Times Story on Wartime Antisemitism in Britain is Released

We reported about a week ago that a Times story dated 16 August was withdrawn after publication. See earlier post. This has now apparently been republished with the dateline 23 August under the title “How Antisemitism in Britain is Rooted in the Second World War”. It is written by Dominic Kennedy. See this link. The story is based on government reports recently released to The Times regarding antisemitic activity in Britain before, during and after the war. As explained in the introduction:

… archive papers released to The Times show that Churchill’s bastion of propaganda and censorship [in the Ministry of Information] harboured one of the most disturbing secrets of the Second World War: throughout the struggle against Hitler, British prejudice towards Jews grew relentlessly.The discovery will revive nagging doubts about whether, had the Nazis invaded, Britons would have betrayed or rescued their Jewish neighbours. A long withheld file, called Antisemitism in Great Britain and disclosed by the National Archives, shows that officials confronted by reports of rising prejudice decided that Jews themselves were to blame.

Several of Waugh’s friends are implicated in the story. Duff Cooper was for a short time head of the MoI but had a fairly rough ride. On the other hand, he is shown to have been sympathetic to the Jewish plight and is not charged with fostering antisemitism as were others in the Ministry.The article tells this story:

Cooper was alert to antisemitism. In the final years of peace, he warned Chamberlain’s secretary of state for war, the Jewish politician Leslie Hore-Belisha (who introduced the eponymous beacons as transport minister) of impending bigotry. ….Hore-Belisha, who became lifelong friends with Cooper and Lady Diana, wrote in his diary that Cooper predicted that “the military element might be very unyielding and they might try to make it hard for me as a Jew”.

Once war broke out Chamberlain indeed sacked Hore-Belisha because “there was a prejudice against him”. Hore-Belisha was then vetoed as a potential minister of information by the Foreign Office, whose attitude was summed up by the undersecretary Sir Alexander Cadogan: “Jew control of our propaganda would be a major disaster.”

Cooper was selected as Minister of Information after Churchill replaced Chamberlain as PM. Cooper was soon replaced, in turn, by Brendan Bracken who was not a close friend of Waugh but did help him with his military career. Bracken contributes little to the story except for this:

Bracken inspired the character of Rex Mottram, the vacuous colonial adventurer satirised in Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited who, after complaining that he could not taste brandy served in what he derided as a “thimble”, was brought “a balloon the size of his head”.

It is also later suggested that George Orwell may have named a character in 1984 Big Brother because his initials matched those of Bracken.

How Bracken relates to the theme of antisemitism is a bit of a mystery. Similarly, Waugh is not cited for antisemitic behavior but does provide a lead into the section where Cooper and Bracken at the MoI are discussed:

The caste of leaders confronted with the rise in British prejudice belonged to the decadent interwar generation satirised in works such as Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies “walking into the jaws of destruction again”.

Again, as with the reference to Rex Mottram, Vile Bodies seems somewhat off the point. It is possible that major editing was undertaken after the story was withdrawn, and this may have left some references a bit stranded.

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One Response to Times Story on Wartime Antisemitism in Britain is Released

  1. When I wrote my thesis on Waugh and the Jews, I read Duff Cooper’s book on King David, a fictionalized biography of David, meant to show solidarity with the Jews during their persecution. I wish I’d hung onto the book, but didn’t unfortunately. Anyway, I don’t recall much in the book that was offensive to me, as a Jew, and the book’s dedication to the Jewish people was very touching, but at least one statement stands out in my mind as snide. It was something like, “No race prizes physical beauty as much as the Jews, or produces it less often.” So his wife was Lady Diana Cooper? I didn’t realize that, but am not surprised since the biography of her by Philip Ziegler describes her feelings about Jews–even Jews of her own social standing–as mixed. But Ziegler says she was at least one British anti-Semite who lived to be ashamed of the way she treated some of her Jewish associates earlier in life. Yours, David Bittner.

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