Nazism Suits Germany – British intellectual stereotypes of ‘the German character.’
Pretext No. 7 –
for British appeasement of Nazi Germany
One of the most frequent propaganda themes of the British establishment, media, intellectuals and returning visitors was that the German character was somehow more suited to a fascist dictatorship. The British had a long tradition of parliamentary democracy and Nazi tyranny did not suit our character, but Germany lacked such a history and its people naturally preferred to be led by a strong leader. We, in Britain, should therefore not be too concerned by the restrictions on freedom and the regime’s brutal treatment of all who opposed it, as this was what was best for the country and also what the German people preferred.
A correspondent of the Yorkshire Post was an early and enthusiastic exponent of this doctrine, asserting in August 1933 that “Nazi Germany, and let there be no mistake about it – all Germany is frantically Nazi, is doing intensively what Germany loves to do and has always loved to do. At the moment it is shouting, marching to song, waving flags, doing, in fact, what is natural to the lusty, healthy – if you like, primitive – Germany mentality. (But) let no one ridicule this mentality. It is straightforward, physically fit, intellectually robust….. Nobody who ever knew the Germans could imagine for an instant that the Republic, the Weimar Constitution, the bickering of political parties, in short, state paralysis, could by anything but wholly alien to the German character.”
Three years earlier, in September 1930, following elections in which the Nazi party had dramatically increased its representation in the Reichstag from 12 to 107 seats, the Graphic had made a similar argument, although it was advanced less passionately. “The German,” it asserted, “is still politically immature. Excellent though he is in business, in politics he is neither shrewd nor far-seeing, precisely because he is so easily carried off his feet,” and it explained that “if it is further borne in mind that he has the herd instinct strongly developed, it will be more readily understood how Prussian militarism… enjoyed such a long lease of life. The German responds readily to the crack of the whip.”
In June 1932, an editorial in The Times had also expressed a near identical view, observing that the Nazi movement was “inspired by a spirit of discipline,” and that “it corresponds to an impulse deep in the German nature to obey and be obeyed,” and contending that “it carries on in a necessarily modified form the traditions of the old German army.” The paper then explained that Germans were concerned about a supposed “deficiency… in the training of youth caused by the enforced suppression of conscription; for to many Germans the backbone seemed to have been taken out of the nation when the system of compulsory service was abolished.”
Unlike communism, Nazism, though revolutionary, didn’t supposedly pose any threat to parliamentary democracy in Britain. The Sheffield Daily Independent assured its readers in August 1933 that “the fundamental commonsense of the British character will ensure that the recent history of Germany will not be repeated in this country.” Neither did British women need to feel concerned about their German sisters under Nazi rule. They were happy to be kept at home and keep their interests confined to cooking, housework and raising children as the Scotsman observed in November. “To British women,” it commented, “the National Socialist attitude may well seem barbaric. But her German sisters never were politically minded and ask nothing more in life than a home to rule over and an opportunity to mould the citizens of tomorrow.”
This dogma that Nazism was a form of government which was in perfect harmony with the German character, continued right through the thirties. John N. Doxat, returning from a visit to the Saarland six months after its population had voted, in January 1935, to rejoin Germany, writing in the Yorkshire Post, declared that “No one will find in the Saar grounds for a condemnation of Nazism… It has given a great majority of them a regime they evidently enjoy and shown how admirably Hitlerism suits Germans – or, how well Germans take to Hitlerism.”
There was not a word about the thousands who had besieged the French consulate for visas on the day after the decision, how the roads to the French frontier had quickly filled with desperate refugees or how those Jews, Socialists and other political opponents who remained had been terrorized. Nor any reference to those, like the socialist youth leader Karl Jung, who were left for dead on the streets or how others, like Lecourt – a 35 year old miner, only just made it to the French border. Lecourt’s battered body was, in the words of the Daily Worker, “a horrible example of the terrorism that was going on in the Saar.” Indeed, the same day that the Daily Worker published its report, Karl Meyer, a Rhineland autonomy activist, was shot dead, in front of his wife and son, by pro-Nazi Saarland police officers.
Naturally, the Daily Express was immediately voicing its support for Nazi propaganda. The paper declared, in two editorials, that British troops, who had been stationed in the Saar Protectorate to prevent the intimidation of voters, should not only be withdrawn as soon as possible, but that it had even been a mistake to send them there in the first place. On 15 January it encouraged its readers to “reject the false argument that their presence is needed to keep peace” and the paper further explained on 19 January that “it was a mistake to send British soldiers to the Saar… We do not keep our defence forces to fight the quarrels of foreign powers ( an implicit reference to the location of the Saar between France and Germany ). They are the shield and spear of the British Empire.”
However, the paper stressed that relations between the British army and the Saarlanders, at least those supporting reunification with the Fatherland, remained excellent and it published a photo on its front page of two British soldiers being carried aloft by a crowd in a street in Saarbrucken, with the caption “Germans in the Saar, wild with delight at the result of the plebiscite ‘fraternised’ with the English soldiers in their midst.” Hitler was so pleased with the pro-Nazi views of the newspaper that he immediately invited its Berlin correspondent to his mountain home retreat at Bertchesgaden to explain to Express readers that “Germany is anxious for peace, but not at the cost of honour.”
Nor was it just pro-Conservative papers which emphasized the enthusiasm of the Saar’s inhabitants for reunification with Nazi Germany, while leaving unmentioned, or relegating to the back pages, reports of Nazi atrocities. The relatively progressive Daily Mirror, on 16 January, carried the headline – “Joy over Saar Victory – Streets Packed by Singing Crowds.” It reported that “Everywhere is jubilation… Nazi flags bedeck every house from thousands of windows… good humour reigns pre-eminent,” and that “the Saarlanders have today struck probably the greatest blow for the peace of Europe that has been seen for many a year.” There was no mention in the subsequent two weeks of the many acts of intimidation and terror, although there was a reluctant, if brief, earlier acknowledgement that such violence was possible. J.A.P. Thewes commented in the paper, on 15 January, that “it would be childish to pretend there will be no hint of victimisation,” but that, on the other hand, at least a military conflict with Germany had been avoided. “There may be blood,” he concluded, “but there will not be much. And that as human affairs go, is a good beginning to a New Year.”
The underlying assumption of the establishment, including relatively progressive intellectuals and politicians, continued to be that, as distasteful as the Nazi regime might be, it was a style of authoritarian government which the German people preferred, with the implication that Britain should therefore not even consider “interfering” in the country’s “internal affairs”. In August 1937 the writer and National Labour MP, Harold Nicolson, gave a talk to the Liberal Summer School at Cambridge in which he argued that “political freedom and democracy have collapsed in Germany owing” partly to “defects of character,” especially “the average German’s lack of instinct for decency and fair play.” He claimed that “The German is hampered by his extreme competitive energy and by the disadvantage of possessing a categorical mind,” and he noted that “the German language possesses no word for our English adjective ‘fair.'” The lecture was reported in the Yorkshire Post under the headline “German Failings” and in the Western Morning News under “Germans Lack ‘The Instinct For Fair Play.‘”
Similar sentiments were expressed in April 1938 by Colonel Charles Ponsonby, Conservative MP for Sevenoaks. Writing in “Home and Empire,” he observed that although “those of us who have German friends find, perhaps, much more in common with them than with say French or Italian Friends,” nevertheless, “politically… they are different. They like to be ruled and ordered about.” An almost identical view had been put forward a few months earlier, in November 1937, by Murray Shaw, the secretary of the Derby Chamber of Commerce at a meeting of the local Rotary Club. He argued that “although he did not believe the English people would like to be regimented, the German people appeared to like wearing uniform and being told to form fours.”
He wasn’t even the only Rotarian to believe that members needed lecturing on this supposedly natural German aspiration to live in a highly regimented society. Bath resident Lawrence Fraser, in a lecture at a meeting of the local Rotary Club in January 1934, had given his audience a nearly identical presentation, reminding them that “there was an old saying, which was very true. ‘Give a German a drum, a uniform and a flag and he is happy,'” and, he added “that saying typified the uniformed legions of the Nazi storm troopers which one saw everywhere in Germany today.”
This supposed German love for uniforms was also highlighted in November 1936, by B.R. Reynolds, a school teacher from Dauntsey’s, an elite Wiltshire public school, at a lecture at Bath’s Trinity Presbyterian Church. He had returned six months earlier from an exchange school trip to an elite Nazi boarding school which was dedicated to “educating the future leaders of the movement”. He disclosed that the Germans put great value on uniforms, “a feature of German life,” and were “willing to sacrifice some freedom and so feel that the nation was getting somewhere along a definite path.” He appeared to agree with what he claimed was the German view that the nation had suffered from “too much freedom” and he reasoned that since he had been assured that “Hitler hated war,” it was understandable that the only other way to “have an outward and visible sense of unity” was “through wearing uniforms.” At least one of the twelve public school pupils, who travelled with Reynolds, was dazzled by the spectacle, noting in his diary that the German boys’ Nazi uniforms are “very smart indeed – light brown corduroy breeches, black riding boots, khaki coat, red arm band with swastika, brown coat lapels, blue shoulder straps and a dagger thing.”
Possibly among the most ardent apostles of the uniform dogma was a young woman, reporting her impressions of Nazi Germany in the Scotsman in May the 1938. “There is little doubt.” she claimed, “that the Germans have a uniform mind in both senses of the word. They are never happier than when they are in uniform parading to the strains of military music, in company with thousands of their fellow countrymen. It is this love of uniformity, together with a will to work, that are largely responsible for the success of the Hitler regime.”
The British belief that Nazism was a system which was peculiarly suited to the German character did not even fade with the outbreak of war. Sir Nevile Henderson, when writing his memoir Failure of a Mission in 1940, willingly confessed not only that this had been his view while carrying out his pivotal role as Britain’s last pre-war ambassador to Berlin but that he still held to it. “why,” Henderson asked, “should the German nation, accustomed to submission and amenable to discipline though it is, have endured its methods and its cruelties if it did not accept such methods as natural, and consequently regard them with an indifference almost mounting to tolerance, if not approval ?”
Henderson’s reasoning, which was astonishing when you consider that Britain was now at war with Nazism, was that, for Germans, the murderous Hitler dictatorship was the natural order of things and was a mere expression of the will of the nation. “The Germans,” he insisted, “like to be governed by an autocratic ruler,” adding a little later in his memoir that “(he) has a highly developed herd instinct (and) is perfectly happy when he is wearing uniform, marching in step and singing in chorus.”
1. “Germany Today – A Nation in High Spirits”, the Yorkshire Post, 2 August 1933, p8
2. Valentine Williams, “Adolf Hitler Plays Lead: Germany’s New ‘Iron Man,” The Graphic, 27 September 1930 p490.
3. “Germany Today,” Editorial in The Times, 18 June 1932, p13 accessed online in The Times Digital Archive on 18 July 2018.
4. “General Topics”, the Sheffield Daily Independent, 28 August 1933, p6
5. “The Place of Women in Hitler’s State”, the Scotsman, 3 November 1933, p6
6. John N. Doxat, “The Saar Under Hitler,” the Yorkshire Post, 2 August 1935 p6, “British and French Workers Rally for Saar Defence,” the Daily Worker, 17 January 1935 p1, “Intimidation in the Saar,” The Times, 18 January 1935 p11, “Battered Refugees Fly Saar,” the Daily Worker, 23 January 1935 p2, “Saar Police Shoot Down Exile,” the Daily Herald, 23 January 1935 p1 and “Nazi Police Murder Saarlander,” the Daily Worker, 24 January 1935 p2
7. “Opinion – No More Saar,” the Daily Express, 15 January 1935 p10, “Opinion – On Foreign Fields,” the Daily Express 19 January 1935 p8, “Wire and Radio Flashed These Pictures Last Night,” the Daily Express 16 January 1935 p1 and “Saar to be ‘Handed Over’ on March 1,” the Daily Express, 17 January 1935 p1
8. “Germany’s ‘Mafeking Night,’ – Joy over Saar Victory – Streets Packed by Singing Crowds,” the Daily Mirror 16 January 1935 p1 and J.A.P. Thewes, “In the Saar – What Now ?” the Daily Mirror, 15 January 1935 p10.
9. “German Failings,” the Yorkshire Post, 2 August 1937 p7 and “Germans Lack ‘The Instinct For Fair Play,” the Western Morning News and Daily Gazette, 2 August 1937 p7
10. “Germans Like To Be Ordered About,” the Kent and Sussex Courier, 15 April 1938 p12
11. “Hitler Loved by Most Germans – Happier People”, the Derby Evening Telegraph, 16 November 1937, p10
12. “Nazi Germany – Herr Hitler’s Rise to Power,” the Taunton Courier, 10 January 1934, p5
13. “In a Nazi School: English Master Relates his German Experiences,” the Bath Weekly Chronicle and Herald, 14 November 1936 p21
14. Old Dauntseians Association Magazine, Spring 2014, p20 accessed online at Dauntseys.org
15. “In the Fatherland”, the Scotsman, 16 May 1938, p16
16. Sir Nevile Henderson (1940), “Failure of a Mission: Berlin 1937-39,” G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York p24, p43 and 67