Rainbows in Hades – How British intellectuals and the press portrayed Nazi Germany as a utopia
Pretext No. 6 –
for British appeasement of Nazi Germany
There was wide ranging praise in Britain for the supposed “new spirit” of optimism and determination in Hitler’s Germany. Reading the accounts of British journalists it was as if the nightmare of the supposedly anarchic Weimar Republic was being eclipsed by the dawn of a new paradise. Selkirk Panton, writing in the Daily Express in August 1933 under the headline “The Truth About Berlin,” trumpeted the new utopia, observing that “Berlin is the same as the pre-Hitler city plus the employment, the hope, faith and belief in the future which Hitler’s victory has brought to Germany. Beneath everything there is an undercurrent of the new spirit of Hitlerism; the will to fight against circumstances, the will to refuse to become a doormat of fate…..They (Berliners) walk along the streets with more spirit. There is more work. More streets are being repaired at the present moment in Berlin than ever before. There are more motor cars on the streets. There are more happy faces.”
Uniformed Nazi thugs, according to his report, appeared almost as guardian angels of the new paradise. Delmer reported that “the Nazi storm troopers in their smart brown uniforms, strangely enough, do not swagger along, puffed out with the arrogance born of victory. They merge into the crowd and seem one with the people. They seem busy young men, most of them hurrying along the streets with a portfolio clasped under their arms.”
Other commentators were equally dazzled by the spectacle of Nazi uniforms, meetings and parties. In March 1934, a St. Leonard’s resident, returning from a long visit to Germany, told a reporter from her local paper that she had been “greatly impressed by the smartness of the Nazi storm troops,” adding that “there certainly is a great feeling of hope and confidence about the nation at the present time.” There was even supposedly a a new spirit of festive partying in Berlin. Daily Express correspondent Pembroke Stephens, writing in May 1934 under the headline “‘Party’ life of Hitler’s Bright Young People” explained that “the fact that Hitler is an Austrian and that the Nazi movement springs from Bavaria in the South is responsible for the lively free and easy character of Nazi entertainment in cold and Prussian Berlin…. The good type of Nazi is a jolly fellow who believes wholeheartedly in enjoyment. There is nothing Cromwellian or Puritan about the Nazi Party men.”
In November, the Yorkshire Post published similar exuberant commentary on Hitler’s storm troopers, by Katherine Miller Jones, who was a regular commentator on the cultural and political scene in both Austria and Germany. She thought the Nazi passion for pomp and military marches relatively commendable compared to the British obsession with football. “We should at least,” she reasoned, “be able to appreciate the Hitler cult of healthy minds in healthy bodies. Isn’t it at least arguable that (our) country which spends its Saturday afternoons watching a small number of people play a dangerous game is no better occupied than another which marches along the lanes singing songs of uplift ? The SA and SS procession may look dangerous, but at least they are an improvement for those who take part in them on weary, bitter hours of purposeless loafing.”
Other less well resourced regional newspapers sometimes relied on returning tourists for impressions of the new paradise and its Nazi guardians. Rita Collinson, writing for the Hull Daily Mail in October 1936, was impressed by the “glowing health of the Hitler Youth, his pride of race, and his patriotism” and concluded that “a military training is not such a bad thing after all.” Even the threatening spectacle of fluttering Swastika flags were, according to Collinson, merely an entirely voluntary display of public spirited patriotism. “Every building and house,” she noted, “is flying the Nazi flag which makes the streets colourful and gay. It has been said that Hitler demands that his people fly the Swastika but this is true only of government officials.”
Compared to Collinson, we might expect a more critical account from the Berlin correspondent of the Yorkshire Post. After all, as a reporter, he should have had a far deeper knowledge of the brutality of the regime and its insidious methods of propaganda. Nevertheless, like many British journalists based in Germany, he seems to have felt it was easier and more profitable to write glowing copy rather than ask uncomfortable questions. When in July 1933 the Nazis decided to promote Wagner and other culturally appropriate music events to the masses by subsidizing train and entrance tickets for poorer Germans, he duly praised the plan as
“(A) generous act on the part of the government, which has placed a number of free seats at the disposition of those who love music but are too poor even to think of saving up one day to go and see the (annual Bayreuth) festival……Instead of a rallying place for the wealthy snobs of the artistic world, Bayreuth is to be regarded by Germans of today as a shrine where devout pilgrims may nourish their musical souls“
If the journalist had bothered to make more detailed inquiries, he would have discovered that most of these “poorer Germans” were in fact low rank Nazi functionaries and that they had been encouraged to watch Richard Wagner’s operas because they contained several notable anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews. The Nazis hoped that Wagner’s fame would help to make their antisemitism respectable. However, the Yorkshire Post’s Berlin correspondent did not seem to consider that his role might be to write anything except adulatory accolades to the regime and in December 1933, he again commended the Nazi organized winter season of charity events in Berlin, in words that again could have come straight from Goebbels’ Ministry of Propaganda. “The Nazis send out mass invitations,” he reported, “and the masses respond. Never before have students, unemployed and men and women earning very small wages danced in such sumptuous marble and gilt palaces as this year.”
A reporter working for the more modestly resourced Bury St Edmunds Free Press wasn’t invited to any such grand affairs on his visit to the Rhineland in the summer of 1933, but he nevertheless returned deeply impressed and successfully anesthetized against his previous subversive suspicions. “I confess I had a few qualms,” he disclosed, “about entering the country but I found afterwards that all, including Nazis, were exceedingly hospitable and charming. There is no need,” he assured the newspaper’s readers, “to be apprehensive about holidaying in the Rhineland.”
That same summer Daily Mail readers were informed that the changes that were occurring in Nazi Germany could be compared to England’s Elizabethan Renaissance in the Sixteenth century. “Something more significant than a new government has risen among the Germans,” Lord Rothermere, the newspaper’s proprietor, wrote in an editorial entitled “Youth Triumphant.” “There had been a sudden expansion of their national spirit,” he explained, “like that which took place under Queen Elizabeth. Youth has taken command,” and he concluded that “it is Germany’s good fortune to have found a leader who can combine for the public good all the most vigorous elements in the country.”
Nazi propaganda even found some sympathy from Britain’s relatively progressive Daily Herald who’s readers were mostly lower middle or working class and which was 49% owned by 32 trade union officials acting as trustees of the Labour Party. In May 1933, the newspaper suggested that the Nazi regime was about to embark on the socialist “second phase” of its revolution. This had supposedly been heralded by the Nazi Party’s celebration of May Day.
“‘National Socialists’,” it reminded readers, “call themselves ‘socialist’ as well as ‘national”… It is a creed that is anathema to the big industrialists, and the big financiers. And the Nazi leaders are bound to go forward with the ‘socialist’ side of their programme.” The Daily Worker was not at all convinced, declaring that the Daily Herald was guilty of extending “a deliberate friendly handshake.. to German fascism.” They noted that the same day as the Daily Herald article appeared, Nazi officials had seized all trade union offices, arrested the remaining leaders who had not already been detained, and officially merged all the unions across Germany into one organization, the German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront), who’s policies in future would be determined by the state rather than the workers. 
However the ruthless assault on workers rights did not diminish passionate support for the Nazi regime by at least one of Britain’s leading trade unionists. In June 1934 Stanley Ratcliff, president of the National Union of Farmers, returning from an eight day investigation into the cultivation of sugar beet in the Hartz agricultural area of Germany gave an unequivocally glowing report to the Essex Chronicle, not just on the country’s agricultural practices but also on the regime. He haughtily informed the newspaper that “He (Hitler) has enabled agriculture to exist and is making a marvelous success of it….Not a weed exists among the crops; not a fly on a leaf…..The roadsides are thoroughly planted with fruit trees – apples, pears, plums, cherries. No one ever appears to steal these, although they are of course growing right along the road. All mayors and corporations and such authorities have been done away with, and every place is under the control of an official appointed by Herr Hitler, whose orders all are pleased to obey.”
A few in the audience wondered whether he might not have even some minor qualification to such a flattering tribute to the Nazi social order and one person asked “So the whole idea is a good one for the country, and is working well ?” Ratcliff’s response was unambiguous. “Yes it is a splendid idea. I did not hear a single complaint and never saw people looking healthier or happier……(Workers are) very contented and extremely healthy, and one is greatly impressed by the astonishing cleanliness of everything and everybody………….A whole town obeys the rule of one man with the greatest pleasure.”
The following year John Burnett, MP for Aberdeen North, gave a similar if slightly more guarded praise for Nazi Germany in an interview with the Aberdeen Press and Journal, claiming that Hitler’s policies were both popular and beneficial. “There is no doubt,” explained Burnett, “that he is regarded as a prophet in Germany. Judging solely from the opinions I heard expressed, the feeling seems to be almost entirely behind Hitler. At least I heard no opinion expressed against him. Germans feel that there has been an enormous improvement in the country under Hitler and that they have attained equality with other great nations.”
A Nottingham Lady, returning from her German holiday that summer, was even more passionate in her pro-Nazi propaganda which was published without any qualifying editorial comment in the Nottingham Evening Post. “Hitler,” she declared, “has done wonderful work in cleaning up Germany, and making the people what they never were before – contented and happy. This is evident everywhere and Hitler is admired and respected by all for his just administration. You have to go to the country to see and understand what has been done in a few years.”
Even by September 1936, nearly four years after Hitler’s coming to power, eminent visitors such as Lloyd George were still portraying Nazi Germany as the new utopia. Writing of his impressions in a two page article in the Daily Express, he described how the supposedly wretched state of the Weimar Republic had been transformed into a veritable wonderland. Prior to Hitler, Germany had been a “broken, dejected” country where “despair, penury and humiliation” overshadowed all else. However by 1936 the people were “more cheerful,” and he claimed that Germany “is now full of hope and confidence, and of a renewed sense of determination to lead its own life without interference from any influence outside its own frontiers,” and it seemed as if there was near universal joy and contentment. “There is,” he wrote, “a greater sense of general gaiety of spirit throughout the land. It is a happier Germany. I saw it everywhere, and Englishmen I met during my trip and who knew Germany well, were very impressed with the change.” This new sense of determination and optimism had brought about “a revivalist atmosphere” which had “an extraordinary effect in unifying the nation. Catholic and Protestant, Prussian and Bavarian, employer and workman, rich and poor, have been consolidated into one people. Religious, provincial and class origins no longer divide that nation.”
The Financial Times, in a report headlined “Mr Lloyd George on German Progress – Bold Economic Schemes,” focused on the former prime minister’s praise for the Nazi government’s supposed care for working people and on its huge investments in housing, land reclamation and infrastructure. According to the paper, Lloyd George said he had been “enormously impressed by the boldness and beneficence of their plans,” observing that “they are reclaiming over 4,000,000 acres of land which was either completely waste or barely cultivated at all,” and that “they are building millions of houses for their working population and everywhere they are constructing settlements for their town workers outside the city boundaries with gardens attached to each house.” He had also been awestruck by “the new roads they are constructing” which were “magnificent,” noting that “by these and similar means they have reduced unemployment from 6,000,000 to 1,000,000 in three and a half years,” and concluding that “whatever we may think of Hitler and the present regime in Germany that in itself is a very great achievement.”
Further accolades to supposed Nazi achievements from British intellectuals, politicians and capitalists continued the following year. In November 1937, in the by now familiar holiday romance with Nazism genre, the Derby Evening Telegraph reported Derby businessman Murray Shaw’s account of life under the Nazi regime as a worker’s wonderland “He was struck,” the newspaper noted, “by the fact that the people seemed happier than when he visited Germany before the Hitler regime,” and “Mr Murray Shaw also spoke of lakeside schools near Berlin where education was combined with games and bathing and holidays were provided for poor children who would not otherwise have any. Winter relief was provided by “flag” days, when emblems made in distressed areas were sold. Cases of distress were reported by Nazi officials regardless of whether the people were members of the Nazi party of not…….Another boon to the people, went on Mr. Murray Shaw, were working men’s houses along the lakesides outside Berlin, which could be rented at a shilling a month, thus providing the people with a means to obtain a holiday which would not otherwise be possible.”
Even the Munich crisis in the autumn of 1938 failed to dampen the enthusiasm. A Western Daily Press journalist published a friend’s “now treasured experience” of her holiday at Berchtesgaden in Bavaria. It had taken place just as British prime minister Neville Chamberlain arrived to see Hitler in a last ditch effort to avoid war over Hitler’s determination to seize the Sudetenland.
“He (Chamberlain) certainly had a great reception,” she recalled, adding that “I was able to poke my head in his car and wish him good luck… We got a great reception ourselves as being the only English there. The German people are as sincere in their desire for peace as we are. We all went on the Sunday to church to pray for the peace of the world and had to stand on the steps as the crowd was so great. The feeling for England is very sincere; the German today is not the Prussian of 1914; a new race has sprung up. Hitler is beloved and they would follow him anywhere. They presented me with a great sheaf of roses when I left and said, ‘Madame, we salute the English’.”
1. Selkirk Panton, “The Truth About Berlin” in the Daily Express, 25 August 1933, p8
2. “A Visit To Germany,” the Hastings and St. Leonard’s Observer, 17 March 1934, p18
3. Pembroke Stephens, “‘Party” Life of Hitler’s Bright Young People”, the Daily Express, 8 May 1934, p3.
4. Katherine Miller Jones, “Germany’s Place in Europe,” the Yorkshire Post, 2 November 1933 p6
5. “Heil Hitler ! Deutschland Through a Woman’s Eyes”, the Hull Daily Mail, 26 October 1936 p4.
6. “A Berlin Letter” in the Yorkshire Post, 25 July 1933 p8.
7. Frederick Spotts (1999) “Bayreuth: A History of the Wagner Festival“, Yale University Press, p156.
8. “A Berlin Letter” in the Yorkshire Post, 11 December 1933 p6.
9. “A Burian in Germany” in the Bury St. Edmunds Free Press and Post, 26 August 1933, p5.
10. Lord Rothermere “Youth Triumphant,” the Daily Mail, 10 July 1933, quoted in Frederick Kempe (2002), “Father/Land: A Personal Search for the New Germany,” Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis p17
11. Franklin Reid Gannon (1971), “The British Press and Germany 1936-1939,” Clarendon Press, Oxford p42
12. The Daily Herald quoted in “Labour Leaders Laud Hitler,” the Daily Worker, 3 May 1933 p2. See also Klaus P. Fischer (1995), “Nazi Germany: A New History,” Constable, London, p280
13. “Hitler Worship – Essex Farmer on Conditions in Germany – A Healthy Happy Race” in the Essex Chronicle, 8 June 1934 p6.
14. “Germany Unanimous for Hitler” in the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 8 May 1935, p7
15. “Impressions of Life in Germany Today,” the Nottingham Evening Post, 15 August 1935 p11
16. “I Talked To Hitler,” the Daily Express, 17 September 1936 p12.
17. “Mr Lloyd George on German Progress – Bold Economic Schemes,” the Financial Times, 22 September 1936 p5
18. “Hitler loved by most Germans. Happier People” in the Derby Evening Telegraph, 16 November 1937 p10.
19. “Holiday in Germany” in the Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror, 12 October 1938, p7