Pretext for British Appeasement of Nazi Germany – 5
“A Peace Loving Man of the People” and Other Phony Portrayals
There was a constant stream of tributes to Hitler by numerous British visitors, who either claimed to have met him or have heard nothing but good about him from their German hosts; not that their hosts would have dared say anything else. Lord Mottistone was only one of many who on returning from a meeting with the Fuhrer, enthusiastically gave his unqualified praise to the murderous dictator, informing parliament during a debate in 1935 that “all of us who have seen this remarkable man are agreed that he is absolutely truthful, sincere and unselfish“
There was also praise, despite the obvious jingoism and militarism of the Nazi regime, for Hitler’s supposed commitment to peace. The Very Reverend Duncan Jones, Dean of Chichester told his local paper that Hitler had “no desire for war” and that “I think it highly probably that Hitler is more interested in preserving his country in a state of stability and peace than anything else.” Similarly Lord Lothian on returning from a meeting with Hitler, told waiting reporters at Croydon Airport in January 1935 that “I was struck by the fact that Germany is settling down after the revolution. I believe that Hitler earnestly desires peace.”
The following month a Reuters report in the Northern Daily Mail, under the headline “Hitler Chats with Film Star – Unperturbed by Crash,” paid homage to Hitler’s seeming frugality and patience. According to the correspondent, Hitler acting “with characteristic abstemiousness”, during an evening meeting with “stars of the German films and opera… ate nothing the whole evening and drank one glass of soda water.” He added that “at one point guests heard a sudden crash. A waiter had dropped a tray full of glasses just behind the Chancellor but Hitler was unperturbed.”
It was a common theme of pro-Nazi propaganda to portray Hitler as the “frugal Fuhrer.” An early apostle of this mantra was the distinguished travel writer Sir John Foster Fraser who was given an hour long audience with Hitler in “a little room of his official residence overlooking the Wilhelmstrasse; a simple room, with only a bunch of azaleas on the table as decoration.” Sir John then went on to remind his British readers that “they (the Germans) honour him for his Spartan life, his lack of personal vanity, with no pleasure except architecture and music, a bachelor, a non-smoker, a teetotaller and a vegetarian.”
Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda was no doubt impressed by the sycophancy of British commentators and journalists desperate to obtain privileged reporting access within the Nazi regime. This soft soap style was also clearly discernible in a Daily Mirror exclusive the following year. On 29 February 1936, under the front page headline “Hitler’s ‘Let’s Be Friends’ Plea To World – An Exclusive Interview with Daily Mirror,” the paper carried a report of an interview with Hitler by the French intellectual and Nazi apologist Bertrand de Jouvenel.
“Passionately, fervently, in the plain words of a man of the people, Adolf Hitler, leader and master of Germany, in an exclusive interview with the Daily Mirror yesterday pleaded with the world ‘Lets Be Friends.'”
The Mirror then allowed de Jouvenel’s words to set the intimate scene – “Simply dressed, sitting at his desk, he unburdened to me his heart, his hopes, his fears.” According to the report, Hitler assured de Jouvenal that, just as he had successfully persuaded the German people that the “notorious” notion of “class war” was an absurdity, so he would advise his people of the necessity of maintaining peace with France. In its editorial the same day the Daily Mirror declared that Hitler’s answers “throw a glow of spring sunshine upon the wintry scene of European confusion.” Two days later a Daily Mirror headline boasted “Europe Hails Hitler’s Peace Plea – Effect of Mirror Talk,” with its diplomatic correspondent commenting that “in diplomatic circles, I am told Herr Hitler’s appeal to reason is regarded as something much more than an empty formula. It means that he is sincerely desirous of peace.”
On the following Saturday, 7 March, Hitler ordered German troops to march into the demilitarized Rhineland in flagrant violation of the Versailles Treaty. This time it was the Daily Mail which borrowed a spring weather metaphor declaring that “Germany’s latest stroke may be said, indeed, to have cleared the air. Like a fresh breeze from the mountaintops it has swept away the fog and shown exactly where she stands.” The Yorkshire Post similarly saw no cause form alarm noting that “London received the news with unruffled calm,” and that there “were no hurried cabinet meetings.”
Just in case the public felt unduly concerned, the Daily Express carried an editorial with an appeal “Britain ! Keep Calm !” asking “Where should we Stand ?” and providing the unequivocal answer “We should Stand Aside. There is no need whatever, no BRITISH NEED, to take a part, no interest of ours will be challenged.”
Similarly, the front page headline in the Daily Mirror implored its readers “It Must Not Be War – Hitler’s Peace Plan Should Succeed,“ while John Hayden, the paper’s Berlin correspondent, made the best possible case for the German remilitirisation, explaining that “for the safety of their own people in the frontier provinces and for the security of Europe it is regarded as vital for Germany today to ensure tranquility by the provision of an adequate peace garrison.” He added that “at this very difficult and delicate moment the people of Germany hope earnestly that the people of England will not be misled by sensational and ill-balanced reports” and then gave a flattering description of Hitler’s announcement of the news in the Reichstag, observing that he was “calm, unhurried, dignified.”
No one who followed the leaders, commentaries and editorials in the press can have been surprised when Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary, announced that Britain had no intention of taking any retaliatory action. Hitler used the prestige of his easy victory to complete the ruthless repression of all remnants of opposition within Germany. However the praises of British intellectuals and politicians continued to flow. In September, Lloyd George, interviewed by the Scotsman on returning from a meeting with the Fuhrer, struggled to find adequate superlatives for the German leader
“Hitler is a most remarkable personality, one of the greatest I have ever met in the whole of my life, and I have met some very great men. Affection is a quite inadequate word to describe the attitude of the German people towards Hitler,” and later added “Some men I met, who are not Nazis, told me that they do not know what the country would have done without him.”
Lloyd George wrote another astonishingly adulatory account of his impressions of Hitler in the Daily Express the same month, which was featured across two pages of the newspaper under the headline “I talked to Hitler,” in which he compared the Fuhrer to George Washington. Hitler’s “resolute will” and “dauntless heart” had “rescued his country” from the “despair, penury and humiliation” of the preceding Weimar Republic. It seemed to the former prime minister that his virtues were virtually beyond reproach. “Not a word of criticism or of disapproval have I heard of Hitler. He is as immune from criticism as a king in a monarchical country. He is something more. He is the George Washington of Germany – the man who won for his country independence from all her oppressors.”
Unusually Lloyd’s George’s eulogies to Hitler did receive a reprimand, not from any of the leading politicians of the major parties, but by Eleanor Rathbone, an independent MP representing England’s universities. who was a long time and outspoken opponent of the Nazi regime. She pointed out that “the one thing that might influence Hitler to mitigate his persecutions is belief that they block the way to the friendship with Great Britain which Germany desires so much,” and questioned whether “the effects of such tributes to Herr Hitler can do anything other than to assist in shutting the door of hope on every prisoner in a concentration camp and on every wretched Jewish child who is treated like a pariah ?”
Even if such words of caution were read by any of Hitler’s many apologists they appear to have had little impact. The same month, the Reverend A. B. Morley, the minister of Buckingham congregational church, returning from his fourth holiday in Germany, “that very interesting and hospitable country”, informed his local newspaper that “Hitler is a great lover of children and animals….The healthy are told…that it is honourable for them to bring children into the world…..Mental defectives are segregated so that they will not hand on their curse to future generations. Illegitimate children are cared for in homes. Much is (also) done for the preservation of beautiful wild animals. Steel traps which break birds’ legs have been forbidden by law.”
The influential socialite Lady Londonderry, returning from a meeting with the Fuhrer in May 1936, was equally dazzled by Hitler’s charade of humility and noble intentions. She wrote in the Sunday Sun how she “beheld a man of arresting personality – a man with wonderful far-seeing eyes,” of how she had realised that “she was in the presence of one truly great” and had departed Germany feeling deeply impressed by “this simple man of action, beloved of modern Germany,” who had a sincere desire for friendship with England. She was so proud of her propaganda piece, that she sent a copy to Hitler’s close confidant Ribbentrop with the confident expectation that he would approve.
Jane Taylor, the weekly Home Page correspondent of the Hastings and St. Leonards Observer, was also among the many visitors won over by Hitler’s carefully calculated charisma and connectivity with people, when she saw him for the first and only time at the Berlin Olympic Games in August 1936. “Herr Hitler is obviously intensely popular with the women of his country,” she informed her readers, “and little wonder, for he displays a keen interest in all their activities and has a deep love for children who seem to adore him.”
She was not of course aware of the dark fate that would soon befall millions of Europe’s children at Hitler’s hands. By 1944, hundreds of thousands of Jewish and Roma children had been sent to concentration camps. At Auschwitz almost all the younger ones were ordered to one side on arrival by the notorious SS doctor Josef Mengele for immediate extermination in the gas chambers while thousands of children in Eastern Europe were kidnapped, under operation Heuaktion, to work as slave labourers in Germany’s handicraft workshops and armaments factories. When in 1942, Adam Czerniakow, head of the Warsaw ghetto, was ordered to hand over to the Germans all the Jewish children, he committed suicide. He knew what fate awaited them and was not prepared to collaborate even to save his own life.
While Taylor, like other British visitors, must have heard by 1936 of the murderous Nazi persecution of the Jews; at that stage they had not yet reached the level of intensity, of industrialized killing, that was carried out during the war years. So possibly she might have assumed Jewish children were somehow exempt from the ill treatment meted out to their parents. At any rate Taylor was no different from thousands of other British visitors to Germany who, judging by those who chose to write about their experiences and impressions, appear to have given the Nazi regime, despite its total lack of freedom and obvious savagery, at least considerable sympathy, and more often their enthusiastic approval.
One such enthusiast was Rita Collinson, a charity worker from Hull. According to her lengthy travelogue, published in October in the Hull Daily Mail, she had “just returned from an interesting tour of central Germany” where she stayed “not in luxury hotels, but as the honoured guest of German friends.” Like Taylor, she appeared to have been enthralled by Hitler’s popularity and charisma. “If anyone catches you studying his (Hitler’s) portrait,” she recalled, “they will tell you quite simply and sincerely (that) Hitler is the saviour of Germany….. I wondered as many others have wondered if Hitler ruled by fear. I expected to find mob hysteria, but instead I found a simple adoration for and faith in the leader who had saved Germany from communism,” and she concluded “I went doubting but I return with a sneaking admiration for the man who is so rapidly restoring Germany to her former greatness. One cannot really doubt the sincerity of the man who has the adoration of all classes.”
Impassioned eulogies to the Fuhrer continued in the following year. Among them was an article in September by a Yorkshire Post correspondent describing his “General Impressions” of Germany. It read as if he was setting the scene for a super hero. He recounted how “in the chaos of the post-war days, a man appeared upon the bleak horizon, a man who was destined to save his country from the black despair into which it had fallen. To provide food for the starving, work for the unemployed and new pride for their crushed and broken spirits – these were not the least of his services.” He added that “It must be remembered, however, that not without years of effort and struggle did the Fuhrer succeed in realising (this) ambition. His debut in Munich among a small band of supporters was followed by many setbacks. He was sent to prison for a long period,” and “at other times his organisation was attacked by military forces and violent fights ensued during which many lives were lost.”
Academics too were eager to heap praise on the Fuhrer. In March 1938, the Daily Express featured an extract from the bestselling book The House that Hitler Built, by Australian historian Stephen H Roberts. In the article he used some interesting analogies for Hitler included those of a “medieval saint”, a “young knight” and an “ascetic monk”. The dictator was also depicted as a dreaming “romantic like the Swan King Ludwig of Bavaria,” and yet at the same time merely “a peasant’s son with little more than a peasant’s education, but now holding a position that outrivals the most magical transformation in their wildest fairy tale.” The flattery then intensified with Roberts asserting that “he is so transparently honest when he is weaving visions of his own creation that nobody can doubt him. He is ready, like a medieval saint, to go through fire and water for his beliefs. He sees himself as a crusader: he thinks the whole time of saving mankind,” adding that “just as the young German knight of old went out in the dim, dark forests to kill dragons, so he goes out to exterminate Bolshevism.”
The eulogies continued even into the last few months prior to the outbreak of war. On 20 April 1939, Hitler’s fiftieth birthday, coming just one month after his troops had marched into Prague, was marked by profuse greetings and praise from the British establishment and the press. Naturally, a congratulatory telegram was dispatched from King George VI and although, Sir Nevile Henderson, the British ambassador, could not attend, as he had been recalled to London for consultations following the Nazi annexation of the Czech Republic, Lord Halifax announced, on the eve of Hitler’s birthday, that Britain desired friendly relations with Germany, that the ambassador had never been technically withdrawn from Berlin, but had been “merely recalled to report” and to “enjoy a short period of leave” and that he would shortly be returning to his post “in the ordinary way.” The chamber erupted in cheers at this news but in Washington, astonished State Department officials insisted that Hugh Wilson, the United States ambassador, would not be hurrying back to Berlin. They had no plans to mirror Britain’s diplomatic birthday present for the Fuhrer.
Nor did Chamberlain’s government confine its diplomatic sycophancy to Lord Halifax’s statement in the House of Lords. The Nazi newspaper Angriff was able to boast that Britain had sent its service attachés “dressed in khaki with golden buttons” to attend the largest military procession Berlin had ever seen – all in Hitler’s honour. The Berlin correspondents of The Times and Daily Express both spotted Major General J.F.C. Fuller, conspicuous in his grey top hat. The Times explained that the general’s “views on democratic institutions have of late received prominent and favourable notice in the German press.” There were also other British pilgrims, influential members of the establishment, who, to quote the Edinburgh Evening News, were “honoured with personal invitations,” to attend the monstrous goose-stepping parade. These included Sir Goerge Ogilvie-Forbes (the British Charge d’Affaires ), the Duke of Beccleuch and Lord Brocket, a close associate of both Chamberlain and Lord Halifax.
The German Jewish academic Victor Klemperer noted in his diary on 20 April – “Two days of flags, pomp and special editions of the newspapers, boundless deification” while the Yorkshire Evening Post, under the headline “‘The Greatest German’ is Fifty Today,” aptly described the festivities as “an orgy of Hitler worship.” Although the British press did not go as far as Herman Goering in praising Hitler as “the greatest German of all times,” most reports emphasized his supposedly near universal popularity. The Times noted that even on the eve of the Fuhrer’s birthday, “expectant Berliners lined the street for more than four miles from the Chancery in the Wilhelmstrasse to the Adolf Hitler Platz,” and that, on the day itself “Berliners needed no urging to take advantage of the national holiday to see the birthday parade.”
The Sunderland Echo, under a front page headline of “Greetings From the King – Hitler’s 50th Birthday Celebration,” carried a Reuter report that “hundreds of thousands of people flocked from midnight to vantage points along the route of the parade of 45,000 troops,” and that “despite chilly weather, many of them, men, women and children camped out in the Tiergarten, Berlin’s Hyde Park, for the day’s celebrations.” The same article, which was also carried in many other regional newspapers including the Liverpool Echo, The Midland Daily Telegraph and the Yorkshire Post, noted that even on the morning of Hitler’s birthday, “carloads of presents were still arriving at the Chancellery and there was hardly a room where gifts were not exhibited.” The Yorkshire Post even considered the event sufficiently worthy to devote its editorial to it, a piece which seemed sympathetic to the militarist spirit of the celebration. “It is quite impossible,” the paper declared, “that amid their anxieties, Germans, especially the younger generation, should not also feel pride.”
One of the most laudatory articles to mark the occasion appeared in the Daily Express, written by the paper’s former Berlin correspondent, Sefton Delmer. He recalled how, from the first moment, he had been impressed by Hitler’s “absolute and profound honesty. This was no demagogue bent on winning masses of followers for his personal enrichment, power and ambition.” Nor apparently was Hitler seeking fame. “I never,” insisted Delmer, “had the impression that Hitler enjoyed being a public hero. He struck me as reserved and shy by nature.” So, how to explain his ability to deliver speeches to vast crowds at Nuremberg and elsewhere ? Apparently this was due to “the ease and rapidity with which he can change from being Adolf Hitler, the private individual, to Adolf Hitler, the Messiah.” Delmer did admit that Hitler might, in certain circumstances, be ready to take Germany to war “if he thought he had a reasonable chance of winning quickly,” but he was confident that “he is wise enough to know that this is not the case.”
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1. Lord Mottistone quoted in “The Government’s Statements on National Defense,” the Yorkshire Post, 23 May 1935, p8.
2. “Hitler Not Warlike,” the Hastings and St. Leonard’s Observer, 18 November 1933 p6.
3. “Hitler A Vegetarian,” the Yorkshire Evening Post, 31 January 1935, p6. See also “Lord Lothian’s Visit to Hitler”, the Belfast Newsletter, 31 January 1935 p9.
4. “Hitler Chats With Film Star – Unperturbed by Crash”, the Northern Daily Mail, 13 February 1935, p2
5. Sir John Foster Fraser, “Hitler Out To Create German ‘Aristocracy of Labour,'” the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 5 May 1933 p7
6. “Hitler’s ‘Let’s Be Friends’ Plea to World,” the Daily Mirror, 29 February 1936 p1, “An Interview with Herr Hitler,” the Daily Mirror, 29 February 1936 p11, “Hitler Says ‘Beware of Russia,'” the Daily Mirror, 29 February 1936 p28 and “Europe Hails Hitler’s Peace Plea,” the Daily Mirror, 2 March 1936 p5
7. Editorial in the Daily Mail, 9 March 1936 p12
8. “Calm Reception,” the Yorkshire Post, 9 March 1936, p8
9. “Bitain ! Keep Calm !” the Daily Express, 9 March 1936, p10
10. “It Must Not Be War,” the Daily Mirror, 9 March 1936 p1
11. John Hayden, “What Hitler Demands,” the Daily Mirror, 9 March 1936 p12
12. “Mr. Lloyd George – Impressions of Recent Visit to Germany. Hitler a Great Man” in The Scotsman, 22 September 1936, p11.
13. “I Talked To Hitler,” The Daily Express, 17 September 1936 p12.
14. “Hitler’s Admirer” in The Belfast Newsletter, 26 September 1936, p6
15. “Buckingham Minister’s Tour in Germany”, The Buckingham Advertiser and North Bucks Free Press, 19 September 1936, p4.
16. Lady Londonderry’s article in the Sunday Sun quoted in Ian Kershaw (2004), “Making Friends with Hitler: Lord Londonderry and Britain’s Road to War,” Allen Lane, Penguin Books, p155
17. Jane Taylor “Some Holiday Impressions”, the Hastings and St. Leonard’s Observer, 15 August 1936, p4.
18. Doris Bergen (2008) “The Holocaust: A New History“, Tempus, Stroud, p202, 205, 259-60.
19. “Heil Hitler ! Deutschland Through a Woman’s Eyes”, the Hull Daily Mail, 26 October 1936 p4.
20. “Germany Under Hitler,” the Yorkshire Post, 25 September 1937, p12
21. “Why Hitler Backs His Hunches,” the Daily Express, 14 March 1938, p12
22. Lord Halifax quoted in “Parliament,” The Times 20 April 1939 p7 accessed in The Times Digital Archive on 16 October 2017 and US State Department Officials quoted in “George VI Sends Congratulatory Message,” the Pittsburgh Press 20 April 1939 p6
23. The Angriff quoted in “Nazi Display of Might,” the Yorkshire Post, 21 April 1939 p9, “Ambassador to go back to Berlin,” the Yorkshire Post, 20 April 1939 p9, “Herr Hitler’s Birthday,” The Times, 19 April 1939 p14 and “Fuehrer’s British Friends,” the Edinburgh Evening News, 20 April 1939 p8
24. Victor Klemperer (1998), “I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933-41,” Phoenix, London p363, “The ‘Greatest German’ is Fifty Today,” the Yorkshire Evening Post, 20 April 1939 p9, Herman Goering quoted in the Yorkshire Evening Post, 20 April 1939, “Herr Hitler’s Birthday,” The Times, 20 April 1939 p14 and “Birthday March in Berlin,” The Times, 21 April 1939 p16.
25. “Greetings from the King – Hitler’s 50th Birthday Celebration,” the Sunderland Echo, 20 April 1939 p1, “Hitler’s Birthday Scenes – Crowds Camp Out All Night in Berlin,” the Liverpool Echo, 20 April 1939 p9, “Hitler’s Birthday Celebrations,” the Midland Daily Telegraph, 20 April 1939 p1, “Nazi Display of Might,” the Yorkshire Post 21 April 1939 p9 and editorial in the Yorkshire Post, 20 April 1939 p8.
26. Sefton Delmer “10 Years Ago I walked Out On Hitler,” the Daily Express, 20 April 1939 p12
All text on this website is copyright Alisdare Hickson 2017. This is only a first draft and, as well as improving the text, I hope to renumber and list all the footnotes by February 2018.