Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Enemy of Monarchy: Adolf Hitler
He did remark on the loyalty of the Bavarian people toward their royal family, the House of Wittelsbach, but his anger was turned on them fiercely after his failed coup on November 8-9, 1923. Hitler tried to enlist the support of the still widely respected Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, well known not only for his royal position but as a highly successful army group commander on the western front in World War I, but the Crown Prince would have nothing to do with him and denounced the Nazi Party from start to finish. Hitler had been trying to imitate the success of Mussolini’s black shirts and their “March on Rome” the year before. However, whereas Mussolini had widespread support and ended up leading the government, Hitler had relatively little support, bolted with his men after the first shots were fired against them and he ended up in prison. While there he poured out his hatred against the late monarchy and the old order on the pages of his book, dictated to Rudolf Hess. Taking the socialist line, he denounced the aristocracy for being too cozy with wealthy financiers (universally Jewish in his mind) and he opined that in his “New Germany” the only aristocracy would be the aristocracy of race and that all class distinctions would be abolished. He criticized Kaiser Wilhelm II for allowing parliamentary democracy at all and for giving “cover” to those who had stabbed Germany in the back. At the time, few took his mindless ravings seriously.
Hitler, in his own book, let his true feelings about monarchy be known. He said on the subject of monarchy that, “If the value of this institution lay in the momentary person of the monarch, it would be the worst institution that can be imagined; for monarchs only in the rarest cases are the cream of wisdom and reason or even of character, as some people like to claim. This is believed only by professional lickspittles and sneaks, but all straightforward men - and these remain the most valuable men in the state despite everything - will only feel repelled by the idea of arguing such nonsense”. Thus, Hitler allowed himself to admire a select few monarchs while at the same time dismissing monarchy since, in his view, such worthy individuals came along at such infrequent intervals as to make having a monarchy simply not worth the trouble. Later, he hinted to the Kaiser that he might effect a restoration but, when the Kaiser saw through him to be the dishonest, power-mad politician that he was, Hitler quickly reverted to denouncing the Kaiser as a “Jew-lover”. Not all Nazis were so stridently opposed to anyone with a noble or royal title, but Hitler certainly was and in such a state it was only Hitler that mattered.
King Victor Emanuel III, the head of state, rather than only Mussolini, the head of government. It grated on every socialist fiber of his being to have to bow his head to the King and to try to be pleasant to the Savoy royals, who he viewed as being far too friendly with the British. Hitler also commented on their perceived lack of support for Fascism, noting that the King saluted and the royal ladies bowed deeply when the flags of the Royal Italian Army passed by in review, but pretended not to notice when the flags of the Fascist black shirt militia marched by. During the war, Hitler had attached a German officer to the prisoner-King of the Belgians Leopold III. However, this man, Colonel Kiewitz, became so close to the King that Hitler came to view him as a monarchist and from that time on refused to even sit next to him. It goes without saying that he took an equally dim view of monarchs like the Queen of the Netherlands and the King of Norway who continued to oppose German occupation from exile.
Despite his writings and obvious opinions, there were German royals who, at the start of World War II, ‘rushed to the colors’ not out of any love for the Nazis but simply to defend their beloved Germany. In the same way, after the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, many people who bitterly opposed Stalin and the communists joined the Red Army simply to defend Mother Russia and not out of any political affinity with the government in Moscow. Such patriotic displays did not change Hitler’s view of royals, aristocrats or monarchists however. One of those who volunteered to defend his country was Prince Wilhelm of Prussia, eldest son of Crown Prince Wilhelm III. He fought gallantly and was mortally wounded in France. When his funeral attracted a crowd of 50,000 people Hitler was shocked and alarmed at this display of monarchist sentiment. As a result he issued his famous ‘Prince’s Decree’ which forbid any members of the House of Hohenzollern from front-line military service so as to avoid any such repeat of sympathy for the old monarchy.
It should also be remembered, though it is not much talked about, that monarchists and aristocrats were involved in numerous plots aimed at removing Hitler or assassinating him. Baron Adolf von Harnier, a devoted Bavarian monarchist, was a leader in the secret opposition and, as most know, it was an aristocrat, Claus Graf von Stauffenberg, who was executed for his failed effort to kill Hitler with a bomb. Had that plot succeeded, the man who was to have served as chancellor was the monarchist Carl Friedrich Goerdeler (a former member of the monarchist DNVP) who favored the post-Hitler Germany becoming a constitutional monarchy (similar to the British model) with Prince Louis Ferdinand of Prussia assuming the throne. He had also, from fairly early on, been involved in numerous plots against the Nazi dictator and in organizing right-wing dissidents, many monarchist, in this opposition. The list of monarchists persecuted by Hitler for their opposition to him is a long one. The Bavarian Catholic Rudolf Kanzler was jailed by the Nazis for “treason” for promoting the monarchist cause. The Christian monarchist Ewald von Kleist-Schmenzin was executed for his part in the Stauffenberg plot. Another Bavarian monarchist (a Protestant one) Gustav Ritter von Kahr helped thwart Hitler’s first effort to take power and was later killed by the Nazis in the “Night of the Long Knives”.