If you had a particularly busy weekend, you may not have seen (or heard) the proverbial screams of outrage over a video that recently surfaced of 7-year-old Queen Elizabeth giving a child-sized Nazi salute.
The video, initially published by the Sun, was apparently shot at Balmoral in 1933 or ’34, which shows Prince Edward merely watching while Queen Elizabeth’s own mother and sister Margaret join in on the controversial gesture. With a pun intended, their headline reads: “Their Royal Heilnesses.” Ouch.
Of course, to make matters more complicated, let’s not forget that Prince Edward (who became King Edward VIII) was once known as a Nazi-sympathesizer, having met Hitler himself. He can even be heard in the video egging Margaret on. Then, there were the Windsors who famously had Nazi cousins in the German aristocracy, according to historian Karina Urbach.
So, at this point, your brain is probably all scrambled trying to make sense of this political mess. True to the nature of politics, there is no easy answer. On one hand, Queen Elizabeth was merely a child with no real understanding of the political climate of the time, not to mention she probably just learned how to tie her own shoes. Most adults in 1934 did not fully realize the threat Hitler truly posed. A source from Buckingham Palace has since stated, “No-one at that time had any sense how it would evolve. To imply anything else is misleading and dishonest.”
On the other hand, it may have also been a joke, propelled by societal norms of the time. The Independent importantly notes that, “The infamous gesture was used widely in Britain to mock Hitler at the time and its performance was not automatically considered an approval of his regime.”
Even military historian James Holland said, “They are all having a laugh, there are lots of smiles, so it’s all a big joke…I don’t think there was a child in Britain in the 1930s or 40s who has not performed a mock Nazi salute as a bit of a lark.”
Regardless of the reasons why Queen Elizabeth gave the salute, it is important to remember that she has been a longtime patron of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, and even joined the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service during the Second World War. And really, she was just a child.