By Karina Urbach
Carl Eduard, Duke of Coburg was a grandson of Queen Victoria and one of Hitler’s most ardent supporters. In the 1920s he financed the radical right-wing terrorist organization Consul, which was involved in political assassinations. In the 1930s he worked as a go-between for Hitler in Britain and in return he was paid a monthly retainer of £16,000. To the end the Duke stayed loyal to his ‘Führer’ and died peacefully in Coburg in 1954.
After the reunification of Germany, his heirs applied for restitution. Carl Eduard’s property in East Germany had been confiscated by the Soviet authorities and according to the restitution law of 1994 every German who lost property in the East is entitled to compensation (Ausgleichszahlungen). There is only one caveat: families who helped the National Socialists in a substantial way are excluded. Despite Carl Eduard fitting the description to a tee, his heirs succeeded in achieving an out of court arrangement with the state of Thuringia – Thuringia kept castles and art works and the Coburg family received vast forests.
The Coburg deal was impressive and it might soon be repeated. The former ruling house of Germany, the Hohenzollern, hope for compensation as well. A year ago, Der Spiegel made public that the German government and the Hohenzollern were engaged in secret negotiations. 120 historians, journalists and politicians who commented on these negotiations received cease and desist letters by the lawyer of Georg Friedrich of Prussia. To help them pay their legal bills FragDenStaat started crowdfunding: https://fragdenstaat.de/aktionen/prinzenfonds/.
Brandenburg’s Finance Minister, Katrin Lange from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) decided this August not to go to court, but to give the parties involved a further twelve months’ extension. According to German press reports the Hohenzollern family still hopes to settle out of court. Thanks to Lange’s decision, this is now likely. One argument is that more historical research needs to be done. For many historians this seems puzzling. The archive material available has already shown that several members of the Hohenzollern family, in particular Crown Prince Wilhelm (1881–1951), helped the National Socialists in a substantial way.
For the background, see my new article in Historical Research, ‘Useful idiots: the Hohenzollerns and Hitler’ (August 2020). The article shows what foreign connections the Hohenzollerns had and why they made them available to Hitler. Private correspondence in the papers of three Americans offers new insights. Resumption of the throne was a driving force for the Hohenzollerns who hoped to copy Mussolini’s arrangement with the Italian monarchy. But the family were not just opportunists, they shared many beliefs with the National Socialists: anti-Semitism, anti-parliamentarism and anti-communism. They also greatly admired Hitler’s wars of conquest. For the National Socialists, the Hohenzollerns’ eagerness to support them was welcome propaganda.
Karina Urbach is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research and Longterm Visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. Her new monograph “Das Buch Alice” (The Book of Alice) is published by Propyläen, Berlin. It shows how German publishing houses erased their Jewish non-fiction authors.
Published since 1923, Historical Research, flagship publication of the Institute of Historical Research, is a leading generalist history journal, covering the global history of the early middle ages to the twenty-first century.