Jonathan Petropoulos: Reveals Fateful History of Nazi Princes

Historians in the News

The prince often dined with Goering. Hitler brightened at his sight. Extending his charm into the southern realms of Mussolini was wife Mafalda, daughter of the Italian king Vittorio Emmanuele III.

Then their friends, no longer finding the couple useful, turned on them. In 1943, Philipp of Hessen was imprisoned in Flossenbuerg; Mafalda died in Buchenwald. Philipp's brother Christoph died in a mysterious plane crash.

Their stories are told in the absorbing ``Royals and the Reich: The Princes von Hessen in Nazi Germany'' by Jonathan Petropoulos. These princes were the great grandsons of Victoria (but even so likely helped bomb Buckingham Palace with their relatives inside).

Petropoulos, author of many distinguished books on the Nazi era, enjoyed rare access to modern members of the clan and archives stuffed with disturbing evidence of blithe complicity.

I spoke with Petropoulos, a professor of European history at Claremont McKenna College in California, by telephone.

Hoelterhoff: How did you come to focus on the Hessens?

Petropoulos: When I went to Germany in 2000 to write a broader book about the aristocracy during the Third Reich, I found a trove of documents in Wiesbaden -- the de-Nazification files of Prince Philipp of Hessen and two of his brothers.

Hoelterhoff: How much material?

Petropoulos: Well over 1,000 pages and including letters from Albert Speer and Pastor Martin Niemoeller.

With that I had found a remarkable set of documents. The family knew I was going to write the book and became cooperative, in part to make the best of the situation.

Hoelterhoff: Had the Hessen family known about the archive?

Petropoulos: I suspect that they knew about the files. I found traces of family members searching various archives for documents about their relations. ...
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