Many people today are aware of Winston Churchill’s low opinion of Africans, Indians and Arabs. Somewhat less known are his negative opinions of a number of Jews.
In 1920 an article by Churchill appeared in the Illustrated Sunday Herald, titled ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism’. In it he expressed his belief that patriotic ‘national Jews’ could be well-integrated into European society, and that the persecution of Jews because of their background was wrong. He also expressed support for Zionism.
However, Churchill also made a number of remarks reminiscent of later Nazi propaganda. Take the following passage on ‘the International Jews’ and their ’schemes’:
The adherents of this sinister confederacy are mostly men reared up among the unhappy populations of countries where Jews are persecuted on account of their race. Most, if not all, of them have forsaken the faith of their forefathers, and divorced from their minds all spiritual hopes of the next world. This movement among the Jews is not new. From the days of Spartacus-Weishaupt to those of Karl Marx, and down to Trotsky (Russia), Bela Kun (Hungary), Rosa Luxembourg (Germany), and Emma Goldman (United States), this world-wide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society on the basis of arrested development, of envious malevolence, and impossible equality, has been steadily growing … It has been the mainspring of every subversive movement during the Nineteenth Century; and now at last this band of extraordinary personalities from the underworld of the great cities of Europe and America have gripped the Russian people by the hair of their heads and have become practically the undisputed masters of that enormous empire.
The ‘schemes of the International Jews’, who have worked together in their ‘sinister’ ways aim toward ‘the overthrow of civilisation’—a formula Goebbels was not unfamiliar with. No, Churchill’s views were not identical to the Nazis, but the rhetorical similarity here is striking. Churchill also referred to what he thought were Trotsky’s plans to create ‘a world-wide communistic State under Jewish domination’. In a 1920 speech Churchill spoke of the ‘international Soviet of the Russian and Polish Jew’.
In 1937, one of Churchill’s ghostwriters, Adam Marshall Diston, prepared an article for Churchill to publish titled ‘How the Jews can Combat Persecution’. In it Diston wrote of ‘Hebrew bloodsuckers’ and ‘shylock’ moneylenders. The article was offered for publication in an American magazine, Liberty, in 1937. It didn’t happen, ostensibly because of Churchill’s contract with Collier’s, another American magazine. There was then an attempt to sell the article to the British Strand Magazine, but they declined. In 1940 an editor found the article and suggested publishing it, but given that Britain was now at war with Germany, Churchill’s office wrote that it was ‘inadvisable to publish the article … at the present time’. It seems fairly clear that Churchill was happy to have the views expressed in the article attached to his own name before that.
In private correspondence, too, Churchill was careful to highlight what he felt was the Jewish nature of Soviet communism. Writing to Lloyd George in 1919, he explained that ‘[t]here is very bitter feeling throughout Russia against the Jews, who are regarded for being the main instigators of the ruin of the Empire, and who, certainly, have played a leading part in Bolshevik atrocities.’ Writing to Curzon, then Foreign Secretary in 1921, Churchill referred to the Communist government as a ‘tyrannic government of these Jew Commissars’. In 1922, Churchill drafted a letter referring to the Bolsheviks as ‘these Semitic conspirators’ to his friend FE.
I emphasise once more that Churchill was against the persecution of Jews, and believed that patriotic ‘National Jews’ were an asset. Nevertheless, his portrayal of the Communist movement of his day raises questions about his prejudices that are difficult to ignore.
In another post I will take a look at how an Oxford graduate and fellow, Sir Martin Gilbert, dealt with these difficulties. I will also look at Andrew Roberts’ response, a Cambridge graduate and professional historian. We will see whether their defences of Churchill stand up to basic scrutiny.
W. Churchill ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism’ in the Illustrated Sunday Herald, 8 February 1920
C. Ponting, Churchill (1994)
M. Makovsky, Churchill’s Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft (2007)
R. Langworth, ‘Churchill as anti-Semite: Rubbish’ on his blog (2017)