The Duke of Windsor
To the Editor:
I have not read the memoirs of the Duchess of Windsor, which were reviewed in the November issue by Lillian B. McCall, and doubt that I shall do so. However, I did read the review, thinking it might throw some light on what—next to his abdication—is the greatest enigma in the life of the Duke of Windsor, i.e., his obvious toleration of, if not sympathy with, Nazism.
That there was such toleration is not to be doubted. It was demonstrated frequently throughout his career. For example:
His open approval of the Cliveden Set, which favored appeasement of the Nazis.
His visit to Berlin, just before his proposed trip to America, and his permitting himself to be photographed in front of housing allegedly built by the Nazis for German workers. This photograph was used as propaganda by the Nazis all over the world.
His announcement that his guide on his trip to America would be the notorious Bedaux. This was the character, born a Frenchman, naturalized an American, who later became a Nazi. He was caught by American troops in North Africa and committed suicide just before going on trial for treason. The announcement that he would accompany the Duke raised such a furor that the entire trip was cancelled.
His use of the yacht of Wenner-Gren to go to Jamaica to take up his duties as Governor General. Wenner-Gren, a Swedish magnate who was distantly related to Goering, was later placed on the Allied blacklist for trading with the enemy.
Many more such instances could be given.
Was this affinity for Nazis and their sympathizers due to some inner quirk in the Duke’s makeup, or was he influenced by someone in his entourage—perhaps the Duchess herself? That is the question in which the readers of COMMENTARY would have been most interested and it is quite disappointing that that question was not touched on in the review.
The Duchess was near the vortex of a storm which was shaking all mankind. Did she play any part in that storm? What was her reaction to it? If she ignored it completely and devoted her chronicles entirely to the doings of the haut monde to which she had successfully climbed, that in itself was worthy of comment.
The omission from the review of any reference to this question is, to me, further evidence of a distressing fact: we are increasingly forgetful of the extent to which Hitler’s near success was due to the support he received from many leaders in the Western democracies.
Irving M. Engel
The American Jewish Committee
New York City
Mrs. Mccall writes:
Mr. Engel is right, of course. But you can’t say everything in a short review and to have discussed the ex-King’s Nazi sympathies at length—one could hardly mention so serious a charge in passing—would have meant writing a political review. The Duke and Duchess are not political figures, although they caused a political crisis which restored Stanley Baldwin to public esteem, thereby delaying Winston Churchill’s return to power for two years. Baldwin, who opposed the wedding, had been under heavy fire from Churchill for his appeasement of Hitler and for the suicidal arms policy of the British government. Just as the Baldwin government seemed about to fall the abdication crisis burst. Sir Winston evidently believed that if the King could be persuaded to wait a few months the marriage would never take place, but he was shouted down in the House of Commons. . . . Granted that neither the Duke nor the Duchess are over-endowed with common sense, the real mystery to me is how the Duke could have consented to the publication of a book by “the woman I love” which portrays him in so unflattering a light.
It is the Duke’s character—which seems compounded in part of petulance, spite, and narrow self-interest—rather than political conviction that is the key to the mystery of his affection for Hitler. The Duchess takes considerable pains to deny that the Duke ever was sympathetic to him. He was merely the innocent victim of a diabolical schemer. It seems that they needed a secluded chateau for their wedding and Charles Bedaux, through an intermediary, offered his charming castle. They had never even heard of Mr. Bedaux before that. The arrangements were made through the Duchess’s millionaire American friend, Herman Rogers. When Mr. Bedaux suggested that they visit Germany the Duke jumped at the chance because his consuming passion had always been public housing and Hitler was enthusiastic about public housing projects. But it was understood that the trip was to be absolutely private. Imagine the shock when their official guide turned out to be Willi Ley! And having accepted the hospitality of the German government, they couldn’t very well have been so rude as to turn down Hitler’s personal invitation to tea. No one could have been more shocked than the Duke and Duchess when Mr. Bedaux later was accused of treason. So the Duchess says.
When France was falling, the Duke and Duchess were in everybody’s way and hair, and it would have been exceedingly embarrassing for the British government had they been captured by the Nazis. Churchill, who placed a destroyer badly needed elsewhere at their disposal, kept sending the Duke frantic cables to come home. But we all have our pride and the Duke had his. He refused to return to England unless the Duchess was received at Buckingham Palace, given the title “Her Royal Highness,” and he himself an important war job, i.e., one that would keep him in the public eye.
In the course of this account the Duchess casually drops a sentence that solves, I think, the mystery. There was a rumor, she says, that Hitler planned to put Edward VIII back on the throne when the Germans invaded England.
The Duchess doesn’t give us a hint as to what pressure finally induced the Duke to accept the post of Governor General of the Bahamas—a job he did not want and which kept him safely on ice for the duration—but I’m inclined to think that the threat of withdrawal of funds may have been the deciding factor. . . .