Dorothy Diamond was born on February 23rd 1909 in a village in Kent. Her father was a clerk and Dorothy attended the local grammar school. She spent four years at University of London and, from 1931, became a teacher of biology, chemistry and general science at Wembley County grammar school.
From 1930, Dorothy was a member of the international club of the Christian Student Movement. In this arena, she experienced contact with German and Greek political refugees and by 1935 declared that she had lost her religious faith. From March 1939, her work in this area focused on Czech and then German refugees; the vast majority of these proved to be Communists and this greatly influenced Dorothy’s future political trajectory. In January 1942, she joined the Acton branch of the Communist Party and activity in the NUT followed.
Dorothy’s fluent German and the increasing importance of the future of Germany as an issue in the post-war world, caused a shift in her preoccupation away from Czechoslovakia towards Germany. She became a founding member of the British Council for German Democracy and was its Honorary Secretary from 1947-1952. This body faded as the matter of German rearmament surfaced. The British Peace Committee, founded in 1949, took on many of these questions and Dorothy’s time. This focus also meant that the British security forces took an unhealthy and misplaced interest in every detail of her private life, (The featured image is the title page of her MI5 file.)
After visiting East Berlin for the World Youth Festival in 1951, she visited east Germany, or what soon became the German Democratic Republic at least once every year. On 12th August 1951, Dorothy took part in a million-strong march for peace, and was clearly moved by the show of international opposition to the Korean War and solidarity with the anti-colonialist cause of a delegation from South Africa. Perhaps in contrast to the heavy-handed attempt by western powers to prevent young people arriving in East Berlin, in her 1951 notebooks, Dorothy congratulated the ‘People’s Police’ for their ‘wonderful self-control’ despite being ‘hot, tired, “rushed” by crowds … No horses, no truncheons, no hard words…persuading not ordering’.
Her diary records an experience of seeming socialist harmony, in which hearing ‘[c]hurch bells ringing out over Marx-Engels-Platz’ symbolised the GDR’s commitment to international peace and domestic freedom of religion. It was not only communists like Diamond who had been moved by what they saw. The historian David Childs recalled how he returned from the World Youth Festival ‘stirred by the GDR, which despite the ruins of Fast Berlin and Dresden, appeared to be moving ahead’. It did, however, have a more lasting effect on Diamond. After 1951, she visited the GDR at least once every year.
Throughout the 1950s, she tried to relate her positive impressions of East German society to the British public in newspaper articles, from John Peet’s Democratic German Report and the pro-communist Central European Observer to the Times Educational Supplement. To her and to many of those on the communist and non-communist left, the dominant picture of the GDR as a grey and forbidding dictatorship seemed absurd.
The non-acceptance of communist Germany by their own government and Western governments more generally seemed to ignore the realities of the international system and create dangerous tensions in the cold war. Diamond and her friends set out to change the picture of the ‘other Germany’ and to work for the recognition of the country by the British government.
As a school teacher, Diamond took a special interest in the East German education system. She met with like minded people who shared her politics and values. Dorothy played an important role fostering the initial contacts between the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and its ‘sister’ union in the DDR. In April 1958, a four-person delegation from the national leadership of the NUT spent two weeks in the DDR as guests of the Chair of the East German teachers union.
In 1958, Diamond wrote a series of articles for the DDR press, after participating in a visit by grammar school children to a railway workshop. She praised educational and social benefits in the DDR and pondered the potential to interest British teachers in its educational progressive policies. In 1960, despite visa restrictions on GDR officials entering Britain, a delegation from the East German teachers’ union attended the NUT’s annual conference.
Looking back on the origins of the famous teachers’ summer schools in the GDR, Dorothy Diamond recalled her efforts to set them up as an easy and obvious way to help East German English teachers develop their language skills and to improve international understanding. It all started “over a bottle of schnapps back in 1956”, during her first meeting with Hans-Joachim Laabs, the East German Secretary of State for Education.