By Alex Brummer
As the son of a refugee from the Shoah whose father found refuge in Britain I cannot but have mixed feelings about the images of a young Princess Elizabeth being schooled in the Nazi salute by the Queen Mother and her uncle the future Edward VIII. The UK is after all the country that stood up to Hitler and Nazis, showed great fortitude during the battle of Britain and provided a home for adults and children fleeing the horror of the Nazi advances across Europe.
Winston Churchill was the leader who inspired hope and courage but it the Queen’s parents who were the ultimate keepers of the flame of democracy and freedom. Without their consent and goodwill my father, his family and many of the Jews who were given a safe home in the United Kingdom might have perished in the monstrous death camps of the Holocaust.
Nevertheless, the images from the Balmoral gardens are hideously disturbing. Royal archives are of course of enormous historical importance. But one cannot help but think it might have been better if this bit of celluloid had been over-exposed or destroyed.
Apologists for the home movie, including the Sun which published it, argue that its importance relates to the attitudes of Edward VIII and should be no reflection on the Queen. That is a good try but the Queen Mother was not a child and had no right to inculcate her daughter with the salute. And the idea that Edward’s Nazi sympathies were in any way a secret must also be treated with scepticism.
This was the short-reigning monarch who was entertained by Hitler, continued his contacts with the Nazis after abdication and was shipped off to Bermuda during the war where his sympathies could do no harm to the British cause or the role of the monarchy.
The truth is that by 1933 the Nazi party was already on the rise. The hatred of Mein Kampf was public knowledge. In Germany the first anti-Semitic laws had been passed and Jewish businesses attacked. Indeed, shrewder Jewish financiers such as Seigmund Warburg, who left Germany in 1934, already were laying plans for switching operations from the fatherland to the City of London.
The only excuse that is wheeled out for British aristocratic sympathies with the Nazis is that they were seen as bulwark against Communism. Maybe, but they were also thugs who bullied their way to power on rhetoric laced with hatred. The beginning of policies of eliminating enemies in camps, that culminated in the Shoah, already was being inaugurated with alleged Communist sympathisers (some of them Jewish) and political enemies the earliest victims.
It is paradoxical that the images emerged just weeks after Her Majesty the Queen paid her first visit to the German concentration camp at Dachau. There she swayed silently at Anne Frank’s grave. One wonders if she had any thought at that moment of her own uncle Edward and the childhood antics events at Balmoral.
Of course the Royal family are great friends to Britain’s Jews. The Queen joyously celebrated the 250th anniversary of the Board of Deputies of British Jews with a cocktail reception for the Community at St James Palace. The Prince of Wales was the honoured guest of the BoD dinner on July 5 2011 wearing his beautifully monogrammed kippa. On the occasion of the Queen’s diamond Jubilee in 2012 the then president of the Board Vivian Wineman was at Windsor Castle, among the other privileged bodies such as the Bank of England, to pay obeisance to the monarch.
And the Duke of Edinburgh (despite the Nazi connection of his sisters) travelled privately to Jerusalem to see his own mother Queen Andrew of Greece (Alice of Battenberg) installed as a ‘righteous gentile’ for sheltering Jewish friends from the invading Nazis during the second world war.
Yet despite all of this the disclosures of the last few days do leave a pit in the stomach. The Queen Mother was celebrated for her longevity, flamboyancy and her stalwart Britishness during the worst of the war years. But did she harbour sympathy for right wing causes and Hitler? And why is that the Queen who has visited many Arab autocracies in the Middle East never embarked on a pilgrimage to Israel and the Promised Land. One has always believed that it is the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, tricky international politics and protocols and Britain’s trade with the Gulf region are the reasons for steering clear. Nevertheless, she found the courage to visit Ireland despite the atrocities committed against Crown troops and her own family.
Even at her current advanced years it would be possible to clear the air if the Queen were to commit to a visit to Yad Yashem following the footsteps of popes, president and other monarchs from around the globe. That would be an act that would renew everyone’s faith in the prayer to the Royal Family recited so loyally in every synagogue each Shabbat.
Alex Brummer is City Editor of the Daily Mail and a former vice-president of the Board of Deputies