Dutch plan uncovered to allow Nazis to flee in 1945
Diaries of her wartime foreign minister, Eelco van Kleffens, suggest Wilhelmina, the great-grandmother of King Willem-Alexander, the current Dutch king, asked her government in March 1945, to see if Nazi chiefs could be offered an escape route.
King Leopold III (pictured in 1934) refused to go into exile with his government when the Germans invaded in 1940, sparking allegations of Nazi sympathies. After D-Day in 1944, he was moved from house arrest in the royal chateau in Laeken, Belgium, to an Austrian villa in Strobl with his children Joséphine-Charlotte, Baudouin and Albert. They were held under a Waffen-SS guard.
The Dutch envoy to the Vatican in April 1945 asked about papal support for a proposal to allow the Belgian royals to reach Switzerland.
Wilhelmina is believed to have destroyed many of the files but a note in her handwriting does state her special thanks for the pope’s action.
The Vatican has come under pressure to open its wartime archives and Pope Francis said in March the files would be made available next year.
Prominent Nazis were trying to negotiate their escape from Europe in 1945 and many successfully fled to Latin America, including Adolf Eichmann, Josef Mengele and Klaus Barbie.
Wilhelmina called for a rescue plan after a conversation with the Belgian Queen Mother, Elisabeth, who was still in Brussels. She feared the Nazis would execute Leopold and his family.
Leopold and his wife, Mary Lilian Baels, a London-born non-royal whom he met while in Nazi hands, were liberated by US troops who accidentally discovered them when Germany surrendered.
Leopold’s behaviour during the war, including his refusal to flee Belgium with his exiled government in 1940, his surrender of the Belgian army after two weeks without ministerial consent and a visit to Adolf Hitler at his Berghof retreat in the Alps led to allegations that the monarch held Nazi sympathies.
Leopold did not return to Belgium and named his brother, Prince Charles, as regent while he moved to Switzerland.
He died in 1983, aged 81, and was buried in the royal crypt of Laeken with other Belgian kings.
King Leopold III in 1934. Picture credit: Wikimedia