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Hitler's Spy Princess
The Extraordinary Life of Stephanie von Hohenlohe
By Martha Schad, Angus McGeoch
The History PressCopyright © 2002 Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich, within Verlagsgruppe Random House GmbH
All rights reserved.
The Girl from Vienna
'"A woman's will is God's will" was a saying I often heard as a little girl in Vienna.' It is with this sentence that Stephanie Richter, later to become Princess von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst, begins the autobiography that she never completed. It was the motto she believed had governed her extraordinary life, a life which spanned the years from 1891 to 1972, and thus saw the decline and fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the First and Second World Wars and the postwar period in Germany and the United States.
Stephanie Maria Veronika Juliana Richter was born in a Viennese town house, Am Kärnterring 1, directly opposite what was then the Hotel Bristol, on 16 September 1891. She was given the first of her names in honour of Crown Princess Stephanie, the consort of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria, who had committed suicide at Mayerling in 1889.
Stephanie described her father, Dr Johann Sebastian Richter, as a successful lawyer. He had really wanted to become a priest, but then fell in love with Ludmilla Kuranda and married her. Stephanie saw her parents – neither of them Jewish, she was at pains to point out – as people who should never have married one another, yet she and her sister Milla (christened Ludmilla, and five years her senior) nonetheless had a happy childhood. And in a 'morning monologue', a kind of one-sided conversation with her maid Anna, Stephanie von Hohenlohe later wrote: 'I grew up in Vienna ... I loved Vienna ... I was a Viennese girl. And like all the others, I sang: Wien, Wien nur Du allein ...'
Her father, as she remembered him, was incredibly kind and full of tender affection for her, but her mother was excessively anxious and seemed to nag constantly. Thus she grew up a somewhat spoiled, but also rather subdued child.
When her nursemaid pushed her through the park in her pram, the little girl with the big, radiant blue eyes was always the object of admiration. Later, when she began to walk, '"Steffi's little calves" (were) famous amongst all child-lovers in Vienna'.
Her mother Ludmilla came from an old Jewish family, the Kurandas of Prague. Her father, Johann (known as Hans) Richter, was a Catholic, and a few days before their wedding Ludmilla also adopted the Catholic faith. With a good income from his law practice, Hans Richter could give his family a comfortable life. Yet he was often very generous to his clients as well and even took on cases free of charge, a fact that did not please his wife, who was something of a spendthrift. On one occasion Richter was imprisoned for embezzling funds entrusted to him on behalf of a minor. Towards the end of his life he became increasingly pious. And when his health began to deteriorate, he withdrew mentally, and in the end physically as well, from all worldly things, and joined the Order of Hospitallers. He was accepted as a lay brother, which meant that his family could visit him whenever they wanted.
From Stephanie's half-sister, the writer Gina Kaus, we get a more authentic account of Stephanie's parentage: her natural father was not Hans Richter, the Viennese lawyer born on a farm in northern Moravia, but a Jewish money-lender named Max Wiener. While Richter was serving a seven-month prison sentence for the aforementioned embezzlement, his wife had a relationship with Wiener, then a bachelor, which went beyond the mere arrangement of a loan. Not long afterwards, Wiener married another woman and had a daughter, Gina. Notwithstanding, on 16 September 1891 the Richters became the proud parents of a baby girl they christened Stephanie. When Gina Kaus was very old, she was again asked about her half-sister. 'Princess Hohenlohe was my half-sister – though maybe she never knew it', Gina replied. 'My father – a very unsophisticated man – occasionally mentioned that before he married my mother he had an affair with a Frau Richter, while her husband Hans was in prison. However, Richter acknowledged the child, who was Steffi, and perhaps a sum of money changed hands ...'
Gina Kaus followed her half-sister's hare-brained ploys with mixed feelings. Steffi repeatedly hit the headlines in Nazi Germany, and again years later in the United States.
Stephanie had a sheltered upbringing. She was very reluctant to go to day-school and was a poor pupil there. At the end of her years at school she was sent for four months to a college in Eastbourne, on the south coast of England. This was followed by piano lessons at the Vienna Conservatoire. She remembered ruefully that her teacher rapped her knuckles with a small stick whenever she played a wrong note. Stephanie's mother wanted her to become a pianist, but her hands were so small and narrow that she could not span an octave properly, so a professional career was out of the question.
Stephanie never read a book and took no interest in such 'feminine' accomplishments as sewing, embroidery and crochet. Nor could she cook; she could not even boil a saucepan of water without getting someone to light the stove for her. But she adored animals. And she enjoyed sport of every kind: she played tennis, swam, sailed, hunted, cycled and rowed. She was particularly good at skating, performing waltzes on the ice, and met all her boyfriends at the Vienna Skating Club. She did not have any special friends of her own sex. At the age of fourteen she was rolling her own cigarettes in the school lavatories. With her innate intelligence, she had no great difficulty in mastering foreign languages.
During a summer holiday at the lovely lakeside resort of Gmunden, in the Salzkammergut, the fourteen-year-old Steffi went in for the annual beauty contest, even though, as she herself writes, she was still a rather podgy teenager. Nonetheless, she won. From then on she attracted attention; other girls began to copy the hairstyle and clothes worn by 'Steffi from Vienna'.
One of the grandest clients of her father's law practice was the childless Princess Franziska (Fanny) von Metternich (1837–1918). She had been born the Countess Mittrowsky von Mittrowitz and was the widow of Prince von Metternich-Winneburg und Beilstein. The Grande Dame, as Stephanie later called her, liked Dr Richter's teenage daughter and asked him if she might take her out from time to time. Richter was happy to agree to this. In this way the young Stephanie came into contact with Vienna's exclusive aristocratic society. She quickly learned how to behave and move in those circles, and avidly acquired the lifestyle of the beau monde. People were enchanted by her smile and her charm; and her skill as a horsewoman soon won her an admirer in the person of a Polish nobleman, Count Gisycki. The Count took her to the Schloss that he owned, near Vienna. However, she rejected his proposal of marriage, since the good-looking playboy was old enough to be her grandfather, let alone her father.
Count Joseph Gisycki was divorced from an American heiress, Eleanor Medill Patterson, who had returned to the United States with their daughter Felicia. At that time no-one could have guessed that Felicia Patterson would marry a man who was to play an important part in launching Stephanie von Hohenlohe's postwar career as a journalist; he was the influential and highly respected American columnist, Drew Pearson.
At the age of fifteen, Steffi had set herself an ambitious goal in life: she would marry a prince – although he would not show up until 1914, when she was twenty-three. She claims in her memoirs, however, that she was seventeen when she got married. When she was still only fifteen, Steffi received her next proposal of marriage, from Count Rudolf Colloredo-Mannsfeld. But she turned the nobleman down because he was such a skinflint.
With the death of Hans Richter in 1909, Stephanie's family fell into dire financial straits. Who would lend money now to the widow and her daughters? The answer to all their problems was provided by Ludmilla's brother. As a young hothead, Robert Kuranda had run away from home and had never been heard of again. Yet now he was standing at the door, having returned from South Africa a rich man. Kuranda made lavish financial provision for his sister Ludmilla and his nieces. While Ludmilla was apparently incapable of handling money, Stephanie invested her share well and made an excellent return. At that time her mother had another 'informal relationship' with a businessman. The family now had enough money to go on summer holidays abroad, and did so very frequently.
On these trips Stephanie, Milla and their mother were accompanied by Aunt Clothilde, their mother's sister, who had been briefly married to the Vienna correspondent of the London Times, Herbert Arthur White. Clothilde owned a handsome town house in Kensington as well as a beautiful mansion on the shore of Wannsee, a lake near Berlin. She was famous for her parties. She had style and could afford to invite the most famous ballerina of the day, Anna Pavlova. There were expeditions to the spas of Marienbad and Karlsbad, to Venice, Berlin, Paris and Biarritz, to Kiel for the regatta, to the Dalmatian coast, to Corsica and to Prague.
Stephanie tells us that, at a hunt dinner given by Princess Metternich, she was asked to play something on the piano. A young man joined her at the keyboard and that is how she first met her future husband – Prince Friedrich Franz von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst (1879–1958). The next day, Stephanie wrote, the two met again and he offered to drive her home. It was then that he noticed that Stephanie was being chaperoned by a governess. But even this obstacle was overcome, and Stephanie managed to arrange three secret trysts with the prince. 'And within two weeks he asked me to marry him.'
When her mother found out about these clandestine walks in the park, she was furious. And Prince Friedrich Franz found relations with his future mother-in-law difficult. Stephanie was not present at the serious discussion that took place between the prince and her mother, but in the end the prince won Ludmilla over completely. 'My future husband had, at one time, served as military attaché in St Petersburg and had a brilliant war record ... And so at seventeen I got married. Half the royal houses of Europe now called me "cousin".' That is how Stephanie, in her autobiographical sketches, describes her path from happy-go-lucky Viennese teenager to Princess von Hohenlohe. However, she was putting this period of her life in a thoroughly idealised light as well as being dishonest about the dates.
The memoirs written by her son tell a different story. He claims that, through her rejected suitor Count Colloredo-Mannsfeld, she got to know another member of the house of Hohenlohe, Prince Nikolaus von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst (1877–1948). However, Stephanie found him excessively arrogant and turned him down in favour of his younger brother, Prince Friedrich Franz, whom she had met while riding to hounds. The prince was searching desperately for his pince-nez, which he had lost while jumping a fence. Steffi helped him look for the spectacles and he fell in love with her. Steffi was actually about to reject his marriage-proposal as well, but her mother took charge of the situation and threatened to put Steffi into a convent if she turned Friedrich Franz down. She accepted his suit.
The prince, whose full names were Friedrich Franz Augustin Maria, was the offspring of the marriage between Prince Chlodwig Karl Joseph von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst (1848–1929) and Countess Franziska Esterházy von Galántha (1856–84). At the time when Friedrich Franz and Stephanie planned to marry, he was military attaché at the Austro-Hungarian embassy in St Petersburg, then the Russian capital. The ambassador now had to be informed of the betrothal, as did the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vienna. The approval of the Emperor himself had to be obtained, as well as that of the head of the house of Hohenlohe, Prince August Karl Christian Kraft von Hohenlohe (1848–1926).
Putting up the marriage banns necessitated so many formalities that in the end the prince suggested they should marry, not in Vienna, but in London. One might think that for foreigners to get married in London would have been just as difficult. However, it seems that speed was of the essence, for 'Steffi from Vienna' was expecting a baby – and her bridegroom was not the father! The willingness of Prince Friedrich Franz to marry Steffi may well be explained by the fact that his bride was wealthy enough to settle his not inconsiderable gambling debts – 'debts of honour' as he would have called them.
The actual father of the child was another man: among the many aristocratic admirers of the middle-class Steffi Richter there had been one of particularly high rank, Franz Salvator of Austria-Tuscany (1866–1939). He was the son of Archduke Karl Salvator of Austria-Tuscany and of Maria Immaculata of the house of Bourbon-Sicily. More importantly he was a son-in-law of Emperor Franz Joseph I of Austria and Empress Elisabeth ('Sissi').
The imperial couple had four children: the Archduchesses Sophie and Gisela, the Crown Prince Rudolf and the Archduchess Marie Valerie. Sophie died young, Gisela married Prince Leopold of Bavaria, and the Crown Prince, heir to the throne, committed suicide at Mayerling as the result of a scandalous love affair. The youngest daughter Marie Valerie, who was particularly close to her mother, married the Archduke Franz Salvator on 29 July 1890 at the church in Ischl. The marriage resulted in no fewer than ten children. The Archduchess was forty-two years old when, in 1911, she gave birth to her last child, Agnes, at the imperial mansion in Ischl. The baby lived for only a few hours. Marie Valerie, a very pious woman with a tendency to melancholia, spent a great deal of time alone with her children at Schloss Wallsee. Her fun-loving husband seems to have neglected her for much of the time.
The liaison between Archduke Franz Salvator and Stephanie Richter dated from 1911. And, as already mentioned, was not without consequence. When Stephanie was expecting the Archduke's child, Emperor Franz Joseph obligingly arranged her betrothal to the aforementioned Prince Friedrich Franz von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst. Yet the manner in which the wedding took place does not exactly suggest a marriage of true love. It was held very quietly on 12 May 1914, in London's Roman Catholic cathedral in Westminster. Only Stephanie's mother was present. The witnesses were hired at short notice, and the couple did not even stay at the same hotel. Stephanie appraised her new husband coolly: 'Not tall – and I like tall men – but certainly very well-proportioned.'
Thus Stephanie Richter returned to Vienna from London as Princess von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst. She was a citizen of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, at the end of the First World War in 1918, when the empire and its dual monarchy collapsed, her husband opted to take up not Austrian, but Hungarian citizenship, to which he was entitled through his Esterházy mother. Stephanie likewise held a Hungarian passport for the rest of her life.
As no mention had been made of the wedding in any Austrian newspapers, and not even announcement cards had been sent out, the young wife's social standing in Vienna was problematic.
Seven months after the wedding, on 5 December 1914, Stephanie gave birth in a private clinic to her (illegitimate) son, Prince Franz Joseph Rudolf Hans Weriand Max Stefan Anton von Hohenlohe-Waldenburg-Schillingsfürst, always to be known as 'Franzi'. [Note that the Christian names include those of the Austrian emperor, Stephanie's benefactor, as well as that of her natural father, Max, and adoptive father, Hans. Tr.] At a solemn baptism in St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, the duties of godfather were assumed by Stephanie's former admirer, Count Colloredo-Mannsfeld.
Franzi later described his childhood as a happy one. He spent the greater part of his early years in the elegantly furnished apartment owned by his mother and grandmother, at Kärnterring 1. Whenever the political situation seemed to be getting particularly tense, he was sent away from the city with his nursemaid. It was then that he usually went to a house near the Danube, belonging to Count Gisycki. The little boy enjoyed that very much, as he was allowed to romp around the garden with the dogs.
He began his schooling in Vienna, then followed several years in Paris. At the age of ten Franzi went to a private boarding-school in Switzerland, Le Rosey, near Lausanne, where wealthy parents sent their hopeful offspring to be educated. (The present Prince Rainier of Monaco was a pupil there some years later.) The young Prince Franz then went on to the Collège de Normandie, near Rouen, and finally to university at Magdalen College, Oxford.
Excerpted from Hitler's Spy Princess by Martha Schad, Angus McGeoch. Copyright © 2002 Wilhelm Heyne Verlag, Munich, within Verlagsgruppe Random House GmbH. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
Contents1 The Girl from Vienna,
2 A Mission for Lord Rothermere,
3 Hitler's 'Dear Princess',
4 Stephanie's Adversary: Joachim von Ribbentrop,
5 Lady Astor and the Cliveden Set,
6 Stephanie, Wiedemann and the Windsors,
7 Trips to the USA and their Political Background,
8 Rivals for Hitler's Favour: Stephanie and Unity,
9 Wiedemann's Peace Mission,
10 Mistress of Schloss Leopoldskron,
11 Wiedemann's Dismissal: Stephanie Flees Germany,
12 The Lawsuit against Lord Rothermere,
13 The Spy Princess as a 'Peacemaker' in the USA,
14 Stephanie's Fight against Expulsion and Internment,
15 The International Journalist,
Appendices I–VI: Letters and Documents,
Notes on the Text,