Surviving History

ADVENTURE, WAR, MURDER, SLAVERY, ESPIONAGE: from the internationally bestselling author of Nathaniel's Nutmeg and seven other history books. New post each Tuesday.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2012


She was a plain-looking woman with bad teeth and a plump belly.
Instant attraction: Hitler and Unity
Yet Unity Mitford had never been hindered by her strange looks. Now, in the summer of 1934, she was determined to do everything she could to meet her idol, Adolf Hitler.
Unity travelled to Munich and began stalking Hitler around town, Although he was fuhrer of Germany, it was relatively easy to see him in public since he was accustomed to eat at the same caf├ęs and restaurants each day.
When Unity learned that he frequently had lunch at the Osteria Bavaria, she began eating there as well.
She did everything she could to get his attention. Yet ten months passed before Hitler finally invited the persistent English girl to his table. They chatted for half-an-hour and quickly realised they were soul mates.
One for the family album
‘It was the most wonderful and beautiful [day] of my life,’ wrote Unity to her father. ‘I am so happy that I wouldn’t mind a bit, dying. I'd suppose I am the luckiest girl in the world. For me he is the greatest man of all time.’
Her feelings were reciprocated. Hitler was particularly intrigued by Unity’s middle name, Valkyrie. And he was fascinated to learn that her grandfather had translated the anti-Semitic works of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, one of his favourite writers.
Hitler began to see more and more of his fair-haired English friend, much to the annoyance of his ‘official’ girlfriend, Eva Braun.
Hands up who likes Hitler: Unity and sister Diana
‘She is known as the Valkyrie and looks the part, including her legs,’ wrote Braun in her diary. ‘I, the mistress of the greatest man in Germany and the whole world, I sit here waiting while the sun mocks me through the window panes.’
Unity was now introduced to members of Hitler’s inner circle. She got along particularly well with the thuggish Julius Streicher, publisher of the vitriolic anti-Semitic newspaper, Der Sturmer.
Munich: Unity's new home
When Unity delivered a particularly nasty diatribe against the Jews, Streicher asked if he could print it in his paper. Unity was flattered.
‘The English have no notion of the Jewish danger,’ began her article. ‘Our worst Jews work only behind the scenes. We think with joy of the day when we will be able to say England for the English! Out with the Jews! Heil Hitler!
She ended her text with the words: ‘Please publish my name in full, I want everyone to know I am a Jew hater.’
Hitler was so pleased with what Unity had written that he awarded her a golden swastika badge as well as a private box at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Unity with the thuggish Streicher (right)
Unity now became one of the fuhrer’s intimates, visiting him on numerous occasions and expressing her constant admiration for him. He was no less smitten with her: in 1938, he even offered her an apartment in Munich. Unity had high hopes of replacing Eva Braun in his affections.
By now, her behaviour had aroused the suspicions of the British Secret Service. The head of MI5, Guy Liddell, was particularly alarmed by her closeness to Hitler. He felt that her friendship with him warranted her being put on trial for high treason.
Unity refused to leave Germany even after Britain’s declaration of war on 3 September, 1939. Yet she was deeply depressed by what had happened, not least because of the implications it had for her relationship with Hitler.
She took herself to the English Garden in Munich, held to her head the pearl-handled pistol given to her by Hitler and pulled the trigger.
She was badly wounded but - amazingly - survived. Hospitalized in Munich (the bills were paid by Hitler), she was eventually moved to Switzerland. When she was partially recovered, her sister, Deborah, flew to Bern in order to bring her home to England.
What fun we had: Unity and Diana at Nuremberg
‘We were not prepared for what we found - the person lying in bed was desperately ill. She had lost two stone (28 pounds), was all huge eyes and matted hair, untouched since the bullet went through her skull.’
What happened next remains shrouded in mystery.
He's my dad: as it might have been
The official account relates that she was taken to the family home at Swinbrook in Oxfordshire. She learned to walk but never made a full recovery.
She eventually died in 1948 as a result of meningitis caused by the bullet in her brain.
But there is another, more intriguing theory about her return to England. It has recently been claimed that she was actually taken to a private maternity hospital in Oxford. Here, in absolute secrecy, she gave birth to Hitler’s love child.
The woman who made the claim, Val Hann, is the niece of the hospital’s former manager, Betty Norton. Betty had told the story to her sister, who in turn passed it on to Val.
If true, it would mean that Hitler’s child is quite possibly still alive and living somewhere in England.
But the facts will never be known for certain: Betty Norton died long ago and the maternity hospital neglected to register many of the babies who were born during the war.

Wolfram: The Boy Who Went to War available here for just £5.30

And for my American readers, it is now published under the title: The Boy Who Went to War: The Story of a Reluctant German Soldier in WWII available here
Newly published US edition
'Idiosyncratic and utterly fascinating... an extraordinary tale of hardship, horror and amazing good fortune' James Delingpole, The Daily Mail