SS General Walter Schellenberg
The 2820 names in the list included politicians, writers, intelligence agents, scientists, artists and refugees, drawn up by SS General Walter Schellenberg’s office. Schellenberg was to become the Police Chief responsible for Britain after the invasion, and the main Gestapo offices would be based in Birmingham. The book would have been issued to the Einsatzgruppen of SS men who followed the regular Nazi forces into Britain. The planned invasion never happened, largely because of the Battle of Britain culminating in Sept 1940 with air supremacy retained by the British RAF, and the nation’s powerful navy.
It seemed normal for all invading forces to warn their own soldiers of potentially dangerous people eg spies, scientists making bombs. But the secretive and very thorough Black List was bizarre, because it included politicians, actors, journalists, trade unions, poets and educationalists. These prominent Britons would be promptly rounded up, had the Germans successfully invaded the UK.
The political entries were described thus: Attlee; Clemens, leader Labour Party; Lord Beaverbrook; Conservative Minister Duncan Sandys; Lady Astor, enemy of Germany; George Lansbury, rules German emigrant political circles; Richard Acland, anti-Fascist Liberal MP; Robert Vansittart, leader of British Intelligence Service & Chief Diplomatic Adviser to the Foreign Office; Neville Chamberlain, ex-Prime Minister.
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The list also included all responsible officials of the exiled Governments or the National Committees of occupied France, Holland, Belgium, Norway, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Austria. Other prominent Europeans living in UK included Charles De Gaulle, former French General; Jan Paderewski, Polish composer; Eduard Benes, Czech politician; Jan Masaryk, Czech minister; Stefan Zweig novelist; and Dr Sigmund Freud, Austrian psychiatrist.
The list noted the crimes that each included Briton was suspected of having carried out, and which German Department(s) would investigate. Based on what was learned about the Holocaust and concentration camps in 1942, some Britons would obviously have had more to fear than others eg Jews, Communists and ex Nazi defectors. Also in 1940 there were 450,000 people born Jewish in the UK, all of whom would have been seen as enemies to the Nazis.
How did the Germans get the names? Although there were some glaring errors (eg people who had died) on the list, most information seemed to have been gathered from newspaper reports, telephone directories and published works of the 1930s period. [Note that on his capture in 1945, Gen Schellenberg alleged that a leading British intelligence agent had given the Nazis much of this information].
The Black List was contained in a booklet discovered in the Berlin headquarters of the Reich Security Police in Sept 1945, after the war ended. As well as the individuals named above, a special section listed 35 British publications whose offices were to be seized immediately, records confiscated and executives arrested. They included Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Daily Herald, Daily Telegraph, News Chronicle, Observer, Spectator, Yorkshire Post, Sunday Post, Sunday Chronicle, Sunday Pictorial and Picture Post. This work was originally compiled after the fall of France in May-June 1940 and from then on, appeared to have been annually revised.
Now The Black Book: The Britons on the Nazi Hitlist (Profile Books, 2020) has been very well written by Sybil Oldfield. Historian Oldfield’s publishers said: In 1939, the Gestapo created a list of names: the Britons whose removal would be the Nazis' first priority in the event of a successful invasion. Who were they? What had they done to provoke Germany?
Oldfield was inspired to write the book when accidentally finding Virginia and Leonard Woolf listed, during an art exhibition. Not surprisingly, more than half of the listed names were naturalised Jewish and other refugees, many of Britain's most gifted, humane inhabitants. Note the writers EM Forster and Virginial Woolf, humanitarians and religious leaders, scientists, social reformers Margery Fry and Eleanor Rathbone MP, and artists Jacob Epstein and Oscar Kokoschka. By examining these targets of Nazi hatred, Oldfield revealed why the Nazis feared their influence, shed light on the Gestapo worldview and revealed a network of truly exemplary Britons: visionaries and unsung heroes.
Thousands of the booklets were printed but their warehouse was bombed; only 2 originals were found in Berlin in 1945 and displayed in Imperial War Museum London and Hoover Institution Library-Archives, Stanford Uni.