Watching the final episode of Andrew Marr’s* History of the World on Sunday, I was shocked by his manipulation of the events leading up to World War Two. After describing Nazi persecution of the Jews, there was a mere pause before he moved on to discuss the ensuing war. This pause should have wielded tales of pacts, appeasement and expansionism. Instead, it assumed the form of a knot, tying the two ideas together, persecution and war; a bond of causation. The persecution of the Jews + war = Allied intervention on humanitarian grounds. On reflection, I realised that this implication has been perpetuated within Britain for decades. It has taken me until now to recognise this simply because, until now, I was under the same illusion as many others. Although nobody has ever explicitly said to me ‘Britain waged war on Hitler with the aim of ending the Holocaust’, their silence on matters of appeasement and protectionism have, just as Andrew Marr succeeded in doing, implied exactly that.
The fact is that the Jews had absolutely nothing to do with Allied action against Hitler. Otherwise, there would have been war in 1935 when Hitler laid out his Nuremberg Laws which removed, among other rights, German citizenship from the Jewish population. But at this time, Britain and France were far too busy appeasing Mussolini’s use of mustard gas against civilians in Abyssinia to give a thought to the civilians of Germany. Although this was done in order to retain a key ally against Hitler (it was feared that resistance would drive Mussolini towards the Nazis), Allied motivation lay in self-interest, rather than humanitarian concern. Neither country could afford another war and Mussolini’s friendship made war less likely. Sorted.
And it wasn’t only Mussolini that was subjected to the desperate caresses of Allied politicians. Hitler too, in spite of his anti-Semitic campaign, was essentially receiving encouragement from Britain in his every endeavour, namely his dismemberment of the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler wants to rearm? Good on you, old boy! An Anschluss with Austria? You deserve it, my friend! Concentration camps? It’s nothing to do with us.
Admittedly, Hitler’s peaceful portrayal of Germany at the 1936 Berlin Olympics may have misled Britain as to the extent of Jewish persecution. Yet it can’t have been too difficult to see beyond the facade of a single part-Jewish fencer, generously permitted to represent Germany at the games, at a time when human rights were being violated so blatantly. Essentially, German domestic affairs held no interest for Britain and, whilst Chamberlain did relax immigration controls in order to accept the Jews fleeing the Nazis, this was proactivity at its least active. The predominant concern of the Allies was for foreign policy and the effects that Hitler’s extreme ideology might have on them.
Even in 1942, when evidence of genocide within Germany had become so overwhelming that it could no longer be ignored, Allied governments merely issued a declaration of condemnation. There was a hint of promise at the resultant Bermuda Conference, where Britain and America toyed with the idea of evacuating the persecuted to safe havens. However the US Foreign Office feared that Germany “may change over from the policy of extermination to one of extrusion, and aim as they did before the war at embarrassing other countries by flooding them with alien immigrants.” Best not then- what’s a few Jews, gassed and burned, against the embarrassment of saving them?
It is true that the Bermuda Conference came during a time of uncertainty, a time when any diversion of resources could have cost the war and all hope of salvation for those fenced inside concentration camps across Europe. However, when in 1944, Jewish leaders implored Churchill to bomb the gas chambers and railways leading up to Auschwitz Birkenau, Germany was on the defensive and the Allies, certain of coming success. Yet still they refused help.
This evidence exposes Andrew Marr’s assertion that ‘Nothing was worse than what the Nazis did, but their job here [the extermination of Ukranian Jews] had been made easier by what the Russian communists had already done’ as limited. Rather, the Nazi’s job was made easier by what Western Allies did. Or didn’t do.
Silence can be as implicating as words yet somehow escapes the reproach levelled at verbal wrongs. It is difficult to accuse that which is unsaid, so something as small as a pause has the power to corrupt history, unchecked.
* Preempting his readership of this blog, may I point out that I generally boast clear skin, an adequate social life and a womb.
“bloggers seem to be socially inadequate, pimpled, single, slightly seedy, bald, cauliflower-nosed young men sitting in their mother’s basements and ranting**.” Andrew Marr, 2010