Posts Tagged ‘El Pais’

The valkyrie who rode with the SS, by Jacinto Anton, in El Pais, August 2018

Jacinto Anton (photo: copyright El Pais)

(Translated from Spanish by Caroline Schmitz – Original article: ‘La Valkiria que cabalgaba con los SS’ in the El Pais newspaper in Spain and Brazil on 11/15 August 2018)

I would not say that I heard them ride from when I was a child, as they said Wagner did, but since my earliest memories, I have always had a weakness for valkyries; and for amazons: in fact for all wild and war-like women. Brunhilde, Sigrún, Waltraute (named after the Rhine wine), Skuld, Gunr, Orlind or Göndul are some of those supernatural maidens, who ‘assign death and hand over victory’ and who, in nordic mythology, gather a battle’s most valient fallen, taking them to Valhalla, where they are installed by Odin in Vingölf’s famous hall of 540 doors, to assist him once Ragnarök makes his entry at the end of time.

In modern times, the most notable valkyrie, operatic versions apart, has been Valkyrie Mitford, the fifth of the six famous, aristocratic Mitford Girls, those celebrities (before the term was coined) who seemed to have sprung from the feather of Evelyn Waugh or Noël Coward and who, in the 1930s, and later, caught the imagination of the British as representatives of their country’s upper class. Sister of the famous Nancy, Diana and Deborah (who became the Duchess of Devonshire, a great friend of and letter writer to Patrick Fermor Leigh, who, in turn, was a friend of mine, which would have given me a direct link with the Mitfords, had they not all been dead by then). Since her baptism and even before, as her parents said she was conceived in the village of Swastika in Ontario, Unity Valkyrie Freeman-Mitford (1914-1948) – this was her full name – seemed destined to cause a big mess.

And thus it happened: ferocious germanophile since childhood, Valkyrie (her name was given to her because of a friendship of her grand-father with Richard Wagner) became a crafty Nazi, a furious anti-semite, and managed, at twenty years of age, not only to meet Adolf Hitler but to form part of his intimate nucleus of friends, a detestable group in which she was never out of place (she never failed to denounce those who questioned the regime and installed herself in a flat requisitioned from a Jewish couple, which she started redecorating while the evicted coupled were still packing up their belongings). The infamous Julius Streicher let her speak at his gatherings and write articles in his antisemitic newspaper. Eva Braun was jealous of her.

I thought that the young Brit, whom they called Bobo, was nothing more than an eccentric rebel, naive, with little brains and considerable psychological imbalances. I thought that through her bad girl behaviour she had tried to gain notoriety and to scandalise her family and British society (including giving the Hitler salute when out in Chelsea and giving public speeches to say she would kill the Jews). It is true that the girl, the black sheep of the Mitford family – although there were quite a few – was very close to Hitler, whom she called by the familiar ‘you’ and who showed his appreciation of her (in his singular way of showing appreciation) by installing her in a flat. But I believed that there was much fantasy in what she recounted of her experiences and what she said about herself. In other words, I thought Unity was a kind of ‘narrow-gauge’ valkyrie.

However, after reading the biography Hitler’s Valkyrie. The uncensored biography of Unity Mitford (The History Press), by the writer, journalist and documentary film maker David R. L. Litchfield, I was left stunned. The author, who had access to new documentation, partly for family reasons as his mother and grand-mother knew Unity, traces a completely different portrait from the one I had formed for myself of this young woman. And one which is, without the shadow of a doubt, a much more interesting one.

He explains that, far from being stupid and innocent, Unity was an avid reader of William Blake and had an outstanding gift for drawing nude, copulating figures (she said they were ‘fallen angels’), if nothing else. And so it is that her biography, which is very well written and speckled with bitingly stimulating passages and an irony worthy of Truman Capote or Terenci Moix, starts with a description of one of the orgies which she held as valkyrie with members of the SS whom she called familiarly storms, for ‘Sturmführer’. Litchfield explains how Unity took six SS-men to her flat in pre-war Munich, let herself be bound to the bed surrounded by Nazi flags, her eyes bound with a swastika ribbon, and was taken by them while the Horst Wessel Song, the iconic Nazi hymn, played in the background. As we can see, this was no ‘narrow-gauge’ valkyrie at all. Rather it seemed we were in the days leading up to Salon Kitty or The Night Porter, but Litchfield assures us that the erotic painting of the ‘Sturms and Drang’, which he says was repeated frequently, was absolutely real and witnessed by Unity’s sister, Diana (another ‘brown’ Mitford: she too admired Hitler and married Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Nazi Party), who surprised her one time in flagranti. Diana not only did not reproach her younger sister for her behaviour, but had SS lovers herself, ‘though only one at a time’.

The promiscuous valkyrie, who liked to dress up all in black, played out these acts as a form of mystical ceremony of surrender to people ranked between her and her adored Führer, Adolf Hitler. The biographer affirms that Hitler himself knew of these parties with a happy ending and took them as an exciting compliment. It has always been debated whether Hitler and Unity, who had a strong and healthy appearance of an aryan woman with bright blue eyes as favoured by the Nazi leaders, ever got down to the business (even a love child was rumoured to exist, who was said to be living in Britain today). Litchfield does not think they ever did but that their relationship stayed on a purely platonic-morbid level. For Unity, who venerated Hitler, it was practically impossible to consummate her love with him as he represented for her a divinity. Hitler himself, though the aristocracy favoured him, was aware of the political problems if he were to engage with a British woman, even though she was extremely Nazi – and even more so with one who had been to bed with half the Leibstandarte SS. It seems that there was nevertheless one instance when Adolf decided to have a go; he invited Unity for an intimate rendez-vous to the chancellery where she discovered her beloved Führer had prepared a bottle of champagne for them on a table.

Finally, the relationship entered a more pathological and ‘necromantic’ stage when she decided to die for him and Hitler convinced her that her mission was to be a ‘personal valkyrie’ for him, and wait for him on the other side.

There was nothing banal or posed about the coming together of Unity and Hitler. Rather it was planned meticulously. After abandoning the heavily attended 1933 party rally, at which, as for other party events, the Mitford family occupied VIP seats, she spent months hanging out at the favourite places he frequented, until finally one day, he invited her to his table at the Osteria Bavaria in Munich. It was the 9th of February 1935 (‘the happiest day of my life’, as she wrote). Thus began their relationship. They met on at least 140 separate occasions, including, obviously, at the Bayreuth Music Festival, to which he invited her, giving her tickets to very good seats.

In the end, on 3 September 1939, Unity shot herself in the head with a small calibre Walther in the Englischer Garten when she heard that Great Britain had declared war on Germany. It is curious how many women around Hitler shot themselves: his niece Geli, Eva Braun, Magda Goebbels. Unity Valkyrie did not die (the whole incident is surrounded by conspiracy theories and rumours) and Hitler arranged for her to be transferred to her country, where she lived, mystifyingly without being sentenced as a traitor or even investigated, until she died in 1948, due to the late effects of the wound she had sustained (but not before she had seduced an RAF pilot). It appears that the news of Hitler’s suicide pained her much, as she felt she had let him down in her role as his personal valkyrie.

There are some revelations in the biography which I had difficulty believing, such as Unity losing her virginity to her brother-in-law Mosley on a billard table. But of course it is suggestive. The best thing is that Litchfield takes one on a voyage far away from here where the snobbish Mitfords await us, especially their mother, Lady Redesdale, a malicious witch whose ambition, he says, was to marry off her daughter to Hitler. He calls them the ‘first family of fascism in Great Britain’. He insists that Unity was not an exception (with Diana), as they said afterwards, but the product of a way of thinking that they all had (only the youngest, the communist Jessica, was different), which was the characteristic of the British aristocracy at the time, whose offspring were keen on the Nazi uniforms and what was inside of them. Antisemitism was rife in this class, as was the idea of racial hygiene, although, according to Litchfield with his customary sarcasm, they stopped short of demanding the sterilisation of alcoholics, as this would have decimated their own families.

It is unsurprising that a veil of silence and oblivion descended on this period after the war and that the image of this valkyrie was turned into that of an ugly duckling, eccentric and ideologically ghastly, even if with time they came to call her out more as a goose.

Practising auto-erotic asphyxiation with the brother of ‘the English patient’

Through the magnificent biography of Lászlo Almásy, the real person who inspired the novel and film The English Patient, by John Bierman, I already knew of the intimate relationship between Unity Mitford and the elder brother of the explorer, Janos Almásy, a corrupt man and associate of the Nazis. But Litchfield discovers morbid aspects of this relationship, so for instance that the valkyrie and the lord of Bernstein Castle (the Almásy family castle on the border of Austria and Hungary), astrologer and satanist of repute, officiated necromantic rites in the castle and engaged in sado-masochist practices, including the auto-asphyxiation using a silk cord, which Unity wittily called ‘my little gaspers’. The young Brit got to know Janos as he, a bisexual, had had a relationship with her brother Tom, another Mitford jewel, who was also an admirer of the Nazis and refused to fight them in Europe. They sent him to fight the Japanese instead and a sniper shot him dead in Burma. Having visited Bernstein Castle I can vouchsafe for its strange atmosphere – including certified ghosts – and of its rich library of occult books. Unfortunately I was then more interested in Count Almásy and his experiences in the desert than in his brother’s adventures with Unity. Who knows what other secrets I could have discovered during that long night within the walls of the Almásys’ castle where the valkyrie’s little gaspers must still resonate.

(Jacinto Antón – El Pais Spain/Brazil- August 2018)

   

 

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