Nazis stole my Christmas

I was given a copy of the Mitford sisters’ collected letters, and have sunk, enthralled, into its currents, occasionally surfacing, sputtering and expostulating, to read whole chunks out loud to the nearest victim. The nicknames and the silliness no longer come as news. Even Nancy’s prolonged death from cancer was something I knew about, though it is much more affecting in real time, so to say. But the letters of the fascist sisters, Diana and Unity, in the Thirties, came as a real shock. Knowing someone was a Nazi is entirely different from reading the unmediated reactions of a Nazi to the world around them. Here is Unity after and evening with Hitler:

bq. The next evening, the Führer got into quite a rage twice; the first time with Kannenberg,[1] for whom I felt heartily sorry! The second rage, however, was over Reichsminister Gürtner & the new laws he is making. He got angrier & angrier, & at last thundered — you know how he can — like a machine-gun – ‘Das nächste Mal, dass die Richter so einen Mann freilassen, so lasse ich ihn von meiner Leibstandarte verhaften und ins Konzentrationslager schicken; und dann werden wir sehen, welches am stärksten ist, the letter of Herr Gürtner’s law oder meine Maschinen Gewehre!'[2] It was wonderful. Everyone was silent for quite a time after that.

It is no doubt very wrong of me to suppose that there are people in the Cheney circle who feel very sorry for the cook when he is chewed out unfairly. Because, after all, they do not send disagreeable judges to be tortured in concentration camps for failing to send others there. This is an important distinction.

Then there was the scandal that touched Unity’s life earlier that summer. She writes to Diana, who would _completely_ understand:

bq. What I couldn’t tell you on the telephone was this. You remember my little friend from Vienna who you said was like an Indian, & his pretty blonde fiancée who asked the Führer for an autograph in the Osteria. Well yesterday she telephoned & said could she come & see me for five minutes, but her fiancé mustn’t know anything about it. So this morning she came, & she was here when you telephoned. You know Heinz, her fiancé, was a member of the SS in Vienna — I believe since 1932. He was a tremendously enthusiastic Nazi & really risked everything for the cause during the Schuschnigg Regime. Well it seems that just after the _Machtübernahme_ his father, also a member of the _Partei,_ who had brought him up to be very _’nationaldenkend’_ [nationalistically minded], told him that both his (Heinz’s) mother’s parents were Jewish. Of course poor Heinz was completely _erledigt_ [shattered] when he heard it, & wanted to shoot himself at once, which it seems to me would have been the best way out.

I begin to sympathise with the husband of Cynthia Heimel, who made a special pilgrimage to Swinbrook on their honeymoon to piss on Unity’s grave. The marriage didn’t last but the gesture deserves to be remembered.

The other great shock of these memoirs was to discover that Unity’s main lover was an Austrian in whose “family castle”: I have stayed — it’s now a sort of very upmarket B&B, run by the daughter and son-in-law of the Count Almasy who knew her. Strange to think of the night there resounding once with Mitford shrieks.

There is something about Austrian castles, is there not? The other one we atayed in on that holiday is now owned by “Seyss-Inquart’s”: godson.

fn1. His cook

fn2. ‘Next time the judges let that sort of man free, I’ll have him arrested by my bodyguards and sent to a concentration camp; then we’ll see who is stronger, the letter of Herr Gürtner’s law or my machine guns!’

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7 Responses to Nazis stole my Christmas

  1. Rupert says:

    Yes, yes, yes, Hitler, Nazis, degradation, Mitford sisters, evil, cruelty in our midst, etc.

    But what on earth is the Topless Champagne Club that meets in the Burg Bernstein?

    [bum link redacted]

  2. Rupert says:

    Apologies for the bum link. I meant

    and apply the Googlefish as appropriate


  3. Mrs Tilton says:


    it seems to be about drinking and hitting each other with swords. Perhaps they do so bare-chested.

    Drinking and hitting each other with swords is a venerable tradition in the German-speaking countries, and there are still some student fraternities that maintain it. But their tipple is more usually beer than ‘poo, and far from being bare-chested, they are heavily padded — except for the head, which apart from heavy googles to protect the eyes stays bare. Otherwise it would be hard to get one of those sinister scars, don’t you know.

  4. Sean says:

    I bought this for my mother, who has reacted in precisely the same way; she is even phoning me at regular intervals to read me bits. The only good news about this is that I won’t have to go to the trouble of reading it myself.

    The trout fishing at Swinbrook is excellent, by the way; and there is a fine lunch to be had at The Swan there too, which is right on the river with good fish-perving opportunities. If you can ever find a reason to be there, I would gladly join you in following Cynthia’s husband’s footsteps. Or droplets, or whatever.

  5. acb says:

    Oh ye of little google! The “Topless champagne club”: turns out to be a gathering for the purpose of slicing the top off champagne bottles with a Turkish Sabre, the name given by English paying guests in the 1920s. There are puctures at the link.

  6. acb says:

    Sean: I would love to go fishing in that valley, which I know quite well, because my great-uncle, having blown all his money as a farmer, kept the post office and village stores in Swinbrook when I was a child. I would be taken there at weekends from school. In the Thirties, when he was still rich, and, I believe, had the biggest non-Mitford farm in the village, he owned an AC Cobra, with which, he boasted, he could get from Burford to London in 20 minutes. I suppose that might just be possible today, on a clear road in the middle of the night without speed camera.

  7. And here I thought my family was peculiar for having owned a house used for interrogations by the Inquisition.

    I have, on occasion, horrified people by telling them that my mother was a genuine Fascist (which is hard to believe given what my father was). She, however, didn’t have a choice in the matter, she had to join the secci&#242n femenina of the Falange if she wanted an opportunity for further education in the Spain of the late 1940s. Unity and Diana Mitford, on the other hand, had choices.

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