Churchill as anti-Semite?

John Broich

“Allied leaders were anti-Nazi, but not anti-racist. We’re now paying the price for their failure.” That was the headline on an April 29 Washington Post op-ed by John Broich, an associate professor of history at Case Western Reserve University. His beef with Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt was that, yes, they led the Western Allies to victory in World War II, but while they both delivered memorable wartime speeches in which they eloquently adduced the enemy’s evil, they “rarely attacked the core tenet of Nazism: the belief in a master race.” By way of defending this assertion, Broich explained that in a recent class on World War II,

I had my students pore through the speeches and letters of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill from the years around the war’s start in 1939, searching for his basis for opposing the Nazis. They found Churchill wanted to stand up to the Nazis’ expansionism, fight their anti-democracy posture and resist what he called (but largely left undefined) their anti-Christianity. What he did not do, however, was call for the destruction of the essence of Nazism: race supremacy.

FDR, too, according to Broich, “either failed to comprehend the basic nature of German fascism or chose not to rally Americans to oppose Nazism as Nazism. In his prewar correspondence, he made no secret of his dislike of Hitler and his belligerent regime, but like Churchill, he never framed his opposition to Germany as a rejection of race hierarchy or race nationalism.” Broich then went a step further, citing America’s racial segregation laws and FDR’s placement of Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II as evidence that when it came to racism set in system, Roosevelt’s America and Churchill’s Britain were scarcely better than Hitler’s Germany. Which, of course, is an obscene view to teach to college students or to preach to newspaper readers.

Let’s be clear: Jim Crow and Manzanar were deplorable. But even to hint at moral equivalence between the Western Allies and the Nazis is insipid.

Winston Churchill

After reading Broich’s article, we turned to Andrew Roberts’s recent bestseller Churchill: Walking with Destiny. The book’s first reference to Hitler appears on page 95, in a passage about Churchill’s attitude toward Jews. Churchill, Roberts tells us, was a “philosemite” – an active admirer of the Jewish people. In 1904, he denounced a bill that would have restricted immigration by Russian Jews because, in his own words, it sought “to appeal…to racial prejudice against Jews.”

Churchill’s philosemitism was not just a public stance but a private conviction: Roberts lists several Jewish causes to which Churchill generously contributed (and this at a time when he and his wife, Clementine, were having trouble making ends meet). It was, Roberts writes, Churchill’s deep respect for Jews that enabled him, in the 1930s, “to spot very clearly and early on what kind of a man Adolf Hitler was.” In other words, Churchill, far from being unaware of or indifferent to Hitler’s antisemitism, recognized his evil earlier than others did precisely because it expressed itself as Jew-hatred.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Broich’s charge against Churchill, then, is a calumny. As for FDR, it’s absolutely true that he was the president who rounded up Japanese-Americans, turned away Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, and chose not to bomb the railroad line to Auschwitz. Yet while FDR was a Democrat and a so-called progressive, Broich made a point of linking his racist views and policies to the present-day American right, rather than to today’s left, whose obsession with group identity, fondness for segregation (e.g. gay-only and black-only dormitories), and mounting antisemitism (as reflected in the recent Nazi-style New York Times cartoon showing Donald Trump as a blind Jew and Benjamin Netanyahu as his guide dog) is very much in the “progressive” tradition.

Muhammed Najati Sidqi

Compounding the duplicity and offensiveness of Broich’s op-ed was his attempt to draw a moral contrast between, on the one hand, Churchill and FDR and, on the other hand, one Muhammad Najati Sidqi, “a Palestinian leftist activist” whom Broich praised for recognizing Hitler early on as a racial supremacist. In fact Sidqi wasn’t just a “leftist” – he was, though Broich omits to mention this fact, an out-and-out Communist – a devotee of a totalitarian ideology every bit as evil as Nazism. Sidqi studied in Moscow at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East (Ho Chi Minh’s and Deng Xiaoping’s alma mater), was a regular contributor to the Communist newspaper Mundo Obrero, and is today memorialized by the Najati Sidqi Competition, a literary prize awarded by the Palestinian Minister of Culture.

This is the man whom Broich held up as morally superior to Winston Churchill and FDR.

Interestingly, it was not until the end of his op-ed that Broich mentioned, parenthetically, our other wartime enemy, the Japanese Empire whose subjects, like Hitler’s, were guided largely by a conviction of their own racial superiority. Given that the orthodox view in today’s humanities departments is that all whites are racists and that non-whites can’t be racists, Broich deserves a thumbs-up for even daring to mention Japanese racism, however fleetingly. But what a low bar to have to clear!

The glamorous Nazi

Yesterday we began discussing the Mitford sisters, who during the last century were glamorous – and notorious – celebrities in their native Britain. We kicked off the family portrait with Unity (1914-48), who adored Adolf Hitler and ended up becoming his intimate friend.

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Diana Mitford

But Unity wasn’t the only Nazi in the Mitford clan. Her sister Diana (1910-2003) was described by various observers as “the peerless beauty of the family” and as “the nearest thing to Botticelli’s Venus that I have ever seen.” Her admirer Evelyn Waugh, who said that she “ran through the room like a peal of bells,” dedicated his novel Vile Bodies to her. At eighteen she married the heir to the Guinness brewery fortune; but then, in 1932, she met Oswald Mosley, founder of the British Union of Fascists. It was love at first sight.

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Oswald Mosley

Their politics were a perfect match. At a 1935 rally in Hyde Park where everyone else was singing “God Save the King,” Diana gave a Heil Hitler salute. Together with Unity, she attended several of Nazis’ annual Nuremberg rallies; in 1936 Hitler (who called her and Unity his “angels”) sent a chauffeured Mercedes to transport her to the Berlin Olympics.

In that same year, after spending four years sneaking around with Mosley behind her husband’s back, Diana divorced Guinness and married her Fascist amour. The wedding took place at the Berlin home of Joseph Goebbels, with Hitler himself in attendance. During the years leading up to the war, Diana explored with Nazi officials the possibility of starting a Germany-based radio station that would broadcast into Britain, mixing popular music with English-language propaganda.

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Diana and Unity at the 1937 Nuremberg rally

Four years later, back in the U.K., Mosley was thrown in prison. Under interrogation by British authorities, Diana admitted that “she would like to see the German system of government in England because of all it had achieved in Germany.” Unbeknownst to Diana, her sister Nancy had testified against her, calling her even more of a dangerous fanatic than Mosley himself. Diana soon joined her husband behind bars, although her cousin Winston Churchill saw to it that their accommodations were comfortable, if not downright luxurious. (The prison priest called their quarters at Holloway Prison “the Garden of Eden.”) Their release in 1943 caused widespread public outrage.

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Diana and Oswald Mosley

After the war, Diana and Oswald relocated to a mansion on the outskirts of Paris. Dubbed “La Temple de la Gloire,” it was located near the home of their close friends and political soulmates the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. Unrepentant in her Nazism, Diana edited a Fascist magazine; following Mosley’s death in 1970, she continued to support and socialize with the British Union of Fascists. Even as she denied that she and her husband had ever been anti-Semites, she clung to the idea that it wouldn’t have been terribly unreasonable to resettle the European Jews in “somewhere like Uganda – very empty and lovely climate.”

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Diana with her son Max Mosley, who ended up becoming president of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile

Though some upper-crust Brits spurned her society, she didn’t mind: “Being hated,” she wrote to her sister Deborah in 2001, “means absolutely nothing to me, as you know.” Yet in her last days she pooh-poohed the image of herself and Mosley as postwar outcasts: “The story about us being pariahs and all that, it’s all nonsense really,” she said in 2002. “I’ve never had rudeness or disagreeableness ever….If you met the Communists at dinner, you wouldn’t have a row.” Her Nazi views certainly didn’t keep editors at The Times of London, Evening Standard, and Spectator from assigning her book reviews.

When historian Andrew Roberts interviewed her not long before her death, she still talked like an old Nazi. “Hitler was attractive,” she told Roberts, “though not handsome, with great inner dynamism and charm….I don’t suppose I’ve met anyone quite so charming.” Asked about the Holocaust, she said: “I’m sure he was to blame for the extermination of the Jews….He was to blame for everything, and I say that as someone who approved of him.” What, inquired Roberts, would she do if Hitler were to walk into the room, right then and there? “I should have to be pleased,” Diana answered, “and ask him how it had been in Hell, or Heaven, or wherever he’d been.”

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Lady Diana Mosley in her later years

When she died, the obituarists mentioned her Nazism but – in a surprising number of instances – chose to emphasize her charm. The headline of Sarah Lyall’s obit in the New York Times read: “Lady Diana Mosley, Fascist Who Dazzled, Is Dead at 93.” Diana, wrote Lyall, had “presided over a beautifully decorated house, Temple de la Gloire, where she gardened, wrote, read, gave interviews, kept up on London literary gossip and entertained an endless stream of glittery visitors who were, inevitably, thoroughly enchanted by her quick wit, sparkling appearance, and sly sense of humor…she was always impeccably dressed, always a gracious hostess, and always intellectually vigorous.” Some Nazi! The novelist and critic A.N. Wilson, a friend of Diana’s, called her the “most beautiful, most intelligent, and most beguiling of the celebrated Mitford sisters.” And Hitler? All too many of Diana’s necrologists reduced him to little more than a footnote in her glamorous life.