Stephanie Maria Veronika Juliana Richter was born on 16 September 1891 in Vienna as the daughter of Dr Johann Sebastian Richter and Ludmilla Kuranda. She had a happy childhood and grew up somewhat spoiled. Her mother came from a rich Jewish family, and she converted to the Catholic faith before marrying Johann Richter. However, it appears that Johann Richter was not her natural father, but a Jewish money-lender named Max Wiener was. Her half-sister Gina commented, “Princess Hohenlohe was my half-sister – though maybe she never knew it.”1 She never read a book and took no interested in so-called feminine interests as sewing and embroidery. She did enjoy sports and was particularly good at skating.
Stephanie first came in contact with the aristocratic society under the guidance of the childless Princess Franziska von Metternich, who was a client of her father. She quickly learned to move in those circles, and she soon won an admirer in the form of Count Gisycki. However, she rejected his proposal of marriage as he was old enough to be her grandfather. By then, Stephanie had set herself a goal – she would marry a Prince. The family hit financial difficulties when Johann died, but the sudden appearance of Ludmilla’s brother saved them. Stephanie invested her share of his money well and made an excellent return.
Stephanie claims to have met her future husband, Prince Friedrich Franz of Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst at a dinner party as she played the piano. However, other sources claim she initially turned down his elder brother Prince Nikolaus, whom she found arrogant. When she also wanted to turn down Friedrich Franz, her mother intervened and threatened to put her in a convent. There was also some haste required as Stephanie was pregnant, but neither Nikolaus nor Friedrich Franz was the father. His acceptance of this might very well have something to do with her considerable wealth. The actual father of the baby was Archduke Franz Salvator of Austria-Tuscany, the son-in-law of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria. On 12 May 1914, Stephanie and Friedrich Franz married in London’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Westminster. Her social standing in the Viennese society was problematic; not even announcement cards had been sent out. Just seven months after the wedding, Stephanie gave birth to a son named Prince Franz Josef.
Upon the outbreak of the First World War, Stephanie’s husband joined his regiment. Stephanie and her son were cared for by the Archduke. Stephanie volunteered as a nurse and underwent basic training in Vienna. She wanted to go to the front, and the Archduke arranged for her to be stationed at the Russian front. She did not last there for very long. In 1916, Emperor Franz-Joseph died, but Stephanie was not allowed access to the Hofburg Palace to mourn. She also used the time to spent time with the Archduke at the Schönbrunn Palace. The First World War ended in 1918, and just two years later, her marriage to her Prince also came to an end. On 29 July 1920, their divorce was finalised. Her former husband remarried just six months later to Countess Emanuela Batthyány.
Stephanie soon realised that the war had robbed Vienna of its sparkle and she decided to leave in 1922. She initially wanted to go to Paris but opted for Nice instead, and she rented a villa there. She became a frequent visitor to the casinos. She became friends with many Russians who had fled the revolution. In 1925, she set herself up in an apartment in Paris, and she even lived in Monte Carlo from time to time. She had truly become a lady of society. In 1927, she ran into a journalist desperate for a story, and she advised him to write about Hungary, though she would later say she had no political motives. An article published under the name of the journalist was actually written by Stephanie and promoted the restoration of the monarchy in Hungary. The article was a great success, and a campaign was launched. By 1932, the situation in France had become uncomfortable, and Stephanie was advised to give up her activities. She was being accused of espionage and promptly moved to London.
By then, her extravagant lifestyle had taken a toll on her finances. She became employed as a society columnist for quite a fancy sum. Her missions sent her to the home of Empress Zita and also to House Doorn in the Netherlands, where the exiled Emperor William II lived. He needed weapons and soldiers, and Stephanie’s editor was unable to provide him with that. A few days after the Nazis seized power in 1933, Hitler himself told his foreign affairs adviser that he was considering the Emperor’s fourth son, Prince August William as a new German Emperor. This possibility was abandoned at an early stage. Stephanie’s editor still wanted her to contact the Emperor’s eldest son. Crown Prince William had never been an enthusiastic support of Hitler but had been a member of the Nazi party since 1930, and he joined the paramilitary wing, the SA, in 1933. An enthusiastic exchange of letters began between Stephanie’s editor and the Crown Prince, but he soon lost interest in the cause. There was a new man on the rise, Adolf Hitler.
Of her own role in this, Stephanie wrote, “Rothermere (her editor) was mad keen to find out Hitler’s real political intentions. He chose me as his “adviser”, and for a time, from 1934 to 1938, I was an important witness to world events. There was a moment when I stood at the very centre of things.”2 Stephanie was given the task of establishing personal contact with Hitler, though this was quite an exception. Hitler once declared, “In my view, a female who gets involved in politics is an abomination.”3 Hitler greeted her with a kiss on the hand and she passed on a letter from her editor. She returned to London with a letter from Hitler. It began with, “You were kind enough to convey to me through Princess Hohenlohe a series of proposals, for which I wish to express my sincere thanks.”4
At the end of December 1933, she returned to Hitler once more with a gift from her editor, a portrait of her editor in a solid gold frame and an article praising the “new Germany.” Not all were pleased with the favour showed to Stephanie, with her Jewish connections. Hitler promised to have Stephanie checked out against the “Aryan Laws.” In 1934, Stephanie arranged for an intimate dinner with her, Hitler, her editor and 23 other guests. In 1935, she again delivered a letter from her editor. However, she was much more than just a courier. Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin once wrote, “Princess Hohenlohe can provide you by word of mouth with further information about what I have in mind.”5 In 1937, Stephanie and her editor visited the Berghof and were allowed to spend the night. Goebbels, Hitler’s Reich Minister of Propaganda, recorded in his diary, “Lord Rothermere and Princess Hohenlohe are here. Very small party for lunch. Rothermere pays me great compliments. Enquires in detail about German press policy. Strongly anti-Jewish. The Princess is very pushy.”6 Hitler had become fascinated by Stephanie and she let him stroke her hair. To remember the visit, she received a signed photograph in a silver frame.
Around this time, Stephanie began an affair with Fritz Wiedemann, a personal aide to Hitler. Conveniently, Wiedemann was able to cover Stephanie’s expenses by declaring them as a maintenance allowance to his boss. In 1937, Stephanie was awarded the Honorary Cross of the German Red Cross followed by the Nazi Party’s Gold Medal of Honour in 1938. Stephanie, born to Jewish parents, was now an “honorary Aryan”. Members of Hitler’s inner party naturally became more sceptical towards her, especially when she began pushing Wiedemann towards a promotion.
When Edward VIII abdicated the throne in 1936 to marry Wallis Simpson, Hitler saw it as a disaster for Anglo-German relations. The German ambassador confirmed that King had been “pro-german” and had an “anti-Jewish attitude.”7 By coincidence, Wallis Simpson was a neighbour of Stephanie, and it was Stephanie who had floated the idea of a morganatic marriage, citing the marriage of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Countess Sophie Chotek. One of the first big trips the newly minted Duke and Duchess of Windsor undertook after the abdication was to Germany in 1937. They visited him at his private residence in Bavaria. They received a truly royal welcome, and perhaps it was expected that Edward would return to the throne under German patronage.
In 1937, Stephanie and Wiedemann travelled to New York, though not on official business, they were received by the waiting press. They made contact with many important people and even the German-American League, a pro-Nazi organisation. She visited again in 1938. In July, Stephanie arranged a secret meeting between several in the British government and Wiedemann for “unofficial talks.” Her suite in her London hotel became a London “base” for Nazis. The attempt at a rapprochement failed and ended in intrigue.
In January 1939, Hitler found out that Wiedemann was Stephanie’s lover and dismissed him. Shortly before his dismissal, the head of the Gestapo produced evidence that Stephanie had been working for the British Intelligence. Hitler ordered Stephanie’s arrest. However, the warrant was never enforced. She was also classified as “half-Jewess.” At the end of January, Stephanie left for London with her mother. She was unable to arrange for their aunt to travel with them and Ludmilla’s sister died in the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in 1942. On 3 September 1939, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany. Stephanie, a close friend of Hitler, was completely ostracised in London, so she decided to head for the United States. While there, she was kept under observation by the FBI. She set about writing her memoirs.
In November 1940, her visa expired, and her renewal was refused. The head of the FBI wrote, “Stephanie von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg, who uses various aliases, is very close to Fritz Wiedemann, the German Consul-General in San Francisco….and in the past has been suspected by the French, British and American authorities of working as an international spy for the German government. The Princess is described as extremely intelligent, dangerous and cunning. […] I would further suggest that she be deported from the United States at the earliest possible moment.”8
Stephanie got a doctor to sign a note saying that neither she nor her mother was well enough to travel and declared that she had no business with the Nazi regime. Her son, who was living in New York as an artist, made a plea on her behalf. They managed to secure a postponement. On 7 March, she was arrested and taken to an INS detention centre. Eventually, she was released on several conditions, including that she was not allowed contact with Wiedemann. After Pearl Harbor, Stephanie, despite having a Hungarian passport, was classified as German and taken to the internment camp in Gloucester City, New Jersey. She would spend seven months in the camp. Her son was arrested as well, and he was released on parole in February 1944. He then volunteered for the US armed forces. Stephanie was transferred to a camp in Texas where she would remain until VE-Day. Once again, she faced deportation. Her son had been granted American citizenship in 1946 and now worked as a translator for the United Nations. She had not engaged in any hostile activities since her arrival in 1939, and so she was finally allowed to stay.
Stephanie returned permanently to Europe in 1959 and settled in Geneva where her son was now working for a bank. She began a new career in journalism. From 1972, she began suffering from Paget’s disease. On 12 June 1972, she complained of a stabbing pain and was diagnosed with an ulcer that was threatening to burst. She did not survive the surgery and died on 13 June at the age of 80.9
- Martha Schad, Hitler’s Spy Princess: The Extraordinary Life of Princess Stephanie Von Hohenlohe p.2
- Martha Schad, Hitler’s Spy Princess: The Extraordinary Life of Princess Stephanie Von Hohenlohe p.28
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- Martha Schad, Hitler’s Spy Princess: The Extraordinary Life of Princess Stephanie Von Hohenlohe p.40
- Martha Schad, Hitler’s Spy Princess: The Extraordinary Life of Princess Stephanie Von Hohenlohe p.62
- Martha Schad, Hitler’s Spy Princess: The Extraordinary Life of Princess Stephanie Von Hohenlohe p..139
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