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The “posh bohemian” who befriended Hitler

Unity Mitford with senior Nazi Fritz Stadelmann in 1933. Universal History Archive/Getty

The fact that the British dilettante Unity Mitford ended up being the foreigner closest to Hitler is in some ways unsurprising, says Tom Holland on The Rest is History. She was conceived in the Canadian town of Swastika, after her aristocrat father bought a gold mine there. Her middle name was Valkyrie, after the blonde, “statuesque goddesses” of Norse myth – much glamourised by the Third Reich – that feature in Wagner’s Ring Cycle. She started her adult life as a “politically oblivious” art student, well on her way to becoming just another “posh bohemian” debutante. But her beautiful sister Diana was having an affair with the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, with whom Unity became “besotted”. After returning to the Cotswolds from a trip to Nuremberg in 1933, she started giving passers-by the Hitler salute, clicking her heels and saying “Heil Hitler”.

She moved to Munich the following year, enrolled at a language school next door to the Nazi HQ, and spent all day in the Osteria Bavaria hoping to bump into the Führer. When she finally did, she wrote to her father that it was the “most wonderful and beautiful day of my life”. Her sister, the novelist Nancy Mitford, remained devoted to her despite being a socialist herself. She wrote of Unity: “With her the whole Nazi thing seemed to be a joke. She was great fun. She used to drive around central Europe in a uniform with a gun. Unity was absolutely unpolitical. No one knew less about politics than she did.”

🧐💧 Anthony Rumbold, whose father had been the British ambassador to Germany in the run-up to the Nazis taking power, wrote an account of meeting Unity and her communist sister Jessica at a dinner party in around 1933. When they asked him whether he was a fascist or a communist, he answered: “I’m neither, I believe in democracy.” They replied: “How wet.”