Ivan Maisky, a champion of Judea

Champions of Judea, part three

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This entry is part 6 of 9 in the Britain and her Jews

Champions of Judea Parts 1 and 2 here and here.
Under the pretext of securing “human rights” and combatting “anti-Semitic propaganda”, the Focus strove to pressure the news media into a belligerent stance toward Germany:

“To administer the ‘secret’ defence fund, Bob employed HT Montague Bell, recently retired from the editorial chair of The Near East, who was very largely engaged in drafting letters to the press and providing the necessary facts, for eminent people to compose their own letters in refutation of the very considerable correspondence published by most of the national newspapers excusing Fascism and even advocating it, including sometimes its anti-Semitic aspects.”1

The Focus also worked to co-ordinate ostensibly separate media organisations toward a single aim:

“While Montague Bell was arranging the publication of a series of so-called ‘Vigilance’ pamphlets, written by Colin R Coote, then a leader-writer of The Times, and other well-known journalists, Bob was personally interviewing various Tory Members of Parliament, including Harold Macmillan, Douglas Hacking, and Sir Waldron Smithers. Negotiations which had begun in 1937 between Bob, Professor Gilbert Murray and Sir Norman Angell led to the formation in 1938 of the Focus Publishing Company which took over Headway, the publication of the League of Nations Union. Meanwhile, Bob’s fund was being used to sponsor a large number of small, independent enterprises whose operations were co-ordinated by Montague Bell, now reinforced with an assistant and a secretariat.”2

With Churchill, Macmillan, Boothby and others being sitting Conservative MPs, the Focus’s secretiveness was prudent as, according to Eugen Spier, “the policy of the new Headway would be to turn out the Conservative government.”3

Both the Focus and the Board of Deputies appear to have been subsidiary, at least financially, to the unnamed leaders of Anglo-Jewry who met at New Court and initiated the “secret fund”:

“By tremendous efforts… Bob raised further gifts to the Fund to keep pace with its expenditure. It was found that the work of the Fund inevitably overlapped the official defence work of the Board of Deputies. Accordingly a very substantial annual sum was paid by the Fund to the President of the Board (Neville Laski, KC) so that he could temporarily sacrifice his legal practice and devote himself wholly to the co-ordination of Jewish defence.”4

Under the threat of an advertising boycott, potential adversaries of the Focus like Lord Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail, had already been rendered compliant. Lord Beaverbrook, main owner of the Daily Express (in which Rothermere had a large stake too) was susceptible to the same menaces, and though at times privately sympathetic to Germany he printed what he thought good for business. His Express headline from March 1933, ‘Judea Declares War On Germany’, preceded an article lauding Judea for doing so. Beaverbrook was also a friend of Churchill, Vansittart and Ivan Maisky, the Soviet ambassador.

Perhaps the most consequential of the Focus’s activities was described by Eugen Spier to Churchill privately in June 1937:

“It is one of the objects of the Focus to provide its members, and you most of all, with just those facilities which a party machine provides, publicity by public meetings, through the press and our publications. The Focus is steadily growing; its audiences daily become larger, its backing ever more forceful, with the support of some of the most important people in the country.”5

With its forceful backing, the Focus did attract the support of important people. It could also make mediocre people seem important. By late 1936, “The editors of the influential weekly journals The SpectatorNew StatesmanThe Economist and Time & Tide were wooed and won: Wilson Harris, Basil Kingsley Martin, Lady Rhonda, Harcourt Johnstone.” They were joined by “Sir Walter Layton and AJ Cummings, chairman and chief commentator of the News Chronicle, as well as Lady Violet [Bonham-Carter] and two BBC executives.”6 The BBC, as noted, had already helped publicise the Focus’ precursory demonstrations. They also gave Churchill respectable amplification for his ‘warnings’ about Germany as early as 1934.7 Henry Strakosch and Churchill’s friend Brendan Bracken jointly owned half of The Economist anyway.8 Walter Citrine was already a director of the Labour-aligned Daily Herald. The Daily Mirror was vehemently anti-Hitler without prompting from the Focus. There were others whom the Focus left alone as they were already model citizens: the Express’ cartoonist David Low, who specialised in ridiculing his enemies, or his counterpart at the Mirror, Philip Zec, who specialised in dehumanising them. Low was a supporter of the Soviets (except when they allied with Germany) and Zec was a director of the Jewish Chronicle, the grandson of a rabbi and son of an immigrant from Odesa.

According to Irving,

“At Waley-Cohen’s request Brendan Bracken released German-born Werner Knop, who had been foreign news editor of his Financial News and Banker since 1935. The Focus set him up in an office in the fountain yard of one of the ancient Inns of Court near Fleet-street. Knop’s ‘front,’ Union Time Ltd, disguised as a press agency, was funded ‘by a group of British businessmen and newspaper editors’.”9

Marcus Bennett describes Union Time as “a front for various German emigres working across various professional fields to encourage anti-Nazi opinion in Britain and combat Nazi propaganda in general.” He continues: “It was Union Time Ltd which had camouflaged, among many others, the activities of [Hilde] Meisel, who approached… [Labour MP George] Strauss asking for money to murder Hitler. Strauss sent her to the City of London to meet Werner Knop… Knop granted her the necessary financial support.”10

The Focus also benefited from partnership with a real press agency, Cooperation Press Service. According to Lough, Cooperation Press Service, “founded by Dr Imre Revesz, a Hungarian Jew… specialized in distributing articles written by European politicians across a network of 400 newspapers in seventy countries on the Continent. Cooperation had started in Berlin before Hitler’s rise to power, then moved to Paris just before a raid on its offices by the Gestapo.”11 Revesz (alias Emery Reves) offered Churchill a much wider readership and larger fees for his newspaper articles by syndication. He did the same for Clement Attlee, Tory ministers Anthony Eden and Alfred Duff Cooper, and anti-German politicians across Europe including Leon Blum, a central figure in the Popular Front.12


The Focus bound several forces into one fascio: journalists, Foreign Office men, the Popular Front, industrialists, Czech hirelings, Disraelite Tories, Zionists and mainstream Anglo-Jewry, all drawing upon Cohen’s secret fund and serving the same purposes as the international alliance headed by Samuel Untermyer and his colleagues at the World Jewish Congress. It also complemented the work of leading civil servants. The Foreign Office, as we have seen, had been committed to anti-German policies long before Hitler became Chancellor, and before Germany had done anything more threatening than condemn the Treaty of Versailles, Vansittart collaborated with the Soviet government against his own. The diaries of Ivan Maisky, the Soviet ambassador, were edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky, who says that

“In going about his ambassadorial duties in London, Maisky studiously followed the lead of [Maxim] Litvinov, who had spotted the Nazi threat as early as 1931. However, it took Litvinov almost a year to convince Stalin that Hitler’s rise to power meant that ‘ultimately war in Europe was inevitable’. The formal shift in Soviet foreign policy… towards a system of collective security in Europe and the Far East… occurred in December 1933…

Vansittart, the permanent undersecretary of state, was the advocate of such ideas in Britain… Britain could preserve a local balance of power in both Europe and the Far East by allying with the Soviet Union, which could place a check on both Japanese and German expansion… He… gravitated towards European security based on the pre-1914 entente of Britain, France and Russia.”13

The balance of power policy was established as Foreign Office doctrine by Eyre Crowe, Arthur Nicolson, Charles Hardinge and other favourites of King Edward VII.14 Maurice Cowling says that Vansittart “advocated a Russian alliance with France, British co-operation with Litvinoff and tripartite firmness towards Germany.”15 He “treated the Franco-Soviet alliance as non-negotiable.”16

Russia had ceased to be a state in 1917. The Russian monarchy had been usurped, the monarch murdered, the alliance with Britain repudiated in bello and the empire refounded as a Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, but these were, apparently, not too much of an interruption for the entente of 1907 to be considered obsolete. Nor were the Bolsheviks’ brazen hostility toward and attempts to undermine the British Empire, which continued under the Comintern until 1943 (and in other forms afterward), nor that the crimes of Stalin’s regime exceeded even those of Lenin’s. Stalin himself had lead the Soviet attempt to impose “collective security” on Poland in 1920. Regardless, the school of Eyre Crowe merged happily into that of Meir Henoch Wallach-Finkelstein (‘Litvinov’ was an alias). Gorodetsky says plainly (and approvingly) that Vansittart was an “ally” of Maisky.17

Thus the Focus did not recruit men like Vansittart but rather teamed with them. As mentioned, Rex Leeper introduced Churchill to the Anti-Nazi Council in April 1936. In the previous year, as Gabriel Gorodetsky describes,

“Vansittart assisted Maisky in setting up a powerful lobby within Conservative circles… Maisky was further invited to a dinner en famille at Vansittart’s home [in June 1935], where he met Churchill. ‘I send you a very strong recommendation of that gentleman,’ wrote Beaverbrook to Maisky… Churchill indeed told Maisky that, in view of the rise of Nazism, which threatened to reduce England to ‘a toy in the hands of German imperialism’, he was abandoning his protracted struggle against the Soviet Union, which he no longer believed posed any threat to England for at least the next ten years. He fully subscribed to the idea of collective security as the sole strategy able to thwart Nazi Germany.”18

Churchill frequently referred to his desire to ‘encircle’ Germany again. At a royal reception in November 1937, he had made a show of spurning Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German ambassador, and telling Maisky “I’m wholly for Stalin.”19 In March 1938 he told Maisky that “I am definitely in favour of Stalin’s policy. Stalin is creating a strong Russia. We need a strong Russia and I wish Stalin every success.”20 By May 1938, during the first Czech crisis, he had sunk as far as apologising to Maisky for including in a recent speech some perfunctory mentions of Soviet maltreatment of civilians. He regretfully explained that his constituents would not yet accept unconditional support for the Soviet regime.21 Vansittart told Maisky in August 1937 that Britain approved of the pact the Czechs made with the Soviets in 1935.22 Had the pact been activated by war with Germany, the question of whether Soviet forces could have been evicted after being granted passage and bases was a grave concern for the Poles and Romanians at the time. When, in April 1939, Churchill asked Maisky on behalf of the Poles whether they need worry, Maisky avoided answering to avoid lying; Churchill was undeterred.23

War party

The Focus helped ensure that Chamberlain was assailed persistently from many angles. Irving mentioned that the initial secret fund was five times greater than the annual budget of the British Council, but in any case the Council was overseen by Reginald Leeper before Lord Lloyd became its chairman in July 1937; both men were supporters of the Focus.24 The Council began as a propaganda body under Leeper’s Foreign Office news department. Philip Taylor says that it was “created as a response to the malignant propaganda of the totalitarian regimes which had come into being following the Treaty of Versailles.”25 Taylor’s wording tidily excludes the most malignant “totalitarian regime” of all, but whatever the Council’s purview, Lloyd acted beyond it. John Charmley describes him as “an unofficial ambassador with the entrée to chancelleries from Paris to Ankara” and “a useful sounding-board whose words could, should it prove convenient, be denied.” He was intended as “an element of steel” in Chamberlain’s policy.26 However, Lloyd, like Churchill, had been of the Crowe school since long before the Great War, and demanded nothing but steel vis-a-vis Germany.27

Baldwin and Chamberlain allowed diplomatic sabotage to continue under them. Had they only been as merciless to warmongering subordinates as the latter demanded of them toward Germany, civilisation might still stand. Cohen, the Board of Deputies, the Foreign Office and the Soviet Embassy had already co-created a secret war party cutting across existing alignments and through departments of state. It was complacent of Chamberlain to merely remove Vansittart from his post in 1938 and narrow Leeper’s remit and not extirpate their practices. He inflicted a loss Lloyd and others could negate.

Chamberlain would have been remiss not to have Churchill surveilled, but he went no further.28 Churchill was free to conduct “his own foreign policy” and established “his own direct links with foreign governments… [H]e called upon foreign statesmen, sent out personal envoys… and encouraged the diplomatic corps to look upon Morpeth Mansions as a second Court of St. James.”29 His “own” foreign policy was that of Litvinov: aggravating Anglo-German relations to the greatest possible extent. “For us, there could be no peace with the Nazi regime,” as Spier said. Opportunities to subvert the peace arose in 1938 and the Focus became more a force than a presence.

  1. Henriques, p363 ↩︎
  2. Henriques, p364 ↩︎
  3. Spier, p141 ↩︎
  4. Henriques, p364 ↩︎
  5. Spier, p108 ↩︎
  6. Irving, p73 ↩︎
  7. ↩︎
  8. Lough, notes for chapter 11 ↩︎
  9. Irving, p119 ↩︎
  10. The Tribunite Who Tried to Kill Hitler, Marcus Bennett, 2021 – Knop is the source for his own role. Meisel, also known as Hilda Monte, appears to have been part of a terrorist network: “Monte had given notice to Knop that on 18 July her group would conduct a ‘demonstration attack’ – on that day, nine people on the Nazi-chartered Strength Through Joy were killed in a boiler room explosion.” ↩︎
  11. Lough, chapter 18 ↩︎
  12. Irving, p87. “Soon every major Hitler speech was countered by a well-paid Churchill riposte published in most of Europe’s capitals. – ‘The new encirclement of Germany!’ he quipped to the Standard’s editor.” ↩︎
  13. The Maisky Diaries: Red Ambassador to the Court of St James’s, 1932-1943, edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky, 2015, chapter on 1934 ↩︎
  14. ibid. ↩︎
  15. Cowling, p156 ↩︎
  16. Cowling, p157. Cowling is speaking of 1936, but Gorodetsky shows it was already the case by 1934 or earlier ↩︎
  17. Gorodetsky chapters on 1934 and 1940. Advocates of alliance with the Soviet Union find it expedient to call it ‘Russia’, falsely connoting continuity. ↩︎
  18. Gorodetsky, chapter on 1935 ↩︎
  19. Gorodetsky, chapter on 1937 ↩︎
  20. Gorodetsky, chapter on 1938 ↩︎
  21. Irving, p121 ↩︎
  22. Gorodetsky, chapter on 1937 ↩︎
  23. Irving, p173 ↩︎
  24. Lord Lloyd and the decline of the British Empire, John Charmley, 1987, p208, p211. See also Taylor ↩︎
  25. Taylor, p264 ↩︎
  26. Charmley, p222 ↩︎
  27. Charmley, p14 ↩︎
  28. Irving, p100. See also Cockett p9 ↩︎
  29. Irving, p99 ↩︎
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