A short home movie that shows a young Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth II, raising her hand in the air in the style of a Nazi salute was published on a British website and is reverberating throughout the United Kingdom.
LONDON — The black-and-white home movie lasts about 17 seconds. It shows a young Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth II, raising her hand in the air in the style of a Nazi salute, an apparent youthful pantomime. The Queen Mother and Elizabeth’s uncle, Prince Edward, who would become King Edward VIII, also make the gesture.
Three days after the footage of the royal family, taken in 1933 or 1934, was published on the website of The Sun, the images of the young Elizabeth continued to reverberate throughout Britain on Monday. The story — under the headline “Their Royal Heilnesses” — has stirred debates about the limits of press freedom and royal privacy; the imperative of historical transparency; and whether an 89-year-old monarch should be judged for a gesture made when she was 6 or 7 years old.
Indeed, some critics have assailed The Sun for publishing the video, saying it unfairly sullies the image of a future queen who was too young to understand the meaning of what she was doing. There has also been an outpouring of support for the queen, a beloved figure, on social media.
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But other commentators have praised the newspaper for prodding a historical reckoning, saying it could enhance understanding of the royal family’s attitudes toward Nazi Germany, in particular those of Prince Edward, who has been accused of sympathizing with the Nazis. As Edward VIII, he renounced the throne in December 1936 to marry U.S. divorcée Wallis Simpson.
“It is disappointing that film shot eight decades ago and apparently from H.M.’s personal family archive has been obtained and exploited in this manner,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement. It is not clear how The Sun obtained the footage.
The Sun defended its decision to publish the images, saying it was a matter of history and in the public interest.
The film shows members of the royal family at their Balmoral estate in rural Scotland in 1933 or 1934. At the time, the Hitler salute was being mocked in some quarters in Britain, and making the gesture did not necessarily signal support for him.
Simon Fowler, a lecturer in history at the University of Dundee, who studies World War I and World War II, noted that the Holocaust would not reach its murderous climax until years later and that many in Britain in 1933 saw a strong Germany as a bulwark against communism.
Much of the coverage in the British news media of the affair has focused on the extent to which the footage suggested that members of the royal family could have been sympathetic to Hitler or Nazi Germany.