Saturday, October 10, 2015

Go-Betweens for Hitler by Karina Urbach

It was not unusual for members of Europe's aristocrats and royals to act as go-betweens or spies for their governments or political foes.  By the late 1800s, the family ties among Europe's royal families led to the use of royal go-betweens during the first world war. Prince Max of F├╝rstenberg, a close confidante of Kaiser Wilhelm II, was an active go-between during the first world war,  due to his ties to Austria.  But by the end of the war, his abilities ceased to be of value.  

Another, and somewhat surprising, go-between in the first world war was the Dowager Duchess of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia), who worked with Prince Max of Baden, and was seen as a "useful link" by the German Foreign Ministry.

Karina Urbach, a senior research fellow at the Institute for Historical Research, University of London, specializes in nineteenth and twentieth-century Anglo-German history.    Her newest book, Go-Betweens for Hitler (Oxford University of Press: $34.95) is a well-detailed study of the aristocrats and royals who were go-betweens and spies.

Urbach provides a good overall introduction to these go-betweens, first delving into World War I and the growth of Bolshevism leading to the ascent of National Socialism.  

German and other nobles saw Hitler (and the Nazi party) as the solution to Bolshevism.  The Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha was one of the Party's early supporters.   He was a British prince by birth, a grandson of Queen Victoria, who became heir to the Coburg dukedom after the death of his first cousin, Hereditary Prince Alfred of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (and his uncle the Duke of Connaught and his sons, Prince Arthur, renounced their rights).  He was at Eton when his life changed, and he and his mother, the widowed Duchess of Albany, and his older sister, Princess Alice, moved to Berlin so Charlie could be turned into a good German.   He became too good of German, embracing all the tenets of National Socialism.  He was, as Karina Urbach, points out, an employee of Adolf Hitler.

Charlie's own family, especially his sister, Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, tried to whitewash his pre-war activities, but the historical documentation is loud and clear: he was a committed Nazi, and he was well aware of the atrocities.   His family ties (regained by the late 1920s) with the British cousins (King George V and Queen Mary) and others were exploited by Hitler and his associates.   His sister, who was Queen Mary's sister-in-law, allowed the duke to use her country home, Brantridge Park, to entertain his contacts.

Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador to Germany, and the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha were close friends, and able to exploit their connections among wealthy British aristocrats and newspapers owners, such as Lord Rothermere, who hired Princess Stephanie zu Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfurst, the divorced wife of a Austrian prince.  She was Jewish by birth, but this apparently did not matter as she moved though the ranks of Nazi connections, becoming an intimate of Adolf Hitler.

She, too, was an effective go-between, until she came to the US, where she was soon interned.  After the war,  Stephanie found new fame working for German media king Axel Springer.

The third of the World War II go-betweens was Prince Max Egon of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, a member of the Catholic branch of the Langenburg family, who worked for Goring, and was involved with Princess Stephanie and Lord Rothermere.  The go-betweens permeated all levels of British political and social life.

Although Karina needs a few lessons in royal relationships -- no, Karina, the King of the Belgians was not Carl Eduard's nephew (she has a few other clangers, too) -- the book is a must-read for several reasons.

First of all, Urbach knows how to make use of research.  She mined all the sources, including new ones (Francisco Franco's papers, for example).  There are complaints about the lack of access to the Royal Archives, but there are other archives that are closed to researchers... the Coburg archives, for example.

Urbach provides compelling evidence of the Duke of Coburg's duplicity, which previous historians had largely dismissed,  including Briton Philip Ziegler, the official biographer of Edward VIII, who dismissed Edward's pro-Nazi beliefs and who had called the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha as "absurd."  It was only after David's abdication (the family name for Edward) that he was finally able to meet Hitler in Germany, and his host was none other than his father's first cousin, the Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha.

Eventually, Princess Stephanie's cover got blown, and she had to find new angles to acquire, provide and transmit information.

Go Betweens for Hitler is an eye-opening reading experience because Urbach challenges (and produces the facts) about the real-life experiences of Coburg and the other aristocratic go-betweens. 

Plenty of endnotes and cited sources, Go-Betweens for Hitler hits nearly all the right spots as an excellent book.  As I said earlier, I was disappointed by the numerous sloppy mistakes Urbach made regarding family relationships.  [This is when it becomes important for publishers to hire readers who can go through these manuscripts, and catch these mistakes as editors are not experts in royalty.]

These sort of mistakes irritate me because manuscripts can be checked before publication.  Urbach preferred to concentrate on the big picture: the history and the facts regarding the go-betweens and the insidious roles they played and carried out while working for Adolf Hitler.  The shadowy roles of these aristocrats cultivated by Hitler and other high-level Nazis have largely been overlooked by historians. 

Karina Urbach has brought the Duke of Coburg, Princess Stephanie of Hohenlohe and Prince Max Egon of Hohenlohe-Langenburg to justice.

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