British Newspapers and Adolf Hitler (Classroom Activity)
British newspapers were fairly sympathetic to Adolf Hitler when he took power in 1933. Harold Harmsworth (Lord Rothermere) the owner of the The Daily Mail and Evening News, was a supporter of the Nazi government and James Pool, the author of Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power (1979), has claimed that he helped to fund the Nazi Party.
On 30th January 1933, Rothermere produced a series of articles supporting the new regime. In his publications he criticized "the old women of both sexes" who filled British newspapers with rabid reports of Nazi "excesses." Instead, the newspaper claimed, Hitler had saved Germany from "Israelites of international attachments" and the "minor misdeeds of individual Nazis will be submerged by the immense benefits that the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany."
William Maxwell Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook), the owner of Daily Express and the Evening Standard, was also friendly towards Hitler and throughout the 1930s promoted appeasement and praised Neville Chamberlain and the Munich Agreement.
Geoffrey Dawson, the editor of The Times was another supporter of the Nazi regime. He was a member of the right-wing pro-Hitler group, the Anglo-German Fellowship. It has been claimed by Stanley Morison, the author of The History of The Times (1952) that Dawson had censored the critical reports of the Berlin correspondent of the newspaper, 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”.
The main critic of Hitler in British newspapers was the cartoonist, David Low. An outspoken socialist, Low's cartoons, were so popular with the general public, that Lord Beaverbrook, employed him to work at the Evening Standard. Although Beaverbrook was a strong supporter of the Conservative Party, he promised Low that he would have complete freedom to express his own radical political views. Low produced four cartoons a week and these were syndicated to 170 journals worldwide.
Low's cartoons criticizing Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini resulted in his work being banned in Germany and Italy. After the war it was revealed that in 1937 the German government asked the British government to have "discussions with the notorious Low" in an effort to "bring influence to bear on him" to stop his cartoons attacking appeasement.
David Low was attacked by the conservative press as a "war-monger" because of his hostility towards Neville Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement. However, after the outbreak of the Second World War the British government urged its artists to mount a campaign against Adolf Hitler and his Nazi government.
(Source 2) Lord Rothermere, The Daily Mail (10th July, 1933)
I urge all British young men and women to study closely the progress of the Nazi regime in Germany. They must not be misled by the misrepresentations of its opponents. The most spiteful distracters of the Nazis are to be found in precisely the same sections of the British public and press as are most vehement in their praises of the Soviet regime in Russia.
They have started a clamorous campaign of denunciation against what they call "Nazi atrocities" which, as anyone who visits Germany quickly discovers for himself, consists merely of a few isolated acts of violence such as are inevitable among a nation half as big again as ours, but which have been generalized, multiplied and exaggerated to give the impression that Nazi rule is a bloodthirsty tyranny.
The German nation, moreover, was rapidly falling under the control of its alien elements. In the last days of the pre-Hitler regime there were twenty times as many Jewish Government officials in Germany as had existed before the war. Israelites of international attachments were insinuating themselves into key positions in the German administrative machine. Three German Ministers only had direct relations with the Press, but in each case the official responsible for conveying news and interpreting policy to the public was a Jew.
(Source 3) David Low, Autobiography (1956)
The spectacle of Mussolini so masterfully beating up his Liberal and Socialist opponents was one that could not fail to evoke admiration in some Anglo-Saxon breasts. A British Fascist Party grew up overnight; and the Daily Mail, then Britain's biggest popular newspaper, approved it. With the zest I added the first Lord Rothermere, its proprietor, to my cast of cartoon characters. He made up well in a black shirt helping to stoke the fires of class hatred. Lord Rothermere was much incensed and complained bitterly. "Dog doesn't eat dog. It isn't done," said one of his Fleet Street men, as though he were giving me a moral adage instead of a thieves' wisecrack.
(Source 4) David Low, Years of Wrath (1949)
When German troops reoccupied the Rhineland demilitarized zone, Hitler justified the breach of the Versailles and Locarno Treaties by asserting that both were already dead. He had, he said, a peace-plan of his own to take their place - a 25-year Western non-aggression pact. When Eden, to the anxious interest of Van Zeeland (Belgium), Flandin (France), Litvinov (Russia), Titulescu (Rumania) and others, asked for the precise meaning of vague and ambiguous details, Hitler evaded reply.
(Source 6) David Low, Years of Wrath (1949)
Both the rearming of Germany and the reoccupation of the Rhineland caught Western statesmanship off balance between the French policy of "resistance to Germany and persuasion to Italy" and the British policy of "resistance to Italy and persuasion to Germany". The German General Staff had been unable to make war, but Hitler gambled on there being no resistance from the French without British support. When he was proved right, and leaders of both democracies still refused to accept the risk, his generals were impressed by his "intuition".
(Source 7) Time Magazine (9th November, 1936)
Interviewed in Manhattan, British Cartoonist David Low advised U. S. cartoonists to "scrap this Uncle Sam and John Bull business. Your Uncle Sam is no more representative of the American people than my boot or my foot." More advice from the London Evening Standard's piercing satirist: "When you hold a man up as a public menace you lend him dignity. You don't destroy him at all.
"I saw an American cartoon, for instance, which was opposed to Mussolini and Hitler. The cartoonist drew them as huge, huge figures. . . Now Mussolini is a short man, and his large jaw is largely due to a fold of fat that is carefully touched out in photographs. Hitler is not an impressive figure. He has a turned up nose, good eyes, an absurd little mouth and a slightly receding chin. All the opportunities in these two men for very destructive caricature."
(Source 8) Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The Art of Persuasion: World War II (1987)
In the Australian-born David Low, Britain possessed one of the world's finest political cartoonists. His left-wing sympathies turned him violently against the Fascist dictators... When Hitler and Mussolini achieved power, Low quickly realized that to satirize them as tyrants with blood dripping from their fingers, far from embarrassing them, only gratified their vanity. What piqued them, he says, was to be depicted as clowns.
(Source 9) David Low, Autobiography (1956)
Cartoons and leading articles often flatly contradicted one another, scandalizing the worthy souls who saw it as a serious defect in Lord Beaverbrook that he be not one-eyed.... But the truth was that his attitude to my personal charter of freedom remained impeccable, and the misgivings I had had on joining his paper long had been forgotten. Often he disagreed with me profoundly and did not fail to say so. Cartoons of Hitler tripping up to glory on stairs formed by the spineless backs of democratic statesmen; and Hitler demanding with menaces to know what the same democratic statesmen would give him not to kick their pants for twenty-five years, hardly fitted the Beaverbrook line, but went into the paper without a word, except after publication...
But even after he visited Germany, where he succeeded in getting the Daily Express ban lifted but was told frankly that so long as he kept me as cartoonist the Evening Standard would be banned, there were no recriminations but instead a worried solicitude for my own safety. Fresh from Dr. Gobbels, and hearing of my occasional trips to Europe, Beaverbrook was full of dire warnings that to show my nose in Germany would be asking for an "accident."
(Source 11) Anthony Rhodes, Propaganda: The Art of Persuasion: World War II (1987)
When Lord Halifax visited Germany officially in 1937, he was told that the Führer was deeply offended by Low's cartoons of him, and that the paper in which they appeared, the Evening Standard, was banned in Germany.... On Halifax's return to London, he summoned Low and told him that his cartoons were impairing the prime minister's policy of appeasement.
(Source 12) David Low, Years of Wrath (1949)
Eight days after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, while the world was still thunderstruck at the accord of two regimes which had been so inimical to each other, the German Blitzkrieg tore through Poland from the West to meet Russian troops oncoming from the East. The pact had arranged for a partition of Poland. Officially, past recriminations between the new associates were forgotten in present admiration of mutual interests.
(Source 13) Mark Bryant, World War II in Cartoons (1982)
The German Army invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. Unable to resist the German Blitzkrieg (lightning war), the Poles were also faced with a separate invasion by the Soviet Union on 17 September. The occupation of Poland was soon complete and Hitler and Stalin divided the country between them. In David Low's famous cartoon, the two unlikely allies congratulate each other over the body of Poland.
Questions for Students
Question 1: Read the introduction and sources 2 and 3. Did all British newspapers oppose Adolf Hitler in the 1930s? How did David Low upset Lord Rothermere?
Question 2: Explain the meaning of source 1. It will help you to read David Low's own comments on the cartoon in source 4.
Question 3: In source 6 David Low explains the meaning of source 5. Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary, is the man at the bottom of the drawing. How would he have defended his decision not to take action against the "rearming of Germany and the reoccupation of the Rhineland".
Question 4: Study source 7 and 8. Describe Low's methods of dealing with Hitler and Mussolini.
Question 5: Use the information in sources 12 and 13 to explain the meaning of source 10.
Question 6: Explain the meaning of source 14.
Question 7: Compare the treatment of Joseph Stalin in sources 10, 14 and 15.
Question 8: David Low was disliked by both the German and British governments before the outbreak of the Second World War. Use the information in this unit to explain this statement.
A commentary on these questions can be found here.