When Hitler didn’t meet Churchill

In “A note on WSC,” I discussed the article that appeared over the weekend describing an unpublished 1937 column by Winston Churchill. In the unpublished column Churchill is said to have ascribed partial responsibility for anti-Semitism to the Jews themselves. The unpublished column was discovered in Churchill’s papers at Cambridge. I noted that another article on the same subject carried a quote by the authoritative Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert expressing doubt that Churchill wrote the unpublished column and lamented the fact that neither of the articles recalled that in the course of his long public life, Churchill frequently wrote and spoke favorably of the Jews and in support of the creation of a Jewish homeland.

One striking example derives from Churchill’s work on his great history of his ancestor, the Duke of Marlborough, during Churchill’s “wilderness years.” In the early 1930’s Churchill’s research on the Marlborough biography took him to the European battlefields on which his ancestor had staked his claim to greatness. On one such trip Churchill continued to Munich and a possible meeting with Adolf Hitler. Martin Gilbert tells the story, but prefaces the story with this revelation:

Every biographer tries to find the key to his subjectís personality, and above all the flaws and weaknesses which are an indispensable part of any biographical presentation. I remember how pleased, actually thrilled, I was some twenty-five years ago, talking to one of those who had been close to Churchill in the Twenties, Thirties, Forties and Fifties. He said to me: “You have to understand, Gilbert, that Winston did have one serious fault.” As a biographer, my ears pricked up and my pen was poised to record and then to follow this up. This gentleman continued, “He was too fond of Jews.” Whether this was a serious fault for some of his contemporaries, for his biographer it was an extraordinary window into his life.

Then the story:

When in November 1932, shortly before Hitler came to power, and Churchill was in Munich doing some historical research about the First Duke of Marlborough, his ancestor, an intermediary tried to get him to meet Hitler, who was in Munich at the time and had high hopes of coming to power within months. Churchill agreed to meet Hitler, who was going to come to see him in his hotel in Munich, and said to the intermediary: “There are a few questions you might like to put to him, which can be the basis of our discussion when we meet.” Among them was the following question: “What is the sense of being against a man simply because of his birth? How can any man help how he is born?”

Gilbert adds:

This may seem a simple sentiment to us now, but how many people, distinguished people from Britain, the United States and other countries, who met or might have met Hitler, raised that question with him? So surprised, and possibly angered, was Hitler by this question that he declined to come to the hotel and see Churchill.

Gilbert will undoubtedly retell this story and have much more on point in his forthcoming book Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship later this year.

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