A timely, riveting book that presents for the first time an alternative history of 1930s Britain, revealing how prominent fascist sympathizers nearly succeeded in overturning British democracy—using the past as a road map to navigate the complexities of today’s turn toward authoritarianism.
Hitler’s Girl is a groundbreaking history that reveals how, in the 1930s, authoritarianism nearly took hold in Great Britain as it did in Italy and Germany. Drawing on recently declassified intelligence files, Lauren Young details the pervasiveness of Nazi sympathies among the British aristocracy, as significant factions of the upper class methodically pursued an actively pro-German agenda. She reveals how these aristocrats formed a murky Fifth Column to Nazi Germany, which depended on the complacence and complicity of the English to topple its proud and long-standing democratic tradition—and very nearly succeeded.
As she highlights the parallels to our similarly treacherous time, Young exposes the involvement of secret organizations like the Right Club, which counted the Duke of Wellington among its influential members; the Cliveden Set, which ran a shadow foreign policy in support of Hitler; and the shocking four-year affair between socialite Unity Mitford and Adolf Hitler.
Eye-opening and instructive, Hitler’s Girl re-evaluates 1930s England to help us understand our own vulnerabilities and poses urgent questions we must face to protect our freedom. At what point does complacency become complicity, posing real risk to the democratic norms that we take for granted? Will democracy again succeed—and will it require a similarly cataclysmic event like World War II to ensure its survival? Will we, in our own defining moment, stand up for democratic values—or will we succumb to political extremism?
Defense analyst Young explores the pro-Nazi sentiments of "an influential segment of elite" in this thin yet intriguing history. Many in the British upper classes, reeling from WWI, the diminishment of the British Empire, and the threat of Communism, found a means "to preserve their way of life" in fascism and Nazism, according to Young. Though she documents the rise of the British Union of Fascists and the Right Club, among other organizations, Young focuses mainly on Unity Mitford, one of the aristocratic Mitford sisters and "a rabid Nazi" who sought the attentions of Adolf Hitler. After enrolling in German classes and staking out one of his favorite restaurants in Munich, Mitford eventually met with Hitler more than 160 times, and may have given birth to his son. As war between their countries became more likely, the relationship ended, resulting in Mitford's reported suicide attempt (she claimed to have been shot by an unknown assailant). Young also suggests that pro-Nazi sentiment went all the way to the royal family, citing FBI reports that Wallis Simpson's Nazi connections (rather than her marital status) forced Prince Edward's abdication. The brisk narrative contains many shocking revelations but could benefit from additional context; it remains unclear just how widespread pro-German sentiment was among the British upper crust, and readers may wish for more details about efforts to undermine sympathy for fascism. This history is more titillating than definitive.