Nazi propaganda and the United Kingdom

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The position of Nazi propaganda towards the United Kingdom and its inhabitants changed over time. Prior to 1938, while Hitler tried to court Britain into an alliance, his propaganda praised the British as proficient Aryan imperialists. Later, as the Nazis realized that they would have to fight the United Kingdom, their propaganda vilified the British as oppressive, German-hating plutocrats. During the war, it accused "perfidious Albion" of war crimes, and sought especially to drive a wedge between Britain and France.

History[edit]

Pre-war[edit]

Initially, the aim of Nazi foreign policy was to create an Anglo-German alliance, so before 1938, Nazi propaganda tended to glorify British institutions, and above all the British Empire.[1] Even regarding it, along with France, as "decadent democracies", Goebbels set out to court them.[2]

Typical of the Nazi admiration for the British Empire were a lengthy series of articles in various German newspapers throughout the mid-1930s praising various aspects of British imperial history, with the clear implication that there were positive parallels to be drawn between British empire-building in the past and German empire-building in the future.[3] The esteem in which the British Empire was held can be gauged by the fact that the lavish adoration heaped upon Britain's empire was not matched by similar coverage of other empires both past and present.[3] An example of this sort of coverage was a long article in the Berliner Illustriete Zeitung newspaper in 1936 extolling the British for "brutally" resolving the Fashoda crisis of 1898 in their favour with no regard for diplomatic niceties.[3] Another example of Nazi anglophilia included a series of widely promoted biographies and historical novels commemorating various prominent "Aryan" figures from British history such as Cromwell, Marlborough, Nelson, Rhodes, Wellington, and Raleigh.[4]

A particular theme of praise was offered for British “ruthlessness” in building and defending their empire, which was held as a model for the Germans to follow.[5] Above all, the British were admired as an “Aryan” people who had with typical “ruthlessness” subjected millions of brown- and black skinned people to their rule, and British rule in India was held up as a model for how the Germans would rule Russia, through as the historian Gerwin Strobl pointed out that this parallel between German rule in Russia and British rule in India was only made possible by the Nazis’ ignorance of how the British actually ruled India.[6]

Perhaps more importantly for gauging the Nazi regime's pro-British feelings in its early years was the prominence given to Englandkunde (English studies) within German schools and the lavish praise offered to British youth organizations as a model within the Hitler Youth.[7]

Change in attitude[edit]

Sefton Delmer (1958)

Up to November 1938, the English were depicted as an Aryan people, but afterward, they were denounced as "the Jew among the Aryan peoples" and as plutocrats, fighting for money.[8] This was sometimes modified with the suggestion that it was the ruling class alone that was the problem.[9] Goebbels denounced it as having a few hundred families rule the world without any moral justification, a phrase which had been taken directly from the French Popular Front despite Nazi opposition to Communism.[10]

The change of emphasis was due to Hitler's changed view of Britain from a potential ally to an enemy that would have to be destroyed. This emphasis increased as British resistance went on. Such films as Der Fuchs von Glenarvon and My life for Ireland did not show quite the crude stereotypes as later films such as Ohm Krüger and Carl Peters.[11]

The instant—and unauthorized—rejection of the peace terms of Hitler's July 19, 1940 speech by Sefton Delmer on the BBC produced a great impact on Germany; Goebbels believed it had to show governmental inspiration, and the German press were instructed to attack the rejection.[12]

Major themes[edit]

British imperialism[edit]

One of the major themes of the anti-British propaganda campaign launched in late 1938 were alleged British human rights abuses in India and above all in dealing with the Arab uprising in the Palestine Mandate which were used to illustrate the "hypocrisy" of British criticism of Germany's treatment of its Jewish minority.[13] A postcard dropped over Egypt showed a British soldier with Arabs dangling from his bayonet.[14] The Parole der Woche's weekly wall newspaper jeered at Roosevelt's description of the British as defenders of freedom, showing the torture of Indians and describing other atrocities.[15] A cigarette book recounted various colonial atrocities.[16]

In such films as Der Fuchs von Glenarvon and My life for Ireland, they are depicted as brutal oppressors of the Irish.[17] (My Life for Ireland, indeed, inspired fears among Germans of inciting Poles to rebellion.[18]) The "Scottish transmitter" spread such propaganda to Scotland and Ireland, about English atrocities in those countries, and the use of Scottish and Irish armies to fight England's battles.[19]

Ohm Krüger depicted them as oppressing the Boers.[20] This film depicted the British as seeking gold, symbolic of barreness and evil, in contrast to the Boers who raised crops and animals, reinforced by showing the British as prurient, and having the hero's son be brought to obey Kruger only after his wife has been raped.[21] Whereas Queen Victoria is presented as a harridan addicted to whiskey, Kruger is presented as an inspiring leader.[2]

British capitalism[edit]

Another major theme was the difference between British "plutocracy" and Nazi Germany. German newspapers and newsreels often pictured photos and footage of British unemployed and slums together with unfavorable commentary about the differences in living standards of the working class of Nazi Germany vs that of the working class living under British "plutocracy".[22] Germany was represented as an ideal collectivist Volksgemeinschaft (People’s Community) which put the economic “common interest before the individual interest”, which was contrasted with the supposed savage Manchestertum (Manchester capitalism) and individualist society of Britain where it was alleged that the rich had it all while the poor were left to starve.[23] So successful were the anti-capitalist attacks on Britain that reports to Social Democratic émigré Sopade from within Germany reported that the Nazis had made major gains with those German workers who had voted SPD and KPD during the Weimar Republic.[22] German propaganda asserted that the Second World War had been started by Britain to prevent Germany's social revolution from inspiring its own people to discontent.[24] The British declaration of war on Germany in 1939 was represented as an attempt to put an end to German Nazism, which maintained a generous modern welfare state that cared for the most poorest Germans lest British workers living under Manchesterchtum started to demand the same sort of welfare state for themselves.[25]

After the British withdrawal from Greece in 1941, the Parole der Woche's weekly wall newspaper showed a World War I British soldier stating that sandbags were not needed, since they had the French soldiers; this time, the paper jeered, the plutocrats had to fight themselves and could not hire others to do so.[15]

The Beveridge Report of 1943 was attacked as a fraud, being worse than what the Germans had achieved even in the nineteenth century and never to be permitted in plutocratic England.[26] The way the plan was to be put off until war was derided, though Goebbels tried to suppress it because Nazi Germany was also deferring social reform until after the war.[27] A Das Reich cartoon depicted the upper classes as being forced to it.[28]

Simultaneously, propaganda presented them as tools of the Communists.[29] A German parody stamp, of one depicting King George and Queen Elizabeth, replaced the queen with Stalin and added a hammer and sickle, and stars of David.[30] The Parole der Woche's weekly wall newspaper declared that the United States and Britain had agreed to let Stalin take Europe.[15] Using propaganda to present the Jews as being behind both helped juggle the issues of opposing "plutocracy" and Communism at once.[31]

Anti-German prejudice[edit]

A third major theme of anti-British propaganda was the “irrational” anti-German prejudices said to be held by the British establishment and the claim that Britain was an “old" declining country ruled over by a gerontocracy of extremely elderly men full of envy and hatred of the dynamism of “young" rising countries like Germany.[32] As part of the “young” nation message, major emphasis was given to the youth and the large families of the Nazi leaders, which was contrasted unfavourably with the age and small families of the British leaders, with the not so subtle implication that Germans were much more sexually virile than the British.[33]

Allegations of hypocrisy[edit]

World map of colonization at the end of the Second World War in 1945.

Attacks were made on Britain for the "hypocrisy" for maintaining world-wide empire while seeking to block the Germans from acquiring an empire of their own.[34] The film Carl Peters, for instance, depicted the title character as being driven from German colonies by British administrators and the weak character of the (pre-Nazi) German government, unwilling to do what was needed to keep and hold an empire.[11] In keeping with the attacks on the British empire, the Treaty of Versailles was depicted as a monstrously unjust peace treaty designed by the British to cripple Germany and allow British hegemony in Europe.[35] In keeping with this theme, German propaganda stressed that Britain had to maintain her hegemony over the centuries had manipulated the other European states into war, and Germany, the “guardian of Europe” was now standing up for all the nations of Europe in putting an end to British “causing trouble on the continent".[35]

Goebbels specifically attacked Britain with its empire objecting to the takeover of Czechoslovakia.[36]

Allegations of war crimes[edit]

Special editions of Illustrierter Beobachter denounced Britain and France for starting the war.[37] Claims were made both that France and Britain had started the war, wanting to make it a blockade rather than one that would actually hurt them, and also that they had actually invaded Belgium and the Netherlands, forcing the Germans to forestall them, a discrepancy that did not attract much attention.[38] A cigarette book announced German determination to face down "the war England has forced upon us."[16] Their intent was to prevent the social revolution in Germany from inspiring discontent with the plutocracy in Britain.[24] As France was falling, Goebbels wrote in Das Reich of the "missed opportunities" that Britain and France had for peace.[39]

Another common motif was to accuse Britain of attacking in a barbarous manner. Articles on British bombing raids accused them of targeting civilians.[40] After the bombing raid on Cologne, a pamphlet claimed that, in contrast, the Germans did not target civilians.[41] Goebbels took advantage of a 1943 memorial service for the victims of bombing raids to proclaim Allied guilt and German innocence.[42] Despite the encouragement it might give the enemy and that it did not inspire calm, propaganda shifted from playing down raids to playing them up, to inspire hatred of the enemy, and sympathy with neutrals.[43]

Goebbels also warned the German people that, having lied about German atrocities in World War I, Britain would obviously lie again in this war.[44] This theme was continually repeated in warnings against enemy propaganda.[45]

In France[edit]

France was a particular target for anti-British propaganda, to divide the allies.[46] During the war, radio questioned why the British had sent only a few thousand troops, and pamphlets depicted the British soldier as far behind the lines while the French soldier fought.[46] Postcards and pamphlets claimed that British soldiers were enjoying the charms of the French soldiers' wives.[47] This continued after the war, with cartoons, and many posters set out to remind the French of past relations with "perfidious Albion."[48] Mers-el-Kebir was exploited to depict French dying and Churchill as a killer.[49] A widely used propaganda poster urged the "abandoned populations" to have confidence in the German soldier.[50]

This was also used inside Germany. Das Reich depicted Britain as seeking to claim French colonies, and observing that it was blockading its former ally.[28]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 pages 61-62.
  2. ^ a b Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II, p31 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  3. ^ a b c Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 page 62.
  4. ^ Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 pages 71-73 & 77.
  5. ^ Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 pages 42-43
  6. ^ Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 page 91
  7. ^ Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 pages 77-78 & 81.
  8. ^ Robert Edwin Hertzstein, The War That Hitler Won p325-6 ISBN 0-399-11845-4
  9. ^ Robert Edwin Hertzstein, The War That Hitler Won p330 ISBN 0-399-11845-4
  10. ^ Michael Balfour, Propaganda in War 1939-1945: Organisation, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany, p162 ISBN 0-7100-0193-2
  11. ^ a b Erwin Leiser, Nazi Cinema p99 ISBN 0-02-570230-0
  12. ^ Michael Balfour, Propaganda in War 1939-1945: Organisation, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany, p195-6 ISBN 0-7100-0193-2
  13. ^ Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 pages 168-170.
  14. ^ Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II, p112 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  15. ^ a b c "Parole der Woche"
  16. ^ a b "Robber State England"
  17. ^ Erwin Leiser, Nazi Cinema p97 ISBN 0-02-570230-0
  18. ^ Richard Grunberger, The 12-Year Reich, p 385, ISBN 0-03-076435-1
  19. ^ Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II, p33 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  20. ^ Robert Edwin Hertzstein, The War That Hitler Won p344-5 ISBN 0-399-11845-4
  21. ^ Richard Grunberger, The 12-Year Reich, p 380-1, ISBN 0-03-076435-1
  22. ^ a b Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 pages 131-134.
  23. ^ Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 pages 141-147.
  24. ^ a b "England’s Guilt (1939)
  25. ^ Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 page 141
  26. ^ Michael Balfour, Propaganda in War 1939-1945: Organisation, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany, p296-7 ISBN 0-7100-0193-2
  27. ^ Michael Balfour, Propaganda in War 1939-1945: Organisation, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany, p297 ISBN 0-7100-0193-2
  28. ^ a b Cartoons from Das Reich: 1940-1941
  29. ^ Michael Balfour, Propaganda in War 1939-1945: Organisation, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany, p332-3 ISBN 0-7100-0193-2
  30. ^ Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II, p132 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  31. ^ Michael Balfour, Propaganda in War 1939-1945: Organisation, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany, p163 ISBN 0-7100-0193-2
  32. ^ Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 pages 100-101.
  33. ^ Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 page 106.
  34. ^ Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 pages 161-162.
  35. ^ a b Strobl, Gerwin The Germanic Isle, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, United Kingdom, 2000 page 213
  36. ^ "The Morals of the Rich"
  37. ^ "The Illustrierter Beobachter: 1934-1943"
  38. ^ Michael Balfour, Propaganda in War 1939-1945: Organisation, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany, p182 ISBN 0-7100-0193-2
  39. ^ "Missed Opportunities"
  40. ^ "Nazi Article on RAF Bombing Raids"
  41. ^ "The Attack on Cologne"
  42. ^ "In the Front Ranks"
  43. ^ Michael Balfour, Propaganda in War 1939-1945: Organisation, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany, p201 ISBN 0-7100-0193-2
  44. ^ "Children With Their Hands Chopped Off"
  45. ^ Michael Balfour, Propaganda in War 1939-1945: Organisation, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany, p171 ISBN 0-7100-0193-2
  46. ^ a b Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II, p180 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  47. ^ Michael Balfour, Propaganda in War 1939-1945: Organisation, Policies and Publics in Britain and Germany, p181 ISBN 0-7100-0193-2
  48. ^ Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II, p181 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  49. ^ Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The art of persuasion: World War II, p182 1976, Chelsea House Publishers, New York
  50. ^ "Propaganda Poster Supporting German Army in France"