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Britain’s royals and the Nazis: complex echoes of history

London: Footage of Queen Elizabeth II giving a Nazi salute as a child today revived an uncomfortable debate about the British royal family’s historic links to Adolf Hitler’s murderous regime in Germany.

The queen was still princess Elizabeth, aged around six, when the black-and-white home movie released by The Sun newspaper was shot in 1933 or 1934 and could not have known the significance of the “Heil Hitler” salute.

The video shows her uncle, the future king Edward VIII, encouraging her as well as her mother and sister. He is a more compromised figure, with many historians accusing him of being sympathetic to the Nazi regime.

After years of overtures, Edward met Hitler in Germany in 1937. This followed his abdication as king in 1936 after less than a year on the throne over his desire to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

The Nazis later hatched an unsuccessful plot, codenamed “Operation Willi”, to kidnap Edward in 1940 and reinstall him as king if Germany invaded Britain during World War II.

“His behaviour was part of a pattern, the duke dancing around the fringes of disloyalty and duplicity but never quite committing,” royal expert Andrew Morton wrote in “17 Carnations”, a book about Edward and the Nazis published this year.

“Like a flirt in a nightclub, the duke suggested much but delivered very little.”

Many European aristocrats initially saw Hitler as a bulwark against the communist regime in Russia, which in 1917 deposed tsar Nicholas II, who was executed a year later.

After Edward’s abdication, which caused the biggest scandal in modern royal history, he was ostracised by the rest of the family, which has German roots dating back to the early 18th century.

Edward’s brother, Queen Elizabeth II’s father, took the throne, becoming king George VI.

The new king did not always find royal life easy — his struggle to overcome a stammer was depicted in the 2010 Oscar-winning film “The King’s Speech”.

But he and his wife, the queen’s mother, did a lot to rebuild the monarchy’s reputation during World War II by staying at Buckingham Palace during German air raids known as The Blitz and visiting bomb sites.