Albrecht Forster and Churchill’s Danzig Moment, 1939

Albrecht Forster and Churchill’s Danzig Moment, 1939

Excerpt­ed from “Forster, Appease­ment, Danzig and Fas­cism: What Churchill Real­ly Believed” for the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project. For the orig­i­nal text includ­ing end­notes please click here.

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Albrecht Forster and the Danzig Nazis

A read­er refers to a Spar­ta­cus Edu­ca­tion­al arti­cle, “Was Win­ston Churchill a Sup­port­er or an Oppo­nent of Fas­cism?” Cit­ing Churchill’s words to the Albrecht Forster, it argues that WSC sup­port­ed appease­ment and approved of Fascism.

While this is a well-writ­ten cri­tique, it tends to mag­ni­fy specifics to jus­ti­fy gen­er­al­i­ties. It does not estab­lish Churchill’s attach­ment to Fas­cism and Appease­ment (although he approved of some forms of the lat­ter). It does instruct us on the kinds of fas­cists Churchill dealt with in the 1920s and 1930s.

Appeasement

The Forster ref­er­ence is used to argue that Churchill favored appeas­ing Ger­many “for most of the 1930s”:

As late as July, 1938, he was involved in his own nego­ti­a­tions with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Hitler’s gov­ern­ment in Nazi Ger­many. Dur­ing a meet­ing with Albrecht Forster, the Nazi Gauleit­er of Danzig, he asked Churchill whether Ger­man dis­crim­i­na­to­ry leg­is­la­tion against the Jews would pre­vent an under­stand­ing with Britain. Churchill replied that he thought ‘it was a hin­drance and an irri­ta­tion, but prob­a­bly not a com­plete obsta­cle to a work­ing agreement.

Spar­ta­cus asks: three months before Munich, Churchill still favored Appease­ment? And Nazi pol­i­cy toward Jews in Danzig was “prob­a­bly not a com­plete obsta­cle” to peace? Before jump­ing to broad con­clu­sions, we must con­sid­er the circumstances.

First, Churchill was not “involved in his own nego­ti­a­tions with rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Hitler’s gov­ern­ment in Nazi Ger­many.” Forster was a gauleit­er (par­ty leader) in the then-Free City of Danzig (now Gdańsk). On a vis­it to Lon­don, he asked to see Churchill at his Mor­peth Man­sions flat. Each was accom­pa­nied by a sci­en­tif­ic advi­sor: Forster by indus­tri­al­ist-diplo­mat Lud­wig Noé, Churchill by Pro­fes­sor Lin­de­mann. Far from “nego­ti­at­ing,” Churchill imme­di­ate­ly report­ed their con­ver­sa­tion to Under-Sec­re­tary of State Robert Van­sit­tart at the For­eign Office.

Forster meets Churchill 

Danzig
Albrecht Forster (cen­ter, hat­less) and oth­er Nazi com­mis­sion­ers in occu­pied Poland, 1939. (Repub­lic of Poland, pub­lic domain)

Read in entire­ty, Churchill’s Forster report shows that hoped for a firm British response to Hitler’s threats against Czechoslovakia:

I remarked that I was glad they had not intro­duced the Anti-Jew­ish laws in Danzig. Herr Forster said the Jew­ish prob­lem was not acute in Danzig, but he was anx­ious to know whether this type of leg­is­la­tion in Ger­many would pre­vent an under­stand­ing with Eng­land. I replied that it was a hin­drance and an irri­ta­tion, but prob­a­bly not a com­plete obsta­cle to a work­ing agree­ment, though it might be to com­pre­hen­sion. He appeared to attach great impor­tance to this point, and returned to it at a lat­er stage.

When Forster returned to Anglo-Ger­man under­stand­ing, Churchill was plain:

I said that I was not an oppo­nent of the great­ness of Ger­many, and that most peo­ple in Eng­land want­ed to see her take her place as one of the two or three lead­ing pow­ers in the world: that we would not resent grad­ual peace­ful increase of Ger­man com­mer­cial influ­ence in the Danube basin, but that any vio­lent move would almost inevitably lead to a world war.

To rep­re­sent Germany’s anti-Jew­ish laws as “not a com­plete obsta­cle” accu­rate­ly reflects the British government’s atti­tude at that time. Neville Cham­ber­lain nev­er expressed much con­cern over Hitler’s Jew­ish pogroms. Churchill wished then to bur­nish his cre­den­tials as a seek­er of accom­mo­da­tion. It’s quite true that he favored appeas­ing Ger­many over legit­i­mate griev­ances. So he tried to whee­dle Forster in that direc­tion. What he would not accept was appease­ment from weak­ness, as at Munich three months later.

Fascism and Mussolini

Con­vers­ing with Forster did not make Churchill a fas­cist. Nei­ther did his friend­ly ges­tures toward Mus­soli­ni a decade ear­li­er. To prove oth­er­wise, the Spar­ta­cus arti­cle offers two 1927 quotations.

In a let­ter to his wife dur­ing his 1927 vis­it to Italy, Churchill wrote: “This coun­try gives the impres­sion of dis­ci­pline, order, good­will, smil­ing faces.” At that time, Churchill was great­ly exer­cised about the spread of Com­mu­nism. Some of his friends even called it an obses­sion. Believ­ing Mus­soli­ni had fore­stalled it in Italy, he indulged in that observation.

Like­wise his state­ment that year to the Rome press about Mussolini’s “calm and serene man­ner.” Here he showed his aver­sion to Com­mu­nism: “If I had been an Ital­ian I am sure I should have been entire­ly with you from the begin­ning to the end of your vic­to­ri­ous strug­gle against the bes­tial appetites and pas­sions of Leninism.”

That is the kind of pab­u­lum you dish out when a for­eign leader has promised to pay you a lot of mon­ey. Churchill, then Chan­cel­lor of the Exche­quer, had just secured Mussolini’s promise (ulti­mate­ly unful­filled) to repay Italy’s £592 mil­lion war debt. (About £3.6 bil­lion in todays money.)

Qualifications

Sig­nif­i­cant­ly Churchill said, “If I had been an Ital­ian.” He did not state his pref­er­ences as a Briton. Indeed we may go his 1927 state­ment one bet­ter. In Feb­ru­ary 1933 (when Mus­soli­ni was still pay­ing), he tossed anoth­er bou­quet. Il Duce, he said, was “the great­est law-giv­er among liv­ing men.” Lat­er, as Mus­soli­ni aligned him­self with Hitler, Churchill’s praise end­ed. Half a cen­tu­ry lat­er Mar­garet Thatch­er would say of Mikhail Gor­bachev, “we can do busi­ness with him.” That didn’t make her a communist.

Anoth­er thing to remem­ber, to para­phrase Dr. Lar­ry Arnn, was that Churchill was polit­i­cal man. Also he was a demo­c­ra­t­ic man. He need­ed, and thought it was right that he need­ed, the votes of a major­i­ty. If he lived in an age when vot­ers were ardent for peace (and most ages are that), then of course he would be care­ful not to offend their view.

Postscript: Forster and Danzig

It is true that not many Jews inhab­it­ed Danzig. By the out­break of war in 1939, Mar­tin Gilbert wrote, “all but 1600 of Danzig’s Jews had been allowed to emi­grate…. Only 600 remained in the city when the depor­ta­tions began in 1942; almost none of them survived.”

At Chartwell on 19 August 1938, anoth­er of Churchill’s Ger­man vis­i­tors was Major Ewald von Kleist, one of the Ger­man Gen­er­al Staff offi­cers opposed to Hitler’s expan­sion­ist plans, who told Churchill that if they could only receive “a lit­tle encour­age­ment they might refuse to march” against Czecho­slo­va­kia. After Kleist’s vis­it, Churchill appealed pub­licly for the Ger­man offi­cer corps to over­throw Hitler.

What hap­pened to Albrecht Forster? Churchill’s urg­ings were in vain. Forster soon demand­ed Danzig admit­ted to the Reich. Indeed this was one of Hitler’s pre­texts for invad­ing Poland in Sep­tem­ber 1939. Lat­er, as Civ­il Admin­is­tra­tor for Danzig and West Prus­sia, Forster was respon­si­ble for exter­mi­nat­ing 12,000 to 16,000 non-Ger­mans. He made no dis­tinc­tion between Jews and Poles, regard­ing them all as sub-human.

At the end of the war, Forster turned up in British-occu­pied Ger­many. The British trans­ferred him to the Poles, who hanged him for crimes against human­i­ty in 1952. His col­league Lud­wig Noé spent the war in Danzig and died aged 78 in 1949.

Appeasement and Fascism

The Spar­ta­cus arti­cle con­tains oth­er crit­i­cisms worth debat­ing. On Fas­cism and Appease­ment, how­ev­er, it mag­ni­fies iso­lat­ed quo­ta­tions to sup­port nar­row con­clu­sions. Con­cern­ing the lat­ter, Churchill’s view var­ied with cir­cum­stances. “Appease­ment from weak­ness and fear is alike futile and fatal,” he declared. “Appease­ment from strength is mag­nan­i­mous and noble, and might be the surest and per­haps the only path to world peace.”

In under­stand­ing Churchill, what mat­ters are his broad and con­sis­tent views, not his occa­sion­al diplo­mat­ic niceties. He dealt eas­i­ly with con­cepts and polit­i­cal ideas. If he had gen­uine­ly admired Fascism—as opposed to one par­tic­u­lar fas­cist for a brief period—he would undoubt­ed­ly have said so. That he nev­er did is proof that he did not admire Fas­cism as a polit­i­cal philosophy.

One thought on “Albrecht Forster and Churchill’s Danzig Moment, 1939

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