The Duke and Duchess spent 13 hours on a train to reach Berchtesgaden. At the station, they were joined by Hitler’s private translator, Dr Paul Schmidt, and they were picked up by a motorcade consisting of an open-topped black Mercedes and SS-guards on motorcycles and a host of other cars. Hitler stood waiting to greet them. Wallis recalled, “His face had a pasty pallor, and under his moustache, his lips were fixed in a kind of mirthless grimace. Yet at close quarters, he gave one the feeling of a great inner force. His hands were long and slim, a musician’s hands, and his eyes were truly extraordinary – intense, unblinking, magnetic, burning with the same peculiar fire.”1 They were thrilled because Hitler addressed the Duchess with “Royal Highness”, which had been denied her in England.
Hitler told the Duke he would like to meet privately, and Wallis was left with Rudolf Hess in the drawing-room. There is no official record of what was said during this private meeting, but the Duke later recalled, “My ostensible reason for going to Germany was to see for myself what National Socialism was doing in housing and welfare for the workers, and I tried to keep my conversation with the Führer to these subjects, not wishing to be drawn into politics… In a roundabout way, he encouraged me to infer that Red Russia was the only enemy and that it was in Britain’s interest and in Europe’s too, that Germany be encouraged to strike east and smash Communism forever… I confess frankly that he took me in. I believed him when he implied that he sought no war with England…”2
They finally returned to the drawing-room to have tea with Wallis. The Duke spoke to Hitler in German, although the translator still worked his way in, and the Duke had to correct the translator several times. Hitler also spoke a few words to Wallis, and when she complimented the splendid architecture they had seen, he said, “Our buildings will make more magnificent ruins than the Greeks.”3
Afterwards, Hitler escorted the couple to their car, and one reporter noted, “The Duchess was visibly impressed with the Führer’s personality, and he apparently indicated that they had become fast friends by giving her an affectionate farewell. Hitler took both their hands in his saying a long goodbye, after which he stiffened to a rigid Nazi salute that the Duke returned.” According to Hitler’s translator, he said of Wallis, “She would have made a good Queen.”4
They then travelled to Munich, where they spent the evening at a dinner party hosted by Rudolf Hess and his wife, Ilse. The following day, they did some sightseeing in Munich before departing for Paris.
Even the Germans were somewhat confused about the reason for the trip. Afterwards, the British consul wrote, “Germans here were much puzzled about the reasons for the tour which many of them attributed to the Duke’s supposed strong pro-Fascist sympathies. This belief was strengthened by the words which H.R.H is alleged to have used to sum up his impressions of the tour, and which was rendered by Dr Ley to a recent meeting of the German Labor Front in Leipzig as follows: ‘I have travelled the world, and my upbringing has made me familiar with great achievements of mankind, but that which I have seen in Germany I had hitherto believed to be impossible. It cannot be grasped and is a miracle; one can only begin to understand it when one realizes that behind it all is one and one will.'”
The Duke and Duchess’ visit attracted the interest of the FBI. In September 1940, a report to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover said, “for some time the British Government has known that the Duchess of Windsor was exceedingly pro-German in her sympathies and connections and there is strong reason to believe that this is the reason why she was considered so obnoxious to the British Government that they refused to permit Edward to marry her and maintain the throne.”5
The enormous amount of criticism the Duke and Duchess received for this trip was something they had not expected. They were accused of being taken in by the Nazis, used for propaganda and that they had done nothing to discover the truth. The Duke knew little of the realities of the regime and he – and so many others! – only saw the economic achievements being made. Wallis probably knew even less and it was Russia that was feared above everything else. They did not have the benefit of hindsight, nor did they have any support from the British Embassy, which had been expressly told to ignore the visit.
The Duke later said, “I acknowledge now that, along with too many other well-meaning people, I let my admiration for the good side of the German character dim what was being done by the bad. I thought that… the immediate task… of my generation… was to prevent another conflict between Germany and the West that could bring down our civilization… I thought that the rest of us could be fence-sitters while the Nazis and the reds slogged it out.”6