A ‘Bulwark against Bolshevism’

Pretext No. 1 –

for British appeasement of Nazi Germany

Armed workers and sailors in Berlin in November 1918.

Any serious threat of a  Moscow backed Bolshevik takeover in central Europe ended in August 1920 when the Red Army was decisively defeated by Polish forces just outside Warsaw. The Oxford academic Robert Service in his biography of Lenin notes that “the battle of the Vistula brought the ruler in the Kremlin to his senses. European revolution was not, after all, going to be exported on the point of Red bayonets.”  The eminent historian A.J.P. Taylor also expresses a similar opinion,  in his classic The Origins of The Second World War, observing that “from that moment there was not the slightest prospect, during the next twenty years, that communism would triumph anywhere in Europe beyond the Russian frontiers.”[1]

Historian Allan Merson, author of Communist Resistance to Nazi Germany,  reaches a slightly different conclusion.  In his view “a German 1917” might have been in possible in Germany as late as 1923 as the fledgling Weimar Republic had to deal with the immediate post war political turmoil and hyper inflation.  However, he also believes, like Service and Taylor, that there was no chance of a successful uprising in the period after 1923 and comments that “even the world slump of 1929-1932 did not create the conditions required for it.”[2]

He concedes that membership of the German Communist Party (KPD) rose from approximately 120,000 in 1928 to an estimated 360,000 by December 1932, but he points out that almost all that increase came from unemployed manual workers. By the time Hitler came to power, an astonishing 90% of the party’s membership was from the ranks of impoverished unemployed blue-collar workers, while the party’s foothold inside the factories, the crucial battleground if central government was to be toppled, was so fragile and limited as to be almost insignificant. Neither did it exert any influence within either the army or the police. Merson concludes that “if revolution was on the agenda, the Communists’ preparations for it can only be described as inadequate.”[3]

There was a similar and surprisingly frank acknowledgement of the KPD’s frailty,  by the Berlin Correspondent of The Times, which appears to have escaped the notice of the editor. At the end of a long article on “The German Upheaval” in April 1933, he noted that documents found at the communist headquarters in Berlin “have endorsed my contention that there were in Germany few organized communists in the Russian sense, and that the bulk of the German communists were more or less harmless people who would join any party in desperation.”[4]  The Manchester Guardian also noted, in an editorial in March, that “the ‘Marxist’ front, which the Nazis have denounced, does not exist except in the mouths of platform speakers.”[5]

Such occasional acknowledgements of the reality did not mean, however, that the elites, both in Britain and Germany, could not repeatedly use the threat of the “Red Peril” as propaganda to support ruthless measures to prevent the erosion of their political and economic privileges from the danger of socialism. Many in the establishment deceived even themselves as to the likelihood of a communist revolution even if, in reality, the supposed Bolshevik menace was merely a metaphor for any threat from progressive political forces which might challenge the existing economic and social order.

Again and again, during the thirties, the British press praised Hitler’s Germany as a bulwark against what it termed as “the communist or Bolshevik threat”. Possibly the first article to do so was published in The Daily Mail in September 1930, over two years before Hitler even became Chancellor. Addressing the fears of anyone in Britain who might consider Hitler an extremist, the editorial assured readers that “those who expect wild measures from Herr Hitler will be disappointed. ‘To have a strong party in Germany which will form a bulwark against Bolshevism“, it declared “is in the interests not only of England, but also of all nations. The gravest danger to Germany lies in the steady growth of the communists there, who are supported……in every possible way by the criminal government which reigns at Moscow. Unless the communists are very firmly met they may become the dominant power in Germany. That would be a catastrophe alike for Great Britain, Germany and Europe.”[6]

Hitler knew that business and the elites in Britain, as in Germany, were terrified of any threat to the existing economic order in Europe and he knew he could exploit this fear, confiding to one of his old party colleagues: “I’ve got to play ball with capitalism and keep the Versailles powers in line by holding aloft the bogey of Bolshevism – make them believe that a Nazi Germany is the last bulwark against the Red flood.” Soon after his election in January 1933 as the new Chancellor of Germany,  he summoned British and other foreign journalists in the country and informed them that he was the alternative to communism, asserting that “there is no middle course for Germany. Either the Bolshevik standard would fly over Germany or she would recover herself.”[7]

The British press duly obliged by echoing Hitler’s propaganda. On 31 January A Reuters report, published in several newspapers, reminded readers that “war has been declared on Chancellor Hitler and his new government by the Communist Party”[8] while a report carried in both the Daily Mirror and the Western Gazette under the heading “Communists Declare War on Hitler” warned that “Hitler, Germany’s new chancellor, is facing a crisis, for the communists, who wield great power in Germany, have declared war on him. It is believed that the communists will stop at nothing in their attempt to drive Hitler from power.”[9]

The Sunderland Echo and the Nottingham Evening Post resorted to similar front page headlines – “German Communists Declare War on Hitler” and “Reds Declare War on Hitler.“[10] Below they carried reports which were almost word for word identical to an article carried in the Manchester Guardian. This icon of progressive reporting also used the metaphor of a war being declared on Hitler, reporting that “under a flaming headline ‘To Battle,’ the official Communist organ ‘The Red Flag” this morning publishes a declaration of war on the new Hitler government and a manifesto calling on all socialist organizations to join a general strike.”[11]

The next morning a Daily Express report from Berlin, under the scarehead “Red Wave of Terror – Moscow’s Orders“, made more extravagant claims of Soviet involvement,  and suggested Hitler should take ruthless action to tackle the supposed threat from Russian backed communists; informing its readers that “the communist wave of terror has begun, and Moscow’s orders that disturbances are to be organized all over the country have already been carried out,” and warning that “extraordinary measures will have to be taken by the government.”[12]

The Aberdeen Press and Journal was equally supportive of the new regime, declaring in an editorial on 2 February that “all things considered, in most countries, Hitler will be wished luck,” and it added that “no one will envy him his job.  He is quite right in saying that Germany is miserable and that Marxism is responsible…. Regimentation on the fascist principle, providing it is applied with brains and scientific regulation should prove an admirable corrective. The forced labour principle is the only part of his scheme that is found in modern interpretations of the Marxian theory and it is doubtless necessary (in order) to keep the dupes of the Marxists out of mischief.”[13]

On 18 February, The Sphere even went so far as to argue in its editorial that Hitler might need God’s help reporting that “the solid fact emerges that Hitler is Chancellor of a state with 6,000,000 unemployed, some 4,000,000 communists and 3,000,000 trained men of his own party facing as many trained socialists…. If, in these circumstances, Hitler is not a Mussolini, a Napoleon or a Bismarck, then God help him !“[14]

A little over a week later on 27 February 1933,  the Reichstag ( the German parliament ) was set alight. Even today we still do not know for sure who was responsible. Neither German socialists nor communists had ever resorted to such an act of terrorism previously. It was also obvious that, whoever might have been the incendiary, it was the Nazi regime which would gain by it.  It was a timely propaganda gift for a regime seeking to circumvent constitutional restrictions in order to crush all democratic opposition.

It is interesting to note that it was to Sefton Delmer, the Daily Express’ man in Berlin, that Hitler chose to direct his diatribe against communist anarchy as he watched the conflagration. “If this communist spirit got hold of Europe but for two months,” the Fuhrer warned Delmer, “it would be all aflame like this building.”  The Daily Express correspondent immediately understood what was required of him and so did the paper’s editor. The next day the newspaper led with the front page splash “The Reichstag in Flames Last Night. Daily Express Correspondent Accompanies Hitler into Blazing Building – Chancellor Vows Crushing Revenge on Reds,” while the second paragraph of the report asserted, as if it was a fact, that “the fire was the work of communist incendiaries.” [15]

The Express article portrayed Hitler as a fire-defying hero bravely confronting the communists. The possibility that he might ( as most historians now believe to be the case [16] ) have arranged the burning of the Reichstag as a pretext to arrest communists and other opponents of the regime was not even hinted at. This may have been what impressed the Nazis sufficiently to allow the Daily Express to lead three days later with a front page Hitler interview exclusive – “Hitler’s Question to the Daily Express – Suppose the Reds had Set Fire to the House of Commons !” allowing the Fuhrer to explain his anti-communist purge on the paper’s front page without a single word of skeptical comment.  In the concluding paragraph, under a sub headline of “Laws Too Liberal“, Hitler assured the paper’s readers that “when the communist menace is stamped out the normal order of things shall return. Our laws were too liberal for me to be able to deal properly and safely with this Bolshevik underworld. But I myself am only too anxious for the normal state of affairs to be restored as soon as possible. First, however, we must crush communism out of existence.”[17]

The Financial Times also joined the chorus of British newspapers who now sought to portray Hitler as the saviour of a supposed communist insurrection.  The day after the fire, under a headline of “Terrorism in Germany,” the newspaper’s Berlin correspondent asserted confidently that documents discovered the previous day in a Nazi raid on Karl Liebknecht Haus, the Communist Party headquarters in Berlin, “shows that plans had been made for a revolution to begin early this morning with acts of plunder all over Germany combined with terrorisation against private individuals and private property.” He then added that “had the plans been put into effect, civil war would have been inevitable,” and that “even sober-minded people of the moderate parties now admit that the present regime must be allowed to proceed with the utmost rigour in rooting out the communist element.”[18]

The Daily Telegraph took a similar line, declaring in an editorial, the day after the Reichstag fire, that “the torch is a normal weapon of the communist,” and reminding readers that “(arson) is not an incredible charge to bring against the communists. On the contrary, it is an integral part of the scheme of what Lenin used to call ‘heavy civil war.'” The paper urged readers not to feel too concerned about the Nazi purge of communist activists as they “are only getting a comparatively mild instalment of the repression with which they threaten every other party in the state,” and concluded that “the established authority has every right to take measures for its own protection while the ruins of its Parliament House are still smoking.”[19]

Hitler wasted no time in exploiting the propaganda opportunity and whipped up paranoia both within Germany and abroad over the supposed communist threat, even though in reality the Left in Germany was bitterly divided. A communist declaration of a general strike four weeks earlier, though triggering a few short lived stoppages, had failed to obtain any widespread support. On 2 February the Daily Mirror had observed that “communist attempts to organize a general strike in the Aachen coalfields have so far failed. There have been a few clashes in the Ruhr district, but none was serious.”[20]  Even the Daily Worker recognised that the endeavour had floundered and blamed “the treachery of the (leftist) Social Democratic Party and trade union leaders, (which was)  nothing short of monstrous.”[21]

Nevertheless public horror in Germany at the burning of the Reichstag along with the death of a police officer and a “Hitlerite stormtrooper”[22] during street fighting between communists and Nazi SA militia on the day after Hitler’s accession, which were deliberately misrepresented as “Red blood-baths”,  allowed Herman Goring, the Prussian minister of Interior, to order the arrest of four thousand communists the following day.[23] Several KPD members and other opponents of Hitler had been gunned down or knifed to death by Nazi SA militia during the same period in January and February but the state narrative was that they deserved their fate.[24]

Even The Times appeared to back the Nazi propaganda, declaring in an editorial as early as 3 February that “their (the communists’) murderous attacks on exultant Brown Shirts (Nazi militia) and on the police who escorted them have given (Hitler) an excellent excuse for a counter offensive,” and it then noted that, on this pretext, “the Berlin police have already occupied the Karl Liebknecht House, the headquarters of the German Communist Party,” and that “communist demonstrations have been  prohibited throughout Prussia, and this prohibition has been extended to the great socialist demonstration that was planned for next Saturday.”[25]

Later in the year, The Times published a letter from Dr. Arthur C. Headlam, Bishop of Gloucester and chairman of the Church of England Council on Foreign Relations, which came close to endorsing the murderous clampdown. In it the bishop asked “what we should do in this country if we had a real imminent fear of Bolshevism” and he suggested that “we should do a great many things which would deserve severe criticism.” He then argued that “for the first time since the (First World) war the people are beginning to be hopeful and happy,” and reminded readers that “a German likes discipline and they are under a discipline which they think healthy.”[26]  Presumably Headlam did not consider the contrary views of the tens of thousands of Germans interned in concentration camps worthy of mention.

Fake news stories about the infiltration of ruthless Red revolutionaries into Germany were also carried in both the German and British press to ensure that readers remained suitably fearful and supportive of the Nazi crackdown. On 13 March, for instance, The Daily Mirror reported that “two notorious communist leaders – Bela Kun and Max Hoelz have made a rapid journey from Russia” in order to lead a “new campaign against Hitler.” The Mirror reminded its readers that “Bela Kun was the temporary dictator of the Hungarian  Red Republic” who later became “notorious for the ferocity with which he dealt with a revolt in the Crimea” and that “Hoelz led the Red revolution in Saxony in 1921.”

The commentary might have been justifiable, except that both Hoelz and Kun were one thousand miles away in Moscow and neither were to leave the Russia prior to their deaths.  Hoelz did want to return to Germany but his several requests were turned down by the Stalinist bureaucracy while Kun would have known that his notoriety would have made it suicidal for him to attempt to lead any campaign within Germany. Besides, Kun was too deeply involved in political conflict with Hungarian and other émigrés within Russia even had he been given permission to leave. Nevertheless the Daily Mirror did not seek to question the reliability of the presumably Nazi news source for the story.[27]

By a strange coincidence it was on the same day as the Daily Mirror article was published that Adolf Wagner, the Bavarian Interior Minister, dispatched officials to assess a disused industrial site outside the small town of Dachau as a possible site for a new prison capable of holding thousands of prisoners. One week later Heinrich Himmler, chief of the Munich police, announced the opening of Dachau concentration camp, one of the first of a new type of detention facility designed to hold the growing number of communist and other political prisoners.[28]

Even at these early stages these were places of almost unimaginable brutality but accounts in the British press were mostly neutral or favourable. Four days after Himmler’s announcement,  The Yorkshire Post duly reported that “the first concentration camp for communist prisoners in Bavaria has been opened in Dachau” and that “similar camps will shortly be opened at Lansberg and Ingolstadt as part of the general plan to convert communists into normal members of society.”  The paper explained that during this normalisation process “the prisoners will work under the supervision of Nazi sentries in quarries and on the moorland. After eight hours labour they will return to the prison where they will be educated politically in regard to their duties to the state.”[29]  However some British politicians didn’t think it right that the Nazis were considering ever releasing such inmates.  Victor Cazalet, the Conservative MP for Chippenham, after touring the camp grounds in 1934, noted in his diary that the “adjutant says most prisoners communist. If that is the case, then they can stay there for all I care.”[30]

In May 1933 the Derry Journal published a long article by a German journalist, Martin Wiesmes, extolling the virtues of an early Nazi concentration camp which had been established at Heugberg, near Wurtemberg in southern Germany, two months earlier.  Wiesmes emphasized that “drastic treatment” was “necessary for the communists” who had “already started a secret revolution” against the Nazis. The “burning of the Reichstag” had been “the last great act of terrorism” which had been the wake-up call, or as he put it “the dawn of a new day for the German National Government.”  He explained that “the ringleaders” had been sent to this “House of Correction” at Heugberg. Here they were, according to Wiesmes, “set to work, kept under constant supervision, and, in addition, given instruction in order that they might later be released as men worthy of citizenship… This entailed a complete reorganisation of their ideas and was not, as may be imagined, an enviable task.”

This notion that it was the concentration camp commandant, rather than the communist inmate, who should be pitied, was left seemingly unchallenged by the newspaper.  Nor did it point out that not all Heugberg’s inmates were communists.  They already included the Stuttgart district judge, Fritz Bauer, who was to be joined a few weeks later by Reichstag member Kurt Schumacher. Both were Social Democrats.  Schumacher refused to sign a loyalty oath to gain his release though Fritz Bauer, who was also Jewish, wisely opted to sign and flee the country.  Later Bauer acknowledged his profound admiration for Schumacher’s “incredible belief and courage.”  Miraculously,  Schumacher survived a brutal beating and internment in several concentration camps to later become the leader of Germany’s Social Democrats after the war, though the mistreatment he received under the Nazis led to the eventual amputation of his left leg.[31]

The Times, while not going so far as to fully endorse the forced labour and horrific conditions and punishments of the concentration camps, made it clear that it had little sympathy for their communist victims.  In an editorial, on 15 March 1933, entitled “The Hitler Revolution,” the newspaper, after reminding readers that “no one expects revolutions to made with rose-water,” commented with a disdainful indifference that “it was to be expected that the communists who had attempted to crush the incipient National Socialist movement by murders and beatings would reap some of the crop that they have sown.”  The newspaper did note its concern that the crop was also being “reaped by parties and by individuals who had no part in its sowing,” including Roman Catholics, socialists, trade unionists and Jews, but it stressed that Hitler “has twice called upon his partisans to maintain the strictest discipline,” and that the second of these appeals “appears to have been effective,” adding that “Captain Goring had now ordered the cessation of ‘individual actions.'”[32]

In August, the Daily Express used a similarly dispassionate and almost approving commentary when reporting the detention of  Alfred Braun, the acclaimed announcer of the Berlin Radio Hour, along with three directors of the radio station, who had been “ceremoniously delivered” to Oranienburg concentration camp.  The newspaper, uncritically regurgitating the Nazi propaganda line,  explained  that “they are accused of the misappropriation  of public funds. It is stated that the arrests are entirely in the interests of the prisoners since they will be protected against the just anger of the public and will have the opportunity of leading a ‘simpler life.'”[33]  The real reason for the arrests was that they had disobeyed the orders of Josef Goebbels, Reich Minister for Popular Enlightenment and Propaganda, who had cautioned them that “Jewish-Marxist writers” should “no longer have their say on radio and unload there the the garbage from their sick brains.”[34] However the Daily Express, if it was aware of this, did not even hint at it nor did it suggest any alternative motivation, other than corruption, for their internment.

Such detentions were made possible by new laws enacted to take people into “protective custody” without a trial, while under “A Decree of the Reich President for the Protection of the People and the State,” enacted on 28th February, the right of the public and the press to freedom of expression had been indefinitely suspended. This now allowed the communist witch hunt to be expanded to include the entire political opposition. By the summer of 1933 all political parties, except the NSDAP ( Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party, ) had been banned and by the end of the year over 150,000 Germans had been detained.[35]

British business travellers were mostly at least sympathetic apologists, and often vocal enthusiasts, for Hitler’s  savage anti-communist purges, which by now targeted all politcal and cultural “subversives” whatever their political opinions. On 16th March Mr. A. D. Carimichael, one of the four directors of Carmichael Jewellers in Hull, returning from a trip to Berlin, explained to the Hull Daily Mail that Germans overwhelmingly supported Hitler and the Nazi regime as an antidote to Bolshevism.  “The (anti-Communist) feeling is so intense,” he enthused, “that no communist dare put his nose out….If any communist showed the slightest sign of giving trouble he would be pulled to pieces in two ticks…..They (the Germans he had talked to) all seemed agreed……that had Hitler not assumed power there would have been a communist regime within six months. In fact 40 per cent of the policemen (had been) communists.”[36]  The reality, however, was very different.  The historian Allan Merson reveals, in his detailed study of “Communist Resistance in Nazi Germany,” that not only had the communists failed to gain any foothold within Germany’s police, but that the police had, by 1933, a number of long-standing agents in place within the German communist party who were to prove highly valuable to the Gestapo.[37]

Barely a week after Carmichael returned to Hull, on 24th March, Hitler succeeded in passing the infamous Enabling Law (or as it was originally entitled “The Law for Terminating the Suffering of People and Nation”) through the German parliament which was sitting at the Kroll Opera House. The SA and SS, Nazi paramilitary thugs, were sent into the building and succeeded in intimidating enough MPs to ensure its passing.  The law effectively allowed Hitler to rule by decree without the need of any consultation with parliament. By this time it was not just communists who’s lives were endangered.  Historian Klaus Fischer observes that “by the middle of March, Nazi thugs, camouflaged as “auxiliary police” or quasi-legal representatives of the state, rounded up political opponents of all hues – rich and poor, famous or obscure – put them under ‘protective custody’, tortured them, and in numerous cases killed them.”[38]

However such murderous brutality did nothing to stem the continuing flow of sympathetic apologies for Hitler and the Nazis in the British press. An editorial in the Daily Express on 17 April explained why Britain should continue to support the Nazi regime. It began by reassuring its more idealist readers that the paper “abhors the persecution of Jews as it detests all forms of government that are based on violence,” but then went on to ask “but what is Hitler doing ?”  The answer was that Hitler was engaged on such a noble and crucial task that people should not complain too strongly about the murderous injustices of the regime.

(Hitler) is crushing a communistic movement that was not only threatening to disrupt Germany but was planning to form a colossal Bolshevik combination with Russia…. If German communism had seized control of the Reich, many of the people of this country who are now shouting for his downfall would have been shouting louder “Send for Hitler !“[39]

In May, the author and journalist Sir John Foster Fraser, following an hour long interview with Hitler in a “little room” at his official Berlin residence,  left with a profound admiration for the Fuhrer’s ruthless determination to  annihilate the communist menace. “Here in Berlin,” he noted, “Herr Hitler impresses me with his volcanic energy. He doesn’t  not conciliate opposition. He crushes it….. He is the man who saved the country from tumbling into the chaos of communism“.[40]

In August, the Western Gazette carried an article, under the headline “The New Germany. Some Impartial Impressions,” which was an account of “the honest impressions of a Western Gazette reporter following a holiday.”  The journalist and his wife stayed at a hostel in Feldberg where they “became friends with a couple of very friendly young storm troopers” who “answered all our questions without hesitation”.  The correspondent recounted the couples’ views of how Hitler had rescued Germany from anarchy and communism. That “before Hilter gained power, the choice of the German people lay between him and communism” and they had explained to him how,  “because of the lack of strong central government, law and order (had been) at a discount and life was not safe in the cities,” and that the Jews were “the brains behind communism.”  Finally, in his concluding paragraph, the reporter hinted strongly that the deciding factor in his own final and “impartial” verdict on Hitler was his conviction that, without the Nazis, communism would have engulfed the country.  “….After a careful study of all sides of these questions,” he reflected, “there may be much to justify the new regime and in a sense its arrival under one name or another was almost inevitable.”[41]

The following month, the Reverend A. E. Armstrong of Leeds Parish Church posited a similar argument in a long article in the Yorkshire Post, entitled “Rebirth of a Nation,” and reasoned that Nazism was the right choice for Germany and that it was also the best outcome for Britain. He claimed to have reached his conclusion by obtaining bundles of German communist propaganda from the party’s headquarters by then located outside Germany in Copenhagen and Danzig. “Few English people,” he wrote, “would not be repelled by the anti-God campaign, the glorification of war and the advocacy of abortion which these papers contain. The choice before Germany was this sort of thing or National Socialism. She chose to become Nazi… Has not England cause to congratulate herself that Germany threw in her lot with Hitler rather than with Stalin ?

He also felt strongly that Nazism was the right choice philosophically for Germany. “The importance of National Socialism,” he reasoned, “lies in its acceptance of what is sound in Marxian teaching while repudiating what is unsound. The communist follower of Karl Marx, for example, entirely underestimates human nature and the strength of, say, the religious and patriotic sentiments. I am therefore convinced that the future of Germany lies with the Nazis and not the communists.”[42]

The Reverend’s article provoked an impassioned response from Sir Alexander Leith, Deputy Lieutenant of Northumberland and  a decorated First World War veteran.  In a letter, published on the correspondence page of the Yorkshire Post, he made it clear that not only did he “endorse every word that Mr. Armstrong has written” but that from the knowledge acquired on his recent three week trip to Germany, he was certain that Hitler had rescued Germany from an appalling fate. “I am convinced from all I learned from reliable Germans,” he informed the paper’s readers, “that the country was on the brink of a bloody and terrible revolution and that Hitler has, by necessarily drastic but comparatively bloodless means, turned the community from rank Bolshevism to being  a loyal, enthusiastic and contented nation.”[43] Two months later, in November, the newspaper reminded readers who might have missed Reverend’s Armstrong’s article that “Germany has to fight an enemy at home. That is her first job…. In the face of national disintegration someone had to keep the flag flying.”[44]

That same month, Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail, wrote an editorial expressing the same view that “the sturdy young Nazis are Europe’s guardians against the communist danger.”[45] It followed a disquieting warning on 13 October in the same newspaper, by former prime minister Lloyd George, of what might happen if Britain attempted to sanction or isolate the Nazi regime.  Under the headline “Communism Must Follow if Hitler Fails,” he asked “if you put 65,000,000 Germans into quarantine for four years, have you considered what infection they might catch, and if so, whether you can, in spite of precautions, prevent it spreading ?”  He then cautioned that “if Hitler failed there would be anarchy and the communists would seize the reins of government in most of the towns and industrial areas.”[46]

The elite in Britain were not unhappy to see the communist opposition in Germany brutally repressed by the Nazi regime.   Only a few days prior to Lloyd George’s warning of a communist seizure of power if Hitler fell, Arthur Headlam, the Bishop of Gloucester, writing in the October issue of the Gloucester diocesan magazine, expressed the view that the thousands of communists in Hitler’s concentration camps had only themselves to blame. The Cheltenham Chronicle  reported that the bishop had asserted that “the great body of the people in Germany believed that it was only Hitler and the Nazi movement which has saved the country from communism,” and that he “was certain the communist party had by their violence and by their threats brought the present situation upon themselves.”[47]

Many in the establishment also hoped that the Nazi regime would rearm the country in order to become an effective barrier to the supposed “Red menace” from Moscow.  On 24 October, ,steel magnate Sir Arthur Balfour, who stood to benefit financially if Germany embarked on a rearmament programme and therefore needed more steel, explained in a speech not only why Britain should support Hitler but also why it should also encourage Hitler’s regime to rearm. He warned that “with the Russians armed to the teeth and the tremendous menace in the East, Germany unarmed in the middle is always going to be a plum waiting for the Russians to take…….One of the greatest menaces of peace in Europe today is the totally unarmed condition of Germany.”[48]

The strong pro-Hitler anti-Bolshevist comments continued the following year.  On 16 January the Conservative Unionist MP, Sir Adrian Baillie, addressing an audience at the Edinburgh City Business Club, resurrected the Nazi fairy tale that “a great communist outbreak had been planned for February (1933),” and that “it seemed that Hitler was only just in time.” He explained that “It was Hitler or Bolshevism. If the communist rising had taken place, things would have been infinitely worse,” and he thought it crucial that Britain should “appreciate that Hitlerism was a buttress against Bolshevism from the East.”[49]  The Edinburgh Evening News carried a report of the speech under the headline “Hitler’s Power – How he Saved Germany from Bolshevism,” according to which Sir Adrian had also claimed that if Hitler had not “been able to gather round him the best elements of German youth, nothing could have saved Germany from Bolshevism. He had saved Germany.”[50]

At the end of the month, on the first anniversary of Hitler’s coming to power, the Daily Mail published a laudatory editorial headlined “Hitler’s Great Year,” in which it reminded its readers that not only had Hitler “united Germany as it never was united before, even under Bismarck,” but that crucially he had “saved his country from the menace of communism and ended the class war.”  The paper concluded that “he has beyond question accomplished very great things, and he was justified in declaring that under him a new government and a new German nation have been built up.”[51]

A little more surprising was the equally strong support for Hitler from the Bishop of Bristol, Dr. Clifford Woodward, who voiced his opinion during a talk to the Clifton branch of the League of Nations on 26th February 1934 that “Hitlerism had done a great deal from the German’s point of view. It has saved Germany from communism.”[52] Even six months later, the Aberdeen Press and Journal could still doubt whether anyone could be found who might dissent from this view, asserting that “no one will care to dispute (Hitler’s) claim that the Nazi revolution which he inspired and led saved Germany and probably Western civilization as well from the menace of communism and a Marxian tyranny.”[53]

Towards the end of that year, on 28 November 1934, Lloyd George, speaking in the House of Commons, while arguing against any denunciation of German rearmament, returned to the same theme reminding his fellow MPs that “if Germany were seized by the communists, Europe could follow.”[54]  John Simon, the Foreign Secretary, admitted to the cabinet that he was delighted by the former prime minister’s statement. “We ought,” he suggested, “to make much of the British opinion in favour of this course,” adding that Lloyd George’s comments were “extremely useful.”[55]

Even as the immediate threat from a socialist inspired insurrection against Hitler seemed to recede, vigilance had to be maintained which meant that support for Hitler had to continue. On 30th January 1936, the third anniversary of Hitler’s coming to power, the Daily Mail warned that although “communism, which in 1933 was such a menace to the states of central Europe, is dead,” this would only remain so,  as long as “his (Hitler’s) hand is control,” and that helped to explain why “at the end of three years of power he is stronger than ever and more popular with his countrymen.” [56]

The following  September Lloyd George traveled to Germany and was pleased to inform readers of the Daily Express that Nazi propaganda and militarism was firmly directed towards Moscow.   They only wanted friendship with Britain. “I found everywhere,” he noted, “a fierce and uncompromising hostility to Russian Bolshevism, coupled with a genuine admiration for the British people..(and) a better and friendlier understanding with them. The Germans have definitely made up their minds never to quarrel with us again.” The German attitude towards Russia was one of understandable vigilance.  “Their eyes,” Lloyd George noted “are concentrated in the East as if they were watching intently for the breaking of the day of wrath.”[57]

His observation appeared to be confirmed a few days later when Germany’s new ambassador to Britain, Joachim von Ribbentrop, gave his first statement to the British press and repeated the one message he felt would best bolster British support for Hitler. “The Fuhrer,” he explained “is convinced that the only real danger for Europe and the British Empire as well, is the spreading of communism, this most terrible of all diseases – terrible because people generally only seem to realise it is a real danger when it is too late. “[58]

Even, in March 1936, when German troops marched west into the Rhineland, in violation of the Versailles Treaty and Hitler’s own assurances to respect its demilitarized status, those who, like Lloyd-George, had believed that German eyes were “concentrated in the East”, continued to argue against any intervention. The problem for the British was to restrain those in the French government who had been growing increasingly anxious about German rearmament and the heightened military threat on their own eastern border posed by the German action. Again, the primary argument used was that any military action could provide fuel for any potential communist uprising.  The British Cabinet minutes show that Prime Minister Baldwin considered this to be the most persuasive argument.

The prime minister thought at some stage it would be necessary to point out to the French that the action they propose would not result only in letting loose another great war in Europe. They might succeed in crushing Germany with the aid of Russia, but it would probably result in Germany going Bolshevik.”[59]

British politicians and intellectuals across the political spectrum remained willing parrots of this “Nazi Germany as a bulwark against Bolshevism” propaganda, repeating the same basic message, even if with occasional slight rhetorical variations, again and again. The distinguished author and National Labour MP, Harold Nicholson, remarked in his diary, regarding the possibility of military action against Nazi Germany following its remilitarization of the Rhineland, “naturally we shall win and enter Berlin but what is the good of that ? It would only mean communism in Germany and France.”[60] Conservative politicians also remained equally obsessed with the supposed threat and in February 1937 Colonel Hamilton Gault, MP for Taunton, informed a meeting of local Tories that he would prefer “to have a strong nationalist Germany as a bulwark against Russian Bolshevism than I would have a weak Germany that was unable to withstand whatever pressure which might emanate from her north-eastern boundaries.”[61]

Even the newly appointed British ambassador to Germany, Sir Nevile Henderson, appeared to support this view, conceding in a meeting with Franz Von Papen, the German ambassador to Austria, in June 1937, that British concern over the supposed communist threat was likely to mitigate any action his government might take if Hitler decided to invade Austria.  “Sir Nevile,” the German ambassador reported, “entirely agreed with the Fuhrer that the first and greatest danger to the existence of Europe was Bolshevism, and all other viewpoints had to be subordinated to this point of view.” Henderson had even gone so far as to assure Von Papen that “my view will prevail in London.”[62]  It was a virtual green light to Hitler, indicating he could now start to plan for the Anschluss, the Nazi annexation of Austria with its large Jewish community, without fear of British intervention.

The willingness of the British establishment and press to collude with Hitler was still clearly evident during a lengthy visit, in September 1937, of Mussolini to Germany, where Hitler held a series of events, speeches and meetings to mark the strength of the new alliance between Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.   The verdict in the Scotsman was that with respect to Hitler’s support for Mussolini,  Germany is “interested only to see that Italy is placed on an equal footing with Great Britain and France, and that Soviet Russia is definitely cut out of the Mediterranean”[63]


1. Robert Service (1995)”Lenin: A Political Life: Volume 3: The Iron Ring,” Macmillan Press, London p137 and A.J.P. Taylor (1991) “The Origins of the Second World War,” Penguin Books, London, p66

2. Allan Merson (1985), “Communist Resistance in Nazi Germany,” Lawrence and Wishart, London, p13 and 25

3. Allan Merson (1985), “Communist Resistance in Nazi Germany,” Lawrence and Wishart, London, p20, 23 and 27

4. Our Berlin Correspondent, “The German Upheaval,” The Times, 10 April 1933 p13 accessed online in The Times Digital Archive on 31 July 2017

5. “Germany,” Editorial in the Manchester Guardian, 1 March 1933 p8

6. The Daily Mail quoted in “Spirit of the Press”, The Lancashire Daily Post, 29 September 1930, p4.

7.  See “Hitler’s Statement to Foreign Journalists”, the Scotsman, 3 February 1933 p 9 and “Hitler’s Sweeping Onslaught on Communism”, the Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror, 3 February 1933, p12.

8. Reuters  report in several newspapers including “Trouble Beginning for Hitler”, the Portsmouth Evening News, 31 January 1933 p7 and “Street Fighting”, the Western Morning News, 31 January 1933.

9. “Communists Declare War on Hitler” – in both the Daily Mirror, 1 February 1933, p3 and the Western Gazette, 3 February 1933, p16.

10. “German Communists Declare War on Hitler”, the Sunderland Echo, 31 January 1933, p1 and “Reds Declare War on Hitler,” Nottingham Evening Post, 31 January 1933 p1

11. “‘War’ on Hitler,” the Manchester Guardian, 31 January 1933 p9

12. “Red Wave of Terror – Moscow’s Orders”, the Daily Express, 1 February 1933 p2. The same report was also carried under the heading “Nazi Journalist Murdered” in the Gloucestershire Echo, 1 February 1933, p1

13. “Marxism For Misery”, the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 2 February 1933 p6.

14. “Hitler and His Future – Germany’s Man of Destiny”, The Sphere, 18 February 1933, p218.

15. See “The Reichstag in Flames Last Night”, the Daily Express 28 February 1933 p1 and D. Sefton Delmer, “Nothing Shall Stop Us Now”, the Daily Express, 28 February 1933 p1.

16. See for instance Klaus P. Fischer (1995), “Nazi Germany: A New History“, Constable, London, p272.

17. “Hitler’s Questions to Daily Express”, the Daily Express, 3 March 1933, p1.

18. “Terrorism in Germany,” the Financial Times, 1 March 1933 p9

19. “Germany Under the Iron Hand,” the Daily Telegraph, 1 March 1933 p12

20.  “Hitler’s Challenge to Germany”, the Daily Mirror, 2 February 1933, p1.

21. Brand, “Hitler Chancellor of Germany”, the Daily Worker, 3 February 1933 p2.

22. See “Red Wave of Terror – Moscow’s Orders”,  the Daily Express, 1 February 1933 p2.

23. See for instance Klaus P. Fischer (1995), “Nazi Germany: A New History“, Constable and Company Ltd, p272.  He writes that “hair-raising accounts of ‘Red blood-baths” served as pretexts for mass arrests”.  Richard Overy (2010)”The Third Reich: A Chronicle“, Quercus, London p68, states that Goring ordered the arrest of 4,000 communists on the morning after the Reichstag fire.

24. For a report in the British press see “German Fascist Murder Gangs at Work”, the Daily Worker, 3 February 1933, p1.

25. “Dissolution in Germany,” Editorial in The Times, 3 February 1933 p11 accessed online in The Times Digital Archive on 18 July 2017.

26. Arthur C. Headlam, “In German Eyes: A Plea for Sympathy,” Letter to the Editor, The Times 24 October 1933 p10 accessed online in the Times Digital Archive on 29 August 2017

27. “Bela Kun in Germany,” the Daily Mirror, 13 March 1939 p3, “On the Death of Max Hoelz,” The Militant, Vol VI No 55 16 December 1933 p1 and Gyorgy Borsanyi (1993) “The Life of a Communist Revolutionary,” Columbia University Press.

28. Timothy W. Ryback (2015) “Hitler’s First Victims And One Man’s Race for Justice,” The Bodley Head, London p21

29. “Red Prisoners – Political Tuition by Nazis,” the Yorkshire Post, 24 March 1933 p9

30. Victor Cazalet’s diary 1934 quoted in Julia Boyd (2017), “Travellers in The Third Reich: The Rise of Fascism through the Eyes of Everyday People,” Elliott and Thompson Ltd., p155

31. Andrew Nogorski (2016), “The Nazi Hunters,” Simon and Schuster, New York p126

32. “The Hitler Revolution,” Editorial in The Times, 15 March 1933 p15 accessed online in The Times Digital Archive on 19 July 2017.

33. “Hitler Carries Out Peace Promise”, the Daily Express, 9 August 1933, p14

34. Peter Jelavich (2006) “Berlin Alexanderplatz: Radio, Film and the Death of Weimar Culture“, University of California Press, p242.

35. see both Richard Overy (2011), “The Third Reich: A Chronicle“, Quercus, London p74 and 79 and Klaus P. Fischer (1995), “Nazi Germany: A New History“, Constable p272.

36. “Nazi Displays in Berlin. Hull Man who was Eye Witness,” the Hull Daily Mail, 17 March 1933, p11.

37. Allan Merson (1985), “Communist Resistance in Nazi Germany,” Lawrence and Wishart, London p27 and p51

38. Klaus Fischer (1995), “Nazi Germany: A New History“, Constable, London, p274 and 276.

39. “Hitler’s Critics Here,” Editorial in the Daily Express, 17 April 1933 p6

40. Sir John Foster Fraser, “Hitler Out To Create German ‘Aristocracy of Labour,'” the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 5 May 1933 p7

41. F.B. McGarry “The New Germany. Some Impartial Impressions” in the Western Gazette, 25 August 1933, p12

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

43. Sir Alexander Leith in “Correspondence,” the Yorkshire Post, 8 September 1933 p6.

44. “Threat to Peace of a Bulwark against Bolshevism”, the Yorkshire Post, 2 November 1933, p6.

45. The Daily Mail, 28 November 1933, quoted in Richard Griffiths (1983), “Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany 1933-9,” Oxford University Press, p164.

46. D. Lloyd George, “Communism Must Follow if Hitler Falls,” the Daily Mail, 13 October 1933, p12

47. “Germany and the Jews: Bishop of Gloucester’s Reply to Critics,” the Cheltenham Chronicle and Gloucestershire Graphic, 7 October 1933 p7

48. Sir Arthur Balfour quoted by J.F.C. Dicker in “Grammar School Master’s Rotary Club Address”, the Lancaster Guardian, 18 June 1937, p11.

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

50. “Hitler’s Power – How he saved Germany from Bolshevism,” the Edinburgh Evening News, 16 January 1934 p9

51. “Hitler’s Great Year,” the Daily Mail, 31 January 1934, p8

52. “Dr. Woodward Asks Some Pointed Questions” in the Western Press and Bristol Mirror, 27 February 1934.

53. “A Complete Germany,” the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 18 August 1934, p6

54. Lloyd George speaking in parliament quoted in “Bulwark Against Communism”, the Belfast Newsletter, 29 November 1934 p9

55. Clement Leibovitz and Alvin Finkel (2011), “The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion“, James Lorimer and Company Ltd., Toronto, p76

56. 1st Leader, the Daily Mail, 30 January 1936 p10 quoted in Franklin Reid Gannon (1971), “The British Press and Germany: 1936-1939,” Clarendon Press, Oxford p89-90

57. “I Talked With Hitler,” the Daily Express, 17 September 1936, p12 and p17.

58. “Von Ribbentrop Arrives – Hitler Sees Communism as a Common Danger”, the Yorkshire Evening Post, 26 October 1936 p12.

59. Cabinet minutes 11 March 1936 quoted in Clement Leibovitz and Alvin Finkel (2011), “The Chamberlain-Hitler Collusion,” James Lorimer and Company Ltd., Toronto, p88

60. Nigel Nicolson (Editor) (2004), “The Harold Nicolson Dairies, 1907-1963,” Weidenfeld and Nicolson p139.

61. “Bulwark Against Russian Bolshevism”, in the Western Daily Press, 6 February 1939 p9

62. Clement Leibovitz (18 October 2010) “The Policy of a Free Hand Part 2. The Chamberlain Era up to Munich,” accessed online at http://leibovitztext.blogspot.co.uk/2010/10/chapter-xi.html and Will Podmore (2008) “British Foreign Policy since 1870,” Xlibris, p82.

63. The Scotsman, 28 September 1937 p10.

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