Blaming the Victims – British intellectual and press apologies for the Nazi persecution of Germany’s Jews

Pretext No. 8 –

for British appeasement of Nazi Germany

May 1933 – Dachau concentration camp soon after it opened – Wikimedia

One of the most disturbing aspects of British support for Hitler’s regime was the many British apologists for the murderous persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. An early example was an almost full page article in the Daily Express on 9 May 1933. Written by the pro-Empire Eton educated Gilbert Frankau, which attempted to categorize the German Jewish community into two groups –  “good” nationalist Jews and “bad” Bolshevik Jews.

Although Frankau did not approve of persecution against German Jews with “an honourable war service,”  he argued that some indiscriminate antisemitism was unfortunately inevitable since “revolutions are never made with rose water.”  He also fully supported Hitler’s drive against the “many” communist Jews in Germany.  “She does not need, and in my opinion she is absolutely right to boot out, the international, Bolshevistic, Communistic Jew. Such Jews are perils to every country they inhabit,” and he added that “the Communist movement in Germany has been largely fermented by Jews. Many German Jews are entirely out of sympathy with the aspirations of the Nordic tribes among which they have made their homes. Your German Jew, taking him by and large, does not say ‘Ich Bin Deutschen’ with the same pride as an English Jew will tell  you that he is an Englishman…  (and although) many German Jews are also good Germans, many however would rather see Germany fall than Jewry.”[1]

The following month, an even more dubious distinction between “good” and “immoral” German Jews was expressed by the Reverend J.A.C. Mackellar during a meeting of the Pan-Presbyterian Alliance in Belfast in which he appeared to imply that the Jews were responsible for organized prostitution in Germany. He started by condemning the “wholesale attack and discrimination” against Jews by the Nazis which he considered “a return to medievalism,” but he then added that “there were unworthy Jews in Germany, as in any other country,” and that “in the long run every country got the Jews it deserved.” At this point the Belfast Newsletter reporter noted that there was laughter,  but then MacKellar continued by asserting that “Germany had a perfect right to cleanse her country of any baseness or immorality introduced by Jews,” although he also acknowledged that “there were thousands of clean-living Jews who were as much opposed to immoral traffic (prostitution) as any pure-blooded German.”[2]

Arthur Headlam, the Bishop of Gloucester, also gave his qualified support for the Nazi drive against “undesirable” Jews in the October 1933 issue of The Gloucester Diocesan Magazine, which was also quoted in the local Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic.  He began by acknowledging that “the Jewish community in (this) country is for the most part a wholesome element,” although “even here there is a section of most undesirable elements.” He then went on to claim that “on the continent, in many countries, a considerable section of the Jewish population has been in the past a most undesirable element,” and that “that was particularly the case, amongst other places, in Berlin.”  This did not excuse “the conduct of the new government in Germany.” However, he did feel that Jews could take action to mitigate the ill-feeling towards them.  Since Jews were different in their “social habits” from other Germans and had demonstrated “a great capacity for obtaining for themselves wealth and position,”  they “should realise that a certain amount of care and self suppression in their conduct is necessary.”[3]

Alongside the image of the “unwholesome Jew”,  the concept of the “Bolshevik Jew” also continued to be an equally popular propaganda image both in Germany and Britain.  In January 1934, the Conservative Unionist MP Sir Adrian Baillie, after admitting to his audience at an Edinburgh City Business Club Luncheon that “the world had been shocked by the treatment of the Jews,” then asked “but.. what about the Russian revolution, largely Jew controlled ?” and assured them, according to a report in the local Linlithgowshire Gazette, that “If studied, he did not think they would find Hitlerism very much more drastic than Fascism,” and reminded them that Germans faced a choice of either “Hitler or Bolshevism.”[4]

Ironically,  antisemitic prejudice was also reinforced by the opposite image of Jews as an all powerful bourgeois plutocracy. This was particularly the case with the reporting of Jewish reactions to Germany persecution.. The coverage pandered to public perceptions of Jews acting as a hardhearted mafia with a stranglehold on international trade and finance. For instance, on 24 March 1933, the Daily Express led with a front page headline “Judea Declares War on Germany,” informing its readers that “the whole of Israel throughout the world is uniting to declare an economic and financial war on Germany,” and asserting that “Germany is a heavy borrower in foreign money markets where Jewish influence is considerable,” and that “a concerted boycott by Jewish (traders) is likely to involve grave damage to the German export trade.”[5]

Just ten days later the Daily Telegraph, reinforcing the same prejudice, declared that “responsible German statesmen” were mindful of “the dangers of antagonizing the strong Jewish influences in the world’s money and commercial markets.”[6]  Such reports only strengthened the perception that Jews somehow controlled international finance and could topple any government at will.  However, if they really had held such a stranglehold, the Nazi regime would never have been able to embark on its vast rearmament programme which depended on colossal international credit facilities to finance essential imports of oil, rubber and other strategic raw materials.[7]

The British establishment expressed even more concern for another imagined folk devil which was also popular in Nazi propaganda. The impoverished Jew from Eastern Europe. On 20 March, The Times published a letter on the “Jewish question” in Nazi Germany, the first of many.  Its author, the wealthy British banker and industrialist Ernest Tennant, visited Germany frequently on business.  He made no mention of the numerous violent attacks against Jewish lawyers and shopkeepers or the burning of the old synagogue in Konigsberg earlier that month. Instead he began by claiming that “there is still no hostility felt” towards “acclimatized Jews,” by which he referred to those Jews who had been in the country prior to the First World War.

He then asserted that “an army of nearly 1,250,000 Jews” had “entered Germany during and after the war from Poland and Galicia” and that “we can best help both the present German government, its victims and ourselves” by “seeking to understand” the anti-Jewish persecution in this context.[8]  Not only was his logic clearly sympathetic to the extreme racism of the Nazi propaganda against the “Ostjuden“, the derisive term for the recently arrived Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe, but the figure of over a million such refugees had no factual basis. The total German Jewish population was then only 525,000, of whom about 100,000 were recent immigrants and as David Cesarani, the eminent historian of the holocaust observed, with regards to Germany on the eve of Hitler’s coming to power, most of these 425,000 “German-born Jews traced their roots back centuries and were well integrated into German society.”[9]

On the same day as The Times published Tennant’s letter, the German academic Vicktor Klemperer commented in his diary that “every new government decree, announcement etc. is more shameful than the previous one. In Dresden an Office to Combat Bolshevism. Reward for important information. Discretion assured. In Breslau Jewish lawyers forbidden to appear in court. In Munich the clumsiest sham of an attempted assassination and linked to it the threat of the ‘biggest pogrom’ if a shot should be fired.”  The next day Klemperer notes “the most frightful pogrom threats” in Potsdam and the “appointment of a committee to ‘nationalise’ the University of Leipzig.” He also repeatedly expresses his bitter disappointment with the support and enthusiasm for Hitler in the German newspapers, commenting on 6 September that “the press worships Hitler like God and the prophets rolled into one.”[10]

His observation would have been equally apt for the British press. On the very same day the Reverend E. A. Armstrong of Leeds Parish Church authored a long article on the editorial page of the Yorkshire Post entitled “Rebirth of a Nation” in which he argued that “the present extremes (in Germany) are due to the fact that serious diseases require drastic measures…. They accuse the Jews of communist sympathies and of unscrupulous profiteering during the inflation and therefore regard them as being unsympathetic with German ideals. It must be remembered that the Polish and Galician Jews, who entered Germany during her post-war suffering were not always the best representatives of Judaism.” [11]

Even at the progressive end of the spectrum of intellectual reactions to the Nazi persecutions, while there was considerable sympathy expressed for the victims, it was still mitigated by a mindset which automatically sought to blame the Jews themselves for the barbaric acts of discrimination, torture and murder which were being committed by the Nazi regime. A thought provoking example of this way of thinking was the Liberal MP Robert Bernays, who in the later 1930s became such an outspoken critic of appeasement that Labour MP Christ Bryant  named him in 2016 as being one of five MPs without whom “we would never have faced down Hitler and we wouldn’t enjoy today the freedoms that we do.”[12] However, in November 1933, though critical of the Nazi dictatorship, he argued in the Contemporary Review, in words that were also quoted in The Times, that the Jews “have tended to have rather a mocking, cynical, destructive kind of outlook wholly at variance with the robust patriotism and simplicity of life of the ordinary German.”[13]

The next year, following his return from a visit to Germany in May, he appeared to virtually apologize for that part of the Nazi boycott of Jewish shops and businesses which had targeted the warenhaeuser (department stores), writing that “the Jewish boycott must not be confused with the general drive against the big shops, which is part of the Nazi unemployment programme. It is the deliberate policy of the government to restore to the small shopkeeper some of the trade he has lost to the big stores.”[14]

The Nazis, however, had no interest either in replacing the warenhaeuser by smaller shops or in turning them into cooperatives.  In most cases, as with the family owned Wertheim business, with its seven huge stores and ten thousand employees, share ownership was “aryanised,” meaning it was confiscated and sold at a discount to a limited number of wealthy German investors.  By 1938 even small Jewish shareholders in the enterprise had been forced to sell their stake. That same year the last two Jewish managers at the store, along with the last 34 Jewish employees were dismissed without severance pay. Thirteen of the employees were later deported and exterminated at unknown locations. As for Jewish members of the Wertheim family, some managed to emigrate but three were murdered at Auschwitz.[15]

Another example of  a the surprisingly sympathetic understanding of Nazi anti-Jewish persecution, influenced by the prevailing anti-Semitic sentiment common even within progressive circles, was Cicely Hamilton, founder of the Women Writers’ Suffrage League. In a 1933 update to her memoir, “Modern Germanies as Seen by an English Woman,” she argued that “a certain amount of excuse” could be made for the hatred and prejudice which fueled  Nazi antisemitism. “A people that have suffered and is bitterly poor,” she continued, “sees a race that climbs and flourishes upon the ruin of its own fortunes; small wonder if envy does stir in its heart and it snarls accusations of profiteering against all who belong to the race.”[16]

The Manchester Guardian,  an icon of reformist thinking, also appeared to be unaware of the potential horrendous consequences of not just failing to oppose the Nazi propaganda against the Jews, but also of occasionally supporting it. An editorial on 30 June 1933 argued that it was not possible to deny “that there are unpleasant elements in Jewish culture like those which have displayed themselves in Germany in the last dozen years.”[17]

Outside the mainstream press. the House of Commons and the political culture, there were also many academic apologists for the Nazi persecution. One, who was arguably less progressive in his thinking than Robert Bernays or Cicely Hamilton, but who held a far more moderate viewpoint than the “serious diseases require drastic measures” attitude of Reverend Armstrong, was Professor Waterhouse of Queens University, Belfast. In a lecture on Germany in September 1933, he argued that, when considering the persecution of Jews, one had to bear in mind the recent “flood” of Jewish refugees of “a low type” and how they “had succeeded in growing richer as Germany grew poorer.”  As was normal in British reporting of such opinion at the time, the journalist of the Northern Whig, in reporting the event, did not question his views or seek to obtain alternative opinion.[18]

Professor Charles Sarolea of Edinburgh University is another interesting example. He was a typical academic apologist. He would later write numerous letters to both The Times and the Scotsman advocating the appeasement of Germany. In July 1933, when reviewing Hitler’s Mein Kampf in the Scotsman, he acknowledged that the author’s extreme racism had “no secure foundation either in science of in history or in reason” but nevertheless he himself used disturbingly anti-Semitic language.

It is true,” he claimed in an apparent attempt to explain away Hitler’s extremist views, “that recently the pure Nordic Prussian race has fallen from its high estate, that it has been contaminated by the Jew, and that, as a just retribution, a terrible and humiliating catastrophe (the First World War) has dimmed and eclipsed the glories of the past.”

Not surprisingly, in the same article, the Professor also described Herman Goering, Hitler’s Minister of Interior and Aviation and commander of the Prussian Gestapo, as the  “most fearless of German airmen during the (First World) war and most formidable of Nazi leaders since the revolution.”   It is noteworthy that he could describe Goering’s role, even at this early stage,  so sympathetically.   Goering was already responsible for setting up the early concentration camps and had, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, shown “formidable energy in terrorizing and crushing all resistance” though none of this seemed to be a matter of concern for Professor Sarolea.[19]

By the spring of 1935 there was evidence that the deadly hand of the Gestapo reached as far as London.  On Thursday 4 April, two of the most prominent German Jewish exiles in Britain, Dr Dora Fabian a brave and passionate anti-Nazi activist ,described by the legendary Labour politician Ellen Wilkinson as “one of the most brilliant brains exiled from Germany,”[20] and Mathilde Wurm, a committed activist, writer and former member of the German Reichstag, were both found dead in their flat at 12 Great Ormond Street in Bloomsbury.

On the following morning some of the newspapers, scenting the possibility of a sensational scoop, failed to follow the normal rules of deference to public officials, refusing to wait even for an official verdict.  The stories that morning of Nazi kidnappings and speculation over the undue influence of Nazi agents in London was  deeply troubling for both the British and German governments, who didn’t want adverse publicity to damage the vital strategic and  economic relationship.  The establishment knew it had to turn the tables and ensure the media would ultimately blame the victims.  However that first day, it looked like a difficult mountain to climb.  The circumstantial evidence of German involvement presented in the press seemed overwhelming.

The Daily Mirror devoted most of its front page to the shock news under the double headline  – “Women who Feared Nazis Die in London Flat – Refugees Out to Unmask Spies.”  Then a series of summary statements clearly spelled out some of the key revelations. “Flight from Germany to seek sanctuary in London from Nazi persecution – Working to unearth a spy organization which they believed had been set up here to dog the lives of other refugees – Working together in constant fear – Then death by poison. That is believed to be the story of terror behind the discovery of two German women….dead in a flat in Great Ormond Street, Bloomsbury yesterday.”[21]

The Daily Mail  didn’t take such a sensationally subversive line, and preferred to headline one of the initial Scotland Yard theories – “Dead German Women’s Visa Fears – Theory That They Dreaded Leaving England,” but its reporter had still managed to find evidence which added to suspicions that their deaths were murders rather than suicide. According to the article, one of their last known actions was on the late afternoon of the day before they were believed to have died, when Mathila Wurm visited a stationery shop on Southampton Row, just as it was closing, to obtain “a supply of typewriting requisites and stationery.”    Wurm had explained to Mr. Cohen, the director of the shop, that she “had suddenly discovered they were almost out of typewriting material and stationery.”  He thought she had purchased enough to be sufficient for a month and ramarked that “both the women had always struck me as being very cheery, and there was nothing in Frau Wurm’s manner on Saturday to suggest that anything was wrong.”[22]

The Daily Express featured the story across its front page under the headlines “Poison Riddle: ‘Yard’ Called In – Dead Women Shadowed by Nazis,” explaining that the two women had been found next to bottles of the poison veronal.  They had evidently feared for their safety. It reported that “many of their friends in this country were recalling last night that Dr. Fabian, ever since she and her friend had come as refugees to London in 1933, had been convinced that Nazi agents had shadowed her continually. She had told them some time ago too, that two flats in which she had lived had been burgled; that no money or valuables had been touched but that her private papers had been examined.” However, the Express also portrayed Fabian as a dangerous revolutionary “In 1930,” it reported, “she joined a number of extremists who broke away from the Social Democratic Party. She contributed to many socialist papers (and) she made violent attacks on the Nazis.”[23]

It was only to be expected for such a paper to describe high principled criticism of the Nazi regime as “violent attacks” and passionate belief in social justice and democracy as “extremist”. However, German diplomats must have still been concerned  of yet more evidence pointing to the disturbing possibility of murderous Nazi agents able to kill at will in London.  Even stronger substantiation of their long reach was provided by the Daily Worker.  Under the headline “Anti-Nazi Women Poisoned in London” it explained that “Dora Fabian was the woman who first warned refugee circles about the sinister activities in London of the Nazi kidnapping and murder gang, which, from headquarters here, organised the abduction of the well known anti-Nazi journalist Berthold Jakob.”[24]

Jakob, who had been living in Strasbourg, had been lured to the Swiss city of Basel on 9 March 1935 where he was kidnapped and driven to Klein Laningen on the German border. As the car approached the frontier it accelerated across at high speed and Jakob was immediately detained.  Fabian, who was a close friend of Jakob, passed on to the Swiss Public Prosecutor her suspicion that another exile turned Nazi spy, Dr Hans Wesemann, was responsible. He was immediately arrested and confessed both to his role in the Jakob’s abduction and that he had been recruited as an agent by the German consul in London. [25]

The Yorkshire Post was another newspaper which focused on the mystery of the link with the kidnapped journalist and the Nazi agent. “To within a few hours of the tragedy,” it noted, “they (Fabian and Wurm) had been engaged in securing assistance in London for Her Jacob,” and the paper added that “Dr Ganz, the Public Prosecutor, who’s in charge of the Jacob case, saw them when he was in London last week, and had a long talk with them. When told of their deaths tonight he said they both seemed to him absolutely normal.” [26]

The annoyance of the establishment at these potentially damaging media headlines was underlined by three questions tabled, without any immediate answers to them, that same day in parliament.  Montague Lyons, MP for East Leicester, asked “will the Home Office make it a condition of entry into this country by alien refugees that they shall refrain from political activities, particularly against their own governments while they are here ?

Reginald Clarry, MP for Newport, inquired “If the Home Secretary can state the number of political refugees in this country and whether any condition is imposed and enforced that they shall take no part in political activities while accepting the asylum of this country ?” And Sir Charles Cayzer, MP for Chester, wondered “whether an anti-Nazi organisation has been disclosed by police inquiries and whether any special steps are being taken to deport the persons concerned ?“[27]

Sir Charles’ question clearly implied that he thought it would be easier to deport any refugees who engaged in criticism of Hitler’s regime back to Germany so that the Nazis could deal with them. However, besides establishment concern about the anti-Nazi political activities of refugees, there was the more immediate concern as to whether the press would continue to link the two deaths to Nazi agents.  When asked in the House of Commons, whether there was any truth to the allegations, Captain Crookshank, Under Secretary for the Home Office, expressed his confidence that the Coroner’s Inquest, which was now being supported by a Scotland Yard inquiry, “would find the facts”[28]

From the very first day of its inquiry, at a stage when they can’t have had any opportunity to interview the victims’ many friends and colleagues, Scotland Yard began to leak its view that the deaths had simply been a case of a tragic suicide and discounting any possibility of the involvement of Nazi agents. On 6th April The Times was already reporting under a headline “German Women’s Death – Police Theory of Suicide,” that Scotland Yard detectives had “found nothing suggesting that German politics had anything to do with their deaths,” and that since the moment the bodies had been found “poisoning was at once suspected, the police theory being that the women had entered into a suicide pact.”[29]

The news of suspected suicide was also carried the same day in most regional newspapers.  The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail,  under the headline “German Women’s Deaths – Generally Disappointed with Life“,  explained that “When the inquest is held on Wednesday it is understood that evidence will be forth coming to show that both women were generally disappointed with life. There is no reason to believe that their deaths had any political significance.”[30] The Western Daily Press coyly apprised its readers that “hints were given, yesterday, that one of the two German refugees found dead in their London flat on Thursday had had an unhappy love affair.”[31]

Similar reports were also carried in the Lancashire Daily Post, under the headline “Women Disappointed with Life” and in the Portsmouth Evening News, under a near identical “Disappointed with Life“, while a report published in at least three regional newspapers added the interesting statement, which appeared to be taken from the police briefing, that “while their sympathies were with German refugees in this country, the two women never at any time indulged in any anti-Nazi propaganda.”[32]  This seemed to be an attempt to suggest that neither was involved in anti-Nazi political activities and that therefore the Gestapo had no obvious motive for killing them. This assertion, however, was contradicted, even in the same article, by  disclosures to the contrary. According to Dr. Fabian’s former husband, who was interviewed by a Reuters correspondent, she had confided to him that

“she was watching Nazi agents, who themselves were watching the German emigres” and adding that “she constantly received threatening letters” and he recalled that despite all this “she was not in the least sad.” As to any reason she might be targeted, he thought that “she certainly hindered Nazis in London by the information about them that she gave to the British.”[33]

German exiles in Switzerland also believed that the the Nazis were troubled by their activism as reported in the Western Daily Press. “Messages from Basle and Berne, yesterday,” it reported, “continued to express the opinion held there that the women were too active in their efforts on behalf of Herr Jacob, and consequently means were found for their elimination.”[34]

According to the Aberdeen Press and Journal, Dr Fabian’s friends were adamant that she “was not the type of woman to worry to such an extent as to commit suicide because of an unhappy love affair.” It also noted that a supply of recently purchased fresh food was found in the flat and that Dr. Fabian had even made appointments for the coming week.[35]  There was, it seemed, little doubt that Fabian’s friends were convinced that she had been murdered because of her political activities.

The other dead woman, Mathilde Wurm,  had been recently attempting to inform the British public about the ugly realities of the Nazi regime. Reports in the Yorkshire Post and the Yorkshire Evening Post revealed that she had visited the West Yorkshire town of Dewsbury on 30 June the previous year, where she spoke to a Labour Party meeting on “the awful state of Germany under Hitlerism” and the Yorkshire Post  noted that both women “were engaged on “literary work on behalf of socialism and anti-Nazism”[36]. They were also unusually anxious about the security of their flat.  The Sheffield Daily Independent reported that the agent with whom they had negotiated the tenancy had observed that “they seemed frightened that someone  might break in;” adding that “there was a light over the door and at their request this was boarded up. They also had all the locks examined to see that they were secure.”[37]

Unfortunately for the womens’ friends and supporters, when the inquest convened at Paddington Coroner’s Court on Wednesday 10th April, the jury was not allowed to consider any of this circumstantial evidence that might have linked the women’s deaths to their political views and the brutal silencing hand of the Gestapo.  Whenever witnesses occasionally referred to the women’s political work, the coroner interrupted to insist that politics not be brought into the proceedings.[38]  The Daily Worker under the front page headline “Poisoned Women: Mystery Deepens -Court Mum on Nazi Gang Terror Here” noted that “the jury, which was supposed to be weighing the evidence, was left in happy ignorance of the important features of the case”.[39]

The Daily Worker appears to have been the only newspaper to draw any attention to what appeared to be either judicial negligence or a deliberate attempt at a cover up. Other newspapers decided to  reflect the official inquest verdict in their headlines. The Daily Mirror led with “Woman Who Loved Too Much” informing readers that the “jury returned a verdict that both women died from narcotic poisoning self-administered and killed themselves while of unsound mind.” The Daily Mail took a near identical angle on the case, reporting the inquest hearing under a headline of “Tragedy of German Woman’s Unrequited Love,” which according to the article, “resulted in her committing suicide, together with a woman friend.”[40]

The Daily Express carried news of the verdict under a header “I loved Too Much. Tragic German Woman’s Letter in Shorthand.” The paper explained that “before she poisoned herself, tragic Dr. Dora Fabian, one of the two refugee German women found dead in a Bloomsbury flat last Thursday, wrote (a) letter in German shorthand to a man friend.” Similarly, The Yorkshire Post, under the unambiguous headline, “Tragedy of Two Refugees – Suicide by Narcotic Poisoning,” observed that Fabian “had fallen in love with a German doctor” and that “a few days before the tragedy they parted somewhat coolly.”[41] The German man was Karl Korsch, a doctor of law.  According to the Metropolitan Police File on the Fabian and Wurm case, and unknown to the jury at the time, MI5 suspected that he was a Nazi agent.[42]

Regional newspapers competed with each other to romanticize the case. The choice of headlines must have delighted the Nazis who were implicitly exonerated.  The Lincolnshire Echo led with “Lovers Quarrel Behind Tragedy“,  the Western Daily Press with “Refugee Victims of Love Tragedy,” The Dundee Courier with “German Exile’s Love For Doctor,” The Derby Daily Telegraph with “Refugee’s Quarrel With Lover Before Death,” the Gloucestershire Echo with “Woman’s Love For A Doctor” and the Lancashire Daily Post with “Woman Refugee’s Tragedy of Love – Quarrel With a Doctor – Then She and Friend Took Poison“[43]

The leading paragraphs were equally predictable with a remarkable similarity between some of the reports.  The Leeds Mercury, under the header “Love Tragedy of Woman Refugee” attempted to entice readers by proclaiming how “a story of a woman’s unhappy love was told at the inquest in London yesterday” while the Sheffield Daily Independent for its bait line, reported that “a tragedy of unrequited love was revealed at the inquest in London yesterday.”   Nazi officials and the British establishment could breath a simultaneous sigh of relief that the press wasn’t going to investigate more uncomfortable questions about the role of the Germany Embassy and its alleged secret agents in London.[44]

The two women were buried  at East Ham Jewish Cemetery.  The Yorkshire Post noted the presence among the mourners of the distinguished left wing German Jewish playwright Ernst Toller. Earlier, at the court hearing, the Daily Express had asked him why he was attending.  Toller explained that Fabian had risked imprisonment to smuggle bundles of his papers and writings out of Germany.[45]  Four years later the same paper reported his unexpected death

“Ernst Toller Found Hanged – Ernst Toller, socialist pacifist playwright, most eloquent of the refugees from the Nazi regime was found hanged in a New York hotel last night… Mr R. Ellis Roberts, London writer and friend of Toller said last night – ‘When he left he was optimistic and in good spirits.'”[46]

Another friend of Toller, author Robert Payne, noted at the end of a diary entry on 23 May 1942 that Toller had confided shortly before his death that “if you ever read that I committed suicide, I beg you not to believe it.” Payne added that “he hanged himself with the silk cord of his nightgown in a hotel in New York two years ago. This is what the newspapers said at the time, but I continue to believe that he was murdered.”[47] Even as late as May 1939, just four months prior to the outbreak of war, neither the British or American press appeared interested to link Toller’s death in any way to his opposition to Hitler’s Germany or to the earlier deaths of Fabian and Wurm.

After the troublesome case of the two anti-Nazi activists had been safely put to rest by the official inquest on 11 April 1935, the British press refocused on much safer topics such as interviews with contented British tourists returning from Nazi Germany.   It was an easy way to give a voice to any enthusiastic apostles for Hitler’s racist programmes.  A Nottingham lady, who had been “made most welcome and treated with the greatest kindness” during her summer holiday in 1935, was only too willing to have her own pro-Nazi interpretation of the anti-Semtic purges to the Nottingham Evening Post. 

He (Hitler) also realised that the Jews controlled the finance of the country, as they do here, so he took away their power , and instead of concentrated wealth he distributed it for the benefit of all. He does not interfere in the least with the poor Jews; (but) those who have been causing trouble among them are a lot of hooligans, such as are to be found everywhere, and are severely dealt with.”[48]

The article clearly blamed the Jewish victims themselves for the Nazi reign of terror and was not qualified by any editorial comment and that same summer another Nottingham newspaper, the Nottingham Journal, under the spurious headline “Warm Tribute to Hitler – Light on Persecution of Jews,” published another apologia for Nazi attacks on the Jews.  On 29 July 1935, the newspaper interviewed the Reverend M. Yate Allen, vicar of Moss, near Doncaster, who had just returned from a  ten day trip to Germany as “the guest of a society which is anxious to promote friendship between the two countries.”  Referring to the “alleged persecution of Jews,” he asserted that “it has been largely brought about by the Jews themselves. A lot of them emigrated from Russia into Germany after the war, and many of them are avowed communists, and frankly opposed to the Hitler regime.”[49]

The Sheffield Daily Independent also sent a reporter to interview Yate Allen and it reported under the headline “Vicar Impressed by Germans’ Loyalty – Blames Jews,” that “asked about the position of the Jews, Mr Allen said it was mainly their own fault, adding that ‘many of them occupy in certain districts all the best positions and this has aroused dislike, especially where the Jews are communist.'”[50]

It was equally clear that the British government at the time also had very limited sympathy with Jews engaged in political activities against Hitler’s government.  A typical and long forgotten example occurred in January 1936, when the British government decided not to help  a German Jewish man of British descent. The deportee, Dr. George Bresin,  featured in the headlines for a day and then seems to have disappeared from history.

He was being deported from New York to Germany on board the liner President Roosevelt, which had docked at Plymouth, as it neared the end of its journey to Hamburg.  In a letter smuggled out via another passenger Bresin explained that he had been attempting to communicate with the British government about Nazi involvement in Italian military intervention in Ethiopia but that having failed to get any response, he had attempted to board the liner American Trader in order to travel to Britain in November, but had been denied permission to board.  The reason for this is not clear but a report in The Scotsman suggested that it was because his German passport had expired.[51]

He was subsequently detained by American immigration officials who, after holding him for some weeks on Ellis Island, had  deported him, locking him into a cabin of the President Roosevelt.  It was only after the ship left New York that he discovered that his destination was Hamburg.  In his written appeal to the British government to allow him an asylum hearing in Britain, he explained that not only was his mother British but that his former wife and his children were living in Edgware, North London, and that if he were to be sent back to Germany he would surely be tortured.

For a single day some British newspapers gave him some sympathetic coverage. The most prominent being a front page story in the Daily Mirror, on 31 January, under the headline “Doctor Fears Nazi Torture.”   It was however a  sympathy limited by the implication that the man had brought his fate on himself through his anti-Nazi political activities. The Mirror described him as a “fanatic” and explained he was “America’s leading anti-Nazi propagandist who had fled from Germany in 1933.”  The newspaper interviewed his former wife, Lily Bresin, and  reported that she felt that during his service in the German army in the First World War he “became embittered” and that she blamed his political activism for his fate.

“I always told him that no happiness would come to us if he meddled with politics. Why didn’t he listen to me ?” and then, appearing to answer her own question she recalled that “the war made him bitter and took him from me…. But I must thank heaven I left him when I did. We may have been dragged into all this and I might have ended in a concentration camp myself. Where would my daughters have been then ?”[52]

Two days later, on 2 February 1936, George Bresin was forcibly disembarked at Hamburg.  The German authorities no doubt not wishing to negatively influence American and British cooperation in any deportations of anti-Nazi activists, did not immediately arrest Bresin who according to one report “gave the impression of being a very sick man,” but allowed Red Cross officials to transport him to a Berlin hospital.[53]  I was unable, however, to discover what happened to him after that, but he would have have been a very lucky man if he managed to survive the next nine years as a Jew inside Nazi Germany.

Many in the British establishment looked on such Jewish activists as a serious headache to efforts at improving relations with Germany and some shared the racist Nazi views that Jewish influence whether in politics or in business was a “problem.”  In the same month that Bresin was forcibly returned to Germany, Lord Londonderry, who had recently served as Air Minister and remained close to Lord Halifax and other influential political figures, wrote to Ribbentrop warning him, in reference to the supposed power of world Jewry, that he felt that Nazi Germany was “tacking on a tremendous force,” adding that he himself had “no great affection for the Jews.”

He then explained that “it is possible to trace their participation in most of those international disturbances which have created so much havoc in different countries,” though he conceded that one could also find “many Jews strongly ranged on the other side who have done their best with the wealth at their disposal, and also by their influence to counteract those malevolent and mischievous activities of fellow Jews.” He did not feel even slightly ashamed to hold such views and in 1938, he still felt confident enough that such comments would find an appreciative hearing, that he published them in “Ourselves and Germany,” a passionately argued defence of appeasement policy.

One of Londonderry’s Jewish friends, Anthony Rothschild, on reading the book, questioned his concerns about  the supposed existence of a “malevolent” Jewish influence. The pro-appeasement aristocrat attempted to reassure his friend that such comments were not aimed at the Rothschild banking family or other Jewish capitalists but rather at the role of some Jews in revolutionary insurrection in Europe. He repeated the usual establishment view that Jewish influence had been decisive in the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. It was “these dangerous elements,” among whom he included “the Jews in the East End (of London)… a really dangerous element in this country,”  who were “so powerful in moulding the destinies of the world.”[54]

The anti-Semitism of some other politicians was even less equivocal. One disturbing example from the later 1930s is that of Cyril Culverwell, Conservative MP for Bristol West.  He  made his attack on the “baneful influence” of German Jews on 8 November 1938, just hours before the start of Germany’s infamous Krystallnacht (“Night of Broken Glass”) pogrom in which Jewish businesses and synagogues were burned, at least one hundred Jews murdered, 26,000 herded into concentration camps[55] and subsequent decrees issued banning them from making insurance claims or from selling goods in public spaces, depriving thousands of their only source of income.[56]

Writing in the Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror under the headline “A Bristol MP Sees Nazi Germany – ‘Restored to Power, Pride and Prosperity'”, Culverwell blamed “the universal hatred of the Jews” on the Jews themselves declaring that they were a “menace which, soon or later, England will (also) be compelled to deal.” He argued that when commenting on Hitler’s regime we should also understand “the (Jewish) problem” from the Nazi perspective.

By their control of the press, cinema and theatre their growing monopoly of the medical and legal professions, and their success in finance and commerce, they exercised an undue and Germans believe, a baneful influence on the social and industrial life of the native. A large influx after the war of the least desirable type of Jew from Poland and elsewhere swelled the ranks of the communists. When I suggested to Herr Streicher (here he is referring to a casual chat with Julius Streicher later convicted of crimes against humanity at Nuremberg) that perhaps the Jews had attained their position by superior intelligence, he attributed it to their clannishness and lack of scruples and jokingly remarked that we should welcome the chance of receiving so much talent.”[57]

There was an interesting response the next day in a letter to the paper from the Reverend A G Barker who pointed out that the MP’s travels across Germany had not taken him to “(the) concentration camps where Hitlerism confines the multitudes who oppose it.”[58] However the Reverend was bitterly attacked by other readers who rushed to the MP’s defence. On 10 November 1938, at the same time as hundreds of synagogues were burning and thousands of small Jewish businesses and shops were ransacked across Germany, the paper published a letter from someone writing under the pseudonym “Anti-Humbug” who asserted that “The Reverend Barker is disturbed because Mr Culverwell has ably described the conditions in Germany as he found them and not in the colours the Reverend Barker would like them to be painted.”[59]

While another letter to the editor published in the paper informed readers that there was a Jewish conspiracy to “pack all the key positions and professions with Jews and thus establish in each Gentile state the dictatorship of a Jewish state.”[60] However, yet again, it was Culverwell himself who made the most astonishing contribution to the debate. Writing on 16 November 1938, nearly a week after the orgy of destruction and killing of Krystallnacht, the MP finally responded to the Reverend’s criticism.

Had I formed my impression of the condition and outlook of the eighty million inhabitants of Germany by consultation with persecuted Jews or malcontents in concentration camps, only a small percentage of the population, I should have gained a false understanding of German public opinion. The purpose of government is to promote the greatest happiness of the greatest number. The Nazi regime is a benevolent tyranny under which the freedom and interests of the individual are made subservient to the welfare of the state.”

At least that was clear. The Jews and others who were killed was an issue of no importance if it was in the interests of Nazi “welfare.” Accordingly Culverwell concluded “Let us stifle our prejudices against National Socialism, and refrain from abusing its leaders and above all let us try to understand the German point of view.”[61]

Even as late as March 1939, four months after the horrors of Kristallnacht, there was an article in the Western Morning News blaming the Jews themselves for their persecution. The Eton educated explorer and writer Colonel Ralph Cobbold-Sawle authored a lengthy report of his impressions of “modern Germany” for the newspaper.  Under a section entitled “The Jewish Question,” he admitted that “the Jews are having a bad time and all of us regret many individual cases,” but he then cautioned “on the other side, you must bear in mind the German people when down and out experienced great hardships and indignities at the hands of the Jews and they made much money out of the impotent and poverty-stricken German nation.” His conclusion was that “National Socialism and Jews cannot live together,” however the British shouldn’t be too concerned as they could benefit by accepting those Jews whose brains they considered might be a “wonderful asset” and should not moan about Germany allowing them such a “privilege.”[62]

Over five years earlier, in November 1933, he had written to the same newspaper, exasperated by what he maintained were “exaggerated accounts” of  the persecution of Jews. He reminded the paper’s readers that those Jews confined to concentration camps “are alleged to have unduly profited from the country’s misfortunes or have interfered  in politics,” and that “some 90 per cent (of the inmates) are not Germans at all.” Whatever sympathies he may have held for the Jews, these were eclipsed by his ill-founded fear of a Red Terror.

He also seems to have shared with many British politicians and intellectuals, the Nazi ideology that it was the Jews, especially immigrant Jews, who were to blame for this perceived threat.  “What treatment,” he asked, “would the National Socialist Party have received had the Bolshevist Jews gained the upper hand in Germany ?  We should,” he continued, “recognise the fact that Herr Hitler in saving Germany from Bolshevism deserves the thanks of all right-minded people.”  The clear message was that Hitler was saving Germany from the Bolshevist Jews.  Throughout the 1930s, this remained one of the central arguments of both Nazi and appeasement propaganda. We have seen how, even by 1939, Cobbold-Sawle continued to support the Chamberlain government. Though now recognising there were “indivdual cases” of “regrettable” injustice, he, like most of the British elite, remained primarily concerned that such crimes, whether committed against “good” or “bad” Jews, should not weaken British support for Hitler.[63]


1. Gilbert Frankau, “As A Jew I Am Not Against Hitler,” the Daily Express, 9 May 1933 p10.

2. “Pan-Presbyterian Alliance: Jewish Situation in Germany,” the Belfast Newsletter, 23 June 1933 p11.

3. “Germany and the Jews,” the Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic, 7 October 1933 p7

4. “Nazi Germany: Sir Adrian Baillie’s Address to Edinburgh Business Club,” the Linlithgowshire Gazette, 19 January 1934, p4

5. “Judea Declares War on Germany,” the Daily Express, 24 March 1933 p1

6. The Daily Telegraph, 3 April 1933 p12 cited in Russell Mark Wallis (2010), “The Vagaries of British Compassion: A Contextualized Analysis of British Reactions to the Persecution of Jews under Nazi Rule,” PhD Thesis, Royal Holloway, University of London, p215

7. See Neil Forbes (2000) “Doing Business with the Nazis: Britain’s Economic and Financial Relations with Germany, 1931-1939,” Frank Cass, London.

8. E. W. D. Tennant, Letters to the Editor, The Times, 20 March 1933 p8 accessed online in The Times Digital Archive on 19 July 2017.  For more on Tennant’s pro-Nazi views and activities see Richard Griffiths (1983) “Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany, 1933-1939,” Oxford University Press. For Tennant’s role in promoting business links between Britain and Nazi Germany see Neil Forbes (2000) “Doing Business with the Nazis,” Frank Cass, p139-141.  One reputable source of information on anti-Semitic persecution and violence in Germany in March 1933 is David Cesarani (2016) “Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews,” Macmillan, London p38

9. Statistics and quotation from David Cesarani (2016) “Final Solution: The Fate of the Jews 1933-49,” Macmillan, London p7

10. Vicktor Klemperer (1998), Diary entries for 20 March, 21 March and 6 September in “I shall Bear Witness; The Diaries of Victor Klemperer 1933-41,” Phoenix, London, pages 9, 10 and 39

11. “Rebirth of a Nation – An Analysis of the Spirit Behind Hitlerism”, the Yorkshire Post, 6 September 1933, p8

12. Chris Bryant MP in the House of Commons cited by Robert Fisk and Amy Morris, “We Can Do Better Than This,” The Sun online 21 October 2016 2.10 pm updated at 4.06 pm.

13. Review of Robert Bernays’ article in the Contemporary Review in “November Reviews,” The Times, 1 November 1933 p17.

14. Robert Bernays writing in the Chesterton Review and quoted in Dan Stone (2012) “Responses to Nazism in Britain, 1933-1939: Before War and Holocaust,” Palgrave, Macmillan, New York, p128.

15 Simone Ladwig-Winters, “The Attack on Berlin Department Stores After 1933,” Shoah Resource Center and particularly pages 5/21, 13/21, 18/21 and 19/21. Please note that the exact figure for the number of employees for Wertheim was given as 10,460 but for 1930. The article was accessed online at

16. Cicely Hamilton quoted in Dan Stone (2012), “Responses to Nazism in Britain, 1933-39: Before War and Holocaust,” Palgrave, Macmillan, New York p89 and Julia Boyd (2017), “Travellers in the Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism Through The Eyes of Everyday People,” Elliott and Thompson, London p75

17. The Manchester Guardian, 30 June 1933 cited in Russell Mark Wallis (PhD) (2010), “The Vagaries of British Compassion: A Contextualized Analaysis of British Reactions to the Persecutions of Jews Under Nazi Rule,” Royal Holloway, University of London p224.

18. “Professor’s Impressions of Nazi Germany”, the Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 19 September 1933 p9.

19. Professor Charles Sarolea, “Mein Kampf: The Profession of Faith of Adolf Hitler,” in The Scotsman, 24 July 1933, p8.  See also Sam Johnson (April 2004), ‘Playing the Pharisee:  Charles Sarolea, Czechoslovakia and the Road to Munich“, SEER, Vol 82, No 2 and

20. “Dead German Women in London Flat – Questions in the Commons,” the Yorkshire Post, 6 April 1935, p13

21. “Women Who Feared Nazis Die in London Flat,” the Daily Mirror, 5 April 1935, p1

22. “Dead German Women’s Visa Fears,” the Daily Mail, 6 April 1935 p9

23. “Poison Riddle: ‘Yard’ Called In,” the Daily Express, 5 April 1935 p1

24. “Anti-Nazi Women Poisoned in London,” the Daily Worker, 5 April 1935, p1

25. “The Case of Dr. Jakob,” the Daily Express, 6 April 1935 p11 and N.A. Furness (1992) “Ernest Toller and the Exigencies of Exile” in R. Dove, M. Mallett and S. Lamb (editors) “German Writers and Politics 1918-39,” Macmillan pp178-191

26. “Two German Women Found Dead,” the Yorkshire Post, 5 April 1935, p9

27. “MPs Want Condition of Entry to be Enforced,” the Daily Express, 6 April 1935 p11

28. “Dead German Refugees Love Affair,” the Western Daily Press, 6 April 1935 p7

29. “German Women’s Death – Police Theory of Suicide,” The Times, 6 April 1935 p9 accessed online in The Times Digital Archive on 20 July 2017

30. “German Women’s Deaths – Generally Disappointed With Life,” The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 6 April 1935 p5

31. “Dead German Refugee’s Love Affair,” The Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror, 6 April 1935 p7

32. “Women Disappointed With Life,” The Lancashire Daily Post, 6 April 1935 p7 and with reference to “a report in at least three newspapers” see “German Women’s Death – Generally Disappointed With Life,”  The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 6 April 1935 p5, “Disappointed With Life – Two German Women,” 6 April 1935 p9 and “German Women’s Deaths – Police Inquiries Concluded,” The Dundee Evening Telegraph, 6 April 1935 p1

33. “German Women’s Death – Generally Disappointed With Life,” The Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, 6 April 1935 p5 and “Dr Fabian ‘Hindered Nazis’ Says Former Husband”, the Yorkshire Evening Post, 6 April 1935 p7

34. “Dead German Refugee’s Love Affair,” the Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror, 6 April 1935 p7

35. “Nazi refugees’ Deaths Mystery Deepens,” the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 6 April 1935 p7

36. “A Dewsbury Visit,” the Yorkshire Post, 6 April 1935 p13 and “Mystery of German Women – Visit to Dewsbury Recalled,” the Yorkshire Evening Post, 6 April 1935 p7

37. “Flat Tragedy Theories,” the Sheffield Daily Independent, 6 April 1935 p1

38. Charmian Brinson and Richard Dove (2015), “A Matter of Intelligence: MI5 and the Surveillance of Anti-Nazi Refugees 1933-50,” Manchester University Press, Manchester.

39. “Poisoned Women: Mystery Deepens. Court Mum On Nazi Gang Terror Here,” the Daily Worker, 11 April 1935 p1

40. “Woman Who Loved Too Much,” the Daily Mirror, 11 April 1935 p5 and “Tragedy of German Woman’s Unrequited Love,” the Daily Mail, 11 April 1935 p11.

41. “I Loved Too Much. Tragic Woman’s Letter In Shorthand,” the Daily Express, 11 April 1935 p9 and “Tragedy Of Two Refugees – Suicide By Narcotic Poisoning,” the Yorkshire Post, 11 April 1935 p10

42. Charmian Brinson and Richard Dove (2015) “A Matter of Intelligence: MI5 and the Surveillance of Anti-Nazi Refugees 1933-50,” Manchester University Press, Manchester.

43. The Lincolnshire Echo, 10 April 1935 p1, the Western Daily Press, 11 April 1935 p8, the Dundee Courier, 11 April 1935 p7, the Derby Daily Telegraph, 10 April 1935 p1, the Gloucestershire Echo, 10 April 1935 p1 and the Lancashire Daily Post, 10 April 1935 p4

44. “Love Tragedy Of Woman Refugee,” the Leeds Mercury, 11 April 1935, p7 and “German Woman’s Love – Passionate Note To Doctor,” the Sheffield Daily Independent, 11 April 1935 p1

45. “Tragedy Of Two Refugees – Suicide By Narcotic Poisoning,” the Yorkshire Post, 11 April 1935 p10 and “I Loved Too Much – Tragic Woman’s Letter In Shorthand,” the Daily Express, 11 April 1935 p9

46. “Ernst Toller Found Hanged,” the Daily Express, 23 May 1939 p1

47. Robert Payne “Diary Entry For May 23 1942” in “Forever China (Chungking Diaries),” Dodd, New York 1945

48. “Impressions of Life in Germany Today” in the Nottingham Evening Post, 15 August 1935 p11.

49. “Warm Tribute to Hitler – Light on Persecution of Jews,” the Nottingham Journal, 30 July 1935 p7

50. “Vicar Impressed by Germans’ Loyalty – Blames Jews,” the Sheffield Daily Independent 30 July 1935 p4

51. “Deported Doctor – What U.S. Records Show. Remarkable Story,” The Scotsman, 1 February 1936 p13

52. “Doctor Fears Nazi Torture,” the Daily Mirror, 31 January 1936, p1, “Anti-Nazi Sent Back to Germany,” the Daily Express, 31 January 1936 p11 and “Man in Liner Says he was Kidnapped,” the Yorkshire Post, 31 January 1936 p9.

53. “German Deportee,” the Belfast Newsletter, 3 February 1936 p6

54. Letter from Lord Londonderry to Ribbentrop printed in Lord Londonderry (1938) “Ourselves and Germany,” and quoted in Ian Kershaw (2004) “Lord Londonderry and Britain’s Road to War: Making Friends with Hitler,” Allen Lane, Penguin Books, p146. Also Letter from Lord Londonderry to Anthony Rothschild also quoted Ian Kershaw pp229-230

55. Martin Gilbert (1986) “The Holocaust, The Jewish Tragedy,” Collins, London p30-33. See also Klaus P. Fischer (1995) “Nazi Germany: A New History“,  Constable, London p 392.

56. Will Wainewright (2000), “Reporting on Hitler: Rothay Reynolds and the British Press,” Biteback Publishing, London, p236

57. C.T. Culverwell (1938) writing in the Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror, 8 November 1938, p4.

58. “Our Readers’ Views”, the Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror, 9 November 1938, p4

59. “Our Readers’ Views”, the Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror, 10 November 1938, p9.

60. “Our Readers’ Views”, the Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror, 10 November 1938, p9

61. “Our Readers’ Views”, the Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror, 16 November 1938, p4

62. Colonel Ralph P. Cobbold-Sawle, “Germans Are Solid Behind Fuhrer,” the Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, 13 March 1939 p6

63. Colonel Ralph P. Cobbold-Sawle, “Germany’s Way,” letter to the Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, 2 November 1933 p2 and Colonel Ralph P. Cobbold-Sawle, “Germans Are Solid Behind Fuhrer,” the Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, 13 March 1939 p6