the Institute of Historical Research, where she is currently a senior fellow.
“Hitler was an Anglophile, and his dream [during the early 1930s] was to have an alliance with Britain,” says Urbach.
“Hitler needed people who had access to the elite in Britain. Carl Edward was therefore ideal. He was born in Britain, and he was related to Queen Mary, who was very pro-German. She invited Carl Edward several times to England and had a correspondence with him that has mysteriously vanished,” says Urbach.
“The Royal Archives in Britain are hindering research on this subject,” she alleges.
Urbach believes letters the British monarchy is presently holding back from the public would potentially shed far more light on details about Coburg’s relationship with Hitler. Unfortunately, though, they are still under strict censorship. Or, she believes, they may have been destroyed.
“After 1945, and the de-Nazification trials, [German aristocrats] burned a lot,” says Urbach.
‘Jews were always seen as scapegoats in the eyes of the aristocracy’
Gleaning more information on how members of the British Monarchy empathized with and supported the Nazi regime during the 1930s is today almost impossible, says Urbach, because the Royal Archives at Windsor have a strict embargo on royal correspondence for the interwar years.
It’s hardly surprising. During the 1920s and 30s, under the influence of conversations they had with their German relatives, many British royals became deeply embroiled in Fascist ideas, even flirting with Nazi ideology. Although Nazism clearly waged an ideological war on the upper classes, it did not, unlike Bolshevism, threaten to dispossess private property from aristocrats.
While publicly, Hitler may have mocked members of the aristocracy as degenerates, privately he knew how useful a group of socially well-connected individuals could be in the poker game of international diplomacy.
‘In the 19th century Jews represented liberalism, which the aristocracy definitely didn’t support. Then in the 1918 revolution in Germany, it was Jews who were also taking part’
Likewise, the anti-Semitism that pervaded Nazi ideology didn’t present any kind of moral dilemma for members of either the German or British aristocracy. According to Urbach, Jews were regarded as the carriers of the Bolshevism the aristocracy saw as an existential threat to their existence.
“Jews were always seen as scapegoats in the eyes of the aristocracy,” the historian claims. “In the 19th century Jews represented liberalism, which the aristocracy definitely didn’t support. Then in the 1918 revolution in Germany [which resulted in the Weimar Republic], it was Jews who were also taking part.”
Carl Edward, Hitler’s generous friend
Urbach’s book documents how Carl Edward, as far back as 1922, developed a special bond with Hitler. Their deeply anti-Semitic connection, she wrote, was predominantly built upon a love of toxic far-right politics.
On October 15, 1922, Hitler and the Duke celebrated together in a local pub in the town of Coburg, Germany, following a mass street brawl between communists and Nazis. Fighting continued throughout the night and a local Jewish businessman was attacked.
Their camaraderie continued and in 1935, Hitler presented the Duke with the Coburger Ehrenzeichen der NSDAP: a special honor awarded to those who had participated in the Coburg “German Day” that became immortalized in Nazi mythology.
Urbach cites in her book a 2007 documentary made on British television entitled “Hitler’s Favourite Royal.” It attempted to portray Carl Edward as a victim of circumstance, rather than a committed Nazi ideologue.
In an interview with The Times of Israel, Urbach claims this is misleading. She points to evidence showing Carl Edward donating generously to the Nazi party for years; she documents how he bankrolled political murders, and says he knew about the death camps in Buchenwald.
Carl Edward’s sister Alice later denied his knowledge of these events, painting him instead as a philanthropic do-gooder and peacemaker for the Red Cross.
But it’s almost impossible, says Urbach, that Coburg didn’t have a deep understanding of the gas chambers and the plans for the extermination of the Jews. In fact, Coburg’s cousin, Prince Josias Waldek-Pyrmont, was a high-ranking member of the SS and supervised one of the death camps in Buchenwald. The two men also shared a villa in Berlin where other SS officers constantly frequented.
Charles Edward’s anti-Semitism was racially as well as politically motivated. When Coburg visited the US in 1934 he said that Jews played an “unrestricted” role in society and “abused” their role, much as they had done in Germany.
American officers who were part of the army’s psychological warfare team, captured Coburg after WW II. When asked if he thought the Jews were treated badly in the war, Coburg said that methods used to eliminate them by Hitler were harsh, but necessary to remove Jewish influence from the world of German arts, media, and culture.
The missing link: Queen Mary of Teck
The historian believes the influence the Nazi party had on the British monarchy can be traced back to the German relatives of Queen Mary of Teck, the wife of King George V, mother to King Edward VIII, George VI, and grandmother to the current queen.
This has never been analyzed in thorough detail though, says Urbach. Again, because letters from the German relatives to Queen Mary, from 1918 onwards, are not available from the Royal Archives.
The Times of Israel asked whether this withholding of information was happening for fear that the contents might paint a picture of the British royal family as deeply anti-Semitic?
“Yes, of course,” Urbach replied. “The British upper classes were deeply anti-Semitic during this period. This has been swept under the carpet.”
“Whenever I describe to certain historians how Edward VIII was saying things like ‘put Jews against the wall, they are responsible for everything,’ they respond defending him saying ‘Yeah, but he was friendly with the Rothschilds.’ Of course the Rothschilds were rich and powerful. But did Edward VIII have sympathy with poor Jews in London’s East End? I don’t think so,” says Urbach.
When Urbach requested letters she believes most certainly exist between the Duke of Coburg and Queen Mary, the Royal Archive gave her one postcard and told her nothing else exists.
‘The British upper-classes were deeply anti-Semitic during this period. This has been swept under the carpet’
“This is bizarre and ridiculous,” says Urbach.
“We know that Carl Edward visited Queen Mary all the time. So there must be lots of letters. But mysteriously they have all gone. There have been lots of conspiracy theories about this. Because after 1945 there was what has become known as a ‘cleaning up’ mission.”
Censorship performed by the royal Soviet mole
Anthony Blunt, who was once an art adviser to the current queen — and who later confessed to being a Soviet mole — was sent over to Germany to clean up any evidence of links between the British royal family and the Nazi party, says Urbach. Apparently, the Russian government have a file on this, she adds.
‘I was ostracized by the Royal Archives because I wanted these papers’
“Russia has always threatened to publish this file on Blunt, detailing what kind of letters he collected in Germany after the war.”
In the UK, which is a constitutional monarchy, the royal family is often portrayed in the British media as apolitical: an institution that represents tradition without political power. But when certain members of that institution are continually attempting to hide their family’s past dealings with Nazi sympathizers, surely this is highly undemocratic and needs to be investigated further?
“Yes, I’m not the only historian saying this,” says Urbach. “Other historians who want to work at the Royal Archives are afraid to say this publicly.”
Urbach says when she was previously writing a book on Queen Victoria, she was invited around for tea at the Royal Archives. However, when she started demanding any material involving details of the British monarchy’s dealings with Nazi Germany, the relationship turned sour.
“I was never asked for tea at the Round Tower at Windsor again,” says Urbach.
“I was ostracized by the Royal Archives because I wanted these papers. The Royal Archives claim that they are a private archive. Of course they are not. The British public are entitled to have access to this correspondence because it’s their history. You cannot just cut it out, or cover it up, because you don’t want to upset the current queen.”
“The [Monarchy] pretend to be an open [institution] by publishing children’s letters Queen Victoria wrote, and beautiful pictures of royal babies. The things they are feeding us are charming and sugary. But it covers up the fact that they are not giving us the real historical material,” says Urbach.