Pretext No. 3 –
for British appeasement of Nazi Germany
Another major theme of Britain’s press and elite opinion was Hitler’s supposed role in restoring law and order. In an editorial just one week after he became chancellor, the Scotsman declared that “now that he is in power (Hitler) is determined to uphold law and order.” One week earlier the Western Daily Press, under the headline “Nazi Leader in Saddle at Last: New Government Seeks Peace with All,” explained that “the new government’s immediate concern will be to provide work for the unemployed and maintain law and order in the country.”
Even twenty two months later, with no excuse for not understanding the barbarity of the regime after nearly two years of atrocities, a correspondent of the Dundee Evening Telegraph, reflecting the establishment’s pro-Nazi bias, claimed that Hitler “has restored law and order and made possible a peaceful existence in town and country,” adding that “he has a firm hold of the situation, and the people know it and appreciate what he has done.”
There were reports of the many extrajudicial crimes perpetrated by the Nazi regime, but these were often dismissed out of hand. For instance the Berlin correspondent of The Times claimed in March 1933 that an “American newspaper has done German Jews a disservice by reporting that mutilated corpses were frequently to be seen lying outside the Jewish cemetery in Weissensee.” The reporter then provided the justification for his claim, asserting that “the Federation (of German Jewish Citizens) says that the political upheaval (following Hitler’s accession to power) was accompanied by ‘acts of vengeance and excesses against Jews’ but that the government ‘sought with success to reestablish law and order as quickly as possible.” The Times failed to inform its readers that the German Jewish business leaders, who were the main influence in the drafting of such statements, had everything to loose by inferring any sort of criticism of the regime.
The Times continued to extol Nazi law and order the following year, despite an increase in extrajudicial disappearances and murders. In July the paper quoted an official announcement in Berlin that proclaimed that “law and order prevail throughout the Reich” and then boldly claimed that the statement “may be accepted without reserve.” This followed a weekend of unprecedented extrajudicial bloodshed during which hundreds of Nazi radicals had been executed on Hitler’s orders. Many of the victims, who were alleged to have been planning a coup against the regime, had been deluded by the earlier socialist promises of National Socialism and had been too openly critical of the alliance of convenience with Germany’s business elites. The Times, though it couldn’t endorse the “grim details” and “medieval methods,” nevertheless hinted strongly that it was pleased with the results which would guarantee that the Nazi regime would remain resolutely pro-Capitalist and nationalist. “No pity,” it declared, “need be wasted on the dead Nazi leaders, who on every reckoning have richly deserved their fate.”
The report on the purge in the Daily Mail was even less reticent in its enthusiasm, declaring that “herr Adolf Hitler, the German Chancellor, has saved his country,” and described how “swiftly and with inexorable severity (Hitler) has delivered Germany from men who had become a danger to the unity of the German people and to order in the state.” The following day the newspaper reassured its readers that “the task of cleaning up came to an end last evening and no further action will be taken in this direction.”
Many early enthusiasts of the new Nazi order could also be found among British visitors to Germany. A typical example was the Reverend J. Jameson, Vicar of St. Bede’s Nelson, who after a month’s vacation “touring (Germany) in charge of a party of the Church Lads Brigade” in the summer of 1933 informed the Burnley Express and Advertiser that “there was no doubt that he (Hitler) had succeeded in obtaining law and order, in place of the former state of chaos which was very serious indeed…… People of good standing with whom he had discussed the present position and tendency of events all agreed, he said, that Hitler had established law and order, and for that they were very grateful and were prepared to trust him to obtain further social and economic improvements.”
In September 1933, Professor Waterhouse, returning from a short stay in Germany, informed the Belfast Rotary Club that the average German felt that under Hitler “the streets are safe, and that the order and discipline his soul loves have been restored.” Pro-Nazi commentators, such as Dr. Walter Matthews, the Dean of Exeter, assured readers that British tourists need not worry any longer about coming across idle youths or unemployed men on street corners. In a 1934 interview with the Devon and Exeter Gazette, he observed that “another thing that impressed me is that one never sees tramps about there. The unemployed are not allowed to wander about. They are put at some kind of public work and so far as I was able to learn that has been a good thing on the whole“
Britain’s local press was only too happy to publish favourable reports of returning British tourists, even if they were not leading members of the establishment. In August 1935, an unnamed Nottingham lady’s letter recalling her family’s summer travels through Germany featured across two columns of the Nottingham Evening Post. She and her family were deeply impressed by the sense of cleanliness and law and order on Germany’s streets. She reported that “no unemployed are grouped about at street corners and open places, as they are here; all are absorbed in some kind of work or occupation….. (and) no litter is allowed to be scattered about, or spitting in the streets, so that everything is beautifully clean and orderly.” Who did she deem responsible for this achievement ? Naturally, Hitler’s storm troopers who’s role she described as follows
“The Storm Troops are a band of men like our Special Constables, who assist in keeping law and order – another excellent idea we might copy to help our police, besides giving work to some of our unemployed to keep their self-respect and make them feel they are needed.”
Another tourist who returned enchanted by the glamour of the storm troopers was a Miss. D. Drummond, the Principal of Portsmouth Training College. The Portsmouth Evening News reported her impressions of her summer holiday at length, without any editorial comment, noting that “she described the storm troopers as men of charming manners towards strangers, and very different from the scowling men of the fascists in the early days of the Italian revolution.”
The Berlin correspondent of the Daily Express also appeared to praise the role of both the Nazi auxiliary and secret police, explaining that “the auxiliary police force was enrolled at the beginning of the Nazi regime in February (1933) to assist the regular police in the preservation of law and order and in the tracking down of communists and socialists. It is considered that the Prussian (secret police) and the regular police now have the situation well in hand and that further employment of auxiliary police is unnecessary.” The sympathetic commentary, by the British press and British visitors, of Germany’s “special constables,” mostly Nazi paramilitary thugs, who had been drafted into the “auxiliary police”, was in total contrast to that of academics who have subsequently researched their role. Alan Bullock, the author of one of the most acclaimed biographies of Hitler, preferred to call them “the razor and cosh gangs” while Klaus Fischer, the noted historian of Nazi Germany, observed, as early as February 1933, that “all that these paramilitary members of the Reich had to do was to put a white armband, beating the words “auxiliary police” on their brown or black uniforms and they were transformed into instant police officials with a license to bully, beat or even kill ‘political undesirables.”
However, for most of the 1930s, the unequivocal condemnation of the murderous activities of the Gestapo and other Nazi agents was confined to the radical socialist fringes such as the Daily Worker which had observed, as early as March 1933, that “Sixty thousand murder gangsters have been sworn in as special constables”. Neither did the ugly realities of persecution in Nazi Germany dampen praise for the new regime from Britain’s many middle visitors.
In October 1936 one of Hull’s leading charity organizers, Rita Collinson, joined the growing chorus of Nazi supporters. She gave an exuberant account in the Hull Daily Mail of her limited and highly privileged experience of law and order in Hitler’s Germany and of the seemingly sensible and compassionate way in which it was enforced, at least for an Aryan foreigner on a short holiday. “Germany can teach us much,” she enthused, and mentioned as an example that “one pays a fine on the spot if one is caught dropping cigarette ends and waste paper on the pavements: also if one crosses the road in an indirect line. Once or twice I was pulled up by the police for some mistake or other but always with a smile, for being an “Englander”. I was not expected to know better.”
A similar view that we should admire and learn from the Nazi obsession with law and order and discipline was clearly expounded in October 1937 by the Reverend P. R. Landreth, lecturing on “The Secular and Religious Life of Germany” at the Synod of Perth and Sterling. According to the article headlined “A Lesson from Hitler” in the local Dundee Courier and Advertiser he explained to his listeners that “Hitler demanded a clean healthy muscular disciplined body for a patriotic self knowing soul to dwell in. No youth could be permitted to loaf about, with hands in trouser pockets, bent backs or round shoulders, with half-burnt cigarettes dangling from tremulous lips – people who could not look others in the face and were not willing to earn a living for themselves” and added that the Fuhrer “knew that a nation could not live upon amusement, but that it must be nourished by instruction. He wished it were more like that in this country.”
The reverend’s view was also shared by Britain’s newly appointed ambassador to Berlin, Nevile Henderson, who continued to speak approvingly of the disciplinary effect of Germany’s labour camps even after the outbreak of war. Writing in 1940, he confessed that he would still “particularly recommend” that Britain consider adopting the Nazi system of compulsory labour camps for training young men. “In my humble opinion,” he suggested, “these camps serve none but useful purposes… Therein one learns the pleasure of hard work and the dignity of labour, as well as the benefits of discipline.” He failed to mention the clear ideological purpose of such camps which was the indoctrination and militirization of the population. His passionate advocacy for setting up Nazi-style labour camps in Britain, coming as it did at a time when British propaganda should have been focused on persuading the population of the evils of the Nazism, clearly shows the extent to which the British establishment admired and supported much of what Hitler’s regime stood for.
By 1940 it is possible that Nevile Henderson’s comments might have raised a few eyebrows. Many had learned to become more discreet about openly acknowledging their enthusiasm for the Nazi regime’s methods of instilling a respect for law and order from a young age. However only two years earlier such endorsements were common. A young woman, writing for the Scotsman, in May 1938, after returning from a ten month stay in Germany, was rhapsodic about Nazi ethos of discipline and seemed exhilarated by her experience, recalling that “from the moment the train crossed the Belgian frontier at Aachen and entered Germany, I felt I was going to like the Fatherland. There was something about the neat, white-washed houses, mostly beflagged with the German colours (swastikas), which while giving a strong impression of law and order, gave me also a strange feeling of security. During the ten months I spent in Germany I never had occasion to lose this feeling.” She was also, like Reverend Landreth, pleased to see that “instead of the young men hanging about the street corners….they are put into (work) camps where they are provided with a uniform and good plain food” and concluded that “there is no denying that he (Hitler) has done great things for the youth of Germany.”
Even as late as 10 July 1939, months after the horrors of the Krystallnacht pogrom, and just eight weeks prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, the celebrated playwright and social commentator J.B. Priestley noted that “nearly every day in The Times there are persuasive letters, from good addresses, telling us that it is all a slight misunderstanding, and that if we knew the Gestapo better (as we may do soon) we should discover that they are fine, stout fellows.” Under intense pressure from the editor he later conceded that it was a “rash overstatement,” but it is not difficult to find ardent pro-Nazi sentiments still being expressed in many newspapers even in those final days before the outbreak of war.
Only two days earlier, on 8 July, Rita Collinson had been writing again in the Hull Daily Mail of her favourable impressions of yet another trip to the Reich in which she appeared grateful that, on arrival by ferry at the port of Hamburg, the Gestapo had formed part of the welcoming party, alongside “Otto” the interpreter, to “ascertain if there were any undesirables among the mere handful of passengers.” She concluded her article by quoting approvingly the pilot of a German Junkers airliner, the military version of which, within weeks, would be bombing Warsaw. “Let us work together,” he had suggested, “for a better understanding between our two countries.”
1. “The Hitler Regime,” The Scotsman 6 February 1933 p8, “Nazi Leader in Saddle at Last,” the Western Daily Press, 31 January 1933 p12 and “Germany Welcomes the Stranger,” the Dundee Evening Telegraph 27 November 1934 p2
2. Berlin Correspondent, “Herr Hitler’s Speech,” The Times 25 March 1933 p12 accessed online in the Times Digital Archive on 31 August 2017
3. “Medieval Methods,” The Times, 3 July 1934 p15 accesed online in the Times Digital Archive on 31 August 2017
4. The Daily Mail, 2 and 3 July 1933 quoted in Will Wainewright (2017), “Reporting on Hitler: Rothay Reynolds and the British Press in Nazi Germany,” Biteback Publishing, London p138-139.
5. “Impressions of Germany”, the Burnley Express and Advertiser, 5 August 1933, p11.
6. “Professor’s Impressions of Nazi Germany,” the Northern Whig and Belfast Post, 19 September 1933.
7. Dean of Exeter interviewed in “Herr Hitler – Hero Worship in Germany,” in the Devon and Exeter Gazette, 31 August 1934, p1
8. “Impressions of Life in Germany Today”, the Nottingham Evening Post, 15 August 1935, p11.
9. “Hitler and Germany – Miss Drummond’s Address at Cosham Institute”, the Portsmouth Evening News, 12 December 1933, p6.
10. “Hitler Carries Out Peace Promise”, the Daily Express, 9 August 1933 p14.
11. Alan Bullock (1962), “Hitler: A Study in Tyranny”, Harper and Row, New York, p261.
12. Klaus P. Fischer (1995), “Nazi Germany: A New History“, Constable, London p271
13. “Nazis Burn Down German Parliament”, the Daily Worker, 1 March 1933 p1
14. “‘Heil Hitler !’ Deutschland Through a Woman’s Eyes” in the Hull Daily Mail, 26 October 1936, p4.
15, “A Lesson from Hitler,” in the Dundee Courier and Advertiser, 15th October 1937, p10.
16. Sir Nevile Henderson (1940), “Failure of a Mission: Berlin 1937-39,” G.P. Putman’s Sons, New York p15
17 M. Low, “In the Fatherland” in The Scotsman, 16 May 1938, p16.
18. J.B.Priestly in the News Chronicle, 10 July 1939 p10 quoted in Franklin Reid Gannon (1971), “The British Press and Germany, 1936-1939,” Clarendon Press, Oxford p64.
19. Rita Collinson, “A Briton in Berlin,” the Hull Daily Mail, 8 July 1939 p4