In 1930s of the 20th century, when the world was threatened by another world war, an English aristocrat became interested in Nazi ideas and became an ardent fan of Adolf Hitler. Her fanaticism ended in a tragedy in a Munich Park.
Life with Adolf Hitler was like a theater of the absurd. Completely normal people suddenly committed follies, Spartan restraint was replaced by refined luxury. People who crowded near the Fuhrer reflected the madness of that era. Among Hitler’s fanatical henchmen was an English noblewoman. She organized a circle of fans of the Fuhrer. The lady’s name was Unity Valkyrie Freeman-Mitford. She became an ardent supporter of the Nazis, although her passionate praises of the Fuhrer were repulsed by her countrymen.
It is difficult to think of anything more absurd than such a situation: a rootless Austrian corporal who seized power, obsessed with the national socialist idea, and the daughter of well-respected aristocrats whose family roots went back centuries. Seemingly, there could be nothing in common between them. But there was something—anti-semitism. Blinded by hatred of Jews, mesmerized by the “great” teachings of the Fuhrer, who vowed to “quickly solve the Jewish problem”, Unity Freeman Mitford called on the English people to bow their heads to the German leader, the new Messiah, and not to fight with him. “I do not hide my hatred of Jews from anyone, “she wrote in the Nazi newspaper Sturmer. England —for the English. Jews, get out! Heil Hitler!”
In a short time, lady Unity gained a huge influence on the German Fuhrer, who was planning the most destructive and brutal war in the history of mankind. However, her illusions were dispelled as quickly as they had appeared. The invasion of Poland by Hitler’s troops in 1939 cooled the ardor of the obsessive preacher of Nazism. The ominous shadow of the swastika hung not only over good Germans, over Jews doomed to destruction, but also over prim Englishmen. A few days after the onset of World War II, Unity tried to shoot herself. Doctors saved her, but the injury was very serious, and Unity was never able to recover from it, having spent the last eight years of her life in agony. Her life’s journey from a society lady from high English society to a fanatical Nazi is one of the most mysterious stories of that turbulent time.
It all started in August 1914, with the beginning of the World War I. Unity’s family was true to the old British tradition, a strange mix of Victorian morals and Edwardian values. Her father, Lord Redesdale, carefully preserved these traditions. He tried to foster respect for centuries-old British values in Unity and her siblings. The Mitford girls were very talented. Diana married the fuhrer of British Nazi Oswald Mosley. Nancy, like Jessica, became a writer, author of many books. Only Unity’s notoriety was a disgrace to the family. However, none of the sisters could influence her, since they were not really close. Unity was raised mostly at home in Oxfordshire. She was educated by her mother and governesses. As a teenager, she loved noisy parties and often played pranks. Her favorite joke was to pull her cat out of her bag during a ball and pet it in front of shocked guests. She lived in a world where there were no worries or problems. While many countries were gripped by the largest economic crisis in history, Unity did not even notice and continued to live the normal life of a young socialite. However, in 1932, not without the involvement of her new relative, Oswald Mosley, she was fascinated by Nazi ideas, and this dramatically changed her serene existence. Oswald Mosley, along with his blackshirts, represented the British version of fascism, the seeds of which were sown in Italy, Germany, and then in Spain. To many who rejected communism, as well as the obsolete old monarchical regimes, fascism seemed more attractive and viable.
Together with her sister Diana, Unity did not hesitate to join the Nazi party. In August 1933, as a member of the delegation of the British Union of Fascists, she attended a colossal show in Nuremberg, arranged by Hitler in honor of his coming to power. Looking at the brightly lit stadium, the flaming torches in the hands of stormtroopers, the huge columns of marching, singing Nazis, Unity felt an indescribable delight. She began to believe in Nazi ideas as in Christian precepts. In photographs from those years, she can be seen next to Lord William Joyce, a well-known obsequious Nazi fan in England. Later, he was shot by the allies for treason. She was also photographed with many Nazi leaders. But only one of them, who managed to hypnotize millions of people, became her idol and deity. “When I first saw Adolf Hitler, I knew I had to meet him at all costs,” she said. Back in England, Unity became a celebrity. Hitler, with his brushy moustache and asymmetrical hairstyle, reminded the British of a buffoon. And when a beautiful young Englishwoman told enthusiastically how much she was fascinated by him, it became a pretext for endless ridicule and gossip.
Unity was only nineteen years old, and she had thrown herself into national socialism. She persuaded her father to send her to finish school in Germany so that she could meet the Fuhrer himself. Armed with an English translation of Mein Kampf, the Nazi new Testament, Unity arrived in Munich. At the school run by Baroness Laroche, young girls were trained for brilliant social life. But Unity was less interested in classes. “For her, it was a chance to catch the eye of Hitler,” noted David Pryce-Jones, British author and commentator, who described her life in detail. “And Unity tried to use it with a tenacity comparable only to the fanaticism of distraught fans chasing their favorite pop star.”
The Mitfords were members of the old English nobility, descended from Duke of Windsor, and it was not surprising that the germ of British fascism had developed in their womb. In Munich, Unity first found out where the Fuhrer liked to go. She had been weighing different variants of where to present herself to the great genius, and her choice fell on the East Bavaria restaurant. No one had any idea when the Fuhrer would show up at that restaurant for a glass of old Rhenish wine or beer, but Unity was prepared to wait patiently.
Saturday, February 9, 1935, was the day when fortune smiled on Unity. During a dinner in a restaurant, accompanied by his entourage, Hitler noticed a frail blonde who was devouring him with her eyes, and invited her to his table. Unity’s friend Mary later wrote in her diary: “Hitler invited Unity to his table, and she dined next to him! Unity was on top of the world!” Unity told Mary and other school friends that she was no longer interested in men. Hitler became for her the ideal of a politician, and perhaps, as eyewitnesses claimed, men as well.
Unity moved to live in a student dormitory at the University of Munich. Every day, she bought a Nazi magazine, Sturmer, with caricatures of Jews as pigs and rats, and filled her dressing table not with pictures of movie stars, but with portraits of Nazi leaders. And she enthusiastically studied works of Alfred Rosenberg, one of the main Nazi ideologists. British journalists were surprised to learn what a bright torch in honor of the Fuhrer burned in the Unity’s soul. A Sunday Express reporter interviewed her about life in Germany. He remembered: “When Unity talked about Hitler, her eyes lit up with a fire of fierce faith and worship. She called the hours spent in the dictator’s company the happiest hours of her life. She sincerely believed that the German nation was extremely lucky to have such an outstanding leader. When I was leaving her dorm room, she raised her hand in a Nazi salute and shouted: “Heil Hitler!”
Surrounded by contempt
Many considered Unity a naive young woman who had dressed up in the toga of national socialism in an attempt to redeem the aristocracy’s unpaid debt to the people. They claim that Unity knew nothing about the Nuremberg laws that deprived Jews of their civil rights, or about concentration camps where political opponents of the Nazis were exterminated. Nevertheless, it is believed that she was well aware of the goals and means of the Nazis and that this attracted her to their movement. Unity became a well-known figure in Hitler’s entourage. In the summer of 1936, she addressed a large audience gathered near Nuremberg. In her speech, the English aristocrat fervently urged the audience to accept the ideas of Nazism. She declared that Dachau was the most suitable place for Jews and that only Hitler could bend the “inferior races” of the East to his will. In England, Unity soon ceased to arouse curiosity… only taunts and curses. When Unity spoke at a Nazi rally in Hyde Park, she had to turn to the police for help: an outraged crowd of spectators threatened to kill the preacher of Nazism. At the same time, it is not that Unity was not a patriot of her country. She loved England dearly and claimed that fascism was the only political system capable of saving the divided Europe. “I am in despair at the deterioration of relations between my country and Germany,” she declared bitterly in Hyde Park.
In 1936, Unity returned to Germany. Hitler invited her to one of the largest music festivals in Europe. He wanted to use the festival for political purposes, turning it into an advertising show of the “new German art”. But only Wagner’s music could attract true connoisseurs. However, Nazis also tried to use it to assert the greatness of the new Germany. One of Hitler’s closest associates, Albert Speer, noted that Unity was thrilled with the Fuhrer, and he was thrilled with her. “Hitler adored her,” Speer said. “He was a noble knight and could only allow her hand to be taken in his. She was the only woman whose opinion he listened to…”
Hitler put Unity up in a beautiful mansion and sent an SS car to pick her up every day. Over tea and his favorite éclairs, he enjoyed a conversation with the charming Englishwoman. Unity even had the honor of visiting the Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s small house high up in the mountains. Communicating with her helped him keep abreast of British politics. What Unity said to the Fuhrer in private conversations is anyone’s guess. However, by that time she was already a convinced Nazi and agreed with her idol in everything. Historians believe that although Unity wanted to be in his arms, Hitler never cheated on his mistress Eva Braun, and the two women did not know each other. Like Speer, researchers of the British Union of Fascists also believe that her infatuation with the Fuhrer did not develop into a love affair. Eva knew about Unity and was terribly jealous of her. Once, in a fit of anger, she called Unity a “damned English witch.”
The summer of 1939 was very hot in Europe. Unity moved to Munich. She lived in a luxurious mansion on the famous Agnesstrasse, in the center of the city. Hitler’s private secretary, Martin Bormann, had received orders from him to make lady Mitford as comfortable as possible, and he had carried them out precisely.
Unity returned to England to purchase English-style furniture for her Munich nest. At the time when she was crossing the English Channel, Hitler had already prepared a plan for the capture of Poland. Unity had no idea that war was about to start. Before her eyes, the Reich troops ended the sovereignty of Austria and Czechoslovakia. She was easily reconciled to the idea of “restoring justice”, but it was more difficult to reconcile with direct aggression. Two days before the German invasion of Poland, Unity asked the British ambassador in Berlin to give the Germans guarantees that Britain would not enter the war. However, the ambassador would not listen to her, and Unity became depressed. Unwittingly, she found herself between two fires: the worship of fascism with its ideology of war and enslavement, and the love of her motherland, which entered into an armed struggle with fascism. A choice had to be made.
When England declared war on Germany, Unity went to the Gauleiter of Munich, Adolf Wagner, and handed him a brown envelope. Later Wagner recalled: “She was sobbing and couldn’t speak. The envelope contained her Nazi party badge, a photograph of Hitler, and a letter to the Fuhrer informing him of her decision to end her life.” Grabbing a gun, she drove to a park in the center of Munich and shot herself in the temple in the style of romantic stories of the last century. Park officials found Unity, miraculously alive, and took her to the university hospital, where the best German surgeons tried to save her. The Fuhrer was with her for twenty-four hours. Eyewitnesses claim that they have never seen him so depressed. Through the German secret service in Switzerland, he reported the incident to her parents in England. On November 8, 1939, Hitler saw Unity for the last time. There were tears in his eyes. Unity asked to be sent home. Hitler agreed, saying that that was the right decision, but advised waiting a little to gain strength.
After the end of the occupation of France and neighboring countries, Hitler ordered a railway car to be reequipped into a mobile hospital. Then, he sent Unity, accompanied by his personal doctors, to Zurich, where an English doctor was waiting for them. They crossed France and went by sea to the coast of Britain, where Unity was met by Lord Redesdale. Unity returned to her homeland, which rejected her. So ended the story of the amazing relationship between an English lady and Hitler.
Unlike all those around the Fuhrer, Unity behaved relatively independently and boldly. While she admired the genius of Hitler, in her heart she remained faithful to the old British tradition. Unity could not have predicted the bloody abyss into which Hitler would lead the world. Unity’s arrival at Folkestone caused widespread outrage. To avoid any excesses, she was met by an armed guard. There were shouts from the crowd demanding her arrest. But she managed to avoid prosecution. Seriously ill, Unity settled on a Scottish island owned by their family. It is said that Hitler remembered for a long time about his English fan and worried about her suicide attempt. When Munich was raided by the allies, he ordered that everything be done to preserve her home and belongings. After the death of Unity Mitford, many believed that she was finally freed from the spell of her evil genius at the end of her life. However, there is another version. During the war against Great Britain, the Nazis subjected the city of Coventry to a severe bombardment. During the barbaric raid, an ancient cathedral was destroyed and hundreds of civilians were killed. And how did the bedridden Unity react to the news of this act of vandalism? She bitterly exclaimed: “What a tragedy! We’ve lost twenty of our best bombers!” It doesn’t look like repentance.