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Secrets of English World War II Upper-Class Nazi Club Revealed by a Venetian Dandy

A new film about England’s avowed anti-Semites stirs a champion of European tolerance, liberalism, and civilization

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The lock of the Red Book was forced open during the raid on Tyler Kent’s flat by Special Branch and MI5, the British Secret Service. (Joachim von Halasz and the Wiener Library)
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After the outbreak of war Ramsay gave Kent the Red Book for safe-keeping, thinking that his flat would be the best hiding place for this radioactively compromising document, since Kent held diplomatic immunity as a member of the American legation. Kent, meanwhile, was pilfering copies of top-secret private telegrams between Churchill and Roosevelt, which were being passed by way of embassy back channels. These telegrams, emblematic tokens of the “special relationship,” contained Churchill’s open, frank, and urgent beseeching of Roosevelt for American assistance in the war. As the correspondence was being conducted extra-constitutionally in both the United States and in Britain, they constituted political dynamite on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ramsay’s involvement with Kent was a concern of paramount importance to British security authorities since Ramsay, as a member of Parliament, enjoyed parliamentary privilege: If Kent handed over his stolen documents to Ramsay, it would have been impossible to prevent their publication, which may very well have sabotaged Britain’s war initiative and set in motion the complete takeover of Europe by the Third Reich.

Sir Maxwell Knight, the head of MI5 and an eccentric and a remarkable character in his own right—he went on to become a naturalist with 34 books to his name, as well as serving as the model for Agent M in the James Bond novels—had built his career infiltrating the fetid underground of Britain’s myriad right-wing circles. Knight had been keeping Kent and the other Right Wing Club members under surveillance for some time. As their plans crossed the Rubicon from noxious stupidity into the realm of existential threat to the British empire, he masterminded a sting operation in which Kent and his accomplice Wolkoff were duped into accepting—and agreeing to pass along—a letter to Berlin supporting the propaganda efforts of the traitorous broadcaster William Joyce.

On May 20, 1940, Kent’s flat was raided and he was arrested; the Red Book’s fastening was forced open. U.S. Ambassador Joseph Kennedy, himself a Nazi sympathizer in the 1930s, was brought to the apartment to observe British Intelligence break open the book’s lock and catalog its contents and personally waived Kent’s right to diplomatic immunity. Kent and Wolkoff were imprisoned for seven and 10 years respectively. The British Cabinet decided to extend the invocation of “Defense Regulation 18B,” the anti-terrorism laws of their day, and the precursor of our own, which enabled Churchill to imprison or intern anyone suspected of Nazi sympathies for the duration of the war.

Capt. Ramsay was also interned for several years, until September 1944 when, in a “breathtaking act of chutzpah” (Saikia’s words yet again), the first thing he did upon his release—the war was not yet over—was to resume his seat in Parliament. He then called for a motion to reinstate the 1275 Statute of Jewry, a pernicious piece of medieval anti-Semitic legislation first introduced during the reign of Edward I that, among other things, required Jews to wear a yellow badge and that also outlawed usury. Ramsay died an unapologetic fascist.

***

For several years the actual Red Book has resided in the Wiener Library for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide in London. The first time its totemic contents are to be made public, readers will discover that the new edition includes Ramsey’s list of Right Club members published in facsimile, with notes on every peer, diplomat, member of the armed forces, and parliamentarian who joined the club. I inquired of Saikia his view of the fraught issue of posthumously dishonoring the descendants of the Right Club members, some of whom are from families still prominent at the highest levels of British society. He replied, with a wry smile, that “if they have nothing with which to reproach themselves, then I am sure they would take the book in good part.”

“This isn’t just a musty corner of English history,” Saikia elaborated. “And in a way, the Wolkoff-Kent spy story is a secondary issue. What is of great importance is that the principal demons of the Right Club—Arnold Leese, A.K. Chesterson, and Anthony Ludovici for example—are the ideological forefathers of today’s far right in Britain. Leese and Chestertson were in different ways founding fathers of the National Front and the BNP [British National Party]. The racial ‘solutions’ proposed by Ludovici and the idea that English blood should not be contaminated by foreign immigrants still have currency today. There is a message here, I think, for all extremists whether they be Christian, Muslim, or Jewish, for whichever people of whichever book.”

The one redemptive story unearthed by Saikia is to be found in the postwar evolution of the only Right Club member to have reneged on his racist past. “For me, the story of Prince Yuri Galizine, the White Russian nobleman, is one of the most moving and inspiring stories I have come across when researching this book,” Saikia said. “Galizine began by joining the Right Club shortly before the Second World War, and as a result of his considerable linguistic skills he was recruited into Allied intelligence and ended the war investigating the Nazi crimes in multiple concentration camps, including Natzweiler-Rudhof. He began the war with a closed mind and ended it with a deeply stricken conscience. He wrote an impassioned paper for Allied intelligence proposing methods by which propaganda could be turned to good effect in the cause of peace and tolerance, which fell on deaf ears,” Saikia added. “Ironically he forged a highly successful career as a PR tycoon in the ’50s and ’60s. He had the courage to change his mind. The rest of these men never changed their mind.”

The great insight that Saikia has drawn from his research is that the intellectual frameworks of exclusion and hatred developed by nativists in reaction to successive waves of Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century are now being applied to the Romanian construction worker and the Polish nanny. “While it is true,” he told me, “that there are new ‘enemies’—in England it’s the Muslims, Afro-Caribbeans, Eastern Europeans—anti-Semitism remains deeply ingrained at all levels of British society. Though British Jews are for the most part successful (though not always rich) and hard working, and at the top levels, prominent and influential in current affairs, they are still discussed behind closed doors as being parasitical usurpers of the national heritage. No amount of legislation can remove such deeply ingrained prejudices, which is why avowedly xenophobic organizations such as the NBP get such dangerously high levels of votes.”

“There is hope however”—he finished with a flourish. “The voice of the extremist is always the loudest; we moderates and liberals need to turn up the volume.” Thus, having made a compelling and stirring argument for the virtues of tolerance, liberalism, and civilization, he proceeded to open another bottle of champagne.

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Secrets of English World War II Upper-Class Nazi Club Revealed by a Venetian Dandy

A new film about England’s avowed anti-Semites stirs a champion of European tolerance, liberalism, and civilization

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