Marburg Files: How the Duke of Windsor was Exposed

It was April 1945 and World War II was winding down. Germany officially surrendered on May 7, 1954, and the next day was declared V-E Day or Victory in Europe Day. While patrolling certain parts of Germany, American troops chanced upon top-secret Nazi documents.

The documents were brought to the Marburg Castle in Hesse, Germany, where they were read and analyzed. Allied leaders were shocked to learn that the Nazis had ties to the Duke of Windsor Edward VIII. This was the uncle of the late Queen Elizabeth II, and the longest-reigning British monarch.

So, what was in the Marburg files?

Wallis Simpson, The Duke of Windsor and Hitler, circa 1937

Marburg Files: The Discovery

American troops were traveling and operating on the outskirts of the Degenershausen Estate in April 1945. While doing their rounds, they chanced upon abandoned German military vehicles. Most of them contained documents from the Nazi government. 

The discovery was attributed to First Lieutenant David D. Silberberg of the 47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division. It was quite apropos considering Silberberg was a natural-born German. He was born in the Harz Mountains in 1921 but his family fled the country in 1936 following the Nazi government’s rise to power in the 1930s. 

While still at war, Silberberg wanted to hit two birds with one stone by visiting the Harz region where he was born. By then, he was already a naturalized American citizen after joining the U.S. Army in 1942. 

In a report, World War II’s 9th Infantry Division quoted Silberberg’s reaction upon seeing the German vehicles with a lot of scattered papers: “While wrecked vehicles along the roads were commonplace, one truck caught my attention right outside the town of Degenershausen. It was lying in a ditch with papers scattered all around it. I picked up one of the papers and saw that it was signed by Joachim von Ribbentrop, the foreign minister of Nazi Germany.”

It was just the tip of the iceberg. It turns out that the Nazis had stored a lot of documents in a home called the Schloss Degenershausen since 1943. 

The documents they found inside contained signatures of the highest-ranking German officials:

  • Adolf Hitler, Führer of the Nazi Party
  • Kaiser William II, Commander-in-chief of the German armed forces
  • Otto von Bismarck, Chancellor of the German Reich
  • Other famous World War I and World War II generals

Because of the importance and relevance of the documents, Colonel Dickson of G-2 (Intelligence) of the First US Army feared that German paratroopers would try to destroy them by wrecking the property. 

Dickson ordered the transfer of the documents to Marburg Castle in Hesse. More documents were found in other properties in Germany and the most important ones were transported to Marburg where they could remain under close watch. 

More than a hundred trucks transported some 400 tons of documents to the castle. When officers reviewed the documents, they were shocked to discover at least 60 files referring to correspondences between the Duke of Windsor and some officials of the Nazi government. 

The Duke of Windsor

The Marburg files are often referred to as the Windsor files or Duke of Windsor files because of the main character involved in the controversial documents. 

Edward VIII served in the British Army during the First World War. He was a popular prince because he had charm, charisma, a great fashion sense, and a penchant for having affairs. 

It would have been more convenient if Edward VIII continued with his appetite for affairs. But instead, he fell in love with married American socialite Wallis Simpson. 

When Edward VIII and Simpson fell in love, the latter became a twice-divorced American socialite—a fact that didn’t sit well with the monarchy. Edward VIII tried to introduce Simpson to his parents in 1935 but the king and queen refused to receive the American. 

Portrait of Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor (King Edward VIII) (1894–1972)

In 1936, King George V died and Edward VIII ascended to the throne. King Edward VIII was among the few monarchs who ruled while single. It was not the only thing that set him apart as he also had a knack for breaking British monarchy traditions. 

When the newly crowned king declared that he wanted to marry Simpson, the British Cabinet and the Dominion governments opposed it. It was also a marriage that wouldn’t be acceptable to the Catholic Church. 

So, Edward VIII abdicated the throne and became one of the briefest-reigning monarchs in the world, serving less than a year as king. He was given the title Duke of Windsor when his younger brother George VI became king. Edward married Simpson who later became the Duchess of Windsor. 

People thought that would be the end of Edward VIII’s controversies but that wasn’t his style. 

Was the Duke of Windsor a Nazi Sympathizer?

Following the couple’s marriage in 1937, they went on a trip to Germany and met with Hitler despite the disapproval of then-Member of Parliament Winston Churchill

It was the start of a controversial friendship that the British government wanted to hide from the world. Duke Edward VIII felt that he and Wallis were more welcome in Germany than when they were with his own family. 

At the end of the couple’s 12-day tour of the country, Hitler reportedly remarked that Wallis would have been a good queen. This only cemented the Duke’s regard for the Führer. 

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor mostly lived in France after Edward abdicated. 

When France fell to the Nazis, the couple traveled to Madrid, Spain where Germany tried to use them as pawns to take control of the British government. Though the United Kingdom had no idea that this was going on, the Marburg files shed light on these developments.

The files contained evidence that Duke Edward VIII communicated with high-ranking Nazi officials to implement what was then known as Operation Willi. 

Operation Willi

On June 19, 1940, the Windsor royal couple was in a convoy traveling to the safety of the Spanish border from France. Though Spain was a neutral territory and wasn’t officially a part of the Axis Powers, Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was pro-Nazi. 

He was willing to join the Axis group but Hitler thought his demands were too high. Spanish officials started communicating with their German counterparts on what to do with the Windsors shortly after their arrival. 

Joachim von Ribbentrop, the Nazi Minister of Foreign Affairs, wanted Spain to detain the Windsor couple for as long as possible. However, he didn’t want to make it seem like Germany was behind it. 

Hence, Spain tried to seduce the Duke with lavish offers to stay in the country. However, the Duke was perceptive enough to realize that Spain might join World War II, so he and his wife escaped to Portugal while waiting for Churchill to make arrangements for their homecoming. Ribbentrop was livid. 

The Duke and Duchess were living a life of peace and calm in Portugal when Edward VIII received a threatening communication from Churchill. Churchill, who had become Prime Minister in 1940, said that he could be court-martialed if they didn’t go home to the U.K. immediately. 

The Prime Minister sweetened the deal by offering the Duke the position of governor in the Bahamas. But Ribbentrop was not done with his plotting. 

Operation Willi involved making Duke Edward VIII believe that the British Secret Service was out to kill him. The idea wouldn’t have seemed that farfetched since the Duke already felt like the black sheep of the family. Moreover, Hitler promised the Duke 50 million Swiss Francs if he were cooperative. 

Hitler didn’t want his friends to be harmed, so peaceful negotiations were important. He wanted the couple to go back to Spain which was a more Axis-friendly territory. At the behest of the Nazi government, a Spanish envoy was sent to Portugal to negotiate terms with the Duke and Duchess. 

Away from his family and compatriots, Duke Edward VIII considered the offer though he had no idea that the Germans were behind it. In the end, the Duke decided to serve the monarchy and leave for the Bahamas. 

Release of the Marburg Files

Germany wanted to force the British monarchy’s surrender by kidnapping the Windsors and blackmailing the government. 

Hitler also had plans to reinstate Edward VIII as the king of the United Kingdom and the Dominions of the British Empire, and Emperor of India. More importantly, Wallis would be his queen, which was important to Edward since King George VI would not even give Edward VIII’s wife the title of “royal highness.”

However, the documents didn’t indicate that the Duke accepted Hitler’s offer. The most damning statements from the Duke which were uncovered from the Marburg Files were:

  • He believed conflict might have been avoided had he stayed king.
  • He wanted a peaceful compromise with Germany.
  • He encouraged more bombing attacks against the U.K. to force them into peace negotiations. 

There was no proof that Duke Edward VIII was a Nazi sympathizer, but it didn’t change the fact that the contents of the Marburg Files were embarrassing for the British monarchy. 

King George VI and Churchill wanted to bury the files. Some parts were eventually released in 1954, two years after the death of King George VI and the start of Queen Elizabeth II’s reign. Their entirety was released in 1957. 

In 1996, the files were sent to the Public Record Office in Kew, London. 


Every family has a black sheep. For the Windsors, it was Edward VIII, a womanizer who didn’t follow conventions. 

Today, he would be considered a romantic for abdicating the throne for the woman he loved. But he was also an embarrassment to the family, especially since his wife Wallis Simpson was twice divorced. 

What was even more embarrassing for Duke Edward VIII and the Windsors were his ties with the Nazis during World War II as evidenced by the Marburg files.

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