By 1926 the daily sales of The Daily Mail had reached 2,000,000. Lord Rothermere, the owner of the newspaper, was estimated to be the third richest man in Britain. Rothermere spent three months of the year gambling in Monte Carlo. It was here he met Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe in 1927. Born in Vienna, Stephanie was a supporter of Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi Party.
According to a FBI file, Stephanie had targeted Lord Rothermere. It said that "she was reputedly immoral, and capable of resorting to any means, even bribery, to get her ends." They both enjoyed gambling and she described Rothermere as "a fabulous plunger at the casino tables".
Princess Stephanie persuaded Rothermere that the defeated nations had been badly treated by the Treaty of Versailles. Rothermere was impressed by her arguments and her understanding of the problem. Rothermere agreed to write an editorial on the subject. On 21st June, 1927, The Daily Mail argued: "Eastern Europe is strewn with Alsace-Lorraines. By severing from France the twin provinces of that name the Treaty of Frankfurt in 1871 made another European war inevitable. The same blunder has been committed on a larger scale in the peace treaties which divided up the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. They have been created dissatisfied minorities in half a dozen parts of Central Europe, any one of which may be the starting point of another conflagration."
Lord Rothermere also called for the restoration of the Hungarian monarchy. Rothermere was an ardent monarchist and argued that a monarchic constitution was the best bulwark against Bolshevism in Europe and hoped to restore both the Hapsburg and Hohenzollern thrones. Rothermere continued the campaign in his newspaper. He wrote to Princess Stephanie in April 1928: "I had no conception that a recital of Hungary's sufferings and wrongs would arouse such world-wide sympathy. Now from all parts of the world I am in receipt of such a flood of telegrams, letters and postcards that the work entailed in connection with the propaganda is rapidly absorbing all my energies."
In the General Election that took place in September 1930, the Nazi Party increased its number of representatives in parliament from 14 to 107. Adolf Hitler was now the leader of the second largest party in Germany. Over the next two years Lord Rothermere wrote several articles praising this German politician. According to Louis P. Lochner, the author of Tycoons and Tyrant: German Industry from Hitler to Adenauer (1954) he heard rumours that Rothermere provided funds to Hitler via Ernst Hanfstaengel.
In December 1932 a number of European newspapers had carried allegations of espionage against Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe. The French newspaper, La Liberté, claimed that she had been arrested as a spy while visiting Biarritz. It asked the question: "Is a sensational affair about to unfold?" Other newspapers took up the story and described her as a "political adventuress" and "the vamp of European politics". These stories were probably the result of leaks from the French intelligence services.
I tried one or two cartoons developing the two press lords (Lord Rothermere and Lord Beaverbrook) along from the wicked uncles in Babe in the Wood... two mischievous conspirators in mock-sinister cloaks and hats. The figures, fat Rother and little Beaver, were such naturals to draw and the newspaper public gave them such popularity that in no time I found myself running a series dealing with their dark doings. Various incidents and accidents turned up by grinning fate in succeeding months tended to support and confirm the lightsome fancy... The Plot Press became one of my major properties and a regular feature of the Star.
The wealthy newspaper magnate, Viscount Rothermere, gave the Nazis pages of praise and accolades in his paper the Daily Mail. There is also some indication that Rothermere gave actual financial support to Hitler through Putzi Hanfstaengl, the Nazis' foreign press chief but the publicity he gave Hitler was worth more than money.
Shortly after the Nazis' sweeping victory in the election of September 14, 1930, Rothermere went to Munich to have a long talk with Hitler, and ten days after the election wrote an article discussing the significance of the National Socialists' triumph. The article drew attention throughout England and the Continent because it urged acceptance of the Nazis as a bulwark against Communism...
As for the Nazis, it has already been shown that Rothermere started to give them favorable press coverage in 1930. The Daily Mail 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."
What are the sources of strength of a (Nazi) party which at the general election two years ago could win only 12 seats, but now, with 107, has become the second strongest in the Reichstag, and whose national poll has increased in the same time from 809,000 to 6,400,000? Striking as these figures are, they stand for something far greater than political success. They represent the rebirth of Germany as a nation.
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.
As old soldiers of the World War - I was myself in the front line for four and a half years, facing British and French soldiers - we have all of us a very personal experience of the terrors of a European War. Refusing any sympathy with cowards and deserters, we freely accept the idea of duty before God and our own nation to prevent will all possible means the recurrence of such a disaster...
This cannot definitely be achieved for Europe unless the treatment of the critical problem, whose existence cannot be denied, is transferred from the climate of hatred in which victors and vanquished confront each other, to a basis where nations and states can negotiate with each other on an equal footing...
I should like to express the appreciation of countless Germans, who regard me as their spokesman, for the wise and beneficial support which you have given to a policy that we all hope will contribute to the final liberation of Europe. Just as we are fanatically determined to defend ourselves against attack, so do we reject the idea of taking the initiative in bringing about a war... I am convinced that no one who fought in the front line trenches during the world war, no matter in what European country, desires another conflict.
Timid alarmists all this week have been whimpering that the rapid growth in numbers of the British Blackshirts is preparing the way for a system of rulership by means of steel whips and concentration camps. Very few of these panic-mongers have any personal knowledge of the countries that are already under Blackshirt government. The notion that a permanent reign of terror exists there has been evolved entirely from their own morbid imaginations, fed by sensational propaganda from opponents of the party now in power. As a purely British organization, the Blackshirts will respect those principles of tolerance which are traditional in British politics. They have no prejudice either of class or race. Their recruits are drawn from all social grades and every political party. Young men may join the British Union of Fascists by writing to the Headquarters, King's Road, Chelsea, London, S.W."
Beaverbrook was embarrassed by Low's attacks on Lord Rothermere, who had helped finance his purchase of the Evening Standard. But Rothermere's support for Fascism was too much for Low, who softened this attack only by making the nanny unrecognisable as Rothermere and referring to the Daily (Black) Shirt rather than explicitly to the Daily Mail.
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.
If the Blackshirts movement had any need of justification, the Red Hooligans who savagely and systematically tried to wreck Sir Oswald Mosley's huge and magnificently successful meeting at Olympia last night would have supplied it. They got what they deserved. Olympia has been the scene of many assemblies and many great fights, but never had it offered the spectacle of so many fights mixed up with a meeting.
Lord Rothermere was part of a group that saw an immensely powerful union between Communism and the Jewish people as a world conspiracy that could be thwarted only by Fascism.... Visceral anti-Semitism permeated the upper classes between the wars. Jews were vilified as flashy and pushy arrivistes with a knack of enriching themselves when the aristocracy was grumbling about an often exaggerated downturn in their fortunes.... What emerges is a picture of a knot of peers adrift in an uncongenial world, united by paranoia, pessimism and panic.
Lord Rothermere was a man of large stature, with a high forehead and such an extreme conservative political attitude that some people said he was "very near to being unbalanced on the issue of Communism". Although he was not the only one with an obsession about the dangers of Communism, he was one of the few who devoted so much money to the anti-Communist cause. In England he was a well-known backer of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), whose members wore black shirts... Generous space, plus pictures, were given to cover the fascist activities. Leading articles and editorials were devoted to commending the efforts of the BUF...
Suddenly in July of that year Rothermere withdrew his support. The rumor on Fleet Street was that the Daily Mail's Jewish advertisers had threatened to place their adds in a different paper if Rothermere continued the pro-fascist campaign. Sometime after this, Rothermere met with Hitler at the Berghof and told how the "Jews cut off his complete revenue from advertising" and compelled him to "toe the line." Hitler later recalled Rothermere telling him that it was "quite impossible at short notice to take any effective countermeasures."
Rothermere pays me great compliments... Enquires in detail about German press policy. Strongly anti-Jewish. The princess is very pushy. After lunch we retire for a chat. Question of Spain comes up. Führer won't tolerate a hot-bed of communism in Europe any longer. Is ready to prevent any more pro-Republican volunteers from going there. His proposal on controls seem to astonish Rothermere. German prestige is thus restored. Franco will win anyway... Rothermere believes British government also pro-Franco.
My dear Führer everyone in England is profoundly moved by the bloodless solution to the Czechoslovakian problem. People not so much concerned with territorial readjustment as with dread of another war with its accompanying bloodbath. Frederick the Great was a great popular figure. I salute your excellency's star which rises higher and higher.
These letters were secretly circulated within the intelligence services and senior civil servants in key government ministries... Nothing could be more revealing of the press baron's continued support of the Nazi Führer as the inevitable conflict drew closer, but it appears MI5 shied away from actually taking action against the press baron. Certainly there is nothing in the derestricted files to indicate whether Rothermere was warned to cease his correspondence with Berlin, though some information in the files still remains undisclosed.... The MI5 makes it clear that the secret service had warned the government that copies of this correspondence would be produced in open court, which would embarrass not only Rothermere but also a number of other notable members of the British aristocracy, and that these disclosures would shock the British public.
The danger of these negotiations was two-fold. There was first the danger that Lord Rothermere might unwittingly give the Nazis a misleading impression of the state of opinion in this country; and there was also the danger that Lord Rothermere might - again unwittingly - allow himself to be used as a vehicle for the extremely subtle manoeuvres of Nazi propaganda.... discussions with heads of foreign governments are best left of persons whose status is on both sides clearly understood. A newspaper owner has great responsibilities towards the public of his own country; he should be particularly chary of placing himself in situations liable to misinterpretation, or abuse abroad.
In 1933, the year that Hitler gained power, MI6 circulated a report stating that the French secret service had discovered documents in the princess's flat in Paris ordering her to persuade Rothermere to campaign for the return to Germany of territory ceded to Poland at the end of First World War. She was to receive £300,000 – equal to £13 million today – if she succeeded. Rothermere, meanwhile, was paying the princess £5,000 a year – £200,000 today – to act as his emissary in Europe.
By 1938 MI6 was becoming very concerned about the princesses's activities. A report said: "She is frequently summoned by the Führer who appreciates her intelligence and good advice. She is perhaps the only woman who can exercise any influence on him."
But then she and Rothermere fell out. He cut off her retainer and in December 1938 she sued him for breach of contract. In March 1939 the MI6 passport control officer at Victoria Station intercepted her Hungarian lawyer, Erno Wittman.
He was carrying correspondence relating to the case, including a letter from Rothermere to the German government that Berlin had given to the lawyer to help the princess's case. The officer wrote: "This was astonishing; it appeared to be copies of documents and letters which passed between Lord Rothermere, Lady Snowden, Princess Stephanie, Herr Hitler and others. In the main, the letters referred to the possible restoration of the throne in Hungary and shed a good deal of light on the character and activities of the princess.
"It was decided to give MI5 the opportunity of seeing this considerable correspondence."
Details of the correspondence from Rothermere were circulated in the intelligence services. It included a "a very indiscreet letter to the Führer congratulating him on his walk into Prague" – Hitler having sent troops into the Czech capital in early 1939 in breach of the Munich agreement of the previous year. The note urged Hitler to follow up his coup with the invasion of Romania.
The proprietor of the Daily Mail sent a series of supportive and congratulatory telegrams to Nazi Germany's leaders, including Hitler, just months before the second world war, papers released today reveal.
Intercepted messages from Lord Rothermere to Berlin are among the first papers to be released from Foreign Office intelligence files.
The files also show how, as early as 1906, MI6 drew up detailed plans to plant agents in Europe "in the event of war with Germany". At the end of 1938 they were telling London that Hitler believed Britain was "enemy No 1".
Yet in the summer of 1939, Rothermere was still appealing to Hitler not to provoke a war, saying that Britain and Nazi Germany must remain at peace. "Our two great Nordic countries should pursue resolutely a policy of appeasement for, whatever anyone may say, our two great countries should be the leaders of the world," he told Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler's foreign minister, on July 7 1939.
Ten days earlier, Rothermere had written to Hitler: "My Dear Führer, I have watched with understanding and interest the progress of your great and superhuman work in regenerating your country."
He assured Hitler that the British government had "no policy which involves the encirclement of Germany, and that no British government could exist which embraced such a policy".
He added: "The British people, now like Germany strongly rearmed, regard the German people with admiration as valorous adversaries in the past, but I am sure that there is no problem between our two countries which cannot be settled by consultation and negotiation."
Questions for Students
Question 1: In 1924 David Low began portraying Lord Rothermere and Lord Beaverbrook as "two mischievous conspirators" (see source 1). He added that "various incidents and accidents turned up by grinning fate in succeeding months tended to support and confirm the lightsome fancy". Read Rothermere's biography and explain what he did in October 1924 that upset Low?
Question 3: Study sources 4, 5, 8 and 18. Describe the views of Lord Rothermere.
Question 4: Read sources 3 and 14. How do these authors explain the views of Lord Rothermere.
Question 5: How does source 10 explain the changes that David Low made to source 9?
Question 8: Why is it only since 2005 that we have known the full story of Lord Rothermere's relationship with Adolf Hitler? It will help you to read sources 19, 22 and 23.
A commentary on these questions can be found here.