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Project Archivist Jane Speller writes:

A new archive project funded by the John Rylands Research Institute aims to unlock the fascinating information contained in the foreign correspondence of The Manchester Guardian (now The Guardian) newspaper of the early 1930s. This key period in world history is told through the thousands of letters of the editor, William Percival Crozier (1879-1944), to and from his principal foreign correspondents, Robert Dell (1865-1940) in Geneva, Frederick Augustus Voigt (1892–1957) in Berlin and Alexander Werth (1901-1969) in Paris.

Crozier rose up through the ranks of the paper and was appointed as editor in April 1932, working from the headquarters of the paper on Manchester’s Cross Street.

Guardian office in Cross Street, Manchester. Image reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Media Group

Guardian office in Cross Street, Manchester. Image reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Media Group

Foreign news had always been Crozier’s chief interest and in the interwar period he sought to increase foreign news coverage in the newspaper, as well as the use of photographs and maps. He established a network of full-time correspondents based in major European and Soviet cities including Paris, Berlin, Geneva, Vienna and Moscow. Each correspondent developed their own sources, which enabled them to write informed articles on the foreign affairs of the day. These ‘messages’ were telephoned or wired through to the Manchester and London offices, or in the case of longer articles sent by mail. An express mail plane leaving Geneva at 10.30 am in the morning could ensure that the news reached London by 3.30 pm that same day.

Crozier kept abreast of the latest issues by maintaining a copious and detailed direct correspondence with his foreign correspondents – often exchanging several letters a day with each man. The correspondence shows that Dell, Voigt and Werth were all strong characters, talented journalists and passionate about reporting the danger presented to world peace by the increasingly volatile political situation in the rest of Europe.

Crozier’s editorship coincided with the establishment of the National Socialist regime in Germany. In January 1933, Adolf Hitler became the German chancellor. The correspondence takes us from the Berlin of the Weimar Republic where excess and sexual freedom attracted many visitors to the city, for example the English writers W.H. Auden, and Christopher Isherwood (of ‘Cabaret’ fame), to the rise of the ‘Terror’ or ‘Brown Terror’, a regime of fear and violence perpetrated by the ‘Brown Shirts’ or Sturmabteilung; this Nazi paramilitary force kidnapped, tortured and frequently murdered anyone who was, or was thought to be, affiliated with the Socialist or Communist parties. There are vivid descriptions in the letters of some of these terrible deeds which make for painful reading. In 22 March 1933 Crozier reports that a concentration camp is being built in Bavaria (Dachau) to house 5,000 communists, and that it will be one in a series.

The correspondence has the pace of a gripping novel, as Crozier tries to present a balanced view of politics in the face of the rapid rise of the Nazis and the development of the ‘Hitlerite’ regime, whilst staying true to the liberal politics of the newspaper. His initial advice to his foreign correspondents was to ‘stick to the facts and avoid strong judgments’. He continued to try and ensure that the paper did not come across as one-sided, but inevitably many disturbing stories were published during this time. The paper was banned in Germany shortly after the publication of an article on 25 March 1933 by Voigt who detailed the Sturmabteilung persecution of communists and socialists. Working closely with his friend, Voigt, Crozier ‘considered it no less than his duty personally and persistently to expose the Nazis’.

Guardian newsroom. Image reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Media Group.

Guardian newsroom. Image reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Media Group.

In late March 1933, Crozier advised Voigt and Werth not to return to Berlin for the risk to their safety: Voigt because the ‘violent’ nature of his journalism had led him to be put on a Nazi blacklist and Werth because he had Russian Jewish ancestry on his father’s side, and acts of violence against Jewish people and their property had started. Reports of anti-Semitism by the Nazi party were given prominence by the Manchester Guardian before other news agencies.

The range and breadth of articles covered by the correspondents is astonishing. They travelled long distances to get stories, often having to smuggle sensitive information out. For example Dell travels from Geneva to Rome in early April 1933 to report on Mussolini, and Voigt tours the German provincial cites to report on the ‘Terror’ there. The correspondents’ vast networks of contacts included other journalists such as Norman Ebbutt (The Times) who was based in Berlin and Malcolm Muggeridge (Manchester Guardian) who was based in Moscow, refugees such as Miss Olkhine whose family fled the Bolsheviks in Russia to settle in Geneva, as well as people they suspected of being government spies, such as Werth’s Polish contact in Paris.

In addition to political coverage there are references in the correspondence to articles on the arts and sciences such as interviews with the Russian writer Yevgeny Zamiatin; with Georg Pabst the director of the film Don Quixote (1933) and its stars Feodor Chaliapin and George Robey; and an article on radioactivity in the treatment of cancer for which Werth seeks an interview with Marie Curie.

Blog posts over the coming weeks will look in more detail at the personalities involved in the foreign correspondence, as well as describing some of their big ‘scoops’.