The Daily Mail, Lord Rothermere And Their Fondness For Hitler.
Updated: Sep 27
The first viscount Rothermere assumed control of the Daily Mail following the death of his brother Lord Northcliffe in 1922.
Together with Daily Express proprietor Lord Beaverbrook, Rothermere campaigned for a British Empire free trade area – and high tariffs for elsewhere. He even formed his own United Empire Party to further this aim.
In 1931 Conservative Leader Stanley Baldwin said the Mail and Express were the “engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal wishes, personal likes and personal dislikes of two men”.
He added famously: “What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, but power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”
Following the 1930 German federal election, in which the Nazis won 107 out of 577 seats, Rothermere wrote in the Mail that Hitler’s party “represent the birth of Germany as a nation”. This was at a time when Hitler had made clear his hatred of Jews and belief in racial supremacy in his book Mein Kampf.
The Mail was rewarded with exclusive access, publishing several interviews with Hitler throughout the 1930s.
In March 1933, Hitler’s party won 288 seats and 44 per cent of the vote.
Welcoming the result in an editorial the Daily Mail wrote that if Hitler used his majority “prudently and peacefully, no one here will shed any tears for the disappearance of German democracy”.
After the June 1934 “Night of the Long Knives” in which Hitler murdered more than 100 political opponents, the Daily Mail report began: “Herr Adolf Hitler, the German Chancellor, has saved his country”. In December that year Rothermere and his son Esmond were the guests of honour at a dinner party hosted by Hitler.
The Mail also welcomed Hitler’s remilitarisation of the Rhineland, in contravention of the Treaty of Versailles.
In the early 1930s, Rothermere was so close to Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists that Daily Mail staff began to mimic their dress – wearing black shirts to work.
The nadir of this period was a Daily Mail article headlined: “Hurrah for the blackshirts” which concluded with a direct call for young men to join Oswald’s party.
In fairness to Rothermere, his support for Mosley evaporated when he saw the violence and antisemitism associated with his group. And he at least foresaw the potential threat from Germany, and campaigned for rearmament, whilst papers on the left – such as the Guardian – were critical of Hitler but opposed rearming.
By 1926 the daily sales of The Daily Mail had reached 2,000,000. Rothermerer, was estimated to be the third richest man in Britain and spent three months of the year gambling in Monte Carlo. It was here he met Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe in 1927. Born in Vienna, Stephanie was an avid supporter of Adolf Hitler, the leader of the Nazi Party.
According to an FBI file, Stephanie had targeted Lord Rothermere. It said that "she was reputedly immoral and capable of resorting to any means, even bribery, to get her ends." They both enjoyed gambling and she described Rothermere as "a fabulous plunger at the casino tables". Princess Stephanie persuaded Rothermere that the defeated nations had been badly treated by the Treaty of Versailles. Rothermere was impressed by her arguments and her understanding of the problem. Rothermere agreed to write an editorial on the subject. On 21st June, 1927, The Daily Mail argued: "Eastern Europe is strewn with Alsace-Lorraines. By severing from France the twin provinces of that name the Treaty of Frankfurt in 1871 made another European war inevitable. The same blunder has been committed on a larger scale in the peace treaties which divided up the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. They have been created dissatisfied minorities in half a dozen parts of Central Europe, any one of which may be the starting point of another conflagration."
Lord Rothermere also called for the restoration of the Hungarian monarchy. Rothermere was an ardent monarchist and argued that a monarchic constitution was the best bulwark against Bolshevism in Europe and hoped to restore both the Hapsburg and Hohenzollern thrones. Rothermere continued the campaign in his newspaper. He wrote to Princess Stephanie in April 1928: "I had no conception that a recital of Hungary's sufferings and wrongs would arouse such world-wide sympathy. Now from all parts of the world I am in receipt of such a flood of telegrams, letters and postcards that the work entailed in connection with the propaganda is rapidly absorbing all my energies."
In the General Election in September 1930, the Nazi Party increased its number of representatives in parliament from 14 to 107. Adolf Hitler was now the leader of the second-largest party in Germany. Over the next two years Lord Rothermere wrote several articles praising this German politician. According to Louis P. Lochner, the author of Tycoons and Tyrant: German Industry from Hitler to Adenauer (1954) he heard rumours that Rothermere provided funds to Hitler via Ernst Hanfstaengel.
In December 1932 a number of European newspapers had carried allegations of espionage against Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe. The French newspaper, La Liberté, claimed that she had been arrested as a spy while visiting Biarritz. It asked the question: "Is a sensational affair about to unfold?" Other newspapers took up the story and described her as a "political adventuress" and "the vamp of European politics". These stories were probably the result of leaks from the French intelligence services.
Rothermere gave the Nazis pages of praise and accolades in his paper the Daily Mail. There is also some indication that Rothermere gave actual financial support to Hitler through Putzi Hanfstaengl, the Nazis' foreign press chief but the publicity he gave Hitler was worth more than money.
Shortly after the Nazis' sweeping victory in the election of September 14, 1930, Rothermere went to Munich to have a long talk with Hitler, and ten days after the election wrote an article discussing the significance of the National Socialists' triumph. The article drew attention throughout England and the Continent because it urged acceptance of the Nazis as a bulwark against Communism... As for the Nazis, it has already been shown that Rothermere started to give them favourable press coverage in 1930. The Daily Mail criticized "the old women of both sexes" who filled British newspapers with rabid reports of Nazi "excesses." Instead, the newspaper claimed, Hitler had saved Germany from "Israelites of international attachments" and the "minor misdeeds of individual Nazis will be submerged by the immense benefits that the new regime is already bestowing upon Germany."
Journalists who reported the truth from Germany in the 1930s risked arrest by the Gestapo and expulsion, but many did.
Among them was Phillip Stephens, writing in the Daily Express, who was arrested after reporting about the effect of the international trade boycott on Hamburg in 1934. He went on to write days later about “Jew baiting”, segregation and attacks on synagogues. He was arrested again and given 24 hours to leave the country.
Sefton Delmer told the true story of the Night of the Long Knives killings in a front-page story for the Daily Express published on 6 July 1934, and narrowly avoided expulsion from the country.
In the late 1930s Evening Standard cartoonist David Low outraged both the UK and German governments with his work lampooning the appeasers.
In 1937 The Times angered Hitler by reporting on the massacre by German bombers of 1,000 civilians when they attacked the Spanish town of Guernica in support of General Franco in the Spanish civil war. It led to a wave of anti-British sentiment in the state-controlled German media.
And in a leader column which would not be out of place in some US newspapers today, The Times said at the time: “What is the destiny of the world in which no responsible organ of the press can tell the simple truth without incurring charges of Machiavellian villainy?”
As far as Rothermere was concerned, Hitler was always a “great gentleman”. He praised him in the Mail as “a man of rare culture” whose “knowledge of music, painting and architecture is profound”. This eulogy appeared soon after the Kristallnacht pogrom of March 1938 that left over 90 Jews dead, every synagogue in Germany wrecked and over 30,000 Jews thrown into concentration camps where hundreds more died.
All this changed overnight once war broke out, with the Mail going from Nazi apologist to ultra-patriotism, a display of hypocrisy that remains very much the paper’s hallmark. As for Rothermere, he was afraid that his private correspondence with Hitler was going to become public and that when it did the public demand for his internment and trial for treason would prove irresistible. Not even his good friend Winston Churchill would be able to protect him.
To avoid the scandal, he went into voluntary exile in the United States, ending up in Bermuda, where he died in November 1940.
Unfortunately The Daily Mail is still going.