Germany in the late summer of 1938 (2)

This is the second of the articles by my father following his two-month tour of Germany in the late summer of 1938.   It was published in The Times on October 4th 1938.

 

THE CRISIS AND ITS BACKGROUND

The article below, concluding the impressions of a recent traveller in Germany, describes the strength of the Nazi Party and its limitations and the contribution which Britain may honourably make to an understanding.

From a Correspondent

Twenty-four years ago a war broke out, for which the average Englishman believes a war party behind the German Government of that time to have been responsible; he casts no sort of blame on the ordinary German citizen.  With absolutely equal sincerity the ordinary German holds a different view.  Not seeking to excuse his Government for its pre-War naval policy, he believes that Russia for Pan-Slav purposes took opportunity to enlarge a Balkan quarrel, that when Russia moved France knew the hour had come for avenging 1870, that Britain culpably allowed Russia to be too confident of British support in any circumstances, that Germany turned to fight for her life, and that the German armies went through Belgium because in no other way could they deploy against the French rapidly enough to safeguard Germany’s national existence.

These opinions will not change now on either side.  It is better to agree to differ, and to cultivate that disputed ground so that it may raise blossoms of peace, not war;  for only by realizing the German view of 1914 can one understand the national attitude to the Versailles Treaty, still the most universally potent force in modern Germany.

 FIFTEEN YEARS

From 1918 to 1933, compulsorily disarmed as punishment for an act which she did not believe she had committed, Germany felt herself unable to ensure her own security in the midst of powerful neighbours.   Land frontiers cause a feeling of exposure which an Englishman can hardly appreciate unless he imagines the British Navy sunk.  Only then will he realize the German impotence of those 15 years and the horror of encirclement that is present always.  In so far as Herr Hitler maintains his hold over the whole German people, it is because he and he alone has been able so far to release them from the bonds of Versailles without involving them in another war.  He can evoke the emotions even of those who most abhor Nazi methods if he can continue to maintain peace and shatter the Treaty.  But if war comes the gratitude crumbles.  Last month a free vote of the German people would as certainly have shown a majority in favour of continuing National Socialist government, as a plebiscite for or against going to war to succour the Sudeten Germans would have resulted in a crushing defeat for war-makers.

To a large part of the German people, chiefly of the middle classes, Herr Hitler is a Messiah, and his will – or, rather, his interpretation of the principles of National Socialism – is the touchstone of morality.  Does it matter whether National Socialism is at issue with Christianity?  They are convinced that Adolf Hitler in his own person is providing the German race with a new religion.  Who suggests that the churches are not free in Germany?  All they must do is not to interfere in politics.  In the cottages of Catholics one may see a photograph of the Führer on the wall, over against a picture of the Virgin Mary. At Nuremberg swastika streamers float from church towers.  One wonders how deep, how widespread, is recognition of the un­appeasable conflict, and cannot tell the answer.

For all the outward neglect of religious observance in modern England, the influence of Wesley and those many others who stirred the national conscience still brings it about that the common reaction of Englishmen to public questions is fundamentally Christian.  A surprising measure of indifference to the concentration camps and the treatment of the Jews is perceptible within Germany, not among Nazis only.  That unimaginative quality of mind operates strongly, except when cases of tyranny come to personal knowledge. Largely the German public seems to numb its moral conscience with the feeling that the Jews are receiving very much what they deserved.  They knew how to manipulate financial crises and grow rich from them, one will hear it said, while we Germans saw ourselves becoming poorer and poorer, and less and less able to prevent Jews from acquiring positions of power which they would use to their own ends with no thought of citizen duty. The right of a foreigner to judge the Jewish question is denied, unless he lived long in pre-Nazi Germany or Austria.  Persecution when obvious has few defenders, outside of party disciples. Der Stürmer, that Government-authorized organ of anti-Jewish obscenity, which smirches all that is good in National Socialism, is exhibited in every town and village for old and young to read.  Apart from that, a visitor may easily forget Nazi heartlessness till he sees the notice “Jews Not Desired” outside hotels and swimming pools.  This notice hangs at the entrance to the village of Oberammergau.  The Christus of nineteen hundred years ago must have been watching as men nailed it there.

A FANATIC REACTION

National Socialism is not ” Prussian militarism ” in a new dress.  It is a fanatic reaction against the idea, long cherished by France and acquiesced in by Britain, that a great nation of 60 or 70 million people can be kept indefinitely subservient by an imposed treaty. Relentlessly it follows the programme dictated by its fundamental theory of race, and for its purpose it has resurrected a tribal morality—to which a Nazi would reply that the English had better abolish their slums and see what is left of their external policy after self-interest is taken away before they start to play the Pharisee.

Quietude can only come through Europe accepting or Germany retracting the policy of unification of all German peoples, by force if need be, to which Herr Hitler’s political faith so deeply commits him.  But it is neither the morality nor the race theory which secures National Socialism its popularity.  That rests on its victory over Versailles and its impressive internal achievements, strengthened by the typically German admiration for a fearless man of action.

The Government has reduced unemployment from 6,000,000 to nothing.  That cannot wholly be explained away in terms of absorption into armament manufacture, construction of barracks (of real architectural merit) and Autobahnen, canalization of rivers to make them navigable, the grandiose rebuilding of Berlin, fortifications on the Western Frontier, six months’ compulsory service in a labour camp, and two years in the Army.  A gigantic industrial revival lies at the back.  The Nazis have given the working man the so-called Labour Front, in theory making him co-partner with his employer, in practice securing him a number of safeguards and amenities.  They have created Kraft durch Freude, commonly known as K.d.F., providing entertainments and holiday trips for him and his family which would otherwise be far beyond his pocket.  They have promised next year a People’s Car at £50, and have organized with much success their Winter Help Scheme.  But, above all, since they came to power there has been a complete cessation of the week-end brawling and street fighting and May Day rioting which up till then were plaguing almost every town, so that many a peaceful citizen feels that what the present Government destroyed was not liberty but the misuse of it.

The Hitler Jugend gives every town-bred boy physical fitness and a chance to discover what a gloriously beautiful land Germany is.  Boys innumerable, walking or cycling with their packs, are to be met in summer on the road.  One mourns for civilization when one hears them repeating like automata all the political nonsense and bravado drilled into them.  How much of it survives the two years of hard army service which immediately follow the labour camp is uncertain; the army is realistic, honourable, not yet deeply Nazified.  As to physique, small German children look less healthy and sturdily brought up than ours, and England avoids that degeneration into obesity which is so common by the age of 40;  but between 15 and 25 the contrast in Germany’s favour is amazing, and will continue until there spreads again through England that spirit of willing personal discipline in pursuit of an ideal which is planted and cultivated with such supreme adroitness by Nazi propagandists.  On returning from Germany to England one’s eye is suddenly caught by something quite unaccustomed—the boyish slouch.

PROPAGANDA DEFEATED

Till lately, it was thought that the astonishingly efficient and wily propaganda machine could work up any feeling whatever in Germany.  For the first time the machine failed. Weeks of terrific propaganda against the Czechs made small impression on the national will for peace, and this during a period when British public opinion, played on by none but Nazi crudities, was coalescing with an extraordinary unanimity behind Mr. Chamberlain.

It is well to remember that Mr. Chamberlain and Lord Baldwin and men like them, had they been Germans, would have been excluded from public life since 1933, for they could not thinkably have acquiesced in National Socialist morality.  They would either have had to take refuge outside their country, or would be living in retirement, they and their wives continuously aware of letters being opened, telephone calls overheard, the secret police liable at any moment to enter and search their private papers.

These are times to guard against speaking of Germany when one means the German Government.  The Government, the Nazi Party, and Germany as a whole are three distinct entities.  Nuremberg during the Parteitag was crammed with the party, a city in uniform, such as you would not see anywhere else in Germany.  To interpret the feeling at a party function as the opinion of the country is a profound mistake.  Sentiments which earn thunderous applause there may be heard with grave disquiet by the mass of German citizens.  One wonders whether, in war, the unity of the nation would last two weeks, unless it was war against an attempt to reimpose Versailles.

Everyone in Germany looks to Britain.  Talk about decadence is waning.  The public has drawn conclusions from our defence estimates and Mr. Chamberlain has done the rest.  So long as the German people believe that Britain’s interest in Europe is to see justice done, her moral power beneath the surface in Germany is immeasurable.  There is no longer the hostility to France that existed while the Rhineland was at the mercy of French decisions. Herr Hitler knows his people well when he says that Alsace and Lorraine are not coveted. Germany will remember the occupation of the Ruhr as long as England the violation of Belgium, but a war of revenge against France has passed into the world of unrealities.

BRITAIN AND EUROPE

At the same time, every reference to Britain standing by France which is based on grounds not of morality but merely of self-regarding expediency, because our interests are bound up with the welfare of France, weakens our influence in Germany; it subtly rekindles in German minds, Nazi and non-Nazi alike, the idea of encirclement, of Franco-British alliance against Germany, and of Versailles.  But provided Britain will demonstrate a more continuous and intelligent interest in European difficulties and show that she is equally prepared to rebuke any of Germany’s neighbours for wrongdoing as she is to rebuke Germany, she need not fear for her prestige in that country if she sets her moral and material strength against the methods of the bully; and in that way realization is likeliest to come that there are conditions to be fulfilled on the German side also if the two countries are fully to understand each other.

The future is still unknowable.  National Socialist morality is wholly alien to us.  But no one need fear that he will be compromising with his conscience if he maintains that between the peoples of Britain and Germany lie all the loose threads of a permanent friendliness, waiting – whatever intervenes – to be tied up one day.

 

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