Posts Tagged ‘Nazis’

Children Saved from the Nazis: a Hero’s Story, review: ‘a humbling story’

February 4th, 2016

The Children Saved from the Nazis: a Hero’s Story (BBC One) was an uplifting programme. Shown to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to commemorate the death of Sir Nicholas Winton last year (at the age of 106), this was the inspiring if desperately sad story of how one man took a stand in the face of overwhelming odds and saved the lives of hundreds of Czechoslovakian children from Nazi persecution.

Nicholas Winton, seen here celebrating his 105th birthday

Visiting Prague in 1938, ahead of the German invasion, 29-year-old stockbroker Winton found himself besieged by Jewish parents begging him to take their children to safety. It was only his singular efforts and implacable refusal to be defeated by the hundreds of official doors slammed in his face that eventually led the Home Office to support his plan to transport as many of the children as possible across Europe, and convinced British families to take them in.

“The rest of the world closed its eyes, its ears, its heart and its gates,” said narrator Joe Schlesinger, 87, one of the 669 children saved by Winton – with unavoidably topical echoes.

An undated photo of Nicholas Winton with one of the children he rescued

At its most heart wringing, this was a film honouring the sacrifice and pain of parents who sent their children into the unknown to save them, while themselves facing a terrible fate. At its most hopeful, it recalled the full and productive lives lived by those rescued, and the fact that for decades Winton never spoke of, or sought any acknowledgement for, his heroic efforts.

Even his wife knew nothing of his heroics until, 40 years on, she stumbled across a trunk in the attic and the story came out – thanks largely to a feature on Esther Rantzen’s That’s Life TV show in 1988.

A humbling story, all the more powerful for this unadorned retelling.


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Why I forgive the Nazis who murdered my family

January 20th, 2016

The courtroom embrace was beamed across the world and has prompted a new documentary being broadcast on Channel 4 on Saturday night. Today Eva chuckles at the memory. She did not expect to be hugged, but insists not one part of her body recoiled at Groening’s touch.

“I was a little bit stunned,” she says. “But it was a lot nicer than meeting him in Auschwitz. He would have grabbed me then for another purpose.”

She has written to Groening in prison where the 94-year-old is serving a four-year sentence to seek another meeting.

“I genuinely believed he liked me. I saw in his eyes a lot of caring, love and sadness that he was part of it.”

Her decision to forgive has been criticised by many survivors of the Holocaust and even prompted a petition signed by 49 among them. Her husband, Michael, 90, with whom she has two grown-up children and is himself a former inmate of Buchenwald concentration camp, insists he will never follow suit.

Yet speaking from her home in Terre Haute, Indiana, Eva Kor remains resolute.

“Why survive at all if you want to be is sad, angry and hurting?” she says. “That is so foreign to who I am. I don’t understand why the world is so much more willing to accept lashing out in anger rather than embracing friendship and humanity.”

Eva Kor grew up in the village of Portc, nestled in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and so small it doesn’t even warrant mention on a map. Her family owned hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness and farmland. “But what good did it do us?” she asks.

“We learnt arithmetic by being asked, ‘if you had five Jews and killed two, how many would you have left’?”

She and Miriam were six when war broke out. Hungary, initially an ally of Hitler before he invaded the country in March 1944, quickly embraced the rampant anti-Semitism of the Nazis. Eva’s father, Alexander, was told he must register every fortnight with the police and new teachers were installed at the village school.

“We learnt arithmetic by being asked, ‘if you had five Jews and killed two, how many would you have left?’” she says. “The children were taught to hate and rewarded for it. My little playmates from the village became my tormentors.”

In early 1944, Eva, her parents, Miriam and their other sisters Edith, 14, and Aliz, 10, were forced from their home and sent with whatever food, clothes and blankets they could carry to a nearby Jewish ghetto. After two months they were told they were moving again to a “labour camp” and this time would not need any possessions.

Instead they were loaded on cattle trains bound for Auschwitz, part of the Hungarian transport of more than 437,000 Jews shipped to their deaths in just eight weeks.

“The heat was unbearable and we didn’t get any food or water for four days. Whenever the train stopped we would ask the guard for water and he would say, ‘four gold watches’. Then he would take a bucket of water throw it through the window. I had my cup ready but only ever got a few drops.”

Any relief at finally disembarking was tempered by the looming brick towers of Auschwitz. The family was soon separated amid the chaos of the “selection platform” where most were hauled off unwittingly to the gas chambers before even being registered. Within minutes Eva had lost her father and two sisters (and was never to see them again). Then a guard scanning the crowds for twins for Mengele’s experiments approached her mother, Jaffa, who was holding tight to Eva and Miriam.

“We were pulled apart crying. It was brutal and unbelievable for humanity. It still is the most difficult memory.”

Early on during her captivity, Eva stumbled across bodies of children piled up in a latrine at the end of their barracks. She did not tell Miriam, but vowed then they would both survive Mengele’s gruesome experiments.

“I remember Mengele looked very proper, dressed in a shiny Nazi uniform,” she says. “He was strict, cool, calm and collected.”

“I’ve found it most difficult to forgive my parents”

Eva was injected three times a week with at least five needles each time. She still does not know to this day what the contents were, but when the Soviet Army liberated Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, Eva and Miriam were still alive.

She says it has taken her years to learn forgiveness, rebuilding a life first in Romania, then Israel then the US. But it is her murdered parents, not the Nazis, who have proved the hardest memory to reconcile.

“I’ve found it most difficult to forgive my parents,” she says. “They didn’t save me from a place like Auschwitz and a destiny of being an orphan. That is what I felt.”

Eva first decided to absolve her former captors after re-visiting Auschwitz during the Eighties and later meeting Dr Hans Munch, another SS physician who worked at the camp but was acquitted of war crimes. In 1995 (two years after Miriam had died from cancer) during the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the camp she stood alongside Munch and announced she granted “amnesty to all Nazis”.

However Eva says only one other survivor (and Mengele twin) has since joined her – a man named Peter Greenfeld. To associate forgiveness with the Nazis is anathema to most.

Susan Pollock, an 85-year-old grandmother of six from Golders Green who in January was appointed MBE for educating young people about the Holocaust, also gave evidence at the Groening trial, but says his appeals for clemency left her cold.

“He was sentenced and found guilty and that is the important thing,” she says. “He lived a long life while more than 50 members of my family – little babies and children – were destroyed. I really can’t understand how she (Eva) could come out and say she forgives.”

Pollock was also shipped to Auschwitz on the Hungarian transport. Both her parents were killed while her brother, Laszlo, was forced to work in the Sonderkommando, moving bodies from the gas chambers to the ovens. He was the only other member of her family to survive, although remained terribly scarred from the experience.

Susan Pollock has weathered similar traumas but insists now she doesn’t carry any hatred in her heart. “I live with it by sharing and speaking,” she says.

What is most important for her is that the world always remembers. Unlike Eva Kor, she may never be able to forgive the Nazis; but insists none of us must ever forget.

The Girl who forgave the Nazis is broadcast on January 23 at 8pm on Channel 4


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Guy Martin: my grandfather fought for the Nazis

December 15th, 2015

An authentic antidote to the high jinks of Messrs Clarkson and co, he went on to renovate a narrow boat, reconstruct a beached Spitfire and investigate Industrial Revolution technology. And most eye-catchingly of all, in Speed with Guy Martin on Channel 4, he attempted to break a wacky series of hair-raising records on land, water, ice and in the air.

Martin’s grandfather was conscripted by the Nazis in 1941. No one in the presenter’s family had a clue

One of the most impressive of his feats was breaking the British record for outright speed on a bicycle – he hit an extraordinary 113 mph by using the slipstream created by a specially-modified lorry. (He has since said that he wants to reach 200mph.)

He also broke the British hovercraft speed record on Loch Ken, in Dumfries and Galloway, and the speed record for a toboggan, although, when he attempted to break the world record for the hovercraft, a change in wind direction saw him fly 100ft into the air at 76 mph, damaging the craft and forcing Martin to abandon ship.

A show on Channel 4 next year will see him attempting the world speed record for the Wall of Death, the epic fairground stunt that involves riding a motorcycle around a vertical wall. Martin – who, on top of his crash this year, broke his back and eight ribs in 2010 in a crash on the Isle of Man – is fearless.

But, outside of these adrenalinefuelled pursuits, he has a simple life. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, he is reluctant to become a full-time TV presenter, doesn’t even own a television (or a smartphone) and, while out on location, often spurns the hotel to sleep in his van with his dog. But it’s exactly this combination of eccentricity and humility that makes him so popular with viewers.

What choice did he have? You look at the bare bones of it, that’s all he could have done. I’d have done the same

Guy Martin

Knowing a good thing when they see one, Channel 4 persuaded him earlier this year to film a travelogue. Our Guy in India took Martin on a 1,000-mile motorbike trip around the country. And now he has made his most personal documentary yet.

“After Our Guy in India they asked me if I wanted to shoot abroad again. I said, ‘I’m not a big holiday person but I’ve always wanted to go to Latvia. Just to find out what it’s like.’” Researchers delved a little deeper and found that there was a much more compelling programme than a bog-standard portrait of modern Latvia.

It turned out Martin’s late grandfather, Walter Kidals, whose original first name was Waldemars, came from Latvia and had been conscripted by the Nazis in the Second World War.

He had then spent two years in a Belgian prisoner-of-war camp, before arriving in Hull as a refugee in 1947. No one in Martin’s family had a clue. Martin’s main memory is of a man who liked his shed and “didn’t say much”.

“His English wasn’t the best,” he says. “He could get his point across. He was just different, just the way he ate and the way he drank his tea. He’d mix anything with anything.” Walter shared so little that even his wife Lill, now 92, had no idea that he was an orphan.

Like tens of thousands of Latvians, when Germany occupied the country in 1941, Walter was offered a choice: fight for the Nazis, or face death. At 80,000, the Latvians formed one of the largest national groups of Nazi conscripts. What would his grandson have done? “You had no choice,” he says. “What other option was there? You look at the bare bones of it, that’s all you could have done. I’d have done the same.”

• Sons suffering the sins of their Nazi fathers

After the war Latvian soldiers were exonerated by the Nuremberg trials and surviving conscripts were allowed to settle in the US and Britain as political refugees.

For Walter, there was no option of going home to a country which was now part of the Soviet Union. To simulate the kind of welcome his grandfather would have received, Martin visited a former prison which offers a quasitotalitarian experience in which curious tourists are brutalised and shouted at in Russian.

“There was no friendly atmosphere at all. We didn’t have a chat beforehand. They wouldn’t shake my hand, told me to sign this form, and from there on it was a bit of a battering. I genuinely was bloody scared.”•• •

In Our Guy in Latvia Martin once more reveals himself as a hugely likeable one-off. His down-to-earth aura, and eagerness to throw himself into anything, would have brought a welcome injection of unmediated spontaneity to Top Gear, so it is all the more regrettable that he turned down Chris Evans’s invitation to join. Instead, he’s sticking to fixing lorries while nipping off to make programmes for Channel 4. “It’s not for me,” he says. “I’m sure it would have been good for a pay cheque but I think I’ve got the best job in the world.

“Television opens up some bloody great doors. That’s the plus. The minus is the attention it brings. It is a bit of a pain now just doing a few hours of television a year. I don’t want to be famous. And that would have been a whole new level if I had gone and done Top Gear. It would be just stepping into Jeremy Clarkson’s shoes.

“What we do on Channel 4 is like our own version. If they keep coming up with interesting ideas I’ll do them. If they come up with crap ideas I’ll just go to work.”

Our Guy in Latvia is on Channel 4 on December 14 at 9pm


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Nazis defaced portrait with cigar to mock Churchill

October 24th, 2015

During the Second World War, the house was taken over by Nazi officers, with its content left to their mercies.

Research shows one or more used a lighted cigarette to burn a hole through the canvas near to Sir Jesse’s painted mouth, inserting a cigar into the charred hole to mock Sir Winston’s own smoking habits.

Sir Jesse Boot, founder of Boots Company

When they were defeated, the house returned to the family and the picture was returned to the Boots headquarters in Nottingham in the 1950s.

It was only then that the damage was noticed.

The painting, now fully restored, has been loaned to the National Portrait Gallery by the company, where it is on display.

Secret of Winston Churchill’s unpopular Sutherland portrait revealed

Its history has now been pieced together from the Boots archive, and released to the public as part of a new project into the medics of the late Victorian era.

The project is intended to showcase the individuals who “pioneered social reform and made life-saving advances and discoveries in the diagnosis and cure of illness”.

It includes portraits and information on people such as Havelock Ellis, who raised the profile of the scientific study of sexuality, Florence Nightingale, and Frederick Treves, who worked with Joseph Merrill, the ‘Elephant Man’.

• Churchill presented himself as a ‘swashbuckling hero who would rescue any damsels’

Sir Jesse Boot, 1st Baron Trent, was the son of John Boot, the founder of the chemist, and is credited with transforming it into a national retailer.

Dr Peter Funnell , head of research programmes at NPG, said: “The Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue is the result of in-depth and wide ranging scholarship, which provides the first comprehensive pictorial and biographical account of pioneers in the field of medicine and health.”

It is available online now.


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Nazis ‘built underground nuclear weapons facility using slave labour’

January 22nd, 2015

The town was the site of the notorious Gusen II concentration camp, one of the Mauthausen-Gusen group, where forced labourers were worked to death. Some 320,000 people are believed to have died in the camps.

The inmates of Gusen II were made to dig the huge Bergkristall underground complex where V-2 rockets and the Messerschmitt Me 262, the world’s first jet fighter, were built.

Mr Sulzer believes the network of tunnels he has discovered nearby may have been a separate facility of the Bergkristall project.

But while the main Bergkristall complex was extensively investigated by the Allies after the end of the war, the Nazis appear to have gone to far greater lengths to conceal the second complex, sealing the entrance with huge granite slabs, and it has remained largely undisturbed.

Mr Sulzer and a team unearthed the entrance to the bunker last year, but were ordered to stop excavations by the authorities because they did not have the proper permits.

Now Mr Sulzer claims he has found Nazi blueprints for the complex of tunnels, and is demanding a proper investigation of what lies within.


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The day Churchill saved Britain from the Nazis

October 16th, 2014

The question before the meeting was very simple. Should Britain fight? Was it reasonable for young British troops to die in a war that showed every sign of being lost? Or should the British do some kind of deal that might well save hundreds of thousands of lives?

I don’t think many people of my generation are fully conscious of how close we came to such a deal. There were serious and influential voices who wanted to begin “negotiations”.

It is not hard to see why they thought as they did. The War Cabinet was staring at the biggest humiliation for British armed forces since the loss of the American colonies, and there seemed no way back.

Everyone in that room could imagine the consequences of fighting on. They knew all about war; some of them had fought in the Great War, and the hideous memory of that slaughter was only 22 years old. There was scarcely a family in Britain that had not been touched by sorrow. Was it right – was it fair – to ask the people to go through all that again? And to what end?

It seems from the Cabinet minutes that the meeting more or less kicked off with Halifax. He went straight to the point.

The Italian embassy had sent a message, he said: that this was Britain’s moment to seek mediation via Italy. This was not just a simple overture from Mussolini: it was surely a signal from his senior partner. Coiling itself round Whitehall and penetrating the heart of the House of Commons, it was a feeler from Hitler.

Churchill knew exactly what was going on. He told Halifax to forget it. Britain had been at war with Germany, and had been since September 1 the previous year. It was a war for freedom and for principle. The minute Britain accepted some Italian offer of mediation, Churchill knew that the sinews of resistance would relax. A white flag would be raised over Britain.

So he said no to Halifax. In another country, the debate might therefore have been at an end. But that is not how the British constitution works: the prime minister is primus inter pares – first among equals; he must to some extent carry his colleagues with him; and to understand the dynamics of that conversation, we must remember the fragility of Churchill’s position.

He had been prime minister for less than three weeks, and it was far from clear who were his real allies round the table. Attlee and Greenwood, the Labour contingent, were broadly supportive; and the same can be said for Sinclair the Liberal. But it was the Tories on whom he depended for his mandate – and the Tories were far from sure about Winston Churchill.

Neville Chamberlain, second left, meeting Mussolini in Rome

From his very emergence as a young Tory MP he had bashed and satirised his own party; he had then deserted them for the Liberals, and though he had eventually returned to the fold, there were too many Tories who thought of him as an unprincipled opportunist.

Halifax had been over to see Hitler in 1937 – and he had an embarrassing familiarity with Goering. But in his own way, Halifax was a patriot as much as Churchill.

He thought he could see a way to protect Britain and to safeguard the Empire, and to save lives; and it is not as if he was alone. The British ruling class was riddled with appeasers and pro-Nazis. It wasn’t just the Mitfords, or the followers of Sir Oswald Mosley.

In 1936 Lady Nelly Cecil noted that nearly all of her relatives were “tender to the Nazis”, and the reason was simple. In the Thirties, your average toff was much more fearful of Bolshevism, and communisms’ alarming ideology of redistribution, than they were fearful of Hitler. Indeed, they saw fascism as a bulwark against the reds, and they had high-level political backing.

David Lloyd George had been so dazzled by the Führer that he compared him to George Washington. Hitler was a “born leader”, declared the befuddled former British prime minister. He wished that Britain had “a man of his supreme quality at the head of affairs in our country today”. This from the hero of the First World War!

The Daily Mail had long been campaigning for Hitler to be given a free hand in eastern Europe, the better to beat up the bolshies. “If Hitler did not exist,” said the Mail, “all western Europe might now be clamouring for such a champion.”

The Times had been so pro-appeasement that the editor, Geoffrey Dawson, described how he used to go through the proofs taking out anything that might offend the Germans. The press baron Beaverbrook himself had sacked Churchill from his Evening Standard column on the grounds that he was too hard on the Nazis. Respectable liberal opinion – theatre types like John Gielgud, Sybil Thorndike, GB Shaw – was lobbying for the government to “give consideration” to talks.

Of course, the mood had changed in the last year; feelings against Germany had hardened. All I am saying – in mitigation of Halifax – is that, in seeking peace, he had the support of many British people, at all levels of society. And so the argument went on, between Halifax and the prime minister, for that crucial hour.

It was a stalemate; and it was now – according to most historians – that Churchill played his masterstroke. He announced that the meeting would be adjourned, and would begin again at 7pm. He then convened the Cabinet of 25, ministers from every department – many of whom were to hear him as prime minister for the first time.

The bigger the audience, the more fervid the atmosphere; and now he made an appeal to the emotions. Before the full Cabinet he made a quite astonishing speech – without any hint of the intellectual restraint he had been obliged to display in the smaller meeting.

He began calmly enough: “I have thought carefully in these last days whether it was part of my duty to consider entering into negotiations with That Man.”

And he ended with this almost Shakespearean climax: “And I am convinced that every one of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”

At this the men in that room were so moved that they cheered and shouted, and some of them ran round and clapped him on the back.

Churchill had ruthlessly dramatised and personalised the debate. By the time the War Cabinet resumed at 7pm, the debate was over; Halifax abandoned his cause. Churchill had the clear and noisy backing of the Cabinet.

Within a year of that decision – to fight and not to negotiate – 30,000 British men, women and children had been killed, almost all of them at German hands. Weighing up those alternatives – a humiliating peace, or a slaughter of the innocents – it is hard to imagine any modern British politician having the guts to take Churchill’s line.

He had the vast and almost reckless moral courage to see that fighting on would be appalling, but that surrender would be even worse. He was right.

. Boris Johnson will be taking part in a Q&A with Gaby Wood on October 23 at Imperial College London


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Boris Johnson: The day Churchill saved Britain from the Nazis

October 13th, 2014

What I mean is that Nazi gains in Europe might well have been irreversible. We rightly moan today about the deficiencies of the European Union – and yet we have forgotten about the sheer horror of that all too possible of possible worlds.

We need to remember it today, and we need to remember the ways in which this British Prime Minister helped to make the world we still live in. Across the globe – from Europe to Russia to Africa to the Middle East – we see traces of his shaping mind.

At several moments he was the beaver who dammed the flow of events; and never did he affect the course of history more profoundly than in 1940.

Churchill was in the chair at that meeting. On one side was Neville Chamberlain, the high-collared, stiff-necked and toothbrush-moustached ex-Prime Minister, and the man Churchill had unceremoniously replaced. Rightly or wrongly, Chamberlain was blamed for fatally under-estimating the Hitler menace, and for the failure of appeasement. When the Nazis had bundled Britain out of Norway earlier that month, it was Chamberlain who took the rap.

Then there was Lord Halifax, the tall, cadaverous Foreign Secretary who had been born with a withered left hand that he concealed in a black glove; he had been Chamberlain’s choice of successor. There was Archibald Sinclair, the leader of the Liberal Party that Churchill had dumped. There were Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood – representatives of the Labour Party against which he had directed some of his most hysterical invective. There was the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Edward Bridges, taking notes.

The question before the meeting was very simple, and one they had been chewing over for the last few days, as the news got blacker and blacker. No one exactly spelled it out, but everyone could see what it was. Should Britain fight? Was it reasonable for young British troops to die in a war that showed every sign of being lost? Or should the British do some kind of deal that might well save hundreds of thousands of lives?

I don’t think many people of my generation – let alone my children’s generation – are fully conscious of how close we came to such a deal; how Britain could have discreetly, and rationally, called it quits in 1940. There were serious and influential voices who wanted to begin “negotiations”.

It is not hard to see why they thought as they did. The War Cabinet was staring at the biggest humiliation for British armed forces since the loss of the American colonies, and there seemed no way back.

Everyone in that room could imagine the consequences of fighting on. They knew all about war; some of them had fought in the Great War, and the hideous memory of that slaughter was only twenty-two years old – less distant in time from them than the first Gulf War is from us today.

There was scarcely a family in Britain that had not been touched by sorrow. Was it right – was it fair – to ask the people to go through all that again? And to what end?

It seems from the cabinet minutes that the meeting more or less kicked off with Halifax. He went straight to the point: the argument he had been making for the last few days.

The Italian embassy had sent a message, he said: that this was Britain’s moment to seek mediation via Italy. This was not just a simple overture from Mussolini: it was surely a signal from his senior partner. Coiling itself round Whitehall and penetrating the heart of the House of Commons, it was a feeler from Hitler.

Churchill knew exactly what was going on. Contemporary accounts say he was by now showing signs of fatigue. He was sixty-five, and he was driving his staff and his generals to distraction by his habit of working on into the small hours – fuelled by brandy and liqueurs – ringing round Whitehall for papers and information, and actually convening meetings when most sane men were tucked up with their wives.

He was dressed in his strange Victorian/Edwardian garb, with his black waistcoat and gold watch chain and his spongebag trousers – like some burly and hungover butler from the set of Downton Abbey. They say he was pale, and pasty, and that seems believable. Let us add a cigar, and some ash on his lap, and a clenched jaw with a spot of drool.

He told Halifax to forget it. Britain was at war with Germany, and had been since September 1 the previous year. It was a war for freedom and for principle. The minute Britain accepted some Italian offer of mediation, Churchill knew that the sinews of resistance would relax. A white flag would be invisibly raised over Britain, and the will to fight on would be gone.

So he said no to Halifax, and some may feel that ought to have been enough: the Prime Minister had spoken in a matter of national life or death; in another country, the debate might therefore have been at an end. But that is not how the British constitution works: the Prime Minister is primus inter pares – first among equals; he must to some extent carry his colleagues with him; and to understand the dynamics of that conversation we must remember the fragility of Churchill’s position.

He had been Prime Minister for less than three weeks, and it was far from clear who were his real allies round the table. Attlee and Greenwood, the Labour contingent, were broadly supportive; and the same can be said for Sinclair the Liberal. But their voices could not be decisive. The Tories were by some way the largest party in Parliament. It was the Tories on whom he depended for his mandate – and the Tories were far from sure about Winston Churchill.

From his very emergence as a young Tory MP he had bashed and satirised his own party; he had then deserted them for the Liberals, and though he had eventually returned to the fold, there were too many Tories who thought of him as an unprincipled opportunist.

Halifax had been over to see Hitler in 1937 – and though he at one stage (rather splendidly) mistook the Führer for a footman, we must concede that he had an embarrassing familiarity with Goering. Both men loved fox-hunting, and Goering nicknamed him “Halalifax” – with emetic chumminess – because halali is a German hunting cry. But in his own way, Halifax was a patriot as much as Churchill.

He thought he could see a way to protect Britain and to safeguard the empire, and to save lives; and it is not as if he was alone. The British ruling class was riddled – or at least conspicuously weevilled – with appeasers and pro-Nazis. It wasn’t just the Mitfords, or the followers of Britain’s home-grown would-be duce, fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley.

In 1936 Lady Nelly Cecil noted that nearly all of her relatives were “tender to the Nazis”, and the reason was simple. In the 1930s your average toff was much more fearful of Bolshevism, and communists’ alarming ideology of redistribution, than they were fearful of Hitler. Indeed, they saw fascism as a bulwark against the reds, and they had high-level political backing.

David Lloyd George had been to Germany, and been so dazzled by the Führer that he compared him to George Washington. Hitler was a “born leader”, declared the befuddled former British Prime Minister. He wished that Britain had “a man of his supreme quality at the head of affairs in our country today”. This from the hero of the First World War!

The Daily Mail had long been campaigning for Hitler to be given a free hand in eastern Europe, the better to beat up the bolshies. “If Hitler did not exist,” said the Mail, “all western Europe might now be clamouring for such a champion.”

The Times had been so pro-appeasement that the editor, Geoffrey Dawson, described how he used to go through the proofs taking out anything that might offend the Germans. The press baron Beaverbrook himself had actually sacked Churchill from his Evening Standard column, on the grounds that he was too hard on the Nazis. Respectable liberal opinion – theatre types like John Gielgud, Sybil Thorndike, G. B. Shaw – were lobbying for the government to “give consideration” to talks.

Of course, the mood had changed in the last year; feelings against Germany had unsurprisingly hardened and grown much more widespread. All I am saying – in mitigation of Halifax – is that in seeking peace, he had the support of many British people, at all levels of society. And so the argument went on, between Halifax and the Prime Minister, for that crucial hour.

It was a stalemate; and it was now – according to most historians – that Churchill played his masterstroke. He announced that the meeting would be adjourned, and would begin again at 7 p.m. He then convened the full cabinet of twenty-five, ministers from every department – many of whom were to hear him as Prime Minister for the first time.

The bigger the audience, the more fervid the atmosphere; and now he made an appeal to the emotions. Before the full cabinet he made a quite astonishing speech – without any hint of the intellectual restraint he had been obliged to display in the smaller meeting.

He began calmly enough: ” I have thought carefully in these last days whether it was part of my duty to consider entering into negotiations with That Man.”

And he ended with this almost Shakespearean climax: “And I am convinced that every one of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I were for one moment to contemplate parley or surrender. If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in his own blood upon the ground.”

At this the men in that room were so moved that they cheered and shouted, and some of them ran round and clapped him on the back.

Churchill had ruthlessly dramatised and personalised the debate. By the time the War Cabinet resumed at 7 p.m., the debate was over; Halifax abandoned his cause. Churchill had the clear and noisy backing of the cabinet.

Within a year of that decision – to fight and not to negotiate – 30,000 British men, women and children had been killed, almost all of them at German hands. Weighing up those alternatives – a humiliating peace, or a slaughter of the innocents – it is hard to imagine any modern British politician having the guts to take Churchill’s line.

He had the vast and almost reckless moral courage to see that fighting on would be appalling, but that surrender would be even worse. He was right.

(Hodder & Stoughton, rrp £25) is available at £20 + £1.95 p&p from on 0844 871 1514 or at . Text © Boris Johnson 2014.

Boris Johnson will be taking part in a Q&A with Gaby Wood on October 23 at Imperial College London. Tickets are £40 (including a signed copy of The Churchill Factor) and are available from telegraph.co.uk/borisjohnson


World War Two

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Grandson of Hitler assassination plotter in bid to reclaim estate confiscated by Nazis

July 20th, 2014

The prince, 50, says his grandfather was imprisoned, tortured and forced by the Gestapo to sign a legal declaration ultimately handing over control to his land to Heinrich Himmler. Despite the circumstances in which the document was signed its legal standing is accepted by officials today and treated like “a document signed today in a lawyer’s office”.

He said: “They are saying well the wording in this document is okay, he signed it, so what’s the problem?

“If my grandfather hadn’t signed they would have murdered his entire family, so there was no option.”

The July 20 plot involved a series of high ranking Germany army officers, including Colonel Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, who was played by Cruise in Valkyrie. Prince Friedrich III hosted meetings of the conspirators on his estates.

On July 20 1944 Stauffenberg planted a bomb in a suitcase under a table in Hitler’s headquarters, known as the “wolf’s lair”, in what is now Poland. The bomb exploded, but Hitler escaped with little more than a burst eardrum.

Stauffenberg and about 5,000 other people were executed in the following days. Prince Friedrich believes his grandfather was kept alive by chance – because he was the uncle of the Swedish crown princess and Himmler was attempting to negotiate a truce with the Allies with the help of Sweden’s royal family.

He says that his father fought for the land and property from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 until his death in 2006. The family bought back Castle Baruth, its seat in the state of Brandenburg in eastern Germany, shortly after the wall came down.

In 2003 the family reached a settlement with German authorities to reclaim a large part of his grandfather’s estate.

Now Prince Friedrich is fighting to win back the remaining properties and land, which he says amounts to up to around 19,000 acres. The estate mainly comprises forestry and includes two manor houses currently under the ownership of local authorities.

The estate falls within the remit of two separate local authorities within Brandenburg – Cottbus and Potsdam, just outside Berlin.

Last month at a hearing at an administrative court in Cottbus, Prince Friedrich was told that evidence about the prince’s grandfather including expert testimony from Antony Beevor, the Second World War historian, would not be admitted because it was for the court to judge the historical circumstances of the case.

Last week the court rejected the claim. The prince said he had expected the result because the court refused to accept “any of the evidence we submitted.”

Separately Prince Friedrich’s claim in Potsdam was rejected by the county’s administrative court, which ruled that his grandfather had handed over control of his estate in a legal transaction and denied that he was a victim of Nazi persecution. Instead it said that the measures taken against his grandfather, including imprisonment, were simply of an “investigative nature”.

He has now lodged an appeal at Germany’s federal constitutional court in Karlsruhe.

Meanwhile, Natascha Engel, a German-born MP who chairs the backbench business committee, has written to Lord Astor, the defence minister, asking if he can aid the prince’s efforts.

Lord Goldsmith also urged the Foreign Office to provide “every assistance possible” to help locate evidence which might satisfy the court and “help settle this case once and for all.”

Prince Friedrich said: “What is being done here flies in the face of the constitution – not [allowing us] to present evidence and disregarding the historical circumstances blatantly. We have protested that we have been denied a fair hearing, which is the minimum we can say.

“We are confident the judges at the constitutional court will have the wisdom to recognise this and correct the mistakes made by the lower courts. If not, Germany will – after 70 years – still not have learnt the lessons from its troubled past.”

The claims are being defended in court by the Federal Office for Central Services and Unresolved Property Issues. A spokesman declined to comment.


World War Two

Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France by Caroline Moorehead, review: ‘riven with complexity’

July 7th, 2014

Before the war, the area had grown as a hikers’ resort in summer months; in the winter, snow made it almost inaccessible. This meant there were lots of guesthouses, hotels, schools and spare rooms. Pastor Andre Trocme, Eduoard Theis, an Englishwoman called Gladys Maber and many others began taking in Jewish children. There is the story of the Bloch family, who arrived later in the war, having been forced to leave an increasingly oppressive and menacing Lyon. The two Bloch boys loved the adventure of this new landscape. They were sometimes challenged by German soldiers, who demanded to know if they were Jewish. They replied that they were Protestant. Almost 50 years later, Pierre Bloch thanked the village “for my happy childhood as a little Jew during the Holocaust”. But it was still a nerve-shredding existence. All families on this high plateau – Protestant, Catholic, Jewish – were subject to aggressive police visits; children would frequently have to be hidden in barns, in cupboards, out in the snowy woods. And there were many heart-in-mouth efforts to get groups of refugees across the heavily guarded border to Switzerland. The daily suspense grew more intense with the opening of a convalescent home for wounded German soldiers. Then there were the arrests and interrogations of community leaders.

Moorehead analyses the web of relations between villagers and local Vichy officials and even Wehrmacht officers who seemed intriguingly ambiguous. But she widens this investigation across the region, drawing in stories of astoundingly brave resistance, contrasted with the SS’s steadily more psychopathic behaviour as the Allies closed in.

Her book is also about ownership of history. Moorehead analyses how, in recent years, the story of Chambon-sur-Lignon has been fluffed up as a sort of national comfort blanket – a beacon of redemptive light in Vichy darkness – at the expense of other people and communities who defended Jewish fugitives. And at the expense of difficult truths. Some farmers who took in Jewish children, for instance, didn’t always treat them kindly. Equally, one German officer who wanted to hold a Jewish child on his lap at the circus was – that boy realised later – actually desperately missing his own boy.

If anything, Moorehead’s pacy, headlong narrative, zigzagging across the war years and different territories with so many piercing vignettes and close detail, packs too much in and the structure suffers. A longer book would have given more room for reflection, especially on the years that came after the war, the aftershocks of trauma for so many.

Having said that, stories of this weight could occupy several volumes and would still disorientate with all the possibilities – both altruistic and malevolent – of human nature.

Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France by Caroline Moorehead

356pp, Chatto & Windus, Telegraph offer price: £18 (PLUS £1.95 p&p) (RRP £20, ebook £11.99). Call 0844 871 1514 or visit books.telegraph.co.uk

READ: Best books of 2014


World War Two

Tapestry looted by Nazis to be returned to French chateau

June 22nd, 2014

Staff worked with the Art Loss Register, an international company that tracks down lost and stolen art and the tapestry is now being returned to its rightful home, the chateau in Normandy where it had hung for over 200 years.

The work was made by Beauvais Tapestry Manufactory in around 1720, shows a scene from Ovid’s Metamorphoses and is now “easily worth tens of thousands of pounds”, according to James Ratcliffe, of the ALR.

A university spokesperson said: “The tapestry was looted at a time when Comte Bernard de la Rochefoucauld and his wife were both imprisoned in concentration camps.

“Comte Bernard was an active member of the French Resistance before his arrest in Paris in 1943. He died in 1944 as a result of his treatment at Flossenburg concentration camp while his wife survived the war.”

Two other tapestries taken from the chateau at the same time are still missing.

Chateau de Versainville is now owned by Comte Jacques de la Rochefoucauld, the descendant of Comte Bernard’s brother, and has been significantly renovated.

Comte Jacques who travelled to Sheffield to view the tapestry said: “I am delighted and touched by the generosity of the University of Sheffield in returning the artwork.

“The university has demonstrated respect for those who have suffered from the ravages of war.

“The example that the University has set is one which I hope others will follow in due course, and demonstrates their respect for those who have suffered in the past from the ravages of war.

“In the year marking the 70th anniversary of the death of Comte Bernard de la Rochefoucauld this donation brings us great happiness.”

It will be exhibited with a plaque to mark its return to the chateau, 500 miles from Sheffield.

Lynne Fox, Heritage Officer at the University of Sheffield, stated that: “We are delighted to see the tapestry returned to its rightful home at the Chateau de Versainville and are very pleased to have been able to assist in this process.

“We were as surprised as anyone to discover the history of the tapestry but we have been working extremely hard to ensure it is returned to the Chateau where it can be appreciated in its original home.”

Mr Ratcliffe, Director of Recoveries at the Art Loss Register: “In practical terms it, would have been difficult, though not impossible, for the university to sell it without acknowledging the Comte and the object’s past.

“Often that might involve a financial settlement. But there are no laws that would have forced the university to return it like this. That is undoubtedly an act of generosity.”It has been a pleasure to assist in the restoration of this tapestry to its rightful home.

” We are extremely grateful to the University of Sheffield for their assistance and generosity. It is always satisfying to bring restitution cases to a conclusion and we hope to locate and recover the remaining two missing tapestries in due course through our work.

Since it was established in 1991, the ALR has tracked down lost and stolen art to a value of more than £200 million.


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