Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: Bernhard van Lippe-Biesterfeld, German-born husband of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, therefore father of the country’s present head of state, Queen Beatrix, known to his Dutch subjects as well as to the wider world generally just as “Prince Bernhard.”* He died back in 2004, after a quite eventful life highlighted by his marriage to Juliana in January, 1937, and then his exile in London during the War with Juliana and her mother, Queen Wilhelmina.
Actually, there were some other highlights as well, which Bernhard let everyone in on by means of an interview with the Dutch paper De Volkskrant, conducted a few years before his death but authorized for release only afterwards – basically, two illegitimate daughters, one of which everyone already knew about, but one of which they didn’t. Another “highlight” Bernhard discussed in that interview (which, believe me, everyone had known about for a long, long time) was the scandal that broke out in 1976 about payments he had received in the late sixties/early seventies from Lockheed in order to push the purchase by the Dutch government of their military airplanes. This affair came very close to causing a grave constitutional crisis, with Queen Juliana threatening to abdicate if her husband were punished too much for his indiscretions, and Princess Beatrix also pledging in that case to refuse the throne. In fact, a recent, and excellent, history I read about the Netherlands in the 20th century claims that Bernhard was in fact also bribed, for the same nefarious purpose, by the Northrup Corporation, and that the Dutch cabinet of 1976 knew about that as well but never disclosed this for fear that public outrage would become so insistent on punishing the Prince that the above-mentioned abdication crisis would then in fact ensue. (In the end it was avoided via some wrist-slapping measures taken against the Prince, like taking away his military offices and forbidding him from wearing the uniform.)
A naughty guy, then, you could say. (Well, he also founded the World Wildlife Fund as well as Rotary International.) And also, it seems, a card-carrying Nazi. That is the latest Bernhard revelation, soon to be officially disclosed when the new book Bernhard: Een verborgen geschiedenis (“Bernhard: A hidden history” – pictured above) is presented next Monday by its author, Annejet van der Zijl. (Who has an excellent website, with even an English section. Strangely, though, this book-presentation will actually take place at one of the Dutch royal palaces, Paleis Soestdijk. Do they know what’s in the book?)
For now, the Flemish paper De Standaard has the story covered. Basically, in the course of her research Ms. Van der Zijl tracked down at Berlin’s Humboldt University Bernhard’s old membership-card for the Deutsche Studentenschaft. This itself was definitely a Nazi-sponsored organization, but of more interest were the other memberships claimed for Bernhard on that card, which included the NSDAP – that’s the Nazi Party, folks – and even the SA, or Sturmabteilung, who were the Nazi bully-boys who went around beating up people on German streets.
Yes, he’s dead now, so why don’t we all just leave him alone? That’s a reasonable proposition, except that, as the Standaard article notes, throughout his life Bernhard steadfastly denied that he had ever been a Nazi Party member, or that he even had any sympathies for that movement – even in that Volkskrant interview that he knew would be published only after his death. And there may very well be further revelations to come: I myself have run across allegations of some serious intelligence-leaks during World War II (i.e. to the Germans) that may have had the Prince behind them. I won’t get specific in this public forum because I’m not at all sure that they can be substantiated. But this latest revelation certainly does not make them any less likely.
*Although, if for some reason you just don’t care for “Bernhard,” he had a wide array of other official first names: “Bernhard Leopold Frederik Everhard Julius Coert Karel Godfried Pieter.” Take your pick!
IMPORTANT UPDATE: I have now stumbled upon the fact that the Flemish paper De Standaard does not believe in “permalinks” but rather eliminates articles from its website after the passage of some (as yet undetermined) interval. Very disappointing! And not only because readers of this weblog thereby lose the possibility of clicking through to check out the original article, in the original Dutch. (Of course, since I’m writing for an audience that I assume does not understand any language other than English, I always try to pass along a healthy bit of what any given article says, but still . . .) No, this is also disappointing because De Standaard had been delivering so many interesting articles, especially lately.
My inclination is to write nonetheless about any noteworthy article that I come upon, even if it’s from De Standaard and therefore is sure to disappear shortly. Or does this violate some bloggers’ commandment? Could someone let me know?
FURTHER UPDATE: Never mind, the De Standaard permalinks are back. Sorry, I don’t know what happened, I just know that for a while they were dead.