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PHILLIP MADDISON IN NUREMBERG

In 1935, Williamson was whisked off by his friend Sir John Heygate (also, as it happens a friend of Anthony Powell's and author of Decent Fellows, a novel published in 1930, treating of homosexual activities in Eton College) to Germany, where he attended, and was deeply impressed by, the Nuremberg rally. He describes this in The Phoenix Generation (published, we remember, in 1965):

'They went out to drink and eat in a large restaurant called Kempinski’s, resembling the Trocadero in London. Phillip was surprised to see so many prosperous-looking Jews eating there. Piers [Sir Piers Tofield, the fictional representation of Heygate] said, 'It’s owned by Jews.' This surprised Phillip, who, while knowing what he considered to be the distortional magnification of the newspapers, nevertheless had been affected by the reiteration of hostile criticism of the Nazis. He had thought vaguely of all Jews hiding in cellars, or being held in concentration camps.'

This may seem bizarre but in the mid-thirties many Jews thought that the raw violence that accompanied Hitler's rise to power had been brought under control. Obnoxious as the Nuremberg Laws were they seemed to provide a stable framework. You knew what you could do and what you couldn't and Jews had a long historical experience of living under restrictive legal systems. Many Jews who had left in 1933 were returning thinking that life though difficult could be tolerable. The illusion was shattered in 1938 with the kristallnacht and the violence that accompanied the anschluss with Austria. The obligation to wear the yellow star was first introduced in occupied Poland in 1939 and in Germany itself in 1941. Williamson as it happens continues his account with some details that are less accommodating to the Nazi viewpoint, including a sudden outburst of raw antisemitic feeling on the part of Maddison's friend Tofield.

Williamson's account continues:

'Next morning he went to buy a shirt at a department store owned by Jews and found it thronged. Occasionally it was picketed, said Piers; Germans were asked why they bought from aliens and not from German tradesmen. Many other Jewish shops were open, it appeared. There were no beggars on the streets. There was work for all who applied for it. Nine million unemployed had been found work ...

'His mornings were spent wandering about Berlin. Everywhere he saw faces which looked to be breathing extra oxygen: people free from mental fear. What a difference from the strained faces in certain parts of London! Would there be another war, he asked again and again, and got the same reply, No: Germany was now strong, and would create her own destiny: no more crowd-hysteria or mass-panic. No more political parties were fighting for power - there had been forty-eight such parties between 1918 and 1933, said the young Party-member who spoke English. He had appeared one morning at the hotel to take Phillip around the city. Proudly this young man wore the small gold and red badge of the 1923 Party-member. He had been a boy during the 1914-18 war, he explained.

‘"You are an ex-service man. Good! You, like our Führer, are a phoenix from the flame and steel of those days!” He spoke in clipped, sharp tones, obviously copied from Hitler in his speeches, which Phillip had heard (but not understood until he read them in translation) over his wireless set in England. “I am honoured to meet a front-line soldier, like the Führer!"

On the way to Nuremberg:

'They stopped again to look at a landscape of new peasant-cottages, white and pink, spaced regularly and built a quarter of a mile away from the main road. Each, said Martin proudly, had its four hundred square metres of land.

'“They are for workmen, from the cities. There is an adviser for garden cultivation. Each man is encouraged to make and cultivate his garden to his own ideas. Our Führer does not want us to be like bees or ants, you see. Each man must be a leader to himself. The Party will always remain, but when all our natural ideas are learned, the direct control will wither away.”

'They passed a troop of boys in shorts, marching along under a taller boy. “Hitler Youth, see for yourself how open are their faces, my friends !" They certainly looked happy, and smiled to see the little Union Jack pennant above the radiator cap.'

In a letter (never in fact posted), Phillip describes his impressions of the rally:

'"Three figures, Hitler in middle, walking in slow march up the white approach to the urns of remembrance, while softly the band below played I had a Comrade, that lament equivalent to our Flowers of the Forest. The tiny trio went past the masses paraded there below : helmets of the new Reichswehr, small and dark-grey, like poppy-seeds: clay- brown squares of the S.A.; blacker S.S. rectangles. These clerks, farm labourers, waiters, tram-conductors, newspaperboys, sons of generals and princes, poets, writers, labouring men, comedians and wounded soldiers - all who heard him in those early days and were shocked, rightly or wrongly, truly or neurotically, into a new way of thought, and gave up all for the Idea, and bound themselves together for their beliefs, fighting the forces of gold and disintegration and rival Ideas, meeting terror with terror and death with death, and driving the Communists off the streets until more than 30,000 Nazis (according to Martin) were slashed, cut, shot, blinded and finally killed in the struggle which has shocked the mind of the old Europe. I do not forget the opponents, tens, hundreds of men in a rival cause, millions of communist youths believing that the only way to a new world was by total destruction of the old civilisation, while Hitler wanted to base the new on the century-old virtues which were maintained in what was Old Europe. Yet many Communists heard the fanatic, and were disturbed anew, put into self-conflict, and went over to what they finally decided was the clear light."'

He then enters into prophetic mode. It would be interesting to know if the letter, or something like it, was written at the time or if this is hindsight:

'Germany is boycotted. Germany will not break the idiom of money invested for the greatest profit, irrespective of human life. The free for all is dereliction and death for millions. Oh Christ if this boycott leads to war! There will not be a Jew left in Central Europe, there will not be a Germany, there will not be an Empire, England will no longer be Shakespeare’s “precious gem set in a silver sea, this realm, this England!” Yet Hitler is now within an economic trap, isolated in the centre of Europe, dying not from individual Shylocks, for the Jews are splendid family folks, and created one of the first corporate states in the known history of the world, but from an obsolescent system which no longer serves modern world-needs. War is war. I have seen German prisoners, surrendered during battle, bombed in communication trenches when led to the rear, and this by a Battalion of Foot Guards. "Truth is the first casualty in war.’"As for Birkin able to rouse our people in time, he is making no real headway. The sad truth is that the great masses of people never feel keenly about anything outside their home and jobs, and that is good. They’re usually too tired after the day’s work to want anything but food, social life and necessary beer in their clubs (i.e. pubs). And the intellectual minority which formulates, indirectly, their destiny, is not prepared to struggle for peace. They are isolated souls, seldom prepared to be good neighbours first.'

This is followed by an incident which obviously made an impression on him, since he refers to it several times subsequently - a close-up look at Hitler:

'The next day I was invited to the Party headquarters hotel. I sat not far from Hitler in the drawing-room. He was talking to several people. Very quick head movements. His face, in happiness, has a luminous quality, his eyes particularly, being pale blue with a kind of inner shining. A Shelley self-driven by an inner tyranny to strike evil? Or a saint who will never draw the sword?

'Among the guests were the two young Mitford sisters, no longer wearing blue print dresses, but tweed coats and skirts, with no hats. Hitler in their presence seemed light and gay. He spoke rapidly, but was also a courteous listener. I could see that his natural pace was much faster than the normal. He glanced at me several times, I could feel sympathy between us. He had the look of a falcon, but without the full liquid dark eyes: an eyeless hawk whose sockets had burned out in battle and later filled with sky. A man of spiritual grace who has gone down into the market place and taken on the materialists at their own selfish game. Has such direct action ever succeeded in history?'

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