Nazi Nobleman

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During my wartime years in the United States, I heard not a single "morale-building" story about Central Europe that did not involve a "Nazi nobleman."

Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, Leftism Revisited

Ah, yes, the Nazi Nobleman. This arrogant aristocrat has wholeheartedly and enthusiastically embraced the Nazi ideology of "might makes right" and "the strong should dominate the weak". No doubt this is a result of his superior breeding and privileged upbringing, during which he was raised to believe himself superior to all those lowly proles.

Naturally, of course, this enthusiastic Nazi hates democracy, probably because it threatens the superiority of the noble class, and is almost certainly wealthy, and trusts the Nazis to help him keep his wealth. He is probably a good pal of old Adolf himself. In some stories, he is a leading scientist, or perhaps a sadistic jailer, but more often, he is a Cultured Warrior, or some variant thereof. His uniform will be immaculate, starched and pressed, his last name begins with "Von", and of course a monocle is mandatory.

The reality of this trope is far more complicated than the trope itself, and can be found on the Analysis page.

Note that this does not apply to noblemen who happen to be in the ranks of the German army during WWII, or German aristocrats who express un-PC opinions about some ethnic group; this trope refers to noblemen who enthusiastically endorse and specifically promote the Nazi Party and its ideology.

Examples of Nazi Nobleman include:

Anime & Manga

Comic Books

  • Marvel Comics have Baron Heinrich Zemo, a Nazi super-scientist and enthusiastic believer in his own racial superiority.
  • Marvel Comics also has Baron Von Strucker, a Prussian nobleman who was the arch-nemesis of Sergeant Fury and his Howling Commandos, and later went on the head the Nebulous Evil Organisation Hydra.
  • Baron Von Blitzschlag is another Marvel-universe Nazi; in this case a scientist modeled on Werner Von Braun.
  • Because three Nazi Barons weren't enough, Marvel also created Baron Boche, a Nazi spymaster whose name ("Boche") is an anti-German slur from the French language. It's hard to tell from such a small picture, but he appears to be complete with monocle.
  • In the Avengers/Defenders war in Marvel Comics, the Swordsman finds a castle in South America built by an escaped Nazi who modeled it after his original castle in Germany.
  • The DCU has Baron Blitzkrieg, a Prussian nobleman and personal friend of Adolf Hitler, who gained superpowers and became one the Nazis top super agents.
  • Also from the DCU, Wonder Woman villain Baroness Paula Von Gunther.
    • Eventually justified when it was revealed (possibly an early retcon) that she was working for the Nazis because her daughter was held captive by them.
  • According to this reviewer, a 1942 Blackhawk story features a Nazi torturer named Baron Von Zeifh.
  • Baron Heinrich von Helsingard, Despoiler of ancient civilizations, arch enemy of Atomic Robo, and Brain-In-A-Jar of Science. Also, doesn't know when to quit while he's ahead.
  • Many war themed comics set in WW 2, such as Commando Comics would inevitably have stories portraying German Officers as Evil Noblemen.


Film

  • 1942's Nazi Agent stars Conrad Veidt as a Nazi spymaster named "Baron Hugo von Detner", the twin brother of a kindly American stamp dealer (also played by Conrad Veidt), playing this trope completely straight. The Nazi aristocrat in question even has an old family butler.
  • Address Unknown, made in 1944, has a classic example of this trope in "Baron von Freische" (Carl Esmond). Turner Classic Movies is helpful enough to provide two clips of the Baron being as haughtily aristocratic and casually anti-Semitic as you'd expect, even praising the Führer to the stars in the latter.
  • Secret Service in Darkest Africa, a 1943 film about an American agent battling Nazis in Africa, features a "Baron von Rommler" as the head of a sinister Nazi conspiracy.
  • Once Upon a Honeymoon, a 1942 Leo McCarey film, features an Austrian Baron named "von Luber", played by Walter Slezak, who provides P.R. for the Nazis in countries they are planning to annex.
  • Obliquely referenced in the Marx Brothers movie A Night In Casablanca. The Nazi agent Heinrich Stubel goes by the assumed identity of "Count Pfferman"; while his noble title appears to be false, he nonetheless projects a vaguely aristocratic image, in keeping with this trope.
  • 1945's Hotel Berlin features an apparent Nazi blueblood named "Von Stetten" who attempts to escape to South America and start a new Nazi regime there.
  • The film Enemy at the Gates depicts a ruthless Bavarian aristocrat sniper by the name of Erwin König; in Real Life it is not clear that König even actually existed, though the film is supposedly based on a true story. Supposedly.
    • Though in König's case it wasn't so much Nazi ideology as it was his wish to avenge his son's death, his son having been killed in the earliest days of the battle.
    • The Soviets invoke the trope because their guy is a poor peasant who learned shooting hunting goats for food. The German guy learnt sniping on his family estate. They turn the sniper duel into class warfare.
  • This trope possibly appears in the 1943 war movie Bomber's Moon; the villain of the piece is a Luftwaffe Major named Von Streicher—given the name, very likely an aristocrat of some kind. While it can't be said for sure whether he is an actual Nazi ideologue or just an ordinary soldier, he displays the kind of ruthlessly amoral behavior one would expect of a Nazi, such as machine-gunning an unarmed man.
  • The Master Race, made in 1944, depicts unrepentant Nazi "Colonel Friedrich Von Beck" deviously fomenting hatred and dissent in a liberated Belgian town.
  • Averted in Cross of Iron. Both Sergeant Steiner and his aristocratic nemesis Captain Stransky have a cynical and distasteful view of the Nazis, the former because he has seen enough of the war to know how insane it is and the latter because of his aristocratic Prussian background and distaste for the Nazi belief in social mobility among Germans.
  • Averted in The Sound of Music. Captain von Trapp hates and despises Nazis, tears up their flag contemptuously, destroys them with his Death Glare and escapes across the border.
    • This could just as well fit in the Real Life section below, as the Captain really did exist; he was a well-known Austro-Hungarian war hero in World War I, commander of several U-boats (yes, Austria-Hungary did have a navy, based in the Adriatic) in which he executed several highly successful war patrols.
  • Averted big-time in Valkyrie (for real-life, see below) which depicts a Swabian Catholic Aristocrat and army officer who masterminds a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. A huge portion of the other plotters depicted are also aristocrats, both Protestant and Catholic, and from a variety of different parts of Germany.
  • Baron von Sepper (Richard Burton) in Bluebeard (1972).
  • Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid features as its main villain a "Field Marshall von Kluck" (Carl Reiner), whose surname, in combination with his starched-and-pressed uniform and neatly shined boots, suggest a probable aristocratic background. He is also an enthusiastic Nazi, referring to the heroine's family as members of an "inferior race", and trying to destroy the Third Reich's enemies long after the war has ended.
    • It may be worth mentioning that von Kluck was an actual German general in World War I, whose inability to coordinate with von Bülow's signaled the failure of the Schlieffen Plan and led to the extended trench warfare of that conflict.
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show invokes this trope in typical B movie style (which is to say, reversed) where referring to Dr. Scott as Dr. Von Scott is enough to establish him as a Nazi (even though this is never actually said).
    • Presumably a former Nazi scientist, rather than a nobleman, who were recruited by the droves to the United States after the war to keep them from being recruited to the USSR, instead.
      • "von" typically indicates nobility in Germany. As the intro and Comicbook section to this page indicates, science is a quite popular career choice for Nazi Noblemen in fiction, so it was probably both this trope and the evil scientist one.
  • Dissected in the film Judgement at Nuremberg by the widow of a nobleman who was executed by the Allies as a war criminal. She maintained that she and her husband supported Hitler as being the patriotic thing to do during wartime, but never agreed with his ideology. Of course, the primary reason that she gave for why they could never truly follow Hitler was that he was too low-class, so she comes across as not-entirely-sympathetic,


Literature

  • Biggles' arch-nemesis Erich von Stalhein, both during and after the war.
  • The 1952 novel The Sound of His Horn features the hero being captured by a sadistic Nazi Nobleman who hunts human beings for sport.
  • The short story Poison Victory uses a Nazi Nobleman, and lampshades the inaccuracy by having one character remark "Another Nazi nobleman... And to think how Hitler hated the aristocracy!"
  • Norman Katov's novel The Judas Kiss depicts an Austrian Nazi Baron who collaborates with Hitler in torturing prisoners.
  • PG Wodehouse included a British variant in his Jeeves and Wooster stories. Roderick Spode, 7th Earl of Sidcup, is the founder of a Fascist organisation informally known as the "Blackshorts" (so named because "by the time [he] founded his organisation, there were no shirts [as in shirt colours] left"). Fortunately, Wodehouse knew enough to depict Spode correctly as an exception to the general rule—most of the other upper-class characters think he is bonkers.
    • It should be pointed out that Spode abandons his attempts to become a dictator precisely when he succeeds to the title. Moreover, when "Joy in the Morning" was written, Wodehouse probably had not yet invented a title for Spode to inherit.
  • Several members of the Vanger family in The Millennium Trilogy were enthusiastic supporters of Nazi ideology.
  • Graf Otto von Schlick, a.k.a. Dr Perseus Friend, in the Young Bond novel By Royal Command.


Live-Action TV

  • A 1969 episode of The Champions entitled "The Final Countdown" features Nazi war criminal "Field Marshall von Splitz" being released from prison and attempting to detonate a German atom bomb in order to start WWIII; given his name, he is almost certainly an aristocrat of some stripe.
  • The aforementioned "Baroness von Gunther", from the Wonder Woman franchise, made an appearance on the 1970s TV show.
  • Colonel Klink from Hogan's Heroes was depicted as a man of Prussian aristocratic descent, though his apparent lack of enthusiasm for Nazi ideology may exempt him from this trope.
  • Jeeves and Wooster: Lord Sidcup, mentioned in "Literature" section above, made an appearance on several episodes.
  • Averted in Allo Allo, where the aristocratic General von Klinkerhoffen may serve under Nazi Germany but still openly celebrates the Kaiser's birthday and makes the other German officers wear Pickelhauben to do it.


Music

  • While not exactly a Nazi, David Bowie described his "Thin White Duke" persona (which was during his transition from "plastic Soul" to New Wave and/or Post Punk-ish Krautrock) as an "emotionless Aryan superman," playing off this trope.
  • In the 1940s Soviet wartime song Baron von der Pshick" by Leonid Utesov, the titular baron is the Anthropomorphic Personification of the Wehrmacht and gets his ass totally handed to him in Russia.


Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Baron von Unterbheit on The Venture Bros fits this trope. His country is fairly Nazi-like.


Real Life

Straight examples

  • Successful tank commander and nobleman Hyazinth Graf Strachwitz von Gross-Zauche und Camminetz nicknamed by his troops der Panzergraf (Tank count).[1]
  • Hermann Göring started styling himself as one once in power, and by the end of the war he had made it the last "job" he actually did.
  • At least one aristocratic German relative of Britain's Prince Philip attained a high position in the Nazi Party. Prince Christopher of Hesse-Cassel was an intimate of Hermann Gōring and became head of the wiretapping unit organized by Gōring that became the forerunner to the Gestapo.
  • The Mitfords were perfect examples of British nobility who sympathised with the Nazis; though a distinct minority, their massive publicity over the years has caused many in the public to believe their position was reflective of opinion among the vast majority of British nobility. As among German nobility, it wasn't.
    • Perhaps it would be useful to illustrate through the example of the Mitfords themselves. The most strongly Nazi Mitfords were Unity (whose middle name was Valkyrie, and attempted suicide when Britain declared war on Germany) and Diana (who married Sir Oswald Mosley—for whom see below). Of the two, Unity was by far the more committed; she had a massive crush on Hitler (she was 19 when he took over Germany) and is rumoured to have had an affair with him. Their brother Thomas was vaguely fascist, and refused to serve in Europe; however, he gladly served in Burma, where he was killed by the Japanese in the last year of the war. Pamela and Deborah were more or less typical British gentry, unimpressed with Nazism and content with the British system as it stood (although some say Pamela was a rabid antisemite in private). Nancy, the eldest, was a moderate socialist, and could be fairly said to have hated the Nazis. Finally, the second-youngest Mitford, Jessica (a.k.a. the smart Mitford who became a writer and went to America) who shared a room with Unity, was an ardent communist—she was blacklisted when her move to Hollywood happened to coincide with the McCarthy era. Indeed, Jessica later recalled that the room she shared with Unity was starkly divided with a chalk line down the middle, with Unity's side being decorated with swastikas and portraits of Hitler, while Jessica's was decked out in hammers and sickles and pictures of Lenin. The Glorious War of Sisterly Rivalry, indeed.
  • Sir Oswald Mosley, 6th Baronet, was a real-life example of the British variant (though technically not a true "Nobleman"), and was the inspiration for Roderick Spode, listed above.
  • Josias, Hereditary Prince of Waldeck and Pyrmont became a senior SS officer and served as High Commissioner of Police in German-occupied France. He served three years in prison after the war. Himmler was godfather to his son.
  • Franz von Papen was an opportunistic supporter of the Nazis. He was a widely disliked figure and German political exiles compared him to Judas or even to Satan. Furthermore he had the dangerous combination of a delight in intrigue with an overestimation of his strategic talent. When an attempt was made on his life in Ankara the Turkish investigators were presented with a problem well known from detective novels: anyone might have wanted to kill him.

Aversions and Subversions

  • Joachim von Ribbentrop was a subversion, in that he acquired the aristocratic "von" when he was adopted by an aunt who had married a nobleman. At the age of 37, no less, and it's alleged that money changed hands in order to bring it about. Before taking his post in Hitler's cabinet he was a liquor salesman, and his pretensions did not endear him to the true German nobility in the least.
  • Real-life Austrian aristocrat Erik Maria Ritter von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, author of the above quote, complained about this trope in his book Leftism Revisited, where the full quote reads "During my wartime years in the United States I heard not a single 'morale-building' story about Central Europe that did not involve a 'Nazi nobleman'. Some did of course exist -- as did Jews who paid conscience money to the NSDAP, and Catholic priests who held 'brown' sympathies. Exceptions confirm the rule. But National Socialism was a plebeian movement; significantly, at the big Nuremberg Trial, not a single nobleman was among those condemned to death." (It should be noted that Kuehnelt-Leddihn's own father had served in the German army, but decidedly without any enthusiasm for the Nazi cause).
    • One of the "exceptions" alluded to by Kuehnelt-Leddihn was Kurt Baron von Schroeder, a banker who helped lobby for Hitler's appointment as chancellor, and who financed the Nazis after their rise to power.
  • The current pretender to the Kingdom of Bavaria and to the Stuart claims on the English throne, Franz, Duke in Bavaria, was sent to a concentration camp, where he lost his father, brothers, and much of his extended family. A lot of Habsburgs also died in concentration camps. The two sons of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose assassination set off World War I, were interned in Dachau for a while, having been prominent opponents of the Anschluß.
  • While he supported German nationalism and the Nazi goals of making Germany great again, Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor, refused to meet with Hitler and condemned the Nazis near the end of his life. Several of his sons and other family members, however, did join the Wehrmacht. His second wife was also quite a fan of that Austrian corporal.
  • German spy Princess Stephanie Julianne von Hohenlohe was close the Hitler and Göring. She was also Jewish.
  • Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg did get a bit of a Historical Hero Upgrade in the 2008 film Valkyrie, but it is indisputably true that this Swabian Count was a mastermind behind one of the biggest plots to assassinate Adolf Hitler. While he didn't exactly have the highest opinion of non-Germans, and endorsed some planks of the Nazi political platform, he also didn't just go along quietly after the Nazis crossed the Moral Event Horizon. Many of the other real-life plotters were aristocrats of one stripe or another as well.
  • The Duke of Windsor is only rumored to have been a Nazi sympathizer—odds are more that he was more just stupid in accepting the attentions of anyone who would give his wife the recognition he thought she deserved - and Hitler was smart enough to realize this.
    • With minor exceptions though the British nobility from the King himself to the most piddling Younger Son, were as loyal to Britain as during any war and thus were anti-nazi by default-and left their bones on battlefields all over the world. If the Duke of Windsor is to be mentioned these also are to be mentioned.
  • The heirs to both the Bourbon and Bonapartist thrones, though forbidden French citizenship (for obvious if mildly distasteful reasons) by French law, joined the Free French Foreign Legion and fought gallantly.
  • Boris of Bulgaria is a zig-zag. He co-operated with the Germans reluctantly while attempting to protect his Jewish citizens. Or at least he attempted avoid oppressing them more then the very minimum needed to avoid being overthrown. Whether he is a collaborator or a hero depends on how you look at it.
  • Gustav Mannerheim, Field Marshal of Finland and former Czarist flunkey was an ally of convenience of the Nazis. He did not particularly like them so much as he disliked Communists.
  • The military proper (as opposed to the SS) was more sympathetic to the old traditions and had a number of old-style nobility in it who were Just Following Orders. This was a great bother to Adolf Hitler who couldn't get along without them but absolutely hated officers; partly because he had once been an enlisted man, partly because they often had minds of their own within the confines of their profession, and partly because they deflected loyalty away from him.
    • Reconstructed Trope: However the military in general went along with the thing including often cooperating directly with atrocities. A lot of that was from simple bribery and other methods. And of course an old-school officer that was to horrified at the whole thing would simply have done a Captain von Trap long ago and ended up gambling away the war in some neutral city somewhere. Moreover the number of atrocities done by the Wehrmacht is not always telling. Out of hundreds of thousands of armed adolescents, hungry, horny, and frustrated at hardship you can always find someone willing to take it out on civilians if professional standards are not enforced rigorously especially if they are actively encouraged by the regime in power. There were in fact officers who made some effort to enforce The Laws and Customs of War and even one or two who managed to get written up on the Yad Vashem. Being born between the Danube and the Rhine, does not automatically make you exceptionally evil. But there was more pressure to be evil on Germans in those days. And that included the Junker class.
  • The German tennis player Gottfried von Cramm, despite playing Davis Cup matches for the Nazis, was did not represent the "Aryan ideal" that the Germans sought from their athletes. Von Cramm, openly opposed the Nazis' dismissal of his Jewish doubles partner Daniel Prenn from the Davis Cup team. Furthermore, he lived his life as a closeted gay man and narrowly avoided being sent to a concentration camp because of his sexuality.
  • Lazlo Almasy the Hungarian Egyptologist came from a family with a castle of it's own and an exploring tradition, as well as a curious legacy of occult speculations (one could bet on one of his family being a vampire if one believed in such things and wanted to bet on that for anyone). He served as the Hungarian liason to the Afrika Korps as an expert in desert special operations. There is no evidence that he was ever a Nazi or even an Arrow Cross (the Hungarian version) and the likelihood is highly improbable. Insofar as he had an ideology it probably would have been monarchism, and the main reason he served with German forces was that Hungary happened to be allied to Germany.
  • Raoul Wallenberg is the most famous Righteous Gentile. It is hard to find a Wallenberg Patent of Nobility in the other Wiki though there is at least one knighthood. However the Wallenberg's status as Old Money was so sound that it might as well have been noble.
  • The Sultan of Morocco protested against new Vichy Race laws and continued to receive audiences from Jews. And he may have given secret support. In general he seems to have considered the new laws a personal affront to his jurisdiction as it was his understanding that older laws should apply and he held to a rather easy going interpretation of Sharia. Conceivably he could have done more but he was in the unhappy position of being puppet to a puppet.
  • Abdullah of Jordan was a political rival of the Zionists rather then a racial enemy and possibly no more a rival then with many Arabs. While this claim is something of a cliche it seems to have been true in his case. Moreover his army kept order in parts of the Middle East the British could not spare troops for. And it actively assisted in the conquest of Syria from the Vichyites (one of the few instances where Jordan and Israel were fighting on the same side).
  • Haile Selassie, Emperor of Ethiopia (perhaps High King might be a better rendering given the political set up in Ethiopia) took sides with the British to reclaim his throne from the Italians. Obviously he had no interest in being a Nazi.
  • Indian Kshatriya (roughly the counterpart of knights) often enrolled in the Indian Army and fought the Germans. Usually for money or tradition rather then active anti-naziism but they were hardly pro nazi. And the best pf them were fearsome foes indeed.
  • American old-money were not aristocrats as patents of nobility were (and are) unconstitutional, and there was too much land in America for an enclosed clique to get an oligopoly. They were, however, often dynasties and often indistinguishable from nobles proper. They had a record as mixed as any. Joe Kennedy seems to have backed positions that with the benefit of hindsight look like collaboration. But John (the later President) was a well-known naval officer. Bush senior was a Navy pilot. And a number of old money sorts got into the OSS; being an entitled traveler or an apprentice to a multinational was a great cover for doing strange things in a strange city. One of these was the famous Alan Dulles, who spent large parts of his career intriguing with anti-Nazi conspirators in Germany from his Swiss base. He was from a "Boston Brahman" family and had an ancestor on the Mayflower.
  • Basically nobles sided with either their country or their political convictions. Or followed their interests. Or just got out of the way as best they could. In other words they kind of behaved like, everyone else in the entire world. There was no inherent reason for Nazis and Nobles to gravitate toward each other. Nobles had more then enough flattery for their bloodline anyway. And they would have been biased against the idea of an erratic state that might not protect their property.
    • Moreover the aristocracy had an ideology of its own that was entirely different. It was more cosmopolitan and less nativist; aristocrats often went to the same parties and schools and even when they were on opposite sides in war preferred to fight like gentlemen. They also did not possess the insatiable racial hatred of Nazis. Which is not to say they couldn't be horribly bigoted both about race and class -- just that it was a more lazy sort of bigotry which was not inclined to commit atrocities For the Evulz, though an evil aristocrat might do so to get something he wanted. There was really no reason an aristocrat would find a place in Nazism to tempt either his ambition or ideological convictions and plenty not.