Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Being beastly, by God, to the Germans

My current research on British Christian newspapers from the 1930s and 1940s turns up quite a bit of interesting material that is not quite directly project-related.

For example: there was relatively little turning of the cheek in a commentary by the Dean of Wells (Richard Malden) in the Guardian (the Anglican Church paper and not to be confused with the Manchester Guardian) in May 1945 on what should be done with Germany in the post-war world.

The dean, in fact, took rather a hard line.

Direct retaliation – that is to say, massacre or mutilation of the German race – is out of the question.

You can almost hear the Dean's sigh of disappointment.

Such violation of the Moral Law is not for us. But within the inviolable limits prescribed by the Christian conscience it is not easy to see how any punishment which can be meted out to the German people can be counted too severe. I have said ‘to the German people’, because there is no real distinction to be drawn between them and the Nazi party.

After the First World War, the dean recalled,

…we were urged to discriminate between the Germans and their rulers. We were assured that the German race is at bottom simple, honest and kindly, content to live within a horizon bounded by music, philosophy and beer. Its admirable moral qualities had made it an easy prey for the wicked Hohenzollerns, who had exploited it to serve their dynastic ambitions.


The truth was, and is, that the Germans are not at bottom simple, honest and kindly, though it has often been to their interest to try to persuade foreigners that they are. (A sound axiom for dealing with them is: Any German will say whatever he thinks convenient, and do whatever he thinks he can.) They have consistently, for two hundred years at least, if not for longer, shown themselves to be as arrogant, greedy and brutal as any nation which walks the earth, with the possible exception of the Japanese.

Among the dean's more concrete suggestions was evacuating the German industrial city of Essen and laying it, as he put it, 

utterly waste, and to remain so for ever. Any attempt to re-occupy or rebuild it to be an immediate casus belli without parley.

The destroyed city would serve as a reminder and warning for future generations. (The seventh son of the seventh son is not mentioned, but you get the picture.)


The first step towards their regeneration must be for us to make them understand that they are almost universally detested, as few people have ever been; and despised for their sheeplike docility. They must be shown that detestation and contempt will be their portion until they begin to show themselves worthy of something else. If they are to be allowed to set foot in British territory in any part of the world (and for my own part I believe it would be wise to exclude them absolutely for a term of years and to make plain that trespassers will be executed), it must only be in rigidly restricted numbers…

…and subject to strict regulations. For example, Germans were to be treated as “ticket of leave men” (e.g., they would be required to check in at police stations at regular intervals), would be forbidden to acquire property, their correspondence to be strictly censored and they would be required to pay a special “poll-tax" that would defray the costs of all the surveillance that the dean thought necessary to keep them under control.

Unsurprisingly, the subsequent weeks' correspondence columns in the Guardian were pretty lively.

(Source: The Dean of Wells, “Treatment of Germany. The Way of Regeneration”, (Anglican) Guardian, 25 May 1945, 203-204.)  

(Part of the 'historical bycatch' series; explanation.) 

No comments: