Sunday, 11 December 2011
To many modern readers, a surprising element of David Rosenberg's Battle for the East End: Jewish responses to fascism in the 1930s was the degree of support for the British Union of Fascists by British big business, especially Rothermere's Daily Mail. Why should we be surprised? Whether it be Germany, France, Italy or Britain, some parts of big business felt that a fascist government would keep the unions in check and and bring a bit of order. Rothermere and his allies faded away as it became obvious that the BUF were a bunch of violent thugs, but you could sense their disappointment. The degree of upper class support for the far right in the 30s is not really news though, however much it is kept quiet. My friend Ron Morris has just sent me a photocopied section of the rather pompous autobiography Life Worth Living by that polymath and sportsman CB Fry, who represented England at cricket and football. Fry thought it would be a good idea, in 1934, to forge stronger links between the uniformed British youth organisations, the Boy Scouts for example, and the Hitler Youth, so that both groups could learn from each other. He travelled in Germany, met, and was impressed by Hitler, Hess and Ribbentrop. In his conversation with Hitler they discussed the "Jewish question", the dangers of Communism and the need for friendship with Britain. Fry was happy to greet Hitler with a straight armed salute and to leave with the same, before spending more time with the smart and elegant ladies of Berlin. Indeed most of the people he met seemed to be attractive, and full of vitality or extraordinarily nice. At first I thought that Fry was simply another gullible upper class twit who would have come to his senses before realising that the book was first published in 1939, by the respectable publishing house of Eyre and Spottiswoode (which would eventually become part of Methuen). 1939? Wasn't there that little trouble with Hitler around then? Worse, the book ran to a second impression in January 1940 and a third in July 1941. And the book still carried Fry's sycophantic notes about Adolf Hitler and the ending "Such were my impressions and my conclusions when last I saw Adolf Hitler. Whatever may have happened since, I see no reason to withdraw any of them."