Hitler's Aristocrats

The Nazi Propaganda War to Charm the Elite in Britain and America 1933-1941

“I learned to admire the excellence of British propaganda,” Adolf Hitler said in 1934. “I am convinced that propaganda is an essential means to achieve one’s aims.” While this superficially explains Hitler’s misleading statements of “peace” in the years immediately preceding World War II as he rearmed, it ignores how he wielded the most powerful weapon he had at his disposal in fighting the propaganda war: the close interrelationship between Europe’s aristocracy, the political elite, and the beau monde. Aristocrats, despite many in Continental Europe having suffered a loss of political and cultural standing after World War I, still rightly viewed themselves as a close-knit multilingual international elite. And Hitler planned to use them to his advantage: as spies, women of mystery, gentlemen infiltrators, diplomats with a remit to penetrate the power circles of the countries to which they were accredited, industrial sabotage agents, and more. . . . They were the trusted voices disseminating his political and cultural propaganda for the “New Germany.” Then, too, there were the German industrialists—45 of whom would find themselves arrested at the end of the war and brought up on charges of ‘crimes against humanity.’ Names like Thyssen, Krupp, and IG Farben are in my cast of ‘aristocrats’, too. Unlike the royal families, it was these corporate aristocrats who rearmed Germany or kept the Nazi Party afloat in the early years and helped to promote the move to a war economy before the British and French declarations of war prior to September 1939. But German aristocrats were only at the beginning in the chain of propaganda promoting Hitler. American banks, most notably the House of Morgan, American corporations like Ford, General Motors and ITT all assisted in the fantasy that Hitler’s Germany meant peace. American isolationists in Congress and the press actively worked to keep Hitler off the political agenda, even when given proof that there was a German fifth column in America. Men like Henry Ford and Jack Morgan helped to spread anti-Semitism in America. James D. Mooney of General Motors acted as both an adviser to President Roosevelt and a propagandist for Hitler. Like the royal families of Europe, their “jobs” and friendships transcended international boundaries. International business had to find ways of ‘accommodating’ Hitler to keep their trade alive. In Britain, social hostesses like Lady Edith Londonderry, American-born Lady Maud “Emerald” Cunard, and even the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII and then Duke of Windsor) fell under Hitler’s spell. Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists and married to the beautiful Diana Mitford, (and brother-in-law of Hitler’s ‘Valkyrie’ Unity Mitford), were the most obvious faces of fascism. But others in the political and aristocratic hierarchy lurked behind the scenes and were equally if not more powerful in the desire to accommodate Hitler. Hitler’s Aristocrats helped promote Nazi propaganda in both Britain and America in board rooms, drawing rooms, cocktail parties, and weekend retreats, carrying out some of his most secret plans. They were the trusted voices disseminating his political and cultural propaganda for the “New Germany.” The question I answer is why by showing how.