Pretext No 2 –
for British appeasement of Nazi Germany
The British elites also lauded the Nazis for “cleaning up” all the conspicuous “decadence and depravity” of German cities, especially Berlin. By the late spring of 1933, it was claimed, that one could at last visit the capital without worrying about the temptation of degenerate night clubs. The Scottish travel writer Sir John Foster Fraser, writing for the Aberdeen Press and Journal on 8 May, asserted that the “Nazis have stopped Berlin being the wickedest city in Europe,” and alleged that “many of the establishments in Berlin, where the entertainments were low in type, were in the control of Jews.” The key question for the future was “how can Germany stand strong and bold before the sun with these pests wriggling about its heart veins ?” This concern explained “the spirit of Nordic Germany today towards non-Aryans,” why “purification is in full process” and why “identification boards have been established to root out the Jews.”
In contrast, Martin Wiesmes writing in the Derry Journal ten days later, preferred to blame Germany’s earlier moral rot not on the Jews, but rather on “a flood of communism which was ever swamping new ground and claiming new victims.” There was no need to present evidence because “the fruits of the work of these communists were at once obvious. There was a general unwillingness to work, youth became lackadaisical and adorned street corners, decency was ridiculed and, where possible, ignored; licentious literature appeared on every bookstall,” and he continued “Germany (was) so crippled and bewildered that it had completely lost its way.” Most Germans had been shocked and outraged. “Deep in the heart of every individual,” he maintained, “was the determination to fight back to the old road and regain for this country its self-respect and position in the world,” and at last this goal had “now been reached by the present Prime Minister (Chancellor) Adolf Hitler in conjunction with his supporters.” There had, he confidently asserted, been a complete turnaround in which a new moral utopia had been created.
“Germany has been reborn and vice is being stamped out rapidly and thoroughly. The streets are being cleaned from what is euphemistically termed in Germany ‘modernism’; no licentious literature is permitted to be published; murders and robberies have been so curtailed and the participants so severely dealt with as to be now practically non-existent and everything in Germany has the appearance of being newly washed. There is a freshness in the air, and the hearts of the people are light once more.”
It was not only thanks to the Nazis, for “(alongside) Hitler, Catholicism has helped to fight this battle against Bolshevism, and the Catholics carry in their breasts the proud thought that through faith and untiring efforts they, too, have helped to extirpate the Red Terror.” If any members of the Communist International had read the Derry Journal, they would have been equally shocked to have discovered that their agents of terror had not only been supposedly responsible for an epidemic of laziness, murder and robbery in Germany, but also for the flood of pornographic literature.
It was not just the Communists and Jews, however, who, according to the British media, had been responsible for the “decadence” and “depravity” afflicting German cities prior to Hitler’s accession to power, but also the covert networks of homosexuals and other “moral degenerates”. Selkirk Panton, the Berlin correspondent of the Daily Express, writing in August 1933, commended Germany’s new dictator for ending the “dull despair of a spineless city,” adding that “Hitler has swept the pornographic literature from the bookshelves… He has closed the haunts and underground dens of the homosexuals. He has put the padlock on certain night clubs were moral decency only was considered the unforgivable sin.”
Even the Methodist Times, which had long pioneered progressive social reform in Britain, published a laudatory account of the new Nazi evangelism written by the Reverend Thomas Tiplady, author, composer and superintendent of the Lambeth Mission . Returning from a four day trip to Germany the parson was convinced that “Hitler has thoroughly captured the imagination and devotion of the young men and women of Germany.. (and) is as popular with his followers as John Wesley was with the early Methodists.” He noted that “his sign is the cross in the form in which it was carved at the time of the crusades,” while “the symbol of the Communists is the threatening fist.” He appeared absolutely ignorant of the thousands of Nazi victims who had been tortured, murdered or detained in concentration camps, asserting that Hitler “brought the whole of Germany under one central government, and he did this without shedding a drop of blood !” The assertion was even at odds with Nazi press reports which, by June 1933, acknowledged the deaths of 1,200 political opponents, but the numerous accounts of such murders did not prevent him from heralding a new renaissance. “The Hitler movement,” he declared, “marks the rebirth of a great nation.”
Many within the Church of England were equally passionate in their support for the moral puritanism of the new Nazi regime. In September 1933, the Reverend James Duncan, Vicar of the Durham mining village of Dawdon, wrote approvingly in the Sunderland Daily Echo, about the changes he’d observed during a visit to Berlin in July, noting that “most of the cabarets have closed their doors” and that “those that remain seem innocuous enough.” He confessed that he had “visited some of them, and, on the whole, I was more bored than amused,” but he was, at least, pleased that “now Berlin has become respectable.” He contrasted his positive impression with the city’s notoriety prior to Hitler’s coming to power, when “it had an unenviable reputation as being almost the worst (city) in Europe,” adding that “vice in its strangest and most twisted forms flourished (and) pornographic literature circulated extensively without apparent check or hindrance.”
In October the cleansing of Berlin and the rest of Germany by the Nazi party received the passionate endorsement of Dr. Arthur Headlam, the Bishop of Gloucester and chairman of the Church of England Council of Foreign Relations. In a letter to The Times he spoke highly of “their whole standard of life” which “is more wholesome and healthy than it has been,” adding that “Berlin has been cleaned up in a remarkable way.” He lauded “the great body of the young Nazis,” who were “the best element in the country, anxious for self-discipline and self-sacrifice,” and concluded that “we should show some sympathy for a people who are trying to win back their self-respect by self discipline and good order.”
Henry Wilson Harris, editor of the Spectator, also approved the “wholesome family life” under the new Nazi regime when he visited Berlin in 1934, noting that whether you “dine in a balcony on Unter den Linden and watch the holiday cavalcades trooping homewards,” or “brush against quiet looking youths in S.A. or S.S. uniforms peacefully wandering among the pictures and statues in the Kaiser Friedrich Museum,” you “feel that after all here is a fundamentally decent kindly people, cultivating a wholesome family life, taking healthy pleasures in the main in a healthy way.” He was convinced that “Hitler is the man who has lifted Germany out of the valley of humiliation and made the world respect her again,” and concluded that “it may be the best thing for all concerned that he should stay where he is.”
The Scotsman had reached the same conclusion as early as April 1933, only three month’s after Hitler had become Chancellor. “There is much that is quite admirable in Herr Hitler’s doctrine,” the newspaper noted and “in so far as Her Hitler is trying to reestablish the old German virtues his policy seems sounds and undoubtedly has the support of the majority of the German people.” In May 1933, an editorial in the Northern Whig and Belfast Post, under the headline “Worthy Elements in Hitlerism: Importance of Religion,” also praised Hitler’s supposed support of traditional religious values “Hitler,” it asserted, “has brought back religious instruction into the schools from which it had been banished. He has sense enough to see that communism, secularism, atheism cannot be met and overcome by mere enlightenment only or by education, but only by true religion.”
The following year, Dr. Walter Matthews, the Dean of Exeter, was a surprisingly enthusiastic supporter of the supposed new morality of the Nazi regime following a recent visit to Germany and in an interview in August 1934 to his local newspaper, the Devon and Exeter Express, he explained that “one of the things which one now noticed in Germany is the greater decency of the streets and the book stalls. Germany was previously one of the worst European countries in matters of that kind. It was actually very different now and this was largely due to the Nazi regime” and he assured readers that “the Hitler regime, on the whole, was definitely in favour or religion; it was certainly not anti-religious.” 
The Dean was by no means the first among Britain’s clergy to declare himself a convert to the new Nazi morality. A year earlier, A. E. Armstrong, vicar of Leeds Parish Church, was also impressed by what he witnessed on a visit to Germany in the summer of 1933 and his views were given prominence on the editorial page of the Yorkshire Post. “Whatever is national is being encouraged,” he observed, “for example, jazz music and lipstick are suppressed and folk dancing and community singing are furthered. The bookshops no longer display nudist periodicals but are full of pamphlets setting forth the Nazi view on everything from religion and marriage to biochemistry.”
British establishment support for Nazism as the better moral choice for Germany, often compared against the supposed risk of a communist takeover, continued through the thirties. Sir Robert Gower, a Conservative politician and MP, is an interesting example. In August 1936, he wrote to his local newspaper, the Kent and Sussex Courier, asserting that “the home life in Germany is sacred, not as in Russia where it has given place to ‘community living,'” and added that “much as I dislike Nazism.. I repeat that it is a thousand times to be preferred to Bolshevism with all its weaknesses.”
He did not point out to the paper’s readers that, despite his professed dislike for Nazism, he was a member of the Anglo-German Fellowship (AFG), founded the previous year, which had already attracted many Nazi apologists and sympathisers. By 1936 the Fellowship’s membership already included forty one major British corporations including British Empire Steel Products, the Dunlop Rubber Company, Firth Vickers Stainless Steels, Guiness Mahon, Lazard Brothers, the Midland Banks, Schroders and Unilever. The directors of ICI and Tate and Lyle, as well as the governor of the Bank of England and numerous MPs, including Sir Robert, also joined as individual members.
The stated aim of the AGF was “to promote good understanding between England and Germany and thus contribute to the maintenance of peace and the development of prosperity,” although as the historian Ian Kershaw notes “in reality the organization served largely as an indirect tool of Nazi propaganda in high places, a vehicle for exerting German influence in Britain.” It is also clear that the members, many of whom stood to gain financially from improved Anglo-German economic cooperation, were not the naive or unwilling victims of Nazi manipulation. Rather the AGF acted as a powerful lobbying group and its members, by virtue of their powerful elite status, inevitably influenced the British policy of appeasement.
While business continued to lobby for economic appeasement, key figures in the Church of England continued to press for a more sympathetic British “understanding” of National Socialism, urging people to try to look at the situation from “a German point of view.” German Jews, trade unionists, pacifists and many others were of course automatically excluded from such a perspective. As late as June 1937, Dr. Arthur Headlam expressed his view in the Church Assembly that “it was only fair to realise that the great majority of those people (who ‘accepted National Socialism’) believed that National Socialism represented a strong spiritual influence, that it had saved their country from a feeling of despair and that it might be looked upon as a real representation of Christianity.” In other words he was suggesting that National Socialism should not only be viewed sympathetically as a political movement, but as a spiritual movement as well, one that even deserved some form of recognition or at least understanding from the Church of England.
1. Sir John Foster Fraser, “‘Purifying’ New Germany,” the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 8 May 1933 p7
2. “Germany Saved on Brink of a Crash – A Defence of the Hitler Regime,” the Derry Journal, 18 May 1933 p7
3. Selkirk Panton, “The Truth About Berlin”, the Daily Express, 25 August 1933, p8
4. Rev. Thomas Tiplady in the Methodist Times and quoted in Hannen Swaffer, “I heard Yesterday,” the Daily Herald, 31 May 1933 p12 and “Nazis Admit 1,200 Murders,” the Daily Worker, 22 June 1933 p1
5. Rev. James Duncan, “I View the Fashionable Life of Berlin,” the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette, 15 September 1933 p2
6. Arthur. C. Headlam, “In Germany 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.
7. Henry Wilson Harris, “German Impressions,” the Spectator, 17 May 1934 p7-8 accessed online on 4 August 2017 in the Spectator Archives at http://archive.spectator.co.uk/article/18th-may-1934/7/german-impressions
8. “The Nazi Boycott,” The Scotsman, 3 April 1933, p8.
9. “Worthy Elements in Hitlerism,” the Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 20 May 1933, p11.
10. Dean of Exeter interviewed in “Herr Hitler – Hero Worship in Germany. People Friendly Towards England” in the Devon and Exeter Express, 31 August 1934, p1.
11. Rev A. E. Armstrong, “Rebirth of A Nation – An Analysis of the Spirit Behind Hitlerism”, the Yorkshire Post, 6 September 1933 p8.
12. Sir Robert Gower, “Bolshevism or Nazism,” the Kent and Sussex Courier, 28 August 1936, p12.
13. Martin Pugh (2005), “‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts !’ Fascists and Fascism in Britain Between the Wars,” Pimlico, London p269-270 and Scott Newton (1996), “Profits of Peace: The Political Economcy of Anglo-German Appeasement,” Clarendon Press, Oxford p66.
14. Ian Kershaw (2004), “Making Friends with Hitler: Londonderry and Britain’s Road to War,” Allen Lane, London p144.
15. “Church of England and Germany: Bishop of Gloucester Asks for A More Balanced Judgement,” the Yorkshire Post, 23 June 1937 p5