The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germ

"Science," the Greek word for knowledge, when appended to the word "political," creates what seems like an oxymoron. For who could claim to know politics? More complicated than any game, most people who play it become addicts and die without understanding what they were addicted to. The rest of us suffer under their malpractice as our "leaders." A truer case of the blind leading the blind could not be found. Plumb the depths of confusion here.

Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

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Deprived of his trade unions, collective bargaining and the right to strike, the German worker in the Third Reich became an industrial serf, bound to his master, the employer, much as medieval peasants had been bound to the lord of the manor. The so-called Labor Front, which in theory replaced the old trade unions, did not represent the worker. According to the law of October 24, 1934, which created it, it was "the organization of creative Germans of brain and fist." It took in not only wage and salary earners but also the employers and members of the professions. It was in reality a vast propaganda organization and, as some workers said, a gigantic fraud. Its aim, as stated in the law, was not to protect the worker but "to create a true social and productive community of all Germans. Its task is to see that every single individual should be able ... to perform the maximum of work." The Labor Front was not an independent administrative organization but, like almost every other group in Nazi Germany except the Army, an integral part of the N.S.D.A.P., or, as its leader, Dr. Ley -- the "stammering drunkard," to use Thyssen's phrase -- said, "an instrument of the party." Indeed, the October 24 law stipulated that its officials should come from the ranks of the party, the former Nazi unions, the S.A. and the S.S. -- and they did.

Earlier, the Law Regulating National Labor of January 20, 1934, known as the "Charter of Labor," had put the worker in his place and raised the employer to his old position of absolute master -- subject, of course, to interference by the all-powerful State. The employer became the "leader of the enterprise," the employees the "following," or Gefolgschaft. Paragraph Two of the law set down that "the leader of the enterprise makes the decisions for the employees and laborers in all matters concerning the enterprise." And just as in ancient times the lord was supposed to be responsible for the welfare of his subjects so, under the Nazi law, was the employer made "responsible for the well-being of the employees and laborers." In return, the law said, "the employees and laborers owe him faithfulness" -- that is, they were to work hard and long, and no back talk or grumbling, even about wages.

Wages were set by so-called labor trustees, appointed by the Labor Front. In practice, they set the rates according to the wishes of the employer -- there was no provision for the workers even to be consulted in such matters -- though after 1936, when help became scarce in the armament industries and some employers attempted to raise wages in order to attract men, wage scales were held down by orders of the State. Hitler was quite frank about keeping wages low. "It has been the iron principle of the National Socialist leadership," he declared early in the regime, "not to permit any rise in the hourly wage rates but to raise income solely by an increase in performance." [16] In a country where most wages were based at least partly on piecework, this meant that a worker could hope to earn more only by a speed-up and by longer hours.

Compared to the United States, and after allowances were made for the difference in the cost of living and in social services, wages in Germany had always been low. Under the Nazis they were slightly lower than before. According to the Reich Statistical Office, they declined for skilled workers from 20.4 cents an hour in 1932, at the height of the depression, to 19.5 cents during the middle of 1936. Wage scales for unskilled labor fell from 16.1 cents to 13 cents an hour. At the party congress in Nuremberg in 1936 Dr. Ley stated that the average earnings of full-time workers in the Labor Front amounted to $6.95 a week. The Reich Statistical Office put the figure for all German workers at $6.29.

Although millions more had jobs, the share of all German workers in the national income fell from 56.9 per cent in the depression year of 1932 to 53.6 per cent in the boom year of 1938. At the same time income from capital and business rose from 17.4 per cent of the national income to 26.6 per cent. It is true that because of much greater employment the total income from wages and salaries grew from twenty-five billion marks to forty-two billions, an increase of 66 per cent. But income from capital and business rose much more steeply -- by 146 per cent. All the propagandists in the Third Reich from Hitler on down were accustomed to rant in their public speeches against the bourgeois and the capitalist and proclaim their solidarity with the worker. But a sober study of the official statistics, which perhaps few Germans bothered to make, revealed that the much maligned capitalists, not the workers, benefited most from Nazi policies.

Finally, the take-home pay of the German worker shrank. Besides stiff income taxes, compulsory contributions to sickness, unemployment and disability insurance, and Labor Front dues, the manual worker -- like everyone else in Nazi Germany -- was constantly pressured to make increasingly large gifts to an assortment of Nazi charities, the chief of which was Winterhilfe (Winter Relief). Many a workman lost his job because he failed to contribute to Winterhilfe or because his contribution was deemed too small. Such failure was termed by one labor court, which upheld the dismissal of an employee without notice, "conduct hostile to the community of the people ... to be most strongly condemned." In the mid-Thirties it was estimated that taxes and contributions took from 15 to 35 per cent of a worker's gross wage. Such a cut out of $6.95 a week did not leave a great deal for rent and food and clothing and recreation.


As with the medieval serfs, the workers in Hitler's Germany found themselves being more and more bound to their place of labor, though here it was not the employer who bound them but the State. We have seen how the peasant in the Third Reich was bound to his land by the Hereditary Farm Law. Likewise the agricultural laborer, by law, was attached to the land and forbidden to leave it for work in the city. In practice, it must be said, this was one Nazi law which was not obeyed; between 1933 and 1939 more than a million (1,300,000) farm workers migrated to jobs in industry and trade. But for industrial laborers the law was enforced. Various government decrees beginning with the law of May 15, 1934, severely restricted a worker's freedom of movement from one job to another. After June 1935 the state employment offices were given exclusive control of employment; they determined who could be hired for what and where.

The "workbook" was introduced in February 1935, and eventually no worker could be hired unless he possessed one. In it was kept a record of his skills and employment. The workbook not only provided the State and the employer with up-to-date data on every single employee in the nation but was used to tie a worker to his bench. If he desired to leave for other employment his employer could retain his workbook, which meant that he could not legally be employed elsewhere. Finally, on June 22, 1938, a special decree issued by the Office of the Four-Year Plan instituted labor conscription. It obliged every German to work where the State assigned him. Workers who absented themselves from their jobs without a very good excuse were subject to fine and imprisonment. There was, it is obvious, another side to this coin. A worker thus conscripted could not be fired by his employer without the consent of the government employment office. He had job security, something he had rarely known during the Republic.

Tied down by so many controls at wages little above the subsistence level, the German workers, like the Roman proletariat, were provided with circuses by their rulers to divert attention from their miserable state. "We had to divert the attention of the masses from material to moral values," Dr. Ley once explained. "It is more important to feed the souls of men than their stomachs."

So he came up with an organization called Kraft durch Freude ("Strength through Joy"). This provided what can only be called regimented leisure. In a twentieth-century totalitarian dictatorship, as perhaps with older ones, it is deemed necessary to control not only the working hours but the leisure hours of the individual. This was what "Strength through Joy" did. In pre-Nazi days Germany had tens of thousands of clubs devoted to everything from chess and soccer to bird watching. Under the Nazis no organized social, sport or recreational group was allowed to function except under the control and direction of Kraft durch Freude.

To the ordinary German in the Third Reich this official all-embracing recreational organization no doubt was better than nothing at all, if one could not be trusted to be left to one's own devices. It provided members of the Labor Front, for instance, with dirt-cheap vacation trips on land and sea. Dr. Ley built two 25,000-ton ships, one of which he named after himself, and chartered ten others to handle ocean cruises for Kraft durch Freude. This writer once participated in such a cruise; though life aboard was organized by Nazi leaders to a point of excruciation (for him), the German workers seemed to have a good time. And at bargain rates! A cruise to Madeira, for instance, cost only $25, including rail fare to and from the German port, and other jaunts were equally inexpensive. Beaches on the sea and on lakes were taken over for thousands of summer vacationers -- one at Ruegen on the Baltic, which was not completed by the time the war carne, called for hotel accommodations for twenty thousand persons -- and in winter special skiing excursions to the Bavarian Alps were organized at a cost of $11 a week, including carfare, room and board, rental of skis and lessons from a ski instructor.

Sports, every branch of which was controlled by the "Strength through Joy," were organized on a massive scale, more than seven million persons, according to the official figures, participating in them annually. The organization also made available at bargain rates tickets to the theater, the opera and concerts, thus making available more high-brow entertainment to the laboring man, as Nazi officials often boasted. Kraft durch Freude also had its own ninety-piece symphony orchestra which continually toured the country, often playing in the smaller places where good music was not usually available. Finally, the organization took over the 200- odd adult education institutions which had flourished during the Republic -- a movement which had originated in Scandinavia-and continued them, though adding a strong mixture of Nazi ideology to the instruction.

In the end, of course, the workers paid for their circuses. The annual income from dues to the Labor Front came to $160,000,000 in 1937 and passed the $200,000,000 point by the time the war started, according to Dr. Ley -- the accounting was exceedingly vague, being handled not by the State but by the Finance Office of the party, which never published its accounts. From the dues, 10 per cent was earmarked for Kraft durch Freude. But the fees paid by individuals for vacation trips and entertainment, cheap as they were, amounted in the year before the war to $1,250,- 000,000. There was another heavy cost to the wage earner. As the largest single party organization in the country, with twenty-five million members, the Labor Front became a swollen bureaucracy, with tens of thousands of full-time employees. In fact, it was estimated that from 20 to 25 per cent of its income was absorbed by administration expense.

One particular swindle perpetrated by Hitler on the German workers deserves passing mention. This had to do with the Volkswagen (the "People's Car") -- a brainstorm of the Fuehrer himself. Every German, or at least every German workman, he said, should own an automobile, just as in the United States. Heretofore in this country where there was only one motorcar for every fifty persons (compared to one for every five in America) the workman had used a bicycle or public transportation to get about. Now Hitler decreed that a car should be built for him to sell for only 990 marks -- $396 at the official rate of exchange. He himself, it was said, took a hand in the actual designing of the car, which was done under the supervision of the Austrian automobile engineer Dr. Ferdinand Porsche.

Since private industry could not turn out an automobile for $396, Hitler ordered the State to build it and placed the Labor Front in charge of the project. Dr. Ley's organization promptly set out in 1938 to build at Fallersleben, near Braunschweig, "the biggest automobile factory in the world," with a capacity for turning out a million and a half cars a year -- "more than Ford," the Nazi propagandists said. The Labor Front advanced fifty million marks in capital. But that was not the main financing. Dr. Ley's ingenious plan was that the workers themselves should furnish the capital by means of what became known as a "pay-before-you-get-it" installment plan -- five marks a week, or if a worker thought he could afford it, ten or fifteen marks a week. When 750 marks had been paid in, the buyer received an order number entitling him to a car as soon as it could be turned out. Alas for the worker, not a single car was ever turned out for any customer during the Third Reich. Tens of millions of marks were paid in by the German wage earners, not a pfennig of which was ever to be refunded. By the time the war started the Volkswagen factory turned to the manufacture of goods more useful to the Army.


Swindled though he was in this instance and in many others, reduced, as we have seen, to a sort of industrial serfdom on subsistence wages, and less prone than any other segment of German society to subscribe to Nazism or to be taken in by its ceaseless propaganda, the German worker, it is only fair to say, did not appear to resent very bitterly his inferior status in the Third Reich. The great German war machine that hurtled over the Polish border at dawn on September 1, 1939, could never have been fashioned without the very considerable contribution that the German workman made to it. Regimented he was and sometimes terrorized, but so was everyone else -- and centuries of regimentation had accustomed him, as it had all other Germans, to being told what to do. Though it is perhaps unwise to attempt to generalize about such things, this writer's own impression of the workingman in Berlin and in the Ruhr was that while he was somewhat cynical about the promises of the regime he had no more hankering for revolt than anyone else in the Third Reich. Unorganized as he was and lacking leadership, what could he do? A workman often put that question to you.

But the greatest cause of his acceptance of his role in Nazi Germany was, without any doubt at all, that he had a job again and the assurance that he would keep it. An observer who had known something about his precarious predicament during the Republic could understand why he did not seem to be desperately concerned with the loss of political freedom and even of his trade unions as long as he was employed full-time. In the past, for so many, for as many as six million men and their families, such rights of free men in Germany had been overshadowed, as he said, by the freedom to starve. In taking away that last freedom, Hitler assured himself of the support of the working class, probably the most skillful and industrious and disciplined in the Western world. It was a backing given not to his half-baked ideology or to his evil intentions, as such, but to what counted most: the production of goods for war.


From the very first weeks of 1933, when the massive and arbitrary arrests, beatings and murders by those in power began, Germany under National Socialism ceased to be a society based on law. "Hitler is the law!" the legal lights of Nazi Germany proudly proclaimed, and Goering emphasized it when he told the Prussian prosecutors on July 12, 1934, that "the law and the will of the Fuehrer are one." It was true. The law was what the dictator said it was and in moments of crisis, as during the Blood Purge, he himself, as we have seen in his speech to the Reichstag immediately after that bloody event, proclaimed that he was the "supreme judge" of the German people, with power to do to death whomever he pleased.

In the days of the Republic, most judges, like the majority of the Protestant clergy and the university professors, had cordially disliked the Weimar regime and in their decisions, as many thought, had written the blackest page in the life of the German Republic, thus contributing to its fall. But at least under the Weimar Constitution judges were independent, subject only to the law, protected from arbitrary removal and bound at least in theory by Article 109 to safeguard equality before the law. Most of them had been sympathetic to National Socialism, but they were hardly prepared for the treatment they soon received under its actual rule. The Civil Service law of April 7, 1933, was made applicable to all magistrates and quickly rid the judiciary not only of Jews but of those whose Nazism was deemed questionable, or, as the law stipulated, "who indicated that he was no longer prepared to intercede at all times for the National Socialist State." To be sure, not many judges were eliminated by this law, but they were warned where their duty lay. Just to make sure that they understood, Dr. Hans Frank, Commissioner of Justice and Reich Law Leader, told the jurists in 1936, "The National Socialist ideology is the foundation of all basic laws, especially as explained in the party program and in the speeches of the Fuehrer." Dr. Frank went on to explain what he meant:

There is no independence of law against National Socialism. Say to yourselves at every decision which you make: "How would the Fuehrer decide in my place?" In every decision ask yourselves: "Is this decision compatible with the National Socialist conscience of the German people?" Then you will have a firm iron foundation which, allied with the unity of the National Socialist People's State and with your recognition of the eternal nature of the will of Adolf Hitler, will endow your own sphere of decision with the authority of the Third Reich, and this for all time. [17]

That seemed plain enough, as did a new Civil Service law of the following year (January 26, 1937), which called for the dismissal of all officials, including judges, for "political unreliability." Furthermore, all jurists were forced to join the League of National Socialist German Jurists, in which they were often lectured on the lines of Frank's talk.

Some judges, however antirepublican they may have been, did not respond avidly enough to the party line. In fact, a few of them, at least, attempted to base their judgments on the law. One of the worst examples of this, from the Nazi point of view, was the decision of the Reichsgericht, Germany's Supreme Court, to acquit on the basis of evidence three of the four Communist defendants in the Reichstag fire trial in March 1934. (Only Van der Lubbe, the half-witted Dutchman, who confessed, was found guilty.) This so incensed Hitler and Goering that within a month, on April 24, 1934, the right to try cases of treason, which heretofore had been under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, was taken away from that august body and transferred to a new court, the Volksgerichtshof, the People's Court, which soon became the most dreaded tribunal in the land. It consisted of two professional judges and five others chosen from among party officials, the S.S. and the armed forces, thus giving the latter a majority vote. There was no appeal from its decisions or sentences and usually its sessions were held in camera. Occasionally, however, for propaganda purposes when relatively light sentences were to be given, the foreign correspondents were invited to attend.

Thus this writer once observed a case before the People's Court in 1935. It struck him more as a drumhead court-martial than a civil-court trial. The proceedings were finished in a day, there was practically no opportunity to present defense witnesses (if any had dared to appear in defense of one accused of "treason") and the arguments of the defense lawyers, who were "qualified" Nazis, seemed weak to the point of ludicrousness. One got the impression from reading the newspapers, which merely announced the verdicts, that most of the unfortunate defendants (though not on the day I attended) received a death sentence. No figures were ever published, though in December 1940 Roland Freisler, the much-feared president of the People's Court (who was killed during the war when an American bomb demolished his courtroom during a trial) claimed that "only four per cent of the accused were put to death."

Established even earlier than the sinister People's Court was the Sondergericht, the Special Court, which took over from the ordinary courts cases of political crime or, as the Law of March 21, 1933, which established the new tribunal, put it, cases of "insidious attacks against the government." The Special Courts consisted of three judges, who invariably had to be trusted party members, without a jury. A Nazi prosecutor had the choice of bringing action in such cases before either an ordinary court or the Special Court, and invariably he chose the latter, for obvious reasons. Defense lawyers before this court, as before the Volksgerichtshof, had to be approved by Nazi officials. Sometimes even if they were approved they fared badly. Thus the lawyers who attempted to represent the widow of Dr. Klausener, the Catholic Action leader murdered in the Blood Purge, in her suit for damages against the State were whisked off to Sachsenhausen concentration camp, where they were kept until they formally withdrew the action.

Hitler, and for some time Goering, had the right to quash criminal proceedings. In the Nuremberg documents [18] a case came to light in which the Minister of Justice strongly recommended the prosecution of a high Gestapo official and a group of S.A. men whom the evidence, he thought, plainly proved guilty of the most shocking torture of inmates of a concentration camp. He sent the evidence to Hitler. The Fuehrer ordered the prosecution dropped. Goering too, in the beginning, had such power. Once in April 1934 he halted criminal proceedings against a well-known businessman. It soon became known that the defendant paid Goering some three million marks. As Gerhard F. Kramer, a prominent lawyer in Berlin at the time, later commented, "It was impossible to establish whether Goering blackmailed the industrialist or whether the industrialist bribed the Prussian Prime Minister." [19] What was established was that Goering quashed the case.

On the other hand, Rudolf Hess, deputy of the Fuehrer, was empowered to take "merciless action" against defendants who in his opinion got off with too light sentences. A record of all court sentences of those found guilty of attacking the party, the Fuehrer or the State were forwarded to Hess, who if he thought the punishment too mild could take the "merciless" action. This usually consisted of hauling the victims off to a concentration camp or having him bumped off.

Sometimes, it must be said, the judges of the Sondergericht did display some spirit of independence and even devotion to the law. In such cases either Hess or the Gestapo stepped in. Thus, as we have seen, when Pastor Niemoeller was acquitted by the Special Court of the main charges against him and sentenced only to a short term, which he had already served while awaiting trial, the Gestapo snatched him as he was leaving the courtroom and carted him off to a concentration camp.


For the Gestapo, like Hitler, was also the law. It originally was established for Prussia by Goering on April 26, 1933, to replace Department IA of the old Prussian political police. He had at first intended to designate it merely as the Secret Police Office (Geheimes Polizei Amt) but the German initials GPA sounded too much like the Russian GPU. An obscure post office employee who had been asked to furnish a franking stamp for the new bureau suggested that it be called the Geheime Staatspolizei, simply the "Secret State Police" -- GESTAPO for short -- and thus unwittingly created a name the very mention of which was to inspire terror first within Germany and then without.

In the beginning the Gestapo was little more than a personal instrument of terror employed by Goering to arrest and murder opponents of the regime. It was only in April 1934, when Goering appointed Himmler deputy chief of the Prussian Secret Police, that the Gestapo began to expand as an arm of the S.S. and, under the guiding genius of its new chief, the mild-mannered but sadistic former chicken farmer, and of Reinhard Heydrich, a young man of diabolical cast [20] who was head of the S.S. Security Service, or S.D. (Sicherheitsdienst), become such a scourge, with the power of life and death over every German.

As early as 1935 the Prussian Supreme Court of Administration, under Nazi pressure, had ruled that the orders and actions of the Gestapo were not subject to judicial review. The basic Gestapo law promulgated by the government on February 10, 1936, put the secret police organization above the law. The courts were not allowed to interfere with its activities in any way. As Dr. Werner Best, one of Himmler's right-hand men in the Gestapo, explained, "As long as the police carries out the will of the leadership, it is acting legally." [21]

A cloak of "legality" was given to the arbitrary arrests and the incarceration of victims in concentration camps. The term was Schutzhaft, or "protective custody," and its exercise was based on the Law of February 28, 1933, which, as we have seen, suspended the clauses of the constitution which guaranteed civil liberties. But protective custody did not protect a man from possible harm, as it did in more civilized countries. It punished him by putting him behind barbed wire.

The first concentration camps sprang up like mushrooms during Hitler's first year of power. By the end of 1933 there were some fifty of them, mainly set up by the S.A. to give its victims a good beating and then ransom them to their relatives or friends for as much as the traffic would bear. It was largely a crude form of blackmail. Sometimes, however, the prisoners were murdered, usually out of pure sadism and brutality. At the Nuremberg trial four such cases came to light that took place in the spring of 1933 at the S.S. concentration camp at Dachau, near Munich. In each instance a prisoner was cold-bloodedly murdered, one by whipping, another by strangulation. Even the public prosecutor in Munich protested.

Since after the Blood Purge of June 1934 there was no more resistance to the Nazi regime, many Germans thought that the mass "protective custody" arrests and the confinement of thousands in the concentration camps would cease. On Christmas Eve, 1933, Hitler had announced an amnesty for twenty-seven thousand inmates of the camps, but Goering and Himmler got around his orders and only a few were actually released. Then Frick, the rubber-stamp bureaucrat who was Minister of the Interior, had tried in April 1934 to reduce the abuses of the Nazi thugs by issuing secret decrees placing restrictions on the wholesale use of Schutzhaft arrests and reducing commitments to concentration camps, but Himmler had persuaded him to drop the matter. The S.S. Fuehrer saw more clearly than the Minister that the purpose of the concentration camps was not only to punish enemies of the regime but by their very existence to terrorize the people and deter them from even contemplating any resistance to Nazi rule.

Shortly after the Roehm purge, Hitler turned the concentration camps over to the control of the S.S., which proceeded to organize them with the efficiency and ruthlessness expected of this elite corps. Guard duty was given exclusively to the Death's-Head units [Totenkopfverbaende] whose members were recruited from the toughest Nazi elements, served an enlistment of twelve years and wore the familiar skull-and-bones insignia on their black tunics. The commander of the first Death's-Head detachment and the first commander of the Dachau camp, Theodor Bicke, was put in charge of all the concentration camps. The fly-by-night ones were closed down and larger ones constructed, the chief of which (until the war came, when they were expanded into occupied territory) were Dachau near Munich, Buchenwald near Weimar, Sachsenhausen, which replaced the Oranienburg camp of initial fame near Berlin, Ravensbrueck in Mecklenburg (for women) and, after the occupation of Austria in 1938, Mauthausen near Linz -- names which, with Auschwitz, Belsec and Treblinka, which were later established in Poland, were to become all too familiar to most of the world.

In them, before the end mercifully came, millions of hapless persons were done to death and millions of others subjected to debasement and torture more revolting than all but a few minds could imagine. But at the beginning -- in the Thirties -- the population of the Nazi concentration camps in Germany probably never numbered more than from twenty to thirty thousand at anyone time, and many of the horrors later invented and perpetrated by Himmler's men were as yet unknown. The extermination camps, the slave labor camps, the camps where the inmates were used as guinea pigs for Nazi "medical research," had to wait for the war.

But the early camps were not exactly humane. I have before me a copy of the regulations drawn up for Dachau on November 1, 1933, by its first commander, Theodor Eicke, who when he became head of all the camps applied them throughout.

Article 11. The following offenders, considered as agitators, will be hanged: Anyone who ... politicizes, holds inciting speeches and meetings, forms cliques, loiters around with others; who for the purpose of supplying the propaganda of the opposition with atrocity stories, collects true or false information about the concentration camp; receives such information, buries it, talks about it to others, smuggles it out of the camp into the hands of foreign visitors, etc.

Article 12. The following offenders, considered as mutineers, will be shot on the spot or later hanged. Anyone attacking physically a guard or S.S. man, refusing to obey or to work while on detail... or bawling, shouting, inciting or holding speeches while marching or at work.

Milder sentences of two weeks' solitary confinement and twenty-five lashings were given "anyone making depreciatory remarks in a letter or other documents about National Socialist leaders, the State and Government ... [or] glorifying Marxist or Liberal leaders of the old democratic parties."

Allied with the Gestapo was the Security Service, the Sicherheitsdienst, or S.D., which formed another set of initials that struck fear in the bosoms of all Germans -- and later of the occupied peoples. Originally formed by Himmler in 1932 as the intelligence branch of the S.S., and placed by him under the direction of Reinhard Heydrich, later internationally renowned as "Hangman Heydrich," its initial function had been to watch over members of the party and report any suspicious activity. In 1934 it became also the intelligence unit for the secret police, and by 1938 a new law gave it this function for the entire Reich.

Under the expert hand of Heydrich, a former intelligence officer in the Navy who had been cashiered by Admiral Raeder in 1931 at the age of twenty-six for refusing to marry the daughter of a shipbuilder whom he had compromised, the S.D. soon spread its net over the country, employing some 100,000 part-time informers who were directed to snoop on every citizen in the land and report the slightest remark or activity which was deemed inimical to Nazi rule. No one -- if he were not foolish -- said or did anything that might be interpreted as "anti-Nazi" without first taking precautions that it was not being recorded by hidden S.D. microphones or overheard by an S.D. agent. Your son or your father or your wife or your cousin or your best friend or your boss or your secretary might be an informer for Heydrich's organization; you never knew, and if you were wise nothing was ever taken for granted.

The full-time sleuths of the S.D. probably never numbered more than three thousand during the Thirties and most of them were recruited from the ranks of the displaced young intellectuals -- university graduates who had been unable to find suitable jobs or any secure place in normal society. Thus among these professional spies there was always the bizarre atmosphere of pedantry. They had a grotesque interest in such side lines as the study of Teutonic archeology, the skulls of the inferior races and the eugenics of a master race. A foreign observer, however, found difficulty in making contacts with these odd men, though Heydrich himself, an arrogant, icy and ruthless character, might occasionally be seen at a Berlin night club surrounded by some of his blond young thugs. They not only kept out of the spotlight because of the nature of their work but, in 1934 and 1935 at least, because a number of them who had spied on Roehm and his confederates in the S.A. were bumped off by a secret band that called itself "Roehm's Avengers" and took care to pin that label on the bodies.

One of the interesting, if subordinate, tasks of the S.D. was to ascertain who voted "No" in Hitler's plebiscites. Among the numerous Nuremberg documents is a secret report of the S.D. in Kochem on the plebiscite of April 10, 1938:

Copy is attached enumerating the persons who cast "No" votes or invalid votes at Kappel. The control was affected in the following way: some members of the election committee marked all the ballots with numbers. During the balloting a voters' list was made up. The ballots were handed out in numerical order, therefore it was possible afterward ... to find out the persons who cast "No" votes or invalid votes. The marking was done on the back of the ballot with skimmed milk.

The ballot cast by the Protestant parson Alfred Wolfers is also enclosed. [22]

On June 16, 1936, for the first time in German history, a unified police was established for the whole of the Reich -- previously the police had been organized separately by each of the states -- and Himmler was put in charge as Chief of the German Police. This was tantamount to putting the police in the hands of the S.S., which since its suppression of the Roehm "revolt" in 1934 had been rapidly increasing its power. It had become not only the praetorian guard, not only the single armed branch of the party, not only the elite from whose ranks the future leaders of the new Germany were being chosen, but it now possessed the police power. The Third Reich, as is inevitable in the development of all totalitarian dictatorships, had become a police state.


Though the Weimar Republic was destroyed, the Weimar Constitution was never formally abrogated by Hitler. Indeed -- and ironically -- Hitler based the "legality" of his rule on the despised republican constitution. Thus thousands of decreed laws -- there were no others in the Third Reich -- were explicitly based on the emergency presidential decree of February 28, 1933, for the Protection of the People and the State, which Hindenburg, under Article 48 of the constitution, had signed. It will be remembered that the aged President was bamboozled into signing the decree the day after the Reichstag fire when Hitler assured him that there was grave danger of a Communist revolution. The decree, which suspended all civil rights, remained in force throughout the time of the Third Reich, enabling the Fuehrer to rule by a sort of continual martial law.

The Enabling Act too, which the Reichstag had voted on March 24, 1933, and by which it handed over its legislative functions to the Nazi government, was the second pillar in the "constitutionality" of Hitler's rule. Each four years thereafter it was dutifully prolonged for another four-year period by a rubber-stamp Reichstag, for it never occurred to the dictator to abolish this once democratic institution but only to make it nondemocratic. It met only a dozen times up to the war, "enacted" only four laws, [viii] held no debates or votes and never heard any speeches except those made by Hitler.

After the first few months of 1933 serious discussions ceased in the cabinet, its meetings became more and more infrequent after the death of Hindenburg in August 1934, and after February 1938 the cabinet was never convened. However, individual cabinet members held the considerable power of being authorized to promulgate decrees which, with the Fuehrer's approval, automatically became laws. The Secret Cabinet Council (Geheimer Kabinettsrat), set up with great fanfare in 1938, perhaps to impress Prime Minister Chamberlain, existed only on paper. It never met once. The Reich Defense Council (Reichsverteidigungsrat), established early in the regime as a war-planning agency under the chairmanship of Hitler, met formally only twice, though some of its working committees were exceedingly active.

Many cabinet functions were delegated to special agencies such as the Office of the Deputy of the Fuehrer (Hess and later Martin Bormann), of the Plenipotentiaries for War Economy (Schacht) and Administration (Frick), and of the Delegate for the Four-Year Plan (Goering). In addition there were what was known as the "supreme government agencies" and "national administrative agencies," many of them holdovers from the Republic. In all, there were some 42 executive agencies of the national government under the direct jurisdiction of the Fuehrer.

The diets and governments of the separate states of Germany were, as we have seen, abolished in the first year of the Nazi regime when the country was unified, and governors for the states, which were reduced to provinces, were appointed by Hitler. Local self-government, the only field in which the Germans had seemed to be making genuine progress toward democracy, was also wiped out. A series of laws decreed between 1933 and 1935 deprived the municipalities of their local autonomy and brought them under the direct control of the Reich Minister of the Interior, who appointed their mayors -- if they had a population of over 100,000 -- and reorganized them on the leadership principle. In towns under 100,000, the mayors were named by the provincial governors. For Berlin, Hamburg and Vienna (after 1938, when Austria was occupied) Hitler reserved the right to appoint the burgomasters.

The offices through which Hitler exercised his dictatorial powers consisted of four chancelleries: those of the President (though the title had ceased to exist after 1934), the Chancellor (the title was abandoned in 1939) and the party, and a fourth known as the Chancellery of the Fuehrer which looked after his personal affairs and carried out special tasks.

In truth, Hitler was bored by the details of day-to-day governing and after he had consolidated his position following the death of Hindenburg he left them largely to his aides. Old party comrades such as Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, Ley and Schirach were given free rein to carve out their own empires of power -- and usually profit. Schacht was given a free hand at first to raise the money for expanding government expenditures by whatever sleight of hand he could think up. Whenever these men clashed over the division of power or spoils, Hitler intervened. He did not mind these quarrels. Indeed, he often encouraged them, because they added status to his position as supreme arbiter and prevented any closing of the ranks against him. Thus he seemed to take delight at the spectacle of three men competing with each other in foreign affairs: Neurath, the Foreign Minister, Rosenberg, the head of the party's Foreign Affairs Department, and Ribbentrop, who had his own "Ribbentrop Bureau" which dabbled in foreign policy. All three men were at loggerheads with each other and Hitler kept them so by maintaining their rival offices until in the end he chose the dull-witted Ribbentrop to become his Foreign Minister and carry out his orders in foreign affairs.

Such was the government of the Third Reich, administered from top to bottom on the so-called leadership principle by a vast and sprawling bureaucracy, having little of the efficiency usually credited to the Germans, poisoned by graft, beset by constant confusion and cutthroat rivalries augmented by the muddling interference of party potentates and often rendered impotent by the terror of the S.S.-Gestapo.

At the top of the swarming heap stood the onetime Austrian vagabond, now become, with the exception of Stalin, the most powerful dictator on earth. As Dr. Hans Frank reminded a convention of lawyers in the spring of 1936, "There is in Germany today only one authority, and that is the authority of the Fuehrer." [23]

With that authority Hitler had quickly destroyed those who opposed him, unified and Nazified the State, regimented the country's institutions and culture, suppressed individual freedom, abolished unemployment and set the wheels of industry and commerce humming -- no small achievement after only three or four years in office. Now he turned -- in fact, he already had turned -- to the two chief passions of his life: the shaping of Germany's foreign policy toward war and conquest and the creation of a mighty military machine which would enable him to achieve his goal.

It is time now to turn to the story, more fully documented than that of any other in modern history, of how this extraordinary man, at the head of so great and powerful a nation, set out to attain his ends.



i. From February 1933 to the spring of 1937, the number of registered unemployed fell from six million to less than one million.

ii. Also, in contrast to the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany permitted all but a few thousand of its citizens who were in the black book of the secret police to travel abroad, though this was severely curtailed by currency restrictions because of the country's lack of foreign exchange. However, the currency restrictions were no more stringent than those for British citizens after 1945. The point is that the Nazi rulers did not seem to be worried that the average German would be contaminated by anti-Nazism if he visited the democratic countries.

iii. The author was violently attacked in the German press and on the radio, and threatened with expulsion, for having written a dispatch saying that some of these anti-Semitic signs were being removed for the duration of the Olympic games.

iv. In an allocution to the Sacred College on June 2, 1945, Pope Pius XII defended the concordat which he had signed, but described National Socialism, as he later came to know it, as "the arrogant apostasy from Jesus Christ, the denial of His doctrine and of His work of redemption, the cult of violence, the idolatry of race and blood, the overthrow of human liberty and dignity."

v. To avoid any misunderstanding, it might be well to point out here that the author is a Protestant.

vi. Ziegler owed his position to the happy circumstance that he had painted the portrait of Geli Raubal.

vii. Amann's own income skyrocketed from 108,000 marks in 1934 to 3,800,000 marks in 1942. (Letter to the author from Professor Oron J. Hale, who has made a study of the surviving records of the Nazi publishing firm.)

viii. The Reconstruction Law of January 30, 1934, and the three anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws of September 15, 1935.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Sat Feb 03, 2018 8:39 pm

Part 1 of 2


9: THE FIRST STEPS: 1934-37

To TALK PEACE, to prepare secretly for war and to proceed with enough caution in foreign policy and clandestine rearmament to avoid any preventive military action against Germany by the Versailles powers -- such were Hitler's tactics during the first two years.

He stumbled badly with the Nazi murder of the Austrian Chancellor Dollfuss in Vienna on July 25, 1934. At noon on that day 154 members of the S.S. Standarte 89, dressed in Austrian Army uniforms, broke into the Federal Chancellery and shot Dollfuss in the throat at a range of two feet. A few blocks away other Nazis seized the radio station and broadcast the news that Dollfuss had resigned. Hitler received the tidings while listening to a performance of Das Rheingold at the annual Wagner Festival at Bayreuth. They greatly excited him. Friedelind Wagner, granddaughter of the great composer, who sat in the family box nearby, was a witness. Two adjutants, Schaub and Brueckner, she later told, kept receiving the news from Vienna on a telephone in the anteroom of her box and then whispering it to Hitler.

After the performance the Fuehrer was most excited. This excitement mounted as he told us the horrible news ... Although he could scarcely wipe the delight from his face Hitler carefully ordered dinner in the restaurant as usual.

"I must go across for an hour and show myself," he said, "or people will think I had something to do with this." [1]

They would not have been far from right. In the first paragraph of Mein Kampf, it will be remembered, Hitler had written that the reunion of Austria and Germany was a "task to be furthered with every means our lives long." Soon after becoming Chancellor he had appointed a Reichstag deputy, Theodor Habicht, as inspector of the Austrian Nazi Party, and a little later he had set up Alfred Frauenfeld, the self-exiled Austrian party leader, in Munich, whence he broadcast nightly, inciting his comrades in Vienna to murder Dollfuss. For months prior to July 1934 the Austrian Nazis, with weapons and dynamite furnished by Germany, had instituted a reign of terror, blowing up railways, power stations and government buildings and murdering supporters of the Dollfuss clerical-fascist regime. Finally, Hitler had approved the formation of an Austrian Legion, several thousand strong, which camped along the Austrian border in Bavaria, ready to cross over and occupy the country at an opportune moment.

Dollfuss died of his wounds at about 6 P.M., but the Nazi putsch, due largely to the bungling of the conspirators who had seized the Chancellery, failed. Government forces, led by Dr. Kurt von Schuschnigg, quickly regained control, and the rebels, though promised safe-conduct to Germany through the intervention of the German minister, were arrested and thirteen of them later hanged. In the meantime Mussolini, to whom Hitler only a month before at their meeting in Venice had promised to leave Austria alone, caused uneasiness in Berlin by hastily mobilizing four divisions on the Brenner Pass.

Hitler quickly backed down. The news story prepared for the press by the official German news agency, D.N.B., rejoicing at the fall of Dollfuss and proclaiming the Greater Germany that must inevitably follow, was hastily withdrawn at midnight and a new version substituted expressing regret at the "cruel murder" and declaring that it was a purely Austrian affair. Habicht was removed, the German minister in Vienna recalled and dismissed and Papen, who had narrowly escaped Dollfuss' fate just a month before during the Roehm purge, was packed off to Vienna posthaste to restore, as Hitler directed him, "normal and friendly relations."

Hitler's first joyous excitement had given way to fear. "We are faced with a new Sarajevo!" Papen says he shouted at him when the two conferred about how to overcome the crisis. [2] But the Fuehrer had learned a lesson. The Nazi putsch in Vienna, like the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich in 1923, had been premature. Germany was not yet militarily strong enough to back up such a venture by force. It was too isolated diplomatically. Even Fascist Italy had joined Britain and France in insisting on Austria's continued independence. Moreover, the Soviet Union was showing interest for the first time in joining the West in an Eastern Locarno which would discourage any moves of Germany in the East. In the autumn it joined the League of Nations. The prospects for dividing the Great Powers seemed dimmer than ever throughout the crucial year of 1934. All that Hitler could do was to preach peace, get along with his secret rearmament and wait and watch for opportunities.

Besides the Reichstag, Hitler had another means of communicating his peace propaganda to the outside world: the foreign press, whose correspondents, editors and publishers were constantly seeking interviews with him. There was Ward Price, the monocled Englishman, and his newspaper, the London Daily Mail, who were always ready at the drop of a hint to accommodate the German dictator. So in August 1934, in another one of the series of interviews which would continue up to the eve of the war, Hitler told Price -- and his readers -- that "war will not come again," that Germany had "a more profound impression than any other of the evil that war causes," that "Germany's problems cannot be settled by war." [3] In the fall he repeated these glowing sentiments to Jean Goy, a French war veterans' leader and a member of the Chamber of Deputies, who passed them on in an article in the Pans daily Le Matin. [4]


In the meantime Hitler pursued with unflagging energy his program of building up the armed services and procuring arms for them. The Army was ordered to treble its numerical strength -- from 100,000 to 300,000 by October 1, 1934 -- and in April of that year General Ludwig Beck, Chief of the General Staff, was given to understand that by April 1 of the following year the Fuehrer would openly decree conscription and publicly repudiate the military restrictions of the Versailles Treaty. [5] Until then the utmost secrecy must be observed. Goebbels was admonished never to allow the words "General Staff" to appear in the press, since Versailles forbade the very existence of this organization. The annual official rank list of the German Army ceased to be published after 1932 so that its swollen lists of officers would not give the game away to foreign intelligence. General Keitel, chairman of the Working Committee of the Reich Defense Council, admonished his aides as early as May 22, 1933, "No document must be lost, since otherwise enemy propaganda will make use of it. Matters communicated orally cannot be proven; they can be denied." [6]

The Navy too was warned to keep its mouth shut. In June 1934 Raeder had a long conversation with Hitler and noted down:

Fuehrer's instructions: No mention must be made of a displacement of 25- 26,000 tons, but only of improved 10,000-tonships ... The Fuehrer demands complete secrecy on the construction of the U-boats. [7]

For the Navy had commenced the construction of two battle cruisers of 26,000 tons (16,000 tons above the Versailles limit) which would eventually be known as the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. Submarines, the building of which Versailles had prohibited, had been secretly constructed in Finland, Holland and Spain during the German Republic, and recently Raeder had stored the frames and parts of a dozen of them at Kiel. When he saw Hitler in November 1934 he asked permission to assemble six of them by "the time of the critical situation in the first quarter of 1935" (obviously he too knew what Hitler planned to do at that time) but the Fuehrer merely replied that "he would tell me when the situation demanded that the assembly should commence." [8]

At this meeting Raeder also pointed out that the new shipbuilding program (not to mention the tripling of naval personnel) would take more money than he had available, but Hitler told him not to worry. "In case of need, he will get Dr. Ley to put 120-150 million from the Labor Front at the disposal of the Navy, as the money would still benefit the workers." [9] Thus the dues of the German workers were to finance the naval program.

Goering too was busy those first two years, establishing the Air Force. As Minister of Aviation -- supposedly civil aviation -- he put the manufacturers to work designing warplanes. Training of military pilots began immediately under the convenient camouflage of the League for Air Sports.

A visitor to the Ruhr and Rhineland industrial areas in those days might have been struck by the intense activity of the armament works, especially those of Krupp, chief German gun-makers for three quarters of a century, and I. G. Farben, the great chemical trust. Although Krupp had been forbidden by the Allies to continue in the armament business after 1919, the company had really not been idle. As Krupp would boast in 1942, when the German armies occupied most of Europe, "the basic principle of armament and turret design for tanks had already been worked out in 1926 ... Of the guns being used in 1939-41, the most important ones were already fully complete in 1933." Farben scientists had saved Germany from early disaster in the First World War by the invention of a process to make synthetic nitrates from air after the country's normal supply of nitrates from Chile was cut off by the British blockade. Now under Hitler the trust set out to make Germany self-sufficient in two materials without which modern war could not be fought: gasoline and rubber, both of which had had to be imported. The problem of making synthetic gasoline from coal had actually been solved by the company's scientists in the mid-Twenties. After 1933, the Nazi government gave I. G. Farben the go-ahead with orders to raise its synthetic oil production to 300,000 tons a year by 1937. By that time the company had also discovered how to make synthetic rubber from coal and other products of which Germany had a sufficiency, and the first of four plants was set up at Schkopau for large-scale production of buna, as the artificial rubber became known. By the beginning of 1934, plans were approved by the Working Committee of the Reich Defense Council for the mobilization of some 240,000 plants for war orders. By the end of that year rearmament, in all its phases, had become so massive it was obvious that it could no longer be concealed from the suspicious and uneasy powers of Versailles.

These powers, led by Great Britain, had been flirting with the idea of recognizing a fait accompli, that is, German rearmament, which was not nearly so secret as Hitler supposed. They would concede Hitler complete arms equality in return for Germany's joining in a general European settlement which would include an Eastern Locarno and thus provide the Eastern countries, especially Russia, Poland and Czechoslovakia, with the same security which the Western nations enjoyed under the Locarno Treaty -- and, of course, furnish Germany with the same guarantees of security. In May of 1934 Sir John Simon, the British Foreign Secretary, who was to be a good forerunner of Neville Chamberlain in his inability to comprehend the mind of Adolf Hitler, actually proposed equality of armaments to Germany. The French sharply rejected such an idea.

But the proposals for a general settlement, including equality of armaments and an Eastern Locarno, were renewed jointly by the British and French governments early in February 1935. The month before, on January 13, the inhabitants of the Saar had voted overwhelmingly -- 477,000 to 48,000 -- to return their little coal-rich territory to the Reich and Hitler had taken the occasion to publicly proclaim that Germany had no further territorial claims on France, which meant the abandoning of German claims on Alsace and Lorraine. In the atmosphere of optimism and good will which the peaceful return of the Saar and Hitler's remarks engendered, the Anglo-French proposals were formally presented to Hitler at the beginning of February 1935.

Hitler's reply of February 14 was somewhat vague -- and, from his viewpoint, understandably so. He welcomed a plan which would leave Germany free to rearm in the open. But he was evasive on Germany's willingness to sign an Eastern Locarno. That would be tying his hands in the main area where, as he had always preached, Germany's Lebensraum lay. Might not Britain be detached in this matter from France, which with its mutual-assistance pacts with Poland, Czechoslovakia and Rumania, was more interested in Eastern security? Hitler must have thought so, for in his cautious reply he suggested that bilateral discussions precede general talks and invited the British to come to Berlin for preliminary discussions. Sir John Simon readily agreed, and a meeting was arranged for March 6 in Berlin. Two days before that date the publication of a British White Paper caused a great deal of simulated anger in the Wilhelmstrasse. Actually the White Paper struck most foreign observers in Berlin as a sober observation on Germany's clandestine rearmament, the acceleration of which had moved Britain to a modest increase of her own. But Hitler was reported furious with it. Neurath informed Simon on the very eve of his departure for Berlin that the Fuehrer had a "cold" and the talks would have to be postponed.

Whether he had a cold or not, Hitler certainly had a brain storm. It would be embarrassing to have Simon and Eden around if he transformed it into a bold act. He thought he had found a pretext for dealing the Versailles Diktat a mortal blow. The French government had just introduced a bill extending military service from eighteen months to two years because of the shortage of youth born during the First World War. On March 10, Hitler sent up a trial balloon to test the mettle of the Allies. The accommodating Ward Price was called in and given an interview with Goering, who told him officially what all the world knew, that Germany had a military Air Force. Hitler confidently awaited the reaction in London to this unilateral abrogation of Versailles. It was just what he expected. Sir John Simon told the Commons that he still counted on going to Berlin.


On Saturday, March 16 -- most of Hitler's surprises were reserved for Saturdays -- the Chancellor decreed a law establishing universal military service and providing for a peacetime army of twelve corps and thirty-six divisions -- roughly half a million men. That was the end of the military restrictions of Versailles -- unless France and Britain took action. As Hitler had expected, they protested but they did not act. Indeed, the British government hastened to ask whether Hitler would still receive its Foreign Secretary -- a query which the dictator graciously answered in the affirmative.

Sunday, March 17, was a day of rejoicing and celebration in Germany. The shackles of Versailles, symbol of Germany's defeat and humiliation, had been torn off. No matter how much a German might dislike Hitler and his gangster rule, he had to admit that the Fuehrer had accomplished what no republican government had ever dared attempt. To most Germans the nation's honor had been restored. That Sunday was also Heroes' Memorial Day (Heldengedenktag). I went to the ceremony at noon at the State Opera House and there witnessed a scene which Germany had not seen since 1914. The entire lower floor was a sea of military uniforms, the faded gray uniforms and spiked helmets of the old Imperial Army mingling with the attire of the new Army, including the sky-blue uniforms of the Luftwaffe, which few had seen before. At Hitler's side was Field Marshal von Mackensen, the last surviving field marshal of the Kaiser's Army, colorfully attired in the uniform of the Death's-Head Hussars. Strong lights played on the stage, where young officers stood like marble statues holding upright the nation's war flags. Behind them on an enormous curtain hung an immense silver-and-black Iron Cross. Ostensibly this was a ceremony to honor Germany's war dead. It turned out to be a jubilant celebration of the death of Versailles and the rebirth of the conscript German Army.

The generals, one could see by their faces, were immensely pleased. Like everyone else they had been taken by surprise, for Hitler, who had spent the previous days at his mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden, had not bothered to apprise them of his thoughts. According to General von Manstein's later testimony at Nuremberg, he and his commanding officer, of Wehrkreis III (the Third Military District) in Berlin, General von Witzleben, first heard of Hitler's decision over the radio on March 16. The General Staff would have preferred a smaller army to begin with.

The General Staff, had it been asked [Manstein testified], would have proposed twenty-one divisions ... The figure of thirty-six divisions was due to a spontaneous decision of Hitler. [10]

There now took place a series of empty gestures of warning to Hitler by the other powers. The British, the French and the Italians met at Stresa on April 11, condemned Germany's action and reiterated their support of Austria's independence and the Locarno Treaty. The Council of the League of Nations at Geneva also expressed its displeasure at Hitler's precipitate action and duly appointed a committee to suggest steps which might impede him the next time. France, recognizing that Germany would never join an Eastern Locarno, hastily signed a pact of mutual assistance with Russia, and Moscow made a similar treaty with Czechoslovakia.

In the headlines this closing of ranks against Germany sounded somewhat ominous and even impressed a number of men in the German Foreign Office and in the Army, but apparently not Hitler. After all, he had gotten away with his gamble. Still, it would not do to rest on his laurels. It was time, he decided, to pull out the stops again on his love of peace and to see whether the new unity of the powers arrayed against him might not be undermined and breached after all.

On the evening of May 21 [i] he delivered another "peace" speech to the Reichstag -- perhaps the most eloquent and certainly one of the cleverest and most misleading of his Reichstag orations this writer, who sat through most of them, ever heard him make. Hitler was in a relaxed mood and exuded a spirit not only of confidence but -- to the surprise of his listeners -- of tolerance and conciliation. There was no resentment or defiance toward the nations which had condemned his scrapping of the military clauses of Versailles. Instead there were assurances that all he wanted was peace and understanding based on justice for all. He rejected the very idea of war; it was senseless, it was useless, as well as a horror.

The blood shed on the European continent in the course of the last three hundred years bears no proportion to the national result of the events. In the end France has remained France, Germany Germany, Poland Poland, and Italy Italy. What dynastic egotism, political passion and patriotic blindness have attained in the way of apparently far-reaching political changes by shedding rivers of blood has, as regards national feeling, done no more than touched the skin of the nations. It has not substantially altered their fundamental characters. If these states had applied merely a fraction of their sacrifices to wiser purposes the success would certainly have been greater and more permanent.

Germany, Hitler proclaimed, had not the slightest thought of conquering other peoples.

Our racial theory regards every war for the subjection and domination of an alien people as a proceeding which sooner or later changes and weakens the victor internally, and eventually brings about his defeat ... As there is no longer any unoccupied space in Europe, every victory ... can at best result in a quantitative increase in the number of the inhabitants of a country. But if the nations attach so much importance to that they can achieve it without tears in a simpler and more natural way -- [by] a sound social policy, by increasing the readiness of a nation to have children.

No! National Socialist Germany wants peace because of its fundamental convictions. And it wants peace also owing to the realization of the simple primitive fact that no war would be likely essentially to alter the distress in Europe ... The principal effect of every war is to destroy the flower of the nation ...

Germany needs peace and desires peace!

He kept hammering away at the point. At the end he made thirteen specific proposals for maintaining the peace which seemed so admirable that they created a deep and favorable impression not only in Germany but in all of Europe. He prefaced them with a reminder:

Germany has solemnly recognized and guaranteed France her frontiers as determined after the Saar plebiscite ... We thereby finally renounced all claims to Alsace-Lorraine, a land for which we have fought two great wars ... Without taking the past into account Germany has concluded a nonaggression pact with Poland ... We shall adhere to it unconditionally .... We recognize Poland as the home of a great and nationally conscious people.

As for Austria:

Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, to annex Austria, or to conclude an Anschluss.

Hitler's thirteen points were quite comprehensive. Germany could not return to Geneva until the League divested itself of the Versailles Treaty. When that was done and full equality of all nations recognized, he implied, Germany would rejoin the League. Germany, however, would "unconditionally respect" the nonmilitary clauses of the Versailles Treaty, "including the territorial provisions. In particular it will uphold and fulfill all obligations arising out of the Locarno Treaty." Hitler also pledged Germany to abide by the demilitarization of the Rhineland. Though willing "at any time" to participate in a system of collective security, Germany preferred bilateral agreements and was ready to conclude nonaggression pacts with its neighbor states. It was also prepared to agree to British and French proposals for supplementing the Locarno Treaty with an air accord.

As for disarmament, Hitler was ready to go the limit:

The German government is ready to agree to any limitation which leads to abolition of the heaviest arms, especially suited for aggression, such [as] the heaviest artillery and the heaviest tanks ... Germany declares herself ready to agree to any limitation whatsoever of the caliber of artillery, battleships, cruisers and torpedo boats. In like manner, the German government is ready to agree to the limitation of tonnage for submarines, or to their complete abolition ...

In this connection Hitler held out a special bait for Great Britain. He was willing to limit the new German Navy to 35 per cent of the British naval forces; that, he added, would still leave the Germans 15 per cent below the French in naval tonnage. To the objections raised abroad that this would be only the beginning of German demands, Hitler answered, "For Germany, this demand is final and abiding."

A little after ten in the evening, Hitler came to his peroration:

Whoever lights the torch of war in Europe can wish for nothing but chaos. We, however, live in the firm conviction that in our time will be fulfilled not the decline but the renaissance of the West. That Germany may make an imperishable contribution to this great work is our proud hope and our unshakable belief. [11]

These were honeyed words of peace, reason and conciliation, and in the Western democracies of Europe, where the people and their governments desperately yearned for the continuance of peace on any reasonable basis, on almost any basis, they were lapped up. The most influential newspaper in the British Isles, the Times of London, welcomed them with almost hysterical joy.

... The speech turns out to be reasonable, straightforward and comprehensive. No one who reads it with an impartial mind can doubt that the points of policy laid down by Herr Hitler may fairly constitute the basis of a complete settlement with Germany -- a free, equal and strong Germany instead of the prostrate Germany upon whom peace was imposed sixteen years ago ... It is to be hoped that the speech will be taken everywhere as a sincere and well-considered utterance meaning precisely what it says. [12]

This great journal, one of the chief glories of English journalism, would play, like the Chamberlain government, a dubious role in the disastrous British appeasement of Hitler. But to this writer, at least, it had even less excuse than the government, for in its Berlin correspondent, Norman Ebbutt, it had, until he was expelled on August 16, 1937, a source of information about Hitler's doings and purposes that was much more revealing than that provided by other foreign correspondents or foreign diplomats, including the British. Though much that he wrote for the Times from Berlin in those days was not published, [ii] as he often complained to this writer and as was later confirmed, the Times editors must have read all of his dispatches and have been in the position therefore of knowing what was really going on in Nazi Germany and how hollow Hitler's grandiose promises were.


The British government, no less than the Times, was ready and anxious to accept Hitler's proposals as "sincere" and "well-considered" -- especially the one by which Germany would agree to a Navy 35 per cent the size of Britain's.

Hitler had shrewdly thrown out a hint to Sir John Simon, when the British Foreign Secretary and Eden made their postponed visit to him at the end of March, that a naval agreement might easily be worked out between the two powers which would guarantee English superiority. Now on May 21 he had made a public and specific offer -- a German fleet of only 35 per cent of the tonnage of the British -- and he had added in his speech some especially friendly words for England. "Germany," he had said, "has not the intention or the necessity or the means to participate in any new naval rivalry" -- an allusion, which apparently was not lost on the English, to the days before 1914 when Tirpitz, enthusiastically backed by Wilhelm II, was building up a high-seas fleet to match England's. "The German government," continued Hitler, "recognizes the overpowering vital importance, and therewith the justification, of a dominating protection for the British Empire on the sea ... The German government has the straightforward intention to find and maintain a relationship with the British people and state which will prevent for all time a repetition of the only struggle there has been between the two nations." Hitler had expressed similar sentiments in Mein Kampf, where he had stressed that one of the Kaiser's greatest mistakes had been his enmity toward England and his absurd attempt to rival the British in naval power.

With incredible naivete and speed, the British government fell for Hitler's bait. Ribbentrop, who had now become Hitler's messenger boy for foreign errands, was invited to come to London in June for naval talks. Vain and tactless, he told the British that Hitler's offer was not subject to negotiation; they must take it or leave it. The British took it. Without consulting their allies of the Stresa front, France and Italy, which were also naval powers and much concerned over German rearmament and German flouting of the military clauses of Versailles, and without even informing the League of Nations, which was supposed to uphold the 1919 peace treaties, they proceeded, for what they thought was a private advantage, to wipe out the naval restrictions of Versailles.

For it was obvious to the most simple mind in Berlin that by agreeing to Germany's building a navy a third as large as the British, the London government was giving Hitler free rein to build up a navy as fast as was physically possible -- one that would tax the capacity of his shipyards and steel mills for at least ten years. It was thus not a limitation on German rearmament but an encouragement to expand it, in the naval arm, as rapidly as Germany could find the means to do so.

To add insult to the injury already done France, the British government, in fulfillment of a promise to Hitler, refused to tell her closest ally what kind of ships and how many Great Britain had agreed that Germany should build, except that the German submarine tonnage -- the building of submarines in Germany was specifically forbidden by Versailles -- would be 60 per cent of Britain's and, if exceptional circumstances arose, might be 100 per cent. [13] Actually the Anglo-German agreement authorized the Germans to build five battleships, whose tonnage and armament would be greater than that of anything the British had afloat, though the official figures were faked to deceive London -- twenty-one cruisers and sixty-four destroyers. Not all of them were built or completed by the outbreak of the war, but enough of them, with the U-boats, were ready to cause Britain disastrous losses in the first years of the second war.

Mussolini took due notice of the "perfidy of Albion." Two could play at the game of appeasing Hitler. Moreover, England's cynical attitude of disregarding the Versailles Treaty encouraged him in the belief that London might not take too seriously the flouting of the Covenant of the League of Nations. On October 3, 1935, in defiance of the Covenant, his armies invaded the ancient mountain kingdom of Abyssinia. The League, led by Great Britain and supported halfheartedly by France, which saw that Germany was the greater danger in the long run, promptly voted sanctions. But they were only partial sanctions, timidly enforced. They did not prevent Mussolini from conquering Ethiopia but they did destroy the friendship of Fascist Italy with Britain and France and bring an end to the Stresa front against Nazi Germany.

Who stood the most to gain from this chain of events but Adolf Hitler? On October 4, the day after the Italian invasion began, I spent the day in the Wilhelmstrasse talking with a number of party and government officials. A diary note that evening summed up how quickly and well the Germans had sized up the situation:

The Wilhelmstrasse is delighted. Either Mussolini will stumble and get himself so heavily involved in Africa that he will be greatly weakened in Europe, whereupon Hitler can seize Austria, hitherto protected by the Duce; or he will win, defying France and Britain, and thereupon be ripe for a tie-up with Hitler against the Western democracies. Either way Hitler wins. [14]

This would soon be demonstrated.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Sat Feb 03, 2018 8:39 pm

Part 2 of 2


In his Reichstag "peace" speech of May 21, 1935, which, as we have seen, had so impressed the world and, above al1, Great Britain, Hitler had mentioned that "an element of legal insecurity" had been brought into the Locarno Pact as a result of the mutual-assistance pact which had been signed between Russia and France on March 2 in Paris and on March 14 in Moscow, but which up to the end of the year had not been ratified by the French Parliament. The German Foreign Office cal1ed this "element" to the attention of Paris in a formal note to the French government.

On November 21, Francois-Poncet, the French ambassador, had a talk with Hitler in which the Fuehrer launched "into a long tirade" against the Franco--Soviet Pact. Francois-Poncet reported to Paris he was convinced that Hitler intended to use the pact as an excuse to occupy the demilitarized zone of the Rhineland. "Hitler's sole hesitancy," he added, "is now concerned with the appropriate moment to act." [15]

Francois-Poncet, probably the best-informed ambassador in Berlin, knew what he was talking about, though he was undoubtedly unaware that as early as the previous spring, on May 2, nineteen days before Hitler's assurances in the Reichstag that he would respect the Locarno Pact and the territorial clauses of Versailles, General von Blomberg had issued his first directive to the three armed services to prepare plans for the reoccupation of the demilitarized Rhineland. The code name Schulung was given to the operation, it was to be "executed by a surprise blow at lightning speed" and its planning was to be so secret that "only the very smallest number of officers should be informed." In fact, in the interests of secrecy, Blomberg wrote out the order in handwriting. [16]

On June 16 further discussion of the move into the Rhineland took place at the tenth meeting of the Working Committee of the Reich Defense Council, during which a Colonel Alfred Jodi, who had just become head of the Home Defense Department, reported on the plans and emphasized the need for the strictest secrecy. Nothing should be committed to writing that was not absolutely necessary, he warned, and he added that "without exception such material must be kept in safes." [17]

All through the winter of 1935-36 Hitler bided his time. France and Britain, he could not help but note, were preoccupied with stopping Italy's aggression in Abyssinia, but Mussolini seemed to be getting by with it. Despite its much-publicized sanctions, the League of Nations was proving itself impotent to halt a determined aggressor. In Paris the French Parliament seemed to be in no hurry to ratify the pact with the Soviet Union; the growing sentiment in the Right was all against it. Apparently Hitler thought there was a good chance of the French Chamber or Senate rejecting the alliance with Moscow. In that case he would have to look for another excuse for Schulung. But the pact came before the Chamber on February 11 and it was approved on the twenty-seventh by a vote of 353 to 164. Two days later, on March 1, Hitler reached his decision, somewhat to the consternation of the generals, most of whom were convinced that the French would make mincemeat of the small German forces which had been gathered for the move into the Rhineland. Nevertheless, on the next day, March 2, 1936, in obedience to his master's instructions, Blomberg issued formal orders for the occupation of the Rhineland. It was, he told the senior commanders of the armed forces, to be a "surprise move." Blomberg expected it to be a "peaceful operation." If it turned out that it was not -- that is, that the French would fight -- the Commander in Chief reserved the "right to decide on any military countermeasures." [18] Actually, as I learned six days later and as would be confirmed from the testimony of the generals at Nuremberg, Blomberg already had in mind what those countermeasures would be: a hasty retreat back over the Rhine!

But the French, their nation already paralyzed by internal strife and the people sinking into defeatism, did not know this when a small token force of German troops paraded across the Rhine bridges at dawn on March 7 and entered the demilitarized zone. [iii] At 10 A.M. Neurath, the compliant Foreign Minister, called in the ambassadors of France, Britain and Italy, apprised them of the news from the Rhineland and handed them a formal note denouncing the Locarno Treaty, which Hitler had just broken-and proposing new plans for peace! "Hitler struck his adversary in the face," Francois-Poncet wryly observed, "and as he did so declared: 'I bring you proposals for peace!'" [20]

Indeed, two hours later the Fuehrer was standing at the rostrum of the Reichstag before a delirious audience, expounding on his desire for peace and his latest ideas of how to maintain it. I went over to the Kroll Opera House to see the spectacle, which I shall never forget, for it was both fascinating and gruesome. After a long harangue about the evils of Versailles and the threat of Bolshevism, Hitler calmly announced that France's pact with Russia had invalidated the Locarno Treaty, which, unlike that of Versailles, Germany had freely signed. The scene that followed 1 noted down in my diary that evening.

"Germany no longer feels bound by the Locarno Treaty [Hitler said]. In the interest of the primitive rights of its people to the security of their frontier and the safeguarding of their defense, the German government has re-established, as from today, the absolute and unrestricted sovereignty of the Reich in the demilitarized zone!"

Now the six hundred deputies, personal appointees all of Hitler, little men with big bodies and bulging necks and cropped hair and pouched bellies and brown uniforms and heavy boots ... leap to their feet like automatons, their right arms upstretched in the Nazi salute, and scream "Heils" ... Hitler raises his hand for silence... . He says in a deep, resonant voice, "Men of the German Reichstag!" The silence is utter.

"In this historic hour, when, in the Reich's western provinces, German troops are at this minute marching into their future peacetime garrisons, we all unite in two sacred vows."

He can go no further. It is news to this "parliamentary" mob that German soldiers are already on the move into the Rhineland. All the militarism in their German blood surges to their heads. They spring, yelling and crying, to their feet ... Their hands are raised in slavish salute, their faces now contorted with hysteria, their mouths wide open, shouting, shouting, their eyes, burning with fanaticism, glued on the new god, the Messiah. The Messiah plays his role superbly. His head lowered, as if in all humbleness, he waits patiently for silence. Then his voice, still low, but choking with emotion, utters the two vows:

"First, we swear to yield to no force whatever in restoration of the honor of our people ... Secondly, we pledge that now, more than ever, we shall strive for an understanding between the European peoples, especially for one with our Western neighbor nations ... We have no territorial demands to make in Europe! ... Germany will never break the peace!"

It was a long time before the cheering stopped ... A few generals made their way out. Behind their smiles, however, you could not help detecting a nervousness ... I ran into General von Blomberg ... His face was white, his cheeks twitching. [21]

And with reason. The Minister of Defense, who five days before had issued in his own handwriting the order to march, was losing his nerve. The next day I learned that he had given orders for his troops to withdraw across the Rhine should the French move to oppose them. But the French never made the slightest move. Francois-Poncet says that after his warning of the previous November, the French High Command had asked the government what it would do in case the ambassador proved right. The answer was, he says, that the government would take the matter up with the League of Nations. [22] Actually, when the blow occurred, [iv] it was the French government which wanted to act and the French General Staff which held back. "General Gamelin," Francois-Poncet declares, "advised that a war operation, however limited, entailed unpredictable risks and could not be undertaken without decreeing a general mobilization." [23] The most General Gamelin, the Chief of the General Staff, would do -- and did -- was concentrate thirteen divisions near the German frontier, but merely to reinforce the Maginot Line. Even this was enough to throw a scare into the German High Command. Blomberg, backed by JodI and most of the officers at the top, wanted to pull back the three battalions that had crossed the Rhine. As Jodl testified at Nuremberg, "Considering the situation we were in, the French covering army could have blown us to pieces." [24]

It could have -- and had it, that almost certainly would have been the end of Hitler, after which history might have taken quite a different and brighter turn than it did, for the dictator could never have survived such a fiasco. Hitler himself admitted as much. "A retreat on our part," he conceded later, "would have spelled collapse." [25] It was Hitler's iron nerves alone, which now, as during many crises that lay ahead, saved the situation and, confounding the reluctant generals, brought success. But it was no easy moment for him.

"The forty-eight hours after the march into the Rhineland," Paul Schmidt, his interpreter, heard him later say, "were the most nerve-racking in my life. If the French had then marched into the Rhineland, we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs, for the military resources at our disposal would have been wholly inadequate for even a moderate resistance. " [26]

Confident that the French would not march, he bluntly turned down all suggestions for pulling back by the wavering High Command. General Beck, Chief of the General Staff, wanted the Fuehrer to at least soften the blow by proclaiming that he would not fortify the area west of the Rhine -- a suggestion, Jodl later testified, "which the Fuehrer turned down very bluntly" -- for obvious reasons, as we shall see. [27] Blomberg's proposal to withdraw, Hitler later told General von Rundstedt, was nothing less than an act of cowardice. [28]

"What would have happened," Hitler exclaimed in a bull session with his cronies at headquarters on the evening of March 27, 1942, in recalling the Rhineland coup, "if anybody other than myself had been at the head of the Reich! Anyone you care to mention would have lost his nerve. I was obliged to lie, and what saved us was my unshakable obstinacy and my amazing aplomb." [29]

It was true, but it must also be recorded that he was aided not only by the hesitations of the French but by the supineness of their British allies. The French Foreign Minister, Pierre Etienne Flandin, flew to London on March 11 and begged the British government to back France in a military counteraction in the Rhineland. His pleas were unavailing. Britain would not risk war even though Allied superiority over the Germans was overwhelming. As Lord Lothian remarked, "The Germans, after all, are only going into their own back garden." Even before the French arrived in London, Anthony Eden, who had become Foreign Secretary in the previous December, had told the House of Commons, on March 9, "Occupation of the Rhineland by the Reichswehr deals a heavy blow to the principle of the sanctity of treaties. Fortunately," he added, "we have no reason to suppose that Germany's present action threatens hostilities." [30]

And yet France was entitled, under the terms of the Locarno Treaty, to take military action against the presence of German troops in the demilitarized zone, and Britain was obligated by that treaty to back her with her own armed forces. The abortive London conversations were a confirmation to Hitler that he had gotten away with his latest gamble.

The British not only shied away from the risk of war but once again they took seriously the latest installment of Hitler's "peace" proposals. In the notes handed to the three ambassadors on March 7 and in his speech to the Reichstag, Hitler had offered to sign a twenty-five-year nonaggression pact with Belgium and France, to be guaranteed by Britain and Italy; to conclude similar nonaggression pacts with Germany's neighbors on the east; to agree to the demilitarization of both sides of the Franco- German frontier; and, finally, to return to the League of Nations. Hitler's sincerity might have been judged by his proposal to demilitarize both sides of the Franco-German border, since it would have forced France to scrap her Maginot Line, her last protection against a surprise German attack.

In London, the esteemed Times, while deploring Hitler's precipitate action in invading the Rhineland, headed its leading editorial "A Chance to Rebuild."

In retrospect, it is easy to see that Hitler's successful gamble in the Rhineland brought him a victory more staggering and more fatal in its immense consequences than could be comprehended at the time. At home it fortified his popularity [v] and his power, raising them to heights which no German ruler of the past had ever enjoyed. It assured his ascendancy over his generals, who had hesitated and weakened at a moment of crisis when he had held firm. It taught them that in foreign politics and even in military affairs his judgment was superior to theirs. They had feared that the French would fight; he knew better. And finally, and above all, the Rhineland occupation, small as it was as a military operation, opened the way, as only Hitler (and Churchill, alone, in England) seemed to realize, to vast new opportunities in a Europe which was not only shaken but whose strategic situation was irrevocably changed by the parading of three German battalions across the Rhine bridges.

Conversely, it is equally easy to see, in retrospect, that France's failure to repel the Wehrmacht battalions and Britain's failure to back her in what would have been nothing more than a police action was a disaster for the West from which sprang all the later ones of even greater magnitude. In March 1936 the two Western democracies were given their last chance to halt, without the risk of a serious war, the rise of a militarized, aggressive, totalitarian Germany and, in fact -- as we have seen Hitler admitting -- bring the Nazi dictator and his regime tumbling down. They let the chance slip by.

For France, it was the beginning of the end. Her allies in the East, Russia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Rumania and Yugoslavia, suddenly were faced with the fact that France would not fight against German aggression to preserve the security system which the French government itself had taken the lead in so laboriously building up. But more than that. These Eastern allies began to realize that even if France were not so supine, she would soon not be able to lend them much assistance because of Germany's feverish construction of a West Wall behind the Franco-German border. The erection of this fortress line, they saw, would quickly change the strategic map of Europe, to their detriment. They could scarcely expect a France which did not dare, with her one hundred divisions, to repel three German battalions, to bleed her young manhood against impregnable German fortifications while the Wehrmacht attacked in the East. But even if the unexpected took place, it would be futile. Henceforth the French could tie down in the West only a small part of the growing German Army. The rest would be free for operations against Germany's Eastern neighbors.

The value of the Rhineland fortifications to Hitler's strategy was conveyed to William C. Bullitt, the American ambassador to France, when he called on the German Foreign Minister in Berlin on May 18, 1936.

Von Neurath said [Bullitt reported to the State Department] that it was the policy of the German Government to do nothing active in foreign affairs until "the Rhineland had been digested." He explained that he meant that until the German fortifications had been constructed on the French and Belgian frontiers, the German Government would do everything possible to prevent rather than encourage an outbreak by the Nazis in Austria and would pursue a quiet line with regard to Czechoslovakia. "As soon as our fortifications are constructed and the countries of Central Europe realize that France cannot enter German territory at will, all those countries will begin to feel very differently about their foreign policies and a new constellation will develop," he said. [31]

This development now began.

"As I stood at the grave of my predecessor [the murdered Dollfuss]," Dr. Schuschnigg related in his memoirs, "I knew that in order to save Austrian independence I had to embark on a course of appeasement ... Everything had to be avoided which could give Germany a pretext for intervention and everything had to be done to secure in some way Hitler's toleration of the status quo." [32]

The new and youthful Austrian Chancellor had been encouraged by Hitler's public declaration to the Reichstag on May 21, 1935, that "Germany neither intends nor wishes to interfere in the internal affairs of Austria, to annex Austria or to conclude an Anschluss"; and he had been reassured by the reiteration at Stresa by Italy, France and Britain of their determination to help safeguard Austria's independence. Then Mussolini, Austria's principal protector since 1933, had become bogged down in Abyssinia and had broken with France and Britain. When the Germans marched into the Rhineland and began to fortify it, Dr. Schuschnigg realized that some appeasement of Hitler was due. He began negotiating a new treaty with the wily German minister in Vienna, Papen, who, though the Nazis had come within an ace of murdering him during the June purge, had nevertheless gone to work on his arrival in Austria in the late summer of 1934, after the Nazi assassination of Dollfuss, to undermine Austria's independence and capture Hitler's native land for the Leader. "National Socialism must and will overpower the new Austrian ideology," he had written Hitler on July 27, 1935, in giving an account of his first year of service in Vienna. [33]

In its published text the Austro-German agreement signed on July 11, 1936, seemed to show an unusual amount of generosity and tolerance on the part of Hitler. Germany reaffirmed its recognition of Austria's sovereignty and the promise not to interfere in the internal affairs of its neighbor. In return, Austria pledged that in its foreign policy it would always act on the principle that it acknowledged itself to be "a German state."

But there were secret clauses in the treaty, [34] and in them Schuschnigg made concessions which would lead him -- and his little country -- to their doom. He agreed secretly to amnesty Nazi political prisoners in Austria and to appoint representatives of the "so-called 'National Opposition'" -- a euphemism for Nazis or Nazi sympathizers -- to positions of "political responsibility." This was equivalent to allowing Hitler to set up a Trojan horse in Austria. Into it would crawl shortly Seyss-Inquart, a Viennese lawyer, who will cut a certain figure in the subsequent narrative.

Although Papen had obtained Hitler's approval of the text of the treaty, making a personal visit to Berlin for the purpose early in July, the Fuehrer was furious with his envoy when the latter telephoned him on July 16 to notify him that the agreement had been signed.

Hitler's reaction astonished me [Papen later wrote]. Instead of expressing his gratification, he broke into a flood of abuse. I had misled him, he said, into making exaggerated concessions ... The whole thing was a trap. [36]

As it turned out, it was a trap for Schuschnigg, not for Hitler.

The signing of the Austro-German treaty was a sign that Mussolini had lost his grip on Austria. It might have been expected that this would worsen the relations between the two fascist dictators. But just the opposite occurred -- due to events which now, in 1936, played into Hitler's hands.


On May 2, 1936, Italian forces entered the Abyssinian capital, Addis Ababa, and on July 4 the League of Nations formally capitulated and called off its sanctions against Italy. Two weeks later, on July 16, Franco staged a military revolt in Spain and civil war broke out.

Hitler, as was his custom at that time of year, was taking in the opera at the Wagner Festival at Bayreuth. On the night of July 22, after he had returned from the theater, a German businessman from Morocco, accompanied by the local Nazi leader, arrived in Bayreuth with an urgent letter from Franco. The rebel leader needed planes and other assistance. Hitler immediately summoned Goering and General von Blomberg, who happened to be in Bayreuth, and that very evening the decision was taken to give support to the Spanish rebellion. [36]

Though German aid to Franco never equaled that given by Italy, which dispatched between sixty and seventy thousand troops as well as vast supplies of arms and planes, it was considerable. The Germans estimated later that they spent half a billion marks on the venture [37] besides furnishing planes, tanks, technicians and the Condor Legion, an Air Force unit which distinguished itself by the obliteration of the Spanish town of Guernica and its civilian inhabitants. Relative to Germany's own massive rearmament it was not much, but it paid handsome dividends to Hitler.

It gave France a third unfriendly fascist power on its borders. It exacerbated the internal strife in France between Right and Left and thus weakened Germany's principal rival in the West. Above all it rendered impossible a rapprochement of Britain and France with Italy, which the Paris and London governments had hoped for after the termination of the Abyssinian War, and thus drove Mussolini into the arms of Hitler.

From the very beginning the Fuehrer's Spanish policy was shrewd, calculated and far-seeing. A perusal of the captured German documents makes plain that one of Hitler's purposes was to prolong the Spanish Civil War in order to keep the Western democracies and Italy at loggerheads and draw Mussolini toward him. [vi] As early as December 1936, Ulrich von Hassell, the German ambassador in Rome, who had not yet achieved that recognition of Nazi aims and practices which- he later obtained and which would cost him his life, was reporting to the Wilhelmstrasse:

The role played by the Spanish conflict as regards Italy's relations with France and England could be similar to that of the Abyssinian conflict, bringing out clearly the actual, opposing interests of the powers and thus preventing Italy from being drawn into the net of the Western powers and used for their machinations. The struggle for dominant political influence in Spain lays bare the natural opposition between Italy and France; at the same time the position of Italy as a power in the western Mediterranean comes into competition with that of Britain. All the more clearly will Italy recognize the advisability of confronting the Western powers shoulder to shoulder with Germany. [39]

It was these circumstances which gave birth to the Rome-Berlin Axis. On October 24, after conferences with Neurath in Berlin, Count Galeazzo Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law and Foreign Minister, made the first of his many pilgrimages to Berchtesgaden. He found the German dictator in a friendly and expansive mood. Mussolini, Hitler declared, was "the leading statesman in the world, to whom none may even remotely compare himself." Together, Italy and Germany could conquer not only "Bolshevism" but the West. Including England! The British, Hitler thought, might eventually seek an accommodation with a united Italy and Germany. If not, the two powers, acting together, could easily dispose of her. "German and Italian rearmament," Hitler reminded Ciano, "is proceeding much more rapidly than rearmament can in England ... In three years Germany will be ready ..." [40]

The date is interesting. Three years hence would be the fall of 1939.

In Berlin on October 21, Ciano and Neurath had signed a secret protocol which outlined a common policy for Germany and Italy in foreign affairs. In a speech at Milan a few days later (November 1) Mussolini publicly referred to it without divulging the contents, as an agreement which constituted an "Axis" -- around which the other European powers "may work together." It would become a famous -- and, for the Duce, a fatal -- word.


With Mussolini in the bag, Hitler turned his attentions elsewhere. In August 1936 he had appointed Ribbentrop as German ambassador in London in an effort to explore the possibility of a settlement with England -- on his own terms. Incompetent and lazy, vain as a peacock, arrogant and without humor, Ribbentrop was the worst possible choice for such a post, as Goering realized. "When I criticized Ribbentrop's qualifications to handle British problems," he later declared, "the Fuehrer pointed out to me that Ribbentrop knew 'Lord So and So' and 'Minister So and So.' To which I replied: 'Yes, but the difficulty is that they know Ribbentrop.'" [41]

It is true that Ribbentrop, unattractive a figure though he was, was not without influential friends in London. Mrs. Simpson, the friend of the King, was believed in Berlin to be one of these. But Ribbentrop's initial efforts in his new post were discouraging and in November he flew back to Berlin to conclude some non-British business he had been dabbling in. On November 25 he signed the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan, in which, he told the correspondents (of whom this writer was one) without batting an eye, Germany and Japan had joined together to defend Western civilization. On the surface this pact seemed to be nothing more than a propaganda trick by which Germany and Japan could win world support by exploiting the universal dislike for Communism and the general distrust of the Comintern. But in this treaty too there was a secret protocol, specifically directed against Russia. In case of an unprovoked attack by the Soviet Union against Germany or Japan, the two nations agreed to consult on what measures to take "to safeguard their common interests" and also to "take no measures which would tend to ease the situation of the Soviet Union." It was also agreed that neither nation would make any political treaties with Russia contrary to the spirit of the agreement without mutual consent. [42]

It would not be very long before Germany broke the agreement and accused Japan -- unjustifiably -- of not observing it. But the pact did serve a certain propaganda purpose among the world's gullible and it brought together for the first time the three have-not and aggressor nations. Italy signed it the following year.


On January 30, 1937, Hitler addressed the Reichstag, proclaiming "the withdrawal of the German signature" from the Versailles Treaty -- an empty but typical gesture, since the treaty was by now dead as a doornail -- and reviewing with pride the record of his four years in office. He could be pardoned for his pride, for it was an impressive record in both domestic and foreign affairs. He had, as we have seen, abolished unemployment, created a boom in business, built up a powerful Army, Navy and Air Force, provided them with considerable armaments and the promise of more on a massive scale. He had singlehandedly broken the fetters of Versailles and bluffed his way into occupying the Rhineland. Completely isolated at first, he had found a loyal ally in Mussolini and another in Franco, and he had detached Poland from France. Most important of all, perhaps, he had released the dynamic energy of the German people, reawakening their confidence in the nation and their sense of its mission as a great and expanding world power.

Everyone could see the contrast between this thriving, martial, boldly led new Germany and the decadent democracies in the West, whose confusions and vacillations seemed to increase with each new month of the calendar. Though they were alarmed, Britain and France had not lifted a finger to prevent Hitler from violating the peace treaty by rearming Germany and by reoccupying the Rhineland; they had been unable to stop Mussolini in Abyssinia. And now, as the year 1937 began, they were cutting a sorry figure by their futile gestures to prevent Germany and Italy from determining the outcome of the Spanish Civil War. Everyone knew what Italy and Germany were doing in Spain to assure Franco's victory. Yet the governments of London and Paris continued for years to engage in empty diplomatic negotiations with Berlin and Rome to assure "nonintervention" in Spain. It was a sport which seems to have amused the German dictator and which certainly increased his contempt for the stumbling political leaders of France and Britain -- "little worms," he would shortly call them on a historic occasion when he again humbled the two Western democracies with the greatest of ease.

Neither Great Britain and France, their governments and their peoples, nor the majority of the German people seemed to realize as 1937 began that almost all that Hitler had done in his first four years was a preparation for war. This writer can testify from personal observation that right up to September 1, 1939, the German people were convinced that Hitler would get what he wanted -- and what they wanted -- without recourse to war. But among the elite who were running Germany, or serving it in the key positions, there could have been no doubt what Hitler's objective was. As the four-year "trial" period of Nazi rule, as Hitler called it, approached an end, Goering, who in September 1936 had been put in charge of the Four- Year Plan, bluntly stated what was coming in a secret speech to industrialists and high officials in Berlin.

The battle we are now approaching [he said] demands a colossal measure of production capacity. No Emit on rearmament can be visualized. The only alternatives are victory or destruction ... We live in a time when the final battle is in sight. We are already on the threshold of mobilization and we are already at war. All that is lacking is the actual shooting. [43]

Goering's warning was given on December 17, 1936. Within eleven months, as we shall shortly see, Hitler made his fateful and inalterable decision to go to war.


In his address to the robots of the Reichstag on January 30,1937, Hitler proclaimed, "The time of so-called surprises has been ended."

And in truth, there were no weekend surprises during 1937. [vii] The year for Germany was one of consolidation and further preparation for the objectives which in November the Fuehrer would at last lay down to a handful of his highest officers. It was a year devoted to forging armaments, training troops, trying out the new Air Force in Spain, [viii] developing ersatz gasoline and rubber, cementing the Rome-Berlin Axis and watching for further weak spots in Paris, London and Vienna.

All through the first months of 1937, Hitler sent important emissaries to Rome to cultivate Mussolini. The Germans were somewhat uneasy over Italy's flirtation with Britain (on January 2 Ciano had signed a "gentleman's agreement" with the British government in which the two countries recognized each other's vital interests in the Mediterranean) and they realized that the question of Austria was still a touchy subject in Rome. When Goering saw the Duce on January 15 and bluntly spoke of the inevitability of the Anschluss with Austria, the excitable Italian dictator, according to the German interpreter, Paul Schmidt, shook his head violently, and Ambassador von Hassell reported to Berlin that Goering's statement on Austria "had met with a cool reception." In June Neurath hastened to assure the Duce that Germany would abide by its July 11 pact with Austria. Only in the case of an attempted restoration of the Hapsburgs would the Germans take stern action.

Thus placated on Austria and still smarting from the opposition of France and Britain to almost all of his ambitions -- in Ethiopia, in Spain, in the Mediterranean -- Mussolini accepted an invitation from Hitler to visit Germany, and on September 25, 1937, outfitted in a new uniform created especially for the occasion, he crossed the Alps into the Third Reich. Feted and flattered as a conquering hero by Hitler and his aides, Mussolini could not then know how fateful a journey this was, the first of many to Hitler's side which were to lead to a progressive weakening of his own position and finally to a disastrous end. Hitler's purpose was not to engage in further diplomatic conversations with his guest but to impress him with Germany's strength and thus play on Mussolini's obsession to cast his lot with the winning side. The Duce was rushed from one side of Germany to the other: to parades of the S.S. and the troops, to Army maneuvers in Mecklenburg, to the roaring armament factories in the Ruhr.

His visit was climaxed by a celebration in Berlin on September 28 which visibly impressed him. A gigantic crowd of one million persons was gathered on the Maifeld to hear the two fascist dictators speak their pieces. Mussolini, orating in German, was carried away by the deafening applause -- and by Hitler's flattering words. The Duce, said the Fuehrer, was "one of those lonely men of the ages on whom history is not tested, but who themselves are the makers of history." I remember that a severe thunderstorm broke over the field before Mussolini had finished his oration and that in the confusion of the scattering mob the S.S. security arrangements broke down and the proud Duce, drenched to the skin and sorely put, was forced to make his way back to his headquarters alone and as best he could. However, this untoward experience did not dampen Mussolini's enthusiasm to be a partner of this new, powerful Germany, and the next day, after reviewing a military parade of Army, Navy and Air Force detachments, he returned to Rome convinced that his future lay at the side of Hitler.

It was not surprising, then, that a month later when Ribbentrop journeyed to Rome to obtain Mussolini's signature for the Anti-Comintern Pact, a ceremony held on November 6, he was told by the Duce of Italy's declining interest in the independence of Austria. "Let events [in Austria] take their natural course," Mussolini said. This was the go-ahead for which Hitler had been waiting.


Another ruler became impressed by Nazi Germany's growing power. When Hitler broke the Locarno Treaty and, in occupying the Rhineland, placed German troops on the Belgian border, King Leopold withdrew his country from the Locarno Pact and from its alliance with Britain and France and proclaimed that henceforth Belgium would follow a strict course of neutrality. This was a serious blow to the collective defense of the West, but in April 1937 Britain and France accepted it -- an action for which they, as well as Belgium, would soon pay dearly.


At the end of May the Wilhelmstrasse had watched with interest the retirement of Stanley Baldwin as Prime Minister of Great Britain and the accession of Neville Chamberlain to that post. The Germans were pleased to hear that the new British Prime Minister would take a more active part in foreign affairs than had his predecessor and that he was determined to reach, if possible, an understanding with Nazi Germany. What sort of understanding would be acceptable to Hitler was outlined in a secret memorandum of November 10, written by Baron von Weizsaecker, then head of the Political Department of the German Foreign Office.

From England we want colonies and freedom of action in the East The British need for tranquillity is great. It would be profitable to find out what England would be willing to pay for such tranquillity. [45]

An occasion for finding out what England would pay arose in November when Lord Halifax, with Mr. Chamberlain's enthusiastic approval, made the pilgrimage to Berchtesgaden to see Hitler. On November 19 they held a long conversation, and in the lengthy secret German memorandum on it drawn up by the German Foreign Office46 three points emerge: Chamberlain was most anxious for a settlement with Germany and proposed talks between the two countries on a cabinet level; Britain wanted a general European settlement, in return for which she was prepared to make concessions to Hitler as regards colonies and Eastern Europe; Hitler was not greatly interested at the moment in an Anglo-German accord.

In view of the rather negative outcome of the talk, it was surprising to the Germans that the British seemed to be encouraged by it. [ix] It would have been a much greater surprise to the British government had it known of a highly secret meeting which Hitler had held in Berlin with his military chiefs and his Foreign Minister exactly fourteen days before his conversation with Lord Halifax.


An indication of things to come and of the preparations that must be made to meet them had been given the commanders in chief of the three armed forces on June 24, 1937, by Field Marshal von Blomberg in a directive marked "Top Secret," of which only four copies were made. [47] "The general political situation," the Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces informed the three service chiefs, "justifies the supposition that Germany need not consider an attack from any side." Neither the Western Powers nor Russia, he said, had any desire for war, nor were they prepared for it.

"Nevertheless," the directive continued, "the politically fluid world situation, which does not preclude surprising incidents, demands constant preparedness for war on the part of the German armed forces ... to make possible the military exploitation of politically favorable opportunities should they occur. Preparations of the armed forces for a possible war in the mobilization period 1937-38 must be made with this in mind."

What possible war, since Germany need not fear an attack "from any side"? Blomberg was quite specific. There were two eventualities for war (Kriegsfalle) "for which plans are being drafted":

I. War on two fronts with the main struggle in the West. (Strategic Concentration "Rot.")

II. War on two fronts with the main struggle in the Southeast. (Strategic Concentration "Gruen.")

The "assumption" in the first case was that the French might stage a surprise attack on Germany, in which case the Germans would employ their main forces in the West. This operation was given the code name "Red" (Rot). [x]

For the second eventuality:

The war in the East can begin with a surprise German operation against Czechoslovakia in order to parry the imminent attack of a superior enemy coalition. The necessary conditions to justify such an action politically and in the eyes of international law must be created beforehand. [Emphasis by Blomberg.]

Czechoslovakia, the directive stressed, must be "eliminated from the very beginning" and occupied.

There were also three cases where "special preparations" were to be made:

I. Armed intervention against Austria. (Special Case "Otto.")

II. Warlike complications with Red Spain. (Special Case "Richard.")

III. England, Poland, Lithuania take part in a war against us. (Extension of "Red/Green.")

Case Otto is a code name that will appear with some frequency in these pages. "Otto" stood for Otto of Hapsburg, the young pretender to the Austrian throne, then living in Belgium. In Blomberg's June directive Case Otto was summarized as follows:

The object of this operation -- armed intervention in Austria in the event of her restoring the Monarchy -- will be to compel Austria by armed force to give up a restoration.

Making use of the domestic political dissension of the Austrian people, there will be a march to this end in the general direction of Vienna, and any resistance will be broken.

A note of caution, almost of despair, creeps into this revealing document at the end. There are no illusions about Britain. "England," it warns, "will employ all her available economic and military resources against us." Should she join Poland and Lithuania, the directive acknowledges, "our military position would be worsened to an unbearable, even hopeless, extent. The political leaders will therefore do everything to keep these countries neutral, above all England."

Although the directive was signed by Blomberg it is obvious that it came from his master in the Reich Chancellery. To that nerve center of the Third Reich in the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin there came on the afternoon of November 5, 1937, to receive further elucidation from the Fuehrer six individuals: Field Marshal von Blomberg, Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces; Colonel General Baron von Fritsch, Commander in Chief of the Army; Admiral Dr. Raeder, Commander in Chief of the Navy; Colonel General Goering, Commander in Chief of the Air Force; Baron von Neurath, Foreign Minister; and Colonel Hossbach, military adjutant to the Fuehrer. Hossbach is not a familiar name in these pages, nor will it become one. But in the darkening hours of that November day the young colonel played an important role. He took notes of what Hitler said and five days later wrote them up in a highly secret memorandum, thus recording for history -- his account showed up at Nuremberg among the captured documents [48] -- the decisive turning point in the life of the Third Reich.

The meeting began at 4: 15 P.M. and lasted until 8: 30, with Hitler doing most of the talking. What he had to say, he began, was the fruit of "thorough deliberation and the experiences of four and a half years of power." He explained that he regarded the remarks he was about to make as of such importance that, in the event of his death, they should be regarded as his last will and testament.

"The aim of German policy," he said, "was to make secure and to preserve the racial community and to enlarge it. It was therefore a question of space [Lebensraum]." The Germans, he laid it down, had "the right to a greater living space than other peoples ... Germany's future was therefore wholly conditional upon the solving of the need for space." [xi]

Where? Not in some far-off African or Asian colonies, but in the heart of Europe "in immediate proximity to the Reich." The question for Germany was, Where could she achieve the greatest gain at the lowest cost?

The history of all ages -- the Roman Empire and the British Empire -- had proved that expansion could only be carried out by breaking down resistance and taking risks; setbacks were inevitable. There had never ... been spaces without a master, and there were none today; the attacker always comes up against a possessor.

Two "hate-inspired" countries, Hitler declared, stood in Germany's way: Britain and France. Both countries were opposed "to any further strengthening of Germany's position." The Fuehrer did not believe that the British Empire was "unshakable." In fact, he saw many weaknesses in it, and he proceeded to elaborate them: the troubles with Ireland and India, the rivalry with Japan in the Far East and with Italy in the Mediterranean. France's position, he thought, "was more favorable than that of Britain ... but France was going to be confronted with internal political difficulties." Nonetheless, Britain, France and Russia must be considered as "power factors in our political calculations."


Germany's problem could be solved only by means of force, and this was never without attendant risk ... If one accepts as the basis of the following exposition the resort to force, with its attendant risks, then there remain to be answered the questions "when" and "where." There were three cases to be dealt with:

Case I: Period 1943-45

After this date only a change for the worse, from our point of view, could be expected. The equipment of the Army, Navy and Airforce ... was nearly completed. Equipment and armament were modern; in further delay there lay the danger of their obsolescence. In particular, the secrecy of "special weapons" could not be preserved forever ... Our relative strength would decrease in relation to the rearmament ... by the rest of the world ... Besides, the world was expecting our attack and was increasing its countermeasures from year to year. It was while the rest of the world was increasing its defenses that we were obliged to take the offensive.

Nobody knew today what the situation would be in the years 1943-45. One thing only was certain, that we could not wait longer.

If the Fuehrer was still living, it was his unalterable resolve to solve Germany's problem of space at the latest by 1943-45. The necessity for action before 1943-45 would arise in Cases II and III.

Case II

If internal strife in France should develop into such a domestic crisis as to absorb the French Army completely and render it incapable of use for war against Germany, then the time for action against the Czechs had come.

Case III

If France is so embroiled by a war with another state that she cannot "proceed" against Germany ....

Our first objective ... must be to overthrow Czechoslovakia and Austria simultaneously in order to remove the threat to our flank in any possible operation against the West ... If the Czechs were overthrown and a common German-Hungarian frontier achieved, a neutral attitude on the part of Poland could be the more certainly counted upon in the event of a Franco-German conflict.

But what would France, Britain, Italy and Russia do? Hitler went into the answer to that question in considerable detail. He believed "that almost certainly Britain, and probably France, had already tacitly written off the Czechs. Difficulties connected with the Empire and the prospect of being once more entangled in a protracted European war were decisive considerations for Britain against participation in a war against Germany. Britain's attitude would certainly not be without influence on that of France. An attack by France without British support, and with the prospect of the offensive being brought to a standstill on our western fortifications, was hardly probable. Nor was a French march through Belgium and Holland without British support to be expected ... It would of course be necessary to maintain a strong defense on our western frontier during the prosecution of our attack on the Czechs and Austria."

Hitler then outlined some of the advantages of the "annexation of Czechoslovakia and Austria": better strategic frontiers for Germany, the freeing of military forces "for other purposes," acquisition of some twelve million "Germans," additional foodstuffs for five to six million Germans in the Reich, and manpower for twelve new Army divisions.

He had forgotten to mention what Italy and Russia might do, and he now returned to them. He doubted whether the Soviet Union would intervene, "in view of Japan's attitude." Italy would not object "to the elimination of the Czechs" but it was still a question as to her attitude if Austria was also taken. It depended "essentially on whether the Duce were still alive."

Hitler's supposition for Case III was that France would become embroiled in a war with Italy -- a conflict that he counted upon. That was the reason, he explained, for his policy in trying to prolong the Spanish Civil War; it kept Italy embroiled with France and Britain. He saw a war between them "coming definitely nearer." In fact, he said, he was "resolved to take advantage of it, whenever it happened, even as early as 1938" -- which was just two months away. He was certain that Italy, with a little German help in raw materials, could stand off Britain and France.

If Germany made use of this war to settle the Czech and Austrian questions. it was to be assumed that Britain -- herself at war with Italy -- would decide not to act against Germany. Without British support, a warlike action by France against Germany was not to be expected.

The time for our attack on the Czechs and Austria must be made dependent on the course of the Anglo-French-Italian war ... This favorable situation ... would not occur again ... The descent upon the Czechs would have to be carried out with "lightning speed."

Thus as evening darkened Berlin on that autumn day of November 5, 1937 -- the meeting broke up at eight-fifteen -- the die was cast. Hitler had communicated his irrevocable decision to go to war. To the handful of men who would have to direct it there could no longer be any doubt. The dictator had said it all ten years before in Mein Kampf, had said that Germany must have Lebensraum in the East and must be prepared to use force to obtain it; but then he had been only an obscure agitator and his book, as Field Marshal von Blomberg later said, had been regarded by the soldiers -- as by so many others -- as "a piece of propaganda" whose "large circulation was due to forced sales."

But now the Wehrmacht chiefs and the Foreign Minister were confronted with specific dates for actual aggression against two neighboring countries -- an action which they were sure would bring on a European war. They must be ready by the following year, 1938, and at the latest by 1943-45.

The realization stunned them. Not, so far as the Hossbach records show, because they were struck down by the immorality of their Leader's proposals but for more practical reasons: Germany was not ready for a big war; to provoke one now would risk disaster.

On those grounds Blomberg, Fritsch and Neurath dared to speak up and question the Fuehrer's pronouncement. Within three months all of the three were out of office and Hitler, relieved of their opposition, such as it was -- and it was the last he was to suffer in his presence during the Third Reich -- set out on the road of the conqueror to fulfill his destiny. In the beginning, it was an easier road than he -- or anyone else -- had foreseen.



i. Earlier that day Hitler had promulgated the secret Reich Defense Law, putting Dr. Schacht, as we have seen, in charge of war economy and thoroughly reorganizing the armed forces. The Reichswehr of Weimar days became the Wehrmacht. Hitler, as Fuehrer and Chancellor, was Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces (Wehrmacht) and Blomberg, the Minister of Defense, was designated as Minister of War with the additional title of Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces -- the only general in Germany who ever held that rank. Each of the three services had its own commander in chief and its own general staff. The camouflage name of "Truppenamt" in the Army was dropped for the real thing and its head, General Beck, assumed the title of Chief of the General Staff. But this title did not denote what it did in the Kaiser's time, when the General Staff Chief was actually the Commander in Chief of the German Army under the warlord.

ii. "I do my utmost, night after night, to keep out of the paper anything that might hurt their [German] susceptibilities," Geoffrey Dawson, the editor of the Times, wrote on May 23, 1937, to his Geneva correspondent, H. G. Daniels, who had preceded Ebbutt in Berlin. "I can really think of nothing that has been printed now for many months past to which they could possibly take exception as unfair comment." (John Evelyn Wrench, Geoffrey Dawson and Our Times.)

iii. According to Jodi's testimony at Nuremberg, only three battalions crossed the Rhine, making for Aachen, Trier and Saarbruecken, and only one division was employed in the occupation of the entire territory. Allied intelligence estimates were considerably larger: 35,000 men, or approximately three divisions. Hitler commented later, "The fact was, I had only four brigades." [19]

iv. Despite Francois-Poncet's warning of the previous fall, Germany's action apparently came as a complete surprise to the French and British governments and their general staffs.

v. On March 7 Hitler had dissolved the Reichstag and called for a new "election" and a referendum on his move into the Rhineland. According to the official figures of the voting on March 29, some 99 per cent of the 45,453,691 registered voters went to the polls, and 98.8 per cent of them approved Hitler's action. Foreign correspondents who visited the polling places found some irregularities-especially, open instead of secret voting -- and there was no doubt that some Germans feared (with justification, as we have seen) that a Nein vote might be discovered by the Gestapo. Dr. Hugo Eckener told this writer that on his new Zeppelin Hindenburg, which Goebbels had ordered to cruise over German cities as a publicity stunt, the Ja vote, which was announced by the Propaganda Minister as forty-two, outnumbered the total number of persons aboard by two. Nevertheless, this observer, who covered the "election" from one corner of the Reich to the other, has no doubt that the vote of approval for Hitler's coup was overwhelming. And why not? The junking of Versailles and the appearance of German soldiers marching again into what was, after all, German territory were things that almost all Germans naturally approved. The "No" vote was given as 540,211.

vi. More than a year later, on November 5, 1937, Hitler would reiterate his Spanish policy in a confidential talk with his generals and his Foreign Minister. "A hundred per cent victory for Franco," he told them, was "not desirable from the German point of view. Rather we are interested in a continuance of the war and in keeping up the tension in the Mediterranean." [38]

vii. Wilhelmstrasse officials used to say jokingly that Hitler pulled his surprises on Saturdays because he had been told that British officials took the weekend off in the country.

viii. In his testimony at Nuremberg on March 14, 1946, Goering spoke proudly of the opportunities which the Spanish Civil War gave for testing "my young Luftwaffe. With the permission of the Fuehrer I sent a large part of my transport fleet and a number of experimental fighter units, bombers and antiaircraft guns; and in that way I had an opportunity to ascertain, under combat conditions, whether the material was equal to the task. In order that the personnel, too, might gather a certain experience, I saw to it that there was a continuous flow [so] that new people were constantly being sent and others recalled." [44]

ix. Chamberlain wrote in his diary: "The German visit [of Halifax] was from my point of view a great success because it achieved its object, that of creating an atmosphere in which it is possible to discuss with Germany the practical questions involved in a European settlement." (Keith Feiling, The Life of Neville Chamberlain, p. 332.)

Halifax himself seems to have been taken in by Hitler. In a written report to the Foreign Office he said: "The German Chancellor and others gave the impression that they were not likely to embark on adventures involving force or at least war." To Chamberlain Halifax reported orally, says Charles C. Tansill, that Hitler "was not bent on early adventures, partly because they might be unprofitable, and partly because he was busy building up Germany internally ... Goering had assured him that not one drop of German blood would be shed in Europe unless Germany was absolutely forced to do it. The Germans gave him [Halifax] the impression ... of intending to achieve their aims in orderly fashion." (Tansill, Back Door to War, pp. 365-66.)

x. This is the first of many such code names for German military plans which we shall meet in the ensuing narrative. The Germans used the word Fall, literally "Case" (Fall Rot, Fall Gruen -- Case Red, Case Green -- the code names for operations in the West and against Czechoslovakia ,respectively) and in the beginning, according to the arguments of the German generals in Nuremberg, it was merely the designation commonly used by all military commands for plans to cover hypothetical situations. But as will become obvious in the course of these pages, the term, as the Germans used it, soon became a designation for a plan of armed aggression. The word "Operation" would probably be a more accurate rendering of Fall than the word "Case." However, for the sake of convenience, the author will go along with the word "Case."

xi. From here on, the reader will note that what obviously is indirect discourse has been put within quotation marks or in quotations in the form of extracts. Almost all the German records of the remarks of Hitler and of others in private talks were written down in the third person as indirect discourse, though frequently they abruptly slipped into direct, first-person discourse without any change of punctuation. This question posed a problem for American English.

Because I wanted to preserve the accuracy of the original document and the exact wording used or recorded, I decided it was best to refrain from tampering with these accounts by rendering them into first-person direct discourse or by excluding them from within quotation marks. In the latter case it would have looked as though I were indulging in liberal paraphrasing when I was not.

It is largely a matter in the German records of verb tenses being changed by the actual recorders from present to past and of changing the first-person pronoun to third-person. If this is borne in mind there will not be, I believe, any confusion.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Sat Feb 03, 2018 8:40 pm


THE DECISION TO USE armed force against Austria and Czechoslovakia even if it involved Germany in a war with Great Britain and France, which Hitler laid down on November 5, came as such a shock to his Foreign Minister that Baron von Neurath, easygoing, complacent and morally weak though he was, suffered several heart attacks. [1]

"I was extremely upset at Hitler's speech," he later told the Nuremberg tribunal, "because it knocked the bottom out of the whole foreign policy which I had consistently pursued." [2] In this frame of mind, and despite his heart attacks, he sought out General von Fritsch and General Beck, Chief of the General Staff, two days later and discussed with them what could be done "to get Hitler to change his ideas." The impression on Beck of Hitler's harangue, according to Colonel Hossbach, who informed him of it, had been "shattering." It was agreed that Fritsch should again remonstrate with the Fuehrer at their next appointment, pointing out to him the military considerations which made his plans inadvisable, while Neurath would follow up by again stressing to Hitler the political dangers. As for Beck, he immediately committed to paper a devastating critique of Hitler's plans, which apparently he showed to no one -- the first sign of a fatal flaw in the mind and character of this estimable general who at first had welcomed the advent of Nazism and who, in the end, would give his life in an abortive effort to destroy it.

General von Fritsch saw Hitler on November 9. There is no record of their talk but it may be presumed that the Commander in Chief of the Army repeated his military arguments against Hitler's plans and that he got nowhere. The Fuehrer was in no mood to brook opposition either from the generals or from his Foreign Minister. He refused to receive Neurath and took off for a long rest at his mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden. It was not until the middle of January that the stricken Neurath was able to arrange an appointment with the Leader.

On that occasion I tried to show him [Neurath later testified at Nuremberg] that his policy would lead to a world war, and that I would have no part in it ... I called his attention to the danger of war and to the serious warnings of the generals ... When despite all my arguments he still held to his opinions I told him that he would have to find another Foreign Minister ... [3]

Though Neurath did not then know it, that was precisely what Hitler had decided to do. In a fortnight he would celebrate the fifth anniversary of his coming to power and he intended to mark it by cleaning house not only in the Foreign Office but in the Army, those two citadels of upperclass "reaction" which he secretly distrusted, which he felt had never completely accepted him nor really understood his aims and which, as Blomberg, Fritsch and Neurath had shown on the evening of November 5, stood in the way of realizing his ambitions. The last two gentlemen in particular, and perhaps even the accommodating Blomberg, to whom he owed so much, would have to follow the inimitable Dr. Schacht into retirement.

For the crafty financier, the early enthusiast for Nazism and backer of Hitler, had already fallen.

Schacht, as we have seen, had devoted his energies and his wizardry to financing Hitler's speedy rearmament. As Plenipotentiary for War Economy, as well as Minister of Economics, he had concocted any number of fancy schemes, including the use of the printing press, to raise the money for the new Army, Navy and Air Force and to pay the armament bills. But there was a limit beyond which the country could not go without becoming bankrupt, and by 1936 he believed Germany was approaching that limit. He warned Hitler, Goering and Blomberg, but to little avail, though the War Minister for a time sided with him. With Goering's appointment in September 1936 as Plenipotentiary for the Four- Year Plan, a farfetched scheme to make Germany self-sufficient in four years -- a goal which Schacht regarded as impossible -- the Luftwaffe chief became, in fact, the economic dictator of Germany. To a man as vain and ambitious* and as contemptuous of Goering's ignorance of economics as Schacht was, this made his own position untenable and after months of violent controversy between the two strong-minded men Schacht asked the Fuehrer to place the further direction of economic policies solely in his rival's hand and to allow him to resign his post in the cabinet. To add to his discouragement had been the attitude of many of the nation's leading industrialists and businessmen, who, as he later recounted, "crowded into Goering's anteroom in the hope of getting orders when I was still trying to make the voice of reason heard." [4]

To make the voice of reason heard in the frenzied atmosphere of Nazi Germany in 1937 was an impossible task, as Schacht realized, and after a further exchange of blows with Goering during the summer in which he denounced as unsound "your foreign-exchange policy, your policy regarding production and your financial policy," he traveled down to the Obersalzberg in August to submit his formal resignation to Hitler. The Fuehrer was loath to accept it in view of the unfavorable reaction both at home and abroad which the departure of Schacht would almost certainly bring, but the battered Minister was adamant and Hitler finally agreed to release him at the end of two months. On September 5 Schacht went on leave, and his resignation was formally accepted on December 8.

At Hitler's insistence Schacht remained in the cabinet as Minister without Portfolio and retained the presidency of the Reichsbank, thus preserving appearances and blunting the shock to German and world opinion. His influence as a brake on Hitler's feverish rearmament for war, however, had come to an end, though by remaining in the cabinet and at the Reichsbank he continued to lend the aura of his name and reputation to Hitler's purposes. Indeed, he would shortly endorse publicly and enthusiastically the Leader's first gangster act of naked aggression, for, like the generals and the other conservatives who had played such a key role in turning over Germany to the Nazis, he was slow to awaken to the facts of life.

Goering took over temporarily the Ministry of Economics, but one evening in mid-January 1938 Hitler ran into Walther Funk at the opera in Berlin and casually informed him that he would be Schacht's successor. The official appointment of this greasy, dwarfish, servile nonentity who, it will be remembered, had played a certain role in interesting business leaders in Hitler in the early Thirties, was held up, however. For there now burst upon the Third Reich a two-headed crisis in the Army which was precipitated by, among all things, certain matters pertaining to sex, both normal and abnormal, and which played directly into the hands of Hitler, enabling him to deal a blow to the old aristocratic military hierarchy from which it never recovered, with dire consequences not only for the Army, which thereby lost the last vestiges of independence which it had guarded so zealously during the Hohenzollern Empire and the Republic, but eventually for Germany and the world.


"What influence a woman, even without realizing it, can exert on the history of a country and thereby on the world!" Colonel Alfred Jodi exclaimed in his diary on January 26, 1938. "One has the feeling of living in a fateful hour for the German people." [5]

The woman this brilliant young staff officer referred to was Fraulein Erna Gruhn, and as the year 1937 approached its end she must have regarded herself as the last person in Germany who could possibly propel, as Jodi declared, the German people into a fateful crisis and exercise a profound influence on their history. Perhaps only in the eerie, psychopathic world in which the inner circle of the Third Reich moved at this time with such frenzy would it have been possible.

Fraulein Gruhn was the secretary of Blomberg and toward the end of 1937 he felt sufficiently enamored of her to suggest marriage. His first wife, the daughter of a retired Army officer, whom he had married in 1904, had died in 1932. His five children in the meantime had grown up (his youngest daughter had married the oldest son of General Keitel, his protege, in 1937) and, tiring of his somewhat lonely widowerhood, he decided the time had come to remarry. Realizing that for the senior officer of the German Army to wed a commoner would not go down well with the haughty, aristocratic officer corps, he sought out Goering for advice. Goering could see no objection to the marriage -- had he himself not married, after the death of his first wife, a divorced actress? There was no place in the Third Reich for the stodgy social prejudices of the officer corps. Goering not only approved what Blomberg had in mind; he declared himself ready to smooth matters over with Hitler, if that were necessary, and to help in any other way. As it happened, there was another way he could be helpful. There was a rival lover involved, the Field Marshal confided. To Goering that was no problem. Such nuisances in other cases had been carted off to concentration camp. Probably out of consideration for the old-fashioned morals of the Field Marshal, Goering, however, offered to ship the troublesome rival off to South America, which he did.

Still, Blomberg felt troubled. On December 15, 1937, JodI made a curious entry in his diary: "The General Field Marshal [Blomberg] in a high state of excitement. Reason not known. Apparently a personal matter. He retired for eight days to an unknown place." [6]

On December 22 Blomberg reappeared to deliver the funeral oration for General Ludendorff at the Feldherrnhalle in Munich. Hitler was there, but declined to speak. The World War hero had refused to have anything to do with him ever since he had fled from in front of the Feldherrnhalle after the volley of bullets during the Beer Hall Putsch. After the funeral Blomberg broached the matter of his proposed marriage to Hitler. The Fuehrer, to his relief, gave it his blessing.

The wedding took place on January 12, 1938, and Hitler and Goering were present as the principal witnesses. Hardly had the bridal pair taken off for Italy on their honeymoon than the storm broke. The rigid officer corps might have absorbed the shock of their Field Marshal marrying his stenographer, but they were not prepared to accept his marriage to a woman with a past such as now began to come to light in all its horrific details.

At first there were only rumors. Anonymous telephone calls began to be received by stiff-necked generals from giggling girls, apparently calling from unsavory cafes and night clubs, congratulating the Army for having accepted one of their number. At police headquarters in Berlin a police inspector, checking on the rumors, came upon a file marked "Erna Gruhn." Horrified, he took it to the police chief, Count von Helldorf.

The count, a roughneck veteran of the Freikorps and the brawling days of the S.A., was horrified too. For the dossier showed that the bride of the Field Marshal and Commander in Chief had a police record as a prostitute and had been convicted of having posed for pornographic photographs. The young Frau Field Marshal, it developed, had grown up in a massage salon run by her mother which, as sometimes happened in Berlin, was merely a camouflage for a brothel.

It was obviously Helldorf's duty to pass along the damaging dossier to his superior, the chief of the German police, Himmler. But ardent Nazi though he was, he had formerly been a member of the Army officer corps himself and had absorbed some of its traditions. He knew that Himmler, who had been feuding with the Army High Command for more than a year and was now coming to be regarded by it as more of a sinister threat than Roehm had been, would use the file to blackmail the Field Marshal and make him his tool against the conservative generals. Courageously, Helldorf took the police papers to General Keitel instead. He apparently was convinced that Keitel, who owed his recent rise in the Army to Blomberg, to whom he was attached by family ties, would arrange for the officer corps itself to handle the affair and also would warn his chief of the peril he was in. But Keitel, an arrogant and ambitious man, though of feeble mind and moral character, had no intention of risking his career by getting into trouble with the party and the S.S. Instead of passing on the papers to the Army chief, General von Fritsch, he gave them back to Helldorf with the suggestion that he show them to Goering.

No one could have been more pleased to possess them than Goering, for it was obvious that Blomberg now would have to go and logical, he thought, that he himself should succeed him as Commander in Chief of the Wehrmacht -- a goal he had long had in mind. Blomberg interrupted his honeymoon in Italy to return to Germany for the funeral of his mother and on January 20, still unmindful of what was brewing, appeared at his office in the War Ministry to resume his duties.

But not for long. On January 25 Goering brought the explosive documents to Hitler, who had just returned from Berchtesgaden, and the Fuehrer blew up. His Field Marshal had deceived him and made him, who was an official witness at the wedding, look like a fool. Goering quickly agreed with him and at noon went off to see Blomberg personally and break the news to him. The Field Marshal appears to have been overwhelmed by the revelations about his bride and offered to divorce her at once. But this, Goering politely explained, would not be enough. The Army Command itself was demanding his resignation; as JodI's diary of two days later reveals, the Chief of the General Staff, General Beck, had informed Keitel that "one cannot tolerate the highest-ranking soldier marrying a whore." On January 25, Jodl learned through Keitel that Hitler had dismissed his Field Marshal. Two days later the sixty-year-old fallen officer left Berlin for Capri to resume his honeymoon.

To this idyllic island he was pursued by his naval adjutant, who provided the final grotesque touch to this singular tragi-comedy. Admiral Raeder had dispatched this aide, Lieutenant von Wangenheim, to demand of Blomberg that for the sake of the honor of the officer corps he divorce his wife. The junior naval officer was an arrogant and extremely zealous young man and when he arrived in the presence of the honeymooning Field Marshal he exceeded his instructions. Instead of asking for a divorce he suggested that his former chief do the honorable thing, whereupon he attempted to thrust a revolver into Blomberg's hand. Despite his fall, however, the Field Marshal seemed to have retained a zest for life -- obviously he was still enamored of his bride notwithstanding all that had happened. He declined to take the proffered weapon, remarking, as he immediately wrote to Keitel, that he and the young naval officer "apparently had quite different views and standards of life." [7]

After all, the Fuehrer had held out to him the prospect of further employment at the highest level as soon as the storm blew over. According to JodI's diary, Hitler told Blomberg during the interview in which he dismissed him that "as soon as Germany's hour comes, you will again be by my side, and everything that has happened in the past will be forgotten." [8] Indeed, Blomberg wrote in his unpublished memoirs that Hitler, at their final meeting, promised him "with the greatest emphasis" that he would be given the supreme command of the armed forces in the event of war. [9]

Like so many other promises of Hitler, this one was not kept. Field Marshal von Blomberg's name was stricken forever from the Army rolls, and not even when the war came and he offered his services was he restored to duty in any capacity. After their return to Germany Blomberg and his wife settled in the Bavarian village of Wiessee, where they lived in complete obscurity until the end of the war. As was the case of a former English King of the same era he remained to the end loyal to the wife who had brought his downfall. That end came with his death on March 13, 1946, in Nuremberg jail, where he was wailing, a pitiful, emaciated man, to testify in the trial.


Colonel General Freiherr Werner von Fritsch, the Commander in Chief of the Army and a gifted and unbending officer of the old school ("a typical General Staff character," Admiral Raeder called him) was the obvious candidate to succeed Blomberg as Minister of War and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces. But Goering himself, as we have seen, had his eye on the top post, and there were some who believed that he had deliberately pushed Blomberg into his marriage with a woman whose unfortunate past he may have had prior knowledge of, in order to clear the way for himself. If this was true, Blomberg did not know it, for during his farewell interview with Hitler on January 27 he at first suggested Goering as his successor. The Fuehrer, however, knew his old Nazi henchman better than anyone else; Goering, he said, was too self-indulgent and lacked both patience and diligence. Nor did he favor General von Fritsch, whose opposition to his grandiose plans on November 5 he had not liked or forgotten. Moreover, Fritsch's hostility to the Nazi Party and especially to the S.S. had never been concealed-a circumstance which not only had attracted the attention of the Fuehrer but had provoked in Heinrich Himmler, the S.S. leader and chief of police, a growing determination to overthrow this formidable antagonist who led the Army. [ii]

Himmler's opportunity now came, or, rather, he created it by setting in motion a frame-up so outrageous that it is difficult to believe that it could have happened -- at least in 1938 -- even in the gangster-ridden world of the S.S. and the National Socialist Party, or that the German Army, which after all did have its traditions, would have stood for it. Coming on the heels of the Blomberg scandal, it set off a second and much more explosive bomb which rocked the officer corps to its foundation and settled its fate.

On January 25, the day on which Goering was showing Hitler the police record of Blomberg's bride, he also spread before the Fuehrer an even more damaging document. This had been conveniently provided by Himmler and his principal aide, Heydrich, chief of the S.D., the S.S. Security Service, and it purported to show that General von Fritsch had been guilty of homosexual offenses under Section 175 of the German criminal code and that he had been paying blackmail to an ex-convict since 1935 to hush the matter up. The Gestapo papers seemed so conclusive that Hitler was inclined to believe the charge, and Blomberg, perhaps venting his resentment at Fritsch for the severe attitude the Army had taken toward him because of his marriage, did nothing to dissuade him. Fritsch, he confided, was not a "woman's man," and he added that the General, a lifelong bachelor, might well have "succumbed to weakness."

Colonel Hossbach, the Fuehrer's adjutant, who was present when the Gestapo file was shown, was horrified and, in defiance of Hitler's orders that he was to say nothing to Fritsch, went immediately to the Army commander's apartment to inform him of the charge and to warn him of the dire trouble he was in. [iii] The taciturn Prussian nobleman was stupefied. "A lot of stinking lies!" he blurted out. When he had calmed down he assured his brother officer on his word of honor that the charges were utterly baseless. Early the next morning Hossbach, fearless of the consequences, told Hitler of his meeting with Fritsch, reported the General's categorical denial of the accusations and urged that the Fuehrer give him a hearing and the opportunity of personally denying his guilt.

To this Hitler, to Hossbach's surprise, assented, and the Commander in Chief of the German Army was summoned to the Chancellery late on the evening of the same day. He was there to undergo an experience for which his long training as an aristocrat, an officer and a gentleman had scarcely prepared him. The meeting took place in the Chancellery library and this time Himmler as well as Goering was present. After Hitler had summed up the charges, Fritsch gave his word of honor as an officer that they were completely untrue. But such assurances no longer had much value in the Third Reich and now Himmler, who had been waiting for three years for this moment, introduced a shuffling, degenerate-looking figure from a side door. He must have been one of the strangest, if not the most disreputable, figures ever let into the offices of the Chancellor of Germany. His name was Hans Schmidt and he had a long prison record dating back to his first sentence to a boy's reformatory. His chief weakness, it developed, had been spying on homosexuals and then blackmailing them. He now professed to recognize General von Fritsch as the Army officer whom he had caught in a homosexual offense in a dark alley near the Potsdam railroad station in Berlin with an underworld character by the name of "Bavarian Joe." [iv] For years, Schmidt insisted to the three most powerful figures in Germany, this officer had paid him blackmail to keep quiet, the payments only ceasing when the law again clamped him behind the bars of a penitentiary.

General Freiherr von Fritsch was too outraged to answer. The spectacle of the head of the German State, the successor of Hindenburg and the Hohenzollerns, introducing such a shady character in such a place for such a purpose was too much for him. His speechlessness only helped to convince Hitler that he was guilty and the Fuehrer asked for his resignation. This Fritsch declined to give, demanding in turn a trial by a military court of honor. But Hitler had no intention of allowing the military caste to take over the case, at least for the moment. This was a heaven-sent opportunity, which he would not let pass, to smash the opposition of the generals who would not bend to his will and genius. He then and there ordered Fritsch to go on indefinite leave, which was equivalent to his suspension as Commander in Chief of the Army. The next day Hitler conferred with Keitel about a successor not only to Blomberg but to Fritsch. Jodl, whose chief source of information was Keitel, began sprinkling his diary with entries which indicated that a drastic shake-up not only in the Army Command but in the whole organization of the armed forces was being worked out which would at last bring the military to heel.

Would the senior generals surrender their power, which though by no means absolute was the last that remained outside the grip of Hitler? When Fritsch returned to his apartment in the Bendlerstrasse from the ordeal in the Chancellery library he conferred with General Beck, the Chief of the Army General Staff. Some English historians [10] have recounted that Beck urged him to carry out a military putsch at once against the Hitler government, and that Fritsch declined. But Wolfgang Foerster, the German biographer of Beck, who had the General's personal papers at his disposal, states merely that on the fateful evening Beck saw first Hitler, who apprised him of the grave charges, then Fritsch, who denied them, and that finally, late on the same evening, he hurried back to Hitler to demand only that the Army commander be given a chance to clear himself before a military court of honor. Beck too, his biographer makes clear, had not yet attained that understanding of the rulers of the Third Reich which was later to come to him -- when it was too late. Some days later, when it was also too late, when not only Blomberg and Fritsch were gone but sixteen of the senior generals retired and forty-four others transferred to lesser commands, Fritsch and his closest associates, of whom Beck was one, did seriously consider military countermeasures. But they quickly abandoned such dangerous thoughts. "It was clear to these men," Foerster says, "that a military putsch would mean civil war and was by no means sure of success." Then, as always, the German generals wanted to be sure of winning before taking any great risks. They feared, as this German writer states, that not only would Goering's Air Force and Admiral Raeder's Navy oppose them, since both commanders were completely under the Fuehrer's spell, but that the Army itself might not fully support its fallen Commander in Chief. [11]

However, one last chance was given the ranking Army officers to deal a blow in their turn to Hitler. A preliminary investigation conducted by the Army in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice quickly established that General von Fritsch was the innocent victim of a Gestapo frame-up initiated by Himmler and Heydrich. It was found that the ex-convict Schmidt had indeed caught an Army officer in an unnatural act in the shadows of the Potsdam Station and had successfully blackmailed him for years. But his name was Frisch, not Fritsch, and he was a bedridden retired cavalry officer listed in the Army rolls as Rittmeister von Frisch. This the Gestapo had known, but it had arrested Schmidt and threatened him with death unless he pointed the finger to the Commander in Chief of the Army. The ailing Rittmeister also was taken into custody by the secret police so as to prevent him from talking, but both he and Schmidt were eventually wrested from the Gestapo's clutches by the Army and kept in a safe place until they could testify at the court-martial of Fritsch.

The old leaders of the Army were jubilant. Not only would their Commander in Chief be vindicated and restored to his leadership of the Army. The machinations of the S.S. and the Gestapo, of those two unscrupulous men, Himmler and Heydrich, who held such unbridled power in the country, would be exposed and they and the S.S. would go the way of Roehm and the S.A. four years before. It would be a blow too to the party and to Hitler himself; it would shake the foundations of the Third Reich so violently that the Fuehrer himself might topple over. If he tried to cover up the crime, the Army itself, with a clear conscience, now that the truth was known, would take matters in its own hands. But once again, as so often in the past five years, the generals were outsmarted by the former Austrian corporal and then utterly defeated by fate, which the Leader, if not they, knew how to take advantage of for his own ends.

All through the last week of January 1938 a tension, reminiscent of that of late June 1934, gripped Berlin. Again the capital seethed with rumors. Hitler had dismissed the two top men in the Army, for reasons unknown. The generals were in revolt. They were plotting a military putsch. Ambassador Francois-Poncet heard that Fritsch, who had invited him to dinner for February 2 and then canceled the invitation, had been arrested. There were reports that the Army planned to surround the Reichstag, when it met to hear Hitler's fifth-anniversary speech on January 30, and arrest the entire Nazi government and its hand-picked deputies. Credence of such reports grew when it was announced that the meeting of the Reichstag had been indefinitely postponed. The German dictator was obviously in difficulties. He had met his match at last in the unbending senior generals of the German Army. Or so the latter must have thought, but they were in error.

On February 4, 1938, the German cabinet met for what was to prove the last time. Whatever difficulties Hitler had experienced, he now resolved them in a manner which eliminated those who stood in his way, not only in the Army but in the Foreign Office. A decree which he hastily put through the cabinet that day and which was announced to the nation and the world on the radio shortly before midnight began:

"From now on I take over personally the command of the whole armed forces."

As head of state, Hitler of course had been the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, but now he took over Blomberg's office of Commander in Chief and abolished the War Ministry, over which the now moon-struck bridegroom had also presided. In its place was created the organization which was to become familiar to the world during World War II, the High Command of the Armed Forces (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, or OKW), to which the three fighting services, the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, were subordinated. Hitler was its Supreme Commander, and under him was a chief of staff, with the high-sounding title of "Chief of the High Command of the Armed Forces" -- a post which went to the toady Keitel, who managed to keep it to the end.

To assuage the wounded feelings of Goering, who had been confident of succeeding Blomberg, Hitler named him a Field Marshal, which made him the ranking officer of the Reich and apparently pleased him no end. To calm the uneasiness of the public, Hitler announced that Blomberg and Fritsch had resigned "for reasons of health." Thus Fritsch was got rid of once and for all even before his trial by a military court of honor, which Hitler knew would exonerate him. This seemed particularly outrageous to the senior generals but there was nothing they could do about it, for they were sent into the discard in the same decree. Sixteen of them, including Generals von Rundstedt, von Leeb, von Witzleben, von Kluge and von Kleist, were relieved of their commands, and forty-four others, who were regarded as less than enthusiastic in their devotion to Nazism, were transferred.

As Fritsch's successor to command the Army, Hitler, after some hesitation, picked General Walther vonBrauchitsch, who enjoyed a good reputation among the generals but who was to prove as weak and as compliant as Blomberg when it came to standing up to the mercurial temperament of Hitler. For a few days during the crisis it appeared that a problem of sex would prove Brauchitsch's undoing as it had that of Blomberg and Fritsch. For this officer was on the point of getting a divorce, an action frowned upon by the military aristocracy. The ever curious JodI noted the complication in his diary. On Sunday, January 30, he recorded that Keitel had called in Brauchitsch's son "in order to send him to his mother (he is to get her assent to the divorce)," and a couple of days later he reported a meeting of Brauchitsch and Keitel with Goering "for a discussion of the family situation." Goering, who seemed to have made himself an arbiter of the sex difficulties of the generals, promised to look into the matter. On the same day, JodI further noted, "the son of Br. returns with a very dignified letter from his mother." The inference was that she would not stand in her husband's way. Nor would Goering and Hitler disapprove of a divorce, which the new commander of the Army actually obtained a few months after assuming his new post. For both of them knew that Frau Charlotte Schmidt, the woman he wanted to marry, was, as Ulrich von Hassell said, "a two hundred per cent rabid Nazi." The marriage took place in the following autumn and was to prove, as Jodl might have noted again, another instance of the influence of a woman on history. [v]

Hitler's house cleaning of February 4 was not confined to the generals. He also swept Neurath out of the Foreign Office, replacing him with the shallow and compliant Ribbentrop. [vi] Two veteran career diplomats, Ulrich von Hassell, the ambassador in Rome, and Herbert von Dirksen, the ambassador in Tokyo, were relieved, as was Papen in Vienna. The weakling Funk was formally named as the successor of Schacht as Minister of Economics.

The next day, February 5, there were screaming headlines in the Voelkischer Beobachter: STRONGEST CONCENTRATION OF ALL POWERS IN THE FUEHRER'S HANDS! For once, the leading daily Nazi newspaper did not exaggerate.

February 4, 1938, is a major turning point in the history of the Third Reich, a milestone on its road to war. On that date the Nazi revolution, it might be said, was completed. The last of the conservatives who stood in the way of Hitler's embarking upon the course which he had long determined to follow, once Germany was sufficiently armed, were swept away. Blomberg, Fritsch and Neurath had been put in office by Hindenburg and the old-school conservatives to act as a brake upon Nazi excesses, and Schacht had joined them. But in the struggle for control of the foreign and economic policy and the military power of Germany they proved to be no match for Hitler. They had neither the moral strength nor the political shrewdness to stand up to him, let alone to triumph over him. Schacht quit. Neurath stepped aside. Blomberg, under pressure from his own brother generals, resigned. Fritsch, though he was framed in gangster fashion, accepted his dismissal without a gesture of defiance. Sixteen top generals meekly accepted theirs -- and his. There was talk in the officer corps of a military putsch, but only talk. Hitler's contempt for the Prussian officer caste, which he held till the end of his life, proved quite justified. It had accepted with scarcely a murmur the officially condoned murder of Generals von Schleicher and von Bredow. It was swallowing supinely now the cashiering of its senior officers. Was not Berlin swarming with younger generals eager to replace them, eager to serve him? Where was the vaunted solidarity of the Army officers? Was it not a myth?

For five years up to this winter day of February 4, 1938, the Army had possessed the physical power to overthrow Hitler and the Third Reich. When it learned on November 5, 1937, where he was leading it and the nation, why did it not attempt to do so? Fritsch himself gave the answer after his fall. On Sunday, December 18, 1938, he entertained the deposed Ambassador von Hassell at his manor house at Achterberg, near Soltau, which the Army had put at his disposal after his retirement. Hassell noted down in his diary "the substance of his views":

"This man -- Hitler -- is Germany's destiny for good and for evil. If he now goes over the abyss -- which Fritsch believes he will -- he will drag us all down with him. There is nothing we can do." [13]

With foreign, economic and military policy concentrated in his hands and the armed forces directly under his command, Hitler now proceeded on his way. Having got rid of Fritsch without giving him the opportunity of clearing his name, he belatedly afforded him the opportunity by setting up a military court of honor to hear the case. Field Marshal Goering presided and at his side were the commanders in chief of the Army and Navy, General von Brauchitsch and Admiral Raeder, and two professional judges of the Supreme War Tribunal.

The trial, from which the press and the public were excluded, began in Berlin on March 10, 1938, and was suddenly suspended before the day was over. Late on the previous night news had come from Austria which sent the Fuehrer into one of his greatest tantrums. [vii] Field Marshal Goering and General von Brauchitsch were urgently needed elsewhere.



i. The astute French ambassador, Francois-Poncet, who knew him well, says in his book The Fateful Years (p. 221) that at one time Schacht had hoped to succeed Hindenburg as President, and even Hitler, "should things go ill with the Fuehrer."

ii. On March I, 1935, the day Germany took over the Saar, I stood next to Fritsch in the reviewing stand at Saarbruecken for some time before the parade started. Although he scarcely knew me, except as one of the many American correspondents in Berlin, he poured out a running fire of sarcastic remarks about the S.S., the party and various Nazi leaders from Hitler on down. He did not disguise his contempt for them all. See Berlin Diary, p. 27.

iii. This cost Hossbach his job two days later, but not, as some feared, his life. He was restored to the Army General Staff, rose during the war to the rank of General of the Infantry and commanded the Fourth Army on the Russian front until abruptly dismissed by Hitler by telephone on January 28, 1945, for withdrawing his troops in defiance of the Fuehrer's orders.

iv. The name is supplied by Gisevius in To the Bitter End, p. 229.

v. According to Milton Shulman (Defeat in the West, p. 10), Hitler himself intervened with the first Frau von Brauchitsch in order to obtain her consent to the divorce and helped provide a financial settlement for her, thus putting the Army Commander in Chief under personal obligation to him. Shulman gives as his source a Canadian Army intelligence report.

vi. To divert attention from the military crisis and to save something of Neurath's prestige both at home and abroad, Hitler, at Goering's suggestion, created the so-called Secret Cabinet Council (Geheimer Kabinettsrat) whose purpose, said the Fuehrer's February 4 decree, was to furnish him "guidance in the conduct of foreign policy." Neurath was appointed its president, and its members included Keitel and the chiefs of the three armed services as well as the most important members of the ordinary cabinet and of the party. Goebbels' propaganda machine gave it much fanfare, making it look as if it were a supercabinet and that Neurath actually had been promoted. Actually the Secret Cabinet Council was pure fiction. It never existed. As Goering testified at Nuremberg, "There was, to be sure, no such cabinet in existence, but the expression would sound quite nice and everyone would imagine that it meant something ... I declare under oath that this Secret Cabinet Council never met at all, not even for a minute." [12]

vii. When Papen arrived at the Chancellery in Berlin thirty-six hours later he found Hitler still "in a state bordering on hysteria." (Papen, Memoirs, p. 428.)
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Sun Feb 04, 2018 10:36 pm

Part 1 of 2


TOWARD THE END OF 1937, due to a change of jobs from newspaper to radio reporting, my headquarters were transferred from Berlin to Vienna, which I had come to know as a youthful correspondent a decade before. Though I would spend most of the period of the next three crucial years in Germany, my new assignment, which was to cover continental Europe, gave me a certain perspective of the Third Reich and, as it happened, set me down in those very neighboring countries which were to be victims of Hitler's aggression just prior to and during the time the aggression took place. I roved back and forth in those days between Germany and the country that for the moment was the object of Hitler's fury and so gathered a firsthand experience of the events which are now to be described and which led inexorably to the greatest and bloodiest war in man's experience. Though we observed these happenings at first hand, it is amazing how little we really knew of how they came about. The plottings and maneuvers, the treachery, the fateful decisions and moments of indecision, and the dramatic encounters of the principal participants which shaped the course of events took place in secret beneath the surface, hidden from the prying eyes of foreign diplomats, journalists and spies, and thus for years remained largely unknown to all but a few who took part in them.

We have had to wait for the maze of secret documents and the testimony of the surviving leading actors in the drama, most of whom were not free at the time -- many landed in Nazi concentration camps -- to tell their story. What follows, therefore, in the ensuing pages is based largely on the mass of factual evidence which has been accumulated since 1945. But it was perhaps helpful for a narrator of such a history as this to have been personally present at its main crises and turning points. Thus, it happened that I was in Vienna on the memorable night of March 11-12, 1938, when Austria ceased to exist.

For more than a month the beautiful baroque capital by the Danube, whose inhabitants were more attractive, more genial, more gifted in enjoying life, such as it was, than any people I had ever known, had been prey to deep anxieties. Dr. Kurt von Schuschnigg, the Austrian Chancellor, would later recall the period between February 12 and March 11 as "The Four Weeks' Agony." Since the Austro-German agreement of July 11, 1936, in which Schuschnigg, in a secret annex to the treaty, had made far-reaching concessions to the Austrian Nazis, [i] Franz von Papen, Hitler's special ambassador in Vienna, had been continuing his labors to undermine the independence of Austria and bring about its union with Nazi Germany. In a long report to the Fuehrer at the end of 1936, he had reported on his progress and a year later had done the same, this time stressing "that only by subjecting the Federal Chancellor [Schuschnigg] to the strongest possible pressure can further progress be made." [1] His advice, though scarcely needed, was soon to be taken more literally than even he could conceive.

Throughout 1937, the Austrian Nazis, financed and egged on by Berlin, had stepped up their campaign of terror. Bombings took place nearly every day in some part of the country, and in the mountain provinces massive and often violent Nazi demonstrations weakened the government's position. Plans were uncovered disclosing that Nazi thugs were preparing to bump off Schuschnigg as they had his predecessor. Finally on January 25, 1938, Austrian police raided the Vienna headquarters of a group called the Committee of Seven, which had been set up to bring about peace between the Nazis and the Austrian government, but which in reality served as the central office of the illegal Nazi underground. There they found documents initialed by Rudolf Hess, the Fuehrer's deputy, which made it clear that the Austrian Nazis were to stage an open revolt in the spring of 1938 and that when Schuschnigg attempted to put it down, the German Army would enter Austria to prevent "German blood from being shed by Germans." According to Papen, one of the documents called for his own murder or that of his military attache, Lieutenant General Muff, by local Nazis so as to provide an excuse for German intervention.  [2]

If the debonair Papen was less than amused to learn that he was marked -- for the second time -- for assassination by Nazi roughnecks on orders from party leaders in Berlin, he was also distressed by a telephone call which came to him at the German Legation in Vienna on the evening of February 4. State Secretary Hans Lammers was on the line from the Chancellery in Berlin to inform him that his special mission in Austria had ended. He had been fired, along with Neurath, Fritsch and several others.

"I was almost speechless with astonishment," Papen later remembered.3 He recovered sufficiently to realize that Hitler evidently had decided on more drastic action in Austria, now that he had rid himself of Neurath, Fritsch and Blomberg. In fact, Papen recovered sufficiently to decide to do "something unusual for a diplomat," as he put it. He resolved to deposit copies of all his correspondence with Hitler "in a safe place," which turned out to be Switzerland. "The defamatory campaigns of the Third Reich," he says, "were only too well known to me." As we have seen, they had almost cost him his life in June 1934.

Papen's dismissal was also a warning to Schuschnigg. He had not fully trusted the suave former cavalry officer, but he was quick to see that Hitler must have something worse in mind than inflicting on him the wily ambassador, who at least was a devout Catholic, as was he, and a gentleman. In the last few months the course of European diplomacy had not favored Austria. Mussolini had drawn closer to Hitler since the establishment of the Rome-Berlin Axis and was not so concerned about maintaining the little country's independence as he had been at the time of the murder of Dollfuss, when he had rushed four divisions to the Brenner Pass to frighten the Fuehrer. Neither Britain, freshly embarked under Chamberlain upon a policy of appeasing Hitler, nor France, beset by grave internal political strife, had recently shown much interest in defending Austria's independence should Hitler strike. And now, with Papen, had gone the conservative leaders of the German Army and Foreign Office, who had exercised some restraining influence on Hitler's towering ambitions. Schuschnigg, who was a narrow-minded man but, within his limits, an intelligent one, and who was quite well informed, had few illusions about his worsening situation. The time had come, as he felt it had come after the Nazis slew Dollfuss, to further appease the German dictator.

Papen, discharged from office though he was, offered an opportunity. Never a man to resent a slap in the face if it came from above, he had hurried to Hitler the very day after his dismissal "to obtain some picture of what was going on." At Berchtesgaden on February 5, he found the Fuehrer "exhausted and distrait" from his struggle with the generals. But Hitler's recuperative powers were considerable, and soon the cashiered envoy was interesting him in a proposal that he had already broached to him a fortnight before when they had met in Berlin: Why not have it out with Schuschnigg personally? Why not invite him to come to Berchtesgaden for a personal talk? Hitler found the idea interesting. Unmindful of the fact that he had just fired Papen, he ordered him to return to Vienna and arrange the meeting.

Schuschnigg readily assented to it, but, weak as his position was, laid down certain conditions. He must be informed in advance of the precise points which Hitler wanted to discuss, and he must be assured beforehand that the agreement of July 11, 1936, in which Germany promised to respect Austria's independence and not to interfere in her internal affairs, would be maintained. Furthermore, the communique at the end of the meeting must reaffirm that both countries would continue to abide by the 1936 treaty. Schuschnigg wanted to take no chances in bearding the lion in his den. Papen hurried off to Obersalzberg to confer with Hitler and returned with the Fuehrer's assurance that the 1936 agreement would remain unchanged and that he merely wanted to discuss "such misunderstandings and points of friction as have persisted" since it was signed. This was not as precise as the Austrian Chancellor had requested, but he said he was satisfied with the answer. The meeting was set for the morning of February 12, [ii] and on the evening of February II Schuschnigg, accompanied by his Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs, Guido Schmidt, set off by special train in the strictest secrecy for Salzburg, whence he would drive by car over the border to Hitler's mountain retreat on the following morning. It was to prove a fateful journey.


Papen showed up at the frontier to greet his Austrian visitors and in the frosty winter morning air seemed to be, Schuschnigg thought, "in the very best of humor." Hitler, he assured his guests, was in an excellent mood this day. And then came the first warning note. The Fuehrer, Papen said genially, hoped Dr. Schuschnigg would not mind the presence at the Berghof of three generals who had arrived quite by chance: Keitel, the new Chief of OKW, Reichenau, who commanded the Army forces on the Bavarian-Austrian frontier, and Sperrle, who was in charge of the Air Force in this area.

Papen later remembered of his guests that this was "a piece of information that seemed little to their taste." Schuschnigg says he told the ambassador he would not mind, especially since he had "not much choice in the matter." A Jesuit-trained intellectual, he was getting on his guard.

Even so, he was not prepared for what now took place. Hitler, wearing the brown tunic of a storm trooper, with black trousers, and flanked by the three generals, greeted the Austrian Chancellor and his aide on the steps of the villa. Schuschnigg felt it was a friendly but formal greeting. In a few moments he found himself alone with the German dictator in the spacious second-floor study whose great picture windows looked out upon the stately, snow-capped Alps and on Austria, the birthplace of both these men, beyond.

Kurt von Schuschnigg, forty-one years old, was, as all who have known him would agree, a man of impeccable Old World Austrian manners, and it was not unnatural for him to begin the conversation with a graceful tidbit about the magnificent view, the fine weather that day, and a flattering word about this room having been, no doubt, the scene of many decisive conferences. Adolf Hitler cut him short: "We did not gather here to speak of the fine view or of the weather." Then the storm broke. As the Austrian Chancellor later testified, the ensuing two-hour "conversation was somewhat unilateral." [iii]

You have done everything to avoid a friendly policy [Hitler fumed] ... The whole history of Austria is just one uninterrupted act of high treason. That was so in the past and is no better today. This historical paradox must now reach its long-overdue end. And I can tell you right now, Herr Schuschnigg, that I am absolutely determined to make an end of all this. The German Reich is one of the great powers, and nobody will raise his voice if it settles its border problems.

Shocked at Hitler's outburst, the quiet-mannered Austrian Chancellor tried to remain conciliatory and yet stand his ground. He said he differed from his host on the question of Austria's role in German history. "Austria's contribution in this respect," he maintained, "is considerable."

HITLER: Absolutely zero. I am telling you, absolutely zero. Every national idea was sabotaged by Austria throughout history; and indeed all this sabotage was the chief activity of the Hapsburgs and the Catholic Church. [iv]

SCHUSCHNIGG: All the same, Herr Reichskanzler, many an Austrian contribution cannot possibly be separated from the general picture of German culture. Take for instance a man like Beethoven ...

HITLER: Oh -- Beethoven? Let me tell you that Beethoven came from the lower Rhineland.

SCHUSCHNIGG:Yet Austria was the country of his choice, as it was for so many others ...

HITLER: That's as may be. I am telling you once more that things cannot go on in this way. I have a historic mission, and this mission I will fulfill be· cause Providence has destined me to do so ... who is not with me will be crushed ... I have chosen the most difficult road that any German ever took; I have made the greatest achievement in the history of Germany, greater than any other German. And not by force, mind you. I am carried along by the love of my people ...

SCHUSCHNIGG: Herr Reichskanzler, I am quite willing to believe that.

After an hour of this, Schuschnigg asked his antagonist to enumerate his complaints. "We will do everything," he said, "to remove obstacles to a better understanding, as far as it is possible."

HITLER: That is what you say, Herr Schuschnigg. But I am telling you that I am going to solve the so-called Austrian problem one way or the other.

He then launched into a tirade against Austria for fortifying its border against Germany, a charge that Schuschnigg denied.

HITLER: Listen, you don't really think you can move a single stone in Austria without my hearing about it the next day, do you? ... I have only to give an order, and in one single night all your ridiculous defense mechanisms will be blown to bits. You don't seriously believe that you can stop me for half an hour, do you? ... I would very much like to save Austria from such a fate, because such an action would mean blood. After the Army, my S.A. and Austrian Legion would move in, and nobody can stop their just revenge -- not even I.

After these threats, Hitler reminded Schuschnigg (rudely addressing him always by his name instead of by his title, as diplomatic courtesy called for) of Austria's isolation and consequent helplessness.

HITLER: Don't think for one moment that anybody on earth is going to thwart my decisions. Italy? I see eye to eye with Mussolini ... England? England will not move one finger for Austria ... And France?

France, he said, could have stopped Germany in the Rhineland "and then we would have had to retreat. But now it is too late for France." Finally:

HITLER: I give you once more, and for the last time, the opportunity to come to terms, Herr Schuschnigg. Either we find a solution now or else events will take their course ... Think it over, Herr Schuschnigg, think it over well. I can only wait until this afternoon ...

What exactly were the German Chancellor's terms? Schuschnigg asked.

"We can discuss that this afternoon," Hitler said.

During lunch Hitler appeared to be, Schuschnigg observed somewhat to his surprise, "in excellent spirits." His monologue dwelt on horses and houses. He was going to build the greatest skyscrapers the world had ever seen. "The Americans will see," he remarked to Schuschnigg, "that Germany is building bigger and better buildings than the United States." As for the harried Austrian Chancellor, Papen noted that he appeared "worried and preoccupied." A chain cigarette smoker, he had not been allowed to smoke in Hitler's presence. But after coffee in an adjoining room, Hitler excused himself and Schuschnigg was able for the first time to snatch a smoke. He was also able to tell his Foreign Undersecretary, Guido Schmidt, the bad news. It was soon to grow worse.

After cooling their heels for two hours in a small anteroom, the two Austrians were ushered into the presence of Ribbentrop, the new German Foreign Minister, and of Papen. Ribbentrop presented them with a two-page typewritten draft of an "agreement" and remarked that they were Hitler's final demands and that the Fuehrer would not permit discussion of them. They must be signed forthwith. Schuschnigg says he felt relieved to have at least something definite from Hitler. But as he perused the document his relief evaporated. For here was a German ultimatum calling on him, in effect, to turn the Austrian government over to the Nazis within one week.

The ban against the Austrian Nazi Party was to be lifted, all Nazis in jail were to be amnestied and the pro-Nazi Viennese lawyer Dr. Seyss-Inquart was to be made Minister of the Interior, with authority over the police and security. Another pro-Nazi, Glaise-Horstenau, was to be appointed Minister of War, and the Austrian and German armies were to establish closer relations by a number of measures, including the systematic exchange of one hundred officers. "Preparations will be made," the final demand read, "for the assimilation of the Austrian into the German economic system. For this purpose Dr. Fischboeck [a pro-Nazi] will be appointed Minister of Finance." [5]

Schuschnigg, as he later wrote, realized at once that to accept the ultimatum would mean the end of Austria's independence.

Ribbentrop advised me to accept the demands at once. I protested, and referred him to my previous agreement with von Papen, made prior to coming to Berchtesgaden, and made clear to Ribbentrop that I was not prepared to be confronted with such unreasonable demands ... [6]

But was Schuschnigg prepared to accept them? That he was not prepared to be confronted with them was obvious even to a dullard such as Ribbentrop. The question was: Would he sign them? In this difficult and decisive moment the young Austrian Chancellor began to weaken. He inquired lamely, according to his own account, "whether we could count on the good will of Germany, whether the Reich government had at least the intention to keep its side of the bargain." [7] He says he received an answer "in the affirmative."

Then Papen went to work on him. The slippery ambassador admits to his "amazement" when he read the ultimatum. It was an "unwarrantable interference in Austrian sovereignty." Schuschnigg says Papen apologized to him and expressed his "complete surprise" at the terms. Nevertheless, he advised the Austrian Chancellor to sign them.

He furthermore informed me that I could be assured that Hitler would take care that, if I signed, and acceded to these demands, from that time on Germany would remain loyal to this agreement and that there would be no further difficulties for Austria. [8]

Schuschnigg, it would appear from the above statements, the last given in an affidavit at Nuremberg, was not only weakening but letting his naivete get the best of him.

He had one last chance to make a stand. He was summoned again to Hitler. He found the Fuehrer pacing excitedly up and down in his study.

HITLER: Herr Schuschnigg ... here is the draft of the document. There is nothing to be discussed. I will not change one single iota. You will either sign it as it is and fulfill my demands within three days, or I will order the march into Austria. [9]

Schuschnigg capitulated. He told Hitler he was willing to sign. But he reminded him that under the Austrian constitution only the President of the Republic had the legal power to accept such an agreement and carry it out. Therefore, while he was willing to appeal to the President to accept it, he could give no guarantee.

"You have to guarantee it!" Hitler shouted.

"I could not possibly, Herr Reichskanzler," Schuschnigg says he replied. [10]

At this answer [Schuschnigg later recounted] Hitler seemed to lose his self-control. He ran to the doors, opened them, and shouted, "General Keitel!" Then turning back to me, he said, "I shall have you called later." [11]

This was pure bluff, but the harassed Austrian Chancellor, who had been made aware of the presence of the generals all day, did not perhaps know it. Papen relates that Keitel told later of how Hitler greeted him with a broad grin when he rushed in and asked for orders. "There are no orders," Hitler chuckled. "I just wanted to have you here."

But Schuschnigg and Dr. Schmidt, waiting outside the Fuehrer's study, were impressed. Schmidt whispered that he would not be surprised if the both of them were arrested within the next five minutes. Thirty minutes later Schuschnigg was again ushered into the presence of Hitler.

I have decided to change my mind -- for the first time in my life [Hitler said]. But I warn you this is your very last chance. I have given you three additional days to carry out the agreement. [12]

That was the extent of the German dictator's concessions, and though the wording of the final draft was somewhat softened, the changes, as Schuschnigg later testified, were inconsequential. Schuschnigg signed. It was Austria's death warrant.

The behavior of men under duress differs according to their character and is often puzzling. That Schuschnigg, a veteran despite his comparative youth of the rough and tumble of politics which had seen his predecessor murdered by the Nazis, was a brave man few would doubt. Yet his capitulation to Hitler on February 11, 1938, under the terrible threat of armed attack has left a residue of unresolved doubts among his fellow countrymen and the observers and historians of this fateful period. Was surrender necessary? Was there no alternative? It would be a rash man who would argue that Britain and France, in view of their subsequent behavior in the face of Hitler's aggressions, might have come to the aid of Austria had Hitler then and there marched in. But up to this moment Hitler had not yet broken across the German borders nor had he prepared his own people and the world for any such act of wanton aggression. The German Army itself was scarcely prepared for a war should France and Britain intervene. In a few weeks Austria, as a result of the Berchtesgaden "agreement," would be softened up by the local Nazis and German machinations to a point where Hitler could take it with much less risk of foreign intervention than on February 11. Schuschnigg himself, as he later wrote, recognized that acceptance of Hitler's terms meant "nothing else but the complete end of the independence of the Austrian government."

Perhaps he was in a daze from his ordeal. After signing away his country's independence at the point of a gun he indulged in a strange conversation with Hitler which he himself later recorded in his book. "Does the Herr Reichskanzler," he asked, "believe that the various crises in the world today can be solved in a peaceful manner?" The Fuehrer answered fatuously that they could -- "if my advice were followed." Whereupon Schuschnigg said, apparently with no sign of sarcasm, "At the moment the state of the world looks rather promising, don't you think?" [13]

Such an utterance at such a moment seems incredible, but that is what the beaten Austrian Chancellor says he said. Hitler had one more humiliation to administer to him. When Schuschnigg suggested that in the press release of their meeting mention be made that their discussion reaffirmed the July 1936 agreement, Hitler exclaimed, "Oh, no! First you have to fulfill the conditions of our agreement. This is what is going to the press: 'Today the Fuehrer and Reichskanzler conferred with the Austrian Bundeskanzler at the Berghof.' That's all."

Declining the Fuehrer's invitation to stay for dinner, Schuschnigg and Schmidt drove down from the mountains to Salzburg. It was a gray and foggy winter night. The ubiquitous Papen accompanied them as far as the frontier and was somewhat uncomfortable in what he terms the "oppressive silence." He could not refrain from trying to cheer his Austrian friends up.

"Well, now," he exclaimed to them, "you have seen what the Fuehrer can be like at times! But the next time I am sure it will be different. You know, the Fuehrer can be absolutely charming." [v]


Hitler had given Schuschnigg four days -- until Tuesday, February 15 -- to send him a "binding reply" that he would carry out the ultimatum, and an additional three days -- until February 18 -- to fulfill its specific terms. Schuschnigg returned to Vienna on the morning of February 12 and immediately sought out President Miklas. Wilhelm Miklas was a plodding, mediocre man of whom the Viennese said that his chief accomplishment in life had been to father a large brood of children. But there was in him a certain peasant solidity, and in this crisis at the end of fifty-two years as a state official he was to display more courage than any other Austrian. He was willing to make certain concessions to Hitler such as amnestying the Austrian Nazis, but he balked at putting Seyss-Inquart in charge of the police and the Army. Papen duly reported this to Berlin on the evening of February 14. He said Schuschnigg hoped "to overcome the resistance of the President by tomorrow."

At 7: 30 that same evening Hitler approved orders drawn up by General Keitel to put military pressure on Austria.

Spread false, but quite credible news, which may lead to the conclusion of military preparations against Austria.[14]

As a matter of fact, Schuschnigg had hardly departed from Berchtesgaden when the Fuehrer began shamming military action in order to see that the Austrian Chancellor did as he was told. Jodl jotted it all down in his diary.

February 13. In the afternoon General K[eitel] asks Admiral C[anaris] [vi] and myself to come to his apartment. He tells us that the Fuehrer's order is that military pressure by shamming military action should be kept up until the 15th. Proposals for these measures are drafted and submitted to the Fuehrer by telephone for approval.

February 14. The effect is quick and strong. In Austria the impression is created that Germany is undertaking serious military preparations. [15]

General Jodl was not exaggerating. Before the threat of armed invasion President Miklas gave in and on the last day of grace, February 15, Schuschnigg formally advised Ambassador von Papen that the Berchtesgaden agreement would be carried out before February 18. On February 16 the Austrian government announced a general amnesty for Nazis, including those convicted in the murder of Dollfuss, and made public the reorganized cabinet, in which Arthur Seyss-Inquart was named Minister of Security. The next day this Nazi Minister hurried off to Berlin to see Hitler and receive his orders.

Seyss-Inquart, the first of the quislings, was a pleasant-mannered, intelligent young Viennese lawyer who since 1918 had been possessed with a burning desire to see Austria joined with Germany. This was a popular notion in the first years after the war. Indeed, on November 12, 1918, the day after the armistice, the Provisional National Assembly in Vienna, which had just overthrown the Hapsburg monarchy and proclaimed the Austrian Republic, had tried to effect an Anschluss by affirming that "German Austria is a component part of the German Republic." The victorious Allies had not allowed it and by the time Hitler came to power in 1933 there was no doubt that the majority of Austrians were against their little country's joining with Nazi Germany. But to Seyss-Inquart, as he said at his trial in Nuremberg, the Nazis stood unflinchingly for the Anschluss and for this reason he gave them his support. He did not join the party and took no part in its rowdy excesses. He played the role, rather, of a respectable front for the Austrian Nazis, and after the July 1936 agreement, when he was appointed State Councilor, he concentrated his efforts, aided by Papen and other German officials and agents, in burrowing from within. Strangely, both Schuschnigg and Miklas seem to have trusted him almost to the end. Later Miklas, a devout Catholic as was Schuschnigg, confessed that he was favorably impressed by the fact that Seyss was "a diligent churchgoer." The man's Catholicism and also the circumstance that he, like Schuschnigg, had served in a Tyrolean Kaiserjaeger regiment during the First World War, in which he was severely wounded, seems to have been the basis of the trust which the Austrian Chancellor had for him. Schuschnigg, unfortunately, had a fatal inability to judge a man on more substantial grounds. Perhaps he thought he could keep his new Nazi Minister in line by simple bribes. He himself tells in his book of the magic effect of $500 on Seyss-Inquart a year before when he threatened to resign as State Councilor and then reconsidered on the receipt of this paltry sum. But Hitler had the bigger prizes to dazzle before the ambitious young lawyer, as Schuschnigg was soon to learn.

On February 20 Hitler made his long-expected speech to the Reichstag, which had been postponed from January 30 because of the Blomberg-Fritsch crisis and his own machinations against Austria. Though he spoke warmly of Schuschnigg's "understanding" and of his "warmhearted willingness" to bring about a closer understanding between Austria and Germany -- a piece of humbug which impressed Prime Minister Chamberlain -- the Fuehrer issued a warning which, however much lost on London, did not fall upon deaf ears in Vienna -- and in Prague.

Over ten million Germans live in two of the states adjoining our frontiers . . There must be no doubt about one thing. Political separation from the Reich may not lead to deprivation of rights -- that is, the general rights of self-determination. It is unbearable for a world power to know there are racial comrades at its side who are constantly being afflicted with the severest suffering for their sympathy or unity with the whole nation, its destiny and its Weltanschauung. To the interests of the German Reich belong the protection of those German peoples who are not in a position to secure along our frontiers their political and spiritual freedom by their own efforts. [16]

That was blunt, public notice that henceforth Hitler regarded the future of the seven million Austrians and the three million Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia as the affair of the Third Reich.

Schuschnigg answered Hitler four days later -- on February 24 -- in a speech to the Austrian Bundestag, whose members, like those of the German Reichstag, were hand-picked by a one-party dictatorial regime. Though conciliatory toward Germany, Schuschnigg emphasized that Austria had gone to the very limit of concessions "where we must call a halt and say: 'Thus far and no further.'" Austria, he said, would never voluntarily give up its independence, and he ended with a stirring call: "Red-White-Red [the Austrian national colors] until we're dead!" (The expression also rhymes in German.)

"The twenty-fourth of February," Schuschnigg wrote after the war, "was for me the crucial date." He awaited anxiously the Fuehrer's reaction to his defiant speech. Papen telegraphed to Berlin the next day advising the Foreign Office that the speech should not be taken too seriously. Schuschnigg, he said, had expressed his rather strong nationalist feelings in order to retrieve his domestic position; there were plots in Vienna to overthrow him because of his concessions at Berchtesgaden. In the meantime, Papen informed Berlin, "the work of Seyss-Inquart ... is proceeding according to plan." [17] The next day Papen, his long years of devious work in Austria nearing fruition, took formal leave of the Austrian Chancellor and set off for Kitzbuehl to do some skiing.

Hitler's speech of February 20, which had been broadcast by the Austrian radio network, had set off a series of massive Nazi demonstrations throughout Austria. On February 24, during the broadcast of Schuschnigg's reply, a wild mob of twenty thousand Nazis in Graz had invaded the town square, torn down the loudspeakers, hauled down the Austrian flag and raised the swastika banner of Germany. With Seyss-Inquart in personal command of the police, no effort was made to curb the Nazi outbreaks. Schuschnigg's government was breaking down. Not only political but economic chaos was setting in. There were large withdrawals of accounts from the banks both from abroad and by the local people. Cancellation of orders from uneasy foreign firms poured into Vienna. The foreign tourists, one of the main props of the Austrian economy, were being frightened away. Toscanini cabled from New York that he was canceling his appearance at the Salzburg Festival, which drew tens of thousands of tourists each summer, "because of political developments in Austria." The situation was becoming so desperate that Otto of Hapsburg, the exiled youthful pretender to the throne, sent a letter from his home in Belgium and, as Schuschnigg later revealed, implored him on his old oath of allegiance as a former officer of the Imperial Army to appoint him as Chancellor if he thought such a step might save Austria.

In his desperation Schuschnigg turned to the Austrian workers whose free trade unions and political party, the Social Democrats, he had kept suppressed after Dollfuss had brutally smashed them in 1934. These people had represented 42 per cent of the Austrian electorate, and if at any time during the past four years the Chancellor had been able to see beyond the narrow horizons of his own clerical-fascist dictatorship and had enlisted their support for a moderate, anti-Nazi democratic coalition the Nazis, a relatively small minority, could have been easily handled. But Schuschnigg had lacked the stature to take such a step. A decent, upright man as a human being, he had become possessed, as had certain others in Europe, with a contempt for Western democracy and a passion for authoritarian one-party rule.

Out of the factories and the prisons, from which many of them recently had been released along with the Nazis, the Social Democrats came in a body on March 4 to respond to the Chancellor's call. Despite all that had happened they said they were ready to help the government defend the nation's independence. All they asked was what the Chancellor had already conceded to the Nazis: the right to have their own political party and preach their own principles. Schuschnigg agreed, but it was too late.

On March 3 the always well-informed General Jodl noted in his diary: "The Austrian question is becoming critical. 100 officers shall be dispatched here. The Fuehrer wants to see them personally. They should not see to it that the Austrian armed forces will fight better against us, but rather that they do not fight at all."

At this crucial moment, Schuschnigg decided to make one more final, desperate move which he had been mulling over in his mind since the last days of February when the Nazis began to take over in the provinces. He would hold a plebiscite. He would ask the Austrian people whether they were for a "free, independent, social, Christian and united Austria -- Ja oder Nein?" [vii]

I felt that the moment for a clear decision had come [he wrote later]. It seemed irresponsible to wait with fettered hands until, in the course of some weeks, we should be gagged as well. The gamble now was for stakes which demanded the ultimate and supreme effort. [19]

Shortly after his return from Berchtesgaden, Schuschnigg had apprised Mussolini, Austria's protector, of Hitler's threats and had received an immediate reply from the Duce that Italy's position on Austria remained unchanged. Now on March 7 he sent his military attache in Rome to Mussolini to inform him that in view of events he "was probably going to have to resort to a plebiscite." The Italian dictator answered that it was a mistake -- "C' e un errore!" He advised Schuschnigg to hold to his previous course. Things were improving; an impending relaxation of relations between Rome and London would do much to ease the pressure. It was the last Schuschnigg ever heard from Mussolini.

On the evening of March 9, Schuschnigg announced in a speech at Innsbruck that a plebiscite would be held in four days -- on Sunday, March 13. The unexpected news sent Adolf Hitler into a fit of fury. Jodi's diary entry of March 10 described the initial reaction in Berlin:

By surprise and without consulting his Ministers, Schuschnigg ordered a plebiscite for Sunday, March 13 ...

Fuehrer is determined not to tolerate it. The same night, March 9 to 10, he calls for Goering. General v. Reichenau is called back from Cairo Olympic Committee. General v. Schobert [commander of the Munich Military District on the Austrian border] is ordered to come, as well as [Austrian] Minister Glaise-Horstenau, who is .. . in the Palatinate ... Ribbentrop is being detained in London. Neurath takes over the Foreign Office. [20]

The next day, Thursday, March 10, there was a great bustle in Berlin. Hitler had decided on a military occupation of Austria and there is no doubt that his generals were taken by surprise. If Schuschnigg's plebiscite on Sunday were to be prevented by force the Army would have to move into Austria by Saturday, and there were no plans for such a hasty move. Hitler summoned Keitel for 10 A.M., but before hurrying to the Fuehrer the General conferred with Jodl and General Max von Viebahn, chief of the Fuehrungsstab (Operations Staff) of OKW. The resourceful Jodi remembered Special Case Otto which had been drawn up to counter an attempt to place Otto of Hapsburg on the Austrian throne. Since it was the only plan that existed for military action against Austria, Hitler decided it would have to do. "Prepare Case Otto," he ordered.

Keitel raced back to OKW headquarters in the Bendlerstrasse to confer with General Beck, Chief of the General Staff. When he asked for details of the Otto plan, Beck replied, "We have prepared nothing, nothing has been done, nothing at all." Beck in turn was summoned to the Reich Chancellery. Seizing General von Manstein, who was about to leave Berlin to take up a divisional post, he drove with him over to see Hitler, who told them the Army must be ready to march into Austria by Saturday. Neither of the generals offered any objection to this proposal for armed aggression. They were merely concerned with the difficulty of improvising military action on such short notice. Manstein, returning to the Bendlerstrasse, set to work to draft the necessary orders, finishing his task within five hours, at 6 P.M. At 6:30 P.M., according to Jodl's diary, mobilization orders went out to three Army corps and the Air Force. At 2 A.M. the next morning, March 11, Hitler issued Directive Number One for Operation Otto. Such was his haste that he neglected to sign it, and his signature was not obtained until 1 P.M.


1. If other measures prove unsuccessful, I intend to invade Austria with armed forces to establish constitutional conditions and to prevent further outrages against the pro-German population.

2. The whole operation will be directed by myself....

4. The forces of the Army and Air Force detailed for this operation must be ready for invasion on March 12, 1938, at the latest by 12:00 hours ...

5. The behavior of the troops must give the impression that we do not want to wage war against our Austrian brothers... . Therefore any provocation is to be avoided. If, however, resistance is offered it must be broken ruthlessly by force of arms.... [21]

A few hours later Jodl issued supplemental "top-secret" orders on behalf of the Chief of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces:

1. If Czechoslovakian troops or militia units are encountered in Austria, they are to be regarded as hostile.

2. The Italians are everywhere to be treated as friends, especially as Mussolini has declared himself disinterested in the solution of the Austrian question.  [22]

Hitler had been worried about Mussolini. On the afternoon of March 10, as soon as he had decided on military invasion, he had sent off by special plane Prince Philip of Hesse, with a letter to the Duce (dated March 11) informing him of the action he contemplated and asking for the Italian dictator's understanding. The letter, a tissue of lies concerning his treatment of Schuschnigg and conditions in Austria, which he assured the Duce were "approaching a state of anarchy," began with such a fraudulent argument that Hitler had it omitted when the letter was later published in Germany. [viii] He stated that Austria and Czechoslovakia were plotting to restore the Hapsburgs and preparing "to throw the weight of a mass of at least twenty million men against Germany." He then outlined his demands to Schuschnigg, which, he assured Mussolini, "were more than moderate," told of Schuschnigg's failure to carry them out and spoke of the "mockery" of "a so-called plebiscite."

In my responsibility as Fuehrer and Chancellor of the German Reich and likewise as a son of this soil, I can no longer remain passive in the face of these developments.

I am now determined to restore law and order in my homeland and enable the people to decide their own fate according to their judgment in an unmistakable, clear and open manner ....

Whatever the manner may be in which this plebiscite is to be carried out, I now wish solemnly to assure Your Excellency, as the Duce of Fascist Italy:

1. Consider this step only as one of national self-defense and therefore as an act that any man of character would do in the same way, were he in my position. You too, Excellency, could not act differently if the fate of Italians were at stake... .

2. In a critical hour for Italy I proved to you the steadfastness of my sympathy. Do not doubt that in the future there will be no change in this respect.

3. Whatever the consequences of the coming events may be, I have drawn a definite boundary between Germany and France and now draw one just as definite between Italy and us. It is the Brenner . . [ix]

Always in friendship,


Unmindful of the feverish goings on over the border in the Third Reich, Dr. Schuschnigg went to bed on the evening of March 10 firmly convinced, as he later testified, that the plebiscite would be a success for Austria and that the Nazis "would present no formidable obstacle." [x] Indeed, that evening Dr. Seyss-Inquart had assured him that he would support the plebiscite and even broadcast a speech in its favor.

At half past five on the morning of Friday, March 11, the Austrian Chancellor was wakened by the ringing of the telephone at his bedside. Dr. Skubl, the Austrian chief of police, was speaking. The Germans had closed the border at Salzburg, he said. Rail traffic between the two countries had been halted. German troops were reported concentrating on the Austrian frontier.

By 6: 15 Schuschnigg was on his way to his office at the Ballhausplatz, but he decided to stop first at St. Stephen's Cathedral. There in the first dim light of dawn while early mass was being read he sat restlessly in his pew thinking of the ominous message from the chief of police. "I was not quite sure what it meant," he later recalled. "I only knew that it would bring some change." He gazed at the candles burning in front of the image of Our Lady of Perpewal Succor, looked furtively around and then made the sign of the cross, as countless Viennese had done before this figure in past times of stress.

At the Chancellery all was quiet; not even any disturbing dispatches had arrived during the night from Austria's diplomats abroad. He called police headquarters and asked tllat as a precautionary measure a police cordon be thrown around the Inner City and the government buildings. He also convoked his cabinet colleagues. Only Seyss-Inquart failed to show up. Schuschnigg could not locate him anywhere. Actually the Nazi Minister was out at the Vienna airport. Papen, summarily summoned to Berlin the night before, had departed by special plane at 6 A.M. and Seyss had seen him off. Now the Number One quisling was waiting for the Number Two -- Glaise-Horstenau, like Seyss a minister in Schuschnigg's cabinet, like him already deep in treason, who was due to arrive from Berlin with Hitler's orders on what they were to do about the plebiscite.

The orders were to call it off, and these were duly presented to Schuschnigg by the two gentlemen at 10 A.M. along with the information that Hitler was furious. After several hours of consultations with President Miklas, his cabinet colleagues and Dr. Skubl, Schuschnigg agreed to cancel the plebiscite. The police chief had reluctantly told him that the police, liberally sprinkled with Nazis who had been restored to their posts in accordance with the Berchtesgaden ultimatum, could no longer be counted on by the government. On the other hand, Schuschnigg felt sure that the Army and the militia of the Patriotic Front -- the official authoritarian party in Austria -- would fight. But at this crucial moment Schuschnigg decided -- he says, in fact, that his mind had long been made up on the matter -- that he would not offer resistance to Hitler if it meant spilling German blood. Hitler was quite willing to do this, but Schuschnigg shrank back from the very prospect.

At 2 P.M. he called in Seyss-Inquart and told him that he was calling off the plebiscite. The gentle Judas immediately made for the telephone to inform Goering in Berlin. But in the Nazi scheme of things one concession from a yielding opponent must lead quickly to another. Goering and Hitler then and there began raising the ante. The minute-by-minute account of how this was done, of the threats and the swindles employed, was recorded -- ironically enough -- by Goering's own Forschungsamt, the "Institute for Research," which took down and transcribed twenty-seven telephone conversations from the Field Marshal's office beginning at 2:45 P.M. on March 11. The documents were found in the German Air Ministry after the war and constitute an illuminating record of how Austria's fate was settled by telephone from Berlin during the next few critical hours. [24]

During Seyss's first call to Goering at 2:45 P.M. the Field Marshal told him that Schuschnigg's cancellation of the plebiscite was not enough and that after talking with Hitler he would call him back. This he did at 3:05. Schuschnigg, he ordered, must resign, and Seyss-Inquart must be named Chancellor within two hours. Goering also told Seyss then to "send the telegram to the Fuehrer, as agreed upon." This is the first mention of a telegram that was to pop up throughout the frantic events of the next few hours and which would be used to perpetrate the swindle by which Hitler justified his aggression to the German people and to the foreign offices of the world.

Wilhelm Keppler, Hitler's special agent in Austria, arriving in the afternoon from Berlin to take charge in Papen's absence, had shown Seyssl. Inquart the text of a telegram he was to send the Fuehrer. It requested the dispatch of German troops to Austria to put down disorder. In his Nuremberg affidavit, Seyss declared that he refused to send such a wire since there were no disorders. Keppler, insisting that it would have to be done, hurried to the Austrian Chancellery, where he was brazen enough to set up an emergency office along with Seyss and Glaise-Horstenau. Why Schuschnigg allowed such interlopers and traitors to establish themselves physically in the seat of the Austrian government at this critical hour is incomprehensible, but he did. Later he remembered the Chancellery as looking "like a disturbed beehive," with Seyss-Inquart and Glaise-Horstenau holding "court" in one comer "and around them a busy coming and going of strange-looking men"; but apparently it never occurred to the courteous but dazed Chancellor to throw them out.

He had made up his mind to yield to Hitler's pressure and resign. While still closeted with Seyss he had put through a telephone call to Mussolini, but the Duce was not immediately available and a few minutes later Schuschnigg canceled the call. To ask for Mussolini's help, he decided, "would be a waste of time." Even Austria's pompous protector was deserting her in the hour of need. A few minutes later, when Schuschnigg was trying to talk President Miklas into accepting his resignation, a message came from the Foreign Office: "The Italian government declares that it could give no advice under the circumstances, in case such advice should be asked for." [25]
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Sun Feb 04, 2018 10:37 pm

Part 2 of 2

President Wilhelm Miklas was not a great man, but he was a stubborn, upright one. He reluctantly accepted Schuschnigg's resignation but he refused to make Seyss-Inquart his successor. "That is quite impossible," he said. "We will not be coerced." He instructed Schuschnigg to inform the Germans that their ultimatum was refused. [26]

This was promptly reported by Seyss-Inquart to Goering at 5:30 P.M.

SEYSS-INQUART: The President has accepted the resignation [of Schuschnigg] ... I suggested he entrust the Chancellorship to me ... but he would like to entrust a man like Ender ...

GOERING: Well, that won't do! Under no circumstances! The President has to be informed immediately that he has to turn the powers of the Federal Chancellor over to you and to accept the cabinet as it was arranged.

There was an interruption at this point. Seyss-Inquart put a Dr. Muehlmann, a shadowy Austrian Nazi whom Schuschnigg had noticed lurking in the background at Berchtesgaden and who was a personal friend of Goering, on the line.

MUEHLMANN: The President still refuses persistently to give his consent. We three National Socialists went to speak to him personally ... He would not even let us see him. So far, it looks as if he were not willing to give in.

GOERING: Give me Seyss. [To Seyss] Now, remember the following: You go immediately together with Lieutenant General Muff [the German military attache] and tell the President that if the conditions are not accepted immediately, the troops which are already advancing to the frontier will march in tonight along the whole line, and Austria will cease to exist ... Tell him there is no time now for any joke. The situation now is that tonight the invasion will begin from all the corners of Austria. The invasion will be stopped and the troops held on the border only if we are informed by seven-thirty that Miklas has entrusted you with the Federal Chancellorship ... Then can out the National Socialists all over the country. They should now be in the streets. So remember, a report must be given by seven-thirty. If Miklas could not understand it in four hours, we shall make him understand it now in four minutes.

But still the resolute President held out.

At 6:30 Goering was back on the phone to Keppler and Seyss-Inquart. Both reported that President Miklas refused to go along with them.

GOERING: Well, then, Seyss-Inquart has to dismiss him! Just go upstairs again and ten him plainly that Seyss will call on the National Socialist guards and in five minutes the troops will march in on my order.

After this order General Muff and Keppler presented to the President a second military ultimatum threatening that if he did not yield within an hour, by 7: 30, German troops would march into Austria. "I informed the two gentlemen," Miklas testified later, "that I refused the ultimatum ... and that Austria alone determines who is to be the head of government."

By this time the Austrian Nazis had gained control of the streets as well as of the Chancellery. About six that evening, returning from the hospital where my wife was fighting for her life after a difficult childbirth which had ended with a Caesarean operation, I had emerged from the subway at the Karlsplatz to find myself engulfed in a shouting, hysterical Nazi mob which was sweeping toward the Inner City. These contorted faces I had seen before, at the Nuremberg party rallies. They were yelling, "Sieg Heil! Sieg Heil! Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! Hang Schuschnigg! Hang Schuschnigg!" The police, whom only a few hours before I had seen disperse a small Nazi group without any trouble, were standing by, grinning.

Schuschnigg heard the tramp and the shouts of the mob, and the sounds impressed him. He hurried to the President's office to make a final plea. But, he says:

President Miklas was adamant. He would not appoint a Nazi as Austrian Chancellor. On my insistence that he appoint Seyss-Inquart he said again: "You all desert me now, all of you." But I saw no other possibility than Seyss-Inquart. With the little hope I had left I clung to all the promises he had made me, I clung to his personal reputation as a practicing Catholic and an honest man. [27]

Schuschnigg clung to his illusions to the last.

The fallen Chancellor then proposed that he make a farewell broadcast and explain why he had resigned. He says that Miklas agreed, though the President would later dispute it. It was the most moving broadcast I have ever heard. The microphone was set up some five paces from where Dollfuss had been shot to death by the Nazis.

... The German government [Schuschnigg said] today handed to President Miklas an ultimatum, with a time limit, ordering him to nominate as Chancellor a person designated by the German government ... otherwise German troops would invade Austria.

I declare before the world that the reports launched in Germany concerning disorders by the workers, the shedding of streams of blood and the creation of a situation beyond the control of the Austrian government are lies from A to Z. President Miklas has asked me to tell the people of Austria that we have yielded to force since we are not prepared even in this terrible hour to shed blood. We have decided to order the troops to offer no resistance. [xi]

So I take leave of the Austrian people with a German word of farewell, uttered from the depth of my heart: God protect Austria!

The Chancellor might take leave but the stubborn President was not yet ready to. Goering learned this when he phoned General Muff shortly after Schuschnigg's broadcast. "The best thing will be if Miklas resigns," Goering told him.

"Yes, but he won't," Muff rejoined. "It was very dramatic. I spoke to him almost fifteen minutes. He declared that under no circumstances will he yield to force."

"So? He will not give in to force?" Goering could not believe the words.

"He does not yield to force," the General repeated.

"So he just wants to be kicked out?"

"Yes," said Muff. "He is staying put."

"Well, with fourteen children," Goering laughed, "a man has to stay put. Anyway, tell Seyss to take over."

There was still the matter of the telegram which Hitler wanted in order to justify his invasion. The Fuehrer, according to Papen, who had joined him at the Chancellery in Berlin, was now "in a state bordering on hysteria." The stubborn Austrian President was fouling up his plans. So was Seyss-Inquart, because of his failure to send the telegram calling on Hitler to send troops into Austria to quell disorder. Exasperated beyond enduring, Hitler flashed the invasion order at 8: 45 P.M. on the evening of March 11. [xii] Three minutes later, at 8: 48, Goering was on the phone to Keppler in Vienna.

Listen carefully. The following telegram should be sent here by Seyss-Inquart. Take the notes.

"The provisional Austrian Government, which after the resignation of the Schuschnigg Government considers it its task to establish peace and order in Austria, sends to the German Government the urgent request to support it in the task and to help it to prevent bloodshed. For this purpose it asks the German Government to send German troops as soon as possible."

Keppler assured the Field Marshal he would show Seyss-Inquart the text of the "telegram" immediately.

"Well," Goering said, "he does not even have to send the telegram. All he needs to do is say 'Agreed.'"

One hour later Keppler called back Berlin. "Tell the Field Marshal," he said, "that Seyss-Inquart agrees." [xiii]

Thus it was that when I passed through Berlin the next day I found a screaming headline in the Voelkischer Beobachter: GERMAN AUSTRIA SAVEDFROMCHAOS. There were incredible stories hatched up by Goebbels describing Red disorders -- fighting, shooting, pillaging -- in the main streets of Vienna. And there was the text of the telegram, issued by D.N.B., the official German news agency, which said that it had been dispatched by Seyss-Inquart to Hitler the night before. Actually two copies of the "telegram," just as Goering had dictated it, were found in the German Foreign Office archives at the end of the war. Papen later explained how they got there. They were concocted, he says, sometime later by the German Minister of Posts and Telegraph and deposited in the government files.

Hitler had waited anxiously throughout the frenzied afternoon and evening not only for President Miklas to capitulate but for some word from Mussolini. The silence of Austria's protector was becoming ominous. At 10:25 P.M. Prince Philip of Hesse called the Chancellery from Rome. Hitler himself grabbed the telephone. Goering's technicians recorded the conversation that followed:

PRINCE: I have just come back from the Palazzo Venezia. The Duce accepted the whole thing in a very friendly manner. He sends you his regards.... Schuschnigg gave him the news ... Mussolini said that Austria would be immaterial to him.

Hitler was beside himself with relief and joy.

HITLER: Then, please tell Mussolini I will never forget him for this!

PRINCE: Yes, sir.

HITLER: Never, never, never, no matter what happens! I am ready to make a quite different agreement with him.

PRINCE: Yes, sir. I told him that too.

HITLER: As soon as the Austrian affair has been settled I shall be ready to go with him through thick and thin -- through anything!

PRINCE: Yes, my Fuehrer.

HITLER: Listen! I shall make any agreement. I am no longer in fear of the terrible position which would have existed militarily in case we had gotten into a conflict. You may tell him that I do thank him from the bottom of my heart. Never, never shall I forget it.

PRINCE: Yes, my Fuehrer.

HITLER: I shall never forget him for this, no matter what happens. If he should ever need any help or be in any danger, he can be convinced that I shall stick to him whatever may happen, even if the whole world gangs up on him.

PRINCE: Yes, my Fuehrer.

And what stand were Great Britain and France and the League of Nations taking at this critical moment to halt Germany's aggression against a peaceful neighboring country? None. For the moment France was again without a government. On Thursday, March 10, Premier Chautemps and his cabinet had resigned. All through the crucial day of Friday, March 11, when Goering was telephoning his ultimatums to Vienna, there was no one in Paris who could act. It was not until the Anschluss had been proclaimed on the thirteenth that a French government was formed under Leon Blum.

And Britain? On February 20, a week after Schuschnigg had capitulated at Berchtesgaden, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden had resigned, principally because of his opposition to further appeasement of Mussolini by Prime Minister Chamberlain. He was replaced by Lord Halifax. This change was welcomed in Berlin. So was Chamberlain's statement to the Commons after the Berchtesgaden ultimatum. The German Embassy in London reported fully on it in a dispatch to Berlin on March 4. [31] Chamberlain was quoted as saying that "what happened [at Berchtesgaden] was merely that two statesmen had agreed upon certain measures for the improvement of relations between their two countries ... It appeared hardly possible to insist that just because two statesmen had agreed on certain domestic changes in one of two countries -- changes desirable in the interest of relations between them -- the one country had renounced its independence in favor of the other. On the contrary, the Federal Chancellor's speech of February 24 contained nothing that might convey the impression that the Federal Chancellor [Schuschnigg] himself believed in the surrender of the independence of his country."

In view of the fact that the British Legation in Vienna, as I myself learned at the time, had provided Chamberlain with the details of Hitler's Berchtesgaden ultimatum to Schuschnigg, this speech, which was made to the Commons on March 2, is astounding. [xiv] But it was pleasing to Hitler. He knew that he could march into Austria without getting into complications with Britain. On March 9, Ribbentrop, the new German Foreign Minister, had arrived in London to wind up his affairs at the embassy, where he had been ambassador. He had long talks with Chamberlain, Halifax, the King and the Archbishop of Canterbury. His impressions of the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary, he reported back to Berlin, were "very good." After a long conference with Lord Halifax, Ribbentrop reported directly to Hitler on March 10 as to what Britain would do "if the Austrian question cannot be settled peacefully." Basically he was convinced from his London talks "that England will do nothing in regard to Austria." [33]

On Friday, March 11, Ribbentrop was lunching at Downing Street with the Prime Minister and his associates when a Foreign Office messenger broke in with urgent dispatches for Chamberlain telling of the startling news from Vienna. Only a few minutes before, Chamberlain had asked Ribbentrop to inform the Fuehrer "of his sincere wish and firm determination to clear up German-British relations." Now, at the receipt of the sour news from Austria, the statesmen adjourned to the Prime Minister's study, where Chamberlain read to the uncomfortable German Foreign Minister two telegrams from the British Legation in Vienna telling of Hitler's ultimatum. "The discussion," Ribbentrop reported to Hitler, "took place in a tense atmosphere and the usually calm Lord Halifax was more excited than Chamberlain, who outwardly at least appeared calm and coolheaded." Ribbentrop expressed doubts about "the truth of the reports" and this seems to have calmed down his British hosts, for "our leave-taking," he reported, "was entirely amiable, and even Halifax was calm again." [xv] [34]

Chamberlain's reaction to the dispatches from Vienna was to instruct Ambassador Henderson in Berlin to pen a note to Acting Foreign Minister von Neurath stating that if the report of the German ultimatum to Austria was correct, "His Majesty's Government feel bound to register a protest in the strongest terms." [35] But a formal diplomatic protest at this late hour was the least of Hitler's worries. The next day, March 12, while German troops were streaming into Austria, Neurath returned a contemptuous reply, 36 declaring that Austro-German relations were the exclusive concern of the German people and not of the British government, and repeating the lies that there had been no German ultimatum to Austria and that troops had been dispatched only in answer to "urgent" appeals from the newly formed Austrian government. He referred the British ambassador to the telegram, "already published in the German press." [xvi]

Hitler's only serious worry on the evening of March 11 had been over Mussolini's reaction to his aggression, [xvii] but there was some concern in Berlin too as to what Czechoslovakia might do. However, the indefatigable Goering quickly cleared this up. Busy though he was at the telephone directing the coup in Vienna, he managed to slip over during the evening to the Haus der Flieger, where he was official host to a thousand high-ranking officials and diplomats, who were being entertained at a glittering soiree by the orchestra, the singers and the ballet of the State Opera. When the Czech minister in Berlin, Dr. Mastny, arrived at the gala fete he was immediately taken aside by the bemedaled Field Marshal, who told him on his word of honor that Czechoslovakia had nothing to fear from Germany, that the entry of the Reich's troops into Austria was "nothing more than a family affair" and that Hitler wanted to improve relations with Prague. In return he asked for assurances that the Czechs would not mobilize. Dr. Mastny left the reception, telephoned to his Foreign Minister in Prague, and returned to the hall to tell Goering that his country was not mobilizing and that Czechoslovakia had no intention of trying to interfere with events in Austria. Goering was relieved and repeated his assurances, adding that he was authorized to back them up by Hitler's word too.

It may have been that even the astute Czech President, Eduard Benes, did not have time to realize that evening that Austria's end meant Czechoslovakia's as well. There were some in Europe that weekend who thought the Czech government was shortsighted, who argued that in view of the disastrous strategic position in which Czechoslovakia would be left by the Nazi occupation of Austria -- with German troops surrounding her on three sides -- and considering too that her intervention to help save Austria might have brought Russia, France and Britain, as well as the League of Nations, into a conflict with the Third Reich which the Germans were in no condition to meet, the Czechs should have acted on the night of March 11. But subsequent events, which shortly will be chronicled here, surely demolish any such argument. A little later when the two big Western democracies and the League had a better opportunity of stopping Hitler they shrank from it. Anyway, at no time on the eventful day did Schuschnigg make a formal appeal to London, Paris, Prague or Geneva. Perhaps, as his memoirs indicate, he thought this would be a waste of time. Presi· dent Miklas, on the other hand, was under the impression, as he later testified, that the Austrian government, which immediately had informed Paris and London of the German ultimatum, was continuing "conversations" with the French and British governments throughout the afternoon in order to ascertain their "frame of mind."

When it became clear that their "frame of mind" was to do nothing more than utter empty protests President Miklas, a little before midnight, gave in. He appointed Seyss-Inquart Chancellor and accepted his list of cabinet ministers. "I was completely abandoned both at home and abroad," he commented bitterly later.

Having issued a grandiose proclamation to the German people in which he justified his aggression with his usual contempt for the truth and promised that the Austrian people would choose their future in "a real plebiscite" -- Goebbels read it over the German and Austrian radio stations at noon on March 12 -- Hitler set off for his native land. He received a tumultuous welcome. At every village, hastily decorated in his honor, there were cheering crowds. During the afternoon he reached his first goal, Linz, where he had spent his school days. The reception there was delirious and Hitler was deeply touched. The next day, after getting off a telegram to Mussolini -- "I shall never forget you for this!" -- he laid a wreath on the graves of his parents at Leonding and then returned to Linz to make a speech:

When years ago I went forth from this town I bore within me precisely the same profession of faith which today fills my heart. Judge the depth of my emotion when after so many years I have been able to bring that profession of faith to its fulfillment. If Providence once called me forth from this town to be the leader of the Reich, it must in so doing have charged me with a mission, and that mission could only be to restore my dear homeland to the German Reich. I have believed in this mission, I have lived and fought for it, and I believe I have now fulfilled it.

On the afternoon of the twelfth, Seyss-Inquart, accompanied by Himmler, had flown to Linz to meet Hitler and had proudly proclaimed that Article 88 of the Treaty of St. Germain, which proclaimed Austria's independence as inalienable and made the League of Nations its guarantor; had been voided. To Hitler, carried away by the enthusiasm of the Austrian crowds, this was not enough. He ordered Dr. Wilhelm Stuckart, an undersecretary in the Ministry of the Interior who had been rushed by his Minister, Frick, to Vienna to draft a law making Hitler President of Austria, to come at once to Linz. Somewhat to the surprise of this legal expert, the Fuehrer instructed him, as he later deposed at Nuremberg, to "draft a law providing for a total Anschluss." [39]

This draft Stuckart presented to the newly formed Austrian government in Vienna on Sunday, March 13, the day on which Schuschnigg's plebiscite was to have been held. President Miklas, as we have seen, refused to sign it, but Seyss-Inquart, who had taken over the President's powers, did and late that evening flew back to Linz to present it to the Fuehrer. It proclaimed the end of Austria. "Austria," it began, "is a province of the German Reich." Hitler shed tears of joy, Seyss-Inquart later recalled. [40] The so-called Anschluss law was also promulgated the same day at Linz by the German government and signed by Hitler, Goering, Ribbentrop, Frick and Hess. It provided for "a free and secret plebiscite" on April 10 in which the Austrians could determine "the question of reunion with the German Reich." The Reich Germans, Hitler announced on March 18, were also to have a plebiscite on the Anschluss, along with new elections to the Reichstag.

Hitler did not make his triumphal entry into Vienna, where he had lived so long as a tramp, until the afternoon of Monday, March 14. He was delayed by two unforeseen developments. Despite the delirium of the Austrians at the prospect of seeing the Fuehrer in the capital, Himmler asked for an extra day to perfect security arrangements. He was already carrying out the arrest of thousands of "unreliables" -- within a few weeks the number would reach 79,000 in Vienna alone. Also the vaunted German panzer units had broken down long before they got within sight of Vienna's hills. According to Jodl, some 70 per cent of the armored vehicles were stranded on the road from Salzburg and Passau to Vienna, though General Guderian, who commanded the panzer troops, later contended that only 30 per cent of his forces became stalled. At any rate, Hitler was furious at the delay. He remained in Vienna only overnight, putting up at the Hotel Imperial.

Still, this triumphant return to the former imperial capital which he felt had rejected him and condemned him in his youth to a starved and miserable gutter life and which was now acclaiming him with such tumultuous jubilation could not have failed to revive his spirits. The ubiquitous Papen, rushing by plane from Berlin to Vienna to get in on the festivities, found Hitler in the reviewing stand opposite the Hofburg, the ancient palace of the Hapsburgs. "I can only describe him," Papen later wrote, "as being in a state of ecstasy." [xviii]

He remained in this state during most of the next four weeks, when he traversed Germany and Austria from one end to the other whipping up public fervor for a big la vote in favor of the Anschluss. But in his exuberant speeches he missed no opportunity to vilify Schuschnigg or to peddle the by now shopworn lies about how the Anschluss was achieved. In his address to the Reichstag on March 18 he asserted that Schuschnigg had "broken his word" by his "election forgery," adding that "only a crazy, blinded man" could have behaved in such a manner. On March 25 at Koenigsberg the "election forgery" had become in Hitler's mind "this ridiculous comedy." Letters had been found, Hitler claimed, proving that Schuschnigg had deliberately double-crossed him by seeking delays in augmenting the Berchtesgaden agreement until "a more propitious hour to stir up foreign countries against Germany."

In Koenigsberg Hitler also answered the taunts of the foreign press at his use of brutal force and his trickery in having proclaimed the Anschluss without even waiting for the decision of the plebiscite:

Certain foreign newspapers have said that we fell on Austria with brutal methods. I can only say: even in death they cannot stop lying. I have in the course of my political struggle won much love from my people, but when I crossed the former frontier [into Austria] there met me such a stream of love as I have never experienced. Not as tyrants have we come, but as liberators ... Under the force of this impression I decided not to wait until April tenth but to effect the unification forthwith ...

If this sounded less than logical -- or honest -- to foreign ears, there is no doubt that it made a great impression on the Germans. When at the conclusion of his Reichstag speech Hitler implored, in a voice choked with emotion, "German people, give me another four years so that I can now exploit the accomplished union for the benefit of all!" he received an ovation so overwhelming that it dwarfed all his former triumphs at this tribune.

The Fuehrer wound up his election campaign in Vienna on April 9, on the eve of the polling. The man who had once tramped the pavements of this city as a vagabond, unwashed and empty-bellied, who but four years before had assumed in Germany the powers of the Hohenzollern kings and had now taken upon himself those of the Hapsburg emperors, was full of a sense of God-given mission.

I believe that it was God's will to send a youth from here into the Reich, to let him grow up, to raise him to be the leader of the nation so as to enable him to lead back his homeland into the Reich.

There is a higher ordering and we all are nothing else than its agents. When on March 9 Herr Schuschnigg broke his agreement, then in that second I felt that now the call of Providence had come to me. And that which then took place in three days was only conceivable as the fulfillment of the wish and the will of this Providence.

In three days the Lord has smitten them! ... And to me the grace was given on the day of the betrayal to be able to unite my homeland with the Reich! ...

I would now give thanks to Him who let me return to my homeland in order that I might now lead it into my German Reich! Tomorrow may every German recognize the hour and measure its import and bow in humility before the Almighty, who in a few weeks has wrought a miracle upon us!

That a majority of Austrians, who undoubtedly would have said Ja to Schuschnigg on March 13, would say the same to Hitler on April 10 was a foregone conclusion. Many of them sincerely believed that ultimate union with any kind of Germany, even a Nazi Germany, was a desirable and inevitable end, that Austria, cut off from its vast Slavic and Hungarian hinterland in 1918, could not in the long run exist decently by itself, that it could only survive as part of the German Reich. In addition to these Austrians were the fanatical Nazis whose ranks were swelling rapidly with jobseekers and jobholders attracted by success and anxious to improve their position. Many Catholics in this overwhelmingly Catholic country were undoubtedly swayed by a widely publicized statement of Cardinal Innitzer welcoming Nazism to Austria and urging a Ja vote. [xix]

In a fair and honest election in which the Social Democrats and Schuschnigg's Christian Socials would have had freedom to campaign openly the plebiscite, in my opinion, might have been close. As it was, it took a very brave Austrian to vote No. As in Germany, and not without reason, the voters feared that their failure to cast an affirmative ballot might be found out. In the polling station which I visited in Vienna that Sunday afternoon, wide slits in the comer of the polling booths gave the Nazi election committee sitting a few feet away a good view of how one voted. In the country districts few bothered -- or dared -- to cast their ballots in the secrecy of the booth; they voted openly for all to see. I happened to broadcast at seven-thirty that evening, a half hour after the polls had closed, when few votes had yet been counted. A Nazi official assured me before the broadcast that the Austrians were voting 99 per cent la. That was the figure officially given later -- 99.08 per cent in Greater Germany, 99.75 in Austria.

And so Austria, as Austria, passed for a moment out of history, its very name suppressed by the revengeful Austrian who had now joined it to Germany. The ancient German word for Austria, Oesterreich, was abolished. Austria became the Ostmark and soon even that name was dropped and Berlin administered the country by Gaue (districts) which corresponded roughly to the historic Laender such as Tyrol, Salzburg, Styria and Carinthia. Vienna became just another city of the Reich, a provincial district administrative center, withering away. The former Austrian tramp become dictator had wiped his native land off the map and deprived its once glittering capital of its last shred of glory and importance. Disillusionment among the Austrians was inevitable.

For the first few weeks the behavior of the Vienna Nazis was worse than anything I had seen in Germany. There was an orgy of sadism. Day after day large numbers of Jewish men and women could be seen scrubbing Schuschnigg signs off the sidewalk and cleaning the gutters. While they worked on their hands and knees with jeering storm troopers standing over them, crowds gathered to taunt them. Hundreds of Jews, men and women, were picked off the streets and put to work cleaning public latrines and the toilets of the barracks where the S.A. and the S.S. were quartered. Tens of thousands more were jailed. Their worldly possessions were confiscated or stolen. I myself, from our apartment in the Plosslgasse, watched squads of S.S. men carting off silver, tapestries, paintings and other loot from the Rothschild palace next door. Baron Louis de Rothschild himself was later able to buy his way out of Vienna by turning over his steel mills to the Hermann Goering Works. Perhaps half of the city's 180,000 Jews managed, by the time the war started, to purchase their freedom to emigrate by handing over what they owned to the Nazis.

This lucrative trade in human freedom was handled by a special organization set up under the S.S. by Heydrich, the "Office for Jewish Emigration," which became the sole Nazi agency authorized to issue permits to Jews to leave the country. Administered from the beginning to the end by an Austrian Nazi, a native of Hitler's home town of Linz by the name of Karl Adolf Eichmann, it was to become eventually an agency not of emigration but of extermination and to organize the slaughter of more than four million persons, mostly Jews. Himmler and Heydrich also took advantage of their stay in Austria during the first weeks of the Anschluss to set up a huge concentration camp at Mauthausen, on the north bank of the Danube near Enns. It was too much trouble to continue to transport thousands of Austrians to the concentration camps of Germany. Austria, Himmler decided, needed one of its own. Before the Third Reich tumbled to its fall the non-Austrian prisoners were to outnumber the local inmates and Mauthausen was to achieve the dubious record as the German concentration camp (the extermination camps in the East were something else) with the largest number of officially listed executions -- 35,318 in the six and a half years of its existence.

Despite the Gestapo terror led by Himmler and Heydrich after the Anschluss Germans flocked by the hundreds of thousands to Austria, where they could pay with their marks for sumptuous meals not available in Germany for years and for bargain-priced vacations amid Austria's matchless mountains and lakes. German businessmen and bankers poured in to buy up the concerns of dispossessed Jews and anti-Nazis at a fraction of their value. Among the smiling visitors was the inimitable Dr. Schacht, who, despite his quarrels with Hitler, was still a minister (without portfolio) in the Reich cabinet, still the president of the Reichsbank, and who was overjoyed with the Anschluss. Arriving to take over the Austrian National Bank on behalf of the Reichsbank even before the plebiscite, he addressed the staff of the Austrian bank on March 21. Ridiculing the foreign press for criticizing Hitler's methods of effecting the union, Dr. Schacht stoutly defended the methods, arguing that the Anschluss was "the consequence of countless perfidies and brutal acts of violence which foreign countries have practiced against us.

"Thank God ... Adolf Hitler has created a communion of German will and German thought. He bolstered it up with the newly strengthened Wehrmacht and he then finally gave the external form to the inner union between Germany and Austria....

"Not a single person will find a future with us who is not wholeheartedly for Adolf Hitler ... The Reichsbank will always be nothing but National Socialist or I shall cease to be its manager."

Whereupon Dr. Schacht administered to the Austrian staff an oath to be "faithful and obedient to the Fuehrer."

"A scoundrel he who breaks it!" Dr. Schacht cried, and then led his audience in the bellowing of a triple "Sieg Heil!" [42]

In the meantime Dr. Schuschnigg had been arrested and subjected to treatment so degrading that it is difficult to believe that it was not prescribed by Hitler himself. Kept under house arrest from March 12 until May 28, during which time the Gestapo contrived to prevent him from getting any sleep by the most petty devices, he was then taken to Gestapo headquarters at the Hotel Metropole in Vienna, where he was incarcerated in a tiny room on the fifth floor for the next seventeen months. There, with the towel issued to him for his personal use, he was forced to clean the quarters, washbasins, slop buckets and latrines of the S.S. guards and perform other various menial tasks thought up by the Gestapo. By March 11, the first anniversary of his fall, he had lost fifty-eight pounds, but the S.S. doctor reported that his condition was excellent. The years of solitary confinement and then of life "among the living dead" in some of the worst of the German concentration camps such as Dachau and Sachsenhausen that followed have been described by Dr. Schuschnigg in his book. [xx]

Shortly after his arrest he was allowed to marry by proxy the former Countess Vera Czernin, whose marriage had been annulled by an ecclesiastical court, [xxi] and in the last war years she was permitted to share his existence in the concentration camps along with their child, who was born in 1941. How they survived the nightmare of imprisonment is a miracle. Toward the end they were joined by a number of other distinguished victims of Hitler's wrath such as Dr. Schacht, Leon Blum, the former French Premier, and Madame Blum, Pastor Niemoeller, a host of high-ranking generals and Prince Philip of Hesse, whose wife, Princess Mafalda, the daughter of the King of Italy, had been done to death by the S.S. at Buchenwald in 1944 as part of the Fuehrer's revenge for Victor Emmanuel's desertion to the Allied side.

On May 1, 1945, the eminent group of prisoners, whp had been hastily evacuated from Dachau and transported southward to keep them from being liberated by the Americans advancing from the West, arrived at a village high in the mountains of southern Tyrol. The Gestapo officers showed Schuschnigg a list of those who, on Himmler's orders, were to be done away with before they fell into the hands of the Allies. Schuschnigg noted his own name and that of his wife, "neatly printed." His spirits fell. To have survived so much so long -- and then to be bumped off at the last minute!

On May 4, however, Schuschnigg was able to write in his diary:

At two o'clock this afternoon, alarm! The Americans!
An American detachment takes over the hotel.
We are free!

Without firing a shot and without interference from Great Britain, France and Russia, whose military forces could have overwhelmed him, Hitler had added seven million subjects to the Reich and gained a strategic position of immense value to his future plans. Not only did his armies flank Czechoslovakia on three sides but he now possessed in Vienna the gateway to Southeast Europe. As the capital of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, Vienna had long stood at the center of the communications and the trading systems of Central and Southeast Europe. Now that nerve center was in German hands.

Perhaps most important to Hitler was the demonstration again that neither Britain nor France would lift a finger to stop him. On March 14 Chamberlain had addressed the Commons on Hitler's fait accompli in Austria, and the German Embassy in London had got off to Berlin a succession of urgent telegrams on the course of the debate. There was not much for Hitler to fear. "The hard fact is," Chamberlain declared, "that nothing could have arrested what actually has happened [in Austria] -- unless this country and other countries had been prepared to use force."

The British Prime Minister, it became clear to Hitler, was unwilling not only to employ force but even to concert with the other Big Powers about halting Germany's future moves. On March 17 the Soviet government had proposed a conference of powers, within or without the League of Nations, to consider means of seeing that there was no further German aggression. Chamberlain took a chilly view of any such meeting and on March 24, in the House of Commons, publicly rejected it. "The inevitable consequence of any such action," he said, "would be to aggravate the tendency towards the establishment of exclusive groups of nations which must ... be inimical to the prospects of European peace." Apparently he overlooked, or did not take seriously, the Rome-Berlin Axis or the tripartite Anti-Comintern Pact of Germany, Italy and Japan.

In the same speech Chamberlain announced a decision of his government which must have been even more pleasing to Hitler. He bluntly rejected the suggestion not only that Britain should give a guarantee to come to the aid of Czechoslovakia in case she were attacked but also that Britain should support France if the French were called upon to implement their obligations under the Franco-Czech pact. This forthright statement eased Hitler's problems considerably. He now knew that Britain would also stand by when he took on his next victim. If Britain held back would not France also? As his secret papers of the next few months make clear, he was sure of it. And he knew that, by the terms of the Russian pacts with France and Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union was not obliged to come to the aid of the Czechs until the French moved first. Such knowledge was all that he needed to enable him to go ahead at once with his plans.

The reluctant German generals, Hitler could assume after the success of the Anschluss, would no longer stand in his way. If he had any doubts at all on this, they were removed by the denouement of the Fritsch affair.

As we have seen, [xxii] General von Fritsch's trial before a military court of honor on charges of homosexualism had been abruptly suspended on its opening day, March 10, when Field Marshal Goering and the commanders of the Army and Navy were convoked by Hitler to handle more urgent affairs in connection with Austria. The trial resumed on March 17, but in view of what had happened in the interval it was bound to be anticlimactic. A few weeks before, the senior generals had been confident that when the military court exposed the unbelievable machinations of Himmler and Heydrich against Fritsch not only would their fallen Commander in Chief be restored to his post in the Army but the S.S., perhaps even the Third Reich, possibly even Adolf Hitler, would be shaken to a fall. Vain and empty hope! On February 4, as has been recounted, Hitler had smashed the dreams of the old officer corps by taking over command of the armed forces himself and cashiering Fritsch and most of the high-ranking generals around him. Now he had conquered Austria without a shot. After this astounding triumph, nobody in Germany, not even the old generals, had much thought for General von Fritsch.

True, he was quickly cleared. After some browbeating from Goering, who could now pose as the fairest of judges, the blackmailing ex-convict, Schmidt, broke down in court and confessed that the Gestapo had threatened his life unless he implicated General von Fritsch -- a threat, incidentally, which was carried out anyway a few days later -- and that the similarity of names between Fritsch and Rittmeister von Frisch, whom he had actually blackmailed for homosexualism, had led to the frame-up. No attempt was made by Fritsch or the Army to expose the Gestapo's real role, nor the personal guilt of Himmler and Heydrich in cooking up the false charges. On the second day, March 18, the trial was concluded with the inevitable verdict: "Proven not guilty as charged, and acquitted."

It was a personal exoneration for General von Fritsch but it did not restore him to his command, nor the Army to its former position of some independence in the Third Reich. Since the trial was held in camera, the public knew nothing of it or of the issues involved. On March 25 Hitler sent a telegram to Fritsch congratulating him on his "recovery of health." That was all.

The deposed General, who had declined to point an accusing finger at Himmler in court, now made a final futile gesture. He challenged the Gestapo chief to a duel. The challenge, drawn up in strict accordance with the old military code of honor by General Beck himself, was given to General von Rundstedt, as the senior ranking Army officer, to deliver to the head of the S.S. But Rundstedt got cold feet, carried it around in his pocket for weeks and in the end forgot it.

General von Fritsch, and all he stood for, soon faded out of German life. But what did he stand for in the end? In December he was writing his friend Baroness Margot von Schutzbar a letter which indicated the pathetic confusion into which he, like so many of the other generals, had fallen.

It is really strange that so many people should regard the future with increasing fears, in spite of the Fuehrer's indisputable successes during the past years ...

Soon after the war I came to the conclusion that we should have to be victorious in three battles if Germany were to become powerful again:

1. The battle against the working class -- Hitler has won this.

2. Against the Catholic Church, perhaps better expressed against Ultra-montanism, and

3. Against the Jews.

We are in the midst of these battles and the one against the Jews is the most difficult. I hope everyone realizes the intricacies of this campaign. [43]

On August 7, 1939, as the war clouds darkened, he wrote the Baroness: "For me there is, neither in peace nor in war, any part in Herr Hitler's Germany. I shall accompany my regiment only as a target, because I cannot stay at home."

That is what he did. On August 11, 1938, he had been named colonel in chief of his old regiment, the 12th Artillery Regiment, a purely honorary title. On September 22, 1939, he was the target of a Polish machine gunner before beleaguered Warsaw, and four days later he was buried with full military honors in Berlin on a cold, rainy, dark morning, one of the dreariest days, according to my diary, I ever lived through in the capital.

With Fritsch's discharge as Commander in Chief of the German Army twenty months before, Hitler had won, as we have seen, a complete victory over the last citadel of possible opposition in Germany, the old, traditional Army officer caste. Now, in the spring of 1938, by his clever coup in Austria, he had further established his hold on the Army, demonstrating his bold leadership and emphasizing that he alone would make the decisions in foreign policy and that it was the Army's role merely to supply the force, or the threat of force. Moreover, he had given the Army, without the sacrifice of a man, a strategic position which rendered Czechoslovakia militarily indefensible. There was no time to lose in taking advantage of it.

On April 21, eleven days after the Nazi plebiscite on Austria, Hitler called in General Keitel, Chief of the High Command of the Armed Forces, to discuss Case Green.



 i. See above, p. 296.

 ii. Which happened to be the fourth anniversary of the slaughter of the Austrian  Social Democrats by the Dollfuss government, of which Schuschnigg was a member.  On February 12, 1934, seventeen thousand government troops and fascist militia  had turned artillery on the workers' flats in Vienna, killing a thousand men, women  and children and wounding three or four thousand more. Democratic political  freedom was stamped out and Austria thereafter was ruled first by Dollfuss and then  by Schuschnigg as a clerical-fascist dictatorship. It was certainly milder than the  Nazi variety, as those of us who worked in both Berlin and Vienna in those days  can testify. Nevertheless it deprived the Austrian people of their political freedom  and subjected them to more repression than they had known under the Hapsburgs  in the last decades of the monarchy. The author has discussed this more fully In  Midcentury Journey.

iii. Later Dr. Schuschnigg wrote down from memory an account of what he calls the "significant passages" of the one-sided conversation, and though it is therefore not a verbatim record it rings true to anyone who has heard and studied Hitler's countless utterances and its substance is verified not only by all that happened subsequently but by others who were present at the Berghof that day, notably Papen, Jodi and Guido Schmidt. I have followed Schuschnigg's account given in his book Austrian Requiem and in his Nuremberg affidavit on the meeting. [4]

iv. It is evident that Hitler's warped version of Austro-German history, which, as we have seen in earlier chapters, was picked up in his youth at Linz and Vienna, remained unchanged.
v. Papen's version (see his Memoirs, p. 420) is somewhat different, but that of  Schuschnigg rings more true.

vi. Wilhelm Canaris was head of the Intelligence Bureau (Abwehr) of OKW.

vii. According to the testimony of President Miklas during a trial of an Austrian Nazi  in Vienna after the war, the plebiscite was suggested to Schuschnigg by France.  Papen in his memoirs suggests that the French minister in Vienna, M. Puaux, a close  personal friend of the Chancellor, was the "father of the plebiscite idea." He concedes,  however, that Schuschnigg certainly adopted it on his own responsibility. [18]

viii. The stricken passages were found after the war in the archives of the Italian  Foreign Ministry.

ix. Drawing the frontier at the Brenner was a sop to Mussolini. It meant that Hitler would not be asking for the return of the southern Tyrol, which was taken from Austria and awarded to Italy at Versailles.

x. In all fairness, it should be pointed out that Schuschnigg's plebiscite was scarcely more free or democratic than those perpetrated by Hitler in Germany. Since there had been no free elections in Austria since 1933, there were no up-to-date polling lists. Only those persons above twenty-four were eligible to vote. Only four days' notice of the plebiscite had been given to the public, so there was no time for campaigning even if the opposition groups, the Nazis and the Social Democrats, had been free to do so. The Social Democrats undoubtedly would have voted la, since they regarded Schuschnigg as a lesser evil than Hitler and moreover had been promised the restoration of political freedom. There is no question that their vote would have given Schuschnigg a victory.
xi. In his postwar testimony already referred to, Miklas denied that he asked  Schuschnigg to say any such thing or that he even agreed that the broadcast should  be made. Contrary to what the retiring Chancellor said, the President was not yet  ready to yield to force. "Things have not gone so far that we must capitulate," he  says he told Schuschnigg. He had just turned down the second German ultimatum.  He was standing firm. But Schuschnigg's broadcast did help to undermine his  position and force his hand. As we shall see, the obstinate old President held out  for several hours more before capitulating. On March 13, he refused to sign the  Anschluss law snuffing out Austria's independent existence which Seyss-Inquart, at  Hitler's insistence, promulgated. Though he surrendered the functions of his office  to the Nazi Chancellor for as long as he was prevented from carrying them out, he  maintained that he never formally resigned as President. "It would have been too  cowardly," he later explained to a Vienna court. This did not prevent Seyss-Inquart  from announcing officially on March 13 that "the President, upon request of the  Chancellor," had "resigned from his office" and that his "affairs" were transferred  to the Chancellor. [28]

xii. Marked "Top Secret" and identified as Directive No. 2 of Operation Otto, it read in part: "The demands of the German ultimatum to the Austrian government have not been fulfilled ... To avoid further bloodshed in Austrian cities, the entry of the German armed forces into Austria will commence, according to Directive No. 1, at daybreak of March 12. I expect the set objectives to be reached by exerting all forces to the full as quickly as possible. (Signed) Adolf Hitler." [29]

xiii. Actually, Seyss-Inquart tried until long after midnight to get Hitler to call off the German invasion. A German Foreign Office memorandum reveals that at 2:10 A.M. on March 12 General Muff telephoned Berlin and stated that on the instructions of Chancellor Seyss-Inquart he was requesting that "the alerted troops should remain on, but not cross, the border." Keppler also came on the telephone to support the request. General Muff, a decent man and an officer of the old school,  seems to have been embarrassed by his role in Vienna. When he was informed by  Berlin that Hitler declined to halt his troops he replied that he "regretted this  message." [30]
 xiv. In his testimony at Nuremberg Guido Schmidt swore that both he and Schuschnigg  informed the envoys of the "Big Powers" of Hitler's ultimatum "in detail." [32] Moreover,  the Vienna correspondents of the Times and the Daily Telegraph of London,  to my knowledge, also telephoned their respective newspapers a full and accurate  report.

xv. Churchill has given an amusing description of this luncheon in The Gathering Storm (pp. 271-72).

xvi. The lies were repeated in a circular telegram dispatched by Baron von Weizsaecker of the Foreign Office March 12 to German envoys abroad for "information and orientation of your conversations." Weizsaecker stated that Schuschnigg's declaration concerning a German ultimatum "was sheer fabrication" and went on to inform his diplomats abroad: "The truth was that the question of sending military forces ... was first raised in the well-known telegram of the newly formed Austrian government. In view of the imminent danger of civil war, the Reich government decided to comply with this appeal." [37] Thus the German Foreign Office lied not only to foreign diplomats but to its own. In a long and ineffectual book written after the war Weizsaecker, like so many other Germans who served Hitler, maintained that he was anti-Nazi all along.

xvii. In his testimony at Nuremberg on August 9, 1946, Field Marshal von Manstein emphasized that "at the time when Hitler gave us the orders for Austria his chief worry was not so much that there might be interference on the part of the Western Powers, but his only worry was as to how Italy would behave, because it appeared that Italy always sided with Austria and the Hapsburgs." [38]

xviii. Yet underneath the ecstasy, and unnoticed by the shallow Papen, there may have burned in Hitler a feeling of revenge for a city and a people which had not appreciated him as a young man and which at heart he despised. This in part may have accounted for his brief stay. Though a few weeks later he would publicly say to the burgomaster of Vienna, "Be assured that this city is in my eyes a pearl -- I will bring it into a setting which is worthy of it," this was probably more electioneering propaganda than an expression of his inner feelings. These feelings were revealed to Baldur von 5chirach, the Nazi Governor and Gauleiter of Vienna during the war, at a heated meeting at the Berghof in 1943. Describing it during his testimony at Nuremberg, Schirach said:

Then the Fuehrer began with, I might say, incredible and unlimited hatred to speak against the people of Vienna... . At four o'clock in the morning Hitler suddenly said something which I should now like to repeat for historical reasons. He said: "Vienna should never have been admitted into the Union of the Greater Germany." Hitler never loved Vienna. He hated its people. [41]

Papen's own festive spirits on March 14 were spoiled that same day when he learned that Wilhelm von Ketteler, his close friend and aide at the German Legation, had disappeared under circumstances which indicated foul play by the Gestapo. Three years before, another friend and collaborator at the legation, Baron Tschirschky, had fled to England to escape certain death from the S.S. At the end of April Ketteler's body was fished out of the Danube, where Gestapo thugs in Vienna had thrown it after murdering him.

xix. A few months later, on October 8, the cardinal's palace opposite St. Stephen's  Cathedral was sacked by Nazi hooligans. Too late Innitzer had learned what  National Socialism was, and had spoken out in a sermon against the Nazi persecution  of his Church.

xx. Austrian Requiem.

xxi. At this time Schuschnigg was a widower.

xxii. See previous chapter.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Mon Feb 05, 2018 2:02 am

Part 1 of 4


CASE GREEN WAS THE CODE NAME of the plan for a surprise attack on Czechoslovakia. It had first been drawn up, as we have seen, on June 24, 1937, by Field Marshal von Blomberg, and Hitler had elaborated on it in his lecture to the generals on November 5, admonishing them that "the descent upon the Czechs" would have to be "carried out with lightning speed" and that it might take place "as early as 1938." [i]

Obviously, the easy conquest of Austria now made Case Green a matter of some urgency; the plan must be brought up to date and preparations for carrying it out begun. It was for this purpose that Hitler summoned Keitel on April 21 , 1938. On the following day, Major Rudolf Schmundt, the Fuehrer's new military aide, prepared a summary of the discussion, which was divided into three parts: "political aspects," "military conclusions" and "propaganda." [1]

Hitler rejected the "idea of strategic attack out of the blue without cause or possibility of justification" because of "hostile world opinion which might lead to a critical situation." He thought a second alternative, "action after a period of diplomatic discussions which gradually lead to a crisis and to war," was "undesirable because Czech (Green) security measures will have been taken." The Fuehrer preferred, at the moment at least, a third alternative: "Lightning action based on an incident (for example, the murder of the German minister in the course of an anti-German demonstration)." [ii] Such an "incident," it will be remembered, was at one time planned to justify a German invasion of Austria, when Papen was to have been the victim. In Hitler's gangster world German envoys abroad were certainly expendable.

The German warlord, as he now was -- since he had taken over personal command of the armed forces -- emphasized to General Keitel the necessity of speed in the operations.

The first four days of military action are, politically speaking, decisive. In the absence of outstanding military successes, a European crisis is certain to rise. Faits accomplis must convince foreign powers of the hopelessness of military intervention.

As for the propaganda side of the war, it was not yet time to call in Dr. Goebbels. Hitler merely discussed leaflets "for the conduct of the Germans in Czechoslovakia" and those which would contain "threats to intimidate the Czechs."

The Republic of Czechoslovakia, which Hitler was now determined to destroy, was the creation of the peace treaties, so hateful to the Germans, after the First World War. It was also the handiwork of two remarkable Czech intellectuals, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, a self-educated son of a coachman, who became a noted savant and the country's first President; and Eduard Benes, son of a peasant, who worked his way through the University of Prague and three French institutions of higher learning, and who after serving almost continually as Foreign Minister became the second President on the retirement of Masaryk in 1935. Carved out of the Hapsburg Empire, which in the sixteenth century had acquired the ancient Kingdom of Bohemia, Czechoslovakia developed during the years that followed its founding in 1918 into the most democratic, progressive, enlightened and prosperous state in Central Europe.

But by its very make-up of several different nationalities it was gripped from the beginning by a domestic problem which over twenty years it had not been able entirely to solve. This was the question of its minorities. Within the country lived one million Hungarians, half a million Ruthenians and three and a quarter million Sudeten Germans. These peoples looked longingly toward their "mother" countries, Hungary, Russia, and Germany respectively, though the Sudeteners had never belonged to the German Reich (except as a part of the loosely formed Holy Roman Empire) but only to Austria. At the least, these minorities desired more autonomy than they had been given.

Even the Slovaks, who formed a quarter of the ten million Czechoslovaks, wanted some measure of autonomy. Although racially and linguistically closely related to the Czechs, the Slovaks had developed differently -- historically, culturally and economically -- largely due to their centuries-old domination by Hungary. An agreement between Czech and Slovak emigres in America signed in Pittsburgh on May 30, 1918, had provided for the Slovaks' having their own government, parliament and courts. But the government in Prague had not felt bound by this agreement and had not kept it.

To be sure, compared to minorities in most other countries even in the West, even in America, those in Czechoslovakia were not badly off. They enjoyed not only full democratic and civil rights -- including the right to vote -- but to a certain extent were given their own schools and allowed to maintain their own cultural institutions. Leaders of the minority political parties often served as ministers in the central government. Nevertheless, the Czechs, not fully recovered from the effects of centuries of oppression by the Austrians, left a great deal to be desired in solving the minorities problem. They were often chauvinistic and frequently tactless. I recall from my own earlier visits to the country the deep resentment in Slovakia against the imprisonment of Dr. Vojtech Tuka, at that time a respected professor, who had been sentenced to fifteen years' confinement "for treason," though it was doubtful that he was guilty of more than working for Slovak autonomy. Above all, the minority groups felt that the Czechoslovak government had not honored the promises made by Masaryk and Benes to the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 to establish a cantonal system similar to that of Switzerland.

Ironically enough, in view of what is now to be set down here, the Sudeten Germans had fared tolerably well in the Czechoslovak statecertainly better than any other minority in the country and better than the German minorities in Poland or in Fascist Italy. They resented the petty tyrannies of local Czech officials and the discrimination against them that sometimes occurred in Prague. They found it difficult to adjust to the loss of their former dominance in Bohemia and Moravia under the Hapsburgs. But lying in compact groups along the northwestern and southwestern parts of the new Republic, where most of the industry of the country was concentrated, they prospered and as the years went by they gradually reached a state of relative harmony with the Czechs, continuing always to press for more autonomy and more respect for their linguistic and cultural rights. Until the rise of Hitler, there was no serious political movement which asked for more. The Social Democrats and other democratic parties received most of the Sudeten votes.

Then in 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor, the virus of National Socialism struck the Sudeten Germans. In that year was formed the Sudeten German Party (S.D.P.) under the leadership of a mild-mannered gymnastics teacher by the name of Konrad Henlein. By 1935, the party was being secretly subsidized by the German Foreign Office to the amount of 15,000 marks a month. [2] Within a couple of years it had captured the majority of the Sudeten Germans, only the Social Democrats and the Communists remaining outside it. By the time of the Anschluss Henlein's party, which for three years had been taking its orders from Berlin, was ready to do the bidding of Adolf Hitler.

To receive this bidding, Henlein sped to Berlin a fortnight after the annexation of Austria and on March 28 was closeted with Hitler for three hours, Ribbentrop and Hess also being present. Hitler's instructions, as revealed in a Foreign Office memorandum, were that "demands should be made by the Sudeten German Party which are unacceptable to the Czech government." As Henlein himself summarized the Fuehrer's views, "We must always demand so much that we can never be satisfied." [3]

Thus, the plight of the German minority in Czechoslovakia was for Hitler merely a pretext, as Danzig was to be a year later in regard to Poland, for cooking up a stew in a land he coveted, undermining it, confusing and misleading its friends and concealing his real purpose. What that purpose was he had made clear in his November 5 harangue to the military leaders and in the initial directives of Case Green: to destroy the Czechoslovak state and to grab its territories and inhabitants for the Third Reich. Despite what had happened in Austria, the leaders of France and Great Britain did not grasp this. All through the spring and summer, indeed almost to the end, Prime Minister Chamberlain and Premier Daladier apparently sincerely believed, along with most of the rest of the world, that all Hitler wanted was justice for his kinsfolk in Czechoslovakia.

In fact, as the spring days grew warmer the British and French governments went out of their way to pressure the Czech government to grant far-reaching concessions to the Sudeten Germans. On May 3 the new German ambassador in London, Herbert von Dirksen, was reporting to Berlin that Lord Halifax had informed him of a demarche the British government would shortly make in Prague "which would aim at inducing Benes to show the utmost measure of accommodation to the Sudeten Germans." [4] Four days later, on May 7, the British and French ministers in Prague made their demarche, urging the Czech government "to go to the utmost limit," as the German minister reported to Berlin, to meet the Sudeten demands. Hitler and Ribbentrop seemed quite pleased to find that the British and French governments were so concerned with aiding them.

Concealment of German aims, however, was more than ever necessary at this stage. On May 12 Henlein paid a secret visit to the Wilhelmstrasse in Berlin and received instructions from Ribbentrop on how to bamboozle the British when he arrived in London that evening to see Sir Robert Vansittart, chief diplomatic adviser to the Foreign Secretary, and other British officials. A memorandum by Weizsaecker laid down the line to be taken: "Henlein will deny in London that he is acting on instructions from Berlin . . . Finally, Henlein will speak of the progressive disintegration of the Czech political structure, in order to discourage those circles which consider that their intervention on behalf of this structure may still be of use." [5] On the same day the German minister in Prague was wiring Ribbentrop about the need of precaution to cover his legation in its work of handing over money and instructions to the Sudeten German Party.

Hugh R. Wilson, the American ambassador in Berlin, called on Weizsaecker on May 14 to discuss the Sudeten crisis and was told of German fears that Czech authorities were deliberately provoking a European crisis in order to try to prevent the "disintegration of Czechoslovakia." Two days later, on May 16, Major Schmundt got off an urgent and "most secret" telegram to OKW headquarters on behalf of Hitler, who was resting at Obersalzberg, asking how many divisions on the Czech frontier were "ready to march within twelve hours, in the case of mobilization." Lieutenant Colonel Zeitzler, of the OKW staff, replied immediately, "Twelve." This did not satisfy Hitler. "Please send the numbers of the divisions," he asked. And the answer came back, listing ten infantry divisions by their numbers and adding one armored and one mountain division. [6]

Hitler was getting restless for action. The next day, the seventeenth, he was inquiring of OKW for precise information on the fortifications which the Czechs had constructed in the Sudeten mountains on their borders. These were known as the Czech Maginot Line. Zeitzler replied from Berlin on the same day with a long and "most secret" telegram informing the Fuehrer in considerable detail of the Czech defense works. He made it clear that they were fairly formidable. [7]


The weekend which began on Friday, May 20, developed into a critical one and would later be remembered as the "May crisis." During the ensuing forty-eight hours, the governments in London, Paris, Prague and Moscow were panicked into the belief that Europe stood nearer to war than it had at any time since the summer of 1914. This may have been largely due to the possibility that new plans for a German attack on Czechoslovakia, which were drawn up for Hitler by OKW and presented to him on that Friday, leaked out. At any rate, it was believed at least in Prague and London that Hitler was about to launch aggression against Czechoslovakia. In this belief the Czechs began to mobilize and Britain, France and Russia displayed a firmness and a unity in the face of what their governments feared to be an imminent German threat which they were not to show again until a new world war had almost destroyed them.

On Friday, May 20, General Keitel dispatched to Hitler at the Obersalzberg a new draft of Case Green which he and his staff had been working on since the Fuehrer had laid down the general lines for it in their meeting on April 21. In an obsequious letter to the Leader attached to the new plan, Keitel explained that it took into account "the situation created by the incorporation of Austria into the German Reich" and that it would not be discussed with the commanders in chief of the three armed services until "you, my Fuehrer," approved it and signed it.

The new directive for "Green," dated Berlin, May 20, 1938, is an interesting and significant document. It is a model of the kind of Nazi planning for aggression with which the world later became acquainted.

It is not my intention [it began] to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the immediate future without provocation, unless an unavoidable development ... within [emphasis in the original] Czechoslovakia forces the issue, or political events in Europe create a particularly favorable opportunity which may perhaps never recur. [8]

Three "political possibilities for commencing the operation" are considered. The first, "a sudden attack without convenient outward excuse," is rejected.

Operations preferably will be launched, either:

(a) after a period of increasing diplomatic controversies and tension linked with military preparations, which will be exploited so as to shift the war guilt on the enemy.

(b) by lightning action as the result of a serious incident which will subject Germany to unbearable provocation and which, in the eyes of at least a part of world opinion, affords the moral justification for military measures.

Case (b) is more favorable, both from a military and a political point of view.

As for the military operation itself, it was to attain such a success within four days that it would "demonstrate to enemy states which may wish to intervene the hopelessness of the Czech military position and also provide an incentive to those states which have territorial claims upon Czechoslovakia to join in immediately against her." Those states were Hungary and Poland, and the plan counted on their intervention. Whether France would honor its obligations to the Czechs was considered doubtful, but "attempts by Russia to give Czechoslovakia military support are to be expected."

The German High Command, or at least Keitel and Hitler, were so confident that the French would not fight that only a "minimum strength is to be provided as a rear cover in the west" and it was emphasized that "the whole weight of all forces must be employed in the invasion of Czechoslovakia." The "task of the bulk of the Army," aided by the Luftwaffe, was "to smash the Czechoslovak Army and to occupy Bohemia and Moravia as quickly as possible."

It was to be total war, and for the first time in the planning of German soldiers the value of what the directive calls "propaganda warfare" and "economic warfare" is emphasized and their employment woven into the over-all military plan of attack.

Propaganda warfare [emphasis in the original] must on the one hand intimidate the Czechs by means of threats and wear down their power of resistance; on the other hand it must give the national minorities indications as to how to support our military operations and influence the neutrals in our favor.

Economic warfare has the task of employing all available economic resources to hasten the final collapse of the Czechs . . . In the course of military operations it is important to help to increase the total economic war effort by rapidly collecting information about important factories and setting them going again as soon as possible. For this reason the sparing -- as far as military operations permit -- lf Czech industrial and engineering establishments may be of decisive importance to us.

This model for Nazi aggression was to remain essentially unchanged and to be used with staggering success until an aroused world much later woke up to it.

Shortly after noon on May 20, the German minister in Prague sent an "urgent and most secret" wire to Berlin reporting that the Czech Foreign Minister had just informed him by telephone that his government was "perturbed by reports of concentration of [German] troops in Saxony." He had replied, he said, "that there were absolutely no grounds for anxiety," but he requested Berlin to inform him immediately what, if anything, was up.

This was the first of a series of feverish diplomatic exchanges that weekend which shook Europe with a fear that Hitler was about to move again and that this time a general war would follow. The basis for the information received by British and Czech intelligence that German troops were concentrating on the Czech border has never, so far as I know, come to light. To a Europe still under the shock of the German military occupation of Austria there were several straws in the wind. On May 19 a newspaper in Leipzig had published a report of German troop movements. Henlein, the Sudeten Fuehrer, had announced the breaking off of his party's negotiations with the Czech government on May 9 and it was known that on his return from London on the fourteenth he had stopped off at Berchtesgaden to see Hitler and that he was still there. There were shooting affrays in the Sudetenland. And all through May Dr. Goebbels' propaganda war -- featuring wild stories of "Czech terror" against the Sudeten Germans -- had been stepped up. The tension seemed to be reaching a climax.

Though there was some movement of German troops in connection with spring maneuvers, particularly in the eastern regions, no evidence was ever found from the captured German documents indicating any sudden, new concentration of armed forces on the Czech border at this moment. On the contrary, two German Foreign Office papers dated May 21 contain confidential assurances to the Wilhelmstrasse from Colonel Jodl of the OKW that there had been no such concentrations either in Silesia or in Lower Austria. There had been nothing, Jodl asserted in messages not intended for foreign perusal, "apart from peacetime maneuvers." [9] It was not that the Czech border was denuded of German troops. As we have seen, on May 16 Hitler had been informed by OKW, in answer to his urgent request for information, that there were twelve German divisions on the Czech frontier "ready to march within twelve hours."

Could it have been that Czech or British intelligence got wind of the telegrams which exchanged this information? And that they learned of the new directive for "Green" which Keitel dispatched for Hitler's approval on May 20? For on the next day the Czech Chief of Staff, General Krejci, told the German military attache in Prague, Colonel Toussaint, that he had "irrefutable proof that in Saxony a concentration of from eight to ten [German] divisions had taken place." [10] The figures on the number of divisions were not far from correct, even if the information on the manner of their deployment was somewhat inaccurate. At any rate, on the afternoon of May 20, following an emergency cabinet session at Hradschin Palace in Prague presided over by President Benes, the Czechs decided on an immediate partial mobilization. One class was called to the colors and certain technical reservists were mobilized. The Czech government, in contrast to the Austrian two months before, did not intend to give up without a fight.

The Czech mobilization, partial though it was, sent Adolf Hitler into a fit of fury, and his feelings were not assuaged by the dispatches that arrived for him at Obersalzberg from the German Foreign Office in Berlin telling of continual calls by the British and French ambassadors warning Germany that aggression against Czechoslovakia meant a European war.

The Germans had never been subjected to such strenuous and persistent diplomatic pressure as the British employed on this weekend. Sir Nevile Henderson, the British ambassador, who had been sent to Berlin by Prime Minister Chamberlain to apply his skills as a professional diplomat to the appeasement of Hitler and who applied them to the utmost, called repeatedly at the German Foreign Office to inquire about German troop movements and to advise caution. There is no doubt that he was egged on by Lord Halifax and the British Foreign Office, for Henderson, a suave, debonair diplomat, had little sympathy with the Czechs, as all who knew him in Berlin were aware. He saw Ribbentrop twice on May 21 and on the next day, though it was a Sunday, called on State Secretary von Weizsaecker-Ribbentrop having been hastily convoked to Hitler's presence at Obersalzberg -- to deliver a personal message from Halifax stressing the gravity of the situation. In London, the British Foreign Secretary also called in the German ambassador on the Sabbath and emphasized how grave the moment was.

In all these British communications the Germans did not fail to note, as Ambassador von Dirksen pointed out in a dispatch after seeing Halifax, that the British government, while certain that France would go to the aid of Czechoslovakia, did not affirm that Britain would too. The furthest the British would go was to warn, as Dirksen says Halifax did, that "in the event of a European conflict it was impossible to foresee whether Britain would not be drawn into it." [11] As a matter of fact, this was as far as Chamberlain's government would ever go -- until it was too late to stop Hitler. It was this writer's impression in Berlin from that moment until the end that had Chamberlain frankly told Hitler that Britain would do what it ultimately did in the face of Nazi aggression, the Fuehrer would never have embarked on the adventures which brought on the Second World War -- an impression which has been immensely strengthened by the study of the secret German documents. This was the well-meaning Prime Minister's fatal mistake.

Adolf Hitler, brooding fitfully in his mountain retreat above Berchtesgaden, felt deeply humiliated by the Czechs and by the support given them in London, Paris and even Moscow, and nothing could have put the German dictator in a blacker, uglier mood. His fury was all the more intense because he was accused, prematurely, of being on the point of committing an aggression which he indeed intended to commit. That very weekend he had gone over the new plan for "Green" submitted by Keitel. But it could not be carried out at once. Swallowing his pride, he ordered the Foreign Office in Berlin to inform the Czech envoy on Monday, May 23, that Germany had no aggressive intentions toward Czechoslovakia and that the reports of German troop concentrations on her borders were without foundation. In Prague, London, Paris and Moscow the government leaders breathed a sigh of relief. The crisis had been mastered. Hitler had been given a lesson. He must now know he could not get away with aggression as easily as he had done in Austria.

Little did these statesmen know the Nazi dictator.

After sulking at Obersalzberg a few more days, during which there grew within him a burning rage to get even with Czechoslovakia and particularly with President Benes, who, he believed, had deliberately humiliated him, he suddenly appeared in Berlin on May 28 and convoked the ranking officers of the Wehrmacht to the Chancellery to hear a momentous decision. He himself told of it in a speech to the Reichstag eight months later:

I resolved to solve once and for all, and this radically, the Sudeten question. On May 28, I ordered:

1. That preparations should be made for military action against this state by October 2.

2. That the construction of our western defenses should be greatly extended and speeded up . . .

The immediate mobilization of 96 divisions was planned, to begin with ... [12]

To his assembled confederates, Goering, Keitel, Brauchitsch, Beck, Admiral Raeder, Ribbentrop and Neurath, he thundered, "It is my unshakable will that Czechoslovakia shall be wiped off the map!" [13] Case Green was again brought out and again revised.

Jodl's diary traces what had been going on in Hitler's feverish, vindictive mind.

The intention of the Fuehrer not to activate the Czech problem as yet is changed because of the Czech strategic troop concentration of May 21, which occurs without any German threat and without the slightest cause for it. Because of Germany's self-restraint, its consequences lead to a loss of prestige of the Fuehrer, which he is not willing to take again. Therefore, the new directive for "Green" is issued on May 30. [14]

The details of the new directive on Case Green which Hitler signed on May 30 do not differ essentially from those of the version submitted to Hitler nine days before. But there are two significant changes. Instead of the opening sentence of May 21, which read: "It is not my intention to smash Czechoslovakia in the near future," the new directive began: "It is my unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future."

What the "near future" meant was explained by Keitel in a covering letter. "Green's execution," he ordered, "must be assured by October 1, 1938, at the latest." [15]

It was a date which Hitler would adhere to through thick and thin, through crisis after crisis, and at the brink of war, without flinching.


After noting in his diary on May 30 that Hitler had signed the new directive for "Green" and that because of its demand for "an immediate breakthrough into Czechoslovakia right on X Day . . . the previous intentions of the Army must be changed considerably," Jodl added the following sentence:

The whole contrast becomes acute once more between the Fuehrer's intuition that we must do it this year and the opinion of the Army that we cannot do it as yet because most certainly the Western powers will interfere and we are not as yet equal to them. [16]

The perceptive Wehrmacht staff officer had put his finger on a new rift between Hitler and some of the highest-ranking generals of the Army. The opposition to the Fuehrer's grandiose plans for aggression was led by General Ludwig Beck, Chief of the Army General Staff, who henceforth would assume the leadership of such resistance as there was to Hitler in the Third Reich. Later this sensitive, intelligent, decent but indecisive general would base his struggle against the Nazi dictator on broad grounds. As late as the spring of 1938, however, after more than four years of National Socialism, Beck opposed the Fuehrer only on the narrower professional grounds that Germany was not yet strong enough to take on the Western Powers and perhaps Russia as well.

Beck, as we have seen, had welcomed Hitler's coming to power and had publicly acclaimed the Fuehrer for re-establishing the conscript German Army in defiance of Versailles. As far back as 1930, it will be remembered from earlier pages, Beck, then an obscure regimental commander, had gone out of his way to defend three of his subalterns on a treason charge that they were fomenting Nazism in the armed forces and, in fact, had testified in their favor before the Supreme Court after Hitler had appeared on the stand and warned that when he came to power "heads would roll." It was not the Fuehrer's aggression against Austria -- which Beck had supported -- but the rolling of General von Fritsch's head after the Gestapo frame-up which seems to have cleared his mind. Swept of its cobwebs it began to perceive that Hitler's policy of deliberately risking war with Britain, France and Russia against the advice of the top generals would, if carried out, be the ruin of Germany.

Beck had got wind of Hitler's meeting with Keitel on April 21 in which the Wehrmacht was instructed to hasten plans for attacking Czechoslovakia, and on May 5 he wrote out the first of a series of memoranda for General von Brauchitsch, the new Commander in Chief of the Army, strenuously opposing any such action. [17] They are brilliant papers, blunt as to unpleasant facts and full of solid reasoning and logic. Although Beck overestimated the strength of will of Britain and France, the political shrewdness of their leaders and the power of the French Army, and in the end proved wrong on the outcome of the Czech problem, his long-range predictions turned out, so far as Germany was concerned, to be deadly accurate.

Beck was convinced, he wrote in his May 5 memorandum, that a German attack on Czechoslovakia would provoke a European war in which Britain, France and Russia would oppose Germany and in which the United States would be the arsenal of the Western democracies. Germany simply could not win such a war. Its lack of raw materials alone made victory impossible. In fact, he contended, Germany's "military-economic situation is worse than it was in 1917-18," when the collapse of the Kaiser's armies began.

On May 28, Beck was among the generals convoked to the Reich Chancellery after the "May crisis" to hear Hitler storm that he intended to wipe Czechoslovakia off the map the coming autumn. He took careful notes of the Fuehrer's harangue and two days later, on the very day that Hitler was signing the new directive for "Green," which fixed the date for the attack as October 1, penned another and sharper memorandum to Brauchitsch criticizing Hitler's program point by point. To make sure that his cautious Commander in Chief fully understood it, Beck read it to him personally. At the end he emphasized to the unhappy and somewhat shallow Brauchitsch that there was a crisis in the "top military hierarchy" which had already led to anarchy and that if it was not mastered the fate of the Army, indeed of Germany, would be "black." A few days later, on June 3, Beck got off another memorandum to Brauchitsch in which he declared that the new directive for "Green" was "militarily unsound" and that the Army General Staff rejected it.

Hitler, however, pressed forward with it. The captured "Green" file discloses how frenzied he grew as the summer proceeded. The usual autumn troop maneuvers, he orders, must be moved forward so that the Army will be in trim for the attack. Special exercises must be held "in the taking of fortifications by surprise attack." General Keitel is informed that "the Fuehrer repeatedly emphasized the necessity of pressing forward more rapidly the fortification work in the west." On June 9, Hitler asks for more information on Czech armament and receives immediately a detailed report on every conceivable weapon, large and small, used by the Czechs. On the same day he asks, "Are the Czech fortifications still occupied in reduced strength?" In his mountain retreat, where he is spending the summer, surrounded by his toadies, his spirits rise and fall as he toys with war. On June 18 he issues a new "General Guiding Directive" to "Green."

There is no danger of a preventive war against Germany . . . I will decide to take action against Czechoslovakia only if I am firmly convinced . . . that France will not march and that therefore England will not intervene.

On July 7, however, Hitler is laying down "considerations" of what to do if France and Britain intervene. "The prime consideration," he says, "is to hold the western fortifications" until Czechoslovakia is smashed and troops can be rushed to the Western front. The fact that there are no troops available to hold the western fortifications does not intrude itself upon his feverish thinking. He advises that "Russia is most likely to intervene" and by now he is not so sure that Poland may not too. These eventualities must be met, but he does not say how.

Apparently Hitler, somewhat isolated at Obersalzberg, has not yet heard the rumblings of dissent in the upper echelons of the Army General Staff. Despite Beck's pestering of Brauchitsch with his memoranda, the General Staff Chief began to realize by midsummer that his unstable Commander in Chief was not bringing his opinions to the notice of the Fuehrer. By the middle of July Beck therefore determined to make one last desperate effort to bring matters to a head, one way or the other. On July 16 he penned his last memorandum to Brauchitsch. He demanded that the Army tell Hitler to halt his preparations for war.

In full consciousness of the magnitude of such a step but also of my responsibilities I feel it my duty to urgently ask that the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces [Hitler] call off his preparations for war, and abandon the intention of solving the Czech question by force until the military situation is fundamentally changed. For the present I consider it hopeless, and this view is shared by all the higher officers of the General Staff.

Beck took his memorandum personally to Brauchitsch and augmented it orally with further proposals for unified action on the part of the Army generals should Hitler prove recalcitrant. Specifically, he proposed that in that case the ranking generals should all resign at once. And for the first time in the Third Reich, he raised a question which later haunted the Nuremberg trials: Did an officer have a higher allegiance than the one to the Fuehrer? At Nuremberg dozens of generals excused their war crimes by answering in the negative. They had to obey orders, they said. But Beck on July 16 held a different view, which he was to press, unsuccessfully for the most part, to the end. There were "limits," he said, to one's allegiance to the Supreme Commander where conscience, knowledge and responsibility forbade carrying out an order. The generals, he felt, had reached those limits. If Hitler insisted on war, they should resign in a body. In that case, he argued, a war was impossible, since there would be nobody to lead the armies.

The Chief of the German Army General Staff was now aroused as he had never been before in his lifetime. The scales were falling from his eyes. What was at stake for the German nation, he saw at last, was more than just the thwarting of a hysterical head of state bent, out of pique, on attacking a small neighboring nation at the risk of a big war. The whole folly of the Third Reich, its tyranny, its terror, its corruption, its contempt for the old Christian virtues, suddenly dawned on this once pro-Nazi general. Three days later, on July 19, he went again to Brauchitsch to speak of this revelation.

Not only, he insisted, must the generals go on strike to prevent Hitler from starting a war, but they must help clean up the Third Reich. The German people and the Fuehrer himself must be freed from the terror of the S.S. and the Nazi party bosses. A state and society ruled by law must be restored. Beck summed up his reform program:

For the Fuehrer, against war, against boss rule, peace with the Church, free expression of opinion, an end to the Cheka terror, restoration of justice, reduction of contributions to the party by one half, no more building of palaces. housing for the common people and more Prussian probity and simplicity.

Beck was too naIve politically to realize that Hitler, more than any other single man, was responsible for the very conditions in Germany which now revolted him. However, Beck's immediate task was to continue to browbeat the hesitant Brauchitsch into presenting an ultimatum on behalf of the Army to Hitler calling on him to stop his preparations for war. To further this purpose he arranged a secret meeting of the commanding generals for August 4. He prepared a ringing speech that the Army Commander in Chief was to read, rallying the senior generals behind him in a common insistence that there be no Nazi adventures leading to armed conflict. Alas for Beck, Brauchitsch lacked the courage to read it. Beck had to be content with reading his own memorandum of July 16, which left a deep impression on most of the generals. But no decisive action was taken and the meeting of the top brass of the German Army broke up without their having had the courage to call Hitler to count, as their predecessors once had done with the Hohenzollem emperors and the Reich Chancellors.

Brauchitsch did summon up enough courage to show Beck's July 16 memorandum to Hitler. Hitler's response was to call in not the resisting ranking generals, who were behind it, but the officers just below them, the Army and Air Force staff chiefs of various commands who formed a younger set on which he believed he could count after he had treated it to his persuasive oratory. Summoned to the Berghof on August 10 -- Hitler had scarcely budged from his mountain villa all summer -- they were treated after dinner to a speech that, according to Jodl, who was present and who described it in his faithful diary, lasted nearly three hours. But on this occasion the eloquence of the Fuehrer was not so persuasive as he had hoped. Both Jodl and Manstein, who was also present, later told of "a most serious and unpleasant clash" between General von Wietersheim and Hitler. Wietersheim was the ranking officer at the gathering and as designate chief of staff of the Army of the West under General Wilhelm Adam he dared to speak up about the key problem which Hitler and the OKW were dodging: that with almost all of the military forces committed to the blow against Czechoslovakia, Germany was defenseless in the west and would be overrun by the French. In fact, he reported, the West Wall could not be held for more than three weeks.

The Fuehrer [Jodi recounted in his diary] becomes furious and flames up, bursting into the remark that in such a case the whole Army would not be good for anything. "I say to you, Herr General [Hitler shouted back], the position will be held not only for three weeks but for three years!" [18]

With what, he did not say. On August 4, General Adam had reported to the meeting of senior generals that in the west he would have only five active divisions and that they would be overwhelmed by the French. Wietersheim presumably gave the same figure to Hitler, but the Fuehrer would not listen. Jodl, keen staff officer though he was, was now so much under the spell of the Leader that he left the meeting deeply depressed that the generals did not seem to understand Hitler's genius.

The cause of this despondent opinion [Wietersheim's], which unfortunately is held very widely within the Army General Staff, is based on various grounds.

First of all, it [the General Staff] is restrained by old memories and feels itself responsible for political decisions instead of obeying and carrying out its military assignments. Admittedly it does the last with traditional devotion but the vigor of the soul is lacking because in the end it does not believe in the genius of the Fuehrer. And one does perhaps compare him with Charles XII.

And just as certain as water flows downhill there stems from this defeatism [Miesmacherei] not only an immense political damage -- for everyone is talking about the opposition between the opinions of the generals and those of the Fuehrer -- but a danger for the morale of the troops. But I have no doubt that the Fuehrer will be able to boost the morale of the people when the right moment comes. [19]

Jodl might have added that Hitler would be able, too, to quell revolt among the generals. As Manstein told the tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946, this meeting was the last at which Hitler permitted any questions or discussions from the military. [20] At the Jueterbog military review on August 15, Hitler reiterated to the generals that he was determined "to solve the Czech question by force" and no officer dared -- or was permitted -- to say a word to oppose him.

Beck saw that he was defeated, largely by the spinelessness of his own brother officers, and on August 18 he resigned as Chief of the Army General Staff. He tried to induce Brauchitsch to follow suit, but the Army commander was now coming under Hitler's hypnotic power, no doubt aided by the Nazi enthusiasms of the woman who was about to become his second wife. [iii] As Hassell said of him, "Brauchitsch hitches his collar a notch higher and says: 'I am a soldier; it is my duty to obey.'" [21]

Ordinarily the resignation of a chief of the Army General Staff in the midst of a crisis, and especially of one so highly respected as was General Beck, would have caused a storm in military circles and even given rise to repercussions abroad. But here again Hitler showed his craftiness. Though he accepted Beck's resignation at once, and with great relief, he forbade any mention of it in the press or even in the official government and military gazettes and ordered the retired General and his fellow officers to keep it to themselves. It would not do to let the British and French governments get wind of dissension at the top of the German Army at this critical juncture and it is possible that Paris and London did not hear of the matter until the end of October, when it was officially announced in Berlin. Had they heard, one could speculate, history might have taken a different turning; the appeasement of the Fuehrer might not have been carried so far.

Beck himself, out of a sense of patriotism and loyalty to the Army, made no effort to bring the news of his quitting to the public's attention. He was disillusioned, though, that not a single general officer among those who had agreed with him and backed him in his opposition to war felt called upon to follow his example and resign. He did not try to persuade them. He was, as Hassell later said of him, "pure Clausewitz, without a spark of Bluecher or Yorck" [22] -- a man of principles and thought, but not of action. He felt that Brauchitsch, as Commander in Chief of the Army, had let him down at a decisive moment in German history, and this embittered him. Beck's biographer and friend noted years later the General's "deep bitterness" whenever he spoke of his old commander. On such occasions he would shake with emotion and mutter, "Brauchitsch left me in the lurch." [23]

Beck's successor as Chief of the Army General Staff -- though his appointment was kept a secret by Hitler for several weeks, until the end of the crisis -- was Franz Halder, fifty-four years old, who came from an old Bavarian military family and whose father had been a general. Himself trained as an artilleryman, he had served as a young officer on the staff of Crown Prince Rupprecht in the First World War. Though a friend of Roehm in the first postwar Munich days, which might have made him somewhat suspect in Berlin, he had risen rapidly in the Army and for the past year had served as Beck's deputy. In fact, Beck recommended him to Brauchitsch'as his successor, for he was certain that his deputy shared his views.

Halder became the first Bavarian and the first Catholic ever to become Chief of the German General Staff -- a severe break with the old Protestant Prussian tradition of the officer corps. A man of wide intellectual interests, with a special bent for mathematics and botany (my own first impression of him was that he looked like a university professor of mathematics or science) and a devout Christian, there was no doubt that he had the mind and the spirit to be a true successor to Beck. The question was whether, like his departed chief, he lacked the knack of taking decisive action at the proper moment. And whether, if he did not lack it, at that moment he had the character to disregard his oath of allegiance to the Fuehrer and move resolutely against him. For Halder, like Beck, though not at first a member of a growing conspiracy against Hitler, knew about it and apparently, again like Beck, was willing to back it. As the new Chief of the General Staff, he became the key figure in the first serious plot tp overthrow the dictator of the Third Reich.


After five and a half years of National Socialism it was evident to the few Germans who opposed Hitler that only the Army possessed the physical strength to overthrow him. The workers, the middle and upper classes, even if they had wanted to, had no means of doing it. They had no organization outside of the Nazi party groups and they were, of course, unarmed. Though much would later be written about the German "resistance" movement, it remained from the beginning to the end a small and feeble thing, led, to be sure, by a handful of courageous and decent men, but lacking followers.

The very maintenance of its bare existence was, admittedly, difficult in a police state dominated by terror and spying. Moreover, how could a tiny group -- or even a large group, had there been one -- rise up in revolt against the machine guns, the tanks, the flame throwers of the S.S.?

In the beginning, what opposition there was to Hitler ·sprang from among the civilians; the generals, as we have seen, were only too pleased with a system which had shattered the restrictions of the Versailles Treaty and given them the heady and traditional task of building up a great army once again. Ironically, the principal civilians who emerged to lead the opposition had served the Fuehrer in important posts, most of them with an initial enthusiasm for Nazism which dampened only when it began to dawn on them in 1937 that Hitler was leading Germany toward a war which it was almost sure to lose.

One of the earliest of these to see the light was Carl Goerdeler, the mayor of Leipzig, who, first appointed Price Controller by Bruening, had continued in that job for three years under Hitler. A conservative and a monarchist at heart, a devout Protestant, able, energetic and intelligent, but also indiscreet and headstrong, he broke with the Nazis in 1936 over their anti-Semitism and their frenzied rearmament and, resigning both his posts, went to work with heart and soul in opposition to Hitler. One of his first acts was to journey to France, England and the United States in 1937 to discreetly warn of the peril of Nazi Germany.

The light came a little later to two other eventual conspirators, Johannes Popitz, Prussian Minister of Finance, and Dr. Schacht. Both had received the Nazi Party's highest decoration, the Golden Badge of Honor, for their services in shaping Germany's economy for war purposes. Both had begun to wake up to what Hitler's real goal was in 1938. Neither of them seems to have been fully trusted by the inner circle of the opposition because of their past and their character. Schacht was too opportunist, and Hassell remarked in his diary that the Reichsbank president had a capacity "for talking one way and acting another," an opinion, he says, that was shared by Generals Beck and von Fritsch. Popitz was brilliant but unstable. A fine Greek scholar as well as eminent economist, he, along with General Beck and Hassell, was a member of the Wednesday Club, a group of sixteen intellectuals who gathered once a week to discuss philosophy, history, art, science and literature and who as time went on -- or ran out-formed one of the centers of the opposition.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Mon Feb 05, 2018 2:02 am

Part 2 of 4

Ulrich von Hassell became a sort of foreign-affairs adviser to the resistance leaders. His dispatches as ambassador in Rome during the Abyssinian War and the Spanish Civil War, as we have seen, had been full of advice to Berlin on how to keep Italy embroiled with France and Britain and therefore on the side of Germany. Later he came to fear that war with France and Britain would be fatal to Germany and that even a German alliance with Italy would be too. Far too cultivated to have anything but contempt for the vulgarism of National Socialism, he did not, however, voluntarily give up serving the regime. He was kicked out of the diplomatic service in the big military, political and Foreign Office shake-up which Hitler engineered on February 4, 1938. A member of an old Hanover noble family, married to the daughter of Grand Admiral von Tirpitz, the founder of the German Navy, and a gentleman of the old school to his finger tips, Hassell, like so many others of his class, seems to have needed the shock of being cast out by the Nazis before he became much interested in doing anything to bring them down. Once this had happened, this sensitive, intelligent, uneasy man devoted himself to that task and in the end, as we shall see, sacrificed his life to it, meeting a barbarous end.

There were others, lesser known and mostly younger, who had opposed the Nazis from the beginning and who gradually came together to form various resistance circles. One of the leading intellects of one group was Ewald von Kleist, a gentleman farmer and a descendant of the great poet. He worked closely with Ernst Niekisch, a former Social Democrat and editor of Widerstand (Resistance), and with Fabian von Schlabrendorff, a young lawyer, who was the great-grandson of Queen Victoria's private physician and confidential adviser, Baron von Stockmar. There were former trade-union leaders such as Julius Leber, Jakob Kaiser and Wilhelm Leuschner. Two Gestapo officials, Artur Nebe, the head of the criminal police, and Bernd Gisevius, a young career police officer, became valuable aides as the conspiracies developed. The latter became the darling of the American prosecution at Nuremberg and wrote a book which sheds much light on the anti-Hitler plots, though most historians take the book and the author with more than a grain of salt.

There were a number of sons of venerable families in Germany: Count Helmuth von Moltke, great-grandnephew of the famous Field Marshal, who later formed a resistance group of young idealists known as the Kreisau Circle; Count Albrecht Bernstorff, nephew of the German ambassador in Washington during the First World War; Freiherr Karl Ludwig von Guttenberg, editor of a fearless Catholic monthly; and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a descendant of eminent Protestant clergymen on both sides of his family, who regarded Hitler as Antichrist and who believed it a Christian duty to "eliminate him."

Nearly all of these brave men would persevere until, after being caught and tortured, they were executed by rope or by ax or merely murdered by the S.S.

For a good long time this tiny nucleus of civilian resistance had little success in interesting the Army in its work. As Field Marshal von Blomberg testified at Nuremberg, "Before 1938-39 German generals did not oppose Hitler. There was no reason to oppose him, since he produced the results they desired." There was some contact between Goerdeler and General von Hammerstein, but the former Commander in Chief of the German Army had been in retirement since 1934 and had little influence among the active generals. Early in the regime Schlabrendorff had got in touch with Colonel Hans Oster, chief assistant to Admiral Canaris in the Abwehr, the Intelligence Bureau of OKW, and found him to be not only a staunch anti-Nazi but willing to try to bridge the gulf between the military and civilians. However, it was not until the winter of 1937-38, when the generals were subjected to the successive shocks engendered by Hitler's decision to go to war, his shake-up of the military command, which he himself took over, and his shabby treatment of General von Fritsch, that some of them became aware of the danger to Germany of the Nazi dictator. The resignation of General Beck toward the end of August 1938, as the Czech crisis grew more menacing, provided a further awakening, and though none of his fellow officers followed him into retirement as he had hoped, it immediately became evident that the fallen Chief of the General Staff was the one person around whom both the recalcitrant generals and the civilian resistance leaders could rally. Both groups respected and trusted him.

Another consideration became evident to both of them. To stop Hitler, force would now be necessary, and only the Army possessed it. But who in the Army could muster it? Not Hammerstein and not even Beck, since they were in retirement. What was needed, it was realized, was to bring in generals who at the moment had actual command of troops in and around Berlin and who thus could act effectively on short notice. General Halder, the new Chief of the Army General Staff, had no actual forces under his command. General von Brauchitsch had the whole Army, but he was not fully trusted. His authority would be useful but he could be brought in only, the conspirators felt, at the last minute.

As it happened, certain key generals who were willing to help were quickly discovered and initiated into the budding conspiracy. Three of them held commands which were vital to the success of the venture: General Erwin von Witzleben, commander of the all-important Wehrkreis III, which comprised Berlin and the surrounding areas; General Count Erich von Brockdorff-Ahlefeld, commander of the Potsdam garrison, which was made up of the 23rd Infantry Division; and General Erich Hoepner, who commanded an armored division in Thuringia which could, if necessary, repulse any S.S. troops attempting to relieve Berlin from Munich.

The plan of the conspirators, as it developed toward the end of August, was to seize Hitler as soon as he had issued the final order to attack Czechoslovakia and hale him before one of his own People's Courts on the charge that he had tried recklessly to hurl Germany into a European war and was therefore no longer competent to govern. In the meantime, for a short interim, there would be a military dictatorship followed by a provisional government presided over by some eminent civilian. In due course a conservative democratic government would be formed.

There were two considerations on which the success of the coup depended and which involved the two key conspirators, General Halder and General Beck. The first was timing. Halder had arranged with OKW that he personally be given forty-eight hours' notice of Hitler's final order to attack Czechoslovakia. This would give him the time to put the plot into execution before the troops could cross the Czech frontier. Thus he would be able not only to arrest Hitler but to prevent the fatal step that would lead to war.

The second factor was that Beck must be able to convince the generals beforehand and the German people later (during the proposed trial of Hitler) that an attack on Czechoslovakia would bring in Britain and France and thus precipitate a European war, for which Germany was not prepared and which it would certainly lose. This had been the burden of his memoranda all summer and it was the basis of all that he was now prepared to do: to preserve Germany from a European conflict which he believed would destroy her -- by overthrowing Hitler.

Alas for Beck, and for the future of most of the world, it was Hitler and not the recently resigned Chief of the General Staff who proved to have the shrewder view of the possibilities of a big war. Beck, a cultivated European with a sense of history, could not conceive that Britain and France would willfully sacrifice their self-interest by not intervening in case of a German attack on Czechoslovakia. He had a sense of history but not of contemporary politics. Hitler had. For some time now he had felt himself reinforced in his judgment that Prime Minister Chamberlain would sacrifice the Czechs rather than go to war and that, in such a case, France would not fulfill her treaty obligations to Prague.

The Wilhelmstrasse had not failed to notice dispatches published in the New York newspapers as far back as May 14 in which their London correspondents had reported an "off-the-record" luncheon talk with Chamberlain at Lady Astor's. The British Prime Minister, the journalists reported, had said that neither Britain nor France nor probably Russia would come to the aid of Czechoslovakia in the case of a German attack, that the Czech state could not exist in its present form and that Britain favored, in the interest of peace, turning over the Sudetenland to Germany. Despite angry questions in the House of Commons, the Germans noted, Chamberlain had not denied the veracity of the American dispatches.

On June 1, the Prime Minister had spoken, partly off the record, to British correspondents, and two days later the Times had published the first of its leaders which were to help undermine the Czech position; it had urged the Czech government to grant "self-determination" to the country's minorities "even if it should mean their secession from Czechoslovakia" and for the first time it had suggested plebiscites as a means of determining what the Sudetens and the others desired. A few days later the German Embassy in London informed Berlin that the Times editorial was based on Chamberlain's off-the-record remarks and that it reflected his views. On June 8 Ambassador von Dirksen told the Wilhelmstrasse that the Chamberlain government would be willing to see the Sudeten areas separated from Czechoslovakia providing it was done after a plebiscite and "not interrupted by forcible measures on the part of Germany." [24]

All this must have been pleasing for Hitler to hear. The news from Moscow also was not bad. By the end of June Friedrich Werner Count von der Schulenburg, the German ambassador to Russia, was advising Berlin that the Soviet Union was "hardly likely to march in defense of a bourgeois state," i.e., Czechoslovakia.25 By August 3, Ribbentrop was informing the major German diplomatic missions abroad that there was little fear of intervention over Czechoslovakia by Britain, France or Russia.  [26]

It was on that day, August 3, that Chamberlain had packed off Lord Runciman to Czechoslovakia on a curious mission to act as a "mediator" in the Sudeten crisis. I happened to be in Prague the day of his arrival and after attending his press conference and talking with members of his party remarked in my diary that "Runciman's whole mission smells." Its very announcement in the House of Commons on July 26 had been accompanied by a piece of prevaricating by Chamberlain himself which must have been unique in the experience of the British Parliament. The Prime Minister had said that he was sending Runciman "in response to a request from the government of Czechoslovakia." The truth was that Runciman had been forced down the throat of the Czech government by Chamberlain. But there was an underlying and bigger falsehood. Everyone, including Chamberlain, knew that Runciman's mission to "mediate" between the Czech government and the Sudeten leaders was impossible and absurd. They knew that Henlein, the Sudeten leader, was not a free agent and could not negotiate, and that the dispute now was between Prague and Berlin. My diary notes for the first evening and subsequent days make it clear that the Czechs knew perfectly well that Runciman had been sent by Chamberlain to pave the way for the handing over of the Sudetenland to Hitler. It was a shabby diplomatic trick.

And now the summer of 1938 was almost over. Runciman puttered about in the Sudetenland and in Prague, making ever more friendly gestures to the Sudeten Germans and increasing demands on the Czech government to grant them what they wanted. Hitler, his generals and his Foreign Minister were frantically busy. On August 23, the Fuehrer entertained aboard the liner Patria in Kiel Bay during naval maneuvers the Regent of Hungary, Admiral Horthy, and the members of the Hungarian government. If they wanted to get in on the Czech feast, Hitler told them, they must hurry. "He who wants to sit at the table," he put it, "must at least help in the kitchen."27 The Italian ambassador, Bernardo Attolico, was also a guest on the ship. But when he pressed Ribbentrop for the date of "the German move against Czechoslovakia" so that Mussolini could be prepared, the German Foreign Minister gave an evasive answer. The Germans, it was plain, did not quite trust the discretion of their Fascist ally. Of Poland they were now sure. All through the summer Ambassador von Moltke in Warsaw was reporting to Berlin that not only would Poland decline to help Czechoslovakia by allowing Russia to send troops and planes through or over her territory but Colonel Jozef Beck, the Polish Foreign Minister, was casting covetous eyes on a slice of Czech territory, the Teschen area. Beck already was exhibiting that fatal shortsightedness, so widely shared in Europe that summer, which in the end would prove more disastrous than he could possibly imagine.

At OKW (the High Command of the Armed Forces) and at OKH (the High Command of the Army) there was incessant activity. Final plans were being drawn up to have the armed forces ready for the push-off into Czechoslovakia by October 1. On August 24, Colonel Jodl at OKW wrote an urgent memorandum for Hitler stressing that "the fixing of the exact time for the 'incident' which will give Germany provocation for military intervention is most important." The timing of X Day, he explained, depended on it.

No advance measures [he went on] may be taken before X minus 1 for which there is not an innocent explanation, as otherwise we shall appear to have manufactured the incident. . . . If for technical reasons the evening hours should be considered desirable for the incident, then the following day cannot be X Day, but it must be the day after that ... It is the purpose of these notes to point out what a great interest the Wehrmacht has in the incident and that it must be informed of the Fuehrer's intention in good time -- insofar as the Abwehr Section is not also charged with organizing the incident. [28]

The expert preparations for the onslaught on Czechoslovakia were obviously in fine shape by the summer's end. But what about the defense of the west, should the French honor their word to the Czechs and attack? On August 26 Hitler set off for a tour of the western fortifications accompanied by Jodi, Dr. Todt, the engineer in charge of building the West Wall, Himmler and various party officials. On August 27 General Wilhelm Adam, a blunt and able Bavarian who was in command of the west, joined the party and in the next couple of days witnessed how intoxicated the Fuehrer became at the triumphal reception he was given by the Rhinelanders. Adam himself was not impressed; in fact, he was alarmed, and on the twenty-ninth in a surprising scene in Hitler's private car he abruptly demanded to speak with the Fuehrer alone. Not without sneers, according to the General's later report, Hitler dismissed Himmler and his other party cronies. Adam did not waste words. He declared that despite all the fanfare about the West Wall he could not possibly hold it with the troops at his disposal. Hitler became hysterical and launched into a long harangue about how he had made Germany stronger than Britain and France together.

"The man who doesn't hold these fortifications," Hitler shouted, "is a scoundrel!" [iv]

Nevertheless doubts on this score were rising in the minds of generals other than Adam. On September 3, Hitler convoked the chiefs of OKW and OKH, Keitel and Brauchitsch, to the Berghof. Field units, it was agreed, were to be moved into position along the Czech border on September 28. But OKW must know when X Day was by noon on September 27. Hitler was not satisfied with the operational plan for "Green" and ordered that it be changed in several respects. From the notes of this meeting kept by Major Schmundt it is clear that Brauchitsch at least -- for Keitel was too much the toady to speak up -- again raised the question of how they were going to hold out in the west. Hitler fobbed him off with the assurance that he had given orders for speeding up the western fortifications. [30]

On September 8 General Heinrich von Stuelpnagel saw Jodi and the latter noted in his diary the General's pessimism regarding the military position in the west. It was becoming clear to both of them that Hitler, his spirits whipped up by the fanaticism of the Nuremberg Party Rally, which had just opened, was going ahead with the invasion of Czechoslovakia whether France intervened or not. "I must admit," wrote the usually optimistic Jodi, "that I am worried too."

The next day, September 9, Hitler convoked Keitel, Brauchitsch and Halder to Nuremberg for a conference which began at 10 P.M., lasted until 4 o'clock the next morning and, as Keitel later confided to Jodl, who in turn confided it to his diary, was exceedingly stormy. Halder found himself in the ticklish position -- for the key man in the plot to overthrow Hitler the moment he gave the word to attack -- of having to explain in great detail the General Staff's plan for the campaign in Czechoslovakia, and in the uncomfortable position, as it developed, of seeing Hitler tear it to shreds and dress down not only him but Brauchitsch for their timidity and their military incapabilities. [31] Keitel, Jodl noted on the thirteenth, was "terribly shaken" by his experience at Nuremberg and by the evidence of "defeatism" at the top of the German Army.

Accusations are made to the Fuehrer about the defeatism in the High Command of the Army . . . Keitel declares that he will not tolerate any officer in OKW indulging in criticism, unsteady thoughts and defeatism ... The Fuehrer knows that the Commander of the Army [Brauchitsch] has asked his commanding generals to support him in order to open the Fuehrer's eyes about the adventure which he has resolved to risk. He himself [Brauchitsch] has no more influence with the Fuehrer.

Thus a cold and frosty atmosphere prevailed in Nuremberg and it is highly unfortunate that the Fuehrer has the whole nation behind him with the exception of the leading generals of the Army.

All of this greatly saddened the aspiring young Jodi, who had hitched his star to Hitler.

Only by actions can [these generals] honorably repair the damage which they have caused through lack of strength of mind and lack of obedience. It is the same problem as in 1914. There is only one example of disobedience in the Army and that is of the generals and in the end it springs from their arrogance. They can no longer believe and no longer obey because they do not recognize the Fuehrer's genius. Many of them still see in him the corporal of the World War but not the greatest statesman since Bismarck. [32]

In his talk with Jodl on September 8, General von Stuelpnagel, who held the post of Oberquartiermeister I in the Army High Command, and who was in on the Halder conspiracy, had asked for written assurances from OKW that the Army High Command would receive notice of Hitler'g order for the attack on Czechoslovakia five days in advance. Jodl had answered that because of the uncertainties of the weather two days' notice was all that could be guaranteed. This, however, was enough for the conspirators.

But they needed assurances of another kind -- whether, after all, they had been right in their assumption that Britain and France would go to war against Germany if Hitler carried out his resolve to attack Czechoslovakia. For this purpose they had decided to send trustworthy agents to London not only to find out what the British government intended to do but, if necessary, to try to influence its decision by informing it that Hitler had decided to attack the Czechs on a certain date in the fall, and that the General Staff, which knew the date, opposed it and was prepared to take the most decisive action to prevent it if Britain stood firm against Hitler to the last.

The first such emissary of the plotters, selected by Colonel Oster of the Abwehr, was Ewald von Kleist, who arrived in London on August 18. Ambassador Henderson in Berlin, who was already anxious to give Hitler whatever he wanted in Czechoslovakia, advised the British Foreign Office that "it would be unwise for him [Kleist] to be received in official quarters." [v] Nevertheless Sir Robert Vansittart, chief diplomatic adviser to the Foreign Secretary and one of the leading opponents in London of the appeasement of Hitler, saw Kleist on the afternoon of his arrival, and Winston Churchill, still in the political wilderness in Britain, received him the next day. To both men, who were impressed by their visitor's sobriety and sincerity, Kleist repeated what he had been instructed to tell, stressing that Hitler had set a date for aggression against the Czechs and that the generals, most of whom opposed him, would act, but that further British appeasement of Hitler would cut the ground from under their feet. If Britain and France would declare publicly that they would not stand idly by while Hitler threw his armies into Czechoslovakia and if some prominent British statesmen would issue a solemn warning to Germany of the consequences of Nazi aggression, then the German generals, for their part, would act to stop Hitler. [34]

Churchill gave Kleist a ringing letter to take back to Germany to bolster his colleagues:

I am sure that the crossing of the frontier of Czechoslovakia by German armies or aviation in force will bring about renewal of the World War. I am as certain as I was at the end of July, 1914, that England will march with France . . . Do not, I pray you, be misled upon this point . . . [vi]

Vansittart took Kleist's warning seriously enough to submit immediately a report on it to both the British Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, and though Chamberlain, writing to Lord Halifax, said he was inclined "to discount a good deal of what he [Kleist] says," he added: "I don't feel sure that we ought not to do something." [36] What he did was to summon Ambassador Henderson, in the wake of some publicity, to London on August 28 "for consultations."

He instructed his ambassador in Berlin to do two things: convey a sober warning to Hitler and, secondly, prepare secretly a "personal contact" between himself and the Fuehrer. According to his own story, Henderson persuaded the Prime Minister to drop the first request. [37] As for the second, Henderson was only too glad to try to carry it out. [vii]

This was the first step toward Munich and Hitler's greatest bloodless victory.

Ignorant of this turning in Chamberlain's course, the conspirators in Berlin made further attempts to warn the British government. On August 21, Colonel Oster sent an agent to inform the British military attache in Berlin of Hitler's intention to invade Czechoslovakia at the end of September. "If by firm action abroad Hitler can be forced at the eleventh hour to renounce his present intentions, he will be unable to survive the blow," he told the British. "Similarly, if it comes to war the immediate intervention by France and England will bring about the downfall of the regime." Sir Nevile Henderson dutifully forwarded this warning to London, but described it "as clearly biased and largely propaganda." The blinkers on the eyes of the debonair British ambassador seemed to grow larger and thicker as the crisis mounted.

General Halder had a feeling that the conspirators were not getting their message through effectively enough to the British, and on September 2 he sent his own emissary, a retired Army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Hans Boehm-Tettelbach, to London to make contact with the British War Office and Military Intelligence. Though, according to his own story, the colonel saw several important personages in London, he does not seem to have made much of an impression on them.

Finally, the plotters resorted to using the German Foreign Office and the embassy in London in a last desperate effort to induce the British to remain firm. Counselor of the embassy and charge d'affaires was Theodor Kordt, whose younger brother, Erich, was chief of Ribbentrop's secretariat in the German Foreign Office. The brothers were proteges of Baron von Weizsaecker, the principal State Secretary and undoubtedly the brains of the Foreign Office, a man who after the war made a great fuss of his alleged anti-Nazism but who served Hitler and Ribbentrop well almost to the end. It is clear, however, from captured Foreign Office documents, that at this time he opposed aggression against Czechoslovakia on the same grounds as those of the generals: that it would lead to a lost war. With Weizsaecker's connivance, and after consultations with Beck, Halder and Goerdeler, it was agreed that Theodor Kordt should sound a last warning to Downing Street. As counselor of the embassy his visits to the British authorities would not be suspect.

The information he brought on the evening of September 5 to Sir Horace Wilson, Chamberlain's confidential adviser, seemed so important and urgent that this official spirited him by a back way to Downing Street and the chambers of the British Foreign Secretary. There he bluntly informed Lord Halifax that Hitler was planning to order a general mobilization on September 16, that the attack on Czechoslovakia had been fixed for October 1 at the latest, that the German Army was preparing to strike against Hitler the moment the final order for attack was given and that it would succeed if Britain and France held firm. Halifax was also warned that Hitler's speech closing the Nuremberg Party Rally on September 12 would be explosive and might precipitate a showdown over Czechoslovakia and that that would be the moment for Britain to stand up against the dictator. [39]

Kordt, too, despite his continuous personal contact with Downing Street and his frankness on this occasion with the Foreign Secretary, did not know what was in the London wind. But he got a good idea, as did everyone else, two days later, on September 7, when the Times of London published a famous leader:

It might be worth while for the Czechoslovak Government to consider whether they should exclude altogether the project, which has found favor in some quarters, of making Czechoslovakia a more homogeneous State by the secession of that fringe of alien populations who are contiguous to the nation with which they are united by race . . . The advantages to Czechoslovakia of becoming a homogeneous State might conceivably outweigh the obvious disadvantages of losing the Sudeten German district of the borderland.

There was no mention in the editorial of the obvious fact that by ceding the Sudetenland to Germany the Czechs would lose both the natural mountain defenses of Bohemia and their "Maginot Line" of fortifications and be henceforth defenseless against Nazi Germany.

Though the British Foreign Office was quick to deny that the Times leader represented the views of the government, Kordt telegraphed Berlin the next day that it was possible that "it derived from a suggestion which reached the Times editorial staff from the Prime Minister's entourage." Possible indeed!

In these crisis-ridden years that have followed World War II it is difficult to recall the dark and almost unbearable tension that gripped the capitals of Europe as the Nuremberg Party Rally, which had begun on September 6, approached its climax on September 12, when Hitler was scheduled to make his closing speech and expected to proclaim to the world his final decision for peace or war with Czechoslovakia. I was in Prague, the focus of the crisis, that week, and it seemed strange that the Czech capital, despite the violence unleashed by the Germans in the Sudetenland, the threats from Berlin, the pressure of the British and French governments to yield, and the fear that they might leave Czechoslovakia in the lurch, was the calmest of all -- at least outwardly.

On September 5, President Benes, realizing that a decisive step on his part was necessary to save the peace, convoked the Sudeten leaders Kundt and Sebekovsky to Hradschin Palace and told them to write out their full demands. Whatever they were he would accept them. "My God," exclaimed the deputy Sudeten leader, Karl Hermann Frank, the next day, "they have given us everything." But that was the last thing the Sudeten politicians and their bosses in Berlin wanted. On September 7 Henlein, on instructions from Germany, broke off all negotiations with the Czech government. A shabby excuse about alleged Czech police excesses at Moravska-Ostrava was given.

On September 10, Goering made a bellicose speech at the Nuremberg Party Rally. "A petty segment of Europe is harassing the human race ... This miserable pygmy race [the Czechs] is oppressing a cultured people, and behind it is Moscow and the eternal mask of the Jew devil." But Benes' broadcast of the same day took no notice of Goering's diatribe; it was a quiet and dignified appeal for calm, good will and mutual trust.

Underneath the surface, though, the Czechs were tense. I ran into Dr. Benes in the hall of the Czech Broadcasting House after his broadcast and noted that his face was grave and that he seemed to be fully aware of the terrible position he was in. The Wilson railroad station and the airport were full of Jews scrambling desperately to find transportation to safer parts. That weekend gas masks were distributed to the populace. The word from Paris was that the French government was beginning to panic at the prospect of war, and the London dispatches indicated that Chamberlain was contemplating desperate measures to meet Hitler's demands -- at the expense of the Czechs, of course.

And so all Europe waited for Hitler's word on September 12 from Nuremberg. Though brutal and bombastic, and dripping with venom against the Czech state and especially against the Czech President, the Fuehrer's speech, made to a delirious mass of Nazi fanatics gathered in the huge stadium on the last night of the party rally, was not a declaration of war. He reserved his decision -- publicly at least, for, as we know from the captured German documents, he had already set October 1 for the attack across the Czech frontier. He simply demanded that the Czech government give "justice" to the Sudeten Germans. If it didn't, Germany would have to see to it that it did.

The repercussions to Hitler's outburst were considerable. In the Sudetenland it inspired a revolt which after two days of savage fighting the Czech government put down by rushing in troops and declaring martial law. Henlein slipped over the border to Germany proclaiming that the only solution now was the ceding of the Sudeten areas to Germany.

This was the solution which, as we have seen, was gaining favor in London, but before it could be furthered the agreement of France had to be obtained. The day following Hitler's speech, September 13, the French cabinet sat all day, remaining hopelessly divided on whether it should honor its obligations to Czechoslovakia in case of a German attack, which it believed imminent. That evening the British ambassador in Paris, Sir Eric Phipps, was fetched from the Opera Comique for an urgent conference with Prime Minister Daladier. The latter appealed to Chamberlain to try at once to make the best bargain he could with the German dictator.

Mr. Chamberlain, it may be surmised, needed little urging. At eleven o'clock that same night the British Prime Minister got off an urgent message to Hitler:

In view of the increasingly critical situation I propose to come over at once to see you with a view to trying to find a peaceful solution. I propose to come across by air and am ready to start tomorrow.

Please indicate earliest time at which you can see me and suggest place of meeting. I should be grateful for a very early reply. [40]

Two hours before, the German charge d'affaires in London, Theodor Kordt, had wired Berlin that Chamberlain's press secretary had informed him that the Prime Minister "was prepared to examine far-reaching German proposals, including plebiscite, to take part in carrying them out, and to advocate them in public." [41]

The surrender that was to culminate in Munich had begun.


"Good heavens!" ("Ich bin vom Himmel gefallen!") Hitler exclaimed when he read Chamberlain's message. [42] He was astounded but highly pleased that the man who presided over the destinies of the mighty British Empire should come pleading to him, and flattered that a man who was sixty-nine years old and had never traveled in an airplane before should make the long seven hours' flight to Berchtesgaden at the farthest extremity of Germany. Hitler had not had even the grace to suggest a meeting place on the Rhine, which would have shortened the trip by half.

Whatever the enthusiasm of the English, [viii] who seemed to believe that the Prime Minister was making the long journey to do what Mr. Asquith and Sir Edward Grey had failed to do in 1914 -- warn Germany that any aggression against a small power would bring not only France but Britain into war against it -- Hitler realized, as the confidential German papers and subsequent events make clear, that Chamberlain's action was a godsend to him. Already apprised by the German Embassy in London that the British leader was prepared to advocate "far-reaching German proposals," the Fuehrer felt fairly certain that Chamberlain's visit was a further assurance that, as he had believed all along, Britain and France would not intervene on behalf of Czechoslovakia. The Prime Minister had not been with him more than an hour or so before this estimate of the situation became a certainty.

In the beginning there was a diplomatic skirmish, though Hitler, as was his custom, did most of the talking. [43] Chamberlain had landed at the Munich airport at noon on September 15, driven in an open car to the railroad station and there boarded a special train for the three-hour rail journey to Berchtesgaden. He did not fail to notice train after train of German troops and artillery passing on the opposite track. Hitler did not meet his train at Berchtesgaden, but waited on the top steps of the Berghof to greet his distinguished visitor. It had begun to rain, Dr. Schmidt, the German interpreter, later remembered, the sky darkened and clouds hid the mountains. It was now 4 P.M. and Chamberlain had been on his way since dawn.

After tea Hitler and Chamberlain mounted the steps to Hitler's study on the second floor, the very room where the dictator had received Schuschnigg seven months before. At the urging of Ambassador Henderson, Ribbentrop was left out of the conversation, an exclusion which so irritated the vain Foreign Minister that the next day he refused to give Schmidt's notes on the conference to the Prime Minister -- a singular but typical discourtesy -- and Chamberlain thereafter was forced to rely on his memory of what he and Hitler had said.

Hitler began the conversation, as he did his speeches, with a long harangue about all that he had done for the German people, for peace, and for an Anglo-German rapprochement. There was now one problem he was determined to solve "one way or another." The three million Germans in Czechoslovakia must "return" to the Reich. [ix]

He did not wish [as Schmidt's official account puts it] that any doubts should arise as to his absolute determination not to tolerate any longer that a small, second-rate country should treat the mighty thousand-year-old German Reich as something inferior ... He was forty-nine years old, and jf Germany were to become involved in a world war over the Czechoslovak question, he wished to lead his country through the crisis in the full strength of manhood . . . He would, of course, be sorry if a world war should result from this problem. This danger, however, was incapable of making him falter in his determination . . . He would face any war, even a world war, for this. The rest of the world might do what it liked. He would not yield one single step.

Chamberlain, who had scarcely been able to get a word in, was a man of immense patience, but there were limits to it. At this juncture he interrupted to say, "If the Fuehrer is determined to settle this matter by force without waiting even for a discussion between ourselves, why did he let me come? I have wasted my time."

The German dictator was not accustomed to such an interruption -- no German at this date would dare to make one -- and Chamberlain's retort appears to have had its effect. Hitler calmed down. He thought they could go "into the question whether perhaps a peaceful settlement was still possible after all." And then he sprang his proposal.

Would Britain agree to a secession of the Sudeten region, or would she not? ... A secession on the basis of the right of self-determination?

The proposal did not shock Chamberlain. Indeed, he expressed satisfaction that they "had now got down to the crux of the matter." According to Chamberlain's own account, from memory, he replied that he could not commit himself until he had consulted his cabinet and the French. According to Schmidt's version, taken from his own shorthand notes made while he was interpreting, Chamberlain did say that, but added that "he could state personally that he recognized the principle of the detachment of the Sudeten areas ... He wished to return to England to report to the Government and secure their approval of his personal attitude."

From this surrender at Berchtesgaden, all else ensued.

That it came as no surprise to the Germans is obvious. At the very moment of the Berchtesgaden meeting Henlein was penning a secret letter to Hitler from Eger, dated September 15, just before he fled across the border to Germany:


I informed the British [Runciman] delegation yesterday that the basis for further negotiations could . . . only be the achievement of a union with the Reich.

It is probable that Chamberlain will propose such a union. [44]

The next day, September 16, the German Foreign Office sent confidential telegrams to its embassies in Washington and several other capitals.

Fuehrer told Chamberlain yesterday he was finally resolved to put an end in one way or another to the intolerable conditions in Sudetenland within a very short time. Autonomy for Sudeten Germans is no longer being considered, but only cession of the region to Germany. Chamberlain has indicated personal approval. He is now consulting British Cabinet and is in communication with Paris. Further meeting between Fuehrer and Chamberlain planned for very near future. [45]

Toward the end of their conference Chamberlain had extracted a promise from Hitler that he would take no military action until they had again conferred. In this period the Prime Minister had great confidence in the Fuehrer's word, remarking privately a day or two later, "In spite of the hardness and ruthlessness I thought I saw in his face, I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word." [46]

While the British leader was entertaining these comforting illusions Hitler went ahead with his military and political plans for the invasion of Czechoslovakia. Colonel Jodi, on behalf of OKW, worked out with the Propaganda Ministry what he described in his diary as "joint preparations for refutation of our own violations of international law." It was to be a rough war, at least on the part of the Germans, and Dr. Goebbels' job was to justify Nazi excesses. The plan for his lies was worked out in great detai1. [47] On September 17 Hitler assigned an OKW staff officer to help Henlein, who was now operating from new headquarters at a castle at Dondorf, outside Bayreuth, to organize the Sudeten Free Corps. It was to be armed with Austrian weapons and its orders from the Fuehrer were to maintain "disturbances and clashes" with the Czechs.

September 18, a day on which Chamberlain occupied himself with rallying his cabinet and the French to his policy of surrender, was a busy one for Hitler and his generals. The jumping-off schedule for five armies, the Second, Eighth, Tenth, Twelfth and Fourteenth, comprising thirty-six divisions, including three armored, was sent out. Hitler also confirmed the selection of the commanding officers for ten armies. General Adam, despite his obstreperousness, was left in over-all command in the west. Surprisingly, two of the plotters were recalled from retirement and named to lead armies: General Beck the First Army, and General von Hammerstein the Fourth Army.

Political preparations for the final blow against Czechoslovakia also continued. The captured German Foreign Office documents abound with reports of increasing German pressure on Hungary and Poland to get in on the spoils. Even the Slovaks were brought in to stir up the brew. On September 20 Henlein urged them to formulate their demands for autonomy "more sharply." On the same day Hitler received Prime Minister Imredy and Foreign Minister Kanya of Hungary and gave them a dressing down for the hesitancy shown in Budapest. A Foreign Office memorandum gives a lengthy report on the meeting.

First of all, the Fuehrer reproached the Hungarian gentlemen for the undecided attitude of Hungary. He, the Fuehrer, was determined to settle the Czech question even at the risk of a world war . . . He was convinced [however] that neither England nor France would intervene. It was Hungary's last opportunity to join in. If she did not, he would not be in a position to put in a word for Hungarian interests. In his opinion, the best thing would be to destroy Czechoslovakia . . .

He presented two demands to the Hungarians: (1) that Hungary should make an immediate demand for a plebiscite in the territories which she claimed, and (2) that she should not guarantee any proposed new frontiers for Czechoslovakia. [48]

Come what might with Chamberlain, Hitler, as he made clear to the Hungarians, had no intention of allowing even a rump Czechoslovakia to long exist. As to the British Prime Minister:

The Fuehrer declared that he would present the German demands to Chamberlain with brutal frankness. In his opinion, action by the Army would provide the only satisfactory solution. There was, however, a danger of the Czechs submitting to every demand.

It was a danger that was to haunt the dictator in all the subsequent meetings with the unsuspecting British Prime Minister.

Egged on by Berlin, the Polish government on September 21 demanded of the Czechs a plebiscite in the Teschen district, where there was a large Polish minority, and moved troops to the frontier of the area. The next day the Hungarian government followed suit. On that day, too, September 22, the Sudeten Free Corps, supported by German S.S. detachments, occupied the Czech frontier towns of Asch and Eger, which jutted into German territory.

September 22, in fact, was a tense day throughout Europe, for on that morning Chamberlain had again set out for Germany to confer with Hitler. It is now necessary to glance briefly at what the Prime Minister had been up to in London during the interval between his visits to the Fuehrer.

On his return to London on the evening of September 16, Chamberlain called a cabinet meeting to acquaint his ministers with Hitler's demands. Lord Runciman was summoned from Prague to make his recommendations. They were astonishing. Runciman, in his zeal to appease the Germans, went further than Hitler. He advocated transferring the predominantly Sudeten territories to Germany without bothering about a plebiscite. He strongly recommended the stifling of all criticism of Germany in Czechoslovakia "by parties or persons" through legal measures. He demanded that Czechoslovakia, even though deprived of her mountain barrier and fortifications -- and thus left helpless -- should nevertheless "so remodel her foreign relations as to give assurances to her neighbors that she will in no circumstances attack them or enter into any aggressive action against them arising from obligations to other States." For even Runciman to be concerned at this hour with the danger of aggression from a rump Czech state against Nazi Germany seems incredible, but his fantastic recommendations apparently made a deep impression on the British cabinet and bolstered Chamberlain's intention to meet Hitler's demands. [x]

Premier Daladier and his Foreign Minister, Georges Bonnet, arrived in London on September 18, for consultations with the British cabinet. No thought was given to bringing the Czechs in. The British and the French, anxious to avoid war at any cost, lost little time in agreeing on joint proposals which the Czechs would have to accept. All territories inhabited more than 50 per cent by Sudeten Germans must be turned over to Germany to assure "the maintenance of peace and the safety of Czechoslovakia's vital interests." In return Britain and France agreed to join in "an international guarantee of the new boundaries . . . against unprovoked aggression." Such a guarantee would supplant the mutual -- assistance treaties which the Czech state had with France and Russia. This was an easy way out for the French, and led by Bonnet, who, as the course of events would show, was determined to outdo Chamberlain in the appeasement of Hitler, they seized upon it. And then there was the cant.

Both the French and British governments [they told the Czechs in a formal note] recognize how great is the sacrifice thus required of the Czechoslovak Government in the cause of peace. But because that cause is common both to Europe in general and in particular to Czechoslovakia herself they have felt it their duty jointly to set forth frankly the conditions essential to secure it.

Also, they were in a hurry. The German dictator could not wait.

The Prime Minister must resume conversations with Herr Hitler not later than Wednesday [September 22], and earlier if possible. We therefore feel we must ask for your reply at the earliest possible moment. [49]

And so at noon on September 19 the British and French ministers in Prague jointly presented the Anglo-French proposals to the Czech government. They were rejected the next day in a dignified note which explained -- prophetically -- that to accept them would put Czechoslovakia "sooner or later under the complete domination of Germany." After reminding France of her treaty obligations and also of the consequences to the French position in Europe should the Czechs yield, the reply offered to submit the whole Sudeten question to arbitration under the terms of the German-Czech treaty of October 16, 1925. [xi]

But the British and French were in no mood to allow such a matter as the sanctity of treaties to interfere with the course they had set. No sooner was the note of rejection received by the Anglo-French envoys in Prague at 5 P.M. on the twentieth than the British minister, Sir Basil Newton, warned the Czech Foreign Minister, Dr. Kamil Krofta, that if the Czech government adhered to it Britain would disinterest herself in the fate of the country. M. de Lacroix, the French minister, associated himself with this statement on behalf of France.

In London and Paris, in the meantime, the Czech note was received with ill grace. Chamberlain called a meeting of his inner cabinet and a telephone link with Paris was set up for conversations with Daladier and Bonnet throughout the evening. It was agreed that both governments should subject Prague to further pressure. The Czechs must be told that if they held out they could expect no help from France or Britain.

By this time President Benes realized that he was being deserted by his supposed friends. He made one final effort to rally at least France. Shortly after 8 P.M. on the twentieth he had Dr. Krofta put the vital question to Lacroix: Would France honor her word to Czechoslovakia in case of a German attack or would she not? And when at 2:15 on the morning of September 21 Newton and Lacroix got Benes out of bed, bade him withdraw his note of rejection and declared that unless this were done and the Anglo-French proposals were accepted Czechoslovakia would have to fight Germany alone, the President asked the French minister to put it in writing. Probably he had already given up, but he had an eye on history.  [xii]

All through the next day, September 21, Benes, aching from fatigue, from the lack of sleep and from the contemplation of treachery and disaster, consulted with his cabinet, party leaders and the Army High Command. They had shown courage in the face of enemy threats but they began to crumble at the desertion of their friends and allies. What about Russia? As it happened, the Soviet Foreign Commissar, Litvinov, was making a speech that very day at Geneva reiterating that the Soviet Union would stand by its treaty with Czechoslovakia. Benes called in the Russian minister in Prague, who backed up what his Foreign Commissar had said. Alas for the Czechs, they realized that the pact with Russia called for the Soviets to come to their aid on condition that France did the same. And France had reneged.

Late in the afternoon of September 21, the Czech government capitulated and accepted the Anglo-French plan. "We had no other choice, because we were left alone," a government communique explained bitterly. Privately, Benes put it more succinctly: "We have been basely betrayed." The next day the cabinet resigned and General Jan Sirovy, the Inspector General of the Army, became the head of a new "government of national concentration."
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Mon Feb 05, 2018 2:03 am

Part 3 of 4


Though Chamberlain was bringing to Hitler all that he had asked for at their Berchtesgaden meeting, both men were uneasy as they met at the little Rhine town of Godesberg on the afternoon of September 22. The German charge d'affaires, after seeing the Prime Minister off at the London airport, had rushed off a wire to Berlin: "Chamberlain and his party have left under a heavy load of anxiety . . . Unquestionably opposition is growing to Chamberlain's policy."

Hitler was in a highly nervous state. On the morning of the twenty-second I was having breakfast on the terrace of the Hotel Dreesen, where the talks were to take place, when Hitler strode past on his way down to the riverbank to inspect his yacht. He seemed to have a peculiar tic. Every few steps he cocked his right shoulder nervously, his left leg snapping up as he did so. He had ugly, black patches under his eyes. He seemed to be, as I noted in my diary that evening, on the edge of a nervous breakdown. "Teppichfresser!" muttered my German companion, an editor who secretly despised the Nazis. And he explained that Hitler had been in such a maniacal mood over the Czechs the last few days that on more than one occasion he had lost control of himself completely, hurling himself to the floor and chewing the edge of the carpet. Hence the term "carpet eater." The evening before, while talking with some of the party hacks at the Dreesen, I had heard the expression applied to the Fuehrer -- in whispers, of course. [50]

Despite his misgivings about the growing opposition to his policies at home, Mr. Chamberlain appeared to be in excellent spirits when he arrived at Godesberg and drove through streets decorated not only with the swastika but with the Union Jack to his headquarters at the Petershof, a castlelike hotel on the summit of the Peters berg, high above the opposite (right) bank of the Rhine. He had come to fulfill everything that Hitler had demanded at Berchtesgaden, and even more. There remained only the details to work out and for this purpose he had brought along, in addition to Sir Horace Wilson and William Strang (the latter a Foreign Office expert on Eastern Europe), the head of the drafting and legal department of the Foreign Office, Sir William Malkin.

Late in the afternoon the Prime Minister crossed the Rhine by ferry to the Hotel Dreesen [xiii] where Hitler awaited him. For once, at the start at least, Chamberlain did all the talking. For what must have been more than an hour, judging by Dr. Schmidt's lengthy notes of the meeting, [51] the Prime Minister, after explaining that following "laborious negotiations" he had won over not only the British and French cabinets but the Czech government to accept the Fuehrer's demands, proceeded to outline in great detail the means by which they could be implemented. Accepting Runciman's advice, he was now prepared to see the Sudetenland turned over to Germany without a plebiscite. As to the mixed areas, their future could be determined by a commission of three members, a German, a Czech and one neutral. Furthermore, Czechoslovakia's mutual-assistance treaties with France and Russia, which were so distasteful to the Fuehrer, would be replaced by an international guarantee against an unprovoked attack on Czechoslovakia, which in the future "would have to be completely neutral."

It all seemed so simple, so reasonable, so logical to the peace-loving British businessman become British Prime Minister. He paused with evident self-satisfaction, as one eyewitness recorded, for Hitler's reaction.

"Do I understand that the British, French and Czech governments have agreed to the transfer of the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia to Germany?" Hitler asked. t He was astounded as he later told Chamberlain, that the concessions to him had gone so far and so fast.

"Yes," replied the Prime Minister, smiling.

"I am terribly sorry," Hitler said, "but after the events of the last few days, this plan is no longer of any use."

Chamberlain, Dr. Schmidt later remembered, sat up with a start. His owl-like face flushed with surprise and anger. But apparently not with resentment that Hitler had deceived him, that Hitler, like a common blackmailer, was upping his demands at the very moment they were being accepted. The Prime Minister described his own feelings at this moment in a report to the Commons a few days later:

I do not want the House to think that Hitler was deliberately deceiving me -- I do not think so for one moment -- but, for me, I expected that when I got back to Godesberg I had only to discuss quietly with him the proposals that I had brought with me; and it was a profound shock to me when I was told that these proposals were not acceptable . . .

Chamberlain saw the house of peace which he had so "laboriously" built up at the expense of the Czechs collapsing like a stack of cards. He was, he told Hitler, "both disappointed and puzzled. He could rightly say that the Fuehrer had got from him what he had demanded."

In order to achieve this he [Chamberlain] had risked his whole political career ... He was being accused by certain circles in Great Britain of having sold and betrayed Czechoslovakia, of having yielded to the dictators, and on leaving England that morning he actually had been booed.

But the Fuehrer was unmoved by the personal plight of the British Prime Minister. The Sudeten area, he demanded, must be occupied by Germany at once. The problem "must be completely and finally solved by October first, at the latest." He had a map handy to indicate what territories must be ceded immediately.

And so, his mind "full of foreboding," as he later told the Commons, Chamberlain withdrew across the Rhine "to consider what 1 was to do." There seemed so little hope that evening that after he had consulted with his own cabinet colleagues and with members of the French government by telephone it was agreed that London and Paris should inform the Czech government the next day that they could not "continue to take the responsibility of advising them not to mobilize." [xiv]

At 7:20 that evening General Keitel telephoned Army headquarters from Godesberg: "Date (of X Day) cannot yet be ascertained. Continue preparations according to plan. If Case Green occurs, it will not be before September 30. If it occurs sooner, it will probably be improvised." [53]

For Adolf Hitler himself was caught in a dilemma. Though Chamberlain did not know it, the Fuehrer's real objective, as he had laid it down in his OKW directive after the May crisis, was "to destroy Czechoslovakia by military action." To accept the Anglo-French plan, which the Czechs already had agreed to, however reluctantly, would not only give Hitler his Sudeten Germans but would effectively destroy the Czech state, since it would be left defenseless. But it would not be by military action, and the Fuehrer was determined not only to humiliate President Benes and the Czech government, which had so offended him in May, but to expose the spinelessness of the Western powers. For that, at least a military occupation was necessary. It could be bloodless, as was the military occupation of Austria, but it must take place. He must have at least that much revenge on the upstart Czechs.

There was no further contact between the two men on the evening of September 22. But after sleeping on the problem and spending the early morning pacing his balcony overlooking the Rhine, Chamberlain sat down following breakfast and wrote a letter to Hitler. He would submit the new German demands to the Czechs but he did not think they would be accepted. In fact, he had no doubt that the Czechs would forcibly resist an immediate occupation by German troops. But he was willing to suggest to Prague, since all parties had agreed on the transfer of the Sudeten area to Germany, that the Sudeten Germans themselves maintain law and order in their area until it was turned over to the Reich.

To such a compromise Hitler would not listen. After keeping the Prime Minister waiting throughout most of the day he finally replied by note with a bitter tirade, again rehearsing all the wrongs the Czechs had done to Germans, again refusing to modify his position and concluding that war "now appears to be the case." Chamberlain's answer was brief. He asked Hitler to put his new demands in writing, "together with a map," and undertook "as mediator" to send them to Prague. "I do not see that I can perform any further service here," he concluded. "I propose therefore to return to England."

Before doing so he came over once again to the Dreesen for a final meeting with Hitler which began at 10: 30 on the evening of September 23. Hitler presented his demands in the form of a memorandum with an accompanying map. Chamberlain found himself confronted with a new time limit. The Czechs were to begin the evacuation of the ceded territory by 8 A.M. on September 26 -- two days hence -- and complete it by September 28.

"But this is nothing less than an ultimatum!" Chamberlain exclaimed.

"Nothing of the sort," Hitler shot back. When Chamberlain retorted that the German word Diktat applied to it, Hitler answered, "It is not a Diktat at all. Look, the document is headed by the word 'Memorandum.'"

At this moment an adjutant brought in an urgent message for the Fuehrer. He glanced at it and tossed it to Schmidt, who was interpreting. "Read this to Mr. Chamberlain."

Schmidt did. "Benes has just announced over the radio a general mobilization in Czechoslovakia."

The room, Schmidt recalled afterward, was deadly still. Then Hitler spoke: "Now, of course, the whole affair is settled. The Czechs will not dream of ceding any territory to Germany."

Chamberlain, according to the Schmidt minutes, disagreed. In fact, there followed a furious argument.

The Czechs had mobilized first [said Hitler]. Chamberlain contradicted this. Germany had mobilized first . . . The Fuehrer denied that Germany had mobilized.

And so the talks continued into the early-morning hours. Finally, after Chamberlain had inquired whether the German memorandum "was really his last word" and Hitler had replied that it was indeed, the Prime Minister

answered that there was no point in continuing the conversations. He had done his utmost; his efforts had failed. He was going away with a heavy heart, for the hopes with which he had come to Germany were destroyed.

The German dictator did not want Chamberlain to get off the hook. He responded with a "concession."

"You are one of the few men for whom I have ever done such a thing," he said breezily. "I am prepared to set one single date for the Czech evacuation -- October first -- if that will facilitate your task." And so saying, he took a pencil and changed the dates himself. This, of course, was no concession at all. October 1 had been X Day all along. [xv]

But it seems to have impressed the Prime Minister. "He fully appreciated," Schmidt recorded him as saying, "the Fuehrer's consideration on the point." Nevertheless, he added, he was not in a position to accept or reject the proposals; he could only transmit them.

The ice, however, had been broken, and as the meeting broke up at 1: 30 A.M. the two men seemed, despite all that had happened, to be closer together personally than at any time since they had first met. I myself, from a vantage point twenty-five feet away in the porter's booth, where I had set up a temporary broadcasting studio, watched them say their farewells near the door of the hotel. I was struck by their cordiality to each other. Schmidt took down the words which I could not hear.

Chamberlain bid a hearty farewell to the Fuehrer. He said he had the feeling that a relationship of confidence had grown up between himself and the Fuehrer as a result of the conversations of the last few days ... He did not cease to hope that the present difficult crisis would be overcome, and then he would be glad to discuss other problems still outstanding with the Fuehrer in the same spirit.

The Fuehrer thanked Chamberlain for his words and told him that he had similar hopes. As he had already stated several times, the Czech problem was the last territorial demand which he had to make in Europe.

This renunciation of further land grabs seems to have impressed the departing Prime Minister too, for in his subsequent report to the House of Commons he stressed that Hitler had made it "with great earnestness." When Chamberlain arrived at his hotel toward 2 A.M. he was asked by a journalist, "Is the position hopeless, sir?"

"I would not like to say that," the Prime Minister answered. "It is up to the Czechs now." [55]

It did not occur to him, it is evident, that it was up to the Germans, with their outrageous demands, too.

In fact, no sooner had the Prime Minister returned to London on September 24 than he attempted to do the very thing he had informed Hitler he would not do: persuade the British cabinet to accept the new Nazi demands. But now he ran into unexpected opposition. Duff Cooper, the First Lord of the Admiralty, firmly opposed him. Surprisingly, so did Lord Halifax, though very reluctantly. Chamberlain could not carry his cabinet. Nor could he persuade the French government, which on the twenty-fourth rejected the Godesberg memorandum and on the same day ordered a partial mobilization.

When the French ministers, headed by Premier Daladier, arrived in London on Sunday, September 25, the two governments were apprised of the formal rejection of the Godesberg proposals by the Czech government. [xvi] There was nothing for the French to do but affirm that they would honor their word and come to the aid of Czechoslovakia if attacked. But they had to know what Britain would do. Finally cornered, or ~o it seemed, Chamberlain agreed to inform Hitler that if France became engaged in war with Germany as a result of her treaty obligations to the Czechs, Britain would feel obliged to support her.

But first he would make one last appeal to the German dictator. Hitler was scheduled to make a speech at the Sportpalast in Berlin on September 26. In order to induce him not to burn his bridges Chamberlain once again dashed off a personal letter to Hitler and on the afternoon of the twenty-sixth rushed it to Berlin by his faithful aide, Sir Horace Wilson, who sped to the German capital by special plane.

On the departure of Chamberlain from the Dreesen in the early-morning hours of September 24, the Germans had been plunged into gloom. Now that war seemed to face them, some of them, at least, did not like it. I lipgered in the hotel lobby for some time over a late supper. Goering, Goebbels, Ribbentrop, General Keitel and lesser men stood around earnestly talking. They seemed dazed at the prospect of war.

In Berlin later that day I found hopes reviving. In the Wilhelmstrasse the feeling was that since Chamberlain, with all the authority of the British Prime Minister, had agreed to present Hitler's new demands to Prague, it must be assumed that the British leader supported Hitler's proposals. As we have seen, the assumption was quite correct -- so far as it went.

Sunday, September 25, was a lovely day of Indian summer in Berlin, warm and sunny, and since it undoubtedly would be the last such weekend that autumn, half of the population flocked to the lakes and woods that surround the capital. Despite reports of Hitler's rage at hearing that the Godesberg ultimatum was being rejected in Paris, London and Prague, there was no feeling of great crisis, certainly no war fever, in Berlin. "Hard to believe there will be war," I noted in my diary that evening. [xvii]

On the Monday following there was a sudden change for the worse. At 5 P.M. Sir Horace Wilson, accompanied by Ambassador Henderson and Ivone Kirkpatrick, First Secretary of the British Embassy, arrived at the Chancellery bearing Chamberlain's letter. [57] They found Hitler in an ugly mood -- probably he was already working himself down to a proper level for his Sportpalast speech three hours hence.

When Dr. Schmidt began to translate the letter, which stated that the Czech government had informed the Prime Minister that the Godesberg memorandum was "wholly unacceptable," just as he had warned at Godesberg, Hitler, according to Schmidt, suddenly leaped up, shouting, "There's no sense at all in negotiating further!" and bounded for the door. [58]

It was a painful scene, says the German interpreter. "For the first and only time in my presence, Hitler completely lost his head." And according to the British present, the Fuehrer, who soon stamped back to his chair, kept further interrupting the reading of the letter by screaming, "The Germans are being treated like niggers . . . On October first I shall have Czechoslovakia where I want her. If France and England decide to strike, let them . . . I do not care a pfennig."

Chamberlain had proposed that since the Czechs were willing to give Hitler what he wanted, the Sudeten areas, a meeting of Czech and German representatives be called immediately to settle "by agreement the way in which the territory is to be handed over." He added that he was willing to have British representatives sit in at the meeting. Hitler's response was that he would negotiate details with the Czechs if they accepted in advance the Godesberg memorandum (which they had just rejected) and agreed to a German occupation of the Sudeten land by October 1. He must have an affirmative reply, he said, within forty-four hours -- by 2 P.M. on September 28.

That evening Hitler burned his bridges, or so it seemed to those of us who listened in amazement to his mad outburst at the jammed Sportpalast in Berlin .. Shouting and shrieking in the worst paroxysm I had ever seen him in, he venomously hurled personal insults at "Herr Benes," declared that the issue of war or peace was now up to the Czech President and that, in any case, he would have the Sudetenland by October 1. Carried away as he was by his angry torrent of words and the ringing cheers of the crowd, he was shrewd enough to throw a sop to the British Prime Minister. He thanked him for his efforts for peace and reiterated that this was his last territorial claim in Europe. "We want no Czechs!" he muttered contemptuously.

Throughout the harangue I sat in a balcony just above Hitler, trying with no great success to broadcast a running translation of his words. That night in my diary I noted:

. . . For the first time in all the years I've observed him he seemed tonight to have completely lost control of himself. When he sat down, Goebbels sprang up and shouted into the microphone: "One thing is sure: 1918 will never be repeated!" Hitler looked up to him, a wild, eager expression in his eyes, as if those were the words which he had been searching for all evening and hadn't quite found. He leaped to his feet and with a fanatical fire in his eyes that I shall never forget brought his right hand, after a grand sweep, pounding down on the table, and yelled with all the power in his mighty lungs: "Ja!" Then he slumped into his chair exhausted.

He was fully recovered when he received Sir Horace Wilson for the second time the next noon, September 27. The special envoy, a man with no diplomatic training but who was as anxious as the Prime Minister, if not more so, to give Hitler the Sudetenland if the dictator would only accept it peacefully, called Hitler's attention to a special statement issued by Chamberlain in London shortly after midnight in response to the Fuehrer's Sportpalast speech. In view of the Chancellor's lack of faith in Czech promises, the British government, Chamberlain said, would regard itself "as morally responsible" for seeing that the Czech promises were carried out "fairly, fully and with all reasonable promptitude." He trusted that the Chancellor would not reject this proposal.

But Hitler showed no interest in it. He had, he said, no further message for Mr. Chamberlain. It was now up to the Czechs. They could accept or reject his demands. If they rejected them, he shouted angrily, "I shall destroy Czechoslovakia!" He kept repeating the threat with obvious relish.

Apparently that was too much even for the accommodating Wilson, who rose to his feet and said, "In that case, I am entrusted by the Prime Minister to make the following statement: 'If France, in fulfillment of her treaty obligations, should become actively engaged in hostilities against Germany, the United Kingdom would feel obliged to support France.'"

"I can only take note of that position," Hitler replied with some heat. "It means that if France elects to attack Germany, England will feel obliged to attack her also."

When Sir Horace replied that he had not said that, that it was up to Hitler, after all, whether there would be peace or war, the Fuehrer, working himself up by now to a fine lather, shouted, "If France and England strike, let them do so! It's a matter of complete indifference to me. Today is Tuesday; by next Monday we shall be at war."

According to Schmidt's official notes on the meeting, Wilson apparently wished to continue the conversation, but was advised by Ambassador Henderson to desist. This did not prevent the inexperienced special envoy from getting in a word with the Fuehrer alone as the meeting broke up. "I shall try to make these Czechs sensible," [xviii] he assured Hitler, and the latter replied that he "would welcome that." Perhaps, the Fuehrer must have thought, Chamberlain could still be coaxed to go further in making the Czechs "sensible." That evening, in fact, he sat down and dictated to the Prime Minister a shrewdly worded letter.

There were well-grounded reasons for writing it. Much had happened in Berlin -- and elsewhere -- during that day, September 27.

At 1 P.M., shortly after Wilson's departure, Hitler issued a "most secret" order directing assault units comprising some twenty-one reinforced regiments, or seven divisions, to move forward from their training areas to the jumping-off points on the Czech frontier. "They must be ready," said the order, "to begin action against 'Green' on September 30, the decision having been made one day previously by twelve noon." A few hours later a further concealed mobilization was ordered by the Fuehrer. Among other measures, five new divisions were mobilized for the west. [59]

But even as Hitler went ahead with his military moves, there were developments during the day which made him hesitate. In order to stir up some war fever among the populace Hitler ordered a parade of a motorized division through the capital at dusk -- an hour when hundreds of thousands of Berliners would be pouring out of their offices onto the streets. It turned out to be a terrible fiasco -- at least for the Supreme Commander. The good people of Berlin simply did not want to be reminded of war. In my diary that night I noted down the surprising scene.

I went out to the corner of the Linden where the column [of troops] was turning down the Wilhelmstrasse, expecting to see a tremendous demonstration. I pictured the scenes I had read of in 1914 when the cheering throngs on this same street tossed flowers at the marching soldiers, and the girls ran up and kissed them . . . But today they ducked into the subways, refused to look on, and the handful that did stood at the curb in utter silence . . . It has been the most striking demonstration against war I've ever seen.

At the urging of a policeman I walked down the Wilhelmstrasse to the Reichskanzlerplatz, where Hitler stood on a balcony of the Chancellery reviewing the troops.

. . . There weren't two hundred people there. Hitler looked grim, then angry, and soon went inside, leaving his troops to parade by unreviewed. What I've seen tonight almost rekindles a little faith in the German people. They are dead set against war.

Within the Chancellery there was further bad news -- this from abroad. There was a dispatch from Budapest saying that Yugoslavia and Rumania had informed the Hungarian government that they would move against Hungary militarily if she attacked Czechoslovakia. That would spread the war to the Balkans, something Hitler did not want.

The news from Paris was graver. From the German military attache there came a telegram marked "Very Urgent" and addressed not only to the Foreign Ministry but to OKW and the General Staff. It warned that France's partial mobilization was so much like a total one "that I reckon with the completion of the deployment of the first 65 divisions on the German frontier by the sixth day of mobilization." Against such a force the Germans had, as Hitler knew, barely a dozen divisions, half of them reserve units of doubtful value. Furthermore, wired the German military attache, "it appears probable that in the event of belligerent measures by Germany . . . an immediate attack will take place, in all probability from Lower Alsace and from Lorraine in the direction of Mainz."

Finally, this German officer informed Berlin, the Italians were doing absolutely nothing to pin down French troops on the Franco-Italian frontier. [60] Mussolini, the valiant ally, seemed to be letting Hitler down in a crucial hour.

And then, the President of the United States and the King of Sweden were butting in. The day before, on the twenty-sixth, Roosevelt had addressed an appeal to Hitler to help keep the peace, and though Hitler had answered it within twenty-four hours, saying that peace depended solely on the Czechs, there came another message from the American President during the course of this day, Wednesday the twenty-seventh, suggesting an immediate conference of all the nations directly interested and implying that if war broke out the world would hold Hitler responsible.  [61]

The King of Sweden, staunch friend of Germany, as he had proved during the 1914-18 war, was more frank. During the afternoon a dispatch arrived in Berlin from the German minister in Stockholm saying that the King had hastily summoned him and told him that unless Hitler extended his time limit of October 1 by ten days world war would inevitably break out, Germany would be solely to blame for it and moreover just as inevitably would lose it "in view of the present combination of the Powers." In the cool, neutral air of Stockholm, the shrewd King was able to assess at least the military situation more objectively than the heads of government in Berlin, London and Paris.

President Roosevelt, as perhaps was necessary in view of American sentiment, had weakened his two appeals for peace by stressing that the United States would not intervene in a war nor even assume any obligations "in the conduct of the present negotiations." The German ambassador in Washington, Hans Dieckhoff, therefore thought it necessary to get off a "very urgent" cable to Berlin during the day. He warned that if Hitler resorted to force and was opposed by Britain he had reason to assume "that the whole weight of the United States [would] be thrown into the scale on the side of Britain." And the ambassador, usually a timid man when it came to standing up to the Fuehrer, added, "1 consider it my duty to emphasize this very strongly." He did not want the German government to stumble into the same mistaken assumptions it had made about America in 1914.

And Prague? Was there any sign of weakening there? In the evening came a telegram from Colonel Toussaint, the German military attache, to OKW: "Calm in Prague. Last mobilization measures carried out . . . Total estimated call-up is 1,000,000; field army 800,000 ... " [62] That was as many trained men as Germany had for two fronts. Together the Czechs and the French outnumbered the Germans by more than two to one.

Faced with these facts and developments and no doubt mindful of Wilson's parting words and of Chamberlain's character and of Chamberlain's utter fear of war, Hitler sat down early on that evening of September 27 to dictate a letter to the Prime Minister. Dr. Schmidt, who was called in to translate it into English, got the feeling that the dictator was shrinking back "from the extreme step." Whether Hitler knew that the order was going out that evening for the mobilization of the British fleet cannot be established. Admiral Raeder arranged to see the Fuehrer at 10 P.M., and it is possible that the German Navy learned of the British move, which was made at 8 P.M. and publicly announced at 11:38 P.M., and that Raeder informed Hitler by telephone. At any rate, when the Admiral arrived he appealed to the Fuehrer not to go to war.

What Hitler did know at this moment was that Prague was defiant, Paris rapidly mobilizing, London stiffening, his own people apathetic, his leading generals dead against him, and that his ultimatum on the Godesberg proposals expired at 2 P.M. the next day.

His letter was beautifully calculated to appeal to Chamberlain. Moderate in tone, it denied that his proposals would "rob Czechoslovakia of every guarantee of its existence" or that his troops would fail to stop at the demarcation lines. He was ready to negotiate details with the Czechs; he was ready to "give a formal guarantee for the remainder of Czechoslovakia." The Czechs were holding out simply because they hoped, with the help of England and France, to start a European war. Nevertheless, he did not slam the door on the last hopes of peace.

I must leave it to your judgment [he concluded] whether, in view of these facts, you consider that you should continue your effort . . . to spoil such maneuvers and bring the Government in Prague to reason at the very last hour. [63]


Hitler's letter, telegraphed urgently to London, reached Chamberlain at 10: 30 on the night of September 27. It came at the end of a busy day for the Prime Minister.

The disquieting news which Sir Horace Wilson, who arrived in London early in the afternoon, brought from his second conference with Hitler spurred Chamberlain and his inner cabinet to action. It was decided to mobilize the fleet, call up the Auxiliary Air Force and declare a state of emergency. Already trenches were being dug in the parks and squares for protection against bombing, and the evacuation of London's school children had begun.

Also, the Prime Minister promptly sent off a message to President Benes in Prague warning that his information from Berlin "makes it clear that the German Army will receive orders to cross the Czechoslovak frontier immediately if, by tomorrow [September 28] at 2 P.M. the Czechoslovak Government have not accepted the German conditions." But having honorably warned the Czechs, Chamberlain could not refrain from admonishing them, in the last part of his message, "that Bohemia would be overrun by the German Army and nothing which another Power or Powers could do would be able to save your country and your people from such a fate. This remains true whatever the result of a world war might be."

Thus Chamberlain was putting the responsibility for peace or war no longer on Hitler but on Benes. And he was giving a military opinion which even the German generals, as we have seen, held as irresponsible. However, he did add, at the end of his message, that he would not assume the responsibility of telling the Czechs what they must now do. It was up to them.

But was it? Benes had not had time to reply to the telegram when a second one arrived in which Chamberlain did endeavor to tell the Czech government what to do. He proposed that the Czechs accept a limited German military occupation on October 1 -- of Egerland and Asch, outside the Czech fortifications -- and that a German-Czech-British boundary commission then quickly establish the rest of the areas to be turned over to the Germans. [xix] And the Prime Minister added a further warning:

The only alternative to this plan would be an invasion and a dismemberment of the country by force, and Czechoslovakia, though a conflict might arise which would lead to incalculable loss of life, could not be reconstituted in her frontiers whatever the result of the conflict may be. [64]

The Czechs were thus warned by their friends (France associated herself with these latest proposals) that even if they and their allies defeated the Germans in a war, Czechoslovakia would have to give up the Sudetenland to Germany. The inference was plain: Why plunge Europe into a war, since the Sudetenland is lost to you anyway?

This business out of the way, the Prime Minister broadcast to the nation at 8:30 P.M.:

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches . . here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing! . . .

Hitler had got the "substance of what he wanted." Britain had offered to guarantee that the Czechs would accept it and carry it out.

I would not hesitate to pay even a third visit to Germany if I thought it would do any good . . .

However much we may sympathize with a small nation confronted by a big and powerful neighbor, we cannot in all circumstances undertake to involve the whole British Empire in a war simply on her account. If we have to fight it must be on larger issues than that . . .

I am myself a man of peace to the very depths of my soul. Armed conflict between nations is a nightmare to me; but, if I were convinced that any nation had made up its mind to dominate the world by fear of force, I should feel that it must be resisted. Under such a domination, life for people who believe in liberty would not be worth living; but war is a fearful thing, and we must be very clear, before we embark on it, that it is really the great issues that are at stake.

Wheeler-Bennett has recorded that after listening to this broadcast most people in Britain went to bed that night believing that Britain and Germany would be at war within twenty-four hours. [65] But the good people did not know what was happening at Downing Street still later that evening.

At 10:30 P.M. came Hitler's letter. It was a straw which the Prime Minister eagerly grasped. To the Fuehrer he replied:

After reading your letter, I feel certain that you can get all essentials without war, and without delay. I am ready to come to Berlin myself at once to discuss arrangements for transfer with you and representatives of the Czech Government, together with representatives of France and Italy, if you desire. I feel convinced we can reach agreement in a week. I cannot believe that you will take responsibility of starting a world war which may end civilization for the sake of a few days delay in settling this long-standing problem. [66]

A telegram also went out to Mussolini asking him to urge the Fuehrer's acceptance of this plan and to agree to being represented at the suggested meeting.

The idea of a conference had been in the back of the Prime Minister's mind for some time. As far back as July, Sir Nevile Henderson had suggested it on his own in a dispatch to London. He had proposed that four powers, Germany, Italy, Britain and France, settle the Sudeten problem. But both the ambassador and the Prime Minister had been reminded by the British Foreign Office that it would be difficult to exclude other powers from participating in such a conference. [67] The "other powers" were Russia, which had a pact of mutual assistance with Prague, and Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain had returned from Godesberg convinced -- quite correctly -- that Hitler would never consent to any meeting which included the Soviet Union. Nor did the Prime Minister himself desire the presence of the Russians. Though it was obvious to the smallest mind in Britain that in case of war with Germany, Soviet participation on the side of the West would be of immense value, as Churchill repeatedly tried to point out to the head of the British government, this was a view which seems to have escaped the Prime Minister. He had, as we have seen, turned down the Russian proposal for a conference after the Anschluss to discuss means of opposing further German aggression. Despite Moscow's guarantee to Czechoslovakia and the fact that right up to this moment Litvinov was proclaiming that Russia would honor it, Chamberlain had no intention of allowing the Soviets to interfere with his resolve to keep the peace by giving Hitler the Sudetenland.

But until Wednesday, September 28, he had not yet gone so far in his thinking as to exclude the Czechs from a conference. Indeed, on the twenty-fifth, after Prague had rejected Hitler's Godesberg demands, the Prime Minister had called in Jan Masaryk, the Czech ambassador in London, and proposed that Czechoslovakia should agree to negotiations at "an international conference in which Germany, Czechoslovakia and other powers could participate." On the following day the Czech government had accepted the idea. And, as we have just seen, in his message to Hitler late on the night of the twenty-seventh Chamberlain had specified that "representatives of Czechoslovakia" should be included in his proposed conference of Germany, Italy, France and Great Britain.


Deep gloom hung over Berlin, Prague, London and Paris as "Black Wednesday," September 28, dawned. War seemed inevitable.

"A Great War can hardly be avoided any longer," Jodl quoted Goering as saying that morning. "It may last seven years, and we will win it." [68]

In London the digging of trenches, the evacuation of school children, the emptying of hospitals, continued. In Paris there was a scramble for the choked trains leaving the city, and the motor traffic out of the capital was jammed. There were similar scenes in western Germany. Jodl jotted in his diary that morning reports of German refugees fleeing from the border regions. At 2 P.M. Hitler's time limit for Czechoslovakia's acceptance of the Godesberg proposals would run out. There was no sign from Prague that they would be accepted. There were, however, certain other signs: great activity in the Wilhelmstrasse; a frantic coming and going of the French, British and Italian ambassadors. But of these the general public and indeed the German generals remained ignorant.

To some of the generals and to General Halder, Chief of the General Staff, above all, the time had come to carry out their plot to remove Hitler and save the Fatherland from plunging into a European war which they felt it was doomed to lose. All through September the conspirators, according to the later accounts of the survivors, [xx] had been busy working out their plans.

General Halder was in close touch with Colonel Oster and his chief at the Abwehr, Admiral Canaris, who tried to keep him abreast of Hitler's political moves and of foreign intelligence. The plotters, as we have seen, had warned London of Hitler's resolve to attack Czechoslovakia by the end of September and had begged the British government to make clear that Britain, along with France, would answer German aggression by armed force. For some months General von Witzleben, who commanded the Berlin Military District, and who would have to furnish most of the troops to carry out the coup, had been hesitant because he suspected that London and Paris had secretly given Hitler a free hand in the East and would therefore not go to war over Czechoslovakia -- a view shared by several other generals and one which Hitler and Ribbentrop had encouraged. If this were true, the plot to depose Hitler, in the opinion of generals such as Witzleben and Halder, was senseless. For, at this stage of the Third Reich, they were concerned only with getting rid of the Fuehrer in order to avert a European war which Germany had no chance of winning. If there were really no risk of a big war, if Chamberlain were going to give Hitler what he wanted in Czechoslovakia without a war, then they saw no point in trying to carry out a revolt.

To assure the generals that Britain and France meant business, Colonel Oster and Gisevius arranged for General Halder and General von Witzleben to meet Schacht, who, besides having prestige with the military hierarchy as the man who financed German rearmament and who still was in the cabinet, was considered an expert on British affairs. Schacht assured them that the British would fight if Hitler resorted to arms against the Czechs.

The news that had reached Erich Kordt, one of the conspirators, in the German Foreign Office late on the night of September 13, that Chamberlain urgently proposed "to come over at once by air" to seek a peaceful solution of the Czech crisis, had caused consternation in the camp of the plotters. They had counted on Hitler's returning to Berlin from the Nuremberg Party Rally on the fourteenth and, according to Kordt, had planned to carry out the putsch on that day or the next. But the Fuehrer did not return to the capital. [xxi] Instead, he went to Munich and on the fourteenth continued on to Berchtesgaden, where he awaited the visit of the British Prime Minister the next day.

There were double grounds for the feeling of utter frustration among the plotters. Their plans could be carried out only if Hitler were in Berlin, and they had been confident that, since the Nuremberg rally had only sharpened the Czech crisis, he would certainly return immediately to the capital. In the second place, although some of the members of the conspiracy complacently assumed, as did the people of Britain, that Chamberlain was flying to Berchtesgaden to warn Hitler not to make the mistake that Wilhelm II had made in 1914 as to what Great Britain would do in the case of German aggression, Kordt knew better. He had seen the text of Chamberlain's urgent message explaining to Hitler that he wanted to see him "with a view to trying to find a peaceful solution." Furthermore, he had seen the telegram from his brother, Theodor Kordt, counselor of the German Embassy in London, that day, confiding that the Prime Minister was prepared to go a long way to meet Hitler's demands in the Sudetenland. [xxii]

"The effect on our plans," says Kordt, "was bound to be disastrous. It would have been absurd to stage a putsch to overthrow Hitler at a moment when the British Prime Minister was coming to Germany to discuss with Hitler 'the peace of the world.'"

However, on the evening of September 15, according to Erich Kordt, Dr. Paul Schmidt, who was in on the conspiracy, and who, as we have seen, acted as sole interpreter -- and sole witness -- at the Hitler-Chamberlain talk, informed him "by prearranged code" that the Fuehrer was still determined to conquer the whole of Czechoslovakia and that he had put forward to Chamberlain impossible demands "in the hope that they would be refused." This intelligence revived the spirits of the conspirators. Kordt informed Colonel Oster of it the same evening and it was decided to go ahead with the plans as soon as Hitler returned to Berlin. "But first of all," Oster said, "we must get the bird back into his cage in Berlin."

The bird flew back to his "cage" from the Godesberg talks on the afternoon of September 24. On the morning of "Black Wednesday," the twenty-eighth, Hitler had been in Berlin for nearly four days. On the twenty-sixth he apparently had burned his bridges in his outburst at the Sportpalast. On the twenty-seventh he had sent Sir Horace Wilson back to London empty-handed, and the British government's reaction had been to mobilize the fleet and warn Prague to expect an immediate German attack. During the day he had also, as we have seen, ordered the "assault units" to ta!,e their combat positions on the Czech frontier and be ready for "action" on September 30 -- three days hence.

What were the conspirators waiting for? All the conditions they themselves had set had now been fulfilled. Hitler was in Berlin. He was determined to go to war. He had set the date for the attack on Czechoslovakia as September 30 -- two days away now. Either the putsch must be made at once, or it would be too late to overthrow the dictator and stop the war.

Kordt declares that during the day of September 27 the plotters set a definite date for action: September 29. Gisevius, in his testimony on the stand at Nuremberg and also in his book, claims that the generals -- Halder and Witzleben -- decided to act immediately on September 28 after they got a copy of Hitler's "defiant letter" with its "insulting demand" to Chamberlain of the night before.

Oster received a copy of this defiant letter [Gisevius says] late that night [September 27], and on the morning of September 28 I took the copy to Witzleben. Witzleben went to Halder with it. Now, at last, the Chief of the General Staff had his desired, unequivocal proof that Hitler was not bluffing, that he wanted war.

Tears of indignation ran down Halder's cheeks . . . Witzleben insisted that now it was time to take action. He persuaded Halder to go to see Brauchitsch. After a while Halder returned to say that he had good news: Brauchitsch was also outraged and would probably take part in the Putsch. [70]

But either the text of the letter had been altered in the copying or the generals misunderstood it, for, as we have seen, it was so moderate in tone, so full of promises to "negotiate details with the Czechs" and to "give a formal guarantee for the remainder of Czechoslovakia," so conciliatory in suggesting to Chamberlain that he might continue his efforts, that the Prime Minister, after reading it, had immediately telegraphed Hitler suggesting a Big-Power conference to settle the details and at the same time wired Mussolini asking his support for such a proposal.

Of this eleventh-hour effort at appeasement the generals apparently had no knowledge, but General von Brauchitsch, the Commander in Chief of the Army, may have had some inkling. According to Gisevius, Witzleben telephoned Brauchitsch from Halder's office, told him that all was ready and pleaded with him to lead the revolt himself. But the Army commander was noncommittal. He informed Halder and Witzleben that he would first have to go over to the Fuehrer's Chancellery to see for himself whether the generals had assessed the situation correctly. Gisevius says that Witzleben rushed back to his military headquarters.

"Gisevius," he declared excitedly, "the time has come!"

At eleven o'clock that morning of September 28 the phone rang at Kordt's desk in the Foreign Office. Ciano was on the line from Rome and wanted urgently to speak to the German Foreign Minister. Ribbentrop was not available -- he was at the Reich Chancellery -- so the Italian Foreign Minister asked to be put through to his ambassador, Bernardo Attolico. The Germans listened in and recorded the call. It developed that Mussolini, and not his son-in-law, wanted to do the talking.

MUSSOLINI: This is the Duce speaking. Can you hear me?

ATTOLICO: Yes, I hear you.

MUSSOLINI: Ask immediately for an interview with the Chancellor. Tell him the British government asked me through Lord Perth [xxiii] to mediate in the Sudeten question. The point of difference is very small. Tell the Chancellor that I and Fascist Italy stand behind him. He must decide. But tell him I favor accepting the suggestion. You hear me?

ATTOLICO: Yes, I hear you.

MUSSOLINI: Hurry! [71]

Out of breath, his face flushed with excitement (as Dr. Schmidt, the interpreter, noted), Ambassador Attolico arrived at the Chancellery to find that the French ambassador was already closeted with Hitler. M. Francois-Poncet had had a hard time getting there. Very late the night before, Bonnet, the French Foreign Minister, who was now intent on going Chamberlain one better, had telephoned his ambassador in Berlin and instructed him to see Hitler at the earliest possible moment and present a French proposal for surrendering the Sudetenland which went much further than the British plan. Whereas the Prime Minister's proposal, delivered to Hitler at 11 P.M. on September 27, offered Hitler the occupation of Zone I of the Sudetenland by October 1 -- a mere token occupation of a tiny enclave -- the French now proposed to hand over three large zones, which comprised most of the disputed territory, by October 1.

It was a tempting offer, but the French ambassador had great difficulty in making it. He phoned at 8 A.M. on September 28 for an appointment with the Chancellor and when no response had been received by ten o'clock rushed his military attache off to the Army General Staff to inform the German generals of the offer which he was as yet unable to deliver. He enlisted the aid of the British ambassador. Sir Nevile Henderson, who was only too ready to oblige anyone who might help prevent a war -- at any cost -- telephoned Goering, and the Field Marshal said he would try to make the appointment. As a matter of fact, Henderson was trying to make one for himself, for he had been instructed to present to Hitler "a final personal message from the Prime Minister," the one which Chamberlain had drafted late the night before, [xxiv] assuring Hitler that he could get everything he wanted "without war, and without delay," and proposing a conference of the powers to work out the details. [72]

Hitler received Francois-Poncet at 11:15 A.M. The ambassador found him nervous and tense. Brandishing a map which he had hastily drawn up and which showed the large chunks of Czech territory which Czechoslovakia's principal ally was now prepared to hand over to Hitler on a platter, the French ambassador urged the Fuehrer to accept the French proposals and spare Europe from war. Despite Ribbentrop's negative comments, which Francois-Poncet says he dealt "roundly" with, Hitler was impressed -- especially, as Dr. Schmidt noted, by the ambassador's map, with its generous markings.

At 11:40 the interview was suddenly interrupted by a messenger who announced that Attolico had just arrived with an urgent message for the Fuehrer from Mussolini. Hitler left the room, with Schmidt, to greet the panting Italian ambassador.

"I have an urgent message to you from the Duce!" Attolico, who had a naturally hoarse voice, shouted from some distance off. [73] After delivering it, he added that Mussolini begged the Fuehrer to refrain from mobilization.

It was at this moment, says Schmidt, the only surviving eyewitness of the scene, that the decision for peace was made. It was now just noon, two hours before the time limit on Hitler's ultimatum to the Czechs ran out.

"Tell the Duce," Hitler said, with obvious relief, to Attolico, "that I accept his proposal." [74]

The rest of the day was anticlimactic. Ambassador Henderson followed Attolico and Francois-Poncet to the Fuehrer's presence.

"At the request of my great friend and ally, Mussolini," Hitler told Henderson, "I have postponed mobilizing my troops for twenty-four hours." [xxv] He would give his decision on other matters, such as the proposed conference of the powers, after he had again consulted Mussolini. [75]

There followed much telephoning between Berlin and Rome-Schmidt says the two fascist dictators talked directly once. A few minutes before 2 P.M. on September 28, just as his ultimatum was to expire, Hitler made up his mind and invitations were hastily issued to the heads of government of Great Britain, France and Italy to meet the Fuehrer at Munich at noon on the following day to settle the Czech question. No invitation was sent to Prague or Moscow. Russia, the coguarantor of Czechoslovakia's integrity in case of a German attack, was not to be allowed to interfere. The Czechs were not even asked to be present at their own death sentence.

In his memoirs Sir Nevile Henderson gave most of the credit for saving the peace at this moment to Mussolini, and in this he has been backed by most of the historians who have written of this chapter in European history. [xxvi] But surely this is being overgenerous. Italy was the weakest of the Big Powers in Europe and her military strength was so negligible that the German generals, as their papers make clear, treated it as a joke. Great Britain and France were the only powers that counted in German calculations. And it was the British Prime Minister who, from the start, had sought to convince Hitler that he could get the Sudetenland without a war. Chamberlain, not Mussolini, made Munich possible, and thus preserved the peace for exactly eleven months. The cost of such a feat to his own country and to its allies and friends will be considered later, but it was, by any accounting, as it turned out, almost beyond bearing.

At five minutes to three on "Black Wednesday," which now appeared less dark than it had in the bleak morning hours, the British Prime Minister had begun to address the House of Commons in London, giving a detailed account of the Czech crisis and of the part which he and his government had played in trying to solve it. The situation he depicted was still uncertain, but it had improved. Mussolini, he said, had succeeded in getting Hitler to postpone mobilization for twenty-four hours. It was now 4:15, and Chamberlain had been speaking for an hour and twenty minutes and was nearing the end of his speech. At this point he was interrupted. Sir John Simon, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, passed him a paper which had been handed down to the Treasury front bench by Lord Halifax, who had been sitting in the peers' gallery.

Whatever view honorable members may have had about Signor Mussolini [Chamberlain was saying] I believe that everyone will welcome his gesture for peace.

The Prime Minister paused, glanced at the paper, and smiled.

That is not all. I have something further to say to the House yet. I have now been informed by Herr Hitler that he invites me to meet him at Munich tomorrow morning. He has also invited Signor Mussolini and Monsieur Daladier. Signor Mussolini has accepted and I have no doubt Monsieur Daladier will accept. I need not say what my answer will be . . .

There was no need. The ancient chamber, the Mother of Parliaments, reacted with a mass hysteria without precedent in its long history. There was wild shouting and a wild throwing of order papers into the air and many were in tears and one voice was heard above the tumult which seemed to express the deep sentiments of all: "Thank God for the Prime Minister!"

Jan Masaryk, the Czech minister, the son of the founding father of the Czechoslovak Republic, looked on from the diplomatic gallery, unable to believe his eyes. Later he called on the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary in Downing Street to find out whether his country, which would have to make all the sacrifices, would be invited to Munich. Chamberlain and Halifax answered that it would not, that Hitler would not stand for it. Masaryk gazed at the two God-fearing Englishmen and struggled to keep control of himself.

"If you have sacrificed my nation to preserve the peace of the world," he finally said, "I will be the first to applaud you. But if not, gentlemen, God help your souls!" [76]

And what of the conspirators, the generals and the civilians, General Halder and General von Witzleben, Schacht and Gisevius and Kordt, and the rest, who shortly before noon on that fateful day had believed, as Witzleben said, that their time had come? The answer can be given briefly in their own words -- spoken much later when all was over and they were anxious to prove to the world how opposed they had been to Hitler and his catastrophic follies which had brought Germany to utter ruin after a long and murderous war.

Neville Chamberlain, they all claimed, was the villain! By agreeing to come to Munich he had forced them at the very last minute to call off their plans to overthrow Hitler and the Nazi regime!

On February 25, 1946, as the long Nuremberg trial neared its end, General Halder was interrogated privately by Captain Sam Harris, a young New York attorney on the staff of the American prosecution.

It had been planned [Halder said] to occupy by military force the Reich Chancellery and those government offices, particularly ministries, which were administered by party members and close supporters of Hitler, with the express intention of avoiding bloodshed and then trying the group before the whole German nation ... On the day [September 28] Witzleben came to see me in my office during the noon hour. We discussed the matter. He requested that I give him the order of execution. We discussed other details -- how much time he needed, etc. During this discussion, the news came that the British Prime Minister and the French Premier had agreed to come to Hitler for further talks. This happened in the presence of Witzleben. I therefore took back the order of execution because, owing to this fact, the entire basis for the action had been taken away . . .

We were firmly convinced that we would be successful. But now came Mr. Chamberlain and with one stroke the danger of war was averted . . . The critical hour for force was avoided . . . One could only wait in case a new chance should come . . .

"Do I understand you to say that if Chamberlain had not come to Munich, your plan would have been executed, and Hitler would have been deposed?" asked Captain Harris.

"I can only say the plan would have been executed," General Halder replied. "I do not know if it would have been successful." [77]
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

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Part 4 of 4

Dr. Schacht, who at Nuremberg and in his postwar books clearly exaggerated the importance of his role in the various conspiracies against Hitler, also blamed Chamberlain for the failure of the Germans to carry out the plot on September 28:

It is quite clear from the later course of history that this first attempt at a coup d'etat by Witzleben and myself was the only one which could have brought a real turning point in Germany's fate. It was the only attempt which was planned and prepared in good time ... In the autumn of 1938 it was still possible to count on bringing Hitler to trial before the Supreme Court, but all subsequent efforts to get rid of him necessarily involved attempts on his life . . . I had made preparations for a coup d'etat in good time and I had brought them to within an ace of success. History had decided against me. The intervention of foreign statesmen was something I could not possibly have taken into account. [78]

And Gisevius, who was Schacht's stoutest champion on the witness stand at Nuremberg, added:

The impossible had happened. Chamberlain and Daladier were flying to Munich. Our revolt was done for. For a few hours I went on imagining that we could revolt anyway. But Witzleben soon demonstrated to me that the troops would never revolt against the victorious Fuehrer . . . Chamberlain saved Hitler. [79]

Did he? Or was this merely an excuse of the German civilians and generals for their failure to act?

In his interrogation at Nuremberg Halder explained to Captain Harris that there were three conditions for a successful "revolutionary action":

The first condition is a clear and resolute leadership. The second condition is the readiness of the masses of the people to follow tile idea of the revolution. The third condition is the right choice of time. According to our views, the first condition of a clear resolute leadership was there. The second condition we thought fulfilled too, because ... the German people did not want war. Therefore the nation was ready to consent to a revolutionary act for fear of war. The third condition -- the right choice of time -- was good because we had to expect within forty-eight hours the order for carrying out a military action. Therefore we were firmly convinced that we would be successful.

But now came Mr. Chamberlain and with one stroke the danger of war was avoided.

One can doubt that General Halder's first condition was ever fulfilled, as he claimed. For had there been "clear and resolute leadership" why should the generals have hesitated for four days? They had on tap the military force to easily sweep Hitler and his regime aside: Witzleben had a whole army corps -- the IIIrd -- in and around Berlin, Brockdorff-Ahlefeldt had a crack infantry division in nearby Potsdam, Hoefner had a panzer division to the south, and the two ranking police officers in the capital, Count von Helldorf and Count von der Schulenburg, had a large force of well-armed police to help out. All of these officers, according to the plotters themselves, were but waiting for the word from Halder to spring into action with overwhelming armed force. And the population of Berlin, scared to death that Hitler was about to bring on a war, would have -- so far as this writer could, at first hand, judge them -- spontaneously backed the coup.

Whether Halder and Witzleben would have finally acted had Chamberlain not agreed to come to Munich is a question that can never be answered with any degree of finality. Given the peculiar attitude of these generals at this time which made them concerned with overthrowing Hitler not in order to bring an end to the tyranny and terror of his regime but merely to avert a lost war, it is possible that they might have acted had not the Munich Conference been arranged. The information necessary to establish how well the plot was hatched, how ready the armed forces were to march and how near Halder and Witzleben really came to giving the order to act has so far been lacking. We have only the statements of a handful of participants who after the war were anxious to prove their opposition to National Socialism, and what they have said and written in self-defense is often conflicting and confusing. [xxvii]

If, as the conspirators claim, their plans were on the point of being carried out, the announcement of Chamberlain's trip to Munich certainly cut the ground from underneath their feet. The generals could scarcely have arrested Hitler and tried him as a war criminal when it was obvious that he was about to achieve an important conquest without war.

What is certain among all these uncertainties -- and here Dr. Schacht must be conceded his point -- is that such a golden opportunity never again presented itself to the German opposition to dispose of Hitler, bring a swift end to the Third Reich and save Germany and the world from war. The Germans, if one may risk a generalization, have a weakness for blaming foreigners for their failures. The responsibility of Chamberlain and Halifax, of Daladier and Bonnet, for Munich and thus for all the disastrous consequences which ensued is overwhelming. But they may be pardoned to some extent for not taking very seriously the warnings of a "revolt" of a group of German generals and civilians most of whom had served Hitler with great ability up to this moment. They, or at least some of their advisers in London and Paris, may have recalled the bleak facts of recent German history: that the Army had helped put the former Austrian corporal into power, had been delighted at the opportunities he gave it to rearm, had apparently not objected to the destruction of individual freedom under National Socialism or done anything about the murder of its own General von Schleicher or the removal, on a dastardly frame-up, of its commanding officer, General van Fritsch; and -- recently -- had gone along with the rape of Austria, indeed had supplied the military force to carry it out. Whatever blame may be heaped on the archappeasers in London and Paris, and great it undoubtedly is, the fact remains that the German generals themselves, and their civilian coconspirators, failed at an opportune moment to act on their own.


In this baroque Bavarian city where in the murky back rooms of rundown little cafes he had made his lowly start as a politician and in whose streets he had suffered the fiasco of the Beer Hall Putsch, Adolf Hitler greeted, like a conqueror, the heads of governments of Great Britain, France and Italy at half past noon on September 29.

Very early that morning he had gone to Kufstein on the former Austro-German frontier to meet Mussolini and set up a basis for common action at the conference. In the train coming up to Munich Hitler was in a bellicose mood, explaining to the Duce over maps how he intended to "liquidate" Czechoslovakia. Either the talks beginning that day must be immediately successful, he said, or he would resort to arms. "Besides," Ciano, who was present, quotes the Fuehrer as adding, "the time will come when we shall have to fight side by side against France and England." Mussolini agreed. [80]

Chamberlain made no similar effort to see Daladier beforehand to work out a joint strategy for the two Western democracies with which to confront the two fascist dictators. Indeed, it became evident to many of us in contact with the British and French delegations in Munich as the day progressed that Chamberlain had come to Munich absolutely determined that no one, certainly not the Czechs and not even the French, should stand in the way of his reaching a quick agreement with Hitler. [xxviii] In the case of Daladier, who went around all day as if in a daze, no precaution was necessary, but the determined Prime Minister took no risks.

The talks, which began at 12:45 P.M. in the so-called Fuehrerhaus in the Koenigsplatz, were anticlimactic and constituted little more than a mere formality of rendering to Hitler exactly what he wanted when he wanted it. Dr. Schmidt, the indomitable interpreter, who was called upon to function in three languages, German, French and English, noticed from the beginning "an atmosphere of general good will." Ambassador Henderson later remembered that "at no stage of the conversations did they become heated." No one presided. The proceedings unfolded informally, and judging by the German minutes of the meeting82 which came to light after the war, the British Prime Minister and the French Premier fairly fell over themselves to agree with Hitler. Even when he made the following opening statement:

He had now declared in his speech at the Sportpalast that he would in any case march in on October 1. He had received the answer that this action would have the character of an act of violence. Hence the task arose to absolve this action from such a character. Action must, however, be taken at once.

The conferees got down to business when Mussolini, speaking third in turn -- Daladier was left to the last -- said that "in order to bring about a practical solution of the problem" he had brought with him a definite written proposal. Its origins are interesting and remained unknown to Chamberlain, I believe, to his death. From the memoirs of Francois-Poncet and Henderson it is obvious that they too were ignorant of them. In fact, the story only became known long after the violent deaths of the two dictators.

What the Duce now fobbed off as his own compromise plan had been hastily drafted the day before in the German Foreign Office in Berlin by Goering, Neurath and Weizsaecker behind the back of Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop, whose judgment the three men did not trust. Goering took it to Hitler, who said it might do, and then it was hurriedly translated into French by Dr. Schmidt and passed along to the Italian ambassador, Attolico, who telephoned the text of it to the Italian dictator in Rome just before he entrained for Munich. Thus it was that the "Italian proposals," which provided the informal conference not only with its sole agenda but with the basic terms which eventually became the Munich Agreement, were in fact German proposals concocted in Berlin. [xxix]

This must have seemed fairly obvious from the text, which closely followed Hitler's rejected Godesberg demands; but it was not obvious to Daladier and Chamberlain or to their ambassadors in Berlin, who now attended them. The Premier, according to the German minutes, "welcomed the Duce's proposal, which had been made in an objective and realistic spirit," and the Prime Minister "also welcomed the Duce's proposal and declared that he himself had conceived of a solution on the lines of this proposal." As for Ambassador Henderson, as he later wrote, he thought Mussolini "had tactfully put forward as his own a combination of Hitler's and the Anglo-French proposals"; while Ambassador Francois-Poncet got the impression that the conferees were working on a British memorandum "drawn up by Horace Wilson." [83] So easily were the British and French statesmen and diplomats, bent on appeasement at any cost, deceived!

With the "Italian" proposals so warmly welcomed by all present, there remained but a few details to iron out. Chamberlain, as perhaps might have been expected from an ex-businessman and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, wanted to know who would compensate the Czech government for the public property which would pass to Germany in the Sudetenland. Hitler, who, according to Francois-Poncet, appeared somewhat pale and worried, and annoyed because he could not follow, as Mussolini could, the talk in French and English, replied heatedly there would be no compensation. When the Prime Minister objected to the stipulation that the Czechs moving out of the Sudetenland could not even take their cattle (this had been one of the Godesberg demands) -- exclaiming, "Does this mean that the farmers will be expelled but that their cattle will be retained?" -- Hitler exploded.

"Our time is too valuable to be wasted on such trivialities!" he shouted at Chamberlain. [84] The Prime Minister dropped the matter.

He did insist at first that a Czech representative ought to be present, or at least, as he put it, be "available." His country, he said, "could naturally undertake no guarantee that the [Sudeten] territory would be evacuated by October 10 [as Mussolini had proposed] if no assurance of this was forthcoming from the Czech government." Daladier gave him lukewarm support. The French government, he said, "would in no wise tolerate procrastination in this matter by the Czech government," but he thought "the presence of a Czech representative, who could be consulted, if necessary, would be an advantage."

But Hitler was adamant. He would permit no Czechs in his presence. Daladier meekly gave in, but Chamberlain finally won a small concession. It was agreed that a Czech representative might make himself available "in the next room," as the Prime Minister proposed.

And indeed during the afternoon session two Czech representatives, Dr. Vojtech Mastny, the Czech minister in Berlin, and Dr. Hubert Masarik, from the Prague Foreign Office, did arrive and were coolly ushered into an adjoining room. There, after they had been left from 2 P.M. to 7 to cool their heels, the roof figuratively fell in on them. At the latter hour Frank Ashton-Gwatkin, who had been a member of the Runciman mission and was now on Chamberlain's staff, came to break the bad news to them. A general agreement had been reached, the details of which he could not yet give to them; but it was much "harsher" than the Franco-British proposals. When Masarik asked if the Czechs couldn't be heard, the Englishman answered, as the Czech representative later reported to his government, "that I seemed to ignore how difficult was the situation of the Great Powers, and that I could not understand how hard it had been to negotiate with Hitler."

At 10 P.M. the two unhappy Czechs were taken to Sir Horace Wilson, the Prime Minister's faithful adviser. On behalf of Chamberlain, Wilson informed them of the main points in the four-power agreement and handed them a map of the Sudeten areas which were to be evacuated by the Czechs at once. When the two envoys attempted to protest, the British official cut them short. He had nothing more to say, he stated, and promptly left the room. The Czechs continued to protest to Ashton-Gwatkin, who had remained with them, but to no avail.

"If you do not accept," he admonished them, as he prepared to go, "you will have to settle your affairs with the Germans absolutely alone. Perhaps the French may tell you this more gently, but you can believe me that they share our views. They are disinterested."

This was the truth, wretched though it must have sounded to the two Czech emissaries. Shortly after 1 A.M. on September 30 [xxx] Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini and Daladier, in that order, affixed their signatures to the Munich Agreement providing for the German Army to begin its march into Czechoslovakia on October 1, as the Fuehrer had always said it would, and to complete the occupation of the Sudeten land by October 10. Hitler had got what had been refused him at Godesberg.

There remained the painful matter -- painful at least to the victims -- of informing the Czechs of what they had to give up and how soon. Hitler and Mussolini were not interested in this part of the ceremony and withdrew, leaving the task to the representatives of Czechoslovakia's ally, France, and of Great Britain. The scene was vividly described by Masarik, in his official report to the Czech Foreign Office.

At 1:30 A.M. we were taken into the hall where the conference had been held. There were present Mr. Chamberlain, M. Daladier, Sir Horace Wilson, M. Leger [secretary general of the French Foreign Office], Mr. Ashton -- Gwatkin, Dr. Mastny and myself. The atmosphere was oppressive; sentence was about to be passed. The French, obviously nervous, seemed anxious to preserve French prestige before the court. Mr. Chamberlain, in a long introductory speech, referred to the Agreement and gave the text to Dr. Mastny ...

The Czechs began to ask several questions, but

Mr. Chamberlain was yawning continuously, without making any effort to conceal his yawns. I asked MM. Daladier and Leger whether they expected a declaration or answer of our Government to the Agreement. M. Daladier was noticeably nervous. M. Leger replied that the four statesmen had not much time. He added hurriedly and with superficial casualness that no answer was required from us, that they regarded the plan as accepted, that our Government had that very day, at the latest at 3 P.M., to send its representative to Berlin to the sitting of the Commission, and finally that the Czechoslovak officer who was to be sent would have to be in Berlin on Saturday in order to fix the details for the evacuation of the first zone. The atmosphere, he said, was beginning to become dangerous for the whole world.

He spoke to us harshly enough. This was a Frenchman . . . Mr. Chamberlain did not conceal his weariness. They gave us a second slightly corrected map. Then they finished with us, and we could go. [86]

I remember from that fateful night the light of victory in Hitler's eyes as he strutted down the broad steps of the Fuehrerhaus after the meeting, the cockiness of Mussolini, laced in his special militia uniform, the yawns of Chamberlain and his air of pleasant sleepiness as he returned to the Regina Palace Hotel.

Daladier [I wrote in my diary that night], on the other hand, looked a completely beaten and broken man. He came over to the Regina to say good-bye to Chamberlain .... Someone asked, or started to ask: "Monsieur le President, are you satisfied with the agreement?" He turned as if to say something, but he was too tired and defeated and the words did not come out and he stumbled out the door in silence. [87]

Chamberlain was not through conferring with Hitler about the peace of the world. Early the next morning, September 30, refreshed by a few hours of sleep and pleased with his labors of the previous day, he sought out the Fuehrer at his private apartment in Munich to discuss further the state of Europe and to secure a small concession which he apparently thought would improve his political position at home.

According to Dr. Schmidt, who acted as interpreter and who was the sole witness of this unexpected meeting, Hitler was pale and moody. He listened absent-mindedly as the exuberant head of the British government expressed his confidence that Germany would "adopt a generous attitude in the implementation of the Munich Agreement" and renewed his hope that the Czechs would not be "so unreasonable as to make difficulties" and that, if they did make them, Hitler would not bomb Prague "with the dreadful losses among the civilian population which it would entail." This was only the beginning of a long and rambling discourse which would seem incredible coming from a British Prime Minister, even one who had made so abject a surrender to the German dictator the night before, had it not been recorded by Dr. Schmidt in an official Foreign Office memorandum. Even today, when one reads this captured document, it seems difficult to believe.

But the British leader's opening remarks were only the prelude to what was to come. After what must have seemed to the morose German dictator an interminable exposition by Chamberlain in proposing further cooperation in bringing an end to the Spanish Civil War (which German and Italian "volunteers" were winning for Franco), in furthering disarmament, world economic prosperity, political peace in Europe and even a solution of the Russian problem, the Prime Minister drew out of his pocket a sheet of paper on which he had written something which he hoped they would both sign and release for immediate publication.

We, the German Fuehrer and Chancellor, and the British Prime Minister [it read], have had a further meeting today and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of the first importance for the two countries and for Europe.

We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again.

We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference, and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe.

Hitler read the declaration and quickly signed it, much to Chamberlain's satisfaction, as Dr. Schmidt noted in his official report. The interpreter's impression was that the Fuehrer agreed to it "with a certain reluctance . . . only to please Chamberlain," who, he recounts further, "thanked the Fuehrer warmly . . .. and underlined the great psychological effect which he expected from this document."

The deluded British Prime Minister did not know, of course, that, as the secret German and Italian documents would reveal much later, Hitler and Mussolini had already agreed at this very meeting in Munich that in time they would have to fight "side by side" against Great Britain. Nor, as we shall shortly see, did he divine much else that already was fermenting in Hitler's lugubrious mind. [88]

Chamberlain returned to London -- as did Daladier to Paris -- in triumph. Brandishing the declaration which he had signed with Hitler, the jubilant Prime Minister faced a large crowd that pressed into Downing Street. After listening to shouts of "Good old Neville!" and a lusty singing of "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow," Chamberlain smilingly spoke a few words from a second-story window in Number 10.

"My good friends," he said, "this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. [xxxi] I believe it is peace in our time."

The Times declared that "no conqueror returning from a victory on the battlefield has come adorned with nobler laurels." There was a spontaneous movement to raise a "National Fund of Thanksgiving" in Chamberlain's honor, which he graciously turned down. Only Duff Cooper, the First Lord of the Admiralty, resigned from the cabinet, and when in the ensuing Commons debate Winston Churchill, still a voice in the wilderness, began to utter his memorable words, "We have sustained a total, unmitigated defeat," he was forced to pause, as he later recorded, until the storm of protest against such a remark had subsided.

The mood in Prague was naturally quite different. At 6:20 A.M. on September 30, the German charge d'affaires had routed the Czech Foreign Minister, Dr. Krofta, out of bed and handed him the text of the Munich Agreement together with a request that Czechoslovakia send two representatives to the first meeting of the "International Commission," which was to supervise the execution of the accord, at 5 P.M. in Berlin.

For President Benes, who conferred all morning at the Hradschin Palace with the political and military leaders, there was no alternative but to submit. Britain and France had not only deserted his country but would now back Hitler in the use of armed force should he turn down the terms of Munich. At ten minutes to one, Czechoslovakia surrendered, "under protest to the world," as the official statement put it. "We were abandoned. We stand alone," General Sirovy, the new Premier, explained bitterly in a broadcast to the Czechoslovak people at 5 P.M.

To the very last Britain and France maintained their pressure on the country they had seduced and betrayed. During the day the British, French and Italian ministers went to see Dr. Krofta to make sure that there was no last-minute revolt of the Czechs against the surrender. The German charge, Dr. Hencke, in a dispatch to Berlin described the scene.

The French Minister's attempt to address words of condolence to Krofta was cut short by the Foreign Minister's remark: "We have been forced into this situation; now everything is at an end; today it is our turn, tomorrow it will be the turn of others." The British Minister succeeded with difficulty in saying that Chamberlain had done his utmost; he received the same answer as the French Minister. The Foreign Minister was a completely broken man and intimated only one wish: that the three Ministers should quickly leave the room. [89]

President Benes resigned on October 5 on the insistence of Berlin and, when it became evident that his life was in danger, flew to England and exile. He was replaced provisionally by General Sirovy. On November 30, Dr. Emil Hacha, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a well-intentioned but weak and senile man of sixty-six, was selected by the National Assembly to be President of what remained of Czecho-Slovakia, which was now officially spelled with a hyphen.

What Chamberlain and Daladier at Munich had neglected to give Germany in Czechoslovakia the so-called "International Commission" proceeded to hand over. This hastily formed body consisted of the Italian, British and French ambassadors and the Czech minister in Berlin and Baron von Weizsaecker, the State Secretary in the German Foreign Office. Every dispute over additional territory for the Germans was settled in their favor, more than once under the threat from Hitler and OKW to resort to armed force. Finally, on October 13, the commission voted to dispense with the plebiscites which the Munich Agreement had called for in the disputed regions. There was no need for them.

The Poles and the Hungarians, after threatening military action against the helpless nation, now swept down, like vultures, to get a slice of Czechoslovak territory. Poland, at the insistence of Foreign Minister Jozef Beck, who for the next twelve months will be a leading character in this narrative, took some 650 square miles of territory around Teschen, comprising a population of 228,000 inhabitants, of whom 133,000 were Czechs. Hungary got a larger slice in the award meted out on November 2 by Ribbentrop and Ciano: 7,500 square miles, with a population of 500,000 Magyars and 272,000 Slovaks.

Moreover, the truncated and now defenseless country was forced by Berlin to install a pro-German government of obvious fascist tendencies. It was clear that from now on the Czechoslovak nation existed at the mercy of the Leader of the Third Reich.


Under the terms of the Munich Agreement Hitler got substantially what he had demanded at Godesberg, and the "International Commission," bowing to his threats, gave him considerably more. The final settlement of November 20, 1938, forced Czechoslovakia to cede to Germany 11,000 square miles of territory in which dwelt 2,800,000 Sudeten Germans and 800,000 Czechs. Within this area lay all the vast Czech fortifications which hitherto had formed the most formidable defensive line in Europe, with the possible exception of the Maginot Line in France.

But that was not all. Czechoslovakia's entire system of rail, road, telephone and telegraph communications was disrupted. According to German figures, the dismembered country lost 66 per cent of its coal, 80 per cent of its lignite, 86 per cent of its chemicals, 80 per cent of its cement, 80 per cent of its textiles, 70 per cent of its iron and steel, 70 per cent of its electric power and 40 per cent of its timber. A prosperous industrial nation was split up and bankrupted overnight.

No wonder that Jodl could write joyfully in his diary on the night of Munich:

The Pact of Munich is signed. Czechoslovakia as a power is out ... The genius of the Fuehrer and his determination not to shun even a World War have again won the victory without the use of force. The hope remains that the incredulous, the weak and the doubtful people have been converted, and will remain that way. [90]

Many of the doubtful were converted and the few who were not were plunged into despair. The generals such as Beck, Halder and Witzleben and their civilian advisers had again been proved wrong. Hitler had got what he wanted, had achieved another great conquest, without firing a shot. His prestige soared to new heights. No one who was in Germany in the days after Munich, as this writer was, can forget the rapture of the German people. They were relieved that war had been averted; they were elated and swollen with pride at Hitler's bloodless victory, not only over Czechoslovakia but over Great Britain and France. Within the short space of six months, they reminded you, Hitler had conquered Austria and the Sudetenland, adding ten million inhabitants to the Third Reich and a vast strategic territory which opened the way for German domination of southeastern Europe. And without the loss of a single German life! With the instinct of a genius rare in German history he had divined not only the weaknesses of the smaller states in Central Europe but those of the two principal Western democracies, Britain and France, and forced them to bend to his will. He had invented and used with staggering success a new strategy and technique of political warfare, which made actual war unnecessary.

In scarcely four and a half years this man of lowly origins had catapulted a disarmed, chaotic, nearly bankrupt Germany, the weakest of the big powers in Europe, to a position where she was regarded as the mightiest nation of the Old World, before which all the others, Britain even and France, trembled. At no step in this dizzy ascent had the victorious powers of Versailles dared to try to stop her, even when they had the power to do so. Indeed at Munich, which registered the greatest conquest of all, Britain and France had gone out of their way to support her. And what must have amazed Hitler most of all -- it certainly astounded General Beck, Hassell and others in their small circle of opposition -- was that none of the men who dominated the governments of Britain and France ("little worms," as the Fuehrer contemptuously spoke of them in private after Munich) realized the consequences of their inability to react with any force to one after the other of the Nazi leader's aggressive moves.

Winston Churchill, in England, alone seemed to understand. No one stated the consequences of Munich more succinctly than he in his speech to the Commons of October 5:

We have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat ... We are in the midst of a disaster of the first magnitude. The road down the Danube . . . the road to the Black Sea has been opened . . . All the countries of Mittel Europa and the Danube valley, one after another, will be drawn in the vast system of Nazi politics ... radiating from Berlin ... And do not suppose that this is the end. It is only the beginning ...

But Churchill was not in the government and his words went unheeded.

Was the Franco-British surrender at Munich necessary? Was Adolf Hitler not bluffing?

The answer, paradoxically, to both questions, we now know, is No. All the generals close to Hitler who survived the war agree that had it not been for Munich Hitler would have attacked Czechoslovakia on October 1, 1938, and they presume that, whatever momentary hesitations there might have been in London, Paris and Moscow, in the end Britain, France and Russia would have been drawn into the war.

And -- what is most important to this history at this point -- the German generals agree unanimously that Germany would have lost the war, and in short order. The argument of the supporters of Chamberlain and Daladier -- and they were in the great majority at the time -- that Munich saved the West not only from war but from defeat in war and, incidentally, preserved London and Paris from being wiped out by the Luftwaffe's murderous bombing has been impressively refuted, so far as concern the last two points, by those in a position to know best: the German generals, and especially those generals who were closest to Hitler and who supported him from beginning to end the most fanatically.

The leading light among the latter was General Keitel, chief of OKW, toady to Hitler and constantly at his side. When asked on the stand at the Nuremberg trial what the reaction of the German generals was to Munich he replied:

We were extraordinarily happy that it had not come to a military operation because . . . we had always been of the opinion that our means of attack against the frontier fortifications of Czechoslovakia were insufficient. From a purely military point of view we lacked the means for an attack which involved the piercing of the frontier fortifications. [91]

It has always been assumed by Allied military experts that the German Army would have romped through Czechoslovakia. But to the testimony of Keitel that this would not have been the case must be added that of Field Marshal von Manstein, who became one of the most brilliant of the German field commanders. When he, in his turn, testified at Nuremberg (unlike Keitel and Jodi, he was not on trial for his life) on the German position at the time of Munich, he explained:

If a war had broken out, neither our western border nor our Polish frontier could really have been effectively defended by us, and there is no doubt whatsoever that had Czechoslovakia defended herself, we would have been held up by her fortifications, for we did not have the means to break through. [92] [xxxii]

Jodi, the "brains" of OKW, put it this way when he took the stand in his own defense at Nuremberg:

It was out of the question, with five fighting divisions and seven reserve divisions in the western fortifications, which were nothing but a large construction site, to hold out against 100 French divisions. That was militarily impossible.  [93]

If, as these German generals concede, Hitler's army lacked the means of penetrating the Czech fortifications, and Germany, in the face of France's overwhelming strength in the west, was in a "militarily impossible" situation, and further, since, as we have seen, there was such grave dissension among the generals that the Chief of the Army General Staff was prepared to overthrow the Fuehrer in order to avert a hopeless war -- why, then, did not the French and British general staffs know this? Or did they? And if they did, how could the heads of government of Britain and France be forced at Munich into sacrificing so much of their nations' vital interests? In seeking answers to such questions we confront one of the mysteries of the Munich time which has not yet been cleared up. Even Churchill, concerned as he is with military affairs, scarcely touches on it in his massive memoirs.

It is inconceivable that the British and French general staffs and the two governments did not know of the opposition of the German Army General Staff to a European war. For, as already noted here, the conspirators in Berlin warned the British of this through at least four channels in August and September and, as we know, the matter came to the attention of Chamberlain himself. By early September Paris and London must have learned of the resignation of General Beck and of the obvious consequences to the German Army of the rebellion of its most eminent and gifted leader.

It was generally conceded in Berlin at this time that British and French military intelligence was fairly good. It is extremely difficult to believe that the military chiefs in London and Paris did not know of the obvious weaknesses of the German Army and Air Force and of their inability to fight a two-front war. What doubts could the Chief of Staff of the French Army, General Gamelin, have -- despite his inbred caution, which was monumental -- that with nearly one hundred divisions he could overwhelm the five regular and seven reserve German divisions in the west and sweep easily and swiftly deep into Germany?

On the whole, as he later recounted, [94] Gamelin had few doubts. On September 12, the day on which Hitler was thundering his threats against Czechoslovakia at the closing session of the Nuremberg rally, the French generalissimo had assured Premier Daladier that if war came "the democratic nations would dictate the peace." He says he backed it up with a letter expressing the reasons for his optimism. On September 26, at the height of the Czech crisis following the Godesberg meeting, Gamelin, who had accompanied the French government leaders to London, repeated his assurances to Chamberlain and tried to substantiate them with an analysis of the military situation calculated to buck up not only the British Prime Minister but his own wavering Premier. In this attempt, apparently, he failed. Finally, just before Daladier flew to Munich, Gamelin outlined to him the limits of territorial concessions in the Sudetenland which could be made without endangering French security. The main Czech fortifications, as well as the rail trunk lines, certain strategic branch lines and the principal defense industries must not be given to Germany. Above all, he added, the Germans must not be permitted to cut off the Moravian Gap. Good advice, if Czechoslovakia was to be of any use to France in a war with Germany, but, as we have seen, Daladier was not the man to act on it.

A good deal was said at the time of Munich that one reason for Chamberlain's surrender was his fear that London would be obliterated by German bombing, and there is no doubt that the French were jittery at the awful prospect of their beautiful capital being destroyed from the air. But from what is now known of the Luftwaffe's strength at this moment, the Londoners and the Parisians, as well as the Prime Minister and the Premier, were unduly alarmed. The German Air Force, like the Army, was concentrated against Czechoslovakia and therefore, like the Army, was incapable of serious action in the West. Even if a few German bombers could have been spared to attack London and Paris it is highly doubtful that they would have reached their targets. Weak as the British and French fighter defenses were, the Germans could not have given their bombers fighter protection, if they had had the planes. Their fighter bases were too far away.

It has also been argued -- most positively by Ambassadors Francois-Poncet and Henderson -- that Munich gave the two Western democracies nearly a year to catch up with the Germans in rearmament. The facts belie such an argument. As Churchill, backed up by every serious Allied military historian, has written, "The year's breathing space said to be 'gained' by Munich left Britain and France in a much worse position compared to Hitler's Germany than they had been at the Munich crisis." [95] As we shall see, all the German military calculations a year later bear this out, and subsequent events, of course, remove any doubts whatsoever.

In retrospect, and with the knowledge we now have from the secret German documents and from the postwar testimony of the Germans themselves, the following summing up, which was impossible to make in the days of Munich, may be given:

Germany was in no position to go to war on October 1, 1938, against Czechoslovakia and France and Britain, not to mention Russia. Had she done so, she would have been quickly and easily defeated, and that would have been the end of Hitler and the Third Reich. If a European war had been averted at the last moment by the intercession of the German Army, Hitler might have been overthrown by Halder and Witzleben and their confederates carrying out their plan to arrest him as soon as he had given the final order for the attack on Czechoslovakia.

By publicly boasting that he would march into the Sudetenland by October 1 "in any case," Hitler had put himself far out on a limb. He was in the "untenable position" which General Beck had foreseen. Had he, after all his categorical threats and declarations, tried to crawl back from the limb on his own, he scarcely could have survived for long, dictatorships being what they are and his dictatorship, in particular, being what it was. It would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, for him to have backed down, and had he tried to do so his loss of prestige in Europe, among his own people and, above all, with his generals would, most likely, have proved fatal.

Chamberlain's stubborn, fanatical insistence on giving Hitler what he wanted, his trips to Berchtesgaden and Godesberg and finally the fateful journey to Munich rescued Hitler from his limb and strengthened his position in Europe, in Germany, in the Army, beyond anything that could have been imagined a few weeks before. It also added immeasurably to the power of the Third Reich vis-a-vis the Western democracies and the Soviet Union.

For France, Munich was a disaster, and it is beyond understanding that this was not fully realized in Paris. Her military position in Europe was destroyed. Because her Army, when the Reich was fully mobilized, could never be much more than half the size of that of Germany, which had nearly twice her population, and because her ability to produce arms was also less, France had laboriously built up her alliances with the smaller powers in the East on the other flank of Germany -- and of Italy: Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia and Rumania, which, together, had the military potential of a Big Power. The loss now of thirty-five well-trained, well-armed Czech divisions, deployed behind their strong mountain fortifications and holding down an even larger German force, was a crippling one to the French Army. But that was not all. After Munich how could France's remaining allies in Eastern Europe have any confidence in her written word? What value now were alliances with France? The answer in Warsaw, Bucharest and Belgrade was: Not much; and there was a scramble in these capitals to make the best deal possible, while there was still time, with the Nazi conqueror.

And if not a scramble, there was a stir in Moscow. Though the Soviet Union was militarily allied to both Czechoslovakia and France, the French government had gone along with Germany and Britain, without protest, in excluding Russia from Munich. It was a snub which Stalin did not forget and which was to cost the two Western democracies dearly in the months to come. On October 3, four days after Munich, the counselor of the German Embassy in Moscow, Werner von Tippelskirch, reported to Berlin on the "consequences" of Munich for Soviet policy. He thought Stalin "would draw conclusions"; he was certain the Soviet Union would "reconsider her foreign policy," become less friendly to her ally France and "more positive" toward Germany. As a matter of fact, the German diplomat thought that "the present circumstances offer favorable opportunities for a new and wider German economic agreement with the Soviet Union."96 This is the first mention in the secret German archives of a change in the wind that now began to stir, however faintly, over Berlin and Moscow and which, within a year, would have momentous consequences.

Despite his staggering victory and the humiliation he administered not only to Czechoslovakia but to the Western democracies, Hitler was disappointed with the results of Munich. "That fellow [Chamberlain]," Schacht heard him exclaim to his S.S. entourage on his return to Berlin, "has spoiled my entry into Prague!" [97] That was what he really had wanted all along, as he had constantly confided to his generals since his lecture to them on November 5 of the previous year. The conquest of Austria and Czechoslovakia, he had explained then, was to be but the preliminary for a major drive for Lebensraum in the East and a military settlement with France in the West. As he had told the Hungarian Prime Minister on September 20, the best thing was "to destroy Czechoslovakia." This, he had said, would "provide the only satisfactory solution." He was only afraid of the "danger" that the Czechs might submit to all of his demands. [xxxiii]

Now Mr. Chamberlain, grasping his much-publicized umbrella, had come to Munich and forced the Czechs to submit to all his demands and thereby had deprived him of his military conquest. Such, it is evident from the record, were Hitler's tortuous thoughts after Munich. "It was clear to me from the first moment," he later confided to his generals, "that I could not be satisfied with the Sudeten-German territory. That was only a partial solution." [98]

A few days after Munich the German dictator set in motion plans to achieve a total solution.



i. See above, pp. 303-08.

ii. The parentheses are in the original.

iii. General von Brauchitsch received his divorce during the summer and on  September 24 married Frau Charlotte Schmidt.

iv. Hitler, according to Jodl's diary, used the word Handsfott, a stronger word. [29]  Telford Taylor, in Sword and Swastika, gives a fuller account based on General  Adam's unpublished memoirs.
v. According to a German Foreign Office memorandum of August 6, Henderson, at a private party, had remarked to the Germans present "that Great Britain would not think of risking even one sailor or airman for Czechoslovakia, and that any reasonable solution would be agreed to so long as it were not attempted by force." [33]

vi. Kleist returned to Berlin on August 23 and showed Churchill's letter to Beck, Halder, Hammerstein, Canaris, Oster and others in the plot. In Nemesis of Power (p. 413), Wheeler-Bennett writes that, according to private information given him after the war by Fabian von Schlabrendorff, Canaris made two copies of the letter, one for himself and one for Beck, and Kleist hid the original in his country house at Schmenzin in Pomerania. It was discovered there by the Gestapo after the July 20, 1944, attempt on Hitler's life and contributed to Kleist's death sentence before a People's Court, which was passed and carried out on April 16, 1945. Actually the contents of Churchill's letter became known to the German authorities much sooner than the conspirators could have imagined. I found it in a German Foreign Office memorandum which, though undated, is known to have been submitted on September 6, 1938. It is marked: "Extract from a letter of Winston Churchill to a German confidant." [35]

vii. "I honestly believe," the ambassador had written Lord Halifax from Berlin on  July 18, "the moment has come for Prague to get a real twist of the screw ... If  Benes cannot satisfy Henlein, he can satisfy no Sudeten leader . . . We have got  to be disagreeable to the Czechs." [38] It seems inconceivable that even Henderson  did not know by this time that Henlein was a mere tool of Hitler and had been  ordered by him to keep increasing his demands to such an extent that Bend could  not possibly "satisfy" him. See above, p. 359

viii. Even the severest critics of Chamberlain's foreign policy in the British press and in Parliament warmly applauded the Prime Minister for going to Berchtesgaden. The Poet Laureate, John Masefield, composed a poem, a paean of praise, entitled "Neville Chamberlain," which was published in the Times September 16.

ix. Both in his talk with Hitler and in his report to the Commons, Chamberlain,  whose knowledge of German history does not appear to have been very wide, accepted  this false use of the word "return." The Sudeten Germans had belonged to  Austria, but never to Germany.

x. Though the main points of Runciman's recommendations were presented to the cabinet on the evening of September 16, the report itself was not officially made until the twenty-first, and not published until the twenty-eighth, when events had made it only of academic interest. Wheeler-Bennett points out that certain parts of the report give the impression of having been written after September 21. When Runciman left Prague on the morning of September 16, no one, not even Hitler or the Sudeten leaders, had gone so far as to suggest that the Sudetenland be turned over to Germany without a plebiscite. (Wheeler-Bennett, Munich, pp. 111-12. The text of the Runciman report is in the BritishWhitePaper, Cmd.5847, No. 1.)

xi. It is worth noting that neither the British nor the French government published the text of this Czech note when they later issued the documents justifying their policies which led up to Munich.

xii. The treachery of Bonnet at this juncture is too involved to be related in a history of Germany. Among other things, he contrived to convince the French and British cabinet ministers of the falsehood that the Czech government wanted the French to state they would not fight for Czechoslovakia so that it would have a good excuse for capitulating. For the story, see Wheeler-Bennett's Munich; Herbert Ripka, Munich, Before and After; Pertinax, The Grave Diggers of France.

xiii. It was from this hotel, run by Herr Dreesen, an early Nazi crony of Hitler, that the Fuehrer had set out on the night of June 29-30, 1934, to kill Roehm and carry out the Blood Purge. The Nazi leader had often sought out the hotel as a place of refuge where he could collect his thoughts and resolve his hesitations.

xiv. Hitler knew that the Czechs had accepted the Anglo-French proposals. Jodi noted in his diary that at 11:30 A.M. on September 21, the day before Chamberlain arrived in Godesberg, he had received a telephone call from the Fuehrer's adjutant:

"The Fuehrer has received news five minutes ago that Prague is said to have accepted unconditionally." At 12:45 Jodi noted, "Department heads are informed to continue preparation for 'Green,' but nevertheless to get ready for everything necessary for a peaceful penetration." [52] It is possible, however, that Hitler did not know the terms of the Anglo-French plan until the Prime Minister explained them to him.

xv. Czech mobilization began at 10:30 P.M. on September 23.
xvi. The memorandum called for the withdrawal of all Czech armed forces, including  the police, etc., by October 1 from large areas indicated on a map with red shading.  A plebiscite was to determine the future of further areas shaded in green. All military  installations in the evacuated territories were to be left intact. All commercial  and transport materials, "especially the rolling stock of the railway system," were  to be handed over to the Germans undamaged. "Finally, no foodstuffs, goods,  cattle, raw material, etc., are to be removed." [54] The hundreds of thousands of  Czechs in the Sudetenland were not to be allowed to take with them even their  household goods or the family cow.
xvii. The Czech reply is a moving and prophetic document. The Godesberg proposals,  it said, "deprive us of every safeguard for our national existence." [56]
xvii. At the conclusion of the Godesberg talks, the British and French correspondents   -- and the chief European correspondent of the New York Times, who was an  English citizen -- had scurried off for the French, Belgian and Dutch frontiers, none  of them wishing to be interned in case of war.

xviii. Wilson's assurance is given in English in the original of Schmidt's German notes.

vix. These proposals were also transmitted by Ambassador Henderson to the German  Foreign Office at 11 P.M. with the request that they be immediately submitted to  Hitler.

xx. These include firsthand accounts by Halder, Gisevius and Schacht. [69] Each of them contains much that is confusing and contradictory, and on some points they contradict each other. It must be remembered that all three of these men, who had begun by serving the Nazi regime, were anxious after the war to prove their opposition to Hitler and their love of peace.

Erich Kordt, chief of Ribbentrop's secretariat in the Foreign Office, also was an important participant in the plot who survived the war. At Nuremberg he drew up a long memorandum about events in September 1938, which was made available to this writer.

xxi. There is considerable confusion among the historians and even among the conspirators about Hitler's whereabouts on September 13 and 14. Churchill, basing his account on a memorandum of General Halder, states that Hitler arrived in Berlin from Berchtesgaden "on the morning of September 14" and that Halder and Witzleben, on learning of it, "decided to strike at 8 that same evening." They called the operation off, according to this account, when they learned at 4 P.M. that Chamberlain was flying to Berchtesgaden. (Churchill, The Gathering Storm, p. 312.) But Halder's memory -- and hence Churchill's account -- is certainly in error. Hitler's daily schedule book, now in the Library of Congress, has several entries showing that he spent the thirteenth and fourteenth in Munich, where, among other things, he conferred with Ribbentrop at Bormann's home and visited the Sonnenwinkel, a cabaret, departing for the Obersalzberg at the end of the day of the fourteenth.

xxii. See above, p. 384.

xxiii. The British ambassador in Rome.

xxiv. See above, p. 403.

xxv. As we have seen. Hitler already had mobilized all the troops available.

xxvi. Alan Bullock (Hitler -- A Study in Tyranny, p. 428) says: "Almost certainly it  was Mussolini's intervention which turned the scale."
xxvii. For example, the explanation for the failure of the revolt given by General Georg  Thomas, the brilliant chief of the Economic and Armaments Branch of OKW, and  one of the conspirators: "The execution of this enterprise was unfortunately frustrated  because, according to the view of the commanding general appointed for the  task [Witzleben], the younger officers were found to be unreliable for a political action  of this kind." See his paper, "Gedanken und Ereignisse," published in the  December 1945 number of the Sehweizerisehe Monatshefte.
xxviii. At 6:45 the evening before, Chamberlain had sent a message to President Benes informing him officially of the meeting at Munich. "I shall have the interests of Czechoslovakia," he stated, "fully in mind ... I go there [to Munich] with the intention of trying to find accommodation between the positions of the German and Czechoslovak governments." Benes had immediately replied, "I beg that nothing may be done at Munich without Czechoslovakia being heard." [81]

xxix. Erich Kordt recounted the German origins of Mussolini's proposals in his testimony  before U.S. Military Tribunal IV at Nuremberg on June 4, 1948, in the case  of U.S.A. v. Ernst Weizsaecker. Documents on German Foreign Policy, II, p.  1005, gives a summary from the official trial transcript. Kordt also tells the story  in his book Wahn und Wirklichkeit, pp. 129-31. Dr. Schmidt (Hitler's Interpreter,  p. 111) substantiates Kordt's account and remarks that translating the Duce's  proposals "was easy" because he had already translated them the day before in  Berlin. Ciano, the Italian Foreign Minister, in a diary entry of September 29-30  from Munich, tells of Mussolini producing his document "which in fact had been  telephoned to us by our Embassy the previous evening, as expressing the desires of  the German Government." (Ciano's Hidden Diary, 1937-38, p. 167.)
xxx. The agreement was dated September 29, though not actually signed until the early-morning hours of September 30. It stipulated that the German occupation "of the predominantly German territory" should be carried out by German troops in four stages, from October 1 through October 7. The remaining territory, after being delimited by the "International Commission," would be occupied "by October 10." The commission was to consist of representatives of the four Big Powers and Czechoslovakia. Britain, France and Italy agreed "that the evacuation of the territory shall be completed by October 10, without any existing installations having been destroyed, and that the Czechoslovak Government will be held responsible for carrying out the evacuation without damage to the said installations."

Further, the "International Commission" would arrange for plebiscites, "not later than the end of November," in the regions where the ethnographical character was in doubt and would make the final determination of the new frontiers. In an annex to the accord, Britain and France declared that "they stand by their offer ... relating to an international guarantee of the new boundaries of the Czechoslovak State against unprovoked aggression. When the question of the Polish and Hungarian minorities ... has been settled, Germany and Italy, for their part, will give a guarantee to Czechoslovakia." [85]

The pledge of plebiscites was never carried out. Neither Germany nor Italy ever gave the guarantee to Czechoslovakia against aggression, even after the matter of the Polish and Hungarian minorities was settled, and, as we shall see, Britain and France declined to honor their guarantee.

xxxi. The reference is to Disraeli's return from the Congress of Berlin in 1878.
xxxii. Even Hitler became at least partly convinced of this after he had inspected the Czech fortress line. He later told Dr. Carl Burckhardt, League of Nations High Commissioner of Danzig, "When after Munich we were in a position to examine Czechoslovak military strength from within, what we saw of it greatly disturbed us; we had run a serious danger. The plan prepared by the Czech generals was formidable. I now understand why my generals urged restraint." (Pertinax, The Grave Diggers of France, p. 5.)
xxxiii. See above, p. 388.
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