The Sun newspaper has sparked a furore in Britain by releasing decades-old footage of Queen Elizabeth II — then a young girl — giving a Nazi salute as she played with her family.
Buckingham Palace responded angrily to the newspaper’s decision to publish the private family film, which was shot around 1933, when the future queen was only about six years old and as Adolf Hitler was rising to power in Germany.
“It is disappointing that film, shot eight decades ago and apparently from (Her Majesty’s) personal family archive, has been obtained and exploited in this manner,” a Buckingham Palace spokesman said.
The Sun, Britain’s best-selling tabloid newspaper, published a still image taken from the footage — showing Elizabeth alongside her mother, her three-year-old sister Princess Margaret and her uncle, who would later be crowned Edward VIII — on its front page with the headline, “Their royal heilnesses.”
The short black-and-white clip, filmed at the royals’ Balmoral estate in Scotland, shows Edward — whom the paper describes as “Nazi-sympathising” — apparently encouraging his young nieces and sister-in-law to perform the salute, before himself joining them.
“While there is clearly no suggestion that the Queen or Queen Mother were ever Nazi sympathisers, Edward’s links with Hitler and fascism are very well documented,” the article says.
The Sun also quotes a historian, Karina Urbach of the London-based Institute of Historical Research, as describing the footage as “an important historical document that asks serious questions of the Royal Family.”
Edward would subsequently go on to meet with Hitler in Germany in 1937, a year after he abdicated the throne — after less than a year as monarch — in order to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.
A royal source said: “Most people will see these pictures in their proper context and time. This is a family playing and momentarily referencing a gesture many would have seen from contemporary news reels.
“No one at that time had any sense how it would evolve. To imply anything else is misleading and dishonest.”
The queen was about six years old at the time, the source said, and “entirely innocent of attaching any meaning to these gestures.”
The queen and her family’s service to the nation during World War II and the 63 years she has spent “building relations between nations and peoples speaks for itself,” the source added.
Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1952, following the death of her father, King George VI.
She paid her first state visit to Germany in June, accompanied by husband Prince Philip. The trip culminated with a visit to the site of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where Anne Frank died, which was liberated by British troops 70 years ago.