28th October 2005
I came across this book, first published in January 1947, some years ago, in the 10p box at my children’s school Christmas fair.
Victor Gollancz, the publisher and creator of the Left Book Club, had decided to visit the British Zone in occupied Germany for six weeks from October 2nd to November 15th 1946, to see for himself what conditions were like.
The book comprises various letters and articles he wrote when he returned to England, and which were published in the press – The Times, The Manchester Guardian, The Observer, The Daily Herald and the New Statesman, among others – describing the condition of the German people under British occupation – the famine, disease, lack of clothing and places to live and the overcrowded, ruined cities.
Of course, this was not entirely unexpected after the war. But what impressed me was the tremendous humanity shown by someone who could write, in the foreword to the book, about why he had decided to “help suffering Germans” instead of other people and nations, whom many people, especially in Britain immediately after the war, would consider more deserving.
To me three propositions seem self-evident. The first is that nothing can save the world but a general act of repentance in place of the present self-righteous insistence on the wickedness of others; for we have all sinned, and continue to sin most horribly. The second is that good treatment and not bad treatment makes men good. And the third is – to drop into the hideous collective language which is now the mode – that unless you treat a man well when he has treated you ill you just get nowhere, or rather you give further impetus to evil and head straight for human annihilation.
Peggy Duff, later to be well known as Secretary of the CND, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, worked for Victor Gollancz on “Save Europe Now” – the campaign he organised in late 1945 to try to persuade the British Government to permit British people to send food parcels to Germany. At the time this was forbidden.
Save Europe Now finally won the argument twelve months later, when the government relaxed the rules. “People were to be allowed to send a parcel a month. They had to get a permit from a Food Office and the post the parcel off.”
In her book Left, Left Left, Peggy Duff wrote of Victor Gollancz:
He was not in my view a great thinker, nor yet a great writer. His books suffered from the fact than he was a publisher and nobody ever dared to edit them. But he had his instincts which made him react to situations passionately, often violently, but always positively. That is why so many were prepared to work with him and why so many loved him He was aggressively good. And he knew it.