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Ostensibly this is a book about visitors to Hitler’s Germany, most of them British but a few French or Americans thrown in too, and for good measure a Swiss with the curious name of Numa Tetaz. Ji Xianlin, a Chinese scholar of Sanskrit at Göttingen university, was prevented from returning home and recorded his disillusion with Nazism in a diary from 1935 to the end of the war. An exhaustive researcher, Julia Boyd has made good use of unpublished correspondence and privately printed or obscure publications. With an almost novelistic touch, she presents a range of stories of human interest in themselves and which also serve to weigh up the responses of men and women who suddenly found concentration camps and murderous anti-Semitism thrust right in their face. A friend of Julia Boyd’s identified only as Alice was in Germany in 1936 when a Jewish woman with a teenage daughter wearing a thick built-up shoe approached her in evident distress and begged her to take the girl to England. Alice did so, setting the standard of humanity against which to judge the other choices and decisions considered in this book.

The British had to ask themselves whether Nazism would lead to peace or war. The uncertainty of it conditioned relationships with Germans and a memorable, even emblematic, example comes in Richard Hillary’s memoir The Last Enemy. An Oxford undergraduate shortly before the war, he was one of a crew racing German rivals on the river at Bad Ems. They were losing until a spectator spat in contempt at the stroke of the boat and so galvanised him that they overtook the Germans. Victory had its price: a year or two later and an ace pilot by then, Hillary was shot down in his Spitfire.

The Duke of Windsor, formerly King; David Lloyd George, formerly Prime Minister; Lord Londonderry, Secretary of State for Air; and Lord Allen of Hurtwood, Labour peer were among those who believed Hitler was a man of peace and they went to Germany to pay their respects. In the course of stage-managed meetings with Hitler in Berlin or Berchtesgaden, they did not discuss preparations under way behind their backs for one or another blitzkrieg, they knew little or nothing about the persecution of Jews and cared even less. Mouthpieces, they spread Hitler’s misrepresentation of reality.

Even at the time, their self-importance and credulity attracted amazement, if not ridicule. “Adolf Hitler: A Man of Peace” is the title of a chapter in a book by Wyndham Lewis. Sir Thomas Moore, a Conservative Member of Parliament, made a particular exhibition of himself, as in this sentence written in September 1933, by which time the ceremonial burning of books had taken place and Dachau was in operation: “If I may judge from my personal knowledge of Herr Hitler, peace and justice are the keywords of his policy.” In his passport, the writer Robert Byron gave his occupation as “warmonger” and at a white-tie occasion in London he put Sir Thomas on the spot by asking, “Are you in German pay?”

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