Gamache, Gareth Jones: On Assignment in Nazi Germany

2022-06 | Download PDF

Gamache, Ray. Gareth Jones: On Assignment in Nazi Germany 1933-34. Wales: Welsh Academic Press 2021. pp. 188, $27.31 (paperback). Reviewed by Timothy Roy Gleason, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh,

In Gareth Jones: On Assignment in Nazi Germany 1933-34, Ray Gamache reveals how Welsh reporter Gareth Jones’ romance with Germany was tested by the Nazi party’s horrific remake of a country’s self-esteem and economy. Jones is cast in the book as a not-so-everyman hero. He was a master of languages, enabling him to blend into foreign lands and engage with everyone from manual laborers to nations’ leaders. Fortunately for Gamache and the book’s readers, Jones was certainly opinionated, allowing us glimpses into his mind and emotions through his articles, notes, and letters. Jones delicately weighed what to publish from his notes and his private thoughts, as does Gamache in portraying Jones as an admirer of old Germany but certainly not a Nazi sympathizer. This theme is pervasive with underlying questions. Was Jones friendly with the Nazis or was he using his own form of diplomacy to gain access? How naïve was Jones in understanding where Nazis would take Germany?

The book is organized chronologically with the occasional return to events in previous years. While Gamache’s early attention to the Soviet Union and remarks on Jones’ circle of friends risk distraction, Gamache sets this background so readers can understand how Jones built a network of connections that enabled him to break through foreign resistance for visits and interviews, as well as how Jones’ reporting on the Soviet Union earned him dangerous enemies.

Gamache shares Jones’ comments on at-risk Jewish and Polish people, and many others, but usually with some framing or context that appropriately defends Jones. Initially, this protection can feel a bit excessive because the readers are the jury members who may feel, at first, they are encountering emotional appeals more than facts. While some degree of antisemitism in Great Britain may have been tolerated in the early decades of the 1900s, the fact that some comments originated from a teenaged Jones’ personal writing hardly makes it acceptable, especially when the Welsh have clung onto their heritage and language under English control. However, a stronger argument for Jones’ liberalism and empathy comes as the book progresses and shows how Jones matured in his view of people from throughout Europe. Jones’ early statements that post-World War I German laborers were like Welsh ones revealed his warmth for the German people, yet his outlook evolved as the Nazis became more aggressive and Jones witnessed suffering in other lands. It is a reminder of the value in traveling to meet other people so any biases taught in youth may be wiped away.

Rather than agreeing with the content of Nazi propaganda, Jones and other reporters marveled at the operation. They were placed in the uncomfortable position of being seated on stage with Hitler during at least one rally, acting as witnesses but also used as props to show the German public that Hitler earned the attention of the world’s press and made the country once again relevant. This is one of the most striking moments Gamache shares because it was a scene that Jones’ critics can use to argue he was a Nazi sympathizer. At times like this, Gamache deftly reveals snippets of Jones’ reporting which, when taken in isolation from his other reporting, can give the impression of support for Nazi Germany. However, Gamache responds by discussing the totality of Jones’ stories, which were often published as series when abroad, making these brief statements appear harmless. Jones frequently acknowledged when a political power player succeeded in meeting that person’s goal without himself praising that goal.

After what felt to be a slow start and a few distractions, such as the relevance of Lawrence Grossberg’s concept of writing history, the book rolled along and gained speed. It will inform anyone interested in Nazi Germany, the events that led to World War II, or political reporting. The book is not so narrow to only interest journalism scholars because Gamache shows how Jones was a man who used journalism to learn more about Europe and tell the public about his observations. Gamache’s reliance on Jones’ public and personal writings gives the research a strong foundation that makes Gamache’s arguments more convincing. For this reason and the quality of research, Gareth Jones: On Assignment in Nazi Germany 1933-34 is highly recommended for library acquisition and would be an excellent choice as a secondary text.

Jones’ dilemma was having to maintain good relationships to secure access, which Jones lost in the Soviet Union shortly after documenting the famine in Holodomor, while reporting on some of the worst acts of the century. Furthermore, critics of the Soviet Union were often incorrectly branded as friends of the Nazis to smear their reputations. Given that this same propaganda weapon is used by contemporary Russia to attack critics of Vladimir Putin, its invasion of Ukraine, and other human rights violations, Jones can be viewed as a sort of propaganda test subject by the Soviets. Gamache cannot prevent any future attacks on Jones’ reporting and character from occurring, but Gamache provides more than enough evidence to defend the late Welsh journalist. Its relevance to current events—although Gamache rightfully avoids linking to them—makes the book valuable to readers who are concerned with the dangers of hateful propaganda and can learn from the warnings.