Thursday 21 September 2017

They couldn't have known Hitler's evil intentions

We should not judge those who lived through the 1930s in ignorance of what was to come

'In 1933, no one knew what Hitler would do - World War Two and the Holocaust were years away. Moreover, the British regarded affairs in Germany largely in terms of how they would affect Britain'
'In 1933, no one knew what Hitler would do - World War Two and the Holocaust were years away. Moreover, the British regarded affairs in Germany largely in terms of how they would affect Britain'

Tim Stanley

The footage is strange, even alien. The royal family in 1933 or 1934, playing on a lawn, egged on by the Prince of Wales - later Edward VIII - to give a Nazi salute.

Many viewers will feel discomfort; Buckingham Palace has signalled its disappointment that the image has been made public. But the past is the past. We have to view historical events in their context - not from hindsight.

In 1933, no one knew what Hitler would do - World War Two and the Holocaust were years away. Moreover, the British regarded affairs in Germany largely in terms of how they would affect Britain.

Would the Nazis save Europe from communist revolution? Would the regime even survive the decade? Would fascism threaten the empire? Or would Hitler prove to be a paper tiger?

It goes without saying that children waving their arms about in a Scottish garden offered no kind of endorsement - but there were intelligent men and women who did.

Lloyd George called Hitler a "remarkable man". George Bernard Shaw said the Nazi movement "is in many respects one which has my warmest sympathy". There is footage of Shaw on film giving a little fascist salute when discussing Mussolini.

Shaw's views evolved - and the salute he gave was mocking. After all, many Britons then (and now) regarded Hitler with an element of irony (although Edward VIII's sympathies are, tragically, well documented). To the elitist British, his humble origins made him look like an upstart - a view shared by aristocratic Germans who dismissed him as "that Austrian corporal".

Hitler's ego was ripe for parody, and parodying him didn't equate to tolerance of his evil.

Think of Charlie Chaplin's brilliant movie The Great Dictator (1940), which made full use of the comic possibilities of Hitler's physical shortcomings.

Of course, The Great Dic- tator was made before the full horror of Hitlerism became known to the world, and to imitate the Nazi salute after 1945 is a far more morally loaded act (although this didn't stop John Cleese in Fawlty Towers). But, to repeat, the royal fam-ily's comic mockery of Nazism in 1933 comes from a different time and place.

As a historian, I find the footage far less interesting than the likely popular reaction to it.

We have a habit nowadays of judging others very quickly and condemning things done long ago under conditions totally different to our own.

Sometimes that's the right thing to do, and other times it's a futile and mistaken gesture. People will probably get flustered about this footage, not because it deserves comment, but because - by the moral standards of today, knowing what we now know - people will feel they need to comment for the sake of it.

They don't. This is a family making fun of a strange man who lived many miles away and whose true wickedness was undreamt of.

©Telegraph

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