Bri­tain’s Nazi aris­to­crats

The Herald Magazine - - Arts BOOKS -

now send you a se­ries of cards that de­pict our daily life as vividly as pos­si­ble.”

And so we get a suc­ces­sion of im­ages of sol­diers wash­ing, eat­ing, smok­ing and read­ing in their dugouts.

Later post­cards show beau­ti­ful French towns and land­scapes, peas­ants and horses. But in among them are scenes and in­di­vid­u­als marked by darker tones. Care­ful scrutiny of sol­diers at rest re­veals at least one re­cruit with his head in his hands, in­di­cat­ing bore­dom, worry, fa­tigue or de­spair.

Weary pris­on­ers-of-war shuf­fle along with bowed heads. There are de­stroyed build­ings, makeshift graves, in­jured al­lies and fallen en­e­mies.

One pic­ture of a colour­ful vil­lage car­ries a som­bre note: “I’m re­ally fed-up with life!!!”

Only a few im­ages de­pict com­bat. Those ex­pect­ing real hard­ship and car­nage should look to the rest of Schu­bert’s art­work col­lected here. The black-and-white lith­o­graphs he pro­duced in 1917 af­ter be­ing dis­charged from mil­i­tary ser­vice cap­ture the des­per­ate sav­agery of hand-to-hand fight­ing and the bleak hor­ror of corpse-strewn no-man’s lands.

The oil paint­ing Auschwitz Trip­tych in­cluded at the end of the book, and cre­ated at the end of Schu­bert’s life, is a three-wing dis­play of gut-churn­ing in­hu­man­ity.

How­ever, it is the post­cards that pre­dom­i­nate and, as such, de­mand our at­ten­tion. For­tu­nately, they also merit our at­ten­tion.

A hun­dred years on from the Armistice, th­ese in­ti­mate and ex­quis­ite me­men­toes stand as a tes­ta­ment to what Schu­bert saw and heard, ex­pe­ri­enced and en­dured. They show­case his ta­lent, demon­strate his love and en­large our un­der­stand­ing of a war that was sup­posed to end all wars.

Back in the day, a Catholic priest called Karl Kruger was a fre­quent vis­i­tor to our fam­ily home. Fa­ther (later Canon) Kruger told us that he was a con­vert to Catholi­cism and that he spent the Sec­ond World War in Canada. I was too im­ma­ture to give his story the hear­ing it de­served but it struck me even then that he must have been young when the war be­gan.

In later years, Fa­ther Kruger served the parish of Christ the King in Grange­mouth and its web­site pro­vides some of the rel­e­vant de­tail. Kruger was the son of Jewish par­ents and came to Ed­in­burgh at the age of 15 with his brother Hans as refugees from Nazi Ger­many. Soon af­ter­wards he was picked up on his way to church “wear­ing his school uni­form of Ed­in­burgh Academy” and de­ported to a de­ten­tion camp for aliens in Canada.

In his fas­ci­nat­ing study of British fas­cists, fifth colum­nists, treach­ery and spy­ing, Tim Tate ar­gues that the treat­ment of “en­emy aliens” is one of the rea­sons why a book like this has taken so long to ap­pear: “The round-up of thou­sands of Ger­mans and Ital­ians – many of whom were en­tirely in­no­cent of any Nazi taint – was un­ques­tion­ably a shame­ful pe­riod; that hun­dreds of them died when a ship trans­port­ing them to camps in the Do­min­ions was sunk by a U-boat, com­pounded the tragedy”.

The “un­ease” sur­round­ing British pol­icy of in­tern­ment with­out trial, Tate says, helps ex­plain why the in­for­ma­tion re­quired to write the book re­mained clas­si­fied for so long. The dossiers held by MI5, the Home Of­fice and the Trea­sury Solic­i­tor’s De­part­ment should have been re­leased be­fore the mil­len­nium un­der the 50-year rule or, at worst, un­der free­dom of in­for­ma­tion af­ter 2000, but they have only re­cently been made avail­able. This se­crecy was un­der­pinned by a false “noth­ing to see here” nar­ra­tive which dis­missed the idea of a fifth col­umn. Tate con­tends that there is a lot of see, in­clud­ing three plans to launch a vi­o­lent fas­cist rev­o­lu­tion in­volv­ing some of the lead­ing pub­lic fig­ures in the land and a se­ries of spy­ing episodes which have only now come to light. He iden­ti­fies a num­ber of

“fa­mil­iar names from aris­to­cratic fas­cist cir­cles”, in­clud­ing the Duke of Buc­cleuch, who had at­tended Hitler’s 50th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion in Ber­lin in 1939. Later he was ear­marked for the Quis­ling cab­i­net’s “food and agri­cul­ture” brief in the event of a suc­cess­ful coup.

Buc­cleuch was not the only Scot­tish con­nec­tion. The Duke of Bed­ford, who was to be PM in the pu­ta­tive “Coali­tion Gov­ern­ment of Na­tional Se­cu­rity”, also had a Scot­tish es­tate. Archibald “Jock” Ram­say was the Con­ser­va­tive MP for South Mid­loth­ian and Pee­bles and his anti-Semitism was “ob­ses­sive and over­whelm­ing”. In 1939 he formed “the Right Club”, one of a be­wil­der­ing ar­ray of fas­cist or­gan­i­sa­tions in Bri­tain but prob­a­bly the most ef­fec­tive. Within six months “it would pen­e­trate sen­si­tive gov­ern­ment min­istries, the armed forces, the po­lice and even MI5”.

Our view of British fas­cism is coloured by the PG Wode­house char­ac­ter Rod­er­ick Spode, sev­enth Earl of Sid­cup and leader of “the Black Shorts”. Ber­tie Wooster thought Spode was seven feet tall, even­tu­ally grow­ing to nine foot seven. By con­trast, many of the foot sol­diers who were en­listed to help the Nazis seem to di­min­ish as you look more closely. Jessie Jor­dan, for in­stance, a hair­dresser from Dundee, was at the cen­tre of a Nazi spy net­work which op­er­ated be­fore the war. De­scribed here as “il­le­git­i­mate and unloved”, she re­sponded to the four-year term im­posed on her at the High Court in Ed­in­burgh by say­ing “the sen­tence is my medicine and I can take it”. The Dundee Courier de­scribed her as a ser­vice­able tool. Many of the other less priv­i­leged fifth colum­nists were sim­i­larly ser­vice­able – drunks, fan­ta­sists, petty crim­i­nals or on their up­pers.

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