Wolf and Kind
by ALEX CARNEVALE
In order to meet Hitler, Unity Valkyrie Freeman-Mitford had to learn German. A lot of her friends were dating young storms, which was what they called the Nazi stormtroopers. She found a restaurant where Hitler sometimes ate. It was named Osteria Bavaria.
She was with her friend Derek Hill, in a Munich tea room with his mother, when Hitler strolled into the place from his black Mercedes. Her teacup shook. She nearly dropped it.
A month later, Hitler had one of his ostensible allies, Ernst Röhm, executed. Unity Valkyrie wrote to her sister Diana: "It must have been so dreadful for him when when he arrested Röhm himself. Then he went to arrest Heines and found him in bed with a boy. Did that get into the English papers? Poor Hitler."
Diana Mitford was also learning German, in a Berlitz course. The sisters moved into a Munich hotel together. On Unity’s instructions they dined often at the Osteria, too shy to approach the great man. Whenever one of her brothers and sisters made it to Munich, she took them to a long lunch.
Soon Hitler could not help but notice this tall English girl who always seemed to be having her meal at the same time. He nodded when he saw her.
On February 9th, 1935 a man approached Unity and said, “The Führer would like to speak to you.” They talked of England, a conversation that ended with Unity suggesting he visit. “He said he would love to but he was afraid there would be a revolution if he did,” she wrote to her father.
Unity and Hitler talked movies and the man paid for her lunch, signing a postcard. “I suppose I am the luckiest girl in the world,” she wrote. In order to intensify this admiration, Unity refocused herself on what had only been a passing phase before now: her hatred of Jews.
She was having tea a few weeks later when Hitler invited her to sit with him again. Her third invitation involved meeting Herr Goebbels. Hitler and Unity Valkyrie became fast friends, meeting for tea or lunch whenever Hitler was in Munich over the next four years. Hitler’s advisors were surprised and wary of how much time he dedicated to the woman.
Knowing very little of Great Britain, Hitler never really understood how prominent Unity’s family was in English society — her father was a massively wealthy landowner, and Winston Churchill was her cousin, after all. Unity Valkyrie introduced the Führer to most of her family. Her sister Pam found him "very ordinary, like an old farmer in a brown suit."
In order to emphasize her devotion to the Nazi cause, Unity wrote a letter to an anti-Semitic newspaper. "Our Jews work only behind the scenes,” she wrote, "and therefore we cannot show them to the British public in their true dreadfulness."
This letter got Unity headlines in British newspapers. Photographs of Unity Valkyrie giving a Nazi salute accompanied the stories. Later on, as the country neared war, a few British newspapers began coming around to Unity’s way of thinking, and helped in making her sick views more acceptable. She now referred to herself openly by her party name. She tested out her pistol, a 6.35 Walther, while on vacation. When asked why she was shooting cans, she explained she was practicing to kill Jews.
In order to amuse herself, Unity’s sister Nancy tweaked her by claiming the family was 1/16th Jewish. This was not true; the family had a long history of abhorrent behavior towards England's Jews. Unity sister’s Diana was among the worst offenders. Diana Mitford had married a prominent British fascist and anti-Semite and was deeply in love.
Diana and Unity went to visit the Goebbels family whenever they could, and Hitler invited Unity and Diana to be his guests for the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin. When they returned to London, Diana was invited to lunch with the Churchills. She told them what she knew about Hitler, insisting that Winston and Adolf would get along famously.
Unity Valkyrie was now permanently ensconced in Munich, where she had two white pet rats and a puppy named Flopsy. She spent her days waiting for Hitler’s call. "The greatest moment in my life," she explained to a comrade, "was sitting at Hitler’s feet and having him stroke my hair." She gave parties in her apartment for the SS.
After they stayed with Goebbels’ family for the Olympics, Diana and Unity attended the Wagner Festival, where The Ring and Parsifal were performed. (Parsifal was not a hit with Diana. Hitler explained she would like it more when she was older.) Unity and Diana now felt so comfortable with Hitler that they hectored him about some of his decisions, albeit in the most loyal way imaginable. Hitler’s subordinates were shocked and appalled by this increasing familiarity: they lived in abject fear of their leader's temper.
Hitler called Unity “Kind” and she called him “Wolf.” Diana Mitford became quite close to the center of Nazi power. She was close with both Hitler and Magda Goebbels, and and often watched movies with the Führer. Hitler was only unavailable to the women while he was with Eva Braun at his headquarters in the Bavarian Alps, the mountain retreat called Berghof.
The Goebbels hosted Diana’s wedding to her husband in their lavish apartment. As Unity and Diana waited for the ceremony, they “saw Hitler walking through the trees of the park-like garden. The leaves were turning yellow and there was bright sunshine.” The next day they flew back to England.
Unity marched with Hitler through occupied Poland. On this tour she took ill with pneumonia. Over her sick bed, Unity’s father met Hitler and found him quite personable.
The Daily Mirror gave Unity Valkyrie a political column, where she explained that England and Germany should be allies, and suggested the future of Europe hinged on the togetherness of the Nordic race. Through her friend the Führer, she knew well of the vicious murder perpetrated against Jews, praising a massacre in which Jews were herded to an island in the Danube and left there to starve to death.
The papers suggested that she and Hitler might marry. Unity informed Hitler that Churchill was planning war, and his intelligence confirmed the possibility. The remaining English in Germany were now being evacuated, and Unity no longer had any friends in country. She refused to leave but grew miserable. "I might disappear into the mountains in Tyrol, perhaps, if war is declared," she wrote to Diana. "Of course the other way seems the easiest way out, but it seems silly not to wait and see how things turn out. It might all be over in a week."
On Sunday September 3rd, Unity Valkyrie received a telegram informing her that Britain had declared war on Germany. She wrote her parents to say goodbye and suggested that after the war they could all see Hitler often. She told the consulate that she would like to be buried with the signed photograph of Hitler and her Nazi party badge. In the gorgeous Munich park where she had often walked Flopsy, Unity shot herself in the temple with her Walther.
A bullet in the head does not kill as often as we are led to believe. Unity Valkyrie regained consciousness a week later. The bullet lay obstreprously in the back of her skull, and could not be removed. Hitler sent roses and called as often as his schedule permitted. In the hospital Unity attempted to put a final stop to things by swallowing her swastika, which had to be extracted via probe.
Her family knew nothing of Unity's condition and the German press were silenced. Eventually the story broke, with the papers reporting Unity dead. By the time her family was able to reach her, she had lost thirty pounds and could not stand upright without assistance, but she was still alive.
Hitler paid all the medical bills. In England Unity required police protection. Unity's brain damage was severe, and it was a long time before she had even realized what she did to herself. Friends described her mental age as 11 or 12. Eventually she learned to drive. The rest of the family was similarly embarrassed by what their daughters had been up to during the war, and Diana went to prison for three years. After her release, her favorite diamond swastika was returned to her. Like her mother, she hated Jews with every breath until her death in 2003.
The reason Hitler nearly conquered the continent was not because of a polite ignorance of his aims, or fastidious desire to avoid bloodshed. Many British people saw nothing wrong with what he professed in Mein Kampf. Perhaps Hitler understood a great deal more of the character of Great Britain than Unity believed.
Before the war, their sister Jessica Mitford moved as far away as possible from this collection of hateful shrews and became a communist in northern California. She barely reacted to the death of Unity Valkyrie, writing, "Of course I mourned for my Boud years ago when I realized we couldn't be friends anymore."
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
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