In July 1935, an unexpected assortment of mostly male European self-proclaimed patriots met for three days at a congress of the Nationalist International in London.1 Alongside ‘conservative’ delegates, including two British Tory MPs and Louis Bertrand, who was a French historian and member of the prestigious Académie française, the guest list also featured more radical and even outright fascist figures, such as Frits Clausen, the leader of a small Danish Nazi party, and Friedrich Grimm, an NSDAP attorney and member of the German Reichstag. According to The Times, most of the delegates were ‘notable European professors’, united not by politics, but by ‘devotion’ to their country.2 Other British newspapers such as the Daily Mirror and the London Evening Telegraph likewise commented on the event in a neutral or even benevolent tone, suggesting that delegates from forty countries met under the auspices of the ‘expert on international law’ Dr Hans Keller (1908–70). Keller was a young and ambitious German jurist who had founded the Nationalist International in Zurich in 1934 with the aim of securing peace and stability by transforming the League of Nations into a ‘parliament of peoples’ corresponding with the ‘racial divisions of Europe’.3 Blinded by a leaflet circulated prior to the conference which claimed that ‘The Nationalist International means world peace’4 and stressed the supposedly neutral and scientific nature of the organization, the British press seemed not to realize the real mission of the congress: to promote German Nazism internationally.
The Nationalist International (Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Nationalisten, or IAdN) was founded by Keller in 1934 and secretly financed by Joseph Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry, as I have demonstrated in a recently published article on Nazi Internationalism in the 1930s.5 The IAdN was an early organizational attempt to spread Nazi ideology and foster international co-operation between nationalists from across Europe and beyond by means of shared publications and events. Its perceived common enemies were ‘international communism’, the ‘universalism’ of Italian fascism, and liberal internationalism as pursued by the League of Nations after the First World War. According to Keller, the League was ‘a glorified and magnified British Empire’, and he denounced its ‘imperialist and missionary character’.6 Keller wanted to create a counter-organization based on racist and völkisch ideas, the mutual recognition of ‘organic nationalism’, and a belief in the inequality of peoples.7 It is therefore remarkable that Keller chose London, the thriving metropole of the British Empire, as the venue for the second congress of his anti-liberal organization, following an inaugural conference in Berlin in December 1934 attended by one hundred delegates from twenty countries.
British responses to the rise of the Third Reich in the 1930s were many and varied, and not always necessarily hostile, given that the meaning of Nazism was contested.8 Only a few weeks before the IAdN congress, the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had even achieved a diplomatic triumph for the internationally isolated Third Reich when the Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed in London on 18 June 1935.9 The timing of the congress was thus fortunate for the tireless networker Keller because this Anglo-German rapprochement also enabled Nazi propaganda beyond classic diplomatic channels. Moreover, several British radical right-wing groups even issued pro-German propaganda. Their enthusiastic support for the Third Reich was based on shared notions of anti-parliamentarism, the alleged superiority of the Nordic race, and antisemitism.10
Keller found support in the D’Abernon Club, an association based in London that promoted Anglo-German relations and which was named after the Germanophile former British ambassador to Berlin Lord D’Abernon. The club provided the venue for the congress on 10–12 July 1935 and fostered the neutral public image of the Nationalist International.11 English became the main spoken language at the conference, although German and French were used as well, as a Norwegian delegate reported afterwards.12 Alongside international delegates from approximately thirty countries, Keller succeeded in winning over a large British delegation to join the duplicitous event.13 Two Conservative MPs (Daniel Gerald Somerville and John Macnamara) were joined by Herbert Foster-Anderson, a journalist from the prestigious Royal Institute of International Affairs; the former diplomat Norman Thwaites, who was also a member of the radical January Club (founded in 1934 by the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley); the Scottish businessman Archibald Crawford; and, last but not least, Arthur Kitson, an influential monetary theorist and ardent antisemite who was obsessed with the idea that ‘Jewish Money Power’ had infiltrated and damaged British capitalism.14
Keller’s aims were to convince the international delegates of the peaceful and co-operative mission of German Nazism and to present the Third Reich as a reliable partner on the international scene, while carefully downplaying the aggressive, expansionist aspects of Nazi ideology. Paradigmatic for this sort of propaganda was a speech on ‘Hitler and Europe’ given at the London congress by Friedrich Grimm, who promised that the ‘New Germany’ could ‘really guarantee peace and co-operation with other nations.’15 Despite Hitler’s nationalism, he added, the Führer would not stand in opposition to Europe; instead, he was ‘called upon to make a thoroughly positive contribution to to completing the task facing Europe.’16 International delegates, such as the Swedish Nils Lago-Lengquist, supported this distorted view, claiming naively that ‘Hitler demands respect for sovereignty and the will of the Nation, and there is no reason to suspect that he in turn will not respect the will and interests of other Nations’.17 These statements allayed fears in Britain that Germany was seeking a revisionist war and nurtured narratives in support of the British appeasement policy towards Hitler.
Nonetheless, the congress was also a platform for nationalists to express and circulate elements of Nazi ideology, such as anti-communism and antisemitism (often combined in the so-called Judeo-Bolshevist myth), as well as the importance of strengthening each nation’s ‘people’s community’ (Volksgemeinschaft). The concepts of race and White supremacy were highlighted by the Afrikaner Herman Dirk van Broekhuizen, among others, who argued that the Union of South Africa could function as a role model for international co-operation between ‘White races’ and across ‘White civilization’.18 Similarly, Frits Clausen made a plea for a ‘New Europe’ structured on organic, meaning racial and völkisch, lines.19
Besides communism, liberal internationalism was a crucial shared enemy that helped build bridges between the various delegates, whose only obvious commonalities were their distinctive nationalism and their world-view based on racial hierarchizations of peoples. In particular, the League of Nations was criticized frequently at the congress for being linked to the ‘failing’ and ‘unjust’ system of Versailles. The League was despised for promulgating a version of international law that emphasized ‘unnatural’ equality between states. Keller envisioned a ‘transformation of the present ineffective League of Nations into a House of States and a House of Peoples’ that would uphold the ‘natural’ differences between peoples.20 Hans Oehler from the Swiss fascist Nationale Front even demanded its total abolition, arguing that Geneva (as a metonym for the League) would treat small states only as ‘appendage[s] of the Great Powers’.21
However, these critical views of the League of Nations were difficult for some of the delegates from the great power Britain to accept, as they considered that the League offered their nation more benefits than disadvantages. For example, the Tory MP Daniel Somerville objected strongly to criticism of the League, arguing that ‘the feeling in favour of a League of Nations in this country is a very real and deep one.’22 Instead of replacing the League altogether, he suggested reforms to make it more effective. This dispute shows the difficulties that the delegates from smaller and larger nations had in finding common ground, as their distinct nationalist and (to varying degrees) revisionist outlooks shaped their views of the international order.
Probably because of these disputes, most Britons present at the London congress refused to participate in the subsequent IAdN congress held in Oslo in Summer 1936. But the Nationalist International continued its Nazi propaganda throughout the 1930s with the help of some British sympathizers, such as the aforementioned Herbert Foster-Anderson and also Margaret Bothamley, a right-wing activist who became an English-language broadcaster for Nazi Germany during the Second World War.23 In April 1939, Viscount Lymington, a member of several British right-wing groups in the interwar period, gave a speech on ‘White Nations and the Soil’ as part of an IAdN lecture series in Berlin, repeating ideas of a ‘Nordic race’ and promoting a ‘blood and soil’ ideology.24
As this brief look at the sources of my project shows, the Nationalist International nurtured a distorted image of Nazi Germany as a reliable, ‘pacifist’ potential partner for Britain and promoted a narrative that fuelled the British appeasement policy.25 However, the London Congress also revealed inconsistencies and disagreements among British and other European nationalists, in particular concerning the role attributed to the League of Nations, illustrating the difficulties in forming any effective ‘International of nationalists’. Keller’s organization was dissolved in 1941.
The featured image shows a group picture of the almost exclusively male delegates at the London congress of the Nationalist International in 1935. Archiv für Zeitgeschichte, ETH Zurich, NL Rolf Henne: 168. Photograph reproduced with permission of the Archiv für Zeitgeschichte.
- This blogpost is based on research conducted for my Ph.D. thesis at the Free University of Berlin entitled ‘Notions and Practices of Fascist Internationalism in the 1930s’. I would like to thank the GHIL for a two-month scholarship, which enabled fruitful research in British archives and libraries.
- The Times, 11 July 1935. Cf. Hans Keller and Akademie für die Rechte der Völker, (eds.), Der Kampf um die Völkerordnung: Forschungs- und Werbebericht der Akademie für die Rechte der Völker (Nationalistische Akademie) und der Internationalen Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Nationalisten (Berlin, 1939), 97.
- Daily Mirror, 11 July 1935; The Evening Telegraph, 10 July 1935.
- Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Nationalisten, Organic Nationalism: What the ‘Nationalist International’ Means to the Anglo-Saxon World (Zurich, 1935).
- Martin Kristoffer Hamre, ʻ“Nationalists of All Countries, Unite!”: Hans Keller and Nazi Internationalism in the 1930sʼ, Contemporary European History: First View, 21 Oct. 2022.
- Bundesarchiv Berlin-Lichterfelde, N 1106/58, Hans Keller to T. B. Kittredge, 20 Aug. 1935.
- On the meaning of völkisch, see e.g. Uwe Puschner, ‘“One People, One Reich, One God”: The Völkische Weltanschauung and Movement’, GHIL Bulletin, 24/1 (2001), 5–28.
- Dan Stone, Responses to Nazism in Britain, 1933–1939: Before War and Holocaust (London, 2003).
- Cf. Richard J. Evans, The Third Reich in Power, 1933–39 (London, 2006), 628–9.
- Richard Griffiths, Fellow Travellers of the Right: British Enthusiasts for Nazi Germany, 1933–1939 (Oxford, 1983); Graham Macklin, Failed Führers: A History of Britain’s Extreme Right (London, 2020).
- This strategy of concealment was also pursued when the third IAdN congress was hosted by the Nobel Institute in Oslo in 1936.
- Odin Augdahl, ʻNationalistenes internationale arbeidsfelleskaps kongress i Londonʼ, Ragnarok, 1 (1935), 162–3.
- Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Nationalisten, (ed.), Am Internationalismus gehen die Völker zugrunde / Warum ‘Nationalistische Internationale’? (Zurich, 1936), 2.
- For an overview of the IAdN collaboration with Britain, see Keller and Akademie für die Rechte der Völker, Der Kampf um die Völkerordnung, 76–97.
- Friedrich Grimm, ‘Hitler und Europa’, in Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Nationalisten, (ed.), Die Wende auf dem Balkan / Hitler und Europa (Zurich, 1936), 19–30, at 22.
- Ibid. 21.
- Keller and Akademie für die Rechte der Völker, Der Kampf um die Völkerordnung, 172.
- Ibid. 197–9.
- Frits Clausen, Nation und Rasse: Rede des Führers der nationalsocialistischen Arbeiter Partei Dänemarks, Frits Clausen, auf dem II. internationalen Kongress der Nationalisten in London am 11. Juli 1935 (London, 1935).
- Internationale Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Nationalisten, Organic Nationalism, 2.
- Cf. Keller and Akademie für die Rechte der Völker, Der Kampf um die Völkerordnung, 191.
- Ibid. 87.
- On Margaret Bothamley, who joined several British pro-Nazi groups such as the Imperial Fascist League, the Nordic League, and The Link, see Richard Griffiths, Patriotism Perverted: Captain Ramsay, the Right Club, and British Anti-Semitism, 1939–1940 (London, 1998), 135.
- Politisches Archiv des Auswärtigen Amtes, PAAA, RZ214 99290, press release from the Akademie für die Rechte der Völker on Viscount Lymington and his lecture ‘Rassenseele und Volksbodenʼ, 25 Apr. 1939.
- Tim Bouverie, Appeasing Hitler: Chamberlain, Churchill and the Road to War (London, 2019).