Political analyst, journalist
The recent festivities to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the defeat of the nazi Germany once again showed that the British and the Germans differ in their evaluation of many events of the not-so-remote past. The so-called "mass" or tabloid press in Britain extolled as best it could the role England played in the destruction of Nazism. More serious newspapers, however, underlined that the weightiest contribution to the victory of the allied forced was made by the USSR and the United States.
Full realisation of their active participation in World War II is nowadays the most significant factor of national self-consciousness in both Russia and Britain. Britons are proud of the contribution they made for the common victory, but, undoubtedly, that is not something that Berlin is prepared to praise.
Quite understandably, modern history does not look the same to Russians, Americans or the British. For Germans the 20th century history is first of all linked to their defeat, the sense of national shame, and either openly acknowledged or negated feeling of their historical responsibility and historical guilt.
Many Germans think the British are "just dotty" about World War II. In a recent article in "Der Spiegel" magazine the German Ambassador to London Matthias Matussek has given another proof of such an this opinion. According to him, the British are naive to think that they went to war because they had to defend the Jews from total destruction (even Prime-Minister Tony Blaire mentioned this in one of his interviews on the eve of V-Day). However, what is known as "the crystal night", an euphemism for the mass repressions against Germany's Jews that followed the murder in Paris of the nazi diplomat Ernst von Ratt, did not become a pretext for a declaration of war with Hitler. More than that, many in the British political elite were pro-German and anti-Semitic. "There were especially many devotees of the Hitler Germany among the British political aristocracy," Matussek admits.
The Germans also frequently blame the British and Americans that their WWII bombing raids destroyed Cologne, Hamburg and Dresden rather than railroads to the German concentration and death camps. In turn, many British historians think that those raids, irrespective of casualties among the civil population of "the third Reich" were justified by "strategic considerations". As for Americans, they have always said that bombing of German cities had the aim of "the moral intimidation". It also should not be forgotten that those were measures taken against the aggressor, who planned physical destruction of many nations.
It is indicative that in this case Germans demand that everybody plays by the rules they themselves violated. The nazi Germany unleashed an annihilation war in Eastern Europe, a war waged first and foremost against the Soviet Union and its civil population. The war was criminal from the beginning to end.
The screening in England of the film "The Fall" by German director Oliver Hirschbigel, telling of Adolf Hitler's last days, was taken as a reflection of Germans' nostalgia over the nazi past (by the way, the film is available in Russia as is T. Yunge's book "Hitler's Secretary Reminiscences", on which the film is based). By and large, after many discussions of events of the recent past Matussek concludes that Britons "continue to explain to the German barbarians that they have a long way to go to become a civilised nation". The influential "Frankfurter Algemeine", also taking part in this controversy, calls this position "the English moralische Arroganz" ("Moral Arrogance").
In his debate with the British Matussek admits that the liberation of Germany from the nazi regime was first and foremost the doing of Russians, and then - Americans and Britons. Of course, one can agree with such a sequence. On this score British historian Frederick Taylor, a steady opponent of the German ambassador, had to agree with him in his recent article in "Der Spiegel".
The Germans have of late begun to imagine themselves the victims of WWII. Matussek is the supporter of the opinion that Germans are almost daily engaged in re-assessment of their history. But such a statement is far from being true. For decades there existed in that country a silent prohibition to even discuss this topic. Owing to their lack of knowledge, the younger German generation nowadays do not feel any historical guilt and continue to reckon
that the war the nazi Germany waged against the USSR was "just".
Matussek is convinced that a "historical reconciliation" took place between Russians and Germans, and Russians respect Germans (for their ability to revive their country within a very short historical period, thus achieving great successes in its economic development) while the British, he opines, "just love to hate Germans". The Berlin ambassador attributes this phenomenon to "neurotic roots" of the British rather than anything else. In his view, doubting their own history makes the British strive to "master" the history of Germans, and there they wish to see themselves as winners. The current overwhelming of political correctness makes everyone wish to offer others one apology after another, and in this case such "mastering" of history gives rise to an endless progression of apologies.
For example, within this scenario the British have to seek the forgiveness of the Czech republic for the policy of appeasement of Hitler and for what is known as "the Munich collusion". It must be said that the word "appeasement" (of Hitler) acquired a negative undertone only after World War II. In 1938 this word, which actually meant giving in endlessly to the nazi Germany for the sake of saving peace (for London, naturally), was coloured differently, and upon the return of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain home from Munich, the British public welcomed him as a hero.
As they observe the way Germans go about their own history, many English people arrive at the conclusion that the predominant feeling of people living on the banks of the Rhine and the Spree is that of self-sympathy (Selbstmitleid) rather than of guilt for the deaths of millions of victims of the German aggression.
One of the co-authors of the scenario of the film "The Fall" is well-known German historian Joahim Fest. He also wrote "Hitler's
Murder Conspiracy", where he blames the British leadership of conspiring with the nazi regime in its striving to weaken the opposition to "the Third Reich".
In 1947 Hugh Trevor Roper, a well-known British historian, who wrote "Hitler's Final Days" called the opposition to Adolf Hitler some mythical creature similar to the centaur. Andrew Roberts, another well-known British historian and columnist thinks that what was known as "the opposition" to Hitler's regime was to a large extent an association of double agents of the nazi regime. In his last book, "Hitler and Churchill" Andrew Roberts mentions the arrest in November 1939 of two British MI-6 counter-espionage agents, captured at the Holland-German border by German agents who posed as members of anti-Hitler opposition. According to former British Foreign Minister Anthony Eden, the organisers of the July 1944 attempt on the life of Hitler acted in their own interests, never intending to support what he referred to as "our cause".
Lord Halifax, another former British Foreign Minister, discussing "Hitler Jacobins" in a conversation with Prime Minister Chamberlain said: "As usual Germans want us to make their revolutions for them".
Adolf Hitler's British Friends
A great many influential aristocratic families, politicians and big businessmen in the 1930s Britain saw at the nazi Germany with evident sympathy. Lord Londonderry, a man who represented the most wealthy nobility among the British aristocracy and was an important figure in the Conservative party, whom the King of Britain called simply Charlie, was the best and the mightiest Hitler's friend in Great Britain. His luxurious Park Lane residence nearby
the Buckingham Palace was the meeting place of the most influential British politicians, including members of the royal family. In 1931 to 1935 Lord Londonderry was the Royal Air Force Minister in the government of Ramsay Macdonald.
It is also important that Winston Churchill was Lord Londonderry's cousin, and Foreign Minister Lord Halifax was his close friend (according to traditions of Eton, where they both were students Lord Halifax acted as the "valet" of his senior colleague).
Major British expert on German history Ian Kershaw recently published a biography of this influential politician and public figure. (Making Friends With Hitler. Lord Londonderry And Britain's Road To War. London, 2004).
At that time the British fascist party led by Mosley took their bearings more towards Mussolini than Hitler and only had a membership of 50 thousand. At the apex of their popularity at the 1935 general elections they did not get a single place in parliament. However, there were other influential organisations in Britain that were sincerely sympathetic towards the nazi regime.
With the assistance of General Hamilton Anglo-German Association was set up in 1928, which was actively pursuing the policy of bringing London and Berlin closer together long before German Nazis came to power. The Association was disbanded in 1935 to be replaced by a friendship society called the Anglo-German Fellowship, whose establishment was energetically supported by the German Embassy and which had Lord Londonderry among its members.
Great sympathy was also shown to the nazi regime by the high-ranking members of the British Legion, an influential organisation of war veterans with a membership of 450 thousand in the mid-1930s.
The leaders of "the Third Reich" actively used this situation for reconnaissance and propaganda.
Another influential British friend of the nazi regime was newspaper tycoon Lord Rothmire, who owned "The Daily Mail" and "The Daily Mirror", as well as Lord Beaverbrook. Banker Earnest Tennant was another close friend of the nazi Germany. He did much to help Ribbentroppe to establish close contacts with influential British businessmen and politicians. (True, the British took Ribbentroppe sceptically - many of them knew that this vendor of sparkling wines had never had any education, acquiring the aristocratic distinction of "von" by cunningly arranging his own adoption by a remote but noble relation, and gained his capital after successfully marrying a woman who was the heiress of the Heinkel empire).
Despite the support of Winston Churchill in 1935 Lord Londonderry lost the position of the Air Force Minister, but was still regarded very influential in the world of politics. The fact was well known in Berlin, all the more so that as the minister he was replaced by his once schoolmate Lord Halifax. Not later than 1936 Lord Londonderry received an invitation to visit Germany where he met with Adolf Hitler and established close relations with Hermann Goering and von Ribbentroppe. The same year after the remilitarization of the Rhine region von Ribbentroppe who was believed to be eligible for the post of Ambassador to London paid a private visit to Lord Londonderry meeting with him at one of his Northern Ireland residences.
In December 1936 King Edward VIII, whose sympathy towards Germany was well known in Berlin, abdicated. In a report to Hitler von Ribbentroppe informed that the abdication was due to the King's alleged refusal to pursue policies that were hostile to
Germany. But Hitler was convinced that Edward VIII was the victim of a Masonic conspiracy.
The Anschluss of Austria in March 1938 made few people indignant in London. Speaking at a session of the foreign policies committee Prime Minister Chamberlain said there were no grounds for a change of policies in respect of Germany. Neville Chamberlain was confident that the policy of appeasement was correct. Immediately following the Austrian anschluss he made it understood that the government of Great Britain would not offer any guarantees to Czechoslovakia either.
The annexation of Austria to "the Third Reich" made Lord Londonderry postpone publication of his book "We and Germany". In the light of the latest events it became expedient to provide an adequate commentary. British public opinion evaluated the book as straightforwardly pro-German, proving the reputation of Lord Londonderry as "Germany's Biggest Friend", but on the whole the British press gave it a positive assessment. A copy of the book, autographed by the author was sent to Berlin. In his letter of response Hitler thanked Lord Londonderry for the book, informing him that he shared his view of the need to deepen mutual understanding between the two nations. Copies of the book were also sent to Goering, von Ribbentroppe, von Pappen in Germany, and to Neville Chamberlain, Lord Halifax, Winston Churchill and to all the members of the British Cabinet.
Lord Londonderry was one of those who hastened to congratulate Neville Chamberlain on his Munich achievements in October 1938. Regardless of the evidently criminal character of the policies pursued by the nazi Germany, Neville Chamberlain decided to continue pursuing the policy of appeasement. No doubt, his decision
was strongly influenced by the then fashionable pro-German British lobby. When after the occupation of Prague the idea of setting up "the big union", with a possible membership of the USSR to withstand the nazi Germany began to gain an ever bigger support in Britain, Neville Chamberlain was still opposed to it.
Serious political blunders were made at this crucial moment in both London and Berlin. London believed that its guarantees to Poland could stop the German aggression, thus allowing London to continue the policy of appeasement for the sake of preservation of peace. As for Hitler, he thought that London would have to reconcile with the capture of Poland the way it did following the capture of Czechoslovakia.
In his book Ian Kershaw stresses that the only viable plan that could then help to prevent war or at least to provide some alternative version of development of the situation was a British military alliance with the USSR. Public opinion polls carried out in April 1939 showed that 87 per cent of residents of Great Britain favoured establishment of such a union. However, that number did not include the two people who were personally responsible for British foreign policies - Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Foreign Minister Lord Halifax.
There are good reasons to believe that the military alliance with the USSR was not established on the brink of WWII also because of the activities of the British "Hitler's friends", primarily Lord Londonderry. Only on August 5,1939 French General Dumenq and British Admiral Ailmer visited Moscow for negotiations. However, the level of representation of both France and Britain was very indicative of the attitude of the official circles in London and Paris to the idea of setting up a military alliance with the USSR.
Only 18 days later on August 23,1939 a non-aggression pact between Germany and the USSR was signed in Moscow. It became clear in London that the war, which the British politicians tried to avert from Great Britain (attempting to direct the German aggression eastward) by endlessly succumbing to demands of the nazi regime, was now inevitable. Following the German invasion of Poland on September 3, 1939, Great Britain declared war on Germany. That also meant that Lord Londonderry's ideas as well as those of the entire pro-German lobby proved to be senseless. Berlin was quite skilful in using its British friends in the interests of the nazi leadership. Nevertheless, in September 1939 when the war was already raging, a meeting of British parliamentarians, still sympathetic to Nazis, took place at the residence of the Duke of Westminster, one of the wealthiest and the most influential people in Britain, who in 1939 joined "Link", an odious pro-German organisation, whose membership was something inadmissible even for Lord Londonderry. They thought of trying to find a way out of the situation, which they could not influence now.
The verdict the British gave to Lord Londonderry was severe. They called him "a German spy and a traitor". Lord Zetland, meeting Lord Londonderry at the House of Lords once could not but jibe at him, saying: "Hello, old man. I'm glad they haven't yet interned you". Such a joke could hardly please Hitler's friend.
The British papers accused Lord Londonderry for more than his entertaining von Ribbentroppe at his home - he had informed the man that Britain was not prepared for war. What is known as "the strange war", which Britain waged against Germany in 1939 to 1940 is another proof of that point of view.
An aborted British operation near the shores of Norway in April
1940 resulted in the fall of the Chamberlain cabinet. Ironically, the post was given to the man who was personally responsible for the failure of that infamous naval operation - First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill.
For some time Lord Londonderry was under the impression that after his new appointment Prime Minister Winston Churchill would give him the necessary protection, making him a member of "the war cabinet". He still hoped that as usual their relationships would play their role. However, the stigma of "Hitler's friend" completely blocked the way for his return to the ruling elite.
On September 13,1940 at a daytime bombing raid of London when the King and the Queen of Britain narrowly escaped death, the Park Lane mansion of Lord Londonderry was virtually destroyed. This, as Ian Kershaw stresses in his book, was a symbol of the crush of the British world of aristocracy and the diplomacy it had so long pursued.
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