Monday, June 15, 2015

Hitler and Royal Bavaria

At the end of World War I, the last Bavarian monarch, King Ludwig III, had relinquished power, though without abdicating, in the face of the German Revolution. He went into exile, later returned to Bavaria but had to leave again due to fear of assassination. He died in Hungary in 1921. However, the experience of radical revolutionary rule seemed to shock many Bavarians back to their senses and his funeral was a mass demonstration of support for the old monarchy. His son and heir, Crown Prince Rupprecht, refused, however, to use the occasion of his father’s funeral to seize power even though many thought such a coup could be successful. He was a celebrated war hero, a former army group commander on the western front, and after the death of his father was referred to by many as “Your Majesty”, even by some in the local government. The Crown Prince was adamant that he wanted the monarchy restored but only by legal means. He refused to recognize the Weimar Republic and was as upset about the state of affairs that prevailed in his country as every proud German was.

Brownshirts leader Ernst Roehm
Crown Prince Rupprecht refrained from entering the political fray himself but made it clear that he supported the creation of a “…constitutional, social monarchy with universal suffrage.” This seemed to be a very real possibility as monarchist support in Bavaria seemed increasingly widespread. However, Bavaria was also the birthplace of the Nazi Party and the aspiring dictator, Adolf Hitler, would find an implacable enemy in the person of the Bavarian crown prince. Hitler had served in a Bavarian regiment in World War I and started his political career in Bavaria (he belatedly had to renounce his Austrian citizenship to enter politics). However, traditional, Catholic conservatism ran strong in Bavaria and Hitler would actually find less support there than in other areas. In 1923 Hitler had tried to enlist the Crown Prince in his “Beer Hall Putsch” but the royal would have no part of it. He had earlier sent his supporter Ernst Roehm (who he would ultimately have killed) to try to enlist the support of the Crown Prince, but the Bavarian heir would have no part of it. Hitler tried to tempt the Crown Prince by hinting at supporting a restoration but never outright promising it due to the support among many Bavarian monarchists for seceding from Germany, which Hitler would not allow.

To his credit, Crown Prince Rupprecht was never taken in by the vague promises of the Nazis. It was all a deception of course as, privately, Hitler admitted, “that he couldn’t stand Rupprecht von Bayern” and never had any intention of restoring him to his throne. Fortunately, there were considerable numbers of loyal Bavarian monarchists who did support the heir-to-the-throne and as the Nazi Party grew in power, others in Bavaria increasingly looked to Crown Prince Rupprecht for their political salvation. The royal war hero commanded sufficiently widespread support in Bavaria to be seen as a potential savior from the Nazis, pushing some that were probably not monarchists at all to get behind the idea of a royal restoration. Despite being born in Bavaria, the Nazi Party actually had less support there than most would think. Finally, as the Nazis grew in power throughout Germany, Bavarian politicians began to look to Crown Prince Rupprecht as their savior. The Crown Prince himself certainly thought something needed to be done to spare Bavaria from Nazi rule and offered to step in and take charge of the government himself if no one else had the spine to stand up to Hitler.

Kronprinz Rupprecht
Finally, a plan began to take shape for Crown Prince Rupprecht to step in as a sort of Bavarian dictator with the title of “Staatskommissar” so that he could do things that the existing political establishment lacked the will or courage (or both) to do. Many Bavarian monarchists naturally supported this plan as a prelude to the restoration of the monarchy but so did many Social Democrats, so frightened were they by the sudden and rapid rise of the Nazi Party. Everything seemed favorable as every day brought more supporters as the Nazis gained more power. However, the plan was thwarted when the elderly (and increasingly senile) President Paul von Hindenburg was induced to appoint Hitler Chancellor of Germany. After that, the Nazi dictatorship was swiftly established and numerous Bavarian monarchists were thrown into prison by the new regime. Crown Prince Rupprecht refused to be reconciled with this new state of affairs. He refused to fly the Nazi flag at any of his residences and when Hitler requested the use of one of the royal castles to entertain state guests, the Crown Prince refused.

When he hoped to gain monarchist support, Hitler tried to give the impression that he would restore the monarchy in Bavaria (as in other parts of Germany depending on who he was talking to) and enlisted prominent Bavarians to try to convince the Crown Prince to endorse the Nazis. Ernst Roehm was one such figure as was his former Freikorps commander Franz Ritter von Epp, a former friend of the Crown Prince and a former monarchist but one who had abandoned that to embrace the Nazi cause. None of them succeeded. While on a visit to King George V of Great Britain, Crown Prince Rupprecht stated that he supported a “reasonable” German rearmament but felt certain that Hitler was completely insane. He still held out hope that the monarchy would be restored but, unlike some, he had the wherewithal to realize that it would not be because of the Nazis, despite their many implied or overt promises. Nor was the Crown Prince alone as there were many devout, traditional, Catholic Bavarian monarchists who were determined to resist the Nazis. One of the most prominent was Baron Adolf von Harnier but he was found out by the Gestapo and arrested in 1939.

Adolf Freiherr von Harnier
With the arrest of Baron von Harnier and the discovery of his hopes of restoring the House of Wittelsbach to the Bavarian throne, the Nazi state came down on the old Bavarian Royal Family. Properties were confiscated and, at the end of the year, Crown Prince Rupprecht and his family were forced to flee to the Kingdom of Italy where they were given sanctuary by King Victor Emmanuel III. Despite the close alliance between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, Victor Emmanuel III was still the King of Italy, above Mussolini and there was nothing anyone could do to harm the Bavarian royals as long as the Savoy monarchy protected them. Furiously, Hitler banned the Crown Prince from returning to Germany and the royals settled in Florence. Likewise, Crown Prince Rupprecht never relented in his staunch opposition to the Nazi regime. Of course, there was little the Crown Prince could do under the circumstances, even his life in Italy was not totally free from worry, but he never gave up hope that the monarchy would be restored and as the war went on, it seemed more and more likely the Nazi regime would fall. He had very definite ideas about what should replace it.

One of the problems that the Nazis had with the Bavarian royal house (and some other German monarchists did as well) was their openness toward secession and the break-up of Germany. In 1942 a British diplomat who met with the Crown Prince reported that he envisioned a South German monarchy that would include Bavaria and the Austrian-Tyrol while the Rhineland and Hanover would form another state and Schleswig, Mecklenburg, Brandenburg, Saxony and Posen combining to form another that would separate western Europe from the Soviets. At least that was one idea. In 1943 the Crown Prince sent a memorandum to the British government volunteering to take charge of things in Germany when the Nazi regime collapsed, seemingly implying his willingness to assume the role of German Kaiser. However, more common was the proposal of joining Austria to Bavaria in a new South German monarchy. Unfortunately, after 1943, things became much more dangerous for the Bavarian Royal Family. The King of Italy dismissed Mussolini and began trying to extricate Italy from the Axis and the war. The Germans promptly began moving in to take control of as much of the Italian peninsula as possible.

The Crown Prince & Princess in Italy
The Crown Prince left his residence and was hidden by an Italian colonel, allowing him to evade the German occupation forces. However, his family was not so fortunate. They were in Hungary at the time and when the Nazis occupied Hungary in 1944 Crown Princess Antonia (of Luxembourg) and the children were taken prisoner on direct orders from Hitler himself. They were sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp and were later moved to Dachau. Within the month they were liberated by American troops but the trauma of the ordeal had weakened Crown Princess Antonia and she never fully recovered, dying nine years later in Switzerland. The Crown Prince’s son, Duke Albrecht (future head of the family), was moved from place to place as well before being liberated by the French in Austria. When the war ended in 1945, U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower sent a special plane to fly Crown Prince Rupprecht back to Germany but while they were very polite and friendly, no one was prepared to take his ideas for post-war Germany under serious consideration. The Allies had already made their own agreements concerning the occupation and division of Germany and none of them included a restoration of any of the German monarchies, even one that had been so staunchly anti-Nazi from the beginning as the Royal House of Bavaria.

Crown Prince Rupprecht returned home as a more beloved figure than ever before due to his staunch opposition to the Nazis from the very beginning. Looking at the situation in post-war Bavaria, one would think that a restoration of the monarchy would have been easy. However, four foreign countries were then involved in Germany and a restoration of the monarchy was considered out of the question by both the Allies and the West German government which (and this is at least understandable) feared that this would coincide with calls for Bavarian independence, breaking up the federal union and weakening West Germany at a time when they were most concerned by the looming threat of a third world war with East Germany and the rest of the Soviet bloc. So, Crown Prince Rupprecht remained honored, beloved and respected but also without a throne. One German historian stated that many Bavarian people considered him their monarch anyway, regardless of what the law said, referring to Rupprecht as, “uncrowned, and yet a king”. When he died in 1955 tens of thousands of people visited his remains and he was given a full state funeral by the Bavarian government as if he had been a former monarch. In his person, he represented an older, nobler Bavaria and an example of a national figure who was untainted by the Nazi regime, who also represented all those Bavarians, not just the loyal Catholic royalists, who had opposed the Nazis from start to finish. He was a figure everyone in post-war Bavaria could, and in large part did, admire.

2 comments:

  1. i am a bavarian royalist... i wonder how many are left today?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I am more of a Viennese one actually. However, in Tassilo's day Vienna was part of Bavaria.

    And as a Swede, I have obvious sympathies for the Wittelsbachs. Charles X Gustav, Charles XI, Charles XII and Ulrika Eleonora, usually referred to as "Palatinate" (or Swedish and German Pfalz), but that is the branch of the Wittelsbachs who are now ruling in Bavaria (or would be except for certain circumstances of last century).

    ReplyDelete

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