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'Immoral equivalencies'

While some on the far right either denied, excused or condoned Nazi atrocities, it is worth noting that not all leading activists of the period followed suit. A.K. Chesterton, an interwar disciple of Mosley, was one such character. Chesterton, publisher of Candour Newsletter and founder and leader of the postwar radical right group, the League of Empire Loyalists, was the leading British conspiratorial antisemite of the 20th century and would later go on to become the first leader of the National Front. Chesterton is remarkable as, despite remaining a dedicated antisemite, utterly convinced of Jewish world control, he both accepted the existence of Nazi atrocities and was horrified by them. He showed that in addition to outright denial or celebration, it was possible to accept that the Nazis had committed crimes against the Jews but remain a committed antisemite. In a 1948 letter to his Jewish friend Joseph Leftwich, Chesterton wrote:

The unutterable abominations of Buchenwald and elsewhere completely knocked me flat and filled me with such horror that I began to doubt whether human affairs were not too far gone in depravity for anybody to do anything about them.104

He also wrote that, ‘the horrors of the gas-chamber were instituted by a Germany gone berserk in war’.105 However, his response to the Holocaust did combine a ‘mixture of equivocation and rationalization’ according to his biographer LeCras.1“ Chesterton was not alone in accepting the validity of atrocity stories but remaining a dedicated far-right activist. Writing about his father, leader of the British People’s Party John Beckett, Francis Beckett said, ‘At first he certainly thought that this was an invention of British and Jewish propaganda. . . . Later on, I believe he slowly and painfully started to realise that the Holocaust had really happened’.107 Despite this realisation he remained an avowed antisemite. It seems that for some antisemites even the acceptance of Nazi atrocities, the logical conclusion of their own prejudice and hatred put into action, did not manage to shake them from their beliefs.

For those who accepted that atrocities had been committed but remained on the far right, the focus of their attention shifted to providing a critique of the Nuremberg Trials. In the year following the war Chesterton was a member of the British People’s Party Research Department along with former Imperial Fascist League member Harold Lockwood and the former Labour MP, British Union of Fascist member and leader of the party John Beckett. In 1946 the group published the pamphlet Failure at Nuremberg, actually written by John Beckett’s wife. The pamphlet, funded by the Duke of Bedford, has been described as ‘one of the first British anti-Semitic apologias for Nazi war crimes’.101* As with much apologetic literature published by Britain’s far right in reaction to Nazi war crimes, a key aim of the publication was to relativise German crimes by equating them to Allied ones, a tactic Deborah Lipstadt calls ‘immoral equivalency’.109 Failure at Nuremberg stated,

If the Nuremberg law is to be held inviolate, therefore, it will be seen that a strong prima facie case exists against both the Russian and the American leadership, whose surviving members must forthwith be placed in the dock as suspected war-criminals.110

As has since become a core tenet of Holocaust denial, a major emphasis was placed on Allied bombing to show equality of criminality or immoral equivalency.

However, the pamphlet goes beyond denouncing the Nuremberg trials and offers a defence of Nazism and antisemitism. It argued that the ‘sweeping denunciation of Nazi organisations as “criminal” is a verdict which the fair-minded historian, examining all the evidence of the times, is certain unhesitatingly to reject and reverse’. With all that said, the pamphlet does not go as far as to actually deny the events that would come to be called the Holocaust. It talks of the ‘deplorable frenzy which led to the final abomination of slaughtering them [the Jews], This was a fearful atrocity’."1 Though it is important to note that they place the persecution of the Jews below the ‘slaughtering of the bourgeoisie by order of the present rulers of Russia’.112 The BPP thus accepted Nazi atrocities against the Jews but attempted to relativise their immoral nature and historical uniqueness.

The pamphlet, Failure at Nuremberg, received widespread coverage upon its release from people and publications across the political spectrum. The left of centre New Statesman magazine described it as ‘an elaborate attack on the wisdom and justice of trying the Nazi war leaders. Allied politicians, it is said, are as guilty as the Germans’. Right-wing newspapers such as Truth also reviewed it, describing it as ‘valuable’ while the magazine Patriot, originally set up and funded by Alan Percy, the 8th Duke of Northumberland, praised it for being ‘well documented’."3 However, not all on the right praised it, with some such as Arnold Leese criticising it for being too moderate, stating that ‘We do not agree with . . . the Jewish Extermination Policy being labelled an Abomination or a Fearful Atrocity, as on page 13’.1,4

The British People’s Party’s attack on the Nuremberg Trials was by no means just confined to the publication of Failure at Nuremberg but was rather a prolonged offensive played out in the pages of the party’s organ, People’s Post. It bemoaned the ‘nauseating spectacle at Nuremberg’ and the ‘smug hypocrisy of his | Hitler’s] conquerors’."5 Once again the hypocrisy of which they talk is a reference to possible Allied crimes. Talking of the playing of atrocity footage at the Trials they said,

We can safely rest assured that the cellars of Hamburg, the deserts which were once Hiroshima and Nagasaki will not be on view. There will be pictures of countless prisoners murdered but will the mass graves of Katyn be brought before the Court? . . . Pictures will be shown of starving peoples deported by Germans. Will the Court see the Germans of 1919 starving under blockade?"6

As members of the BPP understood it: ‘Instruction in committing the crimes for which we have been executing some of our late adversaries was given at our own seats of learning’."7 Thus, Nuremberg was simply ‘Satan reproving sin’."“

However, it was not just wartime crimes that were pointed to in an attempt to negate the uniqueness of the Holocaust. The mass population transfers that followed the war were also pointed to. Writing in People’s Post the Duke of Bedford explained how:

the expulsion of Germans by Czechs and Poles, approved of by Russia and tolerated by Great Britain and the U.S.A., is going on under conditions of cruelty which equal anything ever attributed to Nazi policy and which, moreover, is being carried on a much larger scale."9

The mass population transfers after the war became a fulcrum of Holocaust Denial and remain so to this day. As recently as 2009, Mark Weber, director of the Institute for Historical Review, one of the world’s leading Holocaust denial organisations, delivered an address titled ‘An “Unknown Holocaust” and the Hijacking of History’ in which he explained how the ‘victorious Allies ushered in a horrible new era of destruction, looting, starvation, rape, “ethnic cleansing,” and mass killing’.120

Count Potocki de Montalk also engaged in ‘immoral equivalency’, describing the trials as a revolting travesty of justice.121 However, he went even further than claiming mere equivalency of crimes when in a pamphlet dated 25 December 1945 he stated:

The Allies have committed more and worse crimes of the types defined in their own documents than there is any possibility of their enemies having done. There is no respect in which the Allies are not more guilty than their enemies.122

While there is a serious discussion to be had about the morality of the Allied forces during the war, especially in relation to the use of area bombing,12’ the motivation for writing articles and pamphlets such as those written by Chesterton, Beckett and Potocki were not born of a burning desire for justice but rather of a wish to diminish Nazi crimes, strip the Holocaust of its uniqueness and paint Nazi atrocities as one crime among many.

 
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