As the BBC airs the alternate history drama ‘SS-GB’, our assistant editor analyses the terrifying ‘Hitler’s Black Book’ – Sonderfahndungsliste GB – which reveals how the future of British politics and culture was to be wiped out in the wake of Nazi Germany’s 1940 invasion of Britain.
Set in 1941, the new drama, SS-GB, sees a Metropolitan Police Detective and the wider British population dealing with the after effects of a successful German invasion of the United Kingdom and the overbearing influences of the occupying SS within the new society. Without spoiling the first episode of the series, the monarchy is in turmoil, government dissolved, and resistance seemingly dwindling, as German control over southern Britain tightens and tightens.
Thankfully, a variety of strategic factors, including the courage of pilots serving with the RAF’s Fighter Command, the dominance of the Royal Navy, and the fact the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force was successfully lifted from Dunkirk, means that SS-GB remains a story set within the realm of alternate history. The end of the Battle of Britain and the shift of German forces to the East saw an end to threats of imminent invasion, but although threats which were never likely to be successful, they still darkened the lengthy summer days of 1940.
Long after the RAF’s successes in 1940, the question remains, what if German forces successfully landed on British shores?
For many in Germany’s command system and leadership, invasion was not optimistic folly, but a seriously considered campaign. They planned for the aftermath of what would have been the most decisive German victory of the war. Now, we can gain an understanding of what may have passed in the event of a German triumph over the forces of Great Britain.
Released by military genealogy website ‘Forces War Records’ and translated and digitised by historians, a chilling hit list reveals the names of more than 2,800 individuals marked for death or incarceration. The 144-page list, an appendix to the Gestapo handbook created in preparation of the occupation of Britain (Informationsheft G.B), the Sonderfahndungsliste GB (Special Search List G.B) was a project of the SS, drawn up by the decorated SS officer Walter Schellenberg. It was he who was set to become responsible for policing an occupied Britain, based out of a newly established Gestapo headquarters in the centrally-located city of Birmingham.
It was likely the Sonderfahndungsliste GB document would be used in conjunction with the existing system of National Registration established in the UK during 1939. The scheme, which issued identify cards to, and contained the personal details of, every individual residing in Britain, would have been a fantastic data resource to German occupiers – should such records had survived the invasion.
In addition to the 2,820 names of British subjects, wanted refugees, and exiles, the ‘Black Book’ contained information on elements of British political and cultural society, such as embassies, universities, newspaper organisations, and the lodges of Freemasons, and other such groups. The intention was that the destruction or control of these institutions, and the death or custody of those listed in the document, would facilitate easier control of Britain.
The larger Informationsheft G.B contained information relating to British geography, political processes, legal and judicial systems, museums and galleries, and other civil and military administration matters. Part of the document, “Der Britische Nachrichtendienst”, listed the details of many members of the staff working for the Secret Intelligence Service and included passport photographs of some of its officers.
Once the German position on British soil have been consolidated and the new rule of law established, work on finding those wanted by the Reich Main Security Office would conducted by the Gestapo and elements of the SS, likely assisted by the Feldgendarmerie, other arms, and members of British police or local government – either by coercion or through collaboration.
The list featured government leaders and politicians, as well as a number of refugees from mainland Europe and even German draft dodgers. Individuals from a wide range of backgrounds and occupations were included, such as academics, journalists and editors, engineers, businessmen, directors, writers, pacifists, bankers, religious leaders, and oddly, a Dutch car dealer.
Also wanted were a number of intelligence agents, many of whom were, chillingly, still active. However, retirees such as prolific double agent Martha Cnockaert were still considered to be a threat and were included in the document. Other notable additions include socialite Nancy Astor; political cartoonist David Low; and Minister of Information Duff Cooper.
Many of the names included on the list were allocated to several departments, part of the Reich Main Security Office. These departments, sometimes known as ‘Amtsgruppe’, were typically headed by a prominent figure within the Nazi administration – such as Adolf Eichmann, tasked with Jewish Affairs – these departments had their own aims and objectives, and their own list of individuals to track down and place under arrest. Many of the names recorded in Sonderfahndungsliste GB were wanted by multiple departments, while Prime Minister Winston Churchill was the sole concern of Amtsgruppe VIA1.
|IIB2 – Jews – 60 wanted
IIB4 – Marxism/Aliens Police & Security of Frontiers – 5 wanted
IIB5 – Liberals – 89 wanted
IID5 – Aviation Matters – 7 wanted
IIIB – Germanism – 26 wanted
IIID2 – Commerce, Trade & Transport – 4 wanted
IVA1 – Communism & Marxism – 271 wanted
IVA2 – Sabotage – Defence, Sabotage – Combat, Political Commissioner of the Police, Political Forgery – 116 wanted
IVA3 – Reaction, Opposition, Legitimism, Liberalism, Emigrants, Treachery – 35 wanted
IVB4 – The Office of Jewish Affairs – 44 wanted
IVD2 – Slovakia & Polish Governmental Affairs Within the Reich – 34 wanted
IVE2 – General Affairs of Economy, Defence, and Industrial Espionage – 65 wanted
IVE4 [Gestapo] – Counter Espionage, Scandinavia – 987 wanted
IVE5 – Counter Espionage, East – 159 wanted
VIA1 – Commissioner of All Intelligence Connections – 1 wanted
VIG – Scientific Research – 36 wanted
VIG1 – Evaluation of Intelligence Material – 356 wanted
Winston Churchill was, naturally, the highest priority target. Churchill had long spoke of the dangers of Nazi Germany, where he joined Lord Lloyd (the first to speak out and also on featured the list). In 1934 Churchill highlighted the importance of the RAF and called for action over the reoccupation of the Rhineland despite a prevailing anti-war sentiment among the cabinet and electorate. Always controversial, he lost influence during the abdication crisis, yet despite political exile Churchill was privy to secrets passed to him with permission from successive Prime Ministers, through sources such as Desmond Morton and Lord Swinton.
Churchill, with support from figures like future defence secretary Duncan Sandys, soon led calls for rearmament and was the fiercest opponent of appeasement. At the outbreak of war, Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and sat on the War Cabinet, where he rapidly proved influential. As the country lost confidence in Chamberlain, the Prime Minister resigned, Lord Halifax declined the post, and Churchill was appointed to the role. His steadfast opposition to Nazi Germany and his status as Prime Minister secured his place on the hit list.
Another prominent target was Clement Attlee, who, as leader of the Labour Party, dropped the party’s pacifist stance in 1937. This quickly evolved into support for rearmament and, later, opposition to appeasement. Attlee had visited the British Battalion of the International Brigades of the Spanish Civil War and even had a company named after him. After the failures of the Norwegian Campaign, Attlee was not willing to enter government with Chamberlain, but he was with Winston Churchill, and eventually deputised for Churchill in two of the three inter-connected coalition committees. He led the third, which dealt with domestic affairs. Later, Attlee became the first Deputy Prime Minister in 1942. A loyal ally throughout the war, Attlee backed Churchill in his plans to continue the war in 1940, giving him the majority he needed to pursue this course of action.
Eleanor Rathbone MP was another early critic of Nazi Germany and supporter of both Churchill and Attlee, she warned about the threat to Czechoslovakia and was a frank critic of appeasement. She chastised the government’s complacency to the reoccupation of the Rhineland, the Italian conquest of Abyssinia, and the Spanish Civil War – even going so far as to try and charter a ship to run the blockade imposed on Spain and to remove prominent republicans. From 1938, she set up the Parliamentary Committee of Refugees, and would later pressure the government to publicise evidence of the Holocaust.
Other politicians on the list included Anthony Eden, the former foreign secretary, wartime minister, and future Prime Minister was not a natural ally of Churchill, but remained a popular figure with the public and was a leading anti-appeaser. Another future Prime Minister sought by the Germans was Harold Macmillan, branded as a ‘maverick’ and a ‘born rebel’. A critic of Chamberlain, he served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply in the early war years. Ernest Bevin was also wanted, as another opponent of fascism and appeasement who lambasted pacifists within the Labour Party. He served as a war minister, despite having no constituency, and became Minister for Labour.
Neville Chamberlain was another individual sought for arrest. The former Prime Minister pioneered appeasement but quietly made the necessary preparations for war and led Britain through the first eight months of conflict. After he was succeeded by Churchill following the retreat from Norway, Chamberlain remained on the War Cabinet until his health deteriorated. He was considered to be a respectable and important member of Parliament and was expected to oversee the Home Front, however, Chamberlain died in November 1940. Leslie Hore-Belisha was War Secretary for much of Chamberlain’s administration and also appeared on the Sonderfahndungsliste, sometimes accused of being a warmonger Hore-Belisha tried many times to introduce conscription before succeeding in 1939.
A number of other prominent public figures were also targeted, among them was prominent author and social commentator H.G. Wells, who was popular in Germany and Austria, but his criticism of German politics in 1933 resulted in his books being banned and burnt. Another prolific writer, Virginia Woolf, one of the foremost modernists of the period, was a strong critic of fascism. Her novel-essay ‘Three Guineas’, popular with servicemen, indicted the political system. The future first President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, was another prominent individual targeted, as he was leader of British Jewish Zionist Organisation and a leading biochemist. In the First World War developed a process of developing acetone, of great importance for the war industry. Chaim was also instrumental in establishing the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in 1939 he was appointed as an honorary advisor to the Ministry of Supply, where he effectively managed provisioning throughout the war. He was a frequent advisor to the cabinet and an instigator in the creation of the British Army’s Jewish Brigade.
Noël Coward was another person scheduled for arrest, the legendary playwright and actor was among the world’s highest-earning writers, he was dedicated to war work, running the British propaganda office in Paris and working for British intelligence. He used his celebrity to influence the Americans, and also entertained Allied troops. Another sought after person was Sylvia Pankhurst, a devoted suffragette, Left Communist, and anti-fascist. She opposed Italy’s campaign in Ethiopia, tried to reveal fascist fifth columnists and free interned anti-communists.
Anyone who assisted in the escape of Jewish and other peoples from Germany or occupied Europe were also high ranking targets. The most prominent of these was Frank ‘Francis’ Foley, the Secret Intelligence Service officer who used his position in the British Passport Agency to help thousands of Jewish families escape Berlin while uncovering secrets and recruiting agents.
The list would have been just the beginning of mass arrests in occupied Britain, as 450,000 people of direct Jewish descent resided in Britain in 1940, and the Freemasons and other groups were also to become targets.
Sought By Schellenberg: Other Sonderfahndungsliste Prominents