The Unity of Europe

With an introduction by H. N. Brailsford. Edited by Andreas Wilkens

by Andreas Wilkens (Volume editor) Hilda Monte (Author)
Others 320 Pages
Series: Federalism, Volume 15


She was young, a determined fighter against Nazism in Germany; she was an independent socialist, a tireless writer against hatred and war; and she was an extremely courageous woman. All this would be enough to secure Hilda Monte a prominent place in the history of resistance to barbarism in 20th century Europe. Furthermore, she designed a project for a federal Europe that remains unparalleled. Among the many proposals for the future European peace, this one stands out. She edited her project in October 1943 with the renowned London publisher Victor Gollancz.
Her plea: for European countries to finally put an end to the "old game of sovereignty". Lasting peace and economic development required a genuine "European revolution": solidarity throughout Europe, common federal structures, based on a shared history and the common values of humanism. She was aware that this path would be a difficult one.
Hilda Monte was born in Vienna in 1914, grew up in Berlin and wrote her first newspaper articles against the rise of Hitler when she was 17. In 1933 she witnessed the "seizure of power" in Berlin. Exile in Paris and London followed. But Hilda Monte wanted to do more than just write against Nazism, and so she undertook dangerous trips to Germany. On 17 April 1945, while returning from a mission "on the ground" for the Austrian resistance, which she considered an act of European solidarity, she was shot and killed on the border near Feldkirch. Her treatise "The Unity of Europe", newly published here, is the lasting legacy of an eminent European resistance fighter.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • The Quest for Hilda Monte: Resistance, Exile, and the Project of European Unity, Andreas Wilkens
  • Introduction, H. N. Brailsford (1943)
  • Part I Why Unity of Europe?
  • Chapter 1 Has the World Become too Small?
  • The “Daydream” Continent
  • The Capitalist Crisis
  • Capitalism and the Post-war World
  • Chapter 2 Hitler’s European Unity-in-Bondage
  • Chapter 3 Europe as a Unit
  • Is Europe an Economic Unit?
  • Is Britain a Part of Europe?
  • Is the Soviet Union Part of Europe?
  • Chapter 4 Socialism, Unity and Technical Progress
  • Technical Progress Under Socialist Direction in a United Europe
  • Part II The Balance of Europe
  • Chapter 5 Two Europes which Fail to Balance
  • Social and Economic Divisions
  • Chapter 6 Restoring the Balance by Creating One Europe
  • Chapter 7 The Population Problem of Eastern Europe
  • Chapter 8 Completing the Staggered Agrarian Revolution
  • Chapter 9 Completing the Staggered Industrial Revolution
  • Rumania
  • Sweden
  • Chapter 10 “A Democracy at Work”
  • Part III United Europe and the World
  • Chapter 11 Economic Security
  • Full Employment and Rising Standard of Living
  • Chapter 12 The Price of European Unity
  • Chapter 13 Bonds of Unity
  • Decentralisation
  • Chapter 14 European Self-sufficiency or World Trade?
  • Continental Imports
  • British Imports
  • Markets for Export
  • The Technique of World Trade
  • Chapter 15 Why “Only” Europe?
  • Part IV Militarism and Monopoly Capitalism
  • Chapter 16 Germany’s Place in a United Europe
  • Economic and Social Guarantees
  • A New Order and a New Spirit
  • “Ifs” and “Buts”
  • Chapter 17 Alternatives
  • Regional Agreements
  • Capitalism Brought up to Date
  • Vansittartism
  • Peace Aims
  • Chapter 18 The European Revolution
  • Illustrations
  • Annexes to Present Edition
  • Hilda Monte: Personal Bibliography
  • Select Historical Background Bibliography
  • Photo Credits
  • Index

The Quest for Hilda Monte: Resistance, Exile, and the Project of European Unity

Andreas Wilkens

The treatise The Unity of Europe, newly published here, roughly eighty years after its writing, can be considered without doubt Hilda Monte’s main work and her lasting legacy.

Published in October 1943 when Monte was just 29 and in exile in Britain, it is exactly what the title suggests: a call for the establishment of a European community to rise above the old paradigm of nation-states as soon as Nazi fascism was defeated. Without it, peace and prosperity would never be secure. The book does no less than distil the quintessence of the works, experiences and reflections that she nurtured in over a decade of political struggle. Indeed, even before barbarism rose to power in Germany, Hilda Monte had already been fully committed to the resistance against Hitler.

Yet despite this legacy she remains one of the least-known figures of the German resistance. True, there are sporadic mentions of her, even from fairly early,1 but these traces lead nowhere, and her story is not easy to reconstruct. One can search many, many historical accounts of the German resistance and exile without finding her name. Why that is goes back to, on the one hand, the problem of remembrance and the resistance in German society after 1945, and on the other to the circumstances connected with her individual fate. Before going further, a brief consideration of both would be worthwhile.

The first thing to note is the general phenomenon that, with certain salient exceptions, resistance and exile were banished from the collective memory of West Germans after the war, for the very reason that the vast majority of Germans did not belong to the resistance and did not go into exile. While in countries like Italy, France and Norway the resistance immediately became part of the national identity and history, in Germany (that is, specifically, in the West) it was ignored, and in the 1950s was even decried as “treason” from some corners. Even the conspiracy of 20 July 1944 and those involved needed to be painstakingly “rehabilitated” in the 1950s.2 Perhaps even more depressing to note is that it was often the resisters and the returned emigrants themselves who kept their pasts hidden and went to great lengths to avoid aggressively presenting their stories.3 Only since the end of the 1960s has the history and value of the resistance been gradually rediscovered, one page at a time, and only then did recognition for it begin to gain acceptance. By that time, however, this had created a gap in the collective memory that could not be entirely bridged, even when the time for it was ripe: documents had been destroyed, witnesses who had not been heard were gone, important evidence had been permanently lost. Only after some rehabilitation in the German public consciousness of resistance and exile was there a new foundation on which to build historical research into them.4 In a parallel process, German society was also only then first becoming aware of the full magnitude of the rupture in civilization that the Nazi regime and its crimes against humanity in the middle of the 20th century represented.5

The resistance of “left-wing” groups – of workers and trade unionists, for example, but also of spontaneously forming circles, loners, anonymous “helpers”, and others – was counted among the “forgotten resistance” in the West for a particularly long time, certainly as long as the hostile “little brother” state in the East, the GDR, was claiming the communist resistance for itself and operationalizing it for its own purposes. But even the rediscovery of the resistance in all its facets, however late it occurred, came in the knowledge that it had only been a small minority of German women and men who had been willing to stand for and defend the fundamental values of humanity with their lives.

Hilda Monte certainly saw herself at all times as a committed member of the democratic socialist resistance. But she was too young, as well as too independent, to have held a position of responsibility in a party. Coming into the resistance as a young woman, she first joined a small and unusual political group in Berlin called the Internationaler Sozialistischer Kampfbund (Militant Socialist International) and later decided to follow her own individual path. When The Unity of Europe was published, she made the decision to publish it in her personal name only, without any reference to any party or political organization.

In several ways, the tragic death of Hilda Monte on 17 April 1945 while on a mission for the resistance in Austria (the circumstances of which we will return to below) reveals another factor in the difficulty of remembrance. It had not only the material consequence that only a few of her personal papers survived,6 but more significantly it made her fate difficult to integrate into the respective national resistance narratives. This is in some sense fitting, because Hilda Monte very much perceived her resistance work as part of a transnational European resistance against a common deadly enemy.

Ultimately, it is because the source material on the life and dedication of Hilda Monte is so scant that simply for pragmatic reasons, historical research has tended to be directed towards more easily accessible actors of the German resistance. As a result, and because so little reliable information was available for so long, even the cursory summaries of Hilda Monte’s life to be found in German encyclopaedias and handbooks tend to be full of inaccuracies and outright flagrant errors.7

At the same time, this also seems to have caused a certain ripple effect in the other direction: once false and misleading information is in the world, it is repeated, copied, and becomes self-propagating. The result has been that today some accounts put Hilda Monte in places where she never was, even as they make no mention of her being in cities where she had actually lived (such as Paris). For the most part, this seems to have happened simply because the best available knowledge was not adequate; in some cases it was done speculatively or for the sake of sensationalism. However, her life was so extraordinarily rich, not to mention adventurous, that it needs absolutely no embellishment.

The Unity of Europe clearly stands out among the publications of the German resistance on the subject of Europe, both in substance and as objective consistently pursued. It has no equal in terms of gravity and indecisiveness.8 Any reader will see at a glance that this is no hasty side project, nor a patchwork of empty generalities. Hilda Monte worked intensively, and worked under distinctly difficult conditions to obtain the knowledge she needed to back up her European project with facts and argumentation almost to a fault.

Had Hilda Monte not written this detailed work, today she would very likely be numbered among the countless “nameless” resisters who fought Nazi fascism for many years and for their efforts paid the ultimate price. It is because of this book that her name has come down to us through the years. But its publication was only a single, however important, act within a life. It bundles, with a certain logic, the sum of her personal and political experiences over an entire decade into the project of European unity.

The following is a brief account of the phases of her life. These will present the different forms of her engagement and how they shaped her political imagination. This is because (as hardly needs to be said) her fixation on the European project came not at the beginning, but at the end of her personal and intellectual journey. It is only through the lens of the courage of her life as a whole that we can properly understand the extent and credibility of her European convictions. We will also see that through the years Hilda Monte did not wish to be limited by a journalistic-political framework. To her, practical resistance work “on the ground”, that is, principally in Nazi Germany, was at least as important as the work of information and education. But the illegal and extremely dangerous underground activities that were in the end to seal her fate is, ultimately, much more difficult to reconstruct than her years of publications and public relations.

This account will repeatedly remind the reader of Hilda Monte’s young age. When Hitler came to power, she was but 17 years old, yet already fully committed. For the next 12 years, there was hardly a single day when she did not put some statement against the Hitler regime to paper. This is, I will argue, one of the keys to understanding why, a decade later, she was able to create a radically new concept of Europe that had nothing whatsoever in common with the failed old Europe of the interwar period.

Early Revolt Against the Nazi Dictatorship

Hilda Monte was born Hilde Meisel, in Vienna on 31 July 1914, three days after the continent had been plunged into catastrophe with the declaration of the “Great War” in Europe. Her father was of Hungarian descent, and her mother came from West Prussia. By 1915 the family had moved back to Berlin (where they had previously lived). Hilde (then – for she took the name Hilda Monte only in the mid-1930s, while in the resistance) grew up with her parents in Wilmersdorf, a middle-class district of Berlin. Her father ran an import-export business, which required him to travel frequently. Their social circle was that of families like themselves: Jewish, fully assimilated and not particularly practicing.9

Hilde Meisel received her first political awakening in the closing years of the crisis and downfall of the Weimar Republic. In one of her very scant autobiographical writings, she mentions anti-Semitic experiences on her way to school, something that no doubt raised her awareness and prompted an interest in political dynamics.10 After briefly joining an anti-bourgeois youth group, by around age 15, she became a member of the Internationaler Sozialistischer Kampfbund (ISK) (or Militant Socialist International).11 This organization, something of a socialist splinter group on the left of the SPD (but more closely aligned with them than with the KPD), was to have a decisive impact on the course of Hilde Meisel’s life. Even when, a decade later, Hilde Meisel broke with the ISK leadership for a combination of personal and political reasons (a break that would prove to be only temporary), the internationalist elan of this group remained a lasting influence on her.

The somewhat unique particulars of the ISK should be noted briefly here. Inspired by the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, the group advocated the pursuit of the “rule of reason and law,” the specifics of which were to be set down by a small and extremely well-educated “elite”. This idea was (at least, in the original program) a rejection of basic democratic principles, because democracy would be subject to random chance and the irrational whims of the electorate. It was, therefore, a non-Marxist group agitating for an “ethical socialism” to be achieved through a social revolution from above which would be set in motion at the “right moment” by a highly committed group of cadres – at least, this was the theory.12

The ISK’s predecessor, the Internationaler Jugend-Bund (International Youth League) was founded by Göttingen philosophy professor Leonard Nelson in 1917, in response to World War I and specifically out of disenchantment with the SPD, which had voted for the war credits.13 After Nelson died in 1927 at the age of just 45, the leadership of the ISK, having been newly reformed in 1926, passed to his close collaborator Willi Eichler, who would remain its defining figure throughout the later resistance period.14 Their embedding on the left side of the political spectrum is the result of their positions on social issues and the situation of the working class, their taking a stand against big industry, big landowners, the churches and the military, and their principles of absolute non-violence and pacifism in all things. Anti-nationalism and international solidarity were foremost among the group’s foundational tenets.15

In order to prepare optimally for the day of “revolution”, the members (in the 1920s and 1930s) were also placed under an obligation to observe a strict life hygiene: that meant total abstinence from alcohol and – largely – tobacco, vegetarian diet (animals were considered living beings worthy of protection), and strong encouragement of limitations on private life and intimacy (up to and including celibacy, at least to some extent). Among many other conditions, a visit to a slaughterhouse was an ironclad obligation before membership, to name one example. These so-called “minimum requirements” attest to a certain closeness to the historical phenomenon of the German youth movement. To us today, they appear to be characteristics of some “order” of a deliberately elitist nature, if not an outright cult. The number of members remained manageable because only those who met the rigid and onerous requirements could become and remain members. Preserved statistics for the years 1927–1929 show membership figures of 264, 215 and 171 for these specific years, referring to the entire Reich.16 It is very likely that the number then increased, so that – with considerable fluctuations – the average may have been around 200–250 members. To this should be added a circle of friends of about 600 to 1000 people.17 Throughout the group’s lifetime, the proportion of women active in the group was notably high (about one-third of the members) – including in leadership positions.17 Up to 1933, the ISK did not put up any candidates of its own for office in the democratic elections, but supported other candidates on the left selected on a case-by-case basis, the last being CP chairman Ernst Thälmann, running against incumbent President Hindenburg in the April 1932 elections.

A very different question is whether Hilde Meisel fully endorsed the political concepts of the ISK in all their various aspects. There are no known statements from her concerning “ideology” in the narrow sense, or indeed concerning strategy and tactics. Nor did she come through the ISK’s “Walkemühle” cadre school in Melsungen (south of the city of Kassel), which generally handled the ideological “education” of the members. One could therefore consider this a good basis to assume that Meisel saw in the ISK first and foremost a staunchly anti-Nazi group that was extremely motivated to fight for a society based on human dignity, and that as such its sense of international solidarity was strong. As soon she did begin speaking out on questions of institutional settings (from the late 1930s onward), it quickly became clear that she did not envision any form of government other than democracy – but that absolutely conditional on sweeping social and economic reforms.

That said, there is certainly no question that the ISK was of fundamental importance to Hilde Meisel’s political apprenticeship. Values such as education, openness to the world, social justice and solidarity were central to the ISK and exerted an attraction that drew her. Young Hilde Meisel was a diligent learner and autodidact who absorbed everything the ISK had to offer. Later, she was independent enough to distance herself as soon as the “leadership principle” – as practised – no longer met her standards.

Writing Against Dictatorship and War

By her own account, the young Hilde Meisel’s first stay in England was in the years 1929–1931,18 doubtlessly at the request of her parents, who wanted their daughter to study art – but also certainly because they wanted to keep her from further political involvement. That part clearly backfired, because in London Hilde wasted no time in making contact with the British branch of the ISK and found herself immediately integrated into their strenuous militant work. This included not only political discussions and distributing leaflets, but also, for instance, getting a children’s group going and learning Esperanto with the group’s then-leader, Amy Moore, who became a good friend of Hilde. Remarkably, even the London group did not want to accept English as the “world language”. Hilde soon exchanged art lessons at London Polytechnic for some more political courses at the London School of Economics.19

She returned to Germany in January 1931. Apparently, the management of the ISK had become aware of this talented young woman and had high hopes of grooming her further. Realistically, that is the only likely explanation for the fact that within just a few months Hilde Meisel was placed on the editorial team of the ISK’s newly founded daily newspaper Der Funke (The Spark, alluding to Lenin’s newspaper). The paper’s first issue appeared on 1 January 1932. Der Funke had only one goal: to fight Hitler’s rise to power with whatever journalism had to offer. Hilde Meisel saw the collapse of the first German democracy first-hand in Berlin. She watched as the old elites failed in the face of the brutal mechanisms of Hitler’s seizure of power.

In the brief period until Der Funke was banned, Hilde Meisel penned no fewer than 74 articles and signed her own name to them. Most of these reflected the ISK’s internationalist orientation: The advancement of “capitalism” in Japan; the trade unions in France and their “will to fight”; the long-overdue agricultural reform in Spain; the miners’ strike in Belgium; the World Economic Conference in Stresa in September 1932; social protest movements in Yugoslavia; Mussolini and his diplomatic shenanigans.20 Her very first article was dated 19 January 1932, and was devoted to the somewhat dry subject of the “crisis in the commodity markets.” More than ten years later, in The Unity of Europe, she would be placing significant emphasis on issues in production and trade; but the roots of this focus can be traced back to here. Yet her interests were quite broad: on 24 January 1933, an article signed by her appeared on the front page of the Funke, an eyewitness account describing the brutality of both, the SA and the police, in protecting a provocative Nazi demonstration in front of the Communist Party headquarters at Bülowstrasse near Berlin’s Alexanderplatz.21 One week later, Hitler was in power.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2023 (August)
Hilda Monte The Unity of Europe Nazism in Germany
Bruxelles, Berlin, Bern, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 320 pp., 7 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Andreas Wilkens (Volume editor) Hilda Monte (Author)

Andreas Wilkens is Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Lorraine in Metz, France.


Title: The Unity of Europe
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322 pages