HC Deb 05 June 1946 vol 423 cc2122-32

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. R. J. Taylor.]

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Molson (The High Peak)

I rise to draw attention to the decision of the Allied Control Commission to destroy a number of the war memorials in Germany. The Church of England used a prayer, during both wars of our generation, which besought for our soldiers courage in defeat and moderation in victory. So far as our soldiers were concerned, that prayer was answered. I am concerned tonight to beg that our Government and our nation may show moderation in victory so that we may not dishonour victory by a demonstration of spite and revenge, quite unworthy of ourselves, or of the cause for which we fought, by destroying war memorials raised to Germans who fell in the Four Years War.

It has been our claim to have observed the laws of war so far as our enemies allowed us to do so. It is the first elementary principle upon which are based all the rules for the treatment of prisoners, wounded, and dead, that a man who is fighting for his country is engaged in an honourable occupation. The war memorials raised to the two million or more dead who died fighting for Germany in the Four Years War should be sanctified both by their honourable death in battle and by the sentiments of those who raised the memorials. For us now to set about destroying those memorials reminds one of the discreditable episode when, after the Restoration, the body of Oliver Cromwell was disinterred, and his head was exposed upon the roof of this Palace. To destroy the memorials of Germany is a piece of petty malice which is quite unworthy of us.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster sought to defend this policy by saying that it applied only to monuments which tend to preserve and keep alive the German military tradition, to revive militarism, or commemorate the Nazi party, or glorify incidents of war. How can any such differentiation be made? In the judgment of pacifists, probably a large number of the war memorials raised in London would be considered to glorify the spirit of militarism, although to me they seem only to express, sometimes, I admit, rather inartistically, the glory of a death in action. What would be our feelings if the Germans had won the war and had then destroyed the memorial to the gunners at Hyde Park Corner because it is in fact in the form of a cannon? I do not think that they would have done so, if we may judge from the respect that was paid by the German army and the German people to our memorials in France and in Flanders. The Nazi Party, of course, were different. When they came into power, they expunged the Jewish names from German war memorials. Can it be that Hitler, after his death, has in fact triumphed, and that the narrow, ungenerous, intolerant spirit of which he was the personification has taken possession of the Allied Control Commission in Germany?

Let not the hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster seek to evade his own responsibility in this matter by putting the blame upon our Allies. The Foreign Secretary has been man enough in the months that have passed, and in the Debate that has just concluded, to show that he is not prepared for this country to be dragged at the chariot wheels of our Allies. I hope the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will take the same line. It would indeed be a melancholy reflection if the Allies were unable to agree upon any of the grave issues upon which depend the future peace and prosperity of Europe, and could agree only in the demolition of monuments raised to Germans who fell a quarter of a century ago. I hope that tonight the hon Gentleman will give us this assurance, that in the British zone there will be no vindictive vengeance. Of the Germans to whom these monuments were raised it could be said, just as truly as it could be said of our brothers and our friends: Here dead lie we because we did not choose To shame the land from which we sprung,Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose, But young men think it is—and we were young.

10.8 p.m.

Mr. Wilson Harris (Cambridge University)

I desire to add very little to what has been so well said by the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson). I think the best purpose this discussion tonight can serve is to give the hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster an opportunity to explain more clearly than he has yet done in the interchange of question and answer precisely what are the intentions of the Allied Control Commission in this matter. The need for some clarification is sufficiently shown by a message which appeared in "The Times" yesterday, from that newspaper's correspondent at Berlin. It read: At today's meeting of the coordinating committee of the Allied Control Council, General Sir Brian Robertson, the British delegate, drew attention to the necessity of clarifying the directive regarding the destruction of war memorials, and determining whether the directive refers only to memorials glorifying Nazism and militarism. If General Sir Brian Robertson, who is the British representative on the Allied Control Council, finds that he needs clarification on this point, there is some excuse for this House being a little befogged by the remarks of the Chancellor of the Duchy. As the manifestations during question and answer have shown it is a matter on which there is deep feeling in all parts of the House. I know the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) is among those who feel very strongly on the subject, and the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) and the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) both intervened during the discussion, obviously under a sense of grave disquiet as to what was said to be happening. It was thought that the honour of the British administration in Germany was very deeply engaged. I agree that this was partly due to exaggerated reports in some organs of the Press as to what was actually intended, but I think the hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made it clear that it was not contemplated that in ordinary cases memorials of the 1914–18 war should be assailed or destroyed.

Here again, however, there was the very greatest excuse for misunderstanding. What is the actual wording of the directive on which this matter is based? The hon. Member for The High Peak quoted it, but may I read it once more: Memorials are to be destroyed which tend to preserve and keep alive the German military tradition, to revive militarism, or to commemorate the Nazi Party, or are such as to glorify incidents of war. There is very little which that formula would not cover if it were stretched. I do not know if there exists in Berlin any memorial to the part which Marshal Blucher played in the skirmish at Waterloo, but if there is it is clear that that would fall within the powers of this directive because it preserves not merely German military tradition but, what is much worse, the Prussian military tradition.

I think, therefore, that we deserve to be told very clearly what action is to be taken under this directive As far as I am concerned—and I think that I represent broadly the views of hon. Members of this House—I have no desire to defend any monument put up to commemorate the Nazi Party. If it is the case, as I am informed, that swastikas have sometimes been affixed to memorials of the 1914–18 war, I should be strongly of the opinion that those emblems should be removed, but that is a very different matter from destroying memorials of the 1914–18 war. What we desire to know in particular tonight is what action has actually been taken under this directive in the British zone—for which alone the hon. Gentleman can speak—and what action it is intended to take. In reply to a question I asked last week, the hon. Gentleman said that no memorial had been destroyed and I should like to think that if I put the same question in three months' time a similar answer could be returned. At any rate, I would appeal to the hon. Gentleman that if action has to be taken the British authorities will proceed with the utmost circumspection and that if doubt exists at any time as to whether a particular memorial should be destroyed or spared, the verdict will be in favour of reprieve.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)

This is really no party matter, and I rise to support the eloquent appeal made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson). I must say that I was, and am still, somewhat bewildered by the directive that has been given in Germany. If we are in fact going to set about destroying all war memorials in Germany we had better destroy them all here as well; that seems to me to be the logical conclusion, but I recognise that it is neither practicable nor possible in the circumstances. Surely, we must realise that this question of the desecration of the graveyards of the dead and the memorials that have been erected to them has been the cause through history of more strife than anything else?

If, as a result of the direction that has been given—I am afraid I am going to say something which will not be liked by the House—independent military commanders in Germany are to be allowed to exercise their judgment as to what is likely to encourage militarism in Germany and thereafter destroy whatever memorial they choose, we shall set up a state of bitterness in the particular area which is obviously most undesirable. I do not wish to detain the House, but I do feel strongly on this point. As a soldier, it does not matter which side one fights for as long as one fights from one's own point of view. The purely pacifist point of view is one I personally do not endorse, though I have the greatest regard for the people who are pacifists, and perhaps they are right and I am wrong. But in all sincerity people erect memorials to their dead, and for generations after those people have sacrificed their lives in the interests of their country, people look upon those memorials with great reverence and respect. The directive, as I understand it, leaves it to the individual discretion of local commanders whether a memorial does, to use the words of the directive: Tend to preserve and keep alive the spirit of war. I submit that all memorials tend to do that, and, therefore, while I accept that any memorial that was put up since 1933 to the glorification of Nazism should be removed and destroyed, I think it would be most deplorable and would have the most devastating effect, which none of us in this country can measure, if any genuine military memorial to people who honestly gave their lives in the interests of their country were carelessly removed as a result of this direction. I cordially support the representations which have been made by the hon. Member for The High Peak.

10.17 p.m.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Hynd)

It is evident that it was time we had this Debate, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) for raising the matter now, but I am rather surprised that he should have adopted the tone he did at the beginning because we have heard many tributes paid in this House—fulsome tributes—to the exemplary behaviour of our officers and men in the occupation zones of Germany. Now we find that the hon. Member for The High Peak is gravely concerned at the prospect of their absorbing and perpetuating the spirit of Hitler and Prussianism, which is precisely what they do not intend to do. I am quite ready to agree that were the position as it has been represented by the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) or as represented in a Press report such as that which reported: The Four-Power Control Council today " — that was 14th May— Issued a directive ordering the destruction of all German war memorials of this war as well as the war of 1914–18. It will apply down to the last hamlet war memorial. —if that had been the position, I should have been the first to object. But I have no cause for objection. I welcome the fact that hon. Members rose against any such suggestion, but the hon. Member for The High Peak reaches " a new low "In reporting when he brings out the disinterment and exposal of the head of an enemy as typical of the kind of thing we intend to do in Germany. Obviously, it is nothing of the kind. It is entirely wrong to suggest, as did the hon. Member for Ipswich, that we propose to destroy all war memorials. We do not propose to destroy any war memorial as such.

What actually has happened? Nazi Germany was not a normal country; Nazi Germany was a hotbed of propaganda. The Nazi ideology and Nazi propaganda had seeped into every fibre of the life of that country, and the picture that our people found in Germany, even before the end of the war, before the war itself —as everybody who knew Germany in those days knew very well—was one of mass propaganda directed towards the one end, and that was to the Nazification of the population. It was to be seen in the Press, in paintings, in statues and monuments, even in the churches. We had the notorious case of the Cathedral at Brunswick which was transformed by the Nazis into a Nazi shrine to commemorate the Drang nach Osten, with all the religious inscriptions whitewashed off the walls, and new panellings put in showing the German troops driving toward the East. Flags, banners, street names, signposts and everything else were subjected to this procedure. Signposts one saw in every village " Juden Verbolen "—" No Jews wanted here." Official signposts, the poster displays of the " Stürmer " newspapers on the walls, propaganda against the Jews and religion in support of the Nazi ideology.

It was an evil atmosphere which our people could not be expected to allow to remain in that country. We were tied by the undertakings of the Potsdam Agreement, under which we accepted freely and fully our obligation to undertake the extirpation of Nazism and Prussian militarism and propaganda in all their forms of expression, and to ensure, in the words of the Potsdam Agreement, "That they are not revived in any form." We have undertaken the reeducation of Germany. One of our greatest problems in that direction is with the impressionable youth of Germany, and if that youth were to be brought up in an atmosphere of " Hitlerstrasse " and " Stürmer " displays, and these Swastika monuments and Swastika flags, obviously that would not assist in the work of reeducating Germany. That was a situation which had to be dealt with. Apart from Potsdam, however, it has been suggested that we should not seek any excuses in our undertakings with our Allies. Apart from Potsdam, apart from the impressionability of German youth and all the rest of it, it was obviously natural that our people in these conditions should seek to clean up these emblems of the beasts that this country had fought so long to destroy. Just as it was necessary to abolish the Nazi Press and the Nazi organisation, it is necessary to abolish all these outward and visible manifestations of that terrible spirit which has swept Germany. It would, therefore, have been done anyhow. The flags obviously come down, the Swastikas come down, and obviously the street names—the " Hitlerstrasse" and the " Goeringstrasse " and the " Goebbelsplatz "—will be put back into their proper perspective with their old names, or some equally suitable description. The " Stürmer " displays will come down.

I have been asked by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. W. Harris) what we have done in the way of damage in the British zone. I have dealt with some of the things we have done, but we have not destroyed any war memorial or any monuments of that kind. The only substantial transformation we have made was in replacing the proper atmosphere of the Cathedral in Brunswick. We have replaced the old panellings, the church has been rededicated, and all the Nazi museum pieces taken out. That has been done, and it is the only principal monument that has been interfered with in our zone. But when this is being done, it is necessary—and the hon. Member for Ipswich has underlined the fact—that we should not simply allow every individual member of our Control Commission staff to apply their own interpretation to what they may be allowed to do or what they should do; otherwise you would have chaos.

That is taking our own zone alone. As a matter of fact, during the series of questions and answers the other day I heard an hon. Member opposite asking, "Why not destroy the lot?" When that difference of approach and difference of opinion and conception exists in this House, it is to be expected that it would exist amongst our Control Commission officers. Therefore some kind of guidance is necessary, some kind of instruction for discrimination. I do not know whether I may divert a little, since the.1914–18 war has been brought in, to remind the House of a rather amusing cartoon of Bairnsfather in 1914–18 which depicted a Flanders village liberated from the Germans, and a little Scots soldier with a kilt looking very severely at an inscription on the wall which had apparently been written by one of the departing German troops—" Gott strafe England."The Scotsman had picked up a piece of chalk and deleted the word "England" and written "Great Britain."There is need for discrimination and instruction of what may be effective and may not be effective, but that is an illustration of the fact that even in the 1914–18 war there were certain incidents in regard to inscriptions and things were done which it is not desirable to perpetuate. I referred yesterday to the Lusitania Medal, one of the tokens and insignia to commemorate an incident in the war of 1914–18. A large number of medals have been found in our zone, and we do not propose that they should remain in the zone and be circulated.

Mr. Molson

May I interrupt this discursive speech, and ask whether the hon. Gentleman will address himself to the particular point I raised on the Adjournment, whether the memorials raised to Germans killed in the 1914–18 war are, or are not, to be destroyed?

Mr. Hynd

I think I have sufficiently answered that in reply to Questions. It is not the intention that memorials to the dead in our zone, or any other zone, shall be destroyed, whether to the dead of the 1914–18 war, or the recent war. But I am explaining why a directive should be necessary at all. A directive was needed in order to give guidance to our own people and, as we are only part of a quadripartite Government, it was desirable that an agreement should be reached so that consistency should be observed in the four zones. Obviously there are different views. I am not seeking to excuse ourselves, or to blame any one else, but it was our view in these negotiations that British sentiments and susceptibilities, and ordinary civilised ethics and humanitarian instincts, should be safeguarded. These, I submit, are adequately safeguarded in the provisions in the directive.

These provisions can be summarised in the statement made by General Robertson at the Control Council meeting, which says: The British Interpretation of Control Council Directive No. 30, paragraphs 1 and 2 is governed by the consideration that the commemoration of men and women who lost their lives in the course of their duties as members of the armed forces of Germany is not of itself a glorification of incidents of war or liable to revive militarism, or to perpetuate the German military tradition. Only Nazi memorials, or such memorials as by the nature of their design, or the character of their inscriptions, exceed a purely commemorative purpose will be considered as coming within the terms of this directive. That is one of the main provisions we are seeking to have adopted by all four parties. It is further provided, and there is some concern about this, that any inter- ference with these monuments shall not be the responsibility of our troops, but will be in the hands of Germans themselves, and Germans are asked to prepare lists of memorials which come within the terms of the directive, and which should either be removed or modified.

In this direction it is perhaps interesting to note what are the reactions of Germans themselves, and it happens quite fortunately that we have an incident which illustrates it very well. Many hon. Members will have seen a report in the newspapers the other day about how they have restored in the American zone one of the famous 1914–18 war memorials in Frank-furt-on-Main, the memorial which was created by the sculptor, Benno Elkan, called " Dedicated to the victims."It is a memorial to the dead of the 1914–18 war which stood in Frankfurt-on-Main until 1933, when it was removed by the Nazis, as were many other memorials. It has now been found and restored by our authorities, because we consider it is a decent, honourable commemoration of the dead. But the important thing I would like to draw to the attention of the House is that at one of our prisoner of war camps at Wilton Park, where we have a number of anti-Nazi Germans undergoing instruction, it happened that a photograph of this memorial was a news item which was posted on the wall newspaper.

I should like to read the comment of one of the German prisoners attached to that photograph. It is a long article which any hon. Member can read. He says: The above work by Benno Elkan, called ' Dedicated to the victims,' stood in Frankfurt on Main until 1933—then the Nazis took it away So it was with most of the memorials which did not fit in with Nazi propaganda. Many of them do still exist somewhere in the dark and we hope that they will appear again at their old places.…. One can well understand that the Allies in Germany today want to destroy the monuments of the last three wars; but perhaps they should leave it to the Germans themselves …. At last all the 'Wilhelms' and 'Luden-dorffs' fall, and, so far as I am concerned, the 'Bismarcks' too; perhaps also horrible buildings like 'Voelkerschlachtsdenkmal' and 'Siegessaeul ' which proclaim nothing else than Prussian-German militarism. I can assure the House that that is the reaction which we expect of all decent anti-Nazis in Germany. In approving this directive we are not doing anything of a destructive character, except in so far as we are destroying an evil thing—

It being Half-past Ten o'Clock, MR. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.