Over 30 years, Audrey Hepburn is looking for her missing father. When she finally finds him, it turns out that he was once a leading Nazi in England, while as a girl in the Dutch resistance against Hitler Germany and at times she struggled for naked survival. By Rolf Liffers
What is hardly known: the course for the world career of Hollywood star Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) was set 70 years ago on the Côte d‘Azur. By chance that the young, unknown actress was on the Mediterranean for filming the film comedy “Music in Monaco”, she was discovered by the French successful author Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873-1954).
Fewer of people know that Audrey had already actively supported Resistance as a teenager — without even giving a pale clue that her biological father Joseph Ruston (1889-1980) simultaneously agitated as a fanatical National Socialist and antisemite on the opposite side, and as a penetrated supporter of Mussolini and Hitler was deeply involved in the fascist hierarchies.
Audrey’s parents broke up in 1935 after her Dutch mother Ella Baroness van Heemstra caught her husband in flagrante with the nanny who then submerged. Audrey, who was born in Ixelle, Belgium, was six at the time. She is said to have almost never spoken about her great pain that her father hadn‘t given a sign of life after that. Latent, she always looked for him. Until the suffering pressure after more than 30 years was so strong that she targeted detectives on him. They located Ruston in Ireland, where he retired.
To Audrey’s horror, it turns out her father marched shoulder to shoulder in London with the convinced Nazi Oswald Mosley (1896-1980). Mosley was the founder of the then very popular British Union of Fascists (BUF), which emulated the Italian Duce in particular, put his supporters in black uniforms (“blackshirts”) and intoned the National Socialist Horst Wessel song as a party anthem. Ruston had already joined the movement in the 1930s and had become more radicalised the closer the war. After all, the Englishman had to go into hiding because of his treacherous activities.
As a 15-year-old, Audrey begins her work for the resistance
. In the Netherlands, where Ella had moved with Audrey and her two sons from her first marriage, Alex and Ian, Allied bombs fell, the 15-year-old began working for the resistance in 1944. She gave dance classes, stood on stage and donated her narrow feaths to the anti-fascist cause. At her age, it was hardly noticeable that she provided British soldiers with food or news in their shelters. Her family provided shelter to some 40 refugees, including a British fighter pilot who survived his shooting down.
Audrey‘s family had sympathized with the Nazis at first. Her parents met Hitler in person in 1935. But their political stance changed quickly after Audrey’s uncle Otto was liquidated by the SS in 1942. Ella and the three children fled the country from the embattled Arnhem. The winter of 1944/45 must have been particularly deprivatory. “Sometimes we starved three days at a time,” the diva later described. “Sometimes there was only hot water and a slice of bread for breakfast, maybe a potato at lunch.” They had almost only spent the end of the war in the basement because of the ongoing airstrikes.
Audrey‘s 50-year-old son, Swiss-based author Luca Dotti from Audrey’s marriage to Roman psychiatrist Andrea Dotti, reports that his mother was emaciated to 40 kilos at the end of the war.
After the war, Audrey went to boarding school in England. She would have preferred to become a ballet dancer, but was found to be too tall with her 1.70 meters.
Only when she was already a star did she learn that her father had played a key role in the English fascist movement. After all, he had been responsible for the Nazi advertising campaigns funded by Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.
His close friend Oswald Mosley has been in a relationship with Diana Mitford, the oldest of six pretty shrill scandal noodles made of traded country noodles that filled the gossip columns of the British press at the time. For example, Diana‘s youngest sister, Jessica, made headlines when she was playing with the left-wingNephews of Winston Churchill burned to participate in the Spanish Civil War.
When she became Muslim’s mistress, Diana was still married to one of the richest men in the UK. After the divorce, her second wedding to Mosley took place in 1936 in the office of Goebbels Berlin Villa. And this, in turn, worshipped her ambitious sister Unity (1914-1948), to whom her parents had given her parents the middle name Valkurie (Valkyrie). This Unity, btw cousin of Churchill‘s wife Clementine, was almost obsessed with ethnic and anti-Semitic ideas and wanted to prove to the public that she was able to conquer the heart of an even greater leader than her sister.
“ I was flipping through Vogue when the Führer approached me” in
1934, she went to Munich purposefully to hit on Chancellor Adolf Hitler, who still lives privately in the Bavarian country capital. Quite unlike in Berlin, the “Führer” runs around there and tends – as it was not difficult to find out – to dine in his favorite restaurant, the Schwabinger Osteria Bavaria on Schellingstraße. From now on, the blond and tall Englishwoman will wait for him day after day until Hitler approached the prototype of the Aryan woman and asks him to his table (quote from her notes: “I was reading in Vogue when the Führer approached me”).
The Führer is flattered by the care of the noble National Socialist. And Unity himself declares himself “the happiest girl in the world.” In fact, the two become close friends. They’ll probably meet 150 times. Whether they had a classic love affair, however, is not yet clear.
On the other hand, Hitler never tired of stressing that he was already married to “Germany”, and then — if any woman — only one German girl would choose to tell Leni Riefenstahl. Connoisseurs of the scene assume that Hitler did not want to bind himself for this reason alone, so as not to offend the thousands of groupies in love that adored him in the “Millennial Kingdom”.
According to other sources, however, the most powerful man in Europe is said to have supported himself with a marriage proposal. In England, they already talked about Mrs. Hitler.
Anyway, Hitler‘s official mistress, Eva Braun, is said to have literally gone to the palm when she heard Unity’s name. Indeed, the young Englishwoman‘s influence on the German ruler grew steadily. Soon she was part of the inner circle of the NSDAP. She even managed to openly criticize the entourage of the Führer, who always held his hand over her. Albert Speer described them as the only one who dared to work towards Hitler for a German-English partnership.
On 3 September 1935, Unity’s parents, Lord and Lady Redesdale, visited their daughter in Munich. On this occasion, Unity introduced the Reich Chancellor to them personally. At the 7th Nazi Party Party, she gave a flaming speech and warned of the “Jewish danger”.
Hitler gave Unity a gold party badge to prove his favour. He also gave her a box seat at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. At the announcement of the “Anschluss” of Austria to the German Reich in 1938, she stood right next to him.
One summer, Unity and Hitler also spent at the Berghof. British intelligence reported in 1936 that it was “more Nazi than the Nazis”. She is said to have greeted the British ambassador in Munich with “Heil Hitler”, after which she asked her to surrender her passport.
In 1939, Unity and her sister Diana visited the Richard Wagner Festival in Bayreuth. When Hitler hinted that a war with England could not be avoided, she allegedly threatened that she would not survive such a tragedy.
At the age of 25, she‘s actually trying to shoot herself. Strangely enough, the Gestapo is the first one at the crime scene, a Munich park. It is still unclear whether Unity feels disdained by the despot or whether she can not get over the fact that her dream of a binational friendship should end on the contrary. In any case, Hitler gets rid of them after the failed suicede attempt and has them repatriated to their homeland.
Now, with all this, you have to know that fascism in the 1930s was by no means a purely German phenomenon. The British imperialists were by no means alien to the men’s thinking. Nazi enthusiasms were quite socially acceptable. At the Nuremberg Reich Party‘s Party in 1933, the English were represented by a large delegation.
Only in 1940, when the BUFis banned, Hepburn’s father, like 740 other like-minded functionaries, is arrested and interned for collaboration with the enemy. He remained in custody until the end of the war and does not get back on his feet politically.
After being disguised by his daughter Audrey‘s “minions”, Ruston organizes a meeting with her at a Dublin hotel. Silence hangs over the reunion. He does not show the slightest regret for his memorable past. Audrey, for her part, treats him like a raw egg. In two photos received, both smile hard. Apparently, Audrey doesn’t have a grudge against her father. Rather, she forgives him a long absence and even suspends him a pension for life.
In young Audrey, the Colette immediately recognized the ideal score for the title role of “Gigi”. Audrey, who grew up in Holland but retained the British passport until her death, traveled to America and played her part so convincingly at the Fulton Theatre in New York in 1951/1952 that she won the Theatre World Award. In this way, she became aware of Hollywood, where two years later she made her final breakthrough alongside Gregory Peck with “One Heart and a Crown” and an Oscar. She soon became one of the greatest movie stars of the fifties and sixties.
Counterpoint to lush vamps
International, the modest girl with the radiant smile is perceived as a refreshing, soothing counterpoint to the lush vamps from the beating of a Sophia Loren or Marilyn Monroe. Billy Wilder said about her: “Audrey still manages to get the bosom out of fashion.”
Speaking of fashion: Audrey Hepburn was also considered a timeless style icon in this field. She was a muse and close friend of Hubert de Givenchy, who lived in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat until his death and died in 2018 at the age of 91. To him, the “elf” owes unmistakable trademarks, huge sunglasses, for example, seven-eighth pants and flat ballet flats. De Givenchy was also the designer who designed the famous little black dress for “Tiffany”. In 2006, it was auctioned for almost 700,000 euros, making it the most expensive garment in film history, according to Christie‘s. She said about him, “I’m attached to Givenchy how many Americans to her psychiatrist.” He said about Audrey, “She‘s just great!” Together they created a new Hollywood silhouette — elegant and feminine.
Despite a serious illness, Audrey Hepburn remained socially committed until the end of her life and served as a highly ambitious special ambassador of the UN Children’s Fund Unicef.