The Nasty King's Speech

The King overcame his stammer, but not his anti-Semitism. And Colin Firth played King George to perfection in the movie, and now is set to play Lehi martyr Avraham Stern.

Ruth King

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Colin Firth is a fine, versatile actor. He is undoubtedly the best Mr. Darcy in all the movies made of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and is now set to play Avraham Stern, the intellectual and poet who became leader of the Jewish underground Fighters for the Freedom of Israel (LEHI), called the Stern Gang by the British.

Michael Winterbottom, who produced the film (to be called “The Promise”) did much of the research at the Begin Center and has stated that it is based on the true story of two British police detectives, Thomas Wilkin and Geoffrey Morton, who caught and killed Stern.

Thomas James Wilkin was decorated several times by the Crown for his services in Palestine in tracking down members of the Jewish underground. He spoke fluent Hebrew, taught to him by his Jewish mistress Shoshana Borochov.

Wilkins was himself killed two years after killing a handcuffed Avraham Stern, and, Winterbottom states: “Weirdly, we have at the end of the film, we have an interview, which we’ve already done with one of the people who assassinated Wilkin, who is still alive, two of them in fact, so we have them talking about how they assassinated Wilkin already, so it’s a great story.”

It is certainly an interesting story. Stern published a newspaper, made clandestine radio broadcasts against the British, robbed British banks and participated in actual military operations which resulted in deaths of both Jewish and British police. On 12 February 1942 Wilkins and Geoffrey arrived in an underground safe house, discovered Stern, handcuffed him, told him to stand and executed him.

Will Avraham Stern’s story be told in the context of British perfidy in Palestine and Jewish desperation? Will it recount the years between 1930 and 1940 when Stern traveled to Eastern Europe to promote immigration of Jews to Palestine in defiance of British restrictions?

Any bets? The only bet I would make is that Firth will give a splendid performance–which brings us to Firth’s portrayal of King George V1, little recognized as one of the Jews of Palestine’s British tormentors.

Firth has won international accolades, including an Oscar, for his magnificent performance as the King (Albert Frederick Arthur) George VI, who assumed the throne upon the abdication of his older brother David (King Edward) and overcame his stammer to deliver inspiring speeches to his subjects during World War 11.

The movie offers flashes of his foppish brother’s appeasement, but the abdication is painted chiefly as a love story. In fact, Edward was a Nazi sympathizer who commented in 1970 to an interviewer: “I never thought Hitler was such a bad chap.” That’s an understatement. In October 1937, exiled Edward and his bride visited Nazi Germany, met Hitler, and the Duke gave a full Nazi salute. Oh those Royals. That was not in the movie.

King George, however, is portrayed as a fine chap. He was nothing of the sort. He too was a wholehearted supporter of Chamberlain when the Sudetenland was offered to Hitler in return for a halt to the Nazi’s territorial demands. The King rejected the entreaties of Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, and others who attacked the Munich agreement and supported appeasement until Hitler’s forces seized the rest of Czechoslovakia.

The King then turned his attention to Palestine. The White Paper published on November 9, 1938 and approved by Parliament in May 1939, limited Jewish immigration to Palestine to 75,000 people over five years, effectively trapping Europe’s Jews. The King not only supported the White Paper but also stated that he was “glad to think that steps are being taken to prevent these people leaving their country of origin.”

He went even further. He instructed Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax to make sure the Nazis cooperated. Halifax’s office telegraphed Britain’s ambassador in Berlin asking him to encourage the German government “to check the unauthorized emigration’ of Jews.” King George VI was stalwart and brave during the Blitz, but unfaltering in his hostility to the Jews.

The notorious White Paper remained British policy even after the war. A royal admonition might have prevented Britain’s post war crimes against wretched displaced persons seeking haven in Palestine. Between August 1945 and May 1948, 65 “illegal” immigrant ships, carrying 69,878 people, arrived from European shores. The British shot them, crippled their engines and interned those they caught in camps in Cyprus. Approximately 50,000 people were detained in the camps, 28,000 of whom were still imprisoned when Israel declared her independence.

In 1947, the famous ship Exodus, carrying 4500 Jewish refugees, including 600 orphans, was attacked by five British destroyers who rammed the ship and stormed it with truncheons and tear gas. The ship was finally able to limp into harbor, but prisoners were taken to Cyprus and subsequently to a prison in southern France. When they refused to disembark, they were threatened with a return to Germany.

The international media, including British journalists, responded with outrage. The King and Queen, who visited orphans and soldiers and used their rations in a display of solidarity with ordinary people, were unmoved and silent. They did find time, that same year, to salute warmly Indian independence and deliver a message of congratulations to Pakistan, although both countries had engaged in armed resistance to British colonial occupation.

King George died in 1952. He overcame stammering but not bias. And it is a huge irony that Colin Firth, who gave such a convincing portrayal of King George VI, will now play the part of one of his fiercest opponents in Palestine.