When Did Churchill Read “Mein Kampf”?

When Did Churchill Read “Mein Kampf”?

Q: Mein Kampf

“Of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, Churchill wrote in his war memoirs:

…there was no book which deserved more care­ful study from the rulers, polit­i­cal and mil­i­tary, of the Allied Pow­ers. All was there—the pro­gramme of Ger­man res­ur­rec­tion, the tech­nique of par­ty pro­pa­gan­da; the plan for com­bat­ing Marx­ism; the con­cept of a Nation­al-Social­ist State; the right­ful posi­tion of Ger­many at the sum­mit of the world. Here was the new Koran of faith and war: turgid, ver­bose, shape­less, but preg­nant with its message.[1]

“But he writes noth­ing about it before this. When did he first read Mein Kampf, and did he have any ear­ly reac­tion to it?”

A: 1935, if not sooner

The answer is unde­ter­mined, but we can nar­row down the time frame. I looked for this in my Hitler chap­ter of Win­ston Churchill, Myth and Real­i­ty. I searched his cor­re­spon­dence for men­tions of Mein Kampf from 1925, when it was first pub­lished. Churchill did not read Ger­man and there is no indi­ca­tion that he saw the Ger­man edi­tions at that time.

There is no evi­dence that Churchill read Mein Kampf until at least 1933[2] but he was aware of Hitler ear­li­er. His friend Sir Ian Hamil­ton fur­nished the first ref­er­ence to Hitler in Churchill’s offi­cial biog­ra­phy. In Octo­ber 1930. In the Sep­tem­ber fed­er­al elec­tions, Hitler’s Nation­al Social­ists soared from 12 to 107 seats, sec­ond high­est in the Reich­stag. The rul­ing Social Democ­rats fell slight­ly to 143, the Ger­man Com­mu­nist Par­ty tripled its seats with 77.

Hamilton and Cuno

Churchill was anx­ious to know what this elec­tion fore­told. Hamil­ton passed him the views of the Ger­man ship­ping mag­nate and one­time chan­cel­lor, Wil­helm Cuno. What Hamil­ton described as Hitler’s “scoop” was, accord­ing to Cuno, nat­ur­al and hopeful:

He said that out of the 32 mil­lion peo­ple in Ger­many there were 29 mil­lion who were find­ing life just about intol­er­a­ble and they were absolute­ly fed up with it. In their minds they had resolved to sweep away the whole of the exist­ing sys­tem of com­pro­mise, makeshift and try­ing to win their way back by slow degrees on the old lines.

They were jol­ly well going to have a try at some­thing entire­ly new and the whole ques­tion, for peo­ple like him­self who had some­thing to say with the steer­ing of the ship of State, was whether the change would be to the right or to the left. If to the right it would be an accen­tu­a­tion of nation­al­ism: if to the left it would be inter­na­tion­al­ism. They had got their swing to the right and he hoped that the respon­si­bil­i­ty of pow­er would make this new Gov­ern­ment more mod­er­ate in action than it had been in words.[3]

Cuno was how­ev­er like­ly to put a favor­able spin on the Nazi surge. Two years lat­er he would join Wil­helm Kep­pler as a finan­cial advi­sor to Hitler. His death in 1933 spared him what­ev­er ignominy that might have attached to him through fur­ther asso­ci­a­tion. The worst that can be said of Churchill over this ear­ly intel­li­gence from Ger­many was that he too hoped for mod­er­a­tion. Like many oth­ers, he mis­gauged the depth of Hitler’s prej­u­dice and hate. But it didn’t take him as long as most oth­ers to real­ize the truth.

Mein Kampf in 1935

The first known Churchill encounter with Mein Kampf was five years later—two years after Hitler took pow­er and the first Eng­lish edi­tion was pub­lished. By then, as Mar­tin Gilbert tells us, he was ful­ly up to speed:

Churchill was also well informed about the inter­nal sit­u­a­tion in Ger­many. Three months ear­li­er, on 10 Decem­ber 1935, at Churchill’s own request, L.G. Mon­te­fiore had sent him a full trans­la­tion not only of the Nurem­berg Laws, under which the Jews of Ger­many had been deprived of their basic rights as cit­i­zens, but also of the detailed admin­is­tra­tive reg­u­la­tions, where­by those Laws were to be put into force. On March 10 the Duchess of Atholl sent him two copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf, the orig­i­nal Ger­man edi­tion and the Eng­lish translation.[4]

Katharine Stew­art-Mur­ray, 8th Duchess Atholl was deter­mined that Churchill should know the truth. The Eng­lish trans­la­tion of Mein Kampf sent to the Lon­don pub­lish­er was watered down to soothe British nerves. Atholl sent Churchill

copies of those pas­sages which had been expur­gat­ed in the trans­la­tion. “Some­times,” she wrote, “the war­like char­ac­ter of the orig­i­nal is con­cealed by mis­trans­lat­ing.” In one of the expur­gat­ed pas­sages Hitler advo­cat­ed a Ger­man alliance with Italy and Britain, in order to iso­late France. In anoth­er he described France as “our bit­ter­est ene­my.” And in a third he declared: “the life of a peo­ple will be secured not by nation­al grace, but by the strength of a vic­to­ri­ous sword.” The Duchess of Atholl also sent Churchill extracts from Hitler’s speech­es with copies of those more extreme para­graphs which had not been cir­cu­lat­ed to the for­eign press.[5]

The Duchess of Atholl…

…is one of the for­got­ten hero­ines in Churchill’s bat­tle against appease­ment. Lynne Olson’s Trou­ble­some Young Men fine­ly describes this feisty Scotswoman, the first Con­ser­v­a­tive woman Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment to hold min­is­te­r­i­al office:

Mein Kampf
Katharine Mar­jo­ry Stew­art-Mur­ray, 8th Duchess of Atholl, DBE, née Ram­say, 1874-1960. (The Times, pub­lic domain)

For Kit­ty Atholl, Mein Kampf served as a call to bat­tle. No longer the docile back­bencher who want­ed to “smooth mat­ters over,” she became an out­spo­ken foe of appease­ment. She again joined forces with Churchill, this time in his cam­paign to awak­en Britain to the dan­gers posed by Hitler and the need for rear­ma­ment. Like Churchill, she received con­fi­den­tial infor­ma­tion from knowl­edge­able sources about the rapid pace and size of Ger­man rear­ma­ment, which she passed on to him and to offi­cials in the For­eign Office…. Many Tories in her con­stituen­cy, which con­tained more than its share of aris­to­crats, land­ed gen­try, and retired mil­i­tary offi­cers, were outraged.[6]

By the time of the Munich accord, the Duchess was thor­ough­ly repulsed by Chamberlain’s actions. She made speech­es denounc­ing the agree­ment, and pub­lished a pam­phlet about it. For this the Con­ser­v­a­tive whip was with­drawn and Cham­ber­lain sent sur­ro­gates to oppose her in a by-elec­tion. She lost her seat in Novem­ber 1938, and a few months lat­er Cham­ber­lain him­self came to defend his poli­cies in Scotland.

Churchill was furi­ous. On a vis­it to the High­lands, anoth­er friend told him Cham­ber­lain was com­ing and asked where she should set up the podi­um. “It doesn’t mat­ter where you put it,” Churchill replied, “as long as he has the sun in his eyes and the wind in his teeth.” His famous lisp often sur­faced strong­ly at times of great emo­tion. So this came out: “shun in hish eye­sh and the wind in hish teeth.”[7]

Endnotes

 1. Win­ston S. Churchill, The Gath­er­ing Storm (Lon­don: Cas­sell, 1948), 42.

2. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, 2 vols., (Berlin: Eher Ver­laf, 1925-26). An abridged Eng­lish edi­tion was first pub­lished by Hurst & Black­ett, Lon­don, on 13 Octo­ber 1933, though excerpts appeared in The Times dur­ing July.

3. Ian Hamil­ton to Churchill, 24 Octo­ber 1930 (Churchill Papers: 8/269), in Mar­tin Gilbert, ed., The Churchill Doc­u­ments, vol. 12, The Wilder­ness Years 1929-1935 (Hills­dale, Mich.: Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2009), 208-09.

4. Mar­tin Gilbert, Win­ston S. Churchill, vol. 5, Prophet of Truth 1922-1939 (Hills­dale Col­lege Press, 2009), 704.

5. Ibid.

6. Lynne Olson, Trou­ble­some Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Pow­er and Helped Save Eng­land (New York: Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, 2007), 167.

7. Mar­tin Gilbert, In Search of Churchill (Lon­don: Harper­Collins, 1994), 23.

 

 

 

 

One thought on “When Did Churchill Read “Mein Kampf”?

  1. I was aware of Mein Kampf and the fact that Churchill had read it at least by the mid 1930s. But what I did NOT know and I learned from your post was that the first Eng­lish trans­la­tion BOWLDERIZED and SOFTENED Hitler’s lan­guage and there were peo­ple who point­ed this out to Churchill. That weak trans­la­tion was anoth­er form of appease­ment. Thank you for shar­ing this fact.

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