Waugh and the Nazis?

An article in the independent news and opinion website PULSE has an article by Anas el Hawat entitled “On the Astonishment That Nazis Can ‘Still’ Have Taste” that opens with this:

Evelyn Waugh [sic], on a visit to Germany in 1933 shortly after the boycott of Jewish businesses, wrote: “I had come across antisemitism in Eastern Europe before, but I thought racial persecution belonged to another age. Half-civilized peoples might still indulge in it but surely not the Germany I had known.” Waugh’s inability to amputate the image of the exceeding greatness of the German kulturnation from the barbarism it could thus deport itself to was by no means uncharacteristic of his age, nor, apparently, ours. Consider the New York Times article in which its author is too incapacitated in his fascination with a self-described white nationalist’s highbrow cultural tastes and lifestyle (he watches Seinfeld!) to aptly represent the danger that his subject poses.

Unable to recollect any visit by Waugh to Germany such as that described, I looked for where the quote may have come from. It was not written by Evelyn Waugh, it turns out, but by Sir Evelyn Wrench (I Loved Germany, London: Michael Joseph, 1940), one time owner of The Spectator. Knowing nothing of his political views except that they were conservative, I would hesitate to comment on whether the quote is fairly cited in the context of the article. But it is certainly unfair and inaccurate to attribute the views it expresses to Evelyn Waugh.

In this connection, a recent post noted that Waugh had signed an inscription in a copy of Black Mischief presented to Mary Lygon by placing the letters BOAZ (a nickname he used) inside a hand drawn swastika. This seemed odd, since neither Waugh nor Mary Lygon, unlike some of the Mitford sisters, had any particular history of open support for the Nazis. The inscription would have been written about the time the book was published in October 1932. Upon reflection, it would appear that this signature was proabably intended as a joke, although in retrospect, it has lost its humor. In October, the Nazis were still struggling for political power within the democratic structure of the Weimar Republic. Earlier in the year, they had achieved 37% of the vote in parliamentary elections but were unable to enter into a coalition with other parties needed to form a government. This resulted in a highly fraught and chaotic situation involving, inter alia, frequent, well-publicized demonstrations and street fights between the Nazis and the Communists and requiring new elections in November. So the book would have been signed while that election was being fought (quite literally) and was in the news headlines. In those circumstances, the Nazis could still be viewed as a fair target for satire and ridicule as just another party on the lunatic fringe, and it was probably in that spirit that Waugh used the swastika in his signature. A few months later, after several weeks of negotiations following the November elections, some other right wing parties agreed to join the Nazis in a coalition with Hitler as Chancellor (even though the Nazi share of the vote had decreased). It was only a matter of a few more weeks before they managed to dissolve the Reichstag and seize dictatorial power–no longer a laughing matter perhaps (although it didn’t stop Charlie Chaplin).

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