The Man Who Saved Europe How Winston Churchill Stopped the Nazis

Some 70 years ago, Hitler's Wehrmacht was chalking up one victory after the next, but then Winston Churchill stood up to the dictator. Their duel decided World War II. The former British prime minister has been viewed as one of the shining lights of the 20th century ever since. Is the reputation justified?

By

Corbis

Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill never met, and who knows how it might have changed the course of history in the 20th century if the Nazi had made a different decision in the spring of 1932.

He was already standing in the lobby of the Grand Hotel Continental in Max Joseph Strasse in Munich, unshaven, exhausted from his election campaign, wearing a shabby trench coat. In another room, Churchill was dining with his family and members of his entourage, waiting for Hitler.

The short, stout Briton, the scion of one of England's most important families, was already famous. He was a successful journalist and author of bestsellers, and before World War I he had already served as home secretary, president of the board of trade and first lord of the admiralty (head of the navy). During World War I, he was appointed minister of munitions, then secretary of state for war and secretary of state for air. After the war, he became secretary of state for the colonies and, finally, served as chancellor of the Exchequer from 1924 to 1929. The British Isles had not seen someone with such an illustrious career in a long time.

Hitler Showed Little Interest

Of course, Churchill was a member of the opposition at the time. He had come to Munich to conduct research for a new book, and while he was there, he wanted to use the opportunity to meet the notorious Hitler, whose supporters were in the process of destroying the Weimar Republic. Churchill's son and Hitler's foreign press agent Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengl arranged for the two men to meet over dinner at the Continental, although Hanfstaengl neglected to tell the Churchills that the Fuehrer had shown little interest and had left it open as to whether he would attend.

The evening progressed without Hitler. After the dessert, Hanfstaengl excused himself and hurried to the hotel telephone booth to call the Fuehrer and find out whether he still intended to show up. Suddenly he saw Hitler standing in the lobby. The Nazi had coincidentally met with a benefactor at the Continental.

Hanfstaengl took the Nazi party leader aside and told him that if Churchill saw him now, his failure to appear would be seen as an insult. And then he said: "Mr. Hitler, you should come. It's truly important." But the party leader remained obstinate, and said: "Hanfstaengl, you know perfectly well that I have a lot to do at the moment and that we plan to get an early start tomorrow. So -- good night."

Churchill put on a good face over the rejection. Later on, Hanfstaengl sat down at the piano in the hotel's music room, and they sang Scottish songs together. But even in his memoirs, Churchill writes with regret that Hitler "lost his only chance of meeting me."

If Hitler had met Churchill in Munich, would he have realized that he was facing a man who was every bit his match? A man who actually enjoyed the war? And who would eventually force Hitler to his knees?

A Man Who Loved Danger and Sought Out Adventure

Churchill had killed people in battle as a young man, but he was not particularly struck by the experience. "Nothing in history was ever settled except by wars," the bellicose Churchill believed. He loved danger and sought out adventure. Even when he was in his sixties, as prime minister, he would stand on the roof of a government building in London during German air raids to observe the murderous spectacle from above, while his cabinet ministers fled into the bomb shelters.

Adolf Hitler and Winston Churchill. It was a rivalry that pitted a member of the petit bourgeoisie against a son of the aristocracy, an ascetic against a hedonist, and ideologue against a pragmatist, a murderer against an adventurer, a racist revolutionary against an imperial political realist.

Eight years after Hitler's failure to turn up at that dinner in Munich, the duel between these two men was to shape the fate of the world.

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heitgitsche 08/20/2010
1. The other side of the coin
Churchill wanted revenge on the Germans - no matter if Nazis or not. He encouraged the expulsion of about 15 million Germans from their homes of 800 years, the greatest "etnic cleansing" in European history. He was not powerful enough to stop Stalin from expanding and England`s time as a world power was over
verbatim128 08/24/2010
2.
Zitat von sysopSome 70 years ago, Hitler's Wehrmacht was chalking up one victory after the next, but then Winston Churchill confronted the dictator. Their duel decided World War II. The former British prime minister has been viewed as one of the shining lights of the 20th century ever since. Is the reputation justified? http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/0,1518,712259,00.html
A kind and tactful account of Churchill's confrontation with the dictator. Certainly, the former British prime minister has been rightfully viewed as one of the shining lights of the 20th century. Was Winston Churchill's reputation justified, when considering the total outcome? Ask, if only that were possible, the over 100 million people of the countries bargained away with Stalin, mostly because of Churchill's dreams and fantasies. The people who were enslaved for almost half a century, the same century that made Churchill shine; ask the people who lived and died under communism.
BTraven 08/24/2010
3.
Hard to imagine that Churchill wanted to meet Hitler when he had not been yet the Führer since, at least in my opinion, it shows that he took him seriously while the majority of politician still laughed about him. Perhaps, he was curious to get to know a person of whom was said he would be an excellent speaker, so he, as a distinguished orator who had privileged education, could find out whether Hitler was really as good as it was told. And it offers him the possibility to elicit whether they have more similarities than the one which determined the life of both – their anticommunism. It would be interesting to know whether the history would have been completely different had he met Hitler in Munich. Imagine Hitler had meet the expatriate Stalin in Vienna. Both were quite young at that time therefore the probability that such a meeting, perhaps even a close relationship between both, could have changed the path of history seems to me quite low. Concerning Churchill’s role during WWII I think the author exaggerates his influence. Neither an invasion of England nor a peace treaty had enabled Hitler to withdraw troops form the west in order to deploy them to Russia. Controlling Britain would have been quite difficult for the Wehrmacht. The level of collaboration would have been much lower than in France or Holland, for example. And Britain had broken any peace treaty as soon as fast it saw the change to defeat Hitler. You do not need a war to make Britain to a large aircraft carrier used by GI’s.
BTraven 08/24/2010
4.
Zitat von heitgitscheChurchill wanted revenge on the Germans - no matter if Nazis or not. He encouraged the expulsion of about 15 million Germans from their homes of 800 years, the greatest "etnic cleansing" in European history. He was not powerful enough to stop Stalin from expanding and England`s time as a world power was over
It is quite reasonable that he wanted to take revenge, however, the question is had he really the strength had to do it? I doubt it. Churchill did not want that Soviet Union dominated the Eastern Europe in such a way that Stalin could decide where his country should border its neighbours. Stalin was modest he only took back was he had lost, except the area around Lemberg which was on the western side of the Curzon Line, when he was fighting against the Poles. The area as far as I know was, quite contrary to parts of the country from where the new “settlers” came, not so much affected by the war, so new inhabitants instantly found flats they were denied in their home towns and villages. The same luck had the Poles because almost all the towns they had taken from Germany, there is one exception, Breslau, of course, were intact. In both areas German troops were overrun by the Red Army. Neither Roosevelt nor Churchill had the power to prevent Stalin from starting one of the greatest expulsion in modern age. They would have tried to curb him had they had the means to impress Stalin. They did not have any alternative but to sacrifice the countries again.
travelerdiogenes 09/19/2010
5. Surely this is a joke
Churchill stopped Hitler? How about the 10 million Soviet soldiers who fought and died in the East? And HOW many Brits died fighting the Germans? 400,000 to 495,000 so. About 4%-5% as many. In total, there were over 1300 Soviet divisions fighting the Germans. The British Air Corps fought the Germans off, yes. But how many German units did they have to fight? The Soviets had 350 air divisions fighting the Germans, some of which were completely destroyed. Churchill stopped the Germans? Please.
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