Hitler’s Black Book was originally called the Sonderfahndungsliste G.B. or to use the literal translation ‘Special Search List Great Britain’. Compiled in 1940, the book listed 2,820 people, prominent in British public life, including European exiles and refugees, Jews, homosexuals and socialists, who were to be taken into ‘protective custody’ following the success of Operation Sea Lion – the invasion of Britain by Nazi Germany.Compiled by Walter Schellenberg, the head of counter-espionage and part of the Reich Security directorate, the book is essentially a Who’s Who for Nazi detainment. The names are listed in alphabetical order followed by the bureau section where the details of each individual were kept; Jewish individuals have the word ‘Jude’ in brackets after their names. At the end of each section there are blank, lined pages presumably for additional names to be added. At the back of the book is a directory of institutions such as embassies, trade unions, universities, newspaper offices and Masonic lodges, in which the Nazis were interested.
Who’s Who in The Black Book?
All those listed in the book would have been detained for purposes we can only speculate about and, unsurprisingly, leading politicians such as Winston Churchill are mentioned, along with socialist intellectuals and writers such as H G Wells and Aldous Huxley. Other notables listed are actress Sybil Thorndike, and members of the Bloomsbury Set such as Vita Sackville-West and the Nicolsons, and novelist Virginia Woolf.
On finding himself listed, Noel Coward received a telegram from author and suffragist, Rebecca West, who also featured; it read:
‘My dear – the people we should have been seen dead with!’
Coward was of interest to the Nazis for a number of reasons. He opposed pre-war appeasement, was an armed forces entertainer, had connections with MI5 and he was also homosexual. In his memoirs Future Indefinite (1954), Coward wrote:
‘If anyone had told me at that time that I was high up on the Nazi black list I should have laughed and told them not to talk nonsense’.
Coward would have been assigned to RHSA, VI, G 1 – the Security Service under the control of the SS. Likewise, gay author E M Forster was of interest for his socialist writings and his homosexuality.
On a chilling note, the person who was to be in charge of arresting those listed in the book was SS Colonel Professor Dr Frank Six. Six was subsequently responsible for massacres in the Soviet Union for which he was sentenced at Nuremberg as a war criminal.
Other Surrey residents listed:
Helene Berendson, Merton
Albert van den Bergh, businessman, Alderbrook Park, Cranleigh
F D’arcy Cooper, businessman, Westbridge, Reigate
Franz Kuhnl, Albury
Josef Hein, Brook, Guildford
Lord Beaverbrook, government minister, Cherkley Court, Leatherhead
Vernon Werner Bartlett, The Old Farm House, Elstead
Franz Smolcic, Surrey Hills Guesthouse, Guildford
Bernhard Guttmann, German author and refugee, Windwhistle, Grayshott, Hindhead
Treetops Camp, German refugee centre, Guildford
Dr Wilhelm Peters, German refugee, Surrey
One Surrey Jew is mentioned: Sidney van den Bergh, businessman, Weybridge.
A rare survival
Of the 20,000 original copies of this book, only two are known to survive. One is currently at the Imperial War Museum, London. This fascinating item has been reprinted by the Imperial War Museum and Surrey History Centre has obtained a copy which can be studied in the Heather D Hawker room.
Forces War Records have now digitised the Black Book and the names of everyone listed, find out more on the Forces War Records website.