The photo, as well as the 17-minute film of young Queen Elizabeth doing the Nazi salute, is taking over the world. The palace is now considering legal options as it launches an investigation on how the “secret film” has been made public. As the world feasts over the shocking image, experts were one in pointing out the dark truth behind the sensational clip – that the Royal Family has kept secrets from the public and this “undemocratic” practice must come to an end.
‘Their Royal Heilnesses’
On Saturday, UK’s leading newspaper, The Sun, run a story titled “Their Royal Heilness.” The front page came with the log line “Secret 1933 film shows Edward VIII teaching this Nazi salute to the Queen.” In the photo, Queen Elizabeth, six or seven years old, was playing with her sister Princess Margaret, the Queen Mother and Prince Edward. As the photo suggests, they were playing “Nazi salute.”
The story had since been picked up by major news networks around the world. The worldwide attention has prompted the palace to release a statement saying that the manner by which the film was released has become exploitative.
“It is disappointing that a film, shot eight decades ago and apparently from HM’s personal family archive, has been obtained and exploited in this manner,” the palace said. The palace is now investigating the source behind the leak and is considering legal option, The Independent reported.
Hitler and Charlie Chaplin
At the time that the film was taken, the German dictator is more of a funny character than a fearsome one for sharing a distinct similarity with the comedian Charlie Chaplin. Those who came into the Queen’s defense quickly pointed to this fact.
A palace insider, who has spoken with The Telegraph on condition of anonymity, urged for people to look at the film in its “proper context and time.”
“This is a family playing and momentarily referencing a gesture many would have seen from contemporary news reels. If you watch the film it is people laughing and joking around and playing, and it was one of the things of the day,” the source told The Telegraph.
The source said no one in 1933 had any clue or could sense how Hitler would evolve to be the most heinous political leader in the history of the world. Furthermore, “the Queen is around six years of age at the time and entirely innocent of attaching any meaning to these gestures,” the source said.
The source highlighted that the Queen and “her family’s service and dedication to the welfare of this nation during the war and the 63 years the Queen has spent building relations between nations and peoples speaks for itself.”
This point was seconded by military historian James Holland who has also spoken with The Sun in a follow-up report. Holland pointed out that the family, even while giving the Nazi salute, is laughing.
“They are all having a laugh, there are lots of smiles, so it’s all a big joke. I don’t think there was a child in Britain in the 1930s or 40s who has not performed a mock Nazi salute as a bit of a lark,” Holland told the Sun.
The film, which merely shows the family as they goof around, “shows the Royal Family is as human as the next man,” Holland said. While there is no secret that Edward met Hitler in the years after 1933 and actually had right-wing sympathies, the same cannot be said about the Queen Mother of King George VI,” Holland said.
“The two were completely steadfast from start to finish in their abhorrence of Nazism in their role as leaders of the free world and the fight against that tyranny,” Holland said of the Queen mother.
Royal Family secrets should be put in public domain
The Sun had actually acknowledged that Hitler at the time was a “faintly comic character.” However, the paper argued that Edward’s affiliation with Hitler makes the film “historically significant.” This argument is supported by historical experts.
“Edward was already welcoming the regime as Prince of Wales in 1933 and remained pro-Nazi after war broke out in 1939. He could well be teaching the Queen and Princess Margaret how to do the salute,” said Dr Karina Urbach from the Institute of Historical Research.
Urbach argued that films as such should be put into the public domain. “It is high time the Royal Archives were open for serious research on the 1930s and the issue of Edward’s politics and their impact upon his generation within the Royal Family,” she said.
Urbach said that the public has no access on 20th century material or to any political documents involving the Royals after 1918. She also put the spotlight to the fact that the palace conducted a big cleanup operation after 1945.
“The royals were very worried about correspondence resurfacing, so it was destroyed,” Urbach said.
Guardian editor, Peter Preston, and other renowned historians, have spoken in the same tune.
“British political history operates to a 30-year rule. But royal history — including home movies sealed in archives — is different. Here, access is partial and grudging; family diaries, photos — and German war records — are kept out of sight. Royal ‘privacy’ reigns,” he said.
“The Royal Archives are probably the most undemocratic and over-protected major archives in the UK,” Historian Alex Von Tunzelmann tweeted.
“Historians should use momentum created by Nazi salute story to pressure Royal Archives for openness & transparency about family’s past,” Dr Helen McCarthy, from Queen Mary University of London tweeted.
Culture Secretary John Whittingdale came into Sun’s defense. He said that the media has the rights to publish controversial stories.
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