A Royal Shame; Two Princes as Nazis

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), July 2, 2006 | Go to article overview
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A Royal Shame; Two Princes as Nazis


It is right that there are many books that try to answer the big, difficult questions about Nazism: How could such a scurrilous ideology have taken root in a great, seemingly civilized nation? How could so many have embraced such evil and done the unspeakable deeds demanded of them? What was there in German or European or Christian culture that permitted people to be seduced into such darkness?

But there are also valuable books about Nazi Germany that concern themselves with narrower aspects of the sewer that was Hitlerite Germany and also manage to add to one's understanding of how various types of Germans came to be Nazis.

"Royals and the Reich," by Claremont McKenna College history professor Jonathan Petropoulos, is one of them. Mr. Petropoulos has chosen to concentrate on two German brothers, princes of a minor royal house, Hessen-Kassel, each of them prominent Nazis.

One, Prince Christoph a brother-in-law of Britain's current prince consort, the Duke of Edinburgh was an early adherent of Nazism, rising in the ranks of the SS for many years before dying as a fighter pilot in World War II.

His older brother, Prince Philipp, opted for the equally sinister SA as his chosen branch of Nazi vileness, where he, too, did well by doing ill. Credited by most biographers of Hitler with being one of the Fuehrer's closest confidants until he fell from grace in 1943, Philipp was rewarded with the post of Oberprasident (chief executive) of his very own Hessen province, where he was formally responsible for penalizing its Jewish community in the wake of Kristallnacht.

Here as elsewhere, not only was a punitive tax imposed on the victims to pay for the damage caused by their persecutors, but many of the more prominent Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps for brief periods. Among them was my grandfather Sigmund, a Hebrew teacher who was a pillar of the Jewish community in the bucolic Hessian town of Weilburg-an-der-Lahn and a decorated veteran of the German army in World War I.

After being ill-treated and terrorized for a while, he was released after my grandmother paid a fine she could ill-afford, to ransom a man who had committed no crime. They were fortunate enough to emigrate first to France and then to this country.

So I suppose that I might be said to have a personal animus against Prince Philipp, Oberprasident of Hessen, but in truth I find his brother at least equally rebarbative, as I do all those German royals whose disgraceful collaboration with the Nazi regime is so unflinchingly exposed in Mr. Petropoulos' well-researched and right-minded book.

"Royals and the Reich" is a devastating portrait of how the highest social stratum in Germany enthusiastically embraced a movement that might truly be said to have come out of the gutter. Surely the demotic nature of Nazism should have kept these aristocrats from cleaving to it, even if its more arrogant, anti-democratic, and downright demonic aspects did not.

But just as those head honchos of the German General Staff, Field Marshals Ludendorff and Hindenburg, adopted the onetime corporal as their leader, so, apparently, did German royals have few if any qualms about entering the heart of Nazi darkness.

If the kind hearts that, according to his interview with Mr. Petropoulos, the Duke of Edinburgh would have us believe many of his coroneted relatives possessed, could not stop them from jumping into the Nazi cesspool, you might have thought that simple snobbery might have done the trick.

But more seriously, Mr. Petropoulos lays out the many reasons behind this disgraceful lemming-like leap: hopes for the restoration of the monarchy; disgust at and fear of communist revolutions, which had dethroned German royals, major and minor, and murdered their Russian relatives; as well as the desire to restore Germany's military prowess.

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