Douglas Reed

Dmitri Bystrolyotov

Douglas Reed was born in London on 11th March, 1895. He worked as an office boy and a bank clerk, before serving in the British Army during the First World War. He was twice wounded and was mentioned in dispatches.

After leaving the army he began working for The Times. First as a as a telephonist but later as a sub-editor. In 1928 he became the newspaper's correspondent in Berlin where he reported on the growing popularity of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. (1)

In the General Election of November 1932, the Nazi Party won 196 seats. This did not give them an overall majority as the opposition also did well: Social Democratic Party (121), German Communist Party (100), Catholic Centre Party (90) and German National People's Party (52). Hitler was appointed Chancellor, in January 1933, but the Nazis only had a third of the seats in Parliament. (2)

Douglas Reed and Reichstag Fire

On 27th February, 1933, the Reichstag building caught fire. It was reported at ten o'clock when a Berlin resident telephoned the police and said: "The dome of the Reichstag building is burning in brilliant flames." The Berlin Fire Department arrived minutes later and although the main structure was fireproof, the wood-paneled halls and rooms were already burning. Marinus van der Lubbe, a 24 year-old vagrant from Leiden, was arrested in the building. (3)

Hitler gave orders that all leaders of the German Communist Party should "be hanged that very night." Paul von Hindenburg vetoed this decision but did agree that Hitler should take "dictatorial powers". Orders were given for all KPD members of the Reichstag to be arrested. This included Ernst Torgler, the chairman of the KPD. Göring commented that "the record of Communist crimes was already so long and their offence so atrocious that I was in any case resolved to use all the powers at my disposal in order ruthlessly to wipe out this plague". (4)

On 9th March, 1933, three Bulgarians, Georgi Dimitrov, Blagoi Popov and Vassili Tanev, were also arrested after a suspicious waiter informed the police that they had been acting strangely. Dimitrov had been a trade union activist before helping to form the Bulgarian Communist Party in 1919. Dimitrov went to live in the Soviet Union but in 1929 he moved to Berlin where he became head of the Central European section of Comintern. (5) However, the Nazi government was unaware that Dimitrov was one of the most important figures in the "international Communist movement". (6)

The Reichstag Fire trial of Marinus van der Lubbe, Ernst Torgler, Georgi Dimitrov, Blagoi Popov and Vassili Tanev began on 21st September, 1933. The presiding judge was Judge Dr. Wilhelm Bürger of the Supreme Court. The accused were charged with arson and with attempting to overthrow the government. (7)

Douglas Reed, who covered the trial for The Times, described the defendants in court. "A being (Marinus van der Lubbe) of almost imbecile appearance, with a shock of tousled hair hanging far over his eyes, clad in the hideous dungarees of the convicted criminal, with chains around his waist and wrists, shambling with sunken head between his custodians - the incendiary taken in the act. Four men in decent civilian clothes, with intelligence written on every line of their features, who gazed somberly but levelly at their fellow men across the wooden railing which symbolized the great gulf fixed between captivity and freedom.... Torgler, last seen by many of those present railing at the Nazis from the tribune of the Reichstag, bore the marks of great suffering on his fine and sensitive face. Dimitrov, whose quality the Court had yet to learn, took his place as a free man among free men; there was nothing downcast in his bold and even defiant air. Little Tanev had not long since attempted suicide, and his appearance still showed what he had been through, Popov, as ever, was quiet and introspective." (8)

Reed pointed out: "Attempts from all sides of the court to wrest from van der Lubbe the secret of his accomplices, however, were parried in a manner that indicted either great cunning or the sincere conviction that he had none... There remained only two possibilities - that van der Lubbe had no accomplices or that he did not himself know who they were. The one man from whom, it had been thought, the secret might yet be wrested, either would not yield it or had none to yield." (9)

On 23rd December, 1933, Judge Wilhelm Bürger announced that Marinus van der Lubbe was guilty of "arson and with attempting to overthrow the government". Bürger concluded that the German Communist Party (KPD) had indeed planned the fire in order to start a revolution, but the evidence against Ernst Torgler, Georgi Dimitrov, Blagoi Popov and Vassili Tanev, was insufficient to justify a conviction. (10)

Douglas Reed published a book on the case, The Burning of the Reichstag (1934). He was based in Vienna between 1935 to 1938 and reported on Austria’s incorporation into the German Reich. He also covered stories about the growing influence of fascism in Europe. (11) He was also a strong opponent of appeasement. It was later pointed out that he was "wiser than some of his countrymen in his view of the significance of Hitler and in his alarm at the policy of appeasement... His was, in truth, a prophetic reading of the situation in Berlin and in Central Europe as he observed it from day to day." (12)


This made his relationship with his editor, Geoffrey Dawson, who took a very different view of the Nazi threat. Robert Boothby described Dawson as "the Secretary General of the Establishment, the fervent advocate of Appeasement". It has been claimed by Stanley Morison, the author of The History of The Times (1952) that Dawson had censored the reports of the man who took over from Reed in Berlin, Norman Ebbutt. Another correspondent in the city, William Shirer commented: "The trouble for Ebbutt was that his newspaper, the most esteemed in England, would not publish much of what he reported. The Times in those days was doing its best to appease Hitler and to induce the British government to do likewise. The unpleasant truths that Ebbutt telephones nightly to London from Berlin were often kept out of the great newspaper". (13)

Reed probably suffered in the same way as Ebbutt, and in 1938 he resigned from the newspaper. Soon afterwards he published Insanity Fair (1938) a book that brought him world fame. He later wrote: "I let off all this pent-up steam and said just what I thought about the coming war and the folks who were letting it happen in a book, Insanity Fair." (14)

Reed was now considered to be an expert on foreign policy and after the outbreak of the Second World War published several successful books such as, Disgrace Abounding (1939), Prophet at Home (1941), All Our Tomorrows (1942), Lest We Regret (1943) and From Smoke to Smother (1948).


Reed's work was the subject of an article by George Orwell. He warned that Reed had an "easy journalistic style" and was a "persuasive writer". However, he noted that he was clearly wrong when he dismissed claims of Nazi persecution of German Jews, and even the pogroms, as just "propaganda." Orwell compared Reed's views with Oswald Mosley and summed-up Reed's work as: "down with the Reds and - above all - down with the Jews." (15)

In 1948 Reed moved to South Africa and became a strong supporter of apartheid. He caused considerable publicity with his book, Somewhere South of Suez (1950), that dealt with the subject of Zionism. "In daily usage, no American or British newspaper, apparently, now dares to print a line of news or comment unfavorable to the Zionist ambition... The inference to me is plain: the Zionist Nationalists are powerful enough to govern governments in the great countries of the remaining West!" (16)

In his next book Far and Wide (1951), he questioned the claim that the Nazis killed six million Jews. He wrote: "During the Second World War I noticed that the figures of Jewish losses, in places where war made verification impossible... The process continued until the war's end when the figure of six millions was produced (and the Arabs were immediately chastised). A transparently worthless estimate was not only being used for mass-delusion through newspapers, but even given official status... In a matter where nothing is verifiable, one thing seems sure: that six million Jews were never even contained in German-occupied territories... Yet this massive assertion about the six millions was used by politicians in the highest places, by prosecutors at Nuremberg, and habitually by mass-newspapers which in lesser matters would print no statement unverified!" (17)

According to Mark Weber: "After the publication of Far and Wide, Reed was all but banned by establishment publishers. Still, he remained undaunted. His final book, The Controversy of Zion (1985), provides a detailed and literate dissection of the origins and international impact of the Zionist movement, including its corrupting influence in Britain and the United States. Once again devoting several pages to the issue of Jewish wartime deaths." (18)

Douglas Reed died in Durban on 26th August 1976.

Primary Sources

(1) Mark Weber, The Journal of Historical Review (November, 2000)

Born in Britain in 1895, Reed began working at the age of 13 as an office boy. At age 19 he worked as a bank clerk until enlisting in the British army at the outbreak of the First World War. At the age of 26, and "relatively unschooled" (as he once described himself), he began working for the London Times as a telephonist and clerk. He reached journalism at the age of 30 as a sub-editor. Three years later he was the venerable paper's assistant correspondent in Berlin, before transferring to Vienna as its chief central European correspondent. He went on to report, as a Times correspondent, from Warsaw, Moscow, Prague, Athens, Sofia, Bucharest, Budapest and other European centers.

Student Activities

Who Set Fire to the Reichstag? (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler's Early Life (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler and the First World War (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler and the German Workers' Party (Answer Commentary)

Sturmabteilung (SA) (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler and the Beer Hall Putsch (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler the Orator (Answer Commentary)

An Assessment of the Nazi-Soviet Pact (Answer Commentary)

British Newspapers and Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)

Lord Rothermere, Daily Mail and Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)

Adolf Hitler v John Heartfield (Answer Commentary)

The Hitler Youth (Answer Commentary)

German League of Girls (Answer Commentary)

Night of the Long Knives (Answer Commentary)

The Political Development of Sophie Scholl (Answer Commentary)

The White Rose Anti-Nazi Group (Answer Commentary)

Kristallnacht (Answer Commentary)

Heinrich Himmler and the SS (Answer Commentary)

Trade Unions in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)

Hitler's Volkswagen (The People's Car) (Answer Commentary)

Women in Nazi Germany (Answer Commentary)

The Assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (Answer Commentary)

The Last Days of Adolf Hitler (Answer Commentary)


(1) Mark Weber, The Journal of Historical Review (November, 2000)

(2) Michael Burleigh, The Third Reich: A New History (2001) pages 144-145

(3) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 286

(4) Richard Overy, Goering: The Iron Man (1984) page 25

(5) Louis L. Snyder, Encyclopedia of the Third Reich (1998) page 67

(6) Henry Gifford, The Reichstag Fire (1973) page 71

(7) Konrad Heiden, Hitler: A Biography (1936) page 437

(8) Douglas Reed, The Burning of the Reichstag (1934) page 90

(9) Douglas Reed, The Burning of the Reichstag (1934) page 265

(10) Richard Evans, The Third Reich in Power (2005) page 68

(11) Mark Weber, The Journal of Historical Review (November, 2000)

(12) The Times (August, 1976)

(13) William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1964) page 355

(14) Mark Weber, The Journal of Historical Review (November, 2000)

(15) George Orwell, The Observer (7th November 1943)

(16) Douglas Reed, Somewhere South of Suez (1950)

(17) Douglas Reed, Far and Wide (1951)

(18) Mark Weber, The Journal of Historical Review (November, 2000)