Making Friends With Hitler: Lord Londonderry, the Nazis, and the Road to War

In This Review

Making Friends With Hitler: Lord Londonderry, the Nazis, and the Road to War

by Ian Kershaw
Penguin Press, 2004
512 pp. $29.95
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After a monumental study of Hitler, Kershaw has narrowed his focus, at least in appearance. This is an eminently readable biography of one of the United Kingdom's champions of appeasement, but it is also more than that, because Lord Londonderry, "a scion of one of Britain's grandest and wealthiest aristocratic families" and secretary of state for air from 1931 to June 1935, was a perfect representative of a large portion of the British aristocracy. With his contempt for the political skills of the bourgeoisie and his conviction that he was entitled to power, with his beliefs and prejudices--no more war, the peril of communism, the excessive influence of Jews, the need for a rapprochement with Germany--his story is a study in the decline of a former ruling class. In the second half of the 1930s, Londonderry worked assiduously for a rapprochement with Hitler. (He deplored the brutality of Nazi antisemitism, but it "played only a minor role in his deliberations.") After Hitler's destruction of Czechoslovakia, he revised his views, but without "clos[ing] the door to further negotiations with Germany." Kershaw tells us that Londonderry "had the political self-righteousness of the dogmatist" and a "lack of a sense of political self-preservation." In his family home in Northern Ireland, a statuette of a helmeted ss man carrying a Nazi flag, a gift of Ribbentrop, is "a reminder of the house's brief but fateful connection with Hitler."