Royals Told: Open Archives On Family Ties to Nazi Regime
Historian urges that secret correspondence be made public to reveal the truth after Queen’s Nazi salute footage released. Buckingham Palace has been urged to disclose documents that would finally reveal the truth about the relationship between the royal family and the Nazi regime of the 1930s.
The Sun’s decision to publish footage of the Queen at six or seven years old performing a Nazi salute, held in the royal archives and hitherto unavailable for public viewing, has triggered concerns that the palace has for years sought to suppress the release of damaging material confirming the links between leading royals and the Third Reich.
Unlike the National Archives, the royal archives, which are known to contain large volumes of correspondence between members of the royal family and Nazi politicians and aristocrats, are not compelled to release material on a regular basis. Now, as that relationship becomes the subject of global debate, historians and MPs have called for the archives to be opened up so that the correspondence can be put into context.
“The royal family can’t suppress their own history for ever,” said Karina Urbach of the Institute of Historical Research at the University of London. “This is censorship. Censorship is not a democratic value. They have to face their past. I’m coming from a country, Germany, where we all have to face our past.”
The Sun was subjected to a backlash on social media, after publishing 80-year-old home movie footage from the grounds of Balmoral Castle, in which a laughing Elizabeth, her mother, Prince Edward (later Edward VIII) and Princess Margaret, were shown making Nazi salutes. Barbara Keeley, Labour MP for Worsley and Eccles South, retweeted a message that read: “Hey @TheSun, if you want to stir up some moral outrage about a misjudgement in history, look a bit closer to home.”
Many expressed incredulity that the paper had published the actions of a child. But the managing editor, Stig Abell, defended publication. “It is an important and interesting issue, the extent to which the British aristocracy – notably Edward VIII, in this case – in the 1930s, were sympathetic towards fascism,” he said. The paper declined to comment on how it acquired the footage. Legal experts suggested a police investigation was unlikely, especially given the collapse of recent cases in which Sun reporters walked free after being accused of paying public officials for information.
“On the face of it, this information has been obtained legitimately and used in accordance with what the newspaper feels is appropriate interest,” said John Cooper, QC.
“It’s really a question not so much on the law but whether it’s in the public interest for this material to find its way into a newspaper. The public interest in this document being produced is nothing to do with the royal family but how startling it is that in 1933 people were so naive about the evils of Nazism.”
Urbach, author of Go-Betweens for Hitler, a new book about the relationship between the royals and the Nazis, has spent years trying to gain access to documents relating to Nazi Germany held in the royal archives. She described the archives, in Windsor Castle’s Round Tower, as “a beautiful place to work but not if you want to work on 20th-century material … you don’t get any access to anything political after 1918”.
She described seeing shelves of boxes containing material relating to the 1930s that no one is allowed to research. She suggested that much of the archives’ interwar material no longer existed.
“We know that after ’45 there was a big cleanup operation,” Urbach said. “The royals were very worried about correspondence resurfacing and so it was destroyed.”
Helen McCarthy, a historian of modern Britain at Queen Mary University of London, echoed Urbach’s comments, tweeting that “if Royal Archives were more accessible & welcoming to researchers, ‘shock’ discoveries like Sun’s front page could be put in better context”.
Historian Alex von Tunzelmann suggested on Twitter that the lack of access to the royal archives for historians and the public “is profoundly undemocratic. We need much greater access. We need to be grown up about it. The history of this country belongs to the public”.
Paul Flynn, Labour MP for Newport West, a member of parliament’s influential political and constitutional reform committee and a prominent supporter of the recent release of Prince Charles’s confidential memos to politicians, said the royal family needed to allow full access to its archives, including those relating to Germany in the 1930s.
“It was a very interesting part of our history, when we had a future king who was flirting with the Nazis and the Blackshirts, and we need to know the truth of it,” Flynn said. “We need more openness. The royals have great influence still. Charles is still the most important lobbyist in the land.”
Edward, who abdicated to marry the American socialite Wallis Simpson, faced numerous accusations of being a Nazi sympathiser. The couple were photographed meeting Hitler in Munich in October 1937.
The Queen’s 1933 Nazi Salute
THE Queen and Queen Mum raise a Nazi salute in an astonishing home movie shot at Balmoral and seen today for the first time. The film shows the then Princess Elizabeth, just seven, larking about in 1933.
Egging on her sister Princess Margaret, three, is their uncle Prince Edward, Prince of Wales. He was a sympathiser towards Hitler’s Nazi Germany and became King Edward VIII.
The stunning film footage of the Queen performing a Nazi salute is today revealed by The Sun.
The astonishing clip lay hidden for eight decades. The grainy home movie is thought to have been shot in 1933 or 1934, as Hitler rose to supreme power in Germany.
The 20-second cine film reveals Edward, who once gave a Nazi salute to Hitler and claimed he was “not a bad chap”, larking around with his sister-in-law the Queen Mother and her young children in the grounds of Balmoral.
The Queen, in tartan kilt or skirt, is aged around seven while Margaret is three. The clip opens with a playful Elizabeth grabbing one of the royal corgis and pushing the dog across the lawn.
Facing the camera, she raises her arm in a Nazi salute. Margaret lifts a hand — her left, in a playful wave.
Elizabeth performs a Scottish jig then raises her right arm again, joining in with the Queen Mum as they both stand bolt upright with right arms hoisted.
Encouraged by Uncle Edward, Margaret raises her arms again before the clip ends with the Queen Mum and Edward saluting with their right arms.
Despite his real Nazi salute to Hitler, the film clip is the only pictorial record of Edward in the pose.
Experts last night hailed the footage as an incredible new historical document of huge public interest.
While there is clearly no suggestion that the Queen or Queen Mother were ever Nazi sympathisers, Edward’s links with Hitler and fascism are very well documented.
And historians believe the film could cast important new light on the Royal Family’s attitudes towards Germany in the 1930s — and the influence of Nazi-loving Edward.
Dr Karina Urbach, a top Nazi expert and member of the renowned London-based Institute of Historical Research, described the film as “remarkable”.
She said: “The video is pretty shocking. The Queen has a proud Second World War record and sense of duty to her country and no one would ever suggest she was sympathetic to Nazi Germany.
“She was a child when this film was shot, long before the atrocities of the Nazis became widely known.
“But Edward was already welcoming the regime as Prince of Wales in 1933 and remained pro-Nazi after war broke out in 1939.
“He could well be teaching the Queen and Princess Margaret how to do the salute.”
The University of London academic added: “Hitler’s movement had been growing fast since 1929 and many German relatives of the Royal Family were attracted to it.
“They could well have seen the salute on newsreels and are copying it. The film involves our monarch and is an important historical document that asks serious questions of the Royal Family.
“It is right that it is put into the public domain. It is high time the Royal Archives were open for serious research on the 1930s and the issue of Edward’s politics and their impact upon his generation within the Royal Family.”
Juliet Gardiner, former editor of History Today and a Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, said: “It’s an insight into British attitudes towards Germany at that time in 1933, long before everyone really realised Hitler’s designs on Europe. It is absolutely right that the public sees it.”
The film is even more remarkable as — just seven years after it was made — George VI and Queen Elizabeth became inspirational figures of wartime defiance after visiting bombed-out Londoners during the Blitz of 1940.
At the time the future Queen Elizabeth, now 89, would have had no inkling of the implications of making a Nazi salute.
The original film remains under lock and key. But copies of the clip were made several years ago and one has now been handed to The Sun by a source who believes it to be of massive public interest and historical importance.
Experts last night defended the Queen’s Nazi salute as evidence of the royals playing around.
Respected military historian James Holland said: “They are all having a laugh, there are lots of smiles, so it’s all a big joke.
“I don’t think there was a child in Britain in the 1930s or 40s who has not performed a mock Nazi salute as a bit of a lark.
“It just shows the Royal Family are as human as the next man.
“It’s no secret Edward met Hitler and had right-wing sympathies. But the same cannot be said about the Queen Mother or King George VI.
“The two were completely steadfast from start to finish in their abhorrence of Nazism in their role as leaders of the free world and the fight against that tyranny.”