The Black Book
The Britons on the Nazi Hitlist
London: Profile Books, 2020
Hardcover. x+437 p. ISBN 978-1788165082. £25
Reviewed by Antoine Capet
Université de Rouen
When she entitles her Part I ‘Why care about what did not happen?’, Sybil Oldfield does not refer to what is sometimes called ‘What If?’ or ‘Counterfactual’ History – and there are plenty of scholarly and popular books alike which try to explain what could have happened if the Nazis had invaded Britain in 1940 or defeated the Soviet Union in 1941-1942 – or both. In fact, her book discusses what would have happened in the former hypothesis: who would have been immediately arrested and why – ‘why’ meaning what danger the potential invaders saw in the continued activities of the people who figured on their secret Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. (‘Special Search List G.B.’), commonly known as The Nazi Black Book or simply The Black Book, first discovered in the Berlin Gestapo Headquarters in September 1945. The Imperial War Museum published a facsimile in 1989, but without any detailed commentaries – hence the necessity for the book under review, since the author gives short shrift to M.J. Trow’s The Black Book : What if Germany had won World War II : A Chilling Glimpse into the Nazi Plans for Great Britain (London : John Blake, 2017):
The chatty, haphazard, sometimes inaccurate The Black Book has no index, admits that it selects names ‘at random’, and mentions no more than a handful of Jewish refugees for ‘reasons of space’. 
And of course many of these Jewish refugees ‘would become “naturalised” British [and] comprise the majority of those on the List’ . The author herself, now Emeritus Reader in English at the University of Sussex, was ‘born Sybil Mence, half German, half English, in London’: ‘On the day I was born, 23 April 1938, Viennese Jews were made to scrub the streets with toothbrushes’  – in fact the photograph given [ill. 17] shows some ‘made to scrub Vienna streets with their hands’. Coming from a Socialist family, her German mother had fled the Nazi régime and met and married her British father in 1936 – so she was classified as an ‘enemy alien naturalised by marriage’ in Britain in 1939.
The reason why Dr Oldfield came to write her book makes fascinating reading:
From July to October 2014 an exhibition of portraits, ‘Virginia Woolf, Art, Life and Vision’, curated by Frances Spalding, was shown at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In its last room was the facsimile of a page from the ‘Black Book – the List of Britons Most Wanted for arrest by the Gestapo’ which said [see Nos 115-116 p. 222 of the online List]:
Woolf, Leonhard (sic). 1880 geb. (born). Schriftsteller (male writer)
Woolf, Virginia. Schriftstellerin (woman writer) […]
Why ever, I wondered, had the Gestapo targeted Virginia Woolf, the modernist novelist? […] It was sheer curiosity that made me trace the Gestapo ‘Most Wanted’ people in Britain in 1939-40. 
This leads her to explain her purpose:
My principal aim is to understand why all these particular native Britons, and those particular Jewish refugees who became British, were singled out by the Gestapo […]. Why were they suspected above all others of having the potential to obstruct the successful Nazification of Great Britain? 
Another aspect of the Black Book is that it contained a large number of Vereinigungen (associations) classified as deutschfeindlich (hostile to Germany) or Marxist. The Quakers were ‘one of the Gestapo’s bêtes noires’  and the Internacia Esperanto Liga (London) as well as the League of Nations Union were also blacklisted because of their pacifist and internationalist approach.
Instead of examining ‘the Britons on the Nazi Hitlist’ in alphabetical order, as in the original Black Book, the author chose to classify them by category – which of course makes more sense – starting with ‘Medical Men and Women’ [Chapter 3]. Few names here will be familiar to 2021 readers, the main exception being ‘Professor Dr Lord Christopher Addison, FRCS, over 70 years old in 1940 … the first ever minister of health [in 1919]’ , included for his anti-Appeasement activities in the Labour Party after 1933. Most of the names listed were those of psychiatrists who had fled Nazi Germany and Austria (the author tells us that the list was sometimes faulty – it still included ‘Sigmund Freud, Jude’ after his death ).
With ‘Pacifists’ [chapter 4], the modern reader will be on far more familiar ground, with famous names like Sir Norman Angell (‘Präs.[ident] d.[es] Weltkommitee[s] gegend Krieg u.[nd] Fascismus’), Nobel Peace Prize, 1933, or Vera Brittain ‘targeted by the Gestapo as a "Journalistin" ', on whose case Dr Oldfield comments:
It was a great relief for Brittain to discover, in September 1945, that she too had been on the Black List – that the Nazis had recognised that non-violent women resisters, whose values were the opposite of their own, would be as implacably anti-Nazi as any resistant, armed, British men. [62-64]
Discussing the various names and organisations listed, the author incidentally makes very insightful remarks about the pre-war Pacifists, which go a long way towards explaining their hopeless failure:
Can one generalise about such a heterogenous collection of unheeded would-be saviours of the world? The unsympathetic view is that they were just cranks, headless chickens hopelessly divided among themselves, running in contradictory directions. Even before 1933, Ponsonby had discovered that the No More War Movement over which he was president was split into at least four groups – the Tolstoyan / Gandhian enthusiasts for non-violent non-resistance; the communists taking their orders from Moscow; the socialist revolutionaries urging class war in Britain; and the more conservative Christian pacifists deeply suspicious of the left, including the Labour Party. 
‘Was it ridiculous of the Gestapo to worry about British pacifists as anti-Nazi resisters?’, she then asks, before making the point that ‘they would most certainly have secretly obstructed many Nazi occupation measures, for instance by hiding political dissidents and Jews’  – a fair point to make.
The next chapter, ‘Refugee Rescuers’ begins with a forceful remark: ‘If the Nazis disliked and despised pacifists, they abominated refugee rescuers’ . Apart from that of Eleanor Rathbone (with the author praising Susan Cohen’s Rescue the Perishing : Eleanor Rathbone and the Refugees, 2010) , few well-known individual names figure in that chapter, largely filled with a discussion of organisations. Why they were on the Black Book is obvious: ‘From the Nazis’ point of view, their enemy’s friend was their enemy, and all would face retribution should Germany invade’ .
We naturally meet Eleanor Rathbone again in ‘Social Reformers’ [chapter 6], alongside now-forgotten activists of the time, apart from the Duchess of Atholl (‘the Red Duchess’) and Ellen Wilkinson of Jarrow fame – for some reason women seem to dominate in that chapter.
Chapter 7, ‘Some “Degenerate Artists” ’ is a fascinating mix of British-born citizens, foreign residents of long standing and recent German- or Austrian-born exiles. We find in it the ‘free-loving stormy petrel’ Clare Sheridan (reputedly with Trotsky and Kamenev in the long list of her brief lovers) whose ‘inclusion in the Black Book may be due less to her early left-wing political and personal involvement with the Soviet Union than to her being the first cousin of Winston Churchill and hence valuable as a hostage’ . Also the American-born sculptor Jacob Epstein, resident in the United Kingdom since 1905 and naturalised in 1910, who ‘was anathema to the nazis, as a Jew, as a “primitivist” artist and as an opponent of fascism’ . Oscar Kokoschka, who had the great honour of having eight of his paintings shown in the notorious Entartete Kunst exhibition of 1937, riposted with his ‘Self-portrait of a Degenerate Artist’ in the same year and fled from Prague to London in 1938.
In ‘Punishing the Publishers’ [chapter 8], one will not be surprised to find Allen Lane and the authors of his Penguin Specials, as well as Gollancz, his Left Book Club, and its authors. But Dr Oldfield was intrigued by the presence of more conservative publishers, the most extreme case, perhaps, being J.M. Dent, ‘publisher of the great Everyman Series’, who is ‘damned for having published Ernst Henri’s Hitler over Europe, already prophesying a Second World War’. Likewise, Hamish Hamilton, Heinemann, Hutchinson and Methuen were included for publishing only one anti-Nazi book each – but Macmillan for no stated reason [110-111]. (Could it be for a very oblique reason: Harold Macmillan, a member of the publishing family, was a prominent anti-Appeaser in the 1930s? ) The chapter concludes on a most pertinent question: ‘Can one be certain about what would have happened to these Blacklisted British publishing firms under Nazi occupation?’ The experience of France is ‘not straightforward’, since many publishing houses were allowed to do business provided they did not issue or reissue books by ‘Aragon, Duhamel and Malraux as well as the French Jews Maurois and Proust’ while ‘French police officers… inspected booksellers’ premises… seizing and impounding nearly three quarters of a million books and closing down eleven of the seventy or so publishing houses they raided’. Hence Dr Oldfield’s verdict: ‘It is therefore more than probable that all the Blacklisted British publishers, with their undeniable track record in the Sonderfahndungsliste of having published anti-Nazi books before 1940, would also have been raided and closed down’ .
Pride of place is given in ‘Targeting Creative Writers’ [chapter 9] to E.M. Forster, first president of the National Council for Civil Liberties in 1934, ‘a life-long anti-imperialist and anti-racist’ as well as ‘an anti-appeaser’ [114-117]. Associated names are those of ‘a great admirer’, Rose Macaulay, and Naomi Mitchison, the extremely critical author of Vienna Diary in 1934. The chapter also discusses the inclusion of J.B. Priestley, ‘popular novelist, playwright, social commentator, broadcaster… a non-Marxist, non-revolutionary socialist [with an] antipathy to fascism’, whose work was banned in Germany from December 1936 [120-123]. Stephen Spender had fought the Francoists in the Spanish Civil War – enough to be in the Black Book. A curious omission, which the book does not discuss or even mention, is that of Orwell (or Blair), who had also joined the International Brigades. H.G. Wells, ‘Blacklisted simply as Schriftsteller’, was ‘an outspoken anti-fascist’ who wrote a latter-day version of The Rights of Man in 1940 which ran contrary to the Nazi creed – ‘It is not surprising that the Gestapo planned to eliminate him’. His one-time lover, the ‘feminist novelist and essayist’ Rebecca West, was ‘an implacable anti-totalitarian’. ‘An atheist Jew, Leonard Woolf [also] detested every kind of totalitarianism’. The title of his Barbarians at the Gate (1939) was of course enough to include him in the Black Book, but all his past action made him a choice target of the Nazis – he knew it and ‘kept a suicide pill on him’ in 1940 [126-127].
‘It is unlikely that the Gestapo actually read the writings of Virginia Woolf’, Dr Oldfield writes with some grim humour, after giving her own decidedly feminist interpretation of the origins of the ‘modernist novelist’s’ ‘anti-fascist campaigning’ as a ‘life-long pacifist’ which could only attract the Nazis’ angered attention:
Virginia Woolf could feel nothing but contempt for the male supremacist competition that so often culminates in a nationalistic, militaristic dictatorship – and even in international war. Men have been socialised by every society into believing that their virility depends upon their success in dominating – in both the private and the public worlds. It was the warrior male, in whatever uniform, who constitutes the problem and who in every age has shut women out from political decision-making.
Naturally, Dr Oldfield does not fail to give the famous quote from Virginia Woolf’s last essay of 1940, ‘Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid’: ‘Hitlers are bred by slaves’ [127-128]. These five words alone would evidently have justified her inclusion, if such had not already been the case.
In the next chapter, ‘Shooting the Messenger – Blacklisted Journalists’, specialists of the prewar and wartime British Press will recognise familiar names, like Gerald Barry, W.P. Crozier, J.L. Garvin, Wickham Steed, and especially Vernon Bartlett, among many other British or refugee commentators. Curiously, we learn, the editor of the Blacklisted militant anti-fascist Picture Post, Stefan Lorant, ‘a Hungarian Jew’, ‘the most influential refugee journalist in Britain after October 1938’, was not included . The photographic section of the book reproduces the famous satirical montage in Picture Post (15 October 1938, at the time of the Munich crisis), ‘Happy Elephants’ [ill. 16], based on the well-known phrase, ‘if pigs could fly’, which is discussed in connection with the many anti-Nazi images published in Picture Post .
The next part of the book is devoted to the British Establishment, starting with ‘The Secret Service’, a chapter which will not disappoint amateurs of spy stories, with all its colourful and often eccentric characters, mostly forgotten today, though they were all well known to the Gestapo, thanks to its ‘moles’. A few familiar names emerge: Bruce Lockhart or Desmond Morton, for instance – but one is astounded to learn that the famous film director Alexander Korda was employed by MI6, which occasionally financed his production company, and that Noël Coward was also on its pay roll . The refugees were no less fascinating:
The most elusive chameleon, the most wily, brilliant secret agent of them all in this period, however, must, I think, have been Jona Ustinov – ‘Klop’ i.e. ‘Bedbug’ (1892-1962), the father of Peter Ustinov. […] Under cover of being an art dealer […] he kept an eye on the White Russian exiles for MI5, especially on any who were so anti-communist that they favoured Hitler. […] Simultaneously, while working for MI6, he reported… on Nazi spies in Britain as well as on Edward VIII’s and Wallis Simpson’s dubious attraction to the Third Reich. [173-174]
‘Why the Gestapo should have selected certain professional soldiers rather than thousands of other British officers is not always clear’, Dr Oldfield states at the beginning of chapter 12, ‘The Army’ . Why Baden-Powell, ‘now 82 years old’?: possibly because he ‘was, the Gestapo believed, ultimately responsible for training the world’s Scouts to be anti-German British spies’  – which shows the degree of paranoia which reigned in Nazi Germany, incidentally. Few other names are familiar today: Lord Trenchard, ‘the so-called “Father of the RAF” ’ , and – at least in France – General Spears, who liaised with de Gaulle during the war and was in the Black Book probably for his proximity to Churchill and his anti-Appeasement struggle in the late 1930s.
Besides discussing the expected roll of companies (household names like Unilever and ICI or strategic suppliers like Shell) and individuals (many of them successful Jewish entrepreneurs and financiers), chapter 13, ‘Business and Industry – Friend or Foe to Germany?’, speculates once more on the possible attitude of those in the Black Book, extrapolating from what happened in France, and taking into account the existence of the Anglo-German Fellowship, ‘blatantly sympathetic to Nazi Germany – while claiming to be non-polical’, with no Jews in it:
That fundamental question is complicated by the fact that a significant sector of British banking, business and industry had already had a close, even cordial, socio-commercial relationship with Nazi Germany between late 1935 and 1939 – as evidenced by the Anglo-German Fellowship in those years. […]
Members of the elitist Fellowship included […] the governor of the Bank of England […] Other backers were Geoffrey Dawson, the editor of The Times, and the directors of Tate & Lyle, ICI and Distillers, members of the ‘Cliveden Set’. […] Its ‘corporate members’ included Price Waterhouse, Unilever, Dunlop Rubber, Firth-Vickers, Stainless Steel and several banks.
If ICI and Unilever were on it, ‘most of those eminent members of the Anglo-German Fellowship are conspicuously absent from the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B.’, the author points out, concluding that ‘in an analogy with Vichy France, there would almost certainly have been contrasting instances of collaboration and of resistance in industrial Britain’ [197-199].
Not unexpectedly, Church leaders of all denominations – not only British rabbis – figured in the Black Book (‘The Church’, chapter 14). That Cardinal Hinsley had recently supported General Franco did not make him persona grata to the Nazis. In the Anglican hierarchy, the most interesting case is of course that of Bishop Bell, who was detested both by the Nazis and by Churchill and his War Cabinet. As a pacifist and humanitarian, he could expect little respect from Hitler – but he was in fact an objective ally of the Germans during the war, when in the name of superior Christian values he vociferously denounced the indiscriminate British bombings which hit the civilian population, thus ‘causing Anthony Eden to call him “this pestilent priest” ’ [206-207].
Apart from its last chapter, the rest of the book is devoted to ‘Eliminating Brilliant Minds in the Humanities’ and ‘Eliminating Brilliant Minds in the Sciences’ – and this reads like a fascinating Who’s Who of prewar British intellectual life, including the impetus given to it by the post-1933 exiles. It begins with chapter 15, ‘Art Historians and Musicologists’, in which foreign blood dominates – the archetypal example being that of Nikolaus Pevsner, of The Buildings of England (1951-1974) fame, ‘born into a Russian Jewish family in Leipzig’, who came in 1933. Probably few readers will know that he was interned for three months as an ‘Enemy Alien’ in 1940 .
The first sentence of chapter 16, ‘Attacking Ancient Classicists’, says it all:
It might seem baffling that the Gestapo should have bothered to include on their ‘Most Wanted’ list a 74-year-old translator of ancient Greek […], but Gilbert Murray (1866-1957) (OM 1941), was in fact the very incarnation of the Western liberal humanism that Nazi Germany sought to extirpate. 
Likewise, one of its first few sentences neatly sums up the contents of chapter 17, ‘Economists of All Kinds – but not All Economists’: ‘Only two of the Gestapo’s Blacklisted economists were not refugees’ . They were Sir Theodor Emanuel Gugenheim Gregory and Sir George Paish, little known today outside the academic specialists, like the long roll of exiles.
‘Down with Humane Educationists’ (chapter 18) naturally discusses the ‘often left-wing WEA=Workers’ Educational Association’: ‘Closing down the WEA under German occupation would have had an incalculably deadening effect’, Dr Oldfield rightly argues , while most of the space is devoted to exiles, some of whom worked for reconciliation and de-Nazified ‘re-education’ after the war.
‘It is not surprising that what all the British-born historians in this chapter [19: ‘Erasing Historians’] had in common was their published anti-Nazi view of events’, she writes – and many familiar ‘progressive’ names of the inter-war years feature in it: H.N. Brailsford, G.D.H. Cole, R.W. Seton-Watson, alongside refugees who unlike them did not all discuss recent history in their books.
The next chapter, ‘Masters of the Word – Some Linguists and Literary Critics’ is once more dominated by refugees, and the same holds good for chapter 21, ‘Philosophers and Socio-Political Theorists’: ‘The Gestapo were not concerned about possible opposition from Britain’s leading philosophers in 1940’, Dr Oldfield simply tells us .
The same could probably be said to explain why the refugees dominate again in ‘Some Mathematicians’ (chapter 22), and in the same vein the title of the very short chapter 23 (two pages) is self-explanatory: ‘Jewish Inventors in the Material Sciences’. Chapter 24, ‘Biochemists and Other Medical Researchers’ ends on ‘A summary of the areas of medical research in Britain made by Blacklisted refugee scientists after 1933’ which shows the enormous contribution that they offered to their host country – and the loss to science which their murder by the Nazis would have represented [292-293]. It is a pity that the book does not provide a similar repertory for chapters 25: ‘Biologists – including Physiologists, Geneticists and Zoologists’, 26: ‘Chemists’ and 27: ‘Physicists, Astro-physicists, Crystallographers, Geo-physicists and Nuclear Physicists’, even if we have a sub-chapter on ‘Refugee Nuclear Physicists and the Bomb’ with an excellent discussion of Leo Szilard and the ethical dilemma facing him [317-320].
All these later chapters in the book make it clear that most of the scientists earmarked for elimination by the Nazis were Jewish refugees, and Dr Oldfield has made a long-overdue splendid contribution to the recognition of their considerable participation in the British war effort.
The title of the final chaper, ‘The Most Dangerous British anti-Nazis in Gestapo Eyes’, is in fact slightly misleading, as it, too, includes people who were not ‘British’. Still, the majority were, and what unites them in the chapter is that ‘they held leadership positions in political parties or in the trade union movement or else were political writers or activists’ . Inevitably, some of the latter, like Eleanor Rathbone MP, have already been discussed in previous chapters for different reasons, but this leaves a wide corpus of names, as the Sonderfahndungsliste cast a wide net:
The Blacklisted British-born groupings include the cross-party War Cabinet, other Conservative MPs and peers, Liberal MPs and peers, Liberal activists and writers, Independent MPs, Labour MPs and peers, Labour activists and writers, Communist MPs and the Communist rank and file. The refugee political targets included both government representatives in exile and those political activists who had fled Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia or Poland, and settled in Britain. 
For obvious reasons, all the anti-Appeasers and supporters of Churchill were in the Black Book – but it also included men like the pro-Appeasement Liberals Sir Herbert (later Viscount) Samuel (‘surprisingly, a pro-appeaser, despite his own Jewish background’ ) and Sir John Simon as well as Lord Halifax and Neville Chamberlain, who had been Churchill's most bitter political enemies. Contrary to what the author suggests, men like A.V. Alexander, Hugh Dalton, Arthur Greenwood, Lord Lloyd, Sir Archibald Sinclair are not ‘now largely forgotten’  – as least among those who are interested in Britain in the Second World War and the postwar Labour Government. The Black Book also included names which seem at first surprising owing to their prewar attitude to Nazi Germany, like Lady Astor of the ‘Cliveden Set’ – but we are told that she fell out with Ribbentrop in March 1939, which ‘would have seemed to the Führer like a defection and condemned her at last as being a Briton “hostile to Germany” ’ . Among the lesser-known Blacklisted MPs, Dr Oldfield devotes almost two pages to the remarkable figure of the Liberal business owner Sir Geoffrey Mander, ‘one of the very first anti-appeasers’, who, as early as 1931, ‘warned the House against not backing the League and reacted against Japan’s invasion of Manchuria’ .
Many trade-unionists were also in the Black Book besides national figures like Arthur Horner, Walter Citrine and Ernest Bevin, including ‘the veteran 80-year-old Ben Tillett’, remembered today for his prewar (i.e. pre-Great War) activities on the docks. Dr Oldfield believes that ‘Presumably, he was targeted by the Gestapo because, in his seventies, he still supported the Spanish Medical Aid Committee’ . The oldest former left-wing activist in the Black Book seems to have been Tom Mann, ‘aged 84 in 1940’ . Another curious case is that of Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960) who ‘was not listed by the Gestapo for her past suffragette militancy, or for her pacificism, and not even because she had co-founded the Communist Party of Great Britain’, but for being ‘Sekret. Int. Frauenlig[a] Matteotti’ – i.e. Secretary, International Women’s Matteotti Committee, after the name of the Italian Socialist Deputy murdered by ‘fascists thugs’ in 1924 . Dr Oldfield also discusses what she calls other ‘obscure foot-sloggers in the 1930s British Communist Party’, wondering how the Germans were able to trace them: ‘Clearly they must have had informers, both British and German – including “entryist” stool pigeons and fake “refugees” in the party who were secretly enthusiastic pro-Nazis’ .
We find the same mix of obscure and famous names among the political refugees. Needless to say, Benes and Masaryk from Czechoslovakia, Sikorski from Poland, de Gaulle from France were listed alongside less well known compatriots – ‘But most of the foreign political targets of the Gestapo were, of course, Austrian and German Jews, labelled “anti-German emigrants” by the Nazis’ . Not all were Jews, however: for instance, Curt Geyer had been a leader of the SPD. Some had a ‘tragic story’, like Rudolf Olden , whose photograph is given with the caption: ‘Rudolf Olden, anti-nazi lawyer and journalist in pre-1933 Berlin; a refugee in Britain, he was refused “naturalisation” and drowned with his wife on the torpedoed ship taking him to work in the US’ [ill. 32].
The result is well known, but it is always useful to repeat it for the younger generations: ‘London had never before been so cosmopolitan nor so vibrant with political argument and passion as it was during the Blitz’ . Ultimately, if we wonder what the cartoonist David Low had in common with General Sikorski, the book gives us a very convincing answer, and it is difficult in fact to better this conclusion in our own:
Who were the most dangerous British anti-Nazis in 1940? Ask the Nazis. Quite against their intention, the Gestapo produced in their anonymous secret ‘Black Book’ a great document of British history. For in it they testified to the strength and breadth of anti-fascist British resistance before and during the Second World War. 
In addition to the text proper, we have five separate appendices giving exhaustive lists of all the anti-Nazi organisations (many international or foreign) on British soil, which usefully complement the Index of names. Though it is impeccably footnoted (or rather, endnoted, which is unfortunately far less convenient), a curious feature of the monograph is the absence of a Bibliography or ‘Works Cited’ list, even though they are very numerous in the notes. The proof-reading must have been very careful, as only four typos were detected – all in German words and names: ‘Weltkommitee’ [genitive with S omitted, 63] ‘Abets’ , Sichertheit’s Dienst  and Frauenlig  – in a text full of often complicated foreign names.
We must thank Dr Oldfield for this thoroughly-researched, outstanding addition to the vast literature on Britain in the Second World War – she magnificently fills an inexplicable gap on a subject which was hitherto often alluded to, but never fully explored. Reading it, it is obvious that Britain was not ‘Alone’ in 1940 in its intellectual struggle against Nazism. It goes without saying that all University Libraries should acquire the book, which from now on will no doubt figure prominently on all Reading Lists on Britain at War, 1939-1945.
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