THE PRIME MINISTER DOESN’T BELIEVE REPORTS OF NAZI EXCESSES
[ 12 April 1933 ]
On 12 April 1933, Leopold von Hoesch, Nazi Germany’s ambassador in London, informed Berlin that at a meeting earlier the same day, Britain’s prime minister Ramsay MacDonald ‘had not believed reports of (Nazi) excesses and more-over he understood very well the character and circumstances attending a revolution.’ This was an incredible declaration. By April 1933, the Nazi regime had already passed the Enabling Act allowing it to bypass the Reichstag. It had also murdered hundreds of opponents, detained tens of thousands, imposed draconian restrictions on civil liberties and opened the country’s first concentration camp at Dachau outside Munich. Could MacDonald really have been unaware of these crimes ?
On the other hand, if he knew about them, his indifference is also astonishing. MacDonald, the illegitimate son of a farm labourer, was an icon of many progressive intellectuals who, for ten months during 1924, had served as Britain’s first Labour prime minister. From 1931, MacDonald headed a national government coalition of 470 Conservative, 35 Liberal and just 13 National Labour MPs, but at heart he still considered himself a committed socialist. Yet, somehow he shared the same indifference to Nazi crimes as many of his Conservative allies in parliament.
Even seven months later in November, as more reports of Nazi atrocities emerged, MacDonald continued privately to express his confidence that in terms of diplomacy it would be business as usual and on 10 November, Hoesch was able to report to Berlin that the prime minister felt that Nazi officials ‘were not to be treated as renegades on account of the internal affairs of the country.’ MacDonald was even keen to invite the Fuhrer to Britain where he would receive a friendly welcome from the population. A notion which Hoesch himself advised Berlin was ‘absurd’ !1
- Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany, 1933-1939, Oxford University Press, 1983, p. 116.
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