Review of the book “Coffee with Hitler” by Charles Spicer

In January 1935 Philip Kerr, the British liberal politician known as Lord Lothian, traveled to Berlin for a series of meetings with senior Nazi officials, culminating in a two-hour session with Adolf Hitler. When the German leader called World War I “the greatest madness” for pitting their countries against each other, Lothian was suitably impressed. On his return to London, he declared, “Germany does not want war and is willing to give it up at all…on condition that it be given real power.”

in “Coffee with Hitler: The Story of the Amateur Spies Who Tried to Civilize the NazisAnd theBritish historian Charles Spicer explains that the Lothian visit was the first step in a carefully orchestrated campaign by the founders of the Anglo-German Fellowship, which was officially launched a few months later. Funded by British industrialists and bankers – and encouraged by German officials – a group of energetic amateurs with close ties to Germany “hoped to cultivate personal relationships, build trust and generate mutual respect by breaking bread together,” Spicer wrote. Their ambition was to civilize the Nazis.

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This was top-notch security thinking, but Spicer argues that his heroes shouldn’t get sucked into the corrupt appeasement camp led by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. He notes that his meticulously researched, clearly written book takes “civilization rather than pacification” as the main theme. The distinction between bowing to and wooing the Nazis may seem contrived at times, but Spicer insists that the men who directed the activities of the Fellowship in this fraught period ultimately served their country better than is generally known—although there were some outspoken Nazi sympathizers. Center.

Three largely forgotten figures were the main players: Philip Conwell Evans, a Welsh historian and pacifist who served as a visiting lecturer at the University of Königsberg. Ernest Tennant, a World War I veteran and pioneer businessman, and group captain MG Christie, the former British air attache in Berlin and Washington whom Spicer describes as a “self-employed, independent intelligence agent”. With the help of Kerr and Leopold von Hoech, the German ambassador in London, they enlisted financial support from the “British Industry and Finance Cream”.

They also developed ties with leading Nazis: Joachim Ribbentrop, who served as Hitler’s faltering ambassador at St. James’s Court and then as foreign minister. Hermann Göring, Supreme Commander of the Luftwaffe and President of the Reichstag; and Hitler’s nominal deputy, Rudolf Hess. At various times, they touted Hitler’s idea of ​​peace, which he did not completely abandon even after the outbreak of war: Hitler explained that the terms would be British acceptance of German hegemony on the continent in exchange for Germany’s recognition of “vital importance”. interests of the British Empire. Spicer wrote that this would have been the “Faust Pact.”

Given Britain’s commitments to Poland and France, combined with growing alarm about Hitler’s increasingly violent implementation of his racist ideology, it was inevitable that many of the early appeasers would be forced to abandon their illusions. After Kristallnacht, the “Night of Broken Glass” that targeted Jews and their property across the country, the fellowship lost about half of its members. The outbreak of the war in 1939 led to its final dissolution.

But Spicer explains that its founders remained active in the run-up to the outbreak of World War II, using their knowledge of Germany and Nazi leadership to strengthen rather than soften Britain’s resolve. He writes that their intelligence “has now reached the height of the British government”.

A tale of World War II that dares to charm and that reveals the humanity of its heroes

Sir Robert Vanscitart, the government’s chief diplomatic adviser and a staunch opponent of appeasement, commissioned Conwell Evans and Christie to prepare a report on Hitler’s intentions. The resulting document was violent, describing Hitler as “little better than a monster in his ruthlessness and brutality” who was motivated by his “hate and envy of England”. Vansettart pointed out clearly in his introduction that the book was written by “two English men who knew Germany best” and that they had, until recently, been considered lovers of Germany. One of the great virtues of Spicer’s book is that it brings Vancitart out of the shadows, and explores his critical role in furthering the policies championed by Winston Churchill: No Compromises with Hitler.

By contrast, Spicer repeatedly wielded the skewers of Ribbentrop, “that wine-seller, arrogant-turned-diplomat” who would be the first great Nazi to be hanged in Nuremberg. Because he spoke English and lived abroad, Hitler was convinced he could well represent his regime in London. But Ribbentrop was ultimately blunt and pretentious, and as Spicer wrote, he was “intellectually deficient.” Even his mother-in-law dismissed him as an idiot. Feeling neglected by British society, he shifted from his position as a false peacemaker to open hostility.

Spicer also focuses on the roles played by Conwell Evans and others during the rising tensions over Hitler’s efforts to break up Czechoslovakia in 1938. General Ludwig Beck, the German chief of the General Staff, was so concerned that this might lead to a major war that he conspired with military and intelligence officers others to stage a coup. The conspirators kept in touch with Conwell Evans and others in the Fellowship, treating them as the best channel for their message that London must stand firm. Spicer argues that Chamberlain’s capitulation to Hitler’s demands in Munich aborted what was the most dangerous attempt to overthrow the dictator.

This is a complex tale, but as Spicer skillfully told, it moves with briskness. His main characters aren’t easy to characterize either, but he brings them to life, with all their contradictions.

No one illustrates Spicer’s story better than Lord Lothian, who was so extravagant after meeting Hitler in 1935. Arriving in Washington to take over as ambassador a few days before the outbreak of World War II, he worked hard to shore up US support for the war effort. British until his death unexpectedly in late 1940. Praised by both Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt for his tremendous efforts on behalf of their partnership, he showed that at least some of the fellowship’s members deserved salvation.

The Untold Story of the Amateur Spies Who Tried to Civilize the Nazis

Pegasus Books. 392 pages $29.95

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