31st October 1939.
‘Want we want is an ‘itler’.The Oxford Gate-Porter in D.L. Sayers‘ ‘Gaudy Night’ (1935).
Before World War II there was a muted agreement that if there was the slightest prospect of reaching an agreement with the Germans it would have been wrong to do anything to embitter relations between the two countries.
Today a Tuesday in 1939 there was a newspaper headline: ‘Horrors of the Nazi Camps-Conditions Recalling Darkest Ages’.(1)
It reported that ‘conditions in the ‘dreadful Nazi camps’ were issued in a Government ‘White Paper’ last night and that documents were being published now because of shameless propaganda being issued by Berlin accusing Britain of atrocities in South Africa [in the Boer War], 40 years ago’.(2)
A ‘case of the pot calling the kettle’, as it ignores German and Belgium atrocities perpetrated by in late 19thc Africa in their colonisation of the Congo, and South West Africa (now Namibia).
There is little doubt that the British devastated the countryside in the South African, Boer War, in the process rounding up Boer women and children, of whom some 20,000 reportedly died in the poor conditions of the then named Concentration Camps.
This outrage was an act of omission, but still not to be condoned, in a guerrilla war in which Britain finally defeated the Boers who lost their independence in the Treaty of Vereeniging (1902).
Atrocities are as old as mankind, none more so as revealed in the ‘Good Book’ when the ‘Chosen People’, The Israelites occupied their ‘Promised Land’: ‘As Agag [an Amelikite] came to Samuel with faltering step he might have thought he would be spared’, but Samuel hewed Agag in pieces before the Lord in Gilgal’.
The problem with the idea of a ‘Chosen People’ is that it can lead to dehumanising of one’s enemies, Britain through Empire was not immune as were others. However nothing matches the act of commission of the horrors perpetrated against the Jews, which magnitude was only to be revealed in 1945.
(1) Daily Telegraph. 31st October 1939.
(2) One British Consul-General who sent a note of the atrocities to his chief asked that the information be kept confidential ‘in case world opinion be raised to a higher pitch of indignation’.
It reported that the documents are of unimpeachable authenticity as they were from Sir Nicholas Henderson when he was in Berlin as British Ambassador, and from former British Consuls General in Vienna, Cologne, and Munich, and to statements from prisoners to charity organisations whose reports were too consistent to be fabrications.