On 30 January 1933 Adolf Hitler was made Chancellor of Germany, and only a few months later, on 14th October 1933 – now 85 years ago – Germany announced its withdrawal from the League of Nations after the three Allied powers declined its request to increase its military power. The featured document this month illustrates the interwar circumstances which led to Hitler’s rise to power. The Treaty of Versailles which had brought the First World War to an end in 1919 required Germany to accept responsibility for the loss and damage caused in warfare, forcing the country to disarm, make substantial territorial concessions, and pay reparations (fixed at £6.6 billion). These arguably excessive demands, the result of the “lethargy and folly” of British and French governments, added to Germany’s resentment against the victorious Allied powers. When Germany proved unable to keep up with the reparation payments, France and Belgium invaded the Ruhr, taking control of the industry to extract the reparations themselves. The government tried to remedy the economic impact by printing more money, which led to hyperinflation. During the 1920s, the US government supported the German economy with loans in what became known as the ‘Golden Years’, but the collapse of the American economy after the Wall Street Crash during the autumn of 1929 returned Germany to high unemployment and severe poverty.
125 Years ago
Winter 1893 • Age 18
“Distinctly Inclined to Be Inattentive”
Winter was not kind to Winston, but, as usual, he had no one but himself to blame. It began on 10 January during his holiday at the estate of his aunt Lady Wimborne. While being chased by his younger brother Jack and a cousin, Winston was cornered on a long bridge across a ravine some thirty feet below. There were a number of pine trees around whose tops reached the level of the bridge. Winston climbed over the railing. As he later wrote in My Early Life, “Would it not be possible to leap on to one of [the trees] and slip down the pole-like stem, breaking off each tier of branches as one descended until the fall was broken? To plunge or not to plunge, that was the question! In a second, I had plunged, throwing out my arms to embrace the summit of the fir tree. The argument was correct; the data were absolutely wrong. It was three days before I regained consciousness.”
It was a long fall onto hard ground and, in addition to a ruptured kidney, he had also broken his thigh, although the latter injury was not discovered until 1963 when an x-ray was taken aft er he had a fall in Monte Carlo.
Bradley P. Tolppanen is author of Churchill in North America, 1929: A Three Month Tour of Canada and the United States (2014). The original version of this article appeared in FH 142. It has been revised and updated.
On 14 December 1940, as Britain struggled alone against a triumphant Nazi Germany, Winston Churchill briefly set aside his heavy responsibilities to watch with his family and advisers Charlie Chaplin’s new film The Great Dictator. They were at Ditchley Park in Oxfordshire, which was placed at the Prime Minister’s disposal by its owner Ronald Tree MP, on nights when the full moon made Chequers, the PM’s official country house in Buckinghamshire, too inviting a target.
An avid film lover, Churchill naturally enjoyed this pre-release viewing lampooning Hitler, which starred and was directed by an old friend. The Prime Minister laughed throughout, especially the scene where two dictators throw food at each other. After it ended, Churchill returned to composing another secret cable to President Roosevelt.
Churchill had met Chaplin more than a decade earlier, during a tour of North America shortly after the Conservatives had been defeated in the 1929 general election. Despite sharp political differences, Churchill and Chaplin had come to admire and appreciate each other’s qualities, and Chaplin had twice been Churchill’s guest at Chartwell.
Not satisfied with only Austria, Hitler began demanding parts of Czechoslovakia, too. In September 1938, with war against Germany seeming increasingly likely, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich (according to a British Pathe newsreel, his first trip in an aeroplane), to meet the German leader. His aim of this ‘mission of peace’ was to secure a guarantee that there’d be no further German aggression.
On 12 March 1938, Austria was annexed into the German Third Reich. Despite pressure from both Austrian and German Nazis, Austria’s Chancellor had tried to hold a referendum for a vote on whether the Austrian people wanted to remain autonomous but a well-planned attack on Austria’s state institutions by the Austrian Nazi Party, on 11 March, meant the vote was cancelled. Power was transferred to Germany and Hitler’s troops entered Austria and on 13 March, Hitler proclaimed: the union of Austria and Germany.
Lord Randolph was still in South Africa on business during the summer when he received Winston’s letter recounting, among other things, the abandoned factory windows he and some other Harrow students had broken. In his reply to Winston on 27 June, Lord Randolph made no reference to the broken windows. Rather, in distinct contrast to many of his critical letters to his son, he began this one in a cheery upbeat manner:
You cannot think how pleased I was to get your interesting & well-written letter & to learn that you are getting on well. I understand that Mr Welldon thinks you will be able to pass your examination into the Army when the time comes. I hope it may be so, as it will be a tremendous pull for you ultimately.
He concluded the letter with “Ever yr most affte father” and added a p.s. that he was “doubtful about being able to bring home a tame antelope.” In a letter to his father on 22 July, Winston clarified what he wanted: “I never meant you to bring home a ‘live’ antelope. What I meant was a head for my room.” Read More >
Leon Bennett, Churchill’s War Against the Zeppelin 1914–18: Men, Machines and Tactics, Helion, 2015, 406 pages, $59.95. ISBN 978-1909982840
Long interested in both airship history and Churchill, I had high expectations for this book that melds both topics. To a great extent they were met, though with a few frustrations along the way.
Leon Bennett’s book centers on the German Zeppelin (airship) bombing raids against England (and especially London) during the First World War and the defense measures taken to meet the new air threat. German fliers tried to bomb the city for months after the war began in August 1914, but initially managed only sporadic raids against easy-to-find coastal towns. Weather was often the chief culprit—especially capricious winds that could push the huge rigid airships miles off course. Crude nighttime navigation was hit or miss, often the latter. British airships (also covered here) faced the same limitations—a key reason that Churchill, after initial enthusiasm, became a consistent critic of the technology. Despite his misgivings, however, the British continued their expensive airship program after the war until the R 101 tragedy in 1930 shut down the effort.
When the huge and clumsy Zeppelins succeeding in hitting something in the Great War, public panic far exceeded the casualties or physical damage. For here was an invasion for which, at first, there seemed no defense. Gradually the fledgling British Royal Flying Corps and Naval Air Service developed methods of fighting the floating “baby killers,” including the use of searchlights and anti-aircraft guns, plus slowly improving fighter aircraft. The airship’s chief weakness was its reliance on highly flammable Read More >
In the first volume of his Second World War memoirs, Winston Churchill published the following account based on a German report:
At 01.30 on October 14, 1939, H.M.S. Royal Oak, lying at anchor in Scapa Flow, was torpedoed by U.47 (Lieutenant Prien). The operation had been carefully planned by Admiral Doenitz himself, the Flag Officer (Submarines). Prien left Kiel on October 8…course N.N.W., Scapa Flow….The boat crept steadily closer to Holm Sound, the eastern approach to Scapa Flow. Unfortunate it was [for the British] that these channels had not been completely blocked. A narrow passage lay open between two sunken ships. With great skill Prien steered through the swirling waters….Then suddenly the whole bay opened out. Kirk Sound was passed. They were in. There under the land to the north could be seen the great shadow of a battleship lying on the water, with the great mast rising above it like a piece of filigree on a black cloth. Near, nearer—all tubes clear—no alarm, no sound but the lap of the water, the low hiss of air pressure and the sharp click of a tube lever. Los! [Fire!]—five seconds—ten seconds—twenty seconds. Then came a shattering explosion, and a great pillar of water rose in the darkness. Prien waited some minutes to fire another salvo. Tubes ready. Fire! The torpedoes hit amidships, and there followed a series of crashing explosions. H.M.S. Royal Oak sank, with the loss of 786 officers and men…. U.47 crept quietly away back through the gap.1 Read More >
Kaarel Piirimäe, Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Baltic Question: Allied Relations during the Second World War, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, xvi + 276 pages, $90.
This book’s cover accurately labels the Baltic nations “a neglected corner of wartime Europe.” But Josef Stalin never neglected them, occupying Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania without ceremony in June 1940. He had waited while fighting the Winter War with Finland in the hope that the three states would Sovietize themselves— which they did not. The swift fall of France that spring only fed Stalin’s suspicions that some sort of Anglo-German entente was afoot, prompting his move.
What could the little Baltic states do? Caught between the Soviet Union and Germany, they had no political leverage and even less military strength. All they really had was their own sense of cultural and (to a somewhat exaggerated degree) historic nationalism. As with Finland, the West reflexively empathized and sympathized (though much less noisily)—and did nothing. Whether the West could have done anything effective is what this book is about.
The stage was set for the entire war by the initial reactions of Britain and the United States: reactions too minor to be called policy. The personal involvement of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt showed equal indifference. Soviet concerns and reactions were far more important to the two leaders than awkward promises of self-determination made in the Atlantic Charter. Read More >
The greatest book of the twentieth century is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank. Anne’s tragically short biography is well known. She was born on 12 June 1929 in Frankfurt, Germany, a city with a long and rich history of Jewish culture. After the Nazis came to power in 1933, her family emigrated to the Netherlands and settled in Amsterdam.
Anne adored her adoptive country, but following the German invasion of the Netherlands in the spring of 1940 (on the day Churchill became prime minister), Anne’s father Otto began to make arrangements to hide his family from the inevitable Nazi roundup of Jews.
On 6 July 1942 the Franks and another family went into hiding together in a specially prepared “secret annex” at the back of a warehouse on the Prinsengracht Canal, now home to the Anne Frank Museum. Altogether there were eight people in seclusion: Anne, her sister Margot, their parents Otto and Edith, Hermann and Auguste Van Pels (known as the Van Daans in the book), their sixteen-year-old son Peter, and, starting in November 1942, Fritz Pfeffer (an elderly dentist known in the book as Mr. Dussel). Read More >
Professor David Patterson holds the Hillel A. Feinberg Chair in Holocaust Studies in the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies at The University of Texas at Dallas.
Malcolm MacDonald, the son of Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. As Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1939, he produced the controversial White Paper restricting Jewish immigration into Palestine.
Sir Winston Churchill was known for his foresight. Just as he saw the gathering storm over Europe long before the Second World War broke out, so he understood early on the singularity of what we now call the Holocaust, Shoah, Churban, Final Solution, Judenvernichtung, or simply, in Paul Celan’s words, “that which happened.”1 In his radio broadcast of 24 August 1941, just two months after the Einsatzgruppen killing units began the systematic murder of the Jewish people, Churchill announced that Jews in “whole districts are being exterminated,” adding, “We are in the presence of a crime without a name.”2
Well before the Nazis were gassing and burning Jews in the six extermination camps a year later, Churchill understood that what was to be called the Holocaust was something more than mass murder, something more than the annihilation of a people.3 Unlike most others, he had some sense of just what the Nazis set out to exterminate in their total extermination of the Jews, from Tromsø to Tunis, namely, the millennial teaching and testimony that the Jewish people represent by their very presence in the world.
Churchill’s insight into this aspect of the nameless crime can be seen in his view of the Zionists’ effort to seek a haven for the Jews in the Land of the Covenant. When as First Lord of the Admiralty he first met with Zionist leader Chaim Read More >
“British Conservative Opinion and the Problem of Germany after the First World War,” by Greg S. Parsons, International History Review 35/4 (2013) : 863-83.
This work examines British Tory attitudes towards the Weimar Republic through the lens of several issues from the 1918 Armistice to the 1923 Ruhr Crisis. A curious feature of British Conservative opinion at that time was its consistent hostility towards the new democratic German state. To be sure, Britain had fought a long and costly war with Germany, and passions had not cooled. Though from late 1918, the German government was committed to democratic principles Britain claimed to favour, many Tories doubted that the change was genuine or stable. During its formative years the Weimar Republic faced challenges that would have tested any nation. Political and economic conditions within Germany undermined the new government’s prospects; yet many Tories refused to consider these challenges. Ironically, the attitudes of British Conservatives added to the difficulties Weimar Germany faced in dealing with the postwar world. Read More >
For some years it seemed that the question whether Britain and France were wise or foolish in the Munich episode would become a matter of long historical controversy. However, the revelations which have been made from German sources and particularly at the Nuremberg Trials, have rendered this unlikely. (218)
The Soviet Proffer
[In March 1938 the Russians] wished to discuss, if only in outline, ways and means of implementing the Franco-Soviet pact within the frame of League action in the event of a major threat to peace by Germany. This met with little warmth in Paris and London. The French Government was distracted by other preoccupations. There were serious strikes in the aircraft factories. Franco’s armies were driving deep into the territory of Communist Spain. Chamberlain was both sceptical and depressed. He profoundly disagreed with my interpretation of the dangers ahead and the means of combating them. I had been urging the prospects of a Franco-British-Russian alliance as the only hope of checking the Nazi onrush….the Prime Minister expressed his mood in a letter to his sister on March 20: “The plan of the ‘Grand Alliance,’ as Winston calls it, had occurred to me long before he mentioned it….You have only to look at the map to see that nothing that France or we could do could possibly save Czechoslovakia.”…Here was at any rate a decision. It was taken on wrong arguments. Read More >
“It was to the interest of the parties concerned after they were the prisoners of the Allies to dwell upon their efforts for peace. There can be no doubt however of the existence of the plot at this moment, and of serious measures taken to make it effective.” —Churchill, The Gathering Storm, 1948
“I myself still believe that Hitler missed the bus last September and that his generals won’t let him risk a major war now.” —Neville Chamberlain to his sister, May 1939
“A mind sequestered in its own delusions is to reason invincible.” —Dante
In the early morning hours of 28 September 1938, a fifty-man Stosstrupp, a commando raiding party, assembled at Army headquarters of the Berlin Military District, home to General Erwin von Witzleben’s Third Army Corps. Commanded by Captain Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz of the Abwehr (Military Intelligence) the group comprised young, hand-picked anti-Nazis, half of whom were serving officers. The men were issued automatic weapons, ammunition and hand grenades furnished by Lieutenant Colonel Helmuth Groscurth of the Abwehr, who had been ordered to do so by Abwehr chief Admiral Wilhelm Canaris.1 Read More >
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