The bigger lie

Biographers, as Oscar Wilde feared, add a new terror to death. Both would-be authors of lives of Manning and Dymphna Clark have now published essays on the former’s claim to have arrived in Germany a few days closer to the anti-Semitic riots of 8-14 November 1938 (Kristallnacht) than he had. Mark McKenna set the curs whining with his exposure in “Manne Monthly”. Now Brian Matthews has come out of the woodwork with “What Dymphna Knew” for the current issue of Australian Book Review.

Matthews opened a different line of explication by quoting passages from articles that Dymphna Clark’s parents wrote home from Germany for the Melbourne Argus just after Hitler came to power. Her Belgian-born father, Augustin Lodewyxks, professor of German at the University of Melbourne, betrayed more than a little sympathy for the Nazi project. Matthews links these opinions to a later clash with Clark for Dymphna’s loyalty. Thus, Clark’s insertion of himself into the occasion when the Nazis revealed their viciousness to the world becomes an opportunity for revenge on the wicked father-in-law.

Subtle as this reading seems it misses a big fact and a big lie. The relief that Lodewyxks felt at the restoration of order in Germany was shared by most of the readers of the Argus, who lived in terror of Bolshevism. Mussolini was even more widely admired. What led Clark to position himself closer to Kristallnacht was his reaction at the complacency of the appeasers he encountered in England and then around Yarraside. The Professor of French at Melbourne, A. R. Chisholm, published an apology for French fascists in Australian Quarterly in 1939.

The big lie is how another Australian who was in Germany three months earlier turned his official tour into a non-fact. Among the honours that Attorney-General Robert Gordon Menzies received was a luncheon hosted by the President of the Reichsbank, Dr Schacht. In line with the sympathies of Lodewyxks, Menzies came home envying “a good deal of a really spiritual quality in the willingness of young Germans to devote themselves to the service and well-being of the State.”

In addition, Menzies disparaged the claims to survival of the only truly democratic state in Central Europe, Czechoslovakia. Prime Minister Benes was “a fairly greasy fellow” who had not learnt to give way to “much more important nations”. To that end, Menzies advocated “a very firm hand at Prague”.

None of this appears in either volume of Menzies’ memoirs. Instead, we are treated to chapters on his closeness to Churchill. Carried away by this rewriting of his past, Menzies moved in the House of Representatives to congratulate Churchill on his retirement from Westminster in 1964.  Opposition leader Calwell took the opportunity to remind the Right Honourable gentleman that “while Churchill thundered his magnificent obsession, as it seemed, there were those who, in smoother cadences, besought the people to imagine themselves in the position of the German people at their own firesides and to ask themselves whether they would not find much to admire in Herr Hitler’s achievements.”

14 May 2007