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?
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.
- Part 1: How Winston Churchill Stopped the Nazis
- Part 2: Britain Defies the Dictator
- Part 3: Trench Warfare Cooled Churchill's Romance for War
- Part 4: Churchill Advocates a Massive Military Buildup
- Part 5: 'Utter Dejection Was Written on Every Face'
- Part 6: Churchill's Strongest Weapon Was the Word
- Part 7: 'When Will that Creature Churchill Finally Capitulate?'
- Part 8: 'I Shall Drag the United States In'
- Part 9: Churchill's Role in the Explusion of Germans from Easter Europe
Stay informed with our free news services:
© SPIEGEL ONLINE 2010
All Rights Reserved
Reproduction only allowed with the permission of SPIEGELnet GmbH
MORE FROM SPIEGEL INTERNATIONAL
German PoliticsMerkel's Moves: Power Struggles in Berlin
World War IITruth and Reconciliation: Why the War Still Haunts Europe
EnergyGreen Power: The Future of Energy
European UnionUnited Europe: A Continental Project
Climate ChangeGlobal Warming: Curbing Carbon Before It's Too Late