A huge amount, most of it confused, has been said about Gary Lineker’s tweet criticising the government’s asylum policy. However, there remain key areas that have received little or no coverage.
One is the question of the language of the Third Reich. Many of Lineker’s supporters have asserted that the language of contemporary Conservatism is indeed similar to that of the Nazis. They insist they resolutely oppose Nazism but that was not what Britain’s best-known football pundit was referring to.
To get to grips with this question it is necessary to wind back a bit. Let us look more closely at what Lineker said. His tweet has been removed from Twitter but it is still available to read in many media reports (see screengrab below). The key phrase in this context is his claim that the government has used “language that is not dissimilar to that used by Germany in the 30s”.
Some of his more astute critics have argued – I think rightly – that this is a coded way of arguing that the Nazis and the Conservatives are in some ways comparable. He has therefore likened arguably the most barbaric regime in history, responsible most notably for the slaughter of six million Jews in the Holocaust, with the current British government. By doing so he has implicitly trivialised the greatest crime against humanity of the twentieth century (for example, see a good article on it here ).
But let’s for a moment take him at face value. Assume he was just talking about language and let’s confine ourselves to the 1930s rather than the first half of the 1940s. Would Lineker’s claim still be justified?
For anyone who wants to read the 7 March statement by Suella Braverman, the home secretary, it is available here. Lineker’s tweet followed shortly after it was made. The striking characteristic of the language is its moderation. It contains no abusive language aimed at asylum seekers or any ethnic group. (In my view the asylum policy is itself seriously flawed but that is another question).
It is also true that in October 2022 she said Britain was facing an “invasion” of its south coast by asylum seekers. That in my view is ugly language that should be criticised. However, it is a long way from openly abusive racial language. Expressing ideas in that way is deemed unacceptable across the political spectrum in Britain.
The language of the Nazis was an entirely different matter. From its start it had a savage anti-Semitism at its core. As noted by Victor Klemperer (1881-1960), a German diarist of life in Nazi Germany who became renowned in scholarly circles, in his seminal study of The Language of the Third Reich: “Anti-Semitism is from start to finish the party’s most effective means of propaganda, the most effective and concrete manifestation of racial doctrine, and from the German masses is indeed indistinguishable from this racial theory.” He went on to argue: “For the German masses anti-Semitism and racial theory are synonyms. And all the excesses and demands of the national arrogance, every conquest, every act of tyranny, every atrocity and mass murder, are explained by this scientific, or rather pseudo-scientific, racial theory.”
Hitler’s hateful anti-Semitism is clear from his early speeches in the 1920s. It also runs through Mein Kampf, his autobiography, which was first published in 1925. Between then and 1945 it sold over 12 million copies and was translated into more than a dozen languages.
But since Lineker’s reference was to the 1930s let’s focus on that. From 1933 Hitler was chancellor of Germany so his pronouncements would have constituted government policy. Fortunately, at least for anyone wanting to look into this question, many of Hitler’s speeches are easily available to read in English translation on the internet.
His statements are replete with numerous statements about “an international Jewish world enemy” which “threatens to destroy our Volk [the German people]”. He talks of “an international Jewish centre of revolution in Moscow” and of “Jewish international Muscovite Bolshevism”. In his crazed mind these Jewish Bolsheviks are linked in a joint conspiracy with Jewish capitalists to destroy Germany.
To take just a few more choice examples out of a large number:
In a speech in September 1934 in Nuremberg he argued: “The catchword ‘women’s liberation' is merely a phrase invented by the Jewish intellect, and its contents are marked by the same spirit. The German woman will never need to emancipate herself in an age supportive of German life.”
In a speech in September 1935 he described how: “rootless Jewish-international wandering scholars are infiltrating the nations, agitating against all healthy common sense and whipping up hostility among the people.”
In a speech in Schwerin in 1936 he talked of: “the hate-filled power of our Jewish foe, a foe to whom we had done no harm but who attempted to subjugate and make of our German Volk its slave, who is responsible for all the misfortune which came upon us in November 1918 and responsible for the misfortune which plagued Germany in the years thereafter!”
In a 1939 speech to the Reichstag (German parliament) he also spoke openly about the physical annihilation of the Jews: “Once again I will be a prophet: should the international Jewry of finance (Finanzjudentum) succeed, both within and beyond Europe, in plunging mankind into yet another world war, then the result will not be a Bolshevization of the earth and the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation (Vernichtung) of the Jewish race in Europe. Thus, the days of propagandist impotence of the non-Jewish peoples are over.”
Of course the evils of the Nazi regime, even in the 1930s, was not just limited to words. For example, the Nuremberg race laws of 1935 made race-mixing or race-defilement (Rassenschande) illegal. That meant no intermarriages or sexual relations between Jews and people of “German and related blood”.
Nazi hostility towards the Jews also often manifested itself in extreme violence. Most notoriously in Kristallnacht (the night of breaking glass) in November 1938. Over just two days over 91 Jews were killed and some 30,000 Jews were rounded up and taken to concentration camps. Nazi mobs also shattered the shop windows of 7.500 Jewish-owned commercial establishments and looted their wares.
Even if 1939 is taken as a cut-off point there is no comparison between the political language in Britain today and that of Nazi Germany. In contemporary Britain overtly racist language is almost universally deemed unacceptable. In Nazi Germany, in contrast, a thoroughly racialised language, with an incendiary anti-Semitism at its core, was normalised.
The consequences of Nazi racial thinking became brutally apparent on a massive scale as the Holocaust unfolded in its full horror in the 1940s.