Count him out, not out of order.
I didn’t read this on the 7th of March when Gary Lineker posted it. I was following him on Twitter, but I finally left this ‘forum’ after Donald Trump was reinstated on it last year, even while his role (and his tweeting) was still being investigated for incitement to insurrection on 6th January 2021. I’d been on Twitter for nearly fifteen years but only used it to draw attention to more extensive posts, either by myself or others. I rarely made statements, and when I did (ironically in support of the England football team ‘taking the knee’), I was met with a barrage of abuse from Hungarian ‘tweeters’.
I live in Hungary and the England team was playing here at that time. Twitter is a lazy tool for historians, at least because it breaks the basic rules for historical discourse, which requires us to explain our statements and back them up with evidence. I know we are not so restricted in the number of characters we can use, but many still tweet assertions, often extreme in their use of language, whether from the Right or the Left.
Gary Lineker began his football career at Leicester City in 1978 and finished as the (then) First Division’s joint top goalscorer in 1984–85. He then moved to league champions Everton where he won both the PFA Players’ Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year awards in his debut season, before moving to Spanish giants Barcelona. With Barcelona, he won the 1987–88 Copa del Rey and the 1989 European Cup Winners’ Cup. His six goals in the 1986 FIFA World Cup made him the tournament’s top scorer, receiving the Golden Boot. His Golden Boot-winning performance at the finals generated much anticipation of success at Camp Nou, and he did not disappoint, scoring twenty-one goals in 41 games during his first season, including a hat-trick in a 3–2 win over archrivals Real Madrid. Lineker was again integral to England’s progress to the semi-finals of the 1990 World Cup, scoring another four goals. He still holds England’s record for goals in the FIFA World Cup.
In 1999, Lineker became the BBC’s anchorman for football coverage, including its flagship football television programme Match of the Day, becoming BBC Sport’s highest-paid presenter. The BBC’s Director General, Tim Davie, stated that Lineker’s pay was justified “because of the value of analysis to the viewing audience”. Lineker has been noted for his political views which he shares on Twitter. In December 2016, he was described by Angus Harrison of Vice News as “the British Left’s Loudest Voice” for being “both staunchly liberal and resolutely unafraid of making his views known”. Using a football analogy, Lineker defined his ideological position as “I make more runs to the left than the right, but never felt comfortable on the wing”. After the 2017 United Kingdom general election, Lineker wrote:
“Anyone else feels politically homeless? Everything seems far right or way left. Something sensibly centrist might appeal?”
Lineker endorsed a Remain vote in the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum. In July 2018, he announced his support for People’s Vote, a campaign group calling for a public vote on the final Brexit deal between the UK and the European Union. On 18 October 2016, Lineker tweeted a rebuttal to a statement made by David Davis MP in which Davis suggested refugees entering the UK should undergo dental checks to verify their age:
“The treatment by some towards these young refugees is hideously racist and utterly heartless. What’s happening to our country?”
This led The Sun to call for Lineker’s sacking from Match of the Day (MOTD), accusing him of breaching BBC impartiality guidelines. In December 2018, Lineker was criticised by the BBC’s cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew for expressing his political views on Twitter. Agnew wrote:
“You are the face of BBC Sport. Please observe BBC editorial guidelines and keep your political views, whatever they are and whatever the subject, to yourself. I’d be sacked if I followed your example.”
In response, a BBC spokesperson said:
“Gary is not involved in any news or political output for the BBC and as such, any expression of his personal political views does not affect the BBC’s impartiality.”
Nevertheless, on the 10th of March 2023, Lineker was required by the Director General to step back from presenting on the BBC for three days due to the controversy over his pronouncement on the British government’s asylum policy on Twitter. Lineker is not involved in any news or political comment on the BBC, whereas Agnew has interviewed former UK Prime Ministers and other politicians interested in cricket, and other cricket presenters like Ian Botham and Geoffrey Boycott have used their ‘profiles’ to make right-wing comments on social media. Neither is he a full-time employee of the BBC but is contracted as a self-employed consultant for MOTD and other sports programmes. We do not know the terms of his contract, but the BBC’s answer to Agnew seems to recognise his right to express his views on social, historical and political matters. The only remaining issue for me is whether, as Keir Starmer, the Labour Party leader remarked, comparisons with 1930s Germany are “the best way” to make an argument. Given Lineker’s previous statement on the ‘treatment’ of refugees, I wanted to investigate the connection he made between the language used by government ministers and that used in the 1930s.
Historical Instincts & Precedents:
My ‘historical’ instinct kicked into action when I first heard the furore about Gary Lineker’s tweet and then read his tweet via a friend on Facebook. The only potential error or mistake I could see in his ‘tweet’ was that his claim about ‘Germany in the thirties’ needed explaining and expanding in terms of more substantial evidence about the alleged historical antecedents and the appropriacy of their application to current events. I’m not sure whether one of Lineker’s four ‘O’ Levels was in history, but, for me, it does not go beyond assertion and would not lead to an award of a top grade at GCSE today. One of Gary’s teachers wrote on his report card that he “concentrates too much on football”, himself adding a prospective assertion that he would “never make a living at that”. Had he gone on to do an ‘A’ Level in History, however, he might have understood the necessity of providing an argument supported by explanation and examples.
So, having read, written and taught extensively on “the thirties” in Britain, Europe and the United States, I decided to conduct my own research using primary and secondary sources to hand and online. Also, as a teacher of both language and history for over forty years, my role has not been to remove bias but to make sure my students are aware of their own biases and prejudices. We all have questions about the past which determine the answers we encounter and the interpretations we make. History is not a ‘pure’ science; it is concerned with the whole of human life in all its quirks and imperfections. Therefore, the answers we find, though definitive, are never final but always provisional. The question we all share, however, is what can we learn from the past? Even professional historians have issues with roots in the present; they rarely approach the traces of past people and events simply by asking what happened, how and why? The answers to those questions are nearly always complex and relate to our current consciousness of key issues. We find ourselves applying the prefixes How far..? or To what extent..? to our interrogations and investigations to allow for that complexity to be expressed in terms of a continuum. So the question with which I approach Lineker’s statement is:
To what extent can the language in current debates about ‘asylum’ and ‘migration’ be compared with that used by Germany in the 1930s?
Later than They Thought:
As a source to answer this, I turned first to René Cutforth’s (1976) book, Later than We Thought: A Portrait of the Thirties, a favourite of mine among the books dealing with the period. Cutforth was ‘born and bred’ in a coal mining town in industrial Derbyshire, and had seen service in the Army in Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Western Desert, becoming a prisoner of war in Italy and Germany. He became well-known after the war as a distinguished broadcaster and writer, travelling the world as a BBC correspondent and making many documentaries, some of which I vaguely remember watching in the seventies. He made some of these for ITV. His account of the Thirties is highly personal, concerned with the impact of the decade as he felt it as a young man (he was twenty-one in 1930), with intellectual attitudes and social changes rather than with a formal historical narrative; he is interested in the motivations of Mosley and his Fascists, the new poets of revolution and the tired old politicians staggering from one crisis to the next, all against the backdrop of great events including, for our purpose, the Spanish Civil War and the rise of Hitler.
By taking a step back, however, we become aware that, among all the decades of the twentieth century, there is a popular mythology attached to the 1930s as The Devil’s Decade. W. H. Auden, the leader of a group of young poets who were held to have been the new voice of the period, called it ‘… a mean and sordid decade.’ The Thirties were also ‘troped’, by the 1970s, as the Wasted Years and the ‘low dishonest decade’ and ‘the long weekend’. Even for those, like myself and Gary Lineker, who did not live through them but grew up in the seventies, the 1930s are haunted by the spectres of mass unemployment, hunger marches, appeasement, and the rise (and post-war endurance) of fascism at home and abroad. In a sense, the Second World War served to perpetuate the more depressing image of the thirties, partly at least because the politics of the immediate post-war era were fought on the record of the pre-war years. Churchill himself fought and lost the 1945 election by comparing his opponents to the ‘Gestapo’, and as late as 1951 the Labour Party campaigned with the slogan, ‘Ask your Dad!’, an illustration of how the ‘hungry thirties’ had become part of the repertoire of political cliché.
The popular view of the 1930s as a period of unrelieved failure was undoubtedly hardened and reinforced in the years after the war, a view that was sharpened against the backdrop of full employment and affluence in the 1950s and ’60s. In the 1970s and 1980s, with the return of mass unemployment and the spectre of far-right, anti-immigrant extremism, the ghost of the thirties stalked the political platforms and demonstrations under the slogan ‘no return to the thirties’. By then, the decade had become a metaphor for economic disaster, social deprivation and political discontent. As Stevenson and Cook wrote in 1977:
A concentration upon unemployment and social distress does not represent an accurate portrayal of the decade. … It would, of course, be fatuous to suggest that the 1930s were not for many thousands of people a time of great hardship and personal suffering. But beside the picture of the unemployed must be put the other side of the case. … Alongside the picture of dole queues and hunger marches must also be placed those of another Britain, of new industries, prosperous suburbs and a rising standard of living. … This was the paradox which lay at the heart of Britain in the thirties. …John Stevenson & Chris Cook (1977), The Slump – society and politics during the Depression. London: Cape, pp. 1-4.
Germany Between the Wars:
It was also a paradox which lay at the heart of much of Europe, especially in Germany. German insolvency in the Twenties and the depression which now set in in the Thirties had brought the country to the verge of revolution. In Britain at the time, nobody would have been surprised if Germany had gone communist in a sudden coup, and the German middle classes had long trembled on the brink of disaster. It took them some time to realise that the name of Hitler’s party, the National Socialist Party, was extremely misleading and that what he stood for was paranoid nationalism, racialism and militarism, with the Jews as internal, ‘eternal’ scapegoats; but when they did they began to see him as the saviour who would discipline the working class, rid the businessmen of their smarter competitors, the Jews, and make the name of Germany feared once more in the world. The aristocratic land-owning class saw him as a useful weapon against Communism: the unemployed were in the mood for a saviour of some sort, and democracy was a very new and, in some ways, foreign concept. The German working classes were used to dictatorial masters; now they were all going to be masters – the Master Race, which they had always believed in their hearts that they were. According to Cutforth, The Weimar Republic which Hitler took over in 1933 was viewed as…
… the pet of the intelligentsia, the first tolerant and permissive society in Europe, teeming with liberal good intention, particularly kind to sexual deviants who flocked there from all over the place. But the lost war rankled in the hearts of many old soldiers still in their thirties, who had fallen for the lie that the German Army was never defeated and that panic among the civilians had dictated the surrender. They could be made to see the Weimar Republic as something soft, decadent and shameful, particularly if they were unemployed.Cutforth (1976), pp. 64-65.
President Hindenburg’s idea was to let Hitler loose on the Communists and then for the traditional conservatives and mainstream nationalists like him to stamp on Hitler. That strategy did not work, however. Hindenburg died and with him the old Germany for which he stood. Hitler gained absolute power in 1933. How then, did it come about that the Germans, with their most liberal republic, if a brittle one, became saddled with him as their new dictator? Another contemporary commentator wrote his answer in his book:
For a time the Extreme Left and the Extreme Right seemed to be running neck and neck. But Communism had a fatal handicap: its revolution had already taken place, and the German people had been able to observe it at fairly close range. The German people were sick of the class struggle, sick of capitalism, and above all, sick of Berlin, that modern Gomorrah and source of all their ills. There is no great mystery about Hitler’s coming to power. The simplest explanation is the best: the German people chose him.John Manders (1959), Berlin-The Eagle and the Bear: Barry & Rockliff.
Fascists, Appeasers and Pacifists in Thirties Britain:
Of course, Hitler’s Germany was not the only example of Fascist rule in Europe in the 1930s. Mussolini in Italy, also with the early support of socialists, had established the original ‘model’ in the mid-twenties, and Franco came to power in Spain in 1939 as a result of three years of bloody civil war. Any footballer, like Gary Lineker, who spent time in Spain in the 1980s would be only too aware of the long-term role of fascism in football there. In Britain, Mosley’s Fascists took full advantage of the general restlessness and stepped up their uniformed parades until the East End of London was invaded almost every night. They had no doctrines except jingoism, wrapping themselves in the Union flag and openly displaying their hatred of Jews and Communists. The East End, with its large Jewish population, was the chief battleground of opposing factions. On May Day in 1938, the traditional May Day Festival in Bermondsey was subjected to a counter-demonstration by the British Union of Fascists (BUF), pictured below. At Mosley’s rallies, the formula was usually the same. When the halls had filled, the doors were locked and the speeches began. A spotlight was trained on the audience from the platform and if any heckler was identified by it, he would be quickly surrounded by ‘biff boys’ who would beat him up in view of the audience before dragging him outside to beat him even more brutally. Cutforth commented on these rallies and marches:
It was an age addicted to psychological explanations, but I never heard the nature of Mosley’s audiences satisfactorily explained. Who were these people who submitted themselves night after night to this exhibition of terrorism and tyranny? They looked middle-aged on the whole, and seemed to be enveloped in… political apathy, yet they kept on coming. Mosley was never short of an audience.Cutforth, pp. 69-72.
The Communists and the Fascists met and fought from time to time, but this never became a public menace as it did in Berlin in the early Thirties. That same year, the England Football team visited Berlin and was told by its own government and FA that its players would be required to make the Nazi salute. When one of its key players, Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Stan Cullis, refused to do this, he was dropped.
Stan Cullis joined Wolves as a player in February 1934 and for the next thirty years, he was Wolverhampton Wanderers. A born leader, he captained Wolves before his nineteenth birthday, and England a few years later. The outbreak of war limited him to twelve full England caps, plus twenty war-time appearances. He was a member of the Wolves FA Cup Final team in 1939. He finished playing in 1947 after making 171 appearances for the Wolves, he became assistant manager to Ted Vizard and in 1948 he took over as manager to begin an era of an unprecedented. As the architect of the Wolves’ triumphs, his record as manager was three League Championships in 1953/54, 57/58 and 58/59, and two FA Cups, in 1949 and 1960. In addition, he managed Wolves to European ‘floodlit friendly’ victories over Spartak Moscow (4-0), Honved Budapest (3-2), Moscow Dynamo (2-1), and Real Madrid (3-2) between 1954-57. On 11 December 1956, the Wolves drew 1-1 with another Budapest team, ‘Red Banner’ (MTK), in a ‘Benefit’ match for the Hungarian Refugee Relief Fund, set up after the Soviet occupation of Hungary in November. MTK’s team was packed with Hungarian internationals, three of whom had played in the humiliating 6-3 and 7-1 defeats of England in 1953-54.
Source: John Shipley (2003), Wolves Against The World. Stroud: Tempus Publishing Ltd.
The infection of Fascist mass-conditioning did cross the Channel, but it generally bred much milder mutations in the British atmosphere, including, however, the policies of ‘non-intervention’ and ‘appeasement’. However, as Keith Robbins has written, it would be a mistake to suppose that the roots of ‘appeasement’ are to be found in a pervasive, but ill-defined ‘pacifism’. Appeasement as a policy did not rest upon any theoretical or theological underpinnings frequently used to support pacifism. When compared with the pamphlets, articles and books of this period in which the word ‘pacifism’ occurs, there is very little material which seeks to expound and defend appeasement. Pacifists were committed to an ideology, whereas appeasers were only advocating a specific a particular policy or approach in particular circumstances. Pacifists, at least by the late 1930s, did not like the notion that they were de facto appeasers, taking the view that their opposition to war stemmed from high-minded principles. Pacifists faced the prospect of possible subjection if their country did not fight with equanimity and courage.
Pacifists tended to believe that appeasers, on the contrary, were either craven or covert sympathisers of Fascism. Appeasers, in turn, rejected the idea that they were either pacifists or crypto-fascists. At this particular juncture, they might have shared the belief that it was in Britain’s best interests to go to great lengths, possibly even humiliating lengths, to avoid participating in another major European war. In other circumstances, however, many of those who advocated appeasement in the 1930s advocated that war could still be justified. They believed that ‘pure pacifism’ was apolitical and had no relevance to the ambivalent choices that politicians were always compelled to make. It is therefore not too difficult, in retrospect, to distinguish between pacifism and appeasement. For contemporaries, however, who could not share our certainty that there would, indeed, be a Second World War, the division was by no means clear-cut.
After, and even before Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, there were prominent pacifists who refused to accept that their stance was irrelevant as policy and that a second war was an inevitability. George Lansbury, a Labour veteran, and Christian pacifist was amongst their number. But the Labour Party as a whole did not accept his absolutist convictions. On the other hand, there were appeasers who did not seek to buttress appeasement by doctrine, but who, nevertheless, loathed the prospect of war. In practice, therefore, there could be an emotional overlap, even if there was not an intellectual one, between these streams of opinion. The relationship between a ‘pacifist mood’ in public opinion and the making of the policy of appeasement is difficult to discern.
Far more effective, politically, was Victor Gollancz’s Left Book Club whose sixty thousand readers each received a book a month, chosen by Gollancz and two Marxist intellectuals. It was not necessary to be a Communist or even a ‘Socialist’ to be ‘on the Left’ in the Thirties. There was a large, vague area of opinion which called itself, simply ‘anti-fascist’, a title which included almost everybody who was at all excited by new ideas in Britain, of whom there were not many at the time, and it was to these ‘anti-fascists’ that the Left Book Club addressed itself. They also held meetings at the Royal Albert Hall to support the Spanish Republicans, and to urge a popular front against Fascism. It was an effective propaganda machine of which the Communists were eager beneficiaries, but it brought together speakers from across a broad section of the political spectrum.
In the thirties, especially between 1933 and 1937, ‘public opinion’, in the absence of objective evidence, was whatever leading politicians wanted it to be. Even in this limited period, external developments in Ethiopia, the Rhineland and Spain caused individuals to change their minds. But governments have a duty to ‘educate’ their electorates about the reality of events as they perceive them and even resort to ‘propaganda’ to achieve that object if need be. Appeasement did not arrive on the scene as a fully-formed policy at a specific point on ‘the road to war’: policy was routinely hammered out and adjusted in the normal interplay of Whitehall and Westminster. It is perhaps more useful, therefore, to talk of the appeasers, as Robbins did in his (1988) book and A. L. Rowse did in 1961, referring back to the ‘All Souls’ think tank of those years:
Chamberlain knew no history … and had no conception of the elementary necessity of keeping the balance of power on our side; no conception of the Grand Alliance, or of its being the only way to contain Hitler and keep Europe safe. …
The total upshot of the appeasers’ efforts was to aid Nazi Germany to achieve a position of brutal ascendancy, a threat to everybody else’s security or even existence, which only a war could end. This had the very result of letting the Russians into the centre of Europe which the appeasers wished to prevent. Of course their responsibility was a secondary one. The primary responsibility was all along that of the Germans: the people in the strongest strategic position in Europe, the keystone of the whole European system, but who never knew how to behave, whether up or down, in the ascendant arrogant and brutal, in the defiant base and grovelling. …
These men had no real conception of Germany’s character or malign record in modern history. Quite simply, we owe thewreck of Europe’s position in the world to Germany’s total inability to play her proper role in it.A. L. Rowse (1961), All Souls and Appeasement. Macmillan, pp. 57-59, 63, 117.
The New Germany, 1933-39:
There had been ‘Youth’ movements in Germany in the nineteenth century and the best known of them, the Wandervogel, were very much in vogue in the Twenties. They were groups of young men and women who walked long distances in the open air and sang romantic lieder around campfires at night to the accompaniment of mandolins. René Cutforth described how he went for a wander with the Wandervogal in the late Twenties. It was a mixed group and his ‘companion’ was a soundlessly silly girl called Eva with flaxen hair wound around her head in plaits.
Her brother, Ernst, was a pacifist and anarchist, a Wordsworthian young man. There was plenty of silly talk about the Aryans, but it was romantic, not aggressive. The main topic of conversation was how to escape the control of the frightful old men who had made the last war and detested freedom everywhere.
By the early Thirties the Nazi Youth Leader, Baldur von Schirach, had ushered all these young people into the Hitler Jugend. Cutforth met Ernst and some of his companions in 1936 and recognised a sea change in these romantic, rather humourless, but likeable youths:
They had become arrogant in a petulant way: every sentence began with ‘Of course’, followed by some bloody-minded paradox:
“Of course, we must separate ourselves from the Jews; it is the way to true community”; “Of course, we want peace, and we shall give it to you whether you want it or not.”
Their great word was ‘decadent’; anything which showed the least sign of liberalism, tolerance or even civilisation was ‘dekadent’.Cutforth, pp 72-73.
These attitudes helped the Nazis come to power and to instigate their systematic destruction of the human rights of dissidents and minorities within the new Nazi ‘order’. The Nazi régime placed great emphasis on education and popular culture as a means of developing racial awareness. In both schools and universities, there was a large proportion of Party members among the teaching staff. At school, lessons on race and German history reflected the ideological imperatives of the régime. At the highest level, the number of students at universities and technical colleges declined, partly as a result of pressure to exclude women from higher education. Most young German men on finishing school were enrolled in the compulsory Labour Service or for military training. At the secondary level, ‘Adolf Hitler Schools’ were established in 1936 to train the Party’s future élite. Great emphasis was placed on physical education since healthy, active bodies were regarded as necessary for the biological welfare of the race and sporting achievement was heralded as a racial duty. Thousands of young Germans took the Reich sports tests to qualify for the Reich Sports Badge.
Programmes of gymnastics and callisthenics were introduced into schools, offices and factories. The Strength through Joy organisations of the Labour Front employed a thousand full-time sports instructors. But anti-Semitism was introduced in sport as early as April 1933 when Jews were banned from Germany’s thirteen thousand gymnastic clubs. When Germany bid successfully to host the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936, the régime was determined to use the occasion to promote the event as a triumph for the Nazi’s régime. As part of the preparation for the games, Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry, established in 1933, undertook to establish a worldwide broadcasting network to relay the Games as they happened. Control of broadcasting was a significant feature of the propaganda effort of the régime.
In 1933 alone, fifty of Hitler’s speeches were relayed over the radio, and in May of that year, work began on developing the mass-produced ‘People’s Radio’ (Volksempfänger) of which they were 3.5 million sets by 1939. By then, seventy per cent of German households possessed a radio, while the Goebbels ministry planned to set up six thousand loudspeaker towers in city streets to bring propaganda directly to the people. Radio was also used as…
In these ways, Goebbels succeeded in putting propaganda at the centre of German speakers’ political and cultural life.
The Nazi régime had begun to construct a system of repression and political surveillance within weeks of taking power in 1933, and by 1936 the network of police and SS terror covered the whole Reich. The Nazi régime imposed two forms of repression on its political opponents and other dissidents. The first was developed through state channels; the second came from the activities of Party institutions, primarily Himmler’s Schulzstaffeln (SS), but also the Party Security organisation, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD). The framework for repression was supplied by the Emergency Decree that followed the Reichstag Fire in February 1933.
A state of emergency remained permanently in force. It allowed the police to take political suspects into ‘protective custody’. On 17 June 1936, Himmler was appointed Chief of the German Police, with extraordinary powers over the whole population. The repression of political enemies of the new régime produced a large prison population which was housed in a number of concentration camps set up from 1933 on. Between 1933 and 1939 approximately 225,000 Germans were imprisoned for ‘political crimes,’ as defined by the régime.
The Nazi régime also pursued a programme of ‘biological politics’ to create a ‘healthy’ German race and to stamp out ‘alien elements’ in the population. It viewed the ‘new Germany’ primarily in racial terms, with the Germanic people destined to become one of Nature’s highest species. To create this it was considered essential for the régime to root out those genetically undesirable elements within the German race in order to prevent biological degeneration. Their concept of racial ‘purity’ had its theory in the eugenic theories popular with sections of the scientific establishment in Europe, Britain and the USA. These suggested that human populations, like those in the animal kingdom, were subject to Darwin’s laws of natural selection. A healthy race, therefore, required the elimination of those who had physical or mental defects, or who introduced alien blood into the traditional racial stock. This pseudo-scientific view of racial policy was expressed by Hitler in his Mein Kampf. Once in power, he established an apparatus of laws and structures whose task was to cleanse the race.
On 26 July 1933, a Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Progeny was announced, which allowed the state to compulsorily sterilise anyone deemed to be a threat to the biological health of the population. In 1936, a Reich Committee for Hereditary Health Questions was established to oversee the eugenic programme, and in the summer of 1939 Hitler formally approved the ‘euthanasia’ programme, to kill the physically and mentally handicapped. The state also proceeded against prostitutes, abortionists and homosexuals for ‘crimes against the race’. Altogether, about fifty thousand homosexuals were punished and five thousand were sent to concentration camps.
Persecution & Emigration of Jews, 1933-39:
Anti-Semitism also intensified. Many Jews were hounded from office or imprisoned in the first wave of lawless anti-Semitism in 1933. In September, at the Nuremberg Party Congress, the anti-Jewish Laws were pronounced. The subsequent Reich Citizenship Law of 14 November 1935 defined who was and was not a Jew. The Law for the Protection of German Blood and Honour published the same day forbade intermarriage and sexual relations between Jews and Germans but also covered relations with blacks, Sinti and Roma. These laws linked the eugenic programme with anti-Semitism. Over the next four years, the Jewish community was gradually excluded from business and the professions, through a programme known as Aryanization, lost citizen status and entitlement to a number of welfare provisions.
The aim of the régime, at this point, was to encourage Jewish emigration About half of Germany’s Jews did emigrate between 1933 and 1939, forty-one thousand of them to Palestine under the terms of the Ha’avarah Agreement made with Zionist organisations in Palestine on the transfer of emigrants and their property from Germany. In an unlikely ‘collaboration’ with the SS, training camps were set up in Germany for emigrants to acquire the skills needed in their new life in Palestine. This process slowed down by the late 1930s as the receiver states limited further Jewish immigration. Following the London Conference (1939) on Palestine, the British Government published a White Paper which proposed a limit to Jewish immigration from Europe, restrictions on Jewish land purchases, and a program for creating an independent state to replace the Mandate within ten years.
This was seen by the Zionists as a betrayal of the mandatory terms, especially in light of the increasing persecution of Jews in Europe. In response, Zionists organised Aliyah Bet, a program of illegal immigration into Palestine. At the same time, anti-semitic activity in Germany intensified. On 9 November 1938, at the instigation of leading racists in the Nazi movement, a nationwide pogrom destroyed thousands of synagogues, prayer houses and Jewish businesses. In all, 177 synagogues were destroyed and 7,500 shops. Kristallnacht, the ‘Night of Broken Glass’, signalled the start of a more violent phase in Nazi racial policy.
The Bishop of Durham, Hensley Henson, was a reactionary on most matters. In this, he shared many views with his friend and neighbour in Auckland, the Marquess of Londonderry. He disliked Labour politicians, detested the unions and loathed Communism. But on the moral question of Fascism, he was a progressive and entirely opposed to the views of his neighbour, who believed he could influence British Foreign Policy in the direction of appeasing Hitler. Henson was one of the few establishment figures who, alongside Winston Churchill, took a stand against the Nazis in 1936. On 29 January, the same day that Charley and Edie Londonderry were beginning a tour of Germany, the Bishop began a series of outspoken attacks on Nazism and anti-Semitism which drew him to national attention. He wrote in his diary:
‘My speech on the persecution of the Jews has made me so prominent that I am afraid the Jews will be disappointed when they realise how little weight the Bishop of Durham carries in any quarter.’Quoted by Denis Blakeway (2010), The Last Dance (see ‘Sources’ below), p. 77.
Also in his diary, he dismissed Londonderry’s visit to Germany as ‘utterly wrong-headed’. Hitler relied on his ambassador-at-large, Joachim von Ribbentrop, for advice on how to approach the British and bring about his longed-for Anglo-German alliance. It was Ribbentrop who arranged for the Londonderrys’ visit. Hitler and his diplomatic ‘expert’ were both convinced that Edward VIII and his friendly aristocrats such as the Marquess had great influence in government affairs, and could be used to shift British foreign policy towards a lasting settlement with Germany. They simply failed to comprehend the way that prominent figures in public life in Britain behaved. Ribbentrop even went so far as to suggest offering a substantial bribe to Churchill as a means of curbing his hostility to Germany. Ribbentrop and Londonderry were both snobs and shared an archaic belief in the power of the aristocracy to change the destiny of nations. During the visit, the Marchioness struck up a flirtatious relationship with Göring which she kept up by correspondence on returning to Britain. She sent him silver-framed portraits of herself and her daughter Mairi painted by the fashionable Hungarian society portraitist, Philip de Lászlo. The couple were treated to an excerpt from Wagner’s Ring and a propaganda film showing Germany’s armed forces, followed by a speech by Hitler which Londonderry described as ‘stirring’.
Hitler and Londonderry engaged in a two-hour conversation, during which the latter pointed out that in Britain there was rather less fear of Bolshevism than in Germany. Ribbentrop then insinuated himself into the conversation, referring to a report that ‘international Jews were making common cause with the Bolshevists’. Hitler, probably aware of how badly this subject would go down in Britain, did not respond to the prompt, and Londonderry was spared a tirade about ‘the conspiracy of international Jewry.’ Ribbentrop and Londonderry had talked a great deal during the visit, and the question of the Nazi attitude to the Jews was raised several times. Charley returned to the subject in his letter of thanks, writing of his concern that the British did not like persecution and warning ‘with the greatest diffidence’ that the Nazis were taking on a ‘tremendous’ force which would stand in the way of what they wanted to achieve. But he went on to excuse his impertinence by showing that, despite his warning, he did share Ribbentrop’s outlook:
‘I have no great affection for the Jews. It is possible to trace their participation in most of of the international disturbances which have created so much havoc in different countries.’Quoted in Blakeway, p. 86.
Edie had shared similar sentiments in her correspondence with Goering, telling him that the British press was hostile to Nazism because it was ‘controlled to a large extent by Jews’. ‘Casual’ anti-Semitism of this kind was not restricted to members of the British aristocracy in the 1930s, neither was it to be found only among Conservatives. It was commonplace across most sections of society and pre-dated the rise of Fascism across the continent. Many people made casual remarks that today would be deemed quite unacceptable. Respected authors, even radicals such as George Orwell, and highly cultured liberal economists such as John Maynard Keynes and Sidney Webb littered their writings with disparaging remarks about the Jews, as did politicians across the spectrum, and some senior churchmen. But this was very different from the thought-through, committed and codified anti-Semitism of the Nazis, which Londonderry politely and hesitantly warned Ribbentrop did not go down well in Britain. Unattractive though his words to Ribbentrop were, at least he gave a warning about spreading these ideas and prejudices. Most of the stream of distinguished visitors to Germany that year never raised the subject of anti-Semitism, preferring to keep quiet and enjoy the hospitality.
One man who was not keeping quiet was the Bishop of Durham, Hensley Henson, who kept up his very public campaign on the subject. On 4 February, he sent a ‘rocket’ to The Times about the celebrations of the University of Heidelburg’s 550th anniversary, urging a boycott. The ancient university had driven out its Jewish professors, and Jewish students were also denied admission. He fulminated:
‘It cannot be right that the universities of Great Britain, which we treasure as the very citadels of sound learning, because they are vigilant guardians of intellectual freedom, should openly fraternise with with the avowed enemies of both.’Quoted in Blakeway, op.cit., p.86.
Henson’s attacks on Nazi anti-Semitism usually brought a torrent of abusive letters from British anti-Semites and Fascists, and this time was no exception. As well as a private post bag, there were letters from Tory ‘grandees’ to The Times as well as angry letters in the German press attacking his stance. But to the Jews, he was a hero and he received letters from German Jews begging for help in getting their children out of Germany. Jews in America prayed for him, and in Britain, he became the unofficial champion of the Jewish cause. The day after the letter had appeared in The Times, Henson went to address the congregation of the West London Synagogue. The hall was packed with prominent British Jews, and the Bishop spoke strongly and movingly against the Nazi oppression for forty minutes. A few days later, he received a letter from Victor Gollancz, the left-wing publisher, enclosing a proof copy of The Yellow Spot, a book written for his influential Left Book Club about Nazi atrocities, asking him to write a preface for it. Henson was horrified by what he read, deeming it the most complete documentary record so far issued of the persecution of the Jews in Germany. The Bishop, however, was privately warned to steer clear of the project: the publisher was widely regarded as a Communist, a tool of the Bolsheviks. But Henson insisted on going ahead, saying that he could not go back on his word so he wrote the preface and sent it to Gollancz. He reflected in his diary…
‘… I seem to be driven into championing these persecuted Jews by the logic of events… who would not applaud that German who, in the interests of elementary models, killed Hitler? I should give them a Christian burial without hesitation.’Ibid., p. 87.
In February 1936 Henson was most likely to have been the only bishop in Britain, and indeed the whole world, urging tyrannicide and denying the injunction of the sixth commandment. Eight years later, however, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the Lutheran pastor, was among those taking part in the failed attempt to kill Hitler at his headquarters in East Prussia. He paid for this with his life, along with his co-conspirators.
The German Bid for Cultural Hegemony, 1936-39:
On 16 August, the XIth Olympiad came to an end in Berlin with the closing ceremonies. Although more muted than the opening, the closing was nonetheless spectacular. The flag-carrying athletes marched the length of the arena, filled to capacity, before coming to a halt beneath the Olympic flame, which flickered brightly in the darkness in its steel brazier. After the President of the International Olympic Committee had spoken, the Olympic flag was slowly lowered from its high mast, distant cannons boomed a farewell salute and the Olympic flame was extinguished. Then, Hitler rose from his seat as the crowds stood, all saluting him, and sang Deutschland, Deutschland űber Alles. As the awe-struck British government observer, Sir Henry ‘Chips’ Channon wrote that ‘the Olympic Games, the great German display of power, and bid for recognition were over.’ But what had been a triumph for Germany was viewed with disquiet in London. Those, such as Chips Channon or Lord Rennell, who both returned singing the praises of Nazi Germany, failed to persuade their colleagues and peers.
Other distinguished guests followed them to Germany to attend the Nuremberg party rally and to pay homage to Hitler, ‘the greatest German of the age’ as David Lloyd George ‘dubbed’ him after his visit. But such views did not reflect those of the majority in Whitehall or Westminster. While many, if not most, appear to have sympathised with Germany’s claims about its harsh treatment after the First World War and had condoned Hitler’s move into the Rhineland in the spring of 1936, very few admired Fascism at home or abroad. The diarist and MP Harold Nicholson stayed with Channon a month after the Games, and found, to his disgust, that he and his wife had fallen under the ‘champagne-like’ influence of Ribbentrop. He heard the arguing ‘that we should let gallant little Germany glut her fill of the reds in the East and keep decadent France quiet while she does so.’ Nicholson told flatly ‘that this may be expedient but… it is wrong.’ He then gave the American-born Channon a short but stirring homily on British values and German faults:
‘We represent a certain type of civilised mind, and… we are sinning against the light if we betray that type. We stand for tolerance, truth, liberty and good humour. They stand for violence, oppression, untruthfulness and bitterness.’Harold Nicholson, Letters and Diaries, 20 September 1936, p.273.
The Symbolism & Propaganda of the Spanish Civil War:
‘Lives there a man with soul so dead,
He was not, in the Thirties, Red?’
Meanwhile, the Spanish Civil War had broken out in July 1936. It was at once acknowledged as the showdown between the Left and Right in Europe, and acclaimed by both sides as the ‘great Crusade’ of their time. It was really a war about the fate of Spain, fought out by Spaniards to the bitter end. Major Franco raised the standard of rebellion against the legally-elected government of the leftist Popular Front, for the Catholic Church against ‘Godless Communism’. The British government once more fell into the pious position of ‘non-intervention’ and persuaded twenty-seven other governments to back this position officially, although many of them actually did intervene. In Britain, broad public opinion was at first bemused by the conflict, as news of atrocities on both sides was reported in the press. Most of the British popular press was on the side of the Republicans, but for the Conservative organs, they were always ‘the Reds’ or ‘the Communists’, though, in fact, they ranged through the whole spectrum, from anarchists to social democrats. The anarchist poet, Herbert Read, in his introduction to the Surrealist exhibition in London in 1936, described the uncertainty of the age in the following language:
In a few days the face of the world may change. Bugles blow, klaxons screech, an immense machine begins to move and we find ourselves separated, segregated, regimented, drafted into armies and navies and workshops. Bull-necked demagogues inject a poisonous propaganda into our minds and then the storm of steel breaks above us; our bodies become so much manure for an acid soil; and our ideas, our aspirations, the whole structure of our civlisation, becomes a history which the future may not even record.Herbert Read (1936), Introduction to Surrealism. London: Faber & Faber.
The ‘storm of steel’ seemed to be breaking even as the Surrealist exhibition was coming to a close. In Spain, the Fascists bombed civilians, including refugees, and killed hostages; the ‘loyalists’ burned down churches and shot priests. From a distance, it was seen as a war of Communism against Fascism, so most British people didn’t know which side to support. The more politically committed were divided, polarised at first between the right, who tended to support the ‘nationalist’ rebel forces led by the self-promoted General Francisco Franco, and a broad spectrum of liberal and left-wing opinion, who backed the loyalist Republican forces. It was much more than a simple division between Left and Right, however. For many, especially young idealists, artists and writers, and members of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), the Spanish Civil War came to be seen as a titanic struggle, which the sculptor and volunteer Jason Gurney called, …
… a movement comparable with the the great Christian crusades of medieval times.Jason Gurney (1974), Crusade in Spain. London: Readers’ Union, p. 17.
The young painter, Julian Trevelyan spoke for his generation when he wrote:
Until the Spanish Civil War started in 1936, there was an air of gentle frivolity about our life in London … for the next three years our thoughts and consciences were turned to Spain.Quoted in Tom Buchanan (2007), The Impact of the Spanish Civil War on Britain. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press (‘Sussex Studies in Spanish History’).
It may have been in reality a battle between Spaniards, the complex origins of which went deep into the Spanish past, but for those young radicals watching from Britain, it was the first act of a drama that unless the Fascists were stopped, could lead to to the cataclysm of a pan-European war, that all dreaded. James Albrighton, a Communist medical student, came to the view that …
… unless we took action by not allowing the Fascists, and Nazis, to take control of Spain, then it would only be a matter of time … before they would unleash the same action in Europe.James Albrighton, Diary (Marx Memorial Library)
James Albrighton left to fight in Spain that autumn. With the capital threatened, the Republican government called for help from abroad. Spurred on by their own government’s strict ‘neutrality’ and longing to have a crack at Fascism, British men and women on the left rallied to the cause. In England at least, they tended to be young intellectuals, often with an artistic or poetic bent. Idealism, combined with a desire for adventure, took them to Spain. They all wanted to fight Fascism, but their motivations were various: some saw the conflict in terms of democracy versus totalitarianism, others as a chance to stop the advance of Hitler and Mussolini and to prevent the development of a ‘world war in embryo’. Jason Gurney wrote:
‘… the war became a microcosm of all the ideological divisions of the time – freedom and repression, constitutional and arbitrary authority, nationalism and internationalism, the people and the aristocracy. Catholicism and Marxism … everybody saw Spain as the epitome of the particular conflict with which they were concerned.’Jason Gurney, loc. cit., p.18.
In Britain, communication across the class gap in the Thirties was almost impossible. In Spain, in this respect, everything was suddenly simple. Most of the men who fought had brought themselves to see the war as a straight confrontation between good and evil. The British volunteers who arrived at the frontier left their socially self-conscious personalities behind and stepped across into Spain as men and brothers. It was like an absolution if the workers with whom they fought were Spanish because the tangle of conscience-stricken class feelings the British middle-class volunteers carried around with them was incomprehensible to such workers. Many of the volunteers were themselves workers, especially the hundreds of unemployed miners from South Wales, whose convictions had been built over generations of deprivation and struggle. Franco had had a promise of support from Mussolini before the war began and ideological allies had supplied him with arms since the beginning, in spite of the elaborate precautions of League’s Non-Intervention Committee. But when Italian troops moved in on Franco’s side, the Left redoubled its efforts to rally support for the Republicans. Writers and painters from all over Europe set to work as propagandists.
The first volunteers to go to Spain were no doubt motivated by their politics but also moved by a spirit of romantic adventure. In the early days of the conflict, those who wanted to fight had to make their own arrangements. For this reason, the pioneers were often from middle-class backgrounds; young men and women who could pay for their own passage and travel independently. The CPGB became more actively involved in recruitment when, later in the autumn, the International Brigades were formed. The first amateur ‘International Brigade’ arrived quite early in the conflict: among these volunteers, there were many others from different backgrounds and walks of life. They were joined by thousands of volunteers from over fifty other countries around the world.
Enormous numbers died on both sides of the conflict, many by execution. ‘Court martials’ were convened on the spot and men were shot in ‘batches’ within minutes. This even applied to men on the same side, and the term ‘Trotskyite traitor’ was a common verdict. It was the sight and sound of these fratricidal executions that revolted the ‘civilised’ western participants. They saw no real connection between this vindictive bloody mess and the social justice to which they were committed. What all of them found when they arrived on the battlefield was too often a sordid reality of disunity, inefficiency and poor equipment. The first ecstatic sense of catharsis did not long survive in most intellectual volunteers. The fact is that Spain turned out to be all too foreign for them: the feelings which drove Spaniards to massacre one another in droves turned out to have little or no relation to those which had inspired the idealism of the British Left, most of which was derived from their Protestant consciences. The British Labour movement has always owed more to Methodism than to Marxism. This Dissenting idealism was utterly alien to the Spanish fighting their private war.
Most of those departing in the late summer and early autumn of 1936 were already Communists. Among them were many young Marxists who often came from solidly middle-class backgrounds, converts to a rigid ideology that seemed to offer certainty in a world of encircling doubt and darkness. They were intellectuals, artists and writers. The poet John Cornford was the most celebrated of the early martyrs for the cause. After winning a scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge, he spent a year at the London School of Economics, where he came under the influence of Harold Laski, the prominent Marxist intellectual. By the time Civil War had come to Spain, though still only twenty, he had been a Communist for more than five years. He had been particularly moved by the plight of the unemployed in the distressed areas and the sight of the hunger marchers as they made their way to London. Cornford was completely taken up with the orthodoxy of Communism. Loyalty to the doctrines of Stalinist Russia meant, in 1936, buying into the show trials, terror and mass murder. He did so with equanimity.
There was little fighting in Spain at the end of August and the beginning of September. John Cornford’s principal duty was therefore to take charge of the guarding of defectors who came over from the Fascist lines. This gave him time for writing poetry, and his personal journey from misery and loneliness to the exhilaration of commitment and combat was distilled into three poems written in September 1936. He must have written them in his mind, perhaps while on sentry duty, and then pencilled them into his notebook. He made few alterations in the way that other war poets did. The first, copied into his notebook on 2 September, is called Full Moon at Tierz: Before the Storming of Huesca. The poem’s penultimate verse encapsulates why so many British radicals saw Spain as the first battle in a looming revolutionary fight against not only Fascism but also the capitalist forces that had brought the lasting poverty and unemployment of the Depression years:
John Cornford, Understand the Weapon: Manchester: Carcanet New Press, p. 38.
England is silent under the same moon,
From Clydeside to the gutted pits of Wales,
The innocent mask conceals the that soon,
Here, too, our freedom’s swaying in the scales.
O understand before too late,
Freedom was never held without a fight.
The Storming of Huesca never took place. Instead, five days later John Cornford was taken sick with severe stomach cramps. He also had a high fever and bad diarrhoea, so his commander decided he should go to the hospital. He was carried on a truck to a nearby militia first aid post and from there to a hospital in Lerida. On 12 September, his thirty-seventh day in Spain, he was back in Barcelona, ill and exhausted. It was decided that he should return to Britain, recruit a band of volunteers and then return to Spain in three weeks’ time. Shortly before he departed for England, he wrote a final poem, ‘A Letter from Aragon’, which carried a message from a Spanish ‘comrade-in-arms’:
John Cornford, loc. cit., p. 41
Tell the workers of England
This was not a war of our own making,
We did not seek it.
But if ever the Fascists again rule in Barcelona
It will be as a heap of ruins with us workers beneath it.
Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts & The Battle of Cable Street:
After the Olympics were over, the Mitford sisters, Diana and Unity, stayed in Germany in order to attend the Parteitag at Nuremberg, as Hitler’s honoured guests. During her stay, Diana reported to her lover, Sir Oswald Mosley, that Hitler had rejected her request for more secret funds for his British Union of Fascists (BUF). His movement had failed to prosper in the years since he founded it in 1932. It had not won a single parliamentary seat and, after the violence of the rally at Olympia in June 1934, membership had declined to a paltry five thousand. By the autumn of 1936, however, thanks to a national campaign and changed tactics, the number was on the increase once more and had climbed back to ten thousand. Mosley shamelessly copied Mussolini and Hitler, adopting their uniforms, policies and style of speech-making. To some extent, this plagiarism worked: thousands came to see him and see the spectacle of the rallies. He claimed that Fascism was ‘the only alternative to destructive Communism’ and adopted a mesmerising stare, which his son called his ‘lighthouse trick’. It gave him an air of fanaticism that some found funny but which many others found frightening, vain and repellent.
Mosley turned increasingly to the anti-Semitism of Hitler to energise the movement and gain the working-class support he needed. He encouraged the Fascist movement’s newspapers, Blackshirt and Action to publish crude anti-Jewish propaganda, mimicking the obscenities of Julius Streicher’s Der Stürmer. In his speeches, he blamed Jewish City financiers for Britain’s economic problems, a sinister strategy which seemed to work. The East End of London was a particular target for Mosley and his thugs. He was stirring up racial hatred in this area by blaming the Jews for the high rates of unemployment, rent increases and poor wages. In 1936 there were about a third of a million Jewish people living in Britain, less than one per cent of the total population. About half of them lived in the East End, most of them centred on a densely populated area centred on Brick Lane. During the Depression years, the area had suffered badly; it was a pocket of poverty every bit as anything in the ‘depressed areas’ of south Wales and the north, with ‘the eternal slums, the litter, the filth, the futility of it all’ (Yesterday’s Witness: The Battle of Cable Street).
Most of the older generation spoke only Yiddish and lived in an enclosed community of crowded tenements, synagogues, baths and Kosher butchers. They tended to work in the clothing and furniture trades. They were an obvious target for the Jew-baiters of the BUF, who regularly smashed shop windows, and shouted racist insults during street meetings and marches through Jewish quarters: The Yids, the Yids, We’ve got to get rid of the Yids! Young Jews did not take these attacks with the forbearance of their parents and the official Jewish organisations that represented them. Even though they were British-born and British-educated, young Jews felt alienated and stigmatised by the anti-Semitism that flourished in British society. They saw Germany, bolstered by the success of the Olympic Games, and the Civil War in Spain, and feared that the Fascist contagion would soon spread to Britain. Many became Communists, seeing the Party as the most vehement opponent of Fascism. Others formed street gangs in self-defence. When, in the summer of 1936, the BUF announced a mass march through east London on Sunday 4 October, a coalition formed to confront Mosley’s blackshirts.
The older generation of Jews was dead-set against the organisation of counter-demonstrations. The Jewish Board of Deputies urged people to stay away and the Jewish Chronicle told readers in the East End to remain indoors and pull down the shutters. But their advice was ignored. The leaders of the Jewish community had lost control of their people. Labour to urged its people to keep off the streets; the party newspaper, the Daily Herald, argued that the best way to defeat Fascism was to ignore it. Even the Communist Party kept quiet at first since no official organisation wanted to be seen to be encouraging action that might well lead to law-breaking and violence. For most, however, taking to the streets to stop Mosley’s march was a spontaneous expression of hatred of Fascism. Spain was the constant refrain. For Charlie Goodman, an East End Jew who was not a Communist, it was the motivating factor:
“… it was not a question of a punch-up between the Jews and the fascists … in my case it meant a continuation of the struggle in Spain.”Quoted in Peter Catterall (ed.), The Battle of Cable Street, Contemporary Record, vol. 8, no. 1, (summer 1994), p. 120.
Those planning to take part in the counter-demonstration were by no means all Jews or Communists. The bleak turn of events abroad was a mobilising force for thousands with a liberal view of the world, whatever their race or party affiliation, and halting Mosley in the East End had a wider significance, as Harold Smith, an eighteen-year-old office worker and activist, remembered: ‘we were young, enthusiastic, Spain was on, Hitler was on the march. It was a British contribution to stop Fascism.’ (Catterall, loc. cit., p. 125).
Back in the UK, at the beginning of October, Mosley’s Fascists stood in rank near the Tower of London, awaiting their leader, dressed in the black uniforms of the BUF. At first, the demonstration was peaceful enough. There was a diversion from a roof-top when a man holding a red flag gave a clinched fist salute. A few people shouted ‘Go to Germany!’ and ‘Down with Fascism!’ The were greeted with the usual chanting of ‘We must get rid of the Yids!’ Many of the anti-Fascists were shouting, ‘They shall not pass’, the war-cry of the Spanish Republicans defending Madrid. The story of the Battle of Cable street has been well told, and the legendary defenders of Whitechapel did not allow the BUF to pass that day. ‘Kettled’ by the police in Royal Mint Street, until the disturbances were over, the Fascists the had their demonstration ‘cancelled’ by the Police Commissioner, after consulting the Home Secretary. Mosley’s men marched ‘in orderly fashion’ to their headquarters in Westminster. For the Left, the Battle of Cable Street was a tremendous victory. For a brief moment, it brought together a fractured movement, divided on most of the major issues of the time. For many men, such as Frank Lesser, it provided the inspiration and motivation for them to go and fight Franco:
“It seemed to me that the fight against Fascism had to be fought in England, it had to be fought, and I went to fight it a year later in Spain too.”Quoted by Catterall (ed.), loc.cit., p.131.
Paths to European War, 1937-39:
Those, like Frank Lesser, who followed John Cornford to Spain to fight there suffered an apalling casualty rate. Altogether 2,762 British volunteers fought in Spain, some 1,700 were wounded and 543 died there, nearly all within the first year of the war. There was no break for those battling Fascism in Spain as 1937 dawned. Cornford himself, now a battle-worn warrior, had returned to Spain in October and received a head wound in the defence of Madrid. On 28 December, with his white bandage making him an easy target, Cornford was seen climbing up the brow of a hill to reconnoitre. He was shot in the head again, this time fatally. It was just one day after his twenty-first birthday. His body was never recovered. The death of the young poet reminded many of the loss of the previous generation’s brightest and best and presaged more to come. As one undergraduate at Oxford later recalled, they knew then that another world war was almost inevitable.
By the spring of 1937, there were thirty thousand Germans and eighty thousand Italians in Spain. The Germans, like the Italians, marched, but they also flew planes. The Republicans had no planes and depended on freelance pilots supplied by the Spanish government, to whom huge sums of money were paid. The deliberate bombing of civilians, many of them refugees in the Pyrenees, was regarded at first as an act of unimaginable barbarity, though it soon became a regular occurrence. When the Germans bombed the Basque town of Guernica for Franco and practically wiped it out, the whole world was outraged and Picasso’s picture went on tour all over Europe, including Britain.
The civil war was to continue until 1939, but most of the surviving British volunteers went home in 1937, having had a rough war: twenty-five per cent of them had been killed and more than seventy-five per cent of the survivors were wounded. Even as they disembarked from the ferry giving their clench-fisted salutes, it was clear that the result of the Great Confrontation between Good and Evil was a victory for Evil, and it was beginning to look like the rehearsal for something much worse. The Fascists had been greatly encouraged by their Spanish adventure. Hitler and Mussolini, now in the ‘Rome-Berlin Axis’, began a gigantic build-up of their armed forces. Hitler rightly interpreted the farce which Non-Intervention had turned out to be as a green light for his planned conquest of the continent, and after the bombing of Guernica, Goebbels’ propaganda machine went into a fury of action to try to persuade everybody that the Basques had blown up their own city in order to discredit Franco.
In 1938-39, the areas absorbed into the Greater German Reich lost their distinct identity entirely. For Austria the loss of sovereignty brought some advantages in rising employment and production, but its status as the Ostmark in a large Germany diminished the influence and and prestige of its élite. Opponents of the Nazis before the Anschluss were sent to the concentration camp set up in 1939 at Mauthausen. Anti-Semitic legislation was applied at once, and thousands of Viennese Jews were dispossessed within months of the German takeover. The onset of Nazi repression and racism made a mockery of the plebiscite organised in Austria and Germany on 10 April 1938, when 99.07% of voters apparently endorsed the union of the two states.
The extensive Germanisation of the Austrian armed forces and public affairs created resentment among population, the majority of which had longed to be part of Greater Germany before 1938. The whole structure of the Sudetenland become part of the Nazi ‘Gau’ system and with the conquest of Poland in 1939, the Wartheland became another Party region in which a ruthless programme of Germanisation was imposed.
All over Europe, these German victories brought other Fascist movements into positions of power, keen to imitate the German example. Vidkun Quisling, pictured on the election poster below, had founded the Norwegian Nasjonal Samling in 1933, though it was not until 1942 that he was appointed Prime Minister. He said then:
“The new Norway must build on Germanic principles, on a Norwegian and a Nordic foundation.”
The Nazi Movement in the 1930s was part of a broader European political shift to the extreme right, so that during the war Germany was able to exploit this development by supporting puppet Fascist governments in occupied states, such as Norway, or winning the active collaboration of quasi-fascist régimes, often fuelled by the powerful wave of anti-Communist movements across the Continent which was also to produce thousands of volunteers from other European states to fight against ‘the Soviet enemy’.
Nazi Germany’s chief ally, from the ‘Pact of Steel’ of May 1939, was Mussolini’s Italy. The Italian dictator extricated himself from the Pact in 1939 but then joined the war on Germany’s side, and in the Balkans and North Africa he got German military co-operation. More than two hundred thousand volunteers joined the élite Waffen SS divisions at the beginning of the war, from all over Europe. These were formed late in 1939 and even included a small British Frei Korps.
General Franco won the Spanish Civil War earlier in 1939, having received aid from both Germany and Italy during that war, but he remained neutral in the 1939-45 war, though sympathetic to his fellow fascist dictators.
Hitler’s plan for the Nazification of the whole European continent were racial, political and economic. German planners saw Europe in terms of a strict hierarchy of races. A more privileged position place was to be accorded to the ‘Nordic’ peoples of Scandinavia and the Low Countries. The Slavic peoples of the east, however, were to be treated as inferior beings, fit only to labour for the new master race (Herrenvolk). The Latinate and Balkan peoples of southern Europe had an ambiguous place in Nazi long-term plans, as allies but not equals of the Nordic races. Under German pressure, much of Europe had fascist or pro-fascist régimes. For example, in Slovakia the clerical-fascist Slovak People’s Republic under Josef Tiso was installed in power in 1939, and was entirely subordinate to Berlin. The process of centralising continental finance and trade on Berlin began in 1940.
The giant Reichswerke Hermann Göring, a state-owned holding company, took over most of the captured heavy industry and its directors planned a massive programme of industrial development stretching from Germany to the Donetz Basin in Ukraine in order to shift the main weight of European industry to the Eurasian heartland ruled by Germany. Of course, all this was dependent on the successful invasion of the Soviet Union following Operation Barbarossa from June 1941.
The primary, racial element of the Nazification of Europe only became possible once the conquests had made it possible to export the biological politics of the Reich to the rest of Europe. This included the kidnapping of children deemed to have the necessary ‘aryan’ features to be brought up in the Reich, and the liquidation, through murder or neglect, of psychiatric patients and the mentally or physically disabled. But at its core was the opportunity to do something about the so-called ‘Jewish question’. The régime’s Jewish policy went through a number of stages after the outbreak of war.
At first, Hitler hoped for some kind of compulsory emigration, or ‘expatriation’, perhaps to the French island of Madagascar, which he saw as a potential tropical ghetto where Jews would die of disease and malnutrition.
While this option was not entirely closed in 1940 and 1941, the Nazi authorities began a programme of ghetto-building in Europe itself, with hundreds of thousands of Jews being transported across Europe to ghettoes in the east, where Jewish Councils administered them in uneasy collaboration with the German commands. Before the invasion of Russia itself, Hitler ordered harsh measures against ‘Jewish-Bolsheviks’ and thousands of Jews were were openly murdered and thrown into mass graves throughout eastern Poland, the Baltic states, Belarus and Ukraine. In January 1940, Hitler had promised:
“The Jews shall be annihilated in our land”.
He wasn’t simply referring to the ‘Reich’, but to all the occupied territories. For the racist radicals in the Nazi movement, their whole conception of the war was one of racial struggle in which the Jewish people above all were the enemies of German imperialism. When Germany found itself ruling very large Jewish populations after its conquests in the east, the régime began to explore more extreme solutions to the ‘Jewish question’.
Although the precise dates at which the key decisions were taken have yet to be fully established, it was in July 1941 that that Göring ordered Heydrich to work out a ‘Financial Solution’, and Adolf Eichmann, who was in charge of the rail transports of Jews in Europe, later recalled that Himmler told him at that thime that Hitler wanted “physical extermination”. The systematic murder of Jews began late in 1941, and was extended to the Sinti and Roma in 1942.
Decade’s End – Liberal Democracies & Totalitarian States:
By the end of 1937, there had been a large influx of refugees into Britain from continental Europe, mostly Jewish, but also many Basques, especially children evacuated through Bilbao to the south coast ports of England. The Jewish refugees were so large, and concentrated in London, that they were noticeable on the streets of the capital. The continental cut of their clothes made them conspicuous among its crowds. Despite the mythology which has developed around the legendary Kindertransport in recent years, in 1937 the ordinary refugees were unpopular with most Britons. The well-heeled London attitude seemed to be much the same as that of Duff Cooper, who once announced, ‘Although I loathe anti-Semitism, I do dislike Jews.’
At the other end of the social ladder, a well-known bus conductor on the Swiss Cottage run expressed his feelings by providing a ‘free translation’ and always announced the next stop bilingually: ‘Swiss Cottage – Kleine Schweizer-Haus’. In the 1970s, it was said of the Nazis that they were always most at war with the human mind, and the number of intellectuals among the refugees was disproportionately large; Britain’s universities gained, particularly in the sciences, though the newcomers had very little to do with the most shattering discoveries of the century: the atom had already been split at Cambridge and it was known to a handful of our best physicists that it might be possible to make an atom bomb.
The WLHB was led by Prunella Stack, under whose guidance groups of women in every town and village distorted themselves in orgies of physical training, rolling around in gymnasia and village halls, clad in shorts and satin blouses. The body, which had meant sex in the 1920s now meant health and hygiene. Sunbathing and nudism were also pursuits which, for some reason, had to be done in groups. These activities were derived from nature therapies devised by the Germans. But, on the whole, the effects of mass conditioning were very slight on Britain. In spite of Mosley’s Blackshirts and continuing Communist activity in the late Thirties, true mass thinking on the continental model never truly arrived, and except for football matches and community singing, the British remained, for the most part, a nation of eccentric individuals. This cultural difference with the mass movements taking place on the continent reflected itself in the use of language, as Cutforth himself concluded, writing from the perspective of the mid-seventies:
Mass-man had not arrived in the Thirties, and the life-style of the foetus, protected in the womb of the state from any outside shock, kept at an even temperature and supplied with adequate nourishment, which now seems pretty generally accepted as the high ideal towards which civilisation must make its way, would have seemed unbearable then. How man behaved in masses was only of interest to politicians and advertisers, but each man’s particularity – what made him different – was the cultural staple. …
Words celebrate differences: differences present choices. The chief concern, certainly of education and probably of life itself, was the making of choices between concepts … incorporated in the civilised tradition. The process was still going on and was the raison d’etre of the human race … Even Auden, who willed ‘the death of the old gang’, wrote that Time …
‘… worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives.’
Conclusion: The ‘D’ Words:
Therefore, in seeking to draw our attention to the ‘language’ of recent statements in the House of Commons and their historical parallels in 1930s Germany, Gary Lineker was reminding us of the lessons from history we should have learnt (in school) about the ways in which the Nazis were able to come to power in Germany and to build a system of mass indoctrination and persecution of ethnic minorities. It didn’t begin with mass shootings and gas chambers, though detention camps were an early feature. It began with words, labels like ‘liberal’, ‘decadent’ and ‘conspiracy’, words which are very much still with us today, often applied casually to groups in society by powerful politicians who know no history, or who have conveniently forgotten what they were taught. Lineker was not likening their recent utterances to the acts of genocide of the 1940s, but warning us that stereotyping and stigmatising refugees as ‘invaders’ is not part of the discourse of a ‘civilised tradition’. In doing so, he is a footballer in the tradition of George Curtis who when asked to make the Nazi salute in 1938, simply said ‘Count Me Out’. That’s called ‘Dissent’ and it rests within a long and honourable tradition in Britain. The other ‘D’ words, ‘Discrimination’, ‘Demonisation’, ‘Detention’ and ‘Deportation’, definitely belong to the decades of the 1930s and ’40s, not to the 2020s.
René Cutforth (1976), Later than We Thought: A Portrait. Newton Abbot: David & Charles.
Richard Brown & Christopher Daniels (1982), Documents & Debates: Twentieth-Century Britain. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Denys Blakeway (2011), The Last Dance: 1936 – The Year Our Lives Changed. London: John Murray (Publishers).
Keith Robbins (1988, 1997), Appeasement (second edition). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd.
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