Sunday, May 15, 2022

Unwin and Tolkien agree

 So, there's the famous episode where JRRT, a year after THE  HOBBIT was published, angrily repudiated Germany's anti-Semitic laws -- specifically by refusing to make an official statement declaring that he was not Jewish, such a statement being required by his prospective publisher for a German edition, which wd have been the first translation into another language (See LETTERS OF JRRT, page 37, letter of 25 July 1938 for details).

I thought I remembered a different incident in which Unwin made his own opposition to anti-Semitic madness clear. It's years ago now since I read Stanley Unwin's autobiography, THE TRUTH ABOUT A PUBLISHER--the title is a play on Unwin's famous polemic about the publishing business, THE TRUTH ABOUT PUBLISHING--and I couldn't find a specific passage I was looking for. 

My memory said that in his autobiography Unwin told the story about foiling Nazi anti-Semitic laws, which forbid anyone  of Jewish ancestry from owning a business. To get around this, Unwin bought three or four German publishers for a token price (say, a pound) . Then at the end of the war he returned them to their original owners for the same token price.

Does anyone out there remember this episode? Am I looking in the wrong place for it (i.e., is it in David or Philip Unwin's autobiography instead)?

Although I wasn't successful in finding the anecdote I wanted, I did find a different passage that shows Unwin, to his credit, as having taken an anti-Nazi stance early on (1933), as opposed to others (like Roy Campbell, who was enthusiastically pro-Hitler at that point). Here's the passage:

It was . . . an interesting indication of the mounting

 indignation at the Nazi treatment of the Jews when,

 in April 1933, I received a discreetly worded letter

 from my good friend Dr Gustav Kilpper, the 

representative of Germany on the Executive, that,

 although it might easily be misconstrued if the

 suggestion came from Germany, they felt that, 

in view of the tension in the atmosphere, it would

be wise to postpone the Brussels Congress to 1934

 . . . It proved, however, too late to do so.

At the Brussels Congress Dr. Kilpper went much 

further than such an enlightened man had any 

justification in doing in defending the Nazis,

 who showed their appreciation by turning him

out of office. Following the Congress he 

urged my son and myself to join him on a

holiday on the Eibsee, which under other 

circumstances we would gladly have done.

 My reply read as follows:

'I very much appreciate your letter of the 11th 

July with its kind invitation. But the news that

 reaches me this morning of the glorification

 of the murderers of my friend Rathenau --

one of the most enlightened and noble-

minded men I have ever met -- makes

 it more than ever clear that Germany 

under the present regime is no place

 for me. That an assassin could be 

regarded in 1933 as a hero is incredible. 

What are we coming to?

[THE TRUTH ABOUT A PUBLISHER, 1960, p.401-402]

The context of this, for those like me who know less about the Weimar republic than Wikipedia does, is something like this: Unwin, who was the leading British expert on international publishing issues, had played a large role in the revival of the International Publishers' Congress, which had lapsed in 1920 just after the end of The Great War. It held biannual meetings with a rotating host city (starting with Paris 1931).  

Rathenau is Walther Rathenau, Foreign Minister of the Weimar Republic, the only Jewish member of the Republic, who was assassinated in 1922 by a reactionary anti-Semitic group, the Organisation Consul. The assassins were hunted down: some died in a police shoot-out, others went to prison, and some evaded punishment, so far as I can tell. Following national mourning, a number of monuments were put up in his honor.  Then when the Nazis came to power they knocked down the monuments in Rathenau's honor and replaced them with monuments celebrating his murderers. That's the outrage that had Unwin so worked up.

--John R.

current reading: Thorne Smith's SKIN & BONES -- a minor late work comprised almost entirely in dialogue.

1 comment:

Paul W said...

It is important to recall that Weimer Germany had many anti-Semitic and right-wing terrorist parties beyond the Nazis. My family's own home town of Osnabruck had a home grown, anti-Semitic party led by a local doctor that exerted influence until the Nazi takeover in 1933. :(

Unity behind a single party didn't come until later. This multiplicity of parties of hate allowed them to avoid responsibility for terrorist attacks like the assassination mentioned, just as the large number of such organizations in the U.S. today allow various politicians to avoid responsibility while spreading hate. :(