Marie Vassiltchikov

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Cover of "Berlin Diaries"

Marie Illarionovna Vassiltchikov (Russian: Мария Илларионовна Васильчикова; 11 January 1917 – 12 August 1978) was a Russian princess who wrote "Berlin Diaries, 1940-1945", which described the effects of the bombing of Berlin and events leading to the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler in the 20 July Plot.

Early life[edit]

Princess Marie ("Missie") Vassiltchikov was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, in the waning days of the Russian Empire, on 11 January 1917. She was the fourth child of a member of the Fourth Duma, Prince Hilarion Vassiltchikov (fr) and his wife, the former Princess Lidiya Leonidovna Vyazemskaya. As members of the aristocracy, her parents fled Russia in 1919, following the Bolshevik October Revolution by joining a group of people who had been evacuated by the British fleet as described in the book "Purgatory of fools: A memoir of the aristocrats' war in Nazi Germany" by Tatiana von Metternich-Winneburg. King George V of the United Kingdom was the cousin of the last Tzar and maternal nephew of Empress Marie Feodorovna. King George V persuaded Prime Minister David Lloyd George to send a ship to the Crimea to save his aunt but the Empress refused to leave unless those who wished to leave with her were taken as well. The British sent additional ships to take the entire group including the Vassiltchikov family. Princess Marie lived as a refugee initially in the French Third Republic, then Weimar Republic Germany, and then Lithuania until just before the start of World War II.

Plot to kill Hitler[edit]

In 1940, Princess Marie and her sister, Princess Tatiana Vassiltchikova (Tatiana von Metternich-Winneburg) (1915–2006), traveled to Berlin where, as stateless persons, they were able to obtain work permits. After a brief period of employment with the Broadcasting Service, Vassiltchikov transferred to the Auswärtiges Amt (AA), or German Foreign Ministry's Information Office, where she worked as the assistant to Dr. Adam von Trott zu Solz, a key member of the anti-Nazi resistance and a former Rhodes scholar.

Due to the tendency of Nazi party members to bypass the Foreign Ministry staff when formulating policy as described in Princess Marie's diaries, the A.A. effectively became a gathering place for civilian members of the anti-Nazi resisters including Adam von Trott zu Solz. In 1944, he was among the leaders of the 20 July Plot to kill Adolf Hitler. Princess Marie kept diaries of her life in the plotters' circle. She wrote in shorthand and kept the pages hidden in her A.A. office and in other locations but was not actively involved in the plot, although aware of its existence in general terms. In addition, her diaries detail the bombing of Berlin, the daily life of what remained of Berlin's cosmopolitan pre-war nobility and intelligentsia, and her own journey from privilege to near-death at the end of the war.

Following the failed attempt to kill Hitler, many of her friends and colleagues were imprisoned and a number were killed. Princess Marie and her friend Princess Elenore (Loremarie) von Schönburg went several times to Gestapo headquarters to plead for the life of Dr. von Trott zu Solz (among others) and to bring food and packages. Eventually, they were warned by a friendly guard not to return.

After Dr. von Trott zu Solz was executed in late August 1944, Princess Marie left Berlin and traveled to Vienna, where she worked as a nurse until the end of the war.

Post-war[edit]

Princess Marie was found by the United States Third Army under the command of US Army General George S. Patton outside Gmunden, Austria, on 4 May 1945. She worked as an interpreter for the army, but contracted scarlet fever and was transported to a hospital unit.

On 28 January 1946 Princess Marie Vassiltchikov married U.S. Army Captain Peter Graham Harnden of Military Intelligence (born in London on 9 April 1913). They settled in Paris, where Harnden opened an architectural firm. After Harnden died in Cadaqués on 15 October 1971, she moved to London. After her husband's death, she bowed to the wishes of friends and relatives who had been encouraging her to publish her wartime diaries. She died in London of leukemia on 12 August 1978. At the time, the task of editing and polishing her diaries was still incomplete; this task was completed by her brother George Vassiltchikov, who wrote an introduction.

Princess Marie Illarionovna Harnden was survived by her four children (Marina Harnden, born 15 September 1948; Anthony Peter Harnden, born in Paris on 13 February 1951, died in Cadaqués on 4 January 1999; Michael Christopher Harnden, born 10 October 1954; Alexandra Harnden, born 18 March 1956); her brother, Prince Yuri "Georgie" Vassiltchikov; and her sister, Princess Tatiana von Metternich-Winneburg, who was married to Paul Alfons von Metternich-Winneburg, a descendant of Prince Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, the prominent Austrian state chancellor and diplomat of the Napoleonic era.

Berlin Diaries[edit]

Vassiltchikov's diaries' description of the repeated bombing of Berlin during the war is considered one of the best testimonies of that experience.[by whom?]

The diaries are also important in that they chronicle a little-known aspect of Hitler's war crimes: the destruction of the aristocracy of Europe. Hitler and the aristocracy had an uneasy relationship during the war. After it became clear that many of the 20 July Plot participants were members of the aristocracy, Hitler used the assassination attempt as an excuse to wipe out many members of the prominent ruling families of Europe.

A poignant feature of Vassiltchikov's diary is its arc from the first pages in 1940 to its conclusion in 1945. She begins by recounting a night spent dancing at a ball at the Chilean embassy and ends with her flight from Vienna, which found her stumbling, filthy and half-starved, across a bombed railroad depot at the end of the war. Her account of wartime Berlin at times takes on an air of surreality as she writes about days that combined lunches at the Hotel Adlon and nights spent in half-ruined flats and conversations that ranged from gossip about her noble and royal friends to the intended killing of Hitler.

The cover (inside back) of the Chatto and Windus Ltd edition published in 1985 has reviews by various people, who praise the book and A.J.P.Taylor(historian) describes it as "a remarkable historical document of the first importance." which answers the question of "by whom?" which is in the first line above. Also praised by Bernard Levin, and Auberon Waugh and a Daily Mail reviewer.

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