Unity Valkyrie Freeman-Mitford (8 August 1914 – 28 May 1948) was an English socialite best known as a devotee of Adolf Hitler.
Both in Britain and Germany, she was a prominent supporter of Nazism and fascism, and formed part of Hitler’s inner circle of friends.Following the declaration of World War II, Mitford attempted suicide in Munich, and was officially allowed safe passage back to England in her invalid condition, but never recovered.
Unity was a member of the Mitford family, tracing its origins in Northumberland back to the 11th century Norman settlement of England. Her sister Diana was married to Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists.
In June 1933 Unity and her sister, Diana Mitford, joined the British Union of Fascists, the extreme right-wing group founded by Oswald Mosley the previous year. Mosley described her as “young, ingenuous, full of enthusiasm, in a way stage-struck by the glamour and panoply of the national socialist movement and the mass admiration of Hitler” She was active in the women’s section headed by Esther Makgill, the daughter of John Makgill: “I created the women’s section of the BUF… Unity Mitford didn’t mean anything to me in those days. She was swept in by her sister.” Her friend, Mary Ormsby-Gore, said that she sold The Blackshirt on the streets of London:
“She began to go to the East End, and I went to one meeting with her… One day she took me to Selfridges saying, let’s make a record, and she spoke into it, The Yids, The Yids, We’ve gotta get rid of the Yids
Unity and Diana Mitford travelled to Germany as part of the British delegation from the British Union of Fascists, to the 1933 Nuremberg Rally, seeing Hitler for the first time.Mitford later said, “The first time I saw him I knew there was no one I would rather meet.” Biographer Anne de Courcy confirms: “The Nuremberg rally had a profound effect on both Diana and Unity … Unity was already, as it were, convinced about Hitler, but this turned conviction into worship. From then on she wanted to be near Hitler as much as possible
Mitford returned to Germany in the summer of 1934, enrolling in a language school in Munich close to the Nazi Party headquarters,she became friends with Ernst Hanfstaengel.
Unity told a friend ,Armida Macindoe, that she was determined to meet Hitler: “She used to go to the Osteria Bavaria restaurant and sit waiting for Hitler. She’d sit there all day long with her book and read. She’d say, I don’t want to make a fool of myself being alone there, and so she’d ask me to go along to keep her company, to have lunch or a coffee. Often Hitler was there. People came and went. She would place herself so that he invariably had to walk by her, she was drawing attention to herself, not obnoxiously but enough to make one slightly embarrassed. But the whole point was to attract his attention. She’d talk more loudly or drop a book. And it paid off.”
After engaging Adolf Hitler in a conversation on 9th February 1935 she commented that it was “the most wonderful and beautiful day of my life”. He was struck by her curious connections to the Germanic culture including her middle name, Valkyrie. Mitford’s grandfather, Algernon Freeman-Mitford, had been a friend of Richard Wagner, one of Hitler’s idols, and had translated the works of Houston Stewart Chamberlain, another inspiration for Hitler. Mitford subsequently received invitations to party rallies and state occasions.Hitler told newspapers in Germany that Unity was “a perfect specimen of Aryan womanhood”.
Hitler and Mitford became close, with Hitler reportedly playing Mitford off against his new girlfriend, Eva Braun, apparently to make her jealous.
Braun wrote of Mitford in her diary: “She is known as the Valkyrie and looks the part, including her legs. I the mistress of the greatest man in Germany and the whole world, I sit here waiting while the sun mocks me through the window panes.”Braun regained Hitler’s attention after an attempted suicide and Mitford learned from this that desperate measures were often needed to capture the Führer’s attention.
Albert Speer also spent time with Unity Mitford and Hitler at the Osteria Bavaria. “I met her in the Osteria Bavaria.
She was very romantic. The Osteria was a small inn, it is still there, and hasn’t changed much. Small tables. There was a wooden partition, and behind it a table to seat eight. An adjutant would phone the owner to warn that Hitler might be coming and to have the table clear. There was also a courtyard, with one table under a pergola and this was Hitler’s favourite seat when the weather was not cold. Unity was quite often there, I was invited only every second or third time. Like me, Mitford would be invited by the adjutant Schaub. She was highly in love with Hitler, we could see it easily, her face brightened up, her eyes gleaming, staring at Hitler. Hero-worship. Absolutely phenomenal. And possibly Hitler liked to be admired by a young woman, she was quite attractive – even if nothing happened he was excited by the possibility of a love affair with her. Towards an attractive woman he behaved as a seventeen-year-old would. She was influential with Hitler in that she was of the group in the Osteria.
From this point on, Mitford was inducted into Hitler’s inner circle and remained with him for five years.
When Hitler announced the Anschluss in 1938, she appeared with him on the balcony in Vienna. She was later arrested in Prague for distributing Nazi propaganda. and the suspicions of the British SIS were aroused. MI5 officer Guy Liddell wrote in his diary: “Unity Mitford had been in close and intimate contact with the Führer and his supporters for several years, and was an ardent and open supporter of the Nazi regime. She had remained behind after the outbreak of war and her action had come perilously close to high treason.
A 1936 report went further, proclaiming her “more Nazi than the Nazis” and stated that she gave the Hitler salute to the British Consul General in Munich, who immediately requested that her passport be impounded.
In 1938, Hitler gave her a choice of four apartments in Munich, one flat lived in by a Jewish couple. Mitford is reported to have then visited the apartment to discuss her decoration and design plans, while the soon-to-be-dispossessed couple still sat in the kitchen crying.Immediately prior to this, she had lived in the house of Erna Hanfstaengl, sister of early Hitler admirer and confidante Ernst Hanfstaengl, but was ordered to leave when Hitler became angry with the Hanfstaengls
Many prominent Nazis were also suspicious of Mitford and her relationship to their Führer. In his memoirs, Inside the Third Reich, Albert Speer said of Hitler’s select group: “One tacit agreement prevailed: No one must mention politics. The sole exception was Lady [sic] Mitford, who even in the later years of international tension persistently spoke up for her country and often actually pleaded with Hitler to make a deal with Britain. In spite of Hitler’s discouraging reserve, she did not abandon her efforts through all those years”.Mitford summered at the Berghof where she continued to discuss a possible German-British alliance with Hitler, going so far as to supply lists of potential supporters and enemies.
At the 1939 Bayreuth Festival, Hitler warned Unity and her sister Diana that war with Britain was inevitable within weeks and they should return home.
Diana returned to England where she was arrested and imprisoned, while Unity chose to remain in Germany, though her family sent pleas for her to come home.After Britain’s declaration of war on Germany on 3 September 1939, Unity was distraught.Diana Mitford told an interviewer in 1999: “She told me that if there was a war, which of course we all terribly hoped there might not be, that she would kill herself because she couldn’t bear to live and see these two countries tearing each other to pieces, both of which she loved.”Unity went to the English Garden in Munich, took a pearl-handled pistol given to her by Hitler for protection, and shot herself in the head.She survived the suicide attempt, and was hospitalised in Munich, where Hitler frequently visited her. On Hitler’s instructions she was moved to Switzerland, and then returned to England on 3rd January 1940. Her mental and physical powers were impaired, and she lived under the protection of her mother
Mitford was taken seriously ill on a visit to the family-owned island of Inch Kenneth and was taken to hospital in Oban. Doctors had decided it was too dangerous to remove the bullet in her head. On 28 May 1948, Mitford died of meningitis caused by the cerebral swelling around the bullet. “Her sisters, even those who deplored her politics and hated her association with Hitler, mourned her deeply.”She was buried at Swinbrook Churchyard. Her gravestone reads, “Say not the struggle naught availeth.”