Friendship with Germany: Churchills attitude towards Hitler in 1937

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This is the complete and unabreviated text of Churchills article, released in the Evening Standard. The text was also published in the book Step by Step, published 1939, a collection of articles written by Churchill from 1936 to 1939


SEPTEMBER 17, 1937


I FIND myself pilloried by Dr. Goebbels’s Press as an enemy of Germany. That description is quite untrue. Before the war I proposed to Von Tirpitz a naval holiday. If this had been ac­cepted, it would enormously have eased the European tension, and possibly have averted the catastrophe. At the moment of the Armistice, as is well known, I proposed filling a dozen great liners with food, and rushing them into Hamburg as a gesture of humanity. As Secretary of State for War in 1919, I pressed upon the Supreme Council the need of lifting the blockade, and laid before them the reports from our generals on the Rhine which eventually procured that step. I took a great deal of personal re­sponsibility in sending home, months before they would other­wise have been liberated, about one hundred thousand German prisoners, who were caged up in the Pas de Calais. I was vehe­mently opposed to the French invasion of the Ruhr. In order to prevent a repetition of it, I exerted myself in Mr. Baldwin’s Cabinet to have the Treaty of Locarno made to cut both ways, so that Germany as well as France had British protection against aggression. Therefore no one has a right to describe me as the enemy of Germany except in wartime.

But my duty lies to my own country. As an independent Con­servative member I felt bound to give the alarm when, five years ago, the vast secret process of German re-armament, contrary to Treaty, began to be apparent. I also felt bound to point out to the Government in 1934 that Germany had already created a powerful military air force which would soon be stronger than the British Air Force. My only regret is that I was not believed. I can quite understand that this action of mine would not be popular in Germany. Indeed, it was not popular anywhere. I was told I was making ill will between the two countries. I am sure that if Herr Hitler had been in my position, and had be­lieved what I believed, he would have acted in the same way. In times like these the safety of one’s own country must count for more than saying smooth things about other countries. At any rate, I did not feel at all penitent when, six months later, I heard Mr. Baldwin admit that the Government had been wrong in their figures and information. And ever since ministers have been bewailing “the years that the locusts have eaten.”

Similarly, for the last few months, in Parliament and in these letters, I drew attention to a serious danger to Anglo-German rela­tions which arises out of the organization of German residents in Britain into a closely knit, strictly disciplined body. I wonder what Dr. Goebbels would think if we had fifteen or twenty thousand Englishmen in Berlin, all strong anti-Nazis, who, while they kept within the law, were none the less all bound together, attending meetings at frequent intervals, and putting pressure on any British refugees, if such there were, to toe the line of some British party or other. Moreover, this process of Nazi organization abroad is un­doubtedly becoming an obstacle in the way of British and German cordiality. Sir Walter Citrine, at the Trade Union Congress, has protested in the name of British Labor against the persecution of German refugees in England by other German visitors to our shores.

We have always been an asylum for refugees. It was only the other day that I was reading how in 1709 we gave refuge and shelter to a very large number of Germans from the Palatinate, which had been overrun by Marshal Villars with fire and sword. We could never allow foreign visitors to pursue their national feuds in the bosom of our country, still less to be organized in such a way as to affect our military security. The Germans would not tolerate it for a moment in their country, nor should they take it amiss that we do not like it in ours. I see Herr Bohle has expressed a wish to talk this over with me. I should be delighted to do so in the most friendly manner, and do anything in the power of a private member to remove this new embarrassment to Anglo- German goodwill.*

* He visited me a few weeks later.

I have had from time to time conversations with eminent Ger­man supporters of the present regime. When they say, as they so often do, “Will not England grasp the extended friendly hand of Germany?” nearly everyone in England will reply, “Certainly, yes. We cannot pretend to like your new institutions, and we have long freed ourselves from racial and religious intolerance. We cannot say that we admire your treatment of the Jews or of the Protestants and Catholics of Germany. We even think our methods of dealing with Communism are better than yours. But after all, these matters, so long as they are confined inside Ger­many, are not our business. It is our duty and our sincere desire to live in a good and neighborly fashion with so great a nation united to us by many ties of history and of race. Indeed, we will grasp the outstretched German hand.”

“But,” we must ask, “what happens next? Are we expected to do anything special to prove our friendship, and if so, what?” We cannot be expected to help Germany financially while she is spending nearly a thousand millions sterling a year upon her tremendous rearmament. That would be unfair to our own peo­ple. We cannot hand over colonies irrespective of the wishes of their inhabitants and of a great many other considerations. We should be very wrong if we were to give Germany a guarantee that so long as she left Britain and France alone in the West, she could do what she liked to the peoples of the center and south­east of Europe. To give such an assurance at other people’s ex­pense would not only be callous and cynical, but it might actually lead to a war the end of which no man can foresee.

To hold these opinions is not to be hostile to the German Government, and still less to the Germans as a nation. To feel deep concern about the armed power of Germany is in no way derogatory to Germany. On the contrary, it is a tribute to the wonderful and terrible strength which Germany exerted in the Great War, when almost single-handed she fought nearly all the world and nearly beat them. Naturally, when a people who have shown such magnificent military qualities are arming night and day, its neighbors, who bear the scars of previous conflicts, must be anxious and ought to be vigilant. One may dislike Hitler’s system and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.

I have on more than one occasion made my appeal in public that the Führer of Germany should now become the Hitler of peace. When a man is fighting in a desperate conflict he may have to grind his teeth and flash his eyes. Anger and hatred nerve the arm of strife. But success should bring a mellow, genial air and, by altering the mood to suit the new circumstances, preserve and consolidate in tolerance and goodwill what has been gained by conflict.

Step by Step Preface

Step by Step Preface