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

Postby admin » Wed Feb 07, 2018 2:15 am

Part 1 of 2


WITHIN TEN DAYS of affixing his signature to the Munich Agreement -- before even the peaceful military occupation of the Sudeten land had been completed-Adolf Hitler got off an urgent top-secret message to General Keitel, Chief of OKW.

1. What reinforcements are necessary in the present situation to break all Czech resistance in Bohemia and Moravia?

2. How much time is required for the regrouping or moving up of new forces?

3. How much time will be required for the same purpose if it is executed after the intended demobilization and return measures?

4. How much time would be required to achieve the state of readiness of October 1? [1]

Keitel shot back to the Fuehrer on October 11 a telegram giving detailed answers. Not much time and not very many reinforcements would be necessary. There were already twenty-four divisions, including three armored and four motorized, in the Sudeten area. "OKW believes," Keitel stated, "that it would be possible to commence operations without reinforcements, in view of the present signs of weakness in Czech resistance." [2]

Thus assured, Hitler communicated his thoughts to his military chiefs ten days later.


Berlin, October 21, 1938

The future tasks for the armed forces and the preparations for the conduct of war resulting from these tasks will be laid down by me in a later directive.

Until this directive comes into force the armed forces must be prepared at all times for the following eventualities:

1. The securing of the frontiers of Germany.

2. The liquidation of the remainder of Czechoslovakia.

3. The occupation of the Memel district.

Memel, a Baltic port of some forty thousand inhabitants, had been lost by Germany to Lithuania after Versailles. Since Lithuania was smaller and weaker than Austria and Czechoslovakia, the seizure of the town presented no problem to the Wehrmacht and in this directive Hitler merely mentioned that it would be "annexed." As for Czechoslovakia:

It must be possible to smash at any time the remainder of Czechoslovakia if her policy should become hostile toward Germany.

The preparations to be made by the armed forces for this contingency will be considerably smaller in extent than those for "Green"; they must, however, guarantee a considerably higher state of preparedness since planned mobilization measures have been dispensed with. The organization, order of battle and state of readiness of the units earmarked for that purpose are in peacetime to be so arranged for a surprise assault that Czechoslovakia herself will be deprived of all possibility of organized resistance. The object is the swift occupation of Bohemia and Moravia and the cutting off of Slovakia. [3]

Slovakia, of course, could be cut off by political means, which might make the use of German troops unnecessary. For this purpose the German Foreign Office was put to work. All through the first days of October, Ribbentrop and his aides urged the Hungarians to press for their share of the spoils in Slovakia. But when Hungary, which hardly needed German prodding to whet its greedy appetite, spoke of taking Slovakia outright, the Wilhelmstrasse put its foot down. It had other plans for the future of this land. The Prague government had already, immediately after Munich, granted Slovakia a far-reaching autonomy. The German Foreign Office advised "tolerating" this solution for the moment. But for the future the German thinking was summed up by Dr. Ernst Woermann, director of the Political Department of the Foreign Office, in a memorandum of October 7. "An independent Slovakia," he wrote, "would be weak constitutionally and would therefore best further the German need for penetration and settlement in the East." [4]

Here is a new turning point for the Third Reich. For the first time Hitler is on the verge of setting out to conquer non-Germanic lands. Over the last six weeks he had been assuring Chamberlain, in private and in public, that the Sudetenland was his last territorial demand in Europe. And though the British Prime Minister was gullible almost beyond comprehension in accepting Hitler's word, there was some ground for his believing that the German dictator would halt when he had digested the Germans who previously had dwelt outside the Reich's. frontier and were now within it. Had not the Fuehrer repeatedly said that he wanted no Czechs in the Third Reich? Had he not in Mein Kampf and in countless public speeches reiterated the Nazi theory that a Germany, to be strong, must be racially pure and therefore must not take in foreign, and especially Slav, peoples? He had. But also -- and perhaps this was forgotten in London -- he had preached in many a turgid page in Mein Kampf that Germany's future lay in conquering Lebensraum in the East. For more than a millennium this space had been occupied by the Slavs.


In the autumn of 1938 another turning point for Nazi Germany was reached. It took place during what was later called in party circles the "Week of the Broken Glass."

On November 7, a seventeen-year-old German Jewish refugee by the name of Herschel Grynszpan shot and mortally wounded the third secretary of the German Embassy in Paris, Ernst vom Rath. The youth's father had been among ten thousand Jews deported to Poland in boxcars shortly before, and it was to revenge this and the general persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany that he went to the German Embassy intending to kill the ambassador, Count Johannes von Welczeck. But the young third secretary was sent out to see what he wanted, and was shot. There was irony in Rath's death, because he had been shadowed by the Gestapo as a result of his anti-Nazi attitude; for one thing, he had never shared the anti-Semitic aberrations of the rulers of his country.

On the night of November 9-10, shortly after the party bosses, led by Hitler and Goering, had concluded the annual celebration of the Beer Hall Putsch in Munich, the worst pogrom that had yet taken place in the Third Reich occurred. According to Dr. Goebbels and the German press, which he controlled, it was a "spontaneous" demonstration of the German people in reaction to the news of the murder in Paris. But after the war, documents came to light which show how "spontaneous" it was. [5] They are among the most illuminating -- and gruesome -- secret papers of the prewar Nazi era.

On the evening of November 9, according to a secret report made by the chief party judge, Major Walther Buch, Dr. Goebbels issued instructions that "spontaneous demonstrations" were to be "organized and executed" during the night. But the real organizer was Reinhard Heydrich, the sinister thirty-four-year-old Number Two man, after Himmler, in the S.S., who ran the Security Service (S.D.) and the Gestapo. His teletyped orders during the evening are among the captured German documents.

At 1:20 A.M. on November 10 he flashed an urgent teletype message to all headquarters and stations of the state police and the S.D. instructing them to get together with party and S.S. leaders "to discuss the organization of the demonstrations."

a. Only such measures should be taken which do not involve danger to German life or property. (For instance synagogues are to be burned down only when there is no danger of fire to the surroundings.) [i]

b. Business and private apartments of Jews may be destroyed but not looted ....

d... . 2. The demonstrations which are going to take place should not be hindered by the police ...

5. As many Jews, especially rich ones, are to be arrested as can be accommodated in the existing prisons ... Upon their arrest, the appropriate concentration camps should be contacted immediately, in order to confine them in these camps as soon as possible.

It was a night of horror throughout Germany. Synagogues, Jewish homes and shops went up in flames and several Jews, men, women and children, were shot or otherwise slain while trying to escape burning to death. A preliminary confidential report was made by Heydrich to Goering on the following day, November 11.

The extent of the destruction of Jewish shops and houses cannot yet be verified by figures ... 815 shops destroyed, 171 dwelling houses set on fire or destroyed only indicate a fraction of the actual damage so far as arson is concerned ... 119 synagogues were set on fire, and another 76 completely destroyed ... 20,000 Jews were arrested. 36 deaths were reported and those seriously injured were also numbered at 36. Those killed and injured are Jews....

The ultimate number of murders of Jews that night is believed to have been several times the preliminary figure. Heydrich himself a day after his preliminary report gave the number of Jewish shops looted as 7,500. There were also some cases of rape, which Major Buch's party court, judging by its own report, considered worse than murder, since they violated the Nuremberg racial laws which forbade sexual intercourse between Gentiles and Jews. Such offenders were expelled from the party and turned over to the civil courts. Party members who simply murdered Jews "cannot be punished," Major Buch argued, since they had merely carried out orders. On that point he was quite blunt. "The public, down to the last man," he wrote, "realizes that political drives like those of November 9 were organized and directed by the party, whether this is admitted or not." [ii]

Murder and arson and pillage were not the only tribulations suffered by innocent German Jews as the result of the murder of Rath in Paris. The Jews had to pay for the destruction of their own property. Insurance monies due them were confiscated by the State. Moreover, they were subjected, collectively, to a fine of one billion marks as punishment, as Goering put it, "for their abominable crimes, etc." These additional penalties were assessed at a grotesque meeting of a dozen German cabinet ministers and ranking officials presided over by the corpulent Field Marshal on November 12, a partial stenographic record of which survives.

A number of German insurance firms faced bankruptcy if they were to make good the policies on gutted buildings (most of which, though they harbored Jewish shops, were owned by Gentiles) and damaged goods. The destruction in broken window glass alone came to five million marks ($1,250,000) as a Herr Hilgard, who had been called in to speak for the insurance companies, reminded Goering; and most of the glass replacements would have to be imported from abroad in foreign exchange, of which Germany was very short.

"This cannot continue!" exclaimed Goering, who, among other things, was the czar of the German economy. "We won't be able to last, with all this. Impossible!" And turning to Heydrich, he shouted, "I wish you had killed two hundred Jews instead of destroying so many valuables!"·

"Thirty-five were killed," Heydrich answered, in self-defense.

Not all the conversation, of which the partial stenographic record runs to ten thousand words, was so deadly serious. Goering and Goebbels had a lot of fun arguing about subjecting the Jews to further indignities. The Propaganda Minister said the Jews would be made to clean up and level off the debris of the synagogues; the sites would then be turned into parking lots. He insisted that the Jews be excluded from everything: schools, theaters, movies, resorts, public beaches, parks, even from the German forests. He proposed that there be special railway coaches and compartments for the Jews, but that they be made available only after all Aryans were seated.

"Well, if the train is overcrowded," Goering laughed, "we'll kick the Jew out and make him sit all alone all the way in the toilet."

When Goebbels, in all seriousness, demanded that the Jews be forbidden to enter the forests, Goering replied, "We shall give the Jews a certain part of the forest and see to it that various animals that look damned much like Jews -- the elk has a crooked nose like theirs -- get there also and become acclimated."

In such talk, and much more like it, did the leaders of the Third Reich while away the time in the crucial year of 1938.

But the question of who was to pay for the 25 million marks' worth of damage caused by a pogrom instigated and organized by the State was a fairly serious one, especially to Goering, who now had become responsible for the economic well-being of Nazi Germany. Hilgard, on behalf of the insurance companies, pointed out that if their policies were not honored to the Jews, the confidence of the people, both at home and abroad, in German insurance would be forfeited. On the other hand, he did not see how many of the smaller companies could pay up without going broke.

This problem was quickly solved by Goering. The insurance companies would pay the Jews in full, but the sums would be confiscated by the State and the insurers reimbursed for a part of their losses. This did not satisfy Herr Hilgard, who, judging by the record of the meeting, must have felt that he had fallen in with a bunch of lunatics.

GOERING: The Jew shall get the refund from the insurance company but the refund will be confiscated. There will remain some profit for the insurance companies, since they won't have to make good for all the damage. Herr Hilgard, you may consider yourself damned lucky.

HILGARD: I have no reason to. The fact that we won't have to pay for all the damage, you call a profit!

The Field Marshal was not accustomed to such talk and he quickly squelched the bewildered businessman.

GOERING: Just a moment! If you are legally bound to pay five millions and all of a sudden an angel in my somewhat corpulent shape appears before you and tells you that you may keep one million, for heaven's sake isn't that a profit? I should like to go fifty-fifty with you, or whatever you call it. I have only to look at you. Your whole body seethes with satisfaction. You are getting a big rake-off!

The insurance executive was slow to see the point.

HILGARD: All the insurance companies are the losers. That is so, and remains so. Nobody can tell me differently.

GOERING: Then why don't you take care of it that a few windows less are being smashed!

The Field Marshal had had enough of this commercial-minded man. Herr Hilgard was dismissed, disappearing into the limbo of history.

A representative of the Foreign Office dared to suggest that American public opinion be considered in taking further measures against the Jews. [iii] This inspired an outburst from Goering: "That country of scoundrels! ... That gangster state!"

After further lengthy discussion it was agreed to solve the Jewish question in the following manner: eliminate the Jews from the German economy; transfer all Jewish business enterprises and property, including jewelry and works of art, to Aryan hands with some compensation in bonds from which the Jews could use the interest but not the capital. The matter of excluding Jews from schools, resorts, parks, forests, etc., and of either expelling them after they had been deprived of all their property or confining them to German ghettos where they would be impressed as forced labor, was left for further consideration by a committee.

As Heydrich put it toward the close of the meeting: "In spite of the elimination of the Jews from economic life, the main problem remains, namely, to kick the Jew out of Germany." Count Schwerin von Krosigk, the Minister of Finance, the former Rhodes scholar who prided himself on representing the "traditional and decent Germany" in the Nazi government, agreed "that we will have to do everything to shove the Jews into foreign countries." As for the ghettos, this German nobleman said meekly, "I don't imagine the prospect of the ghetto is very nice. The idea of the ghetto is not a very agreeable one."

At 2:30 P.M. -- after nearly four hours -- Goering brought the meeting to a close.

I shall close the meeting with these words: German Jewry shall, as punishment for their abominable crimes, et cetera, have to make a contribution for one billion marks. That will work. The swine won't commit another murder. Incidentally, I would like to say that I would not like to be a Jew in Germany.

Much worse was to be inflicted on the Jews by this man and this State and its Fuehrer in the course of time, and a brief time it turned out to be. On the flaming, riotous night of November 9, 1938, the Third Reich had deliberately turned down a dark and savage road from which there was to be no return. A good many Jews had been murdered and tortured and robbed before, but these crimes, except for those which took place in the concentration camps, had been committed mostly by brown-shirted rowdies acting out of their own sadism and greed while the State authorities looked on, or looked the other way. Now the German government itself had organized and carried out a vast pogrom. The killings, the looting, the burning of synagogues and houses and shops on the night of November 9 were its doing. So were the official decrees, duly published in the official gazette, the Reichsgesetzblatt -- three of them on the day of Goering's meeting -- which fined the Jewish community a billion marks, eliminated them from the economy, robbed them of what was left of their property and drove them toward the ghetto -- and worse.

World opinion was shocked and revolted by such barbarity in a nation which boasted a centuries-old Christian and humanist culture. Hitler, in turn, was enraged by the world reaction and convinced himself that it merely proved the power and scope of "the Jewish world conspiracy."

In retrospect, it is easy to see that the horrors inflicted upon the Jews of Germany on November 9 and the harsh and brutal measures taken against them immediately afterward were portents of a fatal weakening which in the end would bring the dictator, his regime and his nation down in utter ruin. The evidences of Hitler's megalomania we have seen permeating hundreds of pages of this narrative. But until now he had usually been able to hold it in check at critical stages in his rise and in that of his country. At such moments his genius for acting not only boldly, but usually only after a careful calculation of the consequences, had won him one crashing success after another. But now, as November 9 and its aftermath clearly showed, Hitler was losing his self-control. His megalomania was getting the upper hand. The stenographic record of the Goering meeting on November 12 reveals that it was Hitler who, in the final analysis, was responsible for the holocaust of that November evening; it was he who gave the necessary approval to launch it; he who pressed Goering to go ahead with the elimination of the Jews from German life. From now on the absolute master of the Third Reich would show little of that restraint which had saved him so often before. And though his genius and that of his country would lead to further startling conquests, the poisonous seeds of eventual self-destruction for the dictator and his land had now been sown.

Hitler's sickness was contagious; the nation was catching it, as if it were a virus. Individually, as this writer can testify from personal experience, many Germans were as horrified by the November 9 inferno as were Americans and Englishmen and other foreigners. But neither the leaders of the Christian churches nor the generals nor any other representatives of the "good" Germany spoke out at once in open protest. They bowed to what General von Fritsch called "the inevitable," or "Germany's destiny."

The atmosphere of Munich soon was dissipated. At Saarbruecken, at Weimar, at Munich, Hitler delivered petulant speeches that fall warning the outside world and particularly the British to mind their own business and to quit concerning themselves "with the fate of Germans within the frontiers of the Reich." That fate, he thundered, was exclusively Germany's affair. It could not be long before even Neville Chamberlain would be awakened to the nature of the German government which he had gone so far to appease. Gradually, as the eventful year of 1938 gave way to ominous 1939, the Prime Minister got wind of what the Fuehrer whom he had tried so hard to personally accommodate in the interest of European peace was up to behind the scenes. [iv]

Not long after Munich Ribbentrop journeyed to Rome. His mind was "fixed" on war, Ciano noted in his diary of October 28. [9]

The Fuehrer [the German Foreign Minister told Mussolini and Ciano] is convinced that we must inevitably count on a war with the Western democracies in the course of a few years, perhaps three or four ... The Czech crisis has shown our power! We have the advantage of the initiative and are masters of the situation. We cannot be attacked. The military situation is excellent: as from September [1939] we could face a war with the great democracies. [v]

To the young Italian Foreign Minister, Ribbentrop was "vain, frivolous, and loquacious," and in so describing him in his diary he added, "The Duce says you only have to look at his head to see that he has a small brain." The German Foreign Minister had come to Rome to persuade Mussolini to sign a military alliance between Germany, Japan and Italy, a draft of which had been given the Italians at Munich; but Mussolini stalled for time. He was not yet ready, Ciano noted, to shut the door on Britain and France.

Hitler himself toyed that autumn with the idea of trying to detach France from her ally over the Channel. When on October 18 he received the French ambassador, Francois-Poncet, for a farewell visit in the eerie fastness of Eagle's Nest, high above Berchtesgaden on a mountaintop, [vi] he broke out into a bitter attack on Great Britain. The ambassador found the Fuehrer pale, his face drawn with fatigue, but not too tired to inveigh against Albion. Britain re-echoed "with threats and calls to arms." She was selfish and took on "superior" airs. It was the British who were destroying the spirit of Munich. And so on. France was different. Hitler said he wanted more friendly and close relations with her. To prove it, he was willing to sign at once a pact of friendship, guaranteeing their present frontiers (and thus again renouncing any German claims to Alsace-Lorraine) and proposing to settle any future differences by consultation.

The pact was duly signed in Paris on December 6, 1938, by the German and French foreign ministers. France, by that time, had somewhat recovered from the defeatist panic of the Munich days. The writer happened to be in Paris on the day the paper was signed and noted the frosty atmosphere. When Ribbentrop drove through the streets they were completely deserted, and several cabinet ministers and other leading figures in the French political and literary worlds, including the eminent presidents of the Senate and the Chamber, MM. Jeanneney and Herriot respectively, refused to attend the social functions accorded the Nazi visitor.

From this meeting of Bonnet and Ribbentrop stemmed a misunderstanding which was to play a certain part in future events. The German Foreign Minister claimed that Bonnet had assured him that after Munich France was no longer interested in Eastern Europe and he subsequently interpreted this as meaning that the French would give Germany a free hand in this region, especially in regard to rump Czechoslovakia and Poland. Bonnet denied this. According to Schmidt's minutes of the meeting, Bonnet declared, in answer to Ribbentrop's demand that Germany's sphere of influence in the East be recognized, that "conditions had changed fundamentally since Munich." [11] This ambiguous remark was soon stretched by the slippery German Foreign Minister into the flat statement, which he passed along to Hitler, that "at Paris Bonnet had declared he was no longer interested in questions concerning the East." France's swift surrender at Munich had already convinced the Fuehrer of this. It was not quite true.


What had happened to the German guarantee of the rest of Czechoslovakia which Hitler had solemnly promised at Munich to give? When the new French ambassador in Berlin, Robert Coulondre, inquired of Weizsaecker on December 21, 1938, the State Secretary replied that the destiny of Czechoslovakia lay in the hands of Germany and that he rejected the idea of a British-French guarantee. As far back as October 14, when the new Czech Foreign Minister, Frantisek Chvalkovsky, had come humbly begging for crumbs at the hand of Hitler in Munich and had inquired whether Germany was going to join Britain and France in the guarantee of his country's shrunken frontiers, the Fuehrer replied sneeringly that "the British and French guarantees were worthless ... and that the only effective guarantee was that by Germany." [12]

Yet, as 1939 began, it was still not forthcoming. The reason was simple. The Fuehrer had no intention of giving it. Such a guarantee would have interfered with the plans which he had begun to lay immediately after Munich. Soon there would be no Czechoslovakia to guarantee. To start with, Slovakia would be induced to break away.

A few days after Munich, on October 17, Goering had received two Slovak leaders, Ferdinand Durcansky and Mach, and the leader of the German minority in Slovakia, Franz Karmasin. Durcansky, who was Deputy Prime Minister of the newly appointed autonomous Slovakia, assured the Field Marshal that what the Slovaks really wanted was "complete independence, with very close political, economic and military ties with Germany." In a secret Foreign Office memorandum of the same date it was noted that Goering had decided that independence for Slovakia must be supported. "A Czech State minus Slovakia is even more completely at our mercy. Air base in Slovakia for operation against the East very important." [13] Such were Goering's thoughts on the matter in mid-October.

We must here attempt to follow a double thread in the German plan: to detach Slovakia from Prague, and to prepare for the liquidation of what remained of the state by the military occupation of the Czech lands, Bohemia and Moravia. On October 21, 1938, as we have seen, Hitler had directed the Wehrmacht to be ready to carry out that liquidation. [vii] On December 17, General Keitel issued what he called a "supplement to Directive of October 21":


With reference to the "liquidation of the Rump Czech State," the Fuehrer has given the following orders:

The operation is to be prepared on the assumption that no resistance worth mentioning is to be expected.

To the outside world it must clearly appear that it is merely a peaceful action and not a warlike undertaking.

The action must therefore be carried out by the peacetime armed forces only, without reinforcement by mobilization ... [14]

Try as it might to please Hitler, the new pro-German government of Czechoslovakia began to realize as the new year began that the country's goose was cooked. Just before Christmas, 1938, the Czech cabinet, in order to further appease the Fuehrer, had dissolved the Communist Party and suspended all Jewish teachers in German schools. On January 12, 1939, Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky, in a message to the German Foreign Office, stressed that his government "will endeavor to prove its loyalty and good will by far-reaching fulfillment of Germany's wishes." On the same day he brought to the attention of the German charge in Prague the spreading rumors "that the incorporation of Czechoslovakia into the Reich was imminent." [15]

To see if even the pieces could be saved Chvalkovsky finally prevailed upon Hitler to receive him in Berlin on January 21. It turned out to be a painful scene, though not as painful for the Czechs as one that would shortly follow. The Czech Foreign Minister groveled before the mighty German dictator, who was in one of his most bullying moods. Czechoslovakia, said Hitler, had been saved from catastrophe by "Germany's moderation." Nevertheless, unless the Czechs showed a different spirit, he would "annihilate" them. They must forget their "history," which was "schoolboy nonsense," and do as the Germans bade. That was their only salvation. Specifically, Czechoslovakia must leave the League of Nations, drastically reduce the size of her Army -- "because it did not count anyway" -- join the Anti-Comintern Pact, accept German direction of her foreign policy, make a preferential trade agreement with Germany, one condition of which was that no new Czech industries could be established without German consent, [viii] dismiss all officials and editors not friendly to the Reich and, finally, outlaw the Jews, as Germany had done under its Nuremberg Laws. ("With us, the Jews will be destroyed," Hitler told his visitor.) On the same day Chvalkovsky received further demands from Ribbentrop, who threatened "catastrophic consequences" unless the Czechs immediately mended their ways and did as they were told. The German Foreign Minister, so much the lackey in the presence of Hitler but a boor and a bully with anyone over whom he had the upper hand, bade Chvalkovsky not to mention the new German demands to the British and French but just to go ahead and carry them out. [17]

And to do so without worrying about any German guarantee of the Czech frontiers! Apparently there had been little worry about this in Paris and London. Four months had gone by since Munich, and still Hitler had not honored his word to add Germany's guarantee to that given by Britain and France. Finally on February 8 an Anglo-French note verbale was presented in Berlin stating that the two governments "would now be glad to learn the views of the German Government as to the best way of giving effect to the understanding reached at Munich in regard to the guarantee of Czechoslovakia." [18]

Hitler himself, as the captured German Foreign Office documents establish, drafted the reply, which was not made until February 28. It said that the time had not yet come for a German guarantee. Germany would have to "await first a clarification of the internal development of Czechoslovakia." [19]

The Fuehrer already was shaping that "internal development" toward an obvious end. On February 12 he received at the Chancellery in Berlin Dr. Vojtech Tuka, one of the Slovak leaders, whose long imprisonment had embittered him against the Czechs. [ix] Addressing Hitler as "my Fuehrer," as the secret German memorandum of the talk emphasizes, Dr. Tuka begged the German dictator to make Slovakia independent and free. "I lay the destiny of my people in your hands, my Fuehrer," he declared. "My people await their complete liberation from you."

Hitler's reply was somewhat evasive. He said that unfortunately he had not understood the Slovak problem. Had he known the Slovaks wanted to be independent he would have arranged it at Munich. It would be "a comfort to him to know that Slovakia was independent ... He could guarantee an independent Slovakia at any time, even today ..." These were comforting words to Professor Tuka too. [20] "This," he said later, "was the greatest day of my life."

The curtain on the next act of the Czechoslovak tragedy could now go up. By another one of those ironies with which this narrative history is so full, it was the Czechs in Prague who forced the curtain up a little prematurely. By the beginning of March 1938 they were caught in a terrible dilemma. The separatist movements in Slovakia and Ruthenia, fomented, as we have seen, by the German government (and in Ruthenia also by Hungary, which was hungry to annex that little land) had reached such a state that unless they were squelched Czechoslovakia would break up. In that case Hitler would surely occupy Prague. If the separatists were put down by the central government, then the Fuehrer, just as certainly, would take advantage of the resulting disturbance to also march into Prague.

The Czech government, after much hesitation and only after the provocation became unbearable, chose the second alternative. On March 6, Dr. Hacha, the President of Czechoslovakia, dismissed the autonomous Ruthenian government from office, and on the night of March 9-10 the autonomous Slovakian government. The next day he ordered the arrest of Monsignor Tiso, the Slovak Premier, Dr. Tuka and Durcansky and proclaimed martial law in Slovakia. The one courageous move of this government, which had become so servile to Berlin, quickly turned into a disaster which destroyed it.

The swift action by the tottering Prague government caught Berlin by surprise. Goering had gone off to sunny San Remo for a vacation. Hitler was on the point of leaving for Vienna to celebrate the first anniversary of the Anschluss. But now the master improviser went feverishly to work. On March 11, he decided to take Bohemia and Moravia by ultimatum. The text was drafted that day on Hitler's orders by General Keitel and sent to the German Foreign Office. It called upon the Czechs to submit to military occupation without resistance. [21] For the moment, however, it remained a "top military secret."

It was now time for Hitler to "liberate" Slovakia. Karol Sidor, who had represented the autonomous Slovak government at Prague, was named by President Hacha to be the new Premier of it in place of Monsignor Tiso. Returning to Bratislava, the Slovak seat of government, on Saturday, March 11, Sidor called a meeting of his new cabinet. At ten o'clock in the evening the session of the Slovak government was interrupted by strange and unexpected visitors. Seyss-Inquart, the quisling Nazi Governor of Austria, and Josef Buerckel, the Nazi Gauleiter of Austria, accompanied by five German generals, pushed their way into the meeting and told the cabinet ministers to proclaim the independence of Slovakia at once. Unless they did, Hitler, who had decided to settle the question of Slovakia definitely and now, would disinterest himself in the fate of Slovakia. [22]

Sidor, who opposed severing all links with the Czechs, stalled for time, but the next morning Monsignor Tiso, who had escaped from a monastery where he supposedly was under house arrest, demanded a cabinet meeting, though he was no longer himself in the cabinet. To forestall further interruptions by high German officials and generals, Sidor called the meeting in his own apartment, and when this became unsafe -- for German storm troopers were taking over the town -- he adjourned it to the offices of a local newspaper. There Tiso informed him that he had just received a telegram from Buerckel inviting him to go at once to see the Fuehrer in Berlin. If he refused the invitation, Buerckel threatened, two German divisions across the Danube from Bratislava would march in and Slovakia would be divided up between Germany and Hungary. Arriving in Vienna the next morning, Monday, March 13, with the intention of proceeding to Berlin by train, the chubby little prelate [x] was packed into a plane by the Germans and flown to the presence of Hitler. For the Fuehrer, there was no time to waste.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Wed Feb 07, 2018 2:16 am

Part 2 of 2

When Tiso and Durcansky arrived at the Chancellery in Berlin at 7:40 on the evening of March 13, they found Hitler flanked not only by Ribbentrop but by his two top generals, Brauchitsch, Commander in Chief of the German Army, and Keitel, Chief of OKW. Though they may not have realized it, the Slovaks also found the Fuehrer in a characteristic mood. Here again, thanks to the captured confidential minutes of the meeting, we may peer into the weird mind of the German dictator, rapidly giving way to megalomania, and watch him spinning his fantastic lies and uttering his dire threats in a manner and to an extent which he no doubt was sure would never come to public attention. [23]

"Czechoslovakia," he said, "owed it only to Germany that she had not been mutilated further." The Reich had exhibited "the greatest self-control." Yet the Czechs had not appreciated this. "During recent weeks," he went on, working himself up easily to a fine lather, "conditions have become impossible. The old Benes spirit has come to life again."

The Slovaks had also disappointed him. After Munich he had "fallen out" with his friends the Hungarians by not permitting them to grab Slovakia. He had thought Slovakia wanted to be independent.

He had now summoned Tiso in order to clear up this question in a very short time. [xi] ... The question was: Did Slovakia want to lead an independent existence or not? ... It was a question not of days but of hours. If Slovakia wished to become independent he would support and even guarantee it ... If she hesitated or refused to be separated from Prague, he would leave the fate of Slovakia to events for which he was no longer responsible.

At this point, the German minutes reveal, Ribbentrop "handed to the Fuehrer a report just received announcing Hungarian troop movements on the Slovak frontier. The Fuehrer read this report, told Tiso of its contents, and expressed the hope that Slovakia would reach a decision soon."

Tiso did not give his decision then. He asked the Fuehrer to "pardon him if, under the impact of the Chancellor's words, he could make no definite decision at once." But the Slovaks, he quickly added, "would prove themselves worthy of the Fuehrer's benevolence."

This they did in a conference which continued far into the night at the Foreign Ministry. According to the Nuremberg testimony of Keppler, who had been Hitler's secret agent in Bratislava, as he had been the year before in Vienna on the eve of the Anschluss, the Germans helped Tiso draft a telegram, which the "Premier" was to send as soon as he returned to Bratislava, proclaiming Slovakia's independence and urgently requesting the Fuehrer to take over the protection of the new state. [24] It is reminiscent of the "telegram" dictated by Goering just a year before in which Seyss-Inquart was to appeal to Hitler to send German troops to Austria. By this time the Nazi "telegram" technique had been perfected. The telegram, considerably abridged, was duly dispatched by Tiso on March 16, and Hitler immediately replied that he would be glad to "take over the protection of the Slovak State."

At the Foreign Office that night Ribbentrop also drafted the Slovak proclamation of "independence" and had it translated into Slovak in time for Tiso to take it back to Bratislava, where the "Premier" read it -- in slightly altered form, as one German agent reported -- to Parliament on the following day, Tuesday, March 14. Attempts by several Slovak deputies to at least discuss it were squelched by Karmasin, the leader of the German minority, who warned that German troops would occupy the country if there was any delay in proclaiming independence. Faced with this threat the doubting deputies gave in.

Thus was "independent" Slovakia born on March 14, 1939. Though British diplomatic representatives were quick to inform London as to the manner of its birth, Chamberlain, as we shall see, was just as quick to use Slovakia's "secession" as an excuse for Britain not to honor its guarantee of Czechoslovakia after Hitler, on that very evening, March 14, acted to finish what had been left undone at Munich.

The life of the Czechoslovak Republic of Masaryk and Benes had now run out. And once again the harassed leaders in Prague played into Hitler's hands to set up the final act of their country's tragedy. The aging, bewildered President Hacha asked to be received by the Fuehrer. [xii] Hitler graciously consented. It gave him an opportunity to set the stage for one of the most brazen acts of his entire career.

Consider how well the dictator had already arranged the set as he waited on the afternoon of March 14 for the President of Czechoslovakia to arrive. The proclamations of independence of Slovakia and Ruthenia, which he had so skillfully engineered, left Prague with only the Czech core of Bohemia and Moravia. Had not Czechoslovakia in reality ceased to exist -- the nation whose frontiers Britain and France had guaranteed against aggression? Chamberlain and Daladier, his partners at Munich where the guarantee had been solemnly given, already had their "out." That they would take it he had no doubt -- and he was right. That disposed of any danger of foreign intervention. But to make doubly sure -- to see to it that his next move looked quite legal and legitimate by the vague standards of international law, at least on paper -- he would force the weak and senile Hacha, who had begged to see him, to accept the very solution which he had intended to achieve by military force. And in so doing he could make it appear -- he, who, alone in Europe, had mastered the new technique of bloodless conquest, as the Anschluss and Munich had proved -- that the President of Czechoslovakia had actually and formally asked for it. The niceties of "legality," which he had perfected so well in taking over power in Germany, would be preserved in the conquest of a non-Germanic land.

Hitler had also set the stage to fool the German and other gullible people in Europe. For several days now German provocateurs had been trying to stir up trouble in various Czech towns, Prague, Bruenn and Iglau. They had not had much success because, as the German Legation in Prague reported, the Czech "police have been instructed to take no action against Germans, even in cases of provocation." [26] But this failure did not prevent Dr. Goebbels from whipping up the German press into a frenzy over invented acts of terror by the Czechs against the poor Germans. As the French ambassador, M. Coulondre, informed Paris, they were the same stories with the same headlines which Dr. Goebbels had concocted during the Sudeten crisis -- down to the pregnant German woman struck down by Czech beasts and the general "Blutbad" ("blood bath") to which the defenseless Germans were being subjected by the Czech barbarians. Hitler could assure the proud German people that their kinsmen would not remain unprotected for long.

Such was the situation and such were Hitler's plans, we now know from the German archives, as the train bearing President Hacha and his Foreign Minister, Chvalkovsky, drew into the Anhalt Station in Berlin at 10:40 on the evening of March 14. Because of a heart condition the President had been unable to fly.


The German protocol was perfect. The Czech President was accorded all the formal honors due to a head of state. There was a military guard of honor at the station, where the German Foreign Minister himself greeted the distinguished visitor and slipped his daughter a fine bouquet of flowers. At the swank Adlon Hotel, where the party was put up in the best suite, there were chocolates for Miss Hacha -- a personal gift of Adolf Hitler, who believed that everyone else shared his craving for sweets. And when the aged President and his Foreign Minister arrived at the Chancellery he was given a salute by an S.S. guard of honor.

They were not summoned to Hitler's presence until 1:15 A.M. Hacha must have known what was in store for him. Before his train had left Czech territory he learned from Prague that German troops had already occupied Moravska-Ostrava, an important Czech industrial town, and were poised all along the perimeter of Bohemia and Moravia to strike. And he saw at once, as he entered the Fuehrer's study in the early-morning hour, that, besides Ribbentrop and Weizsaecker, Field Marshal Goering, who had been urgently recalled from his holiday at San Remo, and General Keitel stood at Hitler's side. Most probably, as he went into this lion's den, he did not notice that Hitler's physician, the quack Dr. Theodor Morell, was on tap. But the doctor was, and for good reason.

The secret German minutes of the meeting reveal a pitiful scene at the very outset. The unhappy Dr. Hacha, despite his background as a respected judge of the Supreme Court, shed all human dignity by groveling before the swaggering German Fuehrer. Perhaps the President thought that only in this way could he appeal to Hitler's generosity and save something for his people; but regardless of his motive, his words, as the Germans recorded them for their confidential archives, nauseate the reader even so long afterward as today. He himself, Hacha assured Hitler, had never mixed in politics. He had rarely seen the founders of the Czechoslovak Republic, Masaryk and Benes, and what he had seen of them he did not like. Their regime, he said, was "alien" to him -- "so alien that immediately after the change of regime [after Munich] he had asked himself whether it was a good thing for Czechoslovakia to be an independent state at all."

He was convinced that the destiny of Czechoslovakia lay in the Fuehrer's hands, and he believed it was in safekeeping in such hands ... Then he came to what affected him most, the fate of his people. He felt that it was precisely the Fuehrer who would understand his holding the view that Czechoslovakia had the right to live a national life ... Czechoslovakia was being blamed because there still existed many supporters of the Benes system ... The Government was trying by every means to silence them. This was about all he had to say.

Adolf Hitler then said all there was to say. After rehearsing all the alleged wrongs which the Czechoslovakia of Masaryk and Benes had done to Germans and Germany, and reiterating that unfortunately the Czechs had not changed since Munich, he came to the point.

He had come to the conclusion that this journey by the President, despite his advanced years, might be of great benefit to his country because it was only a matter of hours now before Germany intervened ... He harbored no enmity against any nation ... That the Rump State of Czechoslovakia existed at all was attributable only to his loyal attitude ... In the autumn he had not wished to draw the final conclusions because he had thought a coexistence possible, but he had left no doubt that if the Benes tendencies did not disappear completely he would destroy this state completely.

They had not disappeared, and he gave "examples."

And so last Sunday, March 12, the die was cast ... He had given the order for the invasion by the German troops and for the incorporation of Czechoslovakia into the German Reich. [xiii]

"Hacha and Chvalkovsky," noted Dr. Schmidt, "sat as though turned to stone. Only their eyes showed that they were alive." But Hitler was not quite through. He must humble his guests with threats of Teutonic terror.

The German Army [Hitler continued] had already marched in today, and at a barracks where resistance was offered it had been ruthlessly broken.

Tomorrow morning at six o'clock the German Army was to enter Czechia from all sides and the German Air Force would occupy the Czech airfields. There were two possibilities. The first was that the entry of German troops might develop into fighting. In that case, resistance would be broken by brute force. The other possibility was that the entry of the German troops would take place in a peaceful manner, in which case it would be easy for the Fuehrer to accord Czechoslovakia a generous way of life of her own, autonomy, and a certain measure of national freedom.

He was doing all this not from hatred but in order to protect Germany. If last autumn Czechoslovakia had not given in, the Czech people would have been exterminated. No one would have prevented him doing it. If it came to a fight ... in two days the Czech Army would cease to exist. Naturally, some Germans would be killed too and this would engender a hatred which would compel him, in self-preservation, not to concede autonomy. The world would not care a jot about this. He sympathized with the Czech people when he read the foreign press. It gave him the impression which might be summed up in the German proverb: "The Moor has done his duty; the Moor can go." ...

That was why he had asked Hacha to come here. This was the last good turn he could render the Czech people ... Perhaps Hacha's visit might prevent the worst ...

The hours were passing. At six o'clock the troops would march in. He was almost ashamed to say it, but for every Czech battalion there was a German division. He would like now to advise him [Hacha] to withdraw with Chvalkovsky and discuss what was to be done.

What was to be done? The broken old President did not have to withdraw to decide that. He told Hitler at once, "The position is quite clear. Resistance would be folly." But how, he asked -- since it was now a little after 2 A.M. -- could he, in the space of four hours, arrange to restrain the whole Czech people from offering resistance? The Fuehrer replied that he had better consult with his companions. The German military machine was already in motion and could not be stopped. Hacha should get in touch at once with Prague. "It was a grave decision," the German minutes report Hitler as saying, "but he saw dawning the possibility of a long period of peace between the two peoples. Should the decision be otherwise, he saw the annihilation of Czechoslovakia."

With these words, he dismissed his guests for the time being. It was 2: 15 A.M. In an adjoining room Goering and Ribbentrop stepped up the pressure on the two victims. According to the French ambassador, who in an official dispatch to Paris depicted the scene as he got it from what he believed to be an authentic source, Hacha and Chvalkovsky protested against the outrage to their nation. They declared they would not sign the document of surrender. Were they to do so they would be forever cursed by their people.

The German ministers [Goering and Ribbentrop] were pitiless [M. Coulondre wrote in his dispatch]. They literally hunted Dr. Hacha and M. Chvalkovsky round the table on which the documents were lying, thrusting them continually before them, pushing pens into their hands, incessantly repeating that if they continued in their refusal, half of Prague would lie in ruins from bombing within two hours, and that this would be only the beginning. Hundreds of bombers were waiting the order to take off, and they would receive that order at six in the morning if the signatures were not forthcoming. [xiv]

At this point, Dr. Schmidt, who seems to have managed to be present whenever and wherever the drama of the Third Reich reached a climax, heard Goering shouting for Dr. Morell.

"Hacha has fainted!" Goering cried out.

For a moment the Nazi bullies feared that the prostrate Czech President might die on their hands and, as Schmidt says, "that the whole world will say tomorrow that he was murdered at the Chancellery." Dr. Morell's specialty was injections -- much later he would almost kill Hitler with them -- and he now applied the needle to Dr. Hacha and brought him back to consciousness. The President was revived sufficiently to be able to grasp the telephone which the Germans thrust into his hand and talk to his government in Prague over a special line which Ribbentrop had ordered rigged up. He apprised the Czech cabinet of what had happened and advised surrender. Then, somewhat further restored by a second injection from the needle of Dr. Morell, the President of the expiring Republic stumbled back into the presence of Adolf Hitler to sign his country's death warrant. It was now five minutes to four in the morning of March 15, 1939.

The text had been prepared "beforehand by Hitler," Schmidt recounts, and during Hacha's fainting spells the German interpreter had been busy copying the official communique, which had also been written up "beforehand," and which Hacha and Chvalkovsky were also forced to sign. It read as follows:

Berlin, March 15, 1939

At their request, the Fuehrer today received the Czechoslovak President, Dr. Hacha, and the Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, Dr. Chvalkovsky, in Berlin in the presence of Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop. At the meeting the serious situation created by the events of recent weeks in the present Czechoslovak territory was examined with complete frankness.

The conviction was unanimously expressed on both sides that the aim of all efforts must be the safeguarding of calm, order and peace in this part of Central Europe. The Czechoslovak President declared that, in order to serve this object and to achieve ultimate pacification, he confidently placed the fate of the Czech people and country in the hands of the Fuehrer of the German Reich. The Fuehrer accepted this declaration and expressed his intention of taking the Czech people under the protection of the German Reich and of guaranteeing them an autonomous development of their ethnic life as suited to their character.

Hitler's chicanery had reached, perhaps, its summit.

According to one of his woman secretaries, Hitler rushed from the signing into his office, embraced all the women present and exclaimed, "Children! This is the greatest day of my life! I shall go down in history as the greatest German!"

It did not occur to him -- how could it? -- that the end of Czechoslovakia might be the beginning of the end of Germany. From this dawn of March 15, 1939 -- the Ides of March -- the road to war, to defeat, to disaster, as we now know, stretched just ahead. It would be a short road and as straight as a line could be. And once on it, and hurtling down it, Hitler, like Alexander and Napoleon before him, could not stop. [28]

At 6 A.M. on March 15 German troops poured into Bohemia and Moravia. They met no resistance, and by evening Hitler was able to make the triumphant entry into Prague which he felt Chamberlain had cheated him of at Munich. Before leaving Berlin he had issued a grandiose proclamation to the German people, repeating the tiresome lies about the "wild excesses" and "terror" of the Czechs which he had been forced to bring an end to, and proudly proclaiming, "Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist!"

That night he slept in Hradschin Castle, the ancient seat of the kings of Bohemia high above the River Moldau where more recently the despised Masaryk and Benes had lived and worked for the first democracy Central Europe had ever known. The Fuehrer's revenge was complete, and that it was sweet he showed in the series of proclamations which he issued. He had paid off all the burning resentments against the Czechs which had obsessed him as an Austrian in his vagabond days in Vienna three decades before and which had flamed anew when Benes dared to oppose him, the all-powerful German dictator, over the past year.

The next day,.from Hradschin Castle, he proclaimed the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, which though it professed to provide "autonomy and self-government" for the Czechs brought them, by its very language, completely under the German heel. All power was given to the "Reich Protector" and to his Secretary of State and his Head of the Civil Administration, who were to be appointed by the Fuehrer. To placate outraged public opinion in Britain and France, Hitler brought the "moderate" Neurath out of cold storage and named him Protector. [xv] The two top Sudeten leaders, Konrad Henlein and the gangster Karl Hermann Frank, were given an opportunity to get revenge on the Czechs by being appointed Head of the Civil Administration and Secretary of State respectively. It was not long before Himmler, as boss of the German police, got a stranglehold on the protectorate. To do his work, he made the notorious Frank chief of police of the protectorate and ranking S.S. officer. [xvi]

For a thousand years [Hitler said in his proclamation of the protectorate] the provinces of Bohemia and Moravia formed part of the Lebensraum of the German people ... Czechoslovakia showed its inherent inability to survive and has therefore now fallen a victim to actual dissolution. The German Reich cannot tolerate continuous disturbances in these areas ... Therefore the German Reich, in keeping with the law of self-preservation, is now resolved to intervene decisively to rebuild the foundations of a reasonable order in Central Europe. For in the thousand years of its history it has already proved that, thanks to the greatness and the qualities of the German people, it alone is called upon to undertake this task.

A long night of German savagery now settled over Prague and the Czech lands.

On March 16, Hitler took Slovakia too under his benevolent protection in response to a "telegram," actual1y composed in Berlin, as we have seen, from Premier Tiso. German troops quickly entered Slovakia to do the "protecting." On March 18, Hitler was in Vienna to approve the "Treaty of Protection," which, as signed on March 23 in Berlin by Ribbentrop and Dr. Tuka, contained a secret protocol giving Germany exclusive rights to exploit the Slovak economy. [30]

As for Ruthenia, which had formed the eastern tip of Czechoslovakia, its independence as the "Republic of Carpatho-Ukraine," proclaimed on March 14, lasted just twenty-four hours. Its appeal to Hitler for "protection" was in vain. Hitler had already awarded this territory to Hungary. In the captured Foreign Office archives there is an interesting letter in the handwriting of Miklos Horthy, Regent of Hungary, addressed to Adolf Hitler on March 13.

YOUR EXCELLENCY: Heartfelt thanks! I cannot express how happy I am, for this headwater region [Ruthenia] is for Hungary -- I dislike using big words -- a vital question .... We are tackling the matter with enthusiasm. The plans are already laid. On Thursday, the 16th, a frontier incident will take place, to be followed Saturday by the big thrust. [31]

As things turned out, there was no need for an "incident." Hungarian troops simply moved into Ruthenia at 6 A.M. on March 15, timing their entry with that of the Germans to the west, and on the following day the territory was formally annexed by Hungary.

Thus by the end of the day of March 15, which had started in Berlin at 1:15 A.M. when Hacha arrived at the Chancellery, Czechoslovakia, as Hitler said, had ceased to exist.

Neither Britain nor France made the slightest move to save it, though at Munich they had solemnly guaranteed Czechoslovakia against aggression.

Since that meeting not only Hitler but Mussolini had reached the conclusion that the British had become so weak and their Prime Minister, as a consequence, so accommodating that they need pay little further attention to London. On January 11, 1939, Chamberlain, accompanied by Lord Halifax, had journeyed to Rome to seek improvement in Anglo-Italian relations. This writer happened to be at the station in Rome when the two Englishmen arrived and noted in his diary the "fine smirk" on Mussolini's face as he greeted his guests. "When Mussolini passed me," I noted as the party left the station, "he was joking with his son-in-law [Ciano], passing wisecracks." [32] I could not, of course, catch what he was saying, but later Ciano, in his diary, revealed the gist of it.

Arrival of Chamberlain. [Ciano wrote on January 11 and 12] ... How far apart we are from these people! It is another world. We were talking about it after dinner with the Duce. "These men are not made of the same stuff," he was saying, "as the Francis Drakes and the other magnificent adventurers who created the Empire. These, after all, are the tired sons of a long line of rich men, and they will lose their Empire."

The British do not want to fight. They try to draw back as slowly as possible, but they do not fight ... Our conversations with the British have ended. Nothing was accomplished. I have telephoned Ribbentrop that the visit was "a big lemonade" [a farce] ....

I accompanied the Duce to the station on the departure of Chamberlain [Ciano wrote on January 14].... Chamberlain's eyes filled with tears when the train started moving and his countrymen began singing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow." "What is this little song?" the Duce asked. [33]

Though during the Sudeten crisis Hitler had been solicitous of Chamberlain's views, there is not a word in the captured German papers to indicate that thereafter he cared a whit what the Prime Minister thought of his destroying the rest of Czechoslovakia despite the British guarantee -- and, for that matter, despite the Munich Agreement. On March 14, as Hitler waited in Berlin to humble Hacha, and as angry questions were raised in the House of Commons in London about Germany's engineering Slovakia's "secession" and about its effect on Britain's guarantee to Prague against aggression, Chamberlain replied heatedly, "No such aggression has taken place."

But the next day, March 15, after it had taken place, the Prime Minister used the proclamation of Slovakia's "independence" as an excuse not to honor his country's word. "The effect of this declaration," he explained, "put an end by internal disruption to the State whose frontier we had proposed to guarantee. His Majesty's Government cannot accordingly hold themselves any longer bound by this obligation."

Hitler's strategy had thus worked to perfection. He had given Chamberlain his out and the Prime Minister had taken it.

It is interesting that the Prime Minister did not even wish to accuse Hitler of breaking his word. "1 have so often heard charges of breach of faith bandied about which did not seem to me to be founded upon sufficient premises," he said, "that 1 do not wish to associate myself today with any charges of that character." He had not one word of reproach for the Fuehrer, not even for his treatment of Hacha and the shabby swindle which obviously -- even if the details were still unknown -- had been perpetrated at the Reich Chancellery on the early morning of this day, March 15.

No wonder that the British protest that day, if it could be called that,· was so tepid, and that the Germans treated it -- and subsequent Anglo-French complaints -- with so much arrogance and contempt.

His Majesty's Government have no desire to interfere unnecessarily in a matter with which other Governments may be more directly concerned... . They are, however, as the German Government will surely appreciate, deeply concerned for the success of all efforts to restore confidence and a relaxation of tension in Europe. They would deplore any action in Central Europe which would cause a setback to the growth of this general confidence ... [34]

There was not a word in this note, which was delivered on March 15 by Ambassador Henderson to Ribbentrop as an official message from Lord Halifax, about the specific events of the day.

The French were at least specific. Robert Coulondre, the new ambassador of France in Berlin, shared neither his British colleague's illusions about Nazism nor Henderson's disdain of the Czechs. On the morning of the fifteenth he demanded an interview with Ribbentrop, but the vain and vindictive German Foreign Minister was already on his way to Prague, intending to share in Hitler's humiliation of a beaten people. State Secretary von Weizsaecker received Coulondre, instead, at noon. The ambassador lost no time in saying what Chamberlain and Henderson were not yet ready to say: that by its military intervention in Bohemia and Moravia, Germany had violated both the Munich Agreement and the Franco-German declaration of December 6. Baron von Weizsaecker, who later was to insist that he had been stoutly anti-Nazi all along, was in an arrogant mood that would have done credit to Ribbentrop. According to his own memorandum of the meeting,

I spoke rather sharply to the Ambassador and told him not to mention the Munich Agreement, which he alleged had been violated, and not to give us any lectures ... I told him that in view of the agreement reached last night with the Czech government I could see no reason for any demarche by the French ambassador ... and that I was sure he would find fresh instructions when he returned to his Embassy, and these would set his mind at rest. [35]

Three days later, on March 18, when the British and French governments, in deference to outraged public opinion at home, finally got around to making formal protests to the Reich, Weizsaecker fairly outdid his master, Ribbentrop, in his insolence -- again on his own evidence. In a memorandum found in the German Foreign Office files, he tells with evident glee how he refused even to accept the formal French note of protest.

I immediately replaced the Note in its envelope and thrust it back at the Ambassador with the remark that I categorically refused to accept from him any protest regarding the Czecho-Slovak affair. Nor would I take note of the communication, and I would advise M. Coulondre to urge his government to revise the draft ... [36]

Coulondre, unlike Henderson at this period, was not an envoy who could be browbeaten by the Germans. He retorted that his government's note had been written after due consideration and that he had no intention of asking for it to be revised. When the State Secretary continued to refuse to accept the document, the ambassador reminded him of common diplomatic practice and insisted that France had a pedect right to make known its views to the German government. Finally Weizsaecker, according to his own account, left the note lying on his desk, explaining that he "would regard it as transmitted to us through the post." But before he arrived at this impudent gesture, he got the following off his mind:

From the legal point of view there existed a Declaration which had come about between the Fuehrer and the President of the Czecho-Slovak State. The Czech President, at his own request, had come to Berlin and had then immediately declared that he wished to place the fate of his country in the Fuehrer's hands. I could not imagine that the French Government were more Catholic than the Pope and intended meddling in things which had been duly settled between Berlin and Prague. [xvii]

Weizsaecker behaved quite differently to the accommodating British ambassador, who transmitted his government's protest late on the afternoon of March 18. Great Britain now held that it could not "but regard the events of the past few days as a complete repudiation of the Munich Agreement" and that the "German military actions" were "devoid of any basis of legality." Weizsaecker, in recording it, noted that the British note did not go as far in this respect as the French protest, which said that France "would not recognize the legality of the German occupation."

Henderson had gone to see Weizsaecker on March 17 to inform him of his recall to London for "consultations" and, according to the State Secretary, had sounded him out "for arguments which he could give Chamberlain for use against the latter's political opposition ... Henderson explained that there was no direct British interest in the Czechoslovak territory. His -- Henderson's -- anxieties were more for the future." [37]

Even Hitler's destruction of Czechoslovakia apparently had not awakened the British ambassador to the nature of the government he was accredited to, nor did he seem aware of what was happening that day to the government which he represented.

For, suddenly and unexpectedly, Neville Chamberlain, on March 17, two days after Hitler extinguished Czechoslovakia, had experienced a great awakening. It had not come without some prodding. Greatly to his surprise, most of the British press (even the Times, but not the Daily Mail) and the House of Commons had reacted violently to Hitler's latest aggression. More serious, many of his own backers in Parliament and half of the cabinet had revolted against any further appeasement of Hitler. Lord Halifax, especially, as the German ambassador informed Berlin, had insisted that the Prime Minister recognize what had happened and abruptly change his course. [38] It dawned on Chamberlain that his own position as head of government and leader of the Conservative Party was in jeopardy.

His radical change of mind came abruptly. As late as the evening of March 16, Sir John Simon, on behalf of the government, had made a speech in the Commons which was so cynical in regard to the Czechs, and so much in the "Munich spirit," that according to press accounts it aroused the House to "a pitch of anger rarely seen." The next day, on the eve of his seventieth birthday, Chamberlain was scheduled to make a speech in his home city of Birmingham. He had drafted an address on domestic matters with special emphasis on the social services. On the afternoon train going up to Birmingham, according to an account given this writer by French diplomatic sources, Chamberlain finally made his decision. He jettisoned his prepared speech and quickly jotted down notes for one of quite a different kind.

To all of Britain and indeed to large parts of the world, for the speech was broadcast, Chamberlain apologized for "the very restrained and cautious ... somewhat cool and objective statement" which he had felt obliged to make in the Commons two days before. "I hope to correct that statement tonight," he said.

The Prime Minister at last saw that Adolf Hitler had deceived him. He recapitulated the Fuehrer's various assurances that the Sudetenland had been his last territorial demand in Europe and that he "wanted no Czechs." Now Hitler had gone back on them -- "he has taken the law into his own hands."

Now we are told that this seizure of territory has been necessitated by disturbances in Czechoslovakia... . If there were disorders, were they not fomented from without? ... Is this the end of an old adventure or is it the beginning of a new? Is this the last attack upon a small State or is it to be followed by others? Is this, in effect, a step in the direction of an attempt to dominate the world by force? ... While I am not prepared to engage this country by new and unspecified commitments operating under conditions which cannot now be foreseen, yet no greater mistake could be made than to suppose that because it believes war to be a senseless and cruel thing, this nation has so lost its fiber that it will not take part to the utmost of its power in resisting such a challenge if it ever were made.

This was an abrupt and fateful turning point for Chamberlain and for Britain, and Hitler was so warned the very next day by the astute German ambassador in London. "It would be wrong," Herbert von Dirksen notified the German Foreign Office in a lengthy report on March 18, "to cherish any illusions that a fundamental change has not taken place in Britain's attitude to Germany." [39]

It was obvious to anyone who had read Mein Kampf, who glanced at a map and saw the new positions of the German Army in Slovakia, who had wind of certain German diplomatic moves since Munich, or who had pondered the dynamics of Hitler's bloodless conquests of Austria and Czechoslovakia in the past twelve months, just which of the "small states" would be next on the Fuehrer's list. Chamberlain, like almost everyone else, knew perfectly well.

On March 31, sixteen days after Hitler entered Prague, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons:

In the event of any action which clearly threatened Polish independence and which the Polish Government accordingly considered it vital to resist with their national forces, His Majesty's Government would feel themselves bound at once to lend the Polish Government all support in their power. They have given the Polish Government an assurance to this effect. I may add that the French Government have authorized me to make it plain that they stand in the same position in this matter.

The turn of Poland had come.



i. The parentheses are in the original.

ii. Major Buch's report gives an authentic picture of justice in the Third Reich. "In the following cases of killing Jews," one part reads, "proceedings were suspended or minor punishments were pronounced." He then cites a large number of such "cases," giving the names of the murdered and the murderers. "Party Member Fruehling, August, because of shooting of the Jewish couple Goldberg and because of shooting of the Jew Sinasohn ... Party Members Behring, Willi, and Heike", Josef, because of the shooting of the Jew Rosenbaum and the Jewess Zwienicki ... Party Members Schmidt, Heinrich, and Meckler, Ernst, because of drowning the Jew Ilsoffer ... ," etc.

iii. When asked during cross-examination by Mr. Justice Jackson at Nuremberg whether he had actually said this, Goering replied, "Yes, this was said in a moment of bad temper and excitement ... It was not meant seriously." [6]
iv. The American ambassador in Berlin, Hugh Wilson, was recalled by President  Roosevelt on November 14, two days after Goering's meeting, "for consultations,"  and never returned to his post. The German ambassador in Washington, Hans  Dieckhoff, who on that day reported to Berlin that "a hurricane is raging here" as  the result of the German pogrom, was recalled on November 18 and likewise never  returned. On November 30, Hans Thomsen, the German charge d'affaires in  Washington, advised Berlin by code that "in view of the strained relations and the  lack of security for secret material" in the embassy, the "secret political files" be removed  to Berlin. "The files," he said, "are so bulky that they cannot be destroyed  quickly enough should the necessity arise." [7]

v. On January 28, 1939, Lord Halifax secretly warned President Roosevelt that "as  early as November 1938, there were indications which gradually became more  definite that Hitler was planning a further foreign adventure for the spring of 1939."  The British Foreign Secretary said that "reports indicate that Hitler, encouraged  by Ribbentrop, Himmler and others, is considering an attack on the Western  Powers as a preliminary to subsequent action in the East." [8]
vi. A German version of Ribbentrop's talk with Ciano in Rome on October 28, drawn up by Dr. Schmidt, confirms Ribbentrop's bellicose attitude and quotes him as saying that Germany and Italy must prepare for "armed conflict with the Western democracies ... here and now." At this meeting Ribbentrop also assured Ciano that Munich had revealed the strength of the isolationists in the U.S.A. "so that there is nothing to fear from America."[10]

vii. This fantastic retreat, built at great cost over three years, was difficult to reach. Ten miles of a hairpin road, cut into the mountainside, led up to a long underground passageway, drilled into the rock, from which an elevator carried one 370 feet to the cabin perched at an elevation of over 6,000 feet on the summit of a mountain. It afforded a breath-taking panorama of the Alps. Salzburg could be seen in the distance. Describing it later, Francois-Poncet wondered, "Was this edifice the work of a normal mind or of one tormented by megalomania and haunted by visions of domination and solitude?"

viii. On November 24, Hitler issued another secret directive instructing the Wehrmacht  to make preparations for the military occupation of Danzig, but that will be taken  up later. Already the Fuehrer was looking beyond the final conquest of Czechoslovakia.
ix. Hitler also demanded that the Czechoslovak National Bank turn over part of its gold reserve to the Reichsbank. The sum requested was 391.2 million Czech crowns in gold. On February 18 Goering wrote the German Foreign Office: "In view of the increasingly difficult currency position, I must insist most strongly that the 30 to 40 million Reichsmarks in gold [from the Czech National Bank] which are involved come into our possession very shortly; they are urgently required for the execution of important orders of the Fuehrer." [16]

x. See above, p. 359.

xi. Monsignor Tiso, as this writer recalls him, was almost as broad as he was high. He  was an enormous eater. "When I get worked up," he once told Dr. Paul Schmidt,  "I eat half a pound of ham, and that soothes my nerves." He was to die on the  gallows. Arrested by American Army authorities on June 8, 1945, and turned  over to the newly restored Czechoslovakia, he was condemned to death on April  15. 1947, after a trial lasting four months, and was executed on April 18.
xii. Italics in the original German minutes.
xiii. There is a difference of opinion on this point. Some historians have contended that the Germans forced Hacha to come to Berlin. They probably base this contention on a dispatch of the French ambassador in Berlin, who said he had learned this "from a reliable source." But the German Foreign Office documents, subsequently discovered, make it clear that the initiative came from Hacha. He first requested an interview with Hitler on March 13, through the German Legation in Prague, and repeated the request on the morning of the fourteenth. Hitler agreed to it that afternoon. [25]

xiv. The emphasis is in the German original.

xv. On the stand in Nuremberg, Goering admitted that he told Hacha, "I should be  sorry if I had to bomb beautiful Prague." He really didn't intend to carry out the  threat -- "that would not have been necessary," he explained. "But a point like that,  I thought, might serve as an argument and accelerate the whole matter." [27]
xvi. On the stand at Nuremberg, Neurath stated that he was taken by "complete surprise"  when Hitler named him Protector, and that he had "misgivings" about taking  the job. However, he says, he took it when Hitler explained that by this appointment  he wanted to assure Britain and France "that he did not wish to carry  on a policy hostile to Czechoslovakia." [29]
xvii. It might be of interest to skip ahead here and note what happened to some of the characters in the drama just recounted. Frank was sentenced to death by a postwar Czech court and publicly hanged near Prague on May 22, 1946. Henlein committed suicide after his arrest by Czech resistance forces in 1945. Chvalkovsky, who became the representative of the protectorate in Berlin, was killed in an Allied bombing there in 1944. Hacha was arrested by the Czechs on May 14, 1945, but died before he could be tried.

xviii. On March 16 Chamberlain told the Commons that "so far" no protest had been  lodged with the German government.
xix. Coulondre's version of the interview is given in the French Yellow Book (No. 78,  pp. 102-3, in the French edition). He confirms Weizsaecker's account. Later, at  his trial in Nuremberg, the Stale Secretary argued that in his memoranda of such  meetings he had purposely exaggerated his Nazi sentiments in order to cover his  real anti-Nazi activities. But Coulondre's account of the meeting is only one piece  of evidence that Weizsaecker did not exaggerate at all.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:16 am


ON OCTOBER 24, 1938, less than a month after Munich, Ribbentrop was host to Jozef Lipski, the Polish ambassador in Berlin, at a three-hour lunch at the Grand Hotel in Berchtesgaden. Poland, like Germany and indeed in connivance with her, had just seized a strip of Czech territory. The luncheon talk proceeded, as a German Foreign Office memorandum stressed, "in a very friendly atmosphere." [1]

Nevertheless, the Nazi Foreign Minister lost little time in getting down to business. The time had come, he said, for a general settlement between Poland and Germany. It was necessary, first of all, he continued, "to speak with Poland about Danzig." It should "revert" to Germany. Also, Ribbentrop said, the Reich wished to build a super motor highway and a double-track railroad across the Polish Corridor to connect Germany with Danzig and East Prussia. Both would have to enjoy extraterritorial rights. Finally, Hitler wished Poland to join the Anti-Comintern Pact against Russia. In return for all these concessions, Germany would be willing to extend the Polish-German treaty by from ten to twenty years and guarantee Poland's frontiers.

Ribbentrop emphasized he was broaching these problems "in strict confidence." He suggested that the ambassador make his report to Foreign Minister Beck "orally -- since otherwise there was great danger of its leaking out, especially to the press." Lipski promised to report to Warsaw but warned Ribbentrop that personally he saw "no possibility" of the return of Danzig to Germany. He further reminded the German Foreign Minister of two recent occasions -- November 5, 1937, and January 14, 1938 -- when Hitler had personally assured the Poles that he would not support any change in the Danzig Statute. [2] Ribbentrop replied that he did not wish an answer now, but advised the Poles "to think it over."

The government in Warsaw did not need much time to collect its thoughts. A week later, on October 31, Foreign Minister Beck dispatched detailed instructions to his ambassador in Berlin on how to answer the Germans. But it was not until November 19 that the latter was able to secure an interview with Ribbentrop -- the Nazis obviously wanted the Poles to consider well their response. It was negative. As a gesture of understanding, Poland was willing to replace the League of Nations' guarantee of Danzig with a German-Polish agreement about the status of the Free City.

"Any other solution," Beck wrote in a memorandum which Lipski read to Ribbentrop, "and in particular any attempt to incorporate the Free City into the Reich, must inevitably lead to conflict." And he added that Marshal Pilsudski, the late dictator of Poland, had warned the Germans in 1934, during the negotiations for a nonaggression pact, that "the Danzig question was a sure criterion for estimating Germany's intentions toward Poland."

Such a reply was not to Ribbentrop's taste. "He regretted the position taken by Beck" and advised the Poles that it was "worth the trouble to give serious consideration to the German proposals." [3]

Hitler's response to Poland's rebuff on Danzig was more drastic. On November 24, five days after the Ribbentrop-Lipski meeting, he issued another directive to the commanders in chief of the armed forces.


The Fuehrer has ordered: Apart from the three contingencies mentioned in the instructions of 10/21/38 [i] preparations are also to be made to enable the Free State of Danzig to be occupied by German troops by surprise.

The preparations will be made on the following basis: Condition is a quasi-revolutionary occupation of Danzig, exploiting a politically favorable situation, not a war against Poland. [ii] ...

The troops to be employed for this purpose must not simultaneously be earmarked for the occupation of the Memelland, so that both operations can, if necessary, take place simultaneously. The Navy will support the Army's operation by attack from the sea ... The plans of the branches of the armed forces are to be submitted by January 10, 1939.

Though Beck had just warned that an attempt by Germany to take Danzig would lead "inevitably" to conflict, Hitler now convinced himself that it could be done without a war. Local Nazis controlled Danzig and they took their orders, as had the Sudeteners, from Berlin. It would not be difficult to stir up a "quasi-revolutionary" situation there.

Thus, as 1938 approached its end, the year that had seen the bloodless occupation of Austria and the Sudetenland, Hitler was preoccupied with further conquest: the remainder of Czechoslovakia, Memel, and Danzig. It had been easy to humble Schuschnigg and Benes. Now it was J6zef Beck's turn.

Yet, when the Fuehrer received the Polish Foreign Minister at Berchtesgaden shortly after New Year's -- on January 5, 1939 -- he was not yet prepared to give him the treatment which he had meted out to Schuschnigg and was shortly to apply to President Hacha. The rest of Czechoslovakia would have to be liquidated first. Hitler, as the secret Polish and German minutes of the meeting make clear, was in one of his more conciliatory moods. He was "quite ready," he began, "to be at Beck's service." Was there anything "special," he asked, on the Polish Foreign Minister's mind? Beck replied that Danzig was on his mind. It became obvious that it had also been on Hitler's.

"Danzig is German," the Fuehrer reminded his guest, "will always remain German, and will sooner or later become part of Germany." He could give the assurance, however, that "no fait accompli would be engineered in Danzig."

He wanted Danzig and he wanted a German highway and railroad across the Corridor. If he and Beck would "depart from old patterns and seek solutions along entirely new lines," he was sure they could reach an agreement which would do justice to both countries.

Beck was not so sure. Though, as he confided to Ribbentrop the next day, he did not want to be too blunt with the Fuehrer, he had replied that "the Danzig problem was a very difficult one." He did not see in the Chancellor's suggestion any "equivalent" for Poland. Hitler thereupon pointed out the "great advantage" to Poland "of having her frontier with Germany, including the Corridor, secured by treaty." This apparently did not impress Beck, but in the end he agreed to think the problem over further. [4]

After mulling it over that night, the Polish Foreign Minister had a talk with Ribbentrop the next day in Munich. He requested him to inform the Fuehrer that whereas all his previous talks with the Germans had filled him with optimism, he was today, after his meeting with Hitler, "for the first time in a pessimistic mood." Particularly in regard to Danzig, as it had been raised by the Chancellor, he "saw no possibility whatever of agreement." [5]

It had taken Colonel Beck, like so many others who have figured in these pages, some time to awaken and to arrive at such a pessimistic view. Like most Poles, he was violently anti-Russian. Moreover, he disliked the French, for whom he had nursed a grudge since 1923, when, as Polish military attache in Paris, he had been expelled for allegedly selling documents relating to the French Army. Perhaps it had been natural for this man, who had become Polish Foreign Minister in November 1932, to turn to Germany. For the Nazi dictatorship he had felt a warm sympathy from the beginning, and over the past six years he had striven to bring his country closer to the Third Reich and to weaken its traditional ties with France.

Of all the countries that lay on the borders of Germany, Poland had, in the long run, the most to fear. Of all the countries, it had been the most blind to the German danger. No other provision of the Versailles Treaty had been resented by the Germans as much as that which established the Corridor, giving Poland access to the sea -- and cutting off East Prussia from the Reich. The detachment of the old Hanseatic port of Danzig from Germany and its creation as a free city under the supervision of the League of Nations, but dominated economically by Poland, had equally outraged German public opinion. Even the weak and peaceful Weimar Republic had never accepted what it regarded as the Polish mutilation of the German Reich. As far back as 1922, General von Seeckt, as we have seen, [iii] had defined the German Army's attitude.

Poland's existence is intolerable and incompatible with the essential conditions of Germany's life. Poland must go and will go -- as a result of her own internal weaknesses and of action by Russia -- with our aid ... The obliteration of Poland must be one of the fundamental drives of German policy [and] is attainable by means of, and with the help of, Russia.

Prophetic words!

The Germans forgot -- or perhaps did not wish to remember -- that almost all of the German land awarded Poland at Versailles, including the provinces of Posen and Polish Pomerania (Pomorze), which formed the Corridor, had been grabbed by Prussia at the time of the partitions when Prussia, Russia and Austria had destroyed the Polish nation. For more than a millennium it had been inhabited by Poles -- and, to a large extent, it still was.

No nation re-created by Versailles had had such a rough time as Poland. In the first turbulent years of its rebirth it had waged aggressive war against Russia, Lithuania, Germany and even Czechoslovakia -- in the last instance over the coal-rich Teschen area. Deprived of their political freedom for a century and a half and thus without modern experience in self-rule, the Poles were unable to establish stable government or to begin to solve their economic and agrarian problems. In 1926 Marshal Pilsudski, the hero of the 1918 revolution, had marched on Warsaw, seized control of the government and, though an old-time Socialist, had gradually replaced a chaotic democratic regime with his own dictatorship. One of his last acts, before his death in 1935, was to sign a treaty of nonaggression with Hitler. This took place on January 26, 1934, and, as has been recounted, [iv] was one of the first steps in the undermining of France's system of alliances with Germany's Eastern neighbors and in the weakening of the League of Nations and its concept of collective security. After Pilsudski's death, Poland was largely governed by a small band of "colonels," leaders of Pilsudski's old Polish Legion which had fought against Russia during the First World War. At the head of these was Marshal Smigly-Rydz, a capable soldier but in no way a statesman. Foreign policy drifted into the hands of Colonel Beck. From 1934 on, it became increasingly pro-German.

This was bound to be a policy of suicide. And indeed when one considers Poland's position in post-Versailles Europe it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Poles in the nineteen thirties, as on occasions in the centuries before, were driven by some fateful flaw in their national character toward self-destruction and that in this period, as sometimes formerly, they were their own worst enemies. As long as Danzig and the Corridor existed as they were, there could be no lasting peace between Poland and Nazi Germany. Nor was Poland strong enough to afford the luxury of being at odds with both her giant neighbors, Russia and Germany. Her relations with the Soviet Union had been uniformly bad since 1920, when Poland had attacked Russia, already weakened by the World War and the civil war, and a savage conflict had followed. [v]

Seizing an opportunity to gain the friendship of a country so stoutly anti-Russian and at the same time to detach her from Geneva and Paris, thus undermining the system of Versailles, Hitler had taken the initiative in bringing about the Polish-German pact of 1934. It was not a popular move in Germany. The German Army, which had been pro-Russian and anti-Polish since the days of Seeckt, resented it. But it served Hitler admirably for the time being. Poland's sympathetic friendship helped him to get first things done first: the reoccupation of the Rhineland, the destruction of independent Austria and Czechoslovakia. On all of these steps, which strengthened Germany, weakened the West and threatened the East, Beck and his fellow colonels in Warsaw looked on benevolently and with utter and inexplicable blindness.

If the Polish Foreign Minister at the very start of the new year had, as he said, been plunged into a pessimistic mood by Hitler's demands, his spirits sank much lower with the coming of spring. Though in his anniversary speech to the Reichstag on January 30, 1939, Hitler spoke in warm terms of "the friendship between Germany and Poland" and declared that it was "one of the reassuring factors in the political life in Europe," Ribbentrop had talked with more frankness when he paid a state visit to Warsaw four days before. He again raised with Beck the question of Hitler's demands concerning Danzig and communications through the Corridor, insisting that they were "extremely moderate." But neither on these questions nor on his insistence that Poland join the Anti-Comintern Pact against the Soviet Union did the German Foreign Minister get a satisfactory answer. [6] Colonel Beck was becoming wary of his friends. As a matter of fact, he was beginning to squirm. On February 26, the German ambassador in Warsaw informed Berlin that Beck had taken the initiative in getting himself invited to visit London at the end of March and that he might go on to Paris afterward. Though it was late in the day, Poland, as Moltke put it in his dispatch, "desires to get in touch with the Western democracies ... [for] fear that a conflict might arise with Germany over Danzig." [7] With Beck too, as with so many others who had tried to appease the ravenous appetite of Adolf Hitler, the scales were falling from the eyes.

They fell completely and forever on March 15 when Hitler occupied Bohemia and Moravia and sent his troops to protect "independent" Slovakia. Poland woke up that morning to find itself flanked in the south along the Slovak border, as it already was in the north on the frontiers of Pomerania and East Prussia, by the German Army. Its military position had overnight become untenable.

March 21, 1939, is a day to be remembered in the story of Europe's march toward war.

There was intense diplomatic activity that day in Berlin, Warsaw and London. The President of the French Republic, accompanied by Foreign Minister Bonnet, arrived in the British capital for a state visit. To the French Chamberlain suggested that their two countries join Poland and the Soviet Union in a formal declaration stating that the four nations would consult immediately about steps to halt further aggression in Europe. Three days before, Litvinov had proposed -- as he had just a year before, after the Anschluss -- a European conference, this time of France, Britain, Poland, Russia, Rumania and Turkey, which would join together to stop Hitler. But the British Prime Minister had found the idea "premature." He was highly distrustful of Moscow and thought a "declaration" by the four powers, including the Soviet Union, was as far as he could go. [vi]

His proposal was presented to Beck in Warsaw by the British ambassador on the same day, March 21, and received a somewhat cool reception, as far as including the Russians was concerned. The Polish Foreign Minister was even more distrustful of the Soviet Union than Chamberlain and, moreover, shared the Prime Minister's views about the worthlessness of Russian military aid. He was to hold these views, unflinchingly, right up to the moment of disaster.

But the most fateful event of this day of March 21 for Poland took place in Berlin. Ribbentrop invited the Polish ambassador to call on him at noon. For the first time, as Lipski noted in a subsequent report, the Foreign Minister was not only cool toward him but aggressive. The Fuehrer, he warned, "was becoming increasingly amazed at Poland's attitude." Germany wanted a satisfactory reply to her demands for Danzig and a highway and railroad through the Corridor. This was a condition for continued friendly Polish-German relations. "Poland must realize," Ribbentrop laid it down, "that she could not take a middle course between Russia and Germany." Her only salvation was "a reasonable relationship with Germany and her Fuehrer." That included a joint "anti-Soviet policy." Moreover, the Fuehrer desired Beck "to pay an early visit to Berlin." In the meantime, Ribbentrop strongly advised the Polish ambassador to hurry to Warsaw and explain to his Foreign Minister in person what the situation was. "He advised," Lipski informed Beck, "that the talk [with Hitler] should not be delayed, lest the ChanceIlor should come to the conclusion that Poland was rejecting all his offers." [8]


Before leaving the Wilhelmstrasse, Lipski had asked Ribbentrop whether he could tell him anything about his conversation with the Foreign Minister of Lithuania. The German replied that they had discussed the Memel question, "which called for a solution."

As a matter of fact, Ribbentrop had received the Lithuanian Foreign Minister, Juozas Urbays, who was passing through Berlin after a trip to Rome, on the previous day and demanded that Lithuania hand back the Memel district to Germany forthwith. Otherwise "the Fuehrer would act with lightning speed." The Lithuanians, he warned, must not deceive themselves by expecting "some kind of help from abroad." [9]

Actually, some months before, on December 12,1938, the French ambassador and the British charge d'affaires had called the attention of the German government to reports that the German population of Memel was planning a revolt and had asked it to use its influence to see that the Memel Statute, guaranteed by both Britain and France, was respected. The Foreign Office reply had expressed "surprise and astonishment" at the Anglo-French demarche, and Ribbentrop had ordered that if there were any further such steps the two embassies should be told "that we had really expected that the French and British would finally become tired of meddling in Germany's affairs." [10]

For some time the German government and particularly the party and S.S. leaders had been organizing the Germans of Memel along lines with which we are now familiar from the Austrian and Sudeten affairs. The German armed forces had also been caIled in to co-operate and, as we have seen, [vii] three weeks after Munich Hitler had ordered his military chiefs to prepare, along with the liquidation of the remainder of Czechoslovakia, the occupation of Memel. Since the Navy had had no opportunity for glory in the march -- in to landlocked Austria and Sudetenland, Hitler decided that Memel should be taken from the sea. In November, naval plans for the venture were drawn up under the code name "Transport Exercise Stettin." Hitler and Admiral Raeder were so keen on this little display of naval might that they actually put to sea from Swinemuende aboard the pocket battleship Deutschland for Memel on March 22, exactly a week after the Fuehrer's triumphant entry into Prague, before defenseless Lithuania had time to capitulate to a German ultimatum.

On March 21, Weizsaecker, who much later would proclaim his distaste for the brutality of Nazi methods, notified the Lithuanian government that "there was no time to lose" and that its plenipotentiaries must come to Berlin "by special plane tomorrow" to sign away to Germany the district of Meme!' The Lithuanians had obediently arrived late in the afternoon of March 22, but despite German pressure administered in person by Ribbentrop, egged on by a seasick Hitler aboard his battleship at sea, they took their time about capitulating. Twice during the night, the captured German documents reveal, the Fuehrer got off urgent radiograms from the Deutschland to Ribbentrop asking whether the Lithuanians had surrendered, as requested. The dictator and his Admiral had to know whether they must shoot their way into the port of Meme!' Finally, at 1: 30 A.M. on March 23, Ribbentrop was able to transmit by radio to his master the news that the Lithuanians had signed. [11]

At 2:30 in the afternoon of the twenty-third, Hitler made another of his triumphant entries into a newly occupied city and at the Stadttheater in Memel again addressed a delirious "liberated" German throng. Another provision of the Versailles Treaty had been torn up. Another bloodless conquest had been made. Although the Fuehrer could not know it, it was to be the last.


The German annexation of the Memelland came as "a very unpleasant surprise" to the Polish government, as the German ambassador to Poland, Hans-Adolf von Moltke, reported to Berlin from Warsaw on the following day. "The main reason for this," he added, "is that it is generally feared that now it will be the turn of Danzig and the Corridor." [12] He also informed the German Foreign Office that Polish reservists were being called up. The next day, March 25, Admiral Canaris, chief of the Abwehr, reported that Poland had mobilized three classes and was concentrating troops around Danzig. General Keitel did not believe this showed "any aggressive intentions on the part of the Poles," but the Army General Staff, he noted, "took a somewhat more serious view." [13]

Hitler returned to Berlin from Memel on March 24 and on the next day had a long talk with General von Brauchitsch, the Commander in Chief of the Army. From the latter's confidential memorandum of the conversation it appears that the Leader had not yet made up his mind exactly how to proceed against Poland.14 In fact, his turbulent brain seemed to be full of contradictions. Ambassador Lipski was due back on the next day, March 26, and the Fuehrer did not want to see him.

Lipski will return from Warsaw on Sunday, March 26 [Brauchitsch noted]. He was commissioned to ask whether Poland would be prepared to come to some terms with regard to Danzig. The Fuehrer left during the night of March 25: he does not wish to be here when Lipski returns. Ribbentrop shall negotiate at first. The Fuehrer does not wish, though, to solve the Danzig problem by force. He would not like to drive Poland into the arms of Great Britain by doing so.

A military occupation of Danzig would have to be taken into consideration only if Lipski gives a hint that the Polish Government could not take the responsibility toward their own people to cede Danzig voluntarily and the solution would be made easier for them by a fait accompli.

This is an interesting insight into Hitler's mind and character at this moment. Three months before, he had personally assured Beck that there would be no German fait accompli in Danzig. Yet he remembered that the Polish Foreign Minister had stressed that the Polish people would never stand for turning over Danzig to Germany. If the Germans merely seized it, would not this fait accompli make it easier for the Polish government to accept it? Hitherto Hitler had been a genius at sizing up the weaknesses of his foreign opponents and taking advantage of them, but here, for almost the first time, his judgment has begun to falter. The "colonels" who governed Poland were a mediocre and muddling lot, but the last thing they wanted, or would accept, was a fait accompli in Danzig.

The Free City was uppermost in Hitler's mind, but he was also thinking beyond it, just as he had done in regard to Czechoslovakia after Munich had given him the Sudetenland.

For the time being [Brauchitsch noted], the Fuehrer does not intend to solve the Polish question. However, it should be worked on. A solution in the near future would have to be based on especially favorable political conditions. In that case Poland shall be knocked down so completely that it need not be taken into account as a political factor for the next few decades. The Fuehrer has in mind as such a solution a borderline advanced from the eastern border of East Prussia to the eastern tip of Upper Silesia.

Brauchitsch well knew what that border signified. It was Germany's prewar eastern frontier, which Versailles had destroyed, and which had prevailed as long as there was no Poland.

If Hitler had any doubts as to what the Polish reply would be they were dissipated when Ambassador Lipski returned to Berlin on Sunday, March 26, and presented his country's answer in the form of a written memorandum.  [15] Ribbentrop read it at once, rejected it, stormed about Polish mobilization measures and warned the envoy "of possible consequences." He also declared that any violation of Danzig territory by Polish troops would be regarded as aggression against the Reich.

Poland's written response, while couched in conciliatory language, was a firm rejection of the German demands. It expressed willingness to discuss further means of facilitating German rail and road traffic across the Corridor but refused to consider making such communications extraterritorial. As for Danzig, Poland was willing to replace the League of Nations status by a Polish-German guarantee but not to see the Free City become a part of Germany.

Nazi Germany by this time was not accustomed to see a smaller nation turning down its demands, and Ribbentrop remarked to Lipski that "it reminded him of certain risky steps taken by another state" -- an obvious reference to Czechoslovakia, which Poland had helped Hitler to dismember. It must have been equally obvious to Lipski, when he was summoned again to the Foreign Office the next day by Ribbentrop, that the Third Reich would now resort to the same tactics against Poland which had been used so successfully against Austria and Czechoslovakia. The Nazi Foreign Minister raged at the alleged persecution of the German minority in Poland, which, he said, had created "a disastrous impression in Germany."

In conclusion, the [German] Foreign Minister remarked that he could no longer understand the Polish Government ... The proposals transmitted yesterday by the Polish Ambassador could not be regarded as a basis for a settlement. Relations between the two countries were therefore rapidly deteriorating. [16]

Warsaw was not so easily intimidated as Vienna and Prague. The next day, March 28, Beck sent for the German ambassador and told him, in answer to Ribbentrop's declaration that a Polish coup against Danzig would signify a casus belli, that he in turn was forced to state that any attempt by Germany or the Nazi Danzig Senate to alter the status of the Free City would be regarded by Poland as a casus belli.

"You want to negotiate at the point of a bayonet!" exclaimed the ambassador.

"This is your own method," Beck replied. [17]

The reawakened Polish Foreign Minister could afford to stand up to Berlin more firmly than Benes had been able to do, for he knew that the British government, which a year before had been anxious to help Hitler obtain his demands against Czechoslovakia, was now taking precisely the opposite course in regard to Poland. Beck himself had torpedoed the British proposal for a four -- power declaration, declaring that Poland refused to associate itself with Russia in any manner. Instead, on March 22, he had suggested to Sir Howard Kennard, the British ambassador in Warsaw, the immediate conclusion of a secret Anglo-Polish agreement for consultation in case of a threatened attack by a third power. But, alarmed by German troop movements adjacent to Danzig and the Corridor and by British intelligence concerning German demands on Poland (which the tricky Beck had denied to the British), Chamberlain and Halifax wanted to go further than mere "consultations."

On the evening of March 30, Kennard presented to Beck an Anglo-French proposal for mutual-assistance pacts in case of German aggression.  [viii] But even this step was overtaken by events. Fresh reports of the possibility of an imminent German attack on Poland prompted the British government on the same evening to ask Beck whether he had any objection to an interim unilateral British guarantee of Poland's independence. Chamberlain had to know by the morrow, as he wished to answer a parliamentary question on the subject. Beck -- his sense of relief may be imagined -- had no objection. In fact, he told Kennard, he "agreed without hesitation." [19]

The next day, March 31, as we have seen, Chamberlain made his historic declaration in the House of Commons that Britain and France "would lend the Polish Government all support in their power" if Poland were attacked and resisted. [ix]

To anyone in Berlin that weekend when March 1939 came to an end, as this writer happened to be, the sudden British unilateral guarantee of Poland seemed incomprehensible, however welcome it might be in the lands to the west and the east of Germany. Time after time, as we have seen, in 1936 when the Germans marched into the demilitarized Rhineland, in 1938 when they took Austria and threatened a European war to take the Sudetenland, even a fortnight before, when they grabbed Czechoslovakia, Great Britain and France, backed by Russia, could have taken action to stop Hitler at very little cost to themselves. But the peace-hungry Chamberlain had shied away from such moves. Not only that: he had gone out of his way, he had risked, as he said, his political career to help Adolf Hitler get what he wanted in the neighboring lands. He had done nothing to save the independence of Austria. He had consorted with the German dictator to destroy the independence of Czechoslovakia, the only truly democratic nation on Germany's eastern borders and the only one which was a friend of the West and which supported the League of Nations and the idea of collective security. He had not even considered the military value to the West of Czechoslovakia's thirty-five well-trained, well-armed divisions entrenched behind their strong mountain fortifications at a time when Britain could put only two divisions in France and when the German Army was incapable of fighting on two fronts and, according to the German generals, even incapable of penetrating the Czech defenses.

Now overnight, in his understandably bitter reaction to Hitler's occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia, Chamberlain, after having deliberately and recklessly thrown so much away, had undertaken to unilaterally guarantee an Eastern country run by a junta of politically inept "colonels" who up to this moment had closely collaborated with Hitler, who like hyenas had joined the Germans in the carving up of Czechoslovakia and whose country had been rendered militarily indefensible by the very German conquests which Britain and Poland had helped the Reich to achieve. [x] And he had taken this eleventh-hour risk without bothering to enlist the aid of Russia, whose proposals for joint action against further Nazi aggression he had twice turned down within the year.

Finally, he had done exactly what for more than a year he had stoutly asserted that Britain would never do: he had left to another nation the decision whether his country would go to war.

Nevertheless, the Prime Minister's precipitate step, belated as it was, presented Adolf Hitler with an entirely new situation. From now on, apparently, Britain would stand in the way of his committing further aggression. He could no longer use the technique of taking one nation at a time while the Western democracies stood aside debating what to do. Moreover, Chamberlain's move appeared to be the first serious step toward forming a coalition of powers against Germany which, unless it were successfully countered, might bring again that very encirclement which had been the nightmare of the Reich since Bismarck.


The news of Chamberlain's guarantee of Poland threw the German dictator into one of his characteristic rages. He happened to be with Admiral Canaris, chief of the Abwehr, and according to the latter he stormed about the room, pounding his fists on the marble table top, his face contorted with fury, and shouting against the British, "I'll cook them a stew they'll choke on!" [22]

The next day, April 1, he spoke at Wilhelmshaven at the launching of the battleship Tirpitz and was in such a belligerent mood that apparently he did not quite trust himself, for at the last moment he ordered that the direct radio broadcast of his speech be canceled; he directed that it be rebroadcast later from recordings, which could be edited.[xi] Even the rebroadcast version was spotted with warnings to Britain and Poland.

If they [the Western Allies] expect the Germany of today to sit patiently by until the very last day while they create satellite States and set them against Germany, then they are mistaking the Germany of today for the Germany of before the war.

He who declares himself ready to pull the chestnuts out of the fire for these powers must realize he burns his fingers... .

When they say in other countries that they will arm and will keep arming still more, I can tell those statesmen only this: "Me you will never tire out!" I am determined to continue on this road.

Hitler, as his cancellation of the direct broadcast showed, was cautious enough not to provoke foreign opinion too much. It was reported in Berlin that day that he would denounce the Anglo-German naval treaty as his first reply to Chamberlain. But in his speech he merely declared that if Great Britain no longer wished to adhere to it, Germany "would accept this very calmly."

As so often before, Hitler ended on an old familiar note of peace: "Germany has no intention of attacking other people ... Out of this conviction I decided three weeks ago to name the coming party rally the 'Party Convention of Peace'" -- a slogan, which as the summer of 1939 developed, became more and more ironic.

That was for public consumption. In the greatest of secrecy Hitler gave his real answer to Chamberlain and Colonel Beck two days later, on April 3. It was contained in a top-secret directive to the armed forces, of which only five copies were made, inaugurating "Case White." This was a code name which was to loom large in the subsequent history of the world.


Case White

The present attitude of Poland requires ... the initiation of military preparations to remove. if necessary. any threat from this direction forever.

1. Political Requirements and Aims

... The aim will be to destroy Polish military strength and create in the East a situation which satisfies the requirements of national defense. The Free State of Danzig will be proclaimed a part of the Reich territory at the outbreak of hostilities, at the latest.

The political leaders consider it their task in this case to isolate Poland if possible, that is to say, to limit the war to Poland only.

The development of increasing internal crises in France and the resulting British cautiousness might produce such a situation in the not too distant future.

Intervention by Russia ... cannot be expected to be of any use to Poland ... Italy's attitude is determined by the Rome-Berlin Axis.

2. Military Conclusions

The great objectives in the building up of the German armed forces will continue to be determined by the antagonism of the Western democracies. "Case White" constitutes only a precautionary complement to these preparations ...

The isolation of Poland will be all the more easily maintained, even after the outbreak of hostilities, if we succeed in starting the war with sudden, heavy blows and in gaining rapid successes ...

3. Tasks of the Armed Forces

The task of the Wehrmacht is to destroy the Polish armed forces. To this end a surprise attack is to be aimed at and prepared.

As for Danzig:

Surprise occupation of Danzig may become possible independently of "Case White" by exploiting a favorable political situation ... Occupation by the Army will be carried out from East Prussia. The Navy will support the action of the Army by intervention from the sea.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:16 am

Part 2 of 4

Case White is a lengthy document with several "enclosures," "annexes" and "special orders," most of which were reissued as a whole on April 11 and of course added to later as the time for hostilities approached. But already on April 3, Hitler appended the following directives to Case White:

1. Preparations must be made in such a way that the operation can be carried out at any time from September I, 1939, onward.

As in the case of the date Hitler gave long in advance for getting the Sudetenland -- October 1, 1938 -- this more important date of September 1, 1939, would also be kept.

2. The High Command of the Armed Forces [OKW] is charged with drawing up a precise timetable for "Case White" and is to arrange for synchronized timing between the three branches of the Wehrmacht.

3. The plans of the branches of the Wehrmacht and the details for the timetable must be submitted to OKW by May I, 1939. [23]

The question now was whether Hitler could wear down the Poles to the point of accepting his demands, as he had done with the Austrians and (with Chamberlain's help) the Czechs, or whether Poland would hold its ground and resist Nazi aggression if it carne, and if so, with what. This writer spent the first week of April in Poland in search of answers. They were, as far as he could see, that the Poles would not give in to Hitler's threats, would fight if their land were invaded, but that militarily and politically they were in a disastrous position. Their Air Force was obsolete, their Army cumbersome, their strategic position -- surrounded by the Germans on three sides -- almost hopeless. Moreover, the strengthening of Germany's West Wall made an Anglo-French offensive against Germany in case Poland were attacked extremely difficult. And finally it became obvious that the headstrong Polish "colonels" would never consent to receiving Russian help even if the Germans were at the gates of Warsaw.

Events now moved quickly. On April 6 Colonel Beck signed an agreement with Great Britain in London transforming the unilateral British guarantee into a temporary pact of mutual assistance. A permanent treaty, it was announced, would be signed as soon as the details had been worked out.

The next day, April 7, Mussolini sent his troops into Albania and added the conquest of that mountainous little country to that of Ethiopia. It gave him a springboard against Greece and Yugoslavia and in the tense atmosphere of Europe served to make more jittery the small countries which dared to defy the Axis. As the German Foreign Office papers make clear, it was done with the complete approval of Germany, which was informed of the step in advance. On April 13, France and Britain countered with a guarantee to Greece and Rumania. The two sides were beginning to line up. In the middle of April, Goering arrived in Rome and much to Ribbentrop's annoyance had two long talks with Mussolini, on the fifteenth and sixteenth. [24] They agreed that they "needed two or three years" to prepare for "a general conflict," but Goering declared that if war came sooner "the Axis was in a very strong position" and "could defeat any likely opponents."

Mention was made of an appeal from President Roosevelt which had arrived in Rome and Berlin on April 15. The Duce, according to Ciano, had at first refused to read it and Goering declared that it was not worth answering. Mussolini thought it "a result of infantile paralysis," but Goering's impression was that "Roosevelt was suffering from an incipient mental disease." In his telegram to Hitler and Mussolini the President of the United States had addressed a blunt question:

Are you willing to give assurance that your armed forces will not attack or invade the territory of the following independent nations?

There had followed a list of thirty-one countries, including Poland, the Baltic States, Russia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Britain. The President hoped that such a guarantee of nonaggression could be given for "ten years at the least" or "a quarter of a century, if we dare look that far ahead." If it were given, he promised American participation in world-wide "discussions" to relieve the world from "the crushing burden of armament" and to open up avenues of international trade.

"You have repeatedly asserted," he reminded Hitler, "that you and the German people have no desire for war. If this is true there need be no war."

In the light of what now is known, this seemed like a naive appeal, but the Fuehrer found it embarrassing enough to let it be known that he would reply to it -- not directly, but in a speech to a specially convoked session of the Reichstag on April 28.

In the meantime, as the captured German Foreign Office papers reveal, the Wilhelmstrasse in a circular telegram of April 17 put two questions of its own to all the states mentioned by Roosevelt except Poland, Russia, Britain and France: Did they feel themselves in any way threatened by Germany? Had they authorized Roosevelt to make his proposal?

"We are in no doubt," Ribbentrop wired his various envoys in the countries concerned, "that both questions will be answered in the negative, but nevertheless, for special reasons, we should like to have authentic confirmation at once." The "special reasons" would become evident when Hitler spoke on April 28.

By April 22 the German Foreign Office was able to draw up a report for the Fuehrer that most of the countries, including Yugoslavia, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and Luxembourg "have answered both questions in the negative" -- a reply which would soon show what an innocent view their governments took of the Third Reich. From Rumania, however, came a tart answer that the "Reich Government were themselves in a position to know whether a threat might arise." Little Latvia up in the Baltic did not at first understand what answer was expected of it, but the Foreign Office soon put it right. On April 18 Weizsaecker rang up his minister in Riga

to tell him we were unable to understand the answer of the Latvian Foreign Minister to our question about the Roosevelt telegram. While practically all the other governments have already answered, and naturally in the negative, M. Munters treated this ridiculous American propaganda as a question on which he wished to consult his cabinet. If M. Munters did not answer "no" to our question right away, we should have to add Latvia to those countries which made themselves into willing accomplices of Mr. Roosevelt. I said that I assumed that a word on these lines by Herr von Kotze [the German minister] would be enough to obtain the obvious answer from him. [25]

It was.


The replies were potent ammunition for Hitler, and he made masterly use of them as he swung into his speech to the Reichstag on the pleasant spring day of April 28, 1939. It was, I believe, the longest major public speech he ever made, taking more than two hours to deliver. In many ways, especially in the power of its appeal to Germans and to the friends of Nazi Germany abroad, it was probably the most brilliant oration he ever gave, certainly the greatest this writer ever heard from him. For sheer eloquence, craftiness, irony, sarcasm and hypocrisy, it reached a new level that he was never to approach again. And though prepared for German ears, it was broadcast not only on all German radio stations bqt on hundreds of others throughout the world; in the United States it was carried by the major networks. Never before or afterward was there such a world-wide audience as he had that day. [xii]

The speech began, after the usual introductory dissertation on the iniquities of Versailles and the many injustices and long suffering heaped upon the German people by it, with an answer first to Great Britain and Poland which shook an uneasy Europe.

After declaring his feeling of admiration and friendship for England and then attacking it for its distrust of him and its new "policy of encirclement" of Germany, he denounced the Anglo-German Naval Treaty of 1935. "The basis for it," he said, "has been removed."

Likewise with Poland. He made known his proposal to Poland concerning Danzig and the Corridor (which had been kept secret), called it "the greatest imaginable concession in the interests of European peace" and informed the Reichstag that the Polish government had rejected this "one and only offer."

I have regretted this incomprehensible attitude of the Polish Government ... The worst is that now Poland, like Czechoslovakia a year ago, believes, under pressure of a lying international campaign, that it must call up troops, although Germany has not called up a single man and had not thought of proceeding in any way against Poland. This is in itself very regrettable, and posterity will one day decide whether it was really right to refuse this suggestion, made this once by me ... a truly unique compromise ...

Reports that Germany intended to attack Poland, Hitler went on, were "mere inventions of the international press." (Not one of the tens of millions of persons listening could know that only three weeks before he had given written orders to his armed forces to prepare for the destruction of Poland by September 1, "at the latest.") The inventions of the press, he continued, had led Poland to make its agreement with Great Britain which, "under certain circumstances, would compel Poland to take military action against Germany." Therefore, Poland had broken the Polish-German nonaggression pact! "Therefore, I look upon the agreement ... as having been unilaterally infringed by Poland and thereby no longer in existence."

Having himself unilateral1y torn up two formal treaties, Hitler then told the Reichstag that he was willing to negotiate replacements for them! "I can but welcome such an idea," he exclaimed. "No one would be happier than I at the prospect." This was an old trick he had pulled often before when he had broken a treaty, as we have seen, but though he probably did not know it, it would no longer work.

Hitler next turned to President Roosevelt, and here the German dictator reached the summit of his oratory. To a normal ear, to be sure, it reeked with hypocrisy and deception. But to the hand-picked members of the Reichstag, and to millions of Germans, its masterly sarcasm and irony were a delight. The paunchy deputies rocked with raucous laughter as the Fuehrer uttered with increasing effect his seemingly endless ridicule of the American President. One by one he took up the points of Roosevelt's telegram, paused, almost smiled, and then, like a schoolmaster, uttered in a low voice one word, "Answer" -- and gave it. (This writer can still, in his mind, see Hitler pausing time after time to say quietly, "Antwort," while above the rostrum in the President's chair Goering tried ineffectually to stifle a snicker and the members of the Reichstag prepared, as soon as the Antwort was given, to roar and laugh.)

Mr. Roosevelt declares that it is clear to him that all international problems can be solved at the council table.

Answer: ... I would be very happy if these problems could really find their solution at the council table. My skepticism, however, is based on the fact that it was America herself who gave sharpest expression to her mistrust in the effectiveness of conferences. For the greatest conference of all time was the League of Nations ... representing all the peoples of the world, created in accordance with the will of an American President. The first State, however, that shrank from this endeavor was the United States It was not until after years of purposeless participation that I resolved to follow the example of America....

The freedom of North America was not achieved at the conference table any more than the conflict between the North and the South was decided there. I will say nothing about the innumerable struggles which finally led to the subjugation of the North American continent as a whole.

I mention all this only in order to show that your view, Mr. Roosevelt, although undoubtedly deserving of all honor, finds no confirmation in the history of your own country or of the rest of the world.

Germany, Hitler reminded the President, had once gone to a conference -- at Versailles -- not to discuss but to be told what to do: its representatives "were subjected to even greater degradations than can ever have been inflicted on the chieftains of the Sioux tribes."

Hitler finally got to the core of his answer to the President's request that he give assurances not to attack any of thirty-one nations.

Answer: How has Mr. Roosevelt learned which nations consider themselves threatened by German policy and which do not? Or is Mr. Roosevelt in a position, in spite of the enormous amount of work which must rest upon him in his own country, to recognize of his own accord all these inner spiritual and mental impressions of other peoples and their governments?

Finally, Mr. Roosevelt asks that assurance be given him that the German armed forces will not attack, and above all, not invade the territory or possessions of the following independent nations ...

Hitler then read out slowly the name of each country and as he intoned the names, I remember, the laughter in the Reichstag grew. Not one member, no one in Berlin, I believe, including this writer, noticed that he slyly left out Poland.

Hitler now pulled the ace out of the pack, or so he must have thought.

Answer: I have taken the trouble to ascertain from the States mentioned, firstly, whether they feel themselves threatened, and secondly and above all, whether this inquiry by the American President was addressed to us at their suggestion, or at any rate, with their consent.

The reply was in all cases negative ... It is true that I could not cause inquiries to be made of certain of the States and nations mentioned because they themselves -- as for example, Syria -- are at present not in possession of their freedom, but are occupied and consequently deprived of their rights by the military agents of democratic States.

Apart from this fact, however, all States bordering on Germany have received much more binding assurances ... than Mr. Roosevelt asked from me in his curious telegram...

I must draw Mr. Roosevelt's attention to one or two historical errors. He mentioned Ireland, for instance, and asks for a statement that Germany will not attack Ireland. Now, I have just read a speech by De Valera, the Irish Taoiseach, [xiii] in which, strangely enough, and contrary to Mr. Roosevelt's opinion, he does not charge Germany with oppressing Ireland but he reproaches England with subjecting Ireland to continuous aggression ...

In the same way, the fact has obviously escaped Mr. Roosevelt's notice that Palestine is at present occupied not by German troops but by the English; and that the country is having its liberty restricted by the most brutal resort to force ...

Nevertheless, said Hitler, he was prepared "to give each of the States named an assurance of the kind desired by Mr. Roosevelt." But more than that! His eyes lit up.

I should not like to let this opportunity pass without giving above all to the President of the United States an assurance regarding those territories which would, after all, give him most cause for apprehension, namely the United States itself and the other States of the American continent.

I here solemnly declare that all the assertions which have been circulated in any way concerning an intended German attack or invasion on or in American territory are rank frauds and gross untruths, quite apart from the fact that such assertions, as far as the military possibilities are concerned, could have their origin only in a stupid imagination.

The Reichstag rocked with laughter; Hitler did not crack a smile, maintaining with great effect his solemn mien.

And then came the peroration -- the most eloquent for German ears, I believe, he ever made.

Mr. Roosevelt! I fully understand that the vastness of your nation and the immense wealth of your country allow you to feel responsible for the history of the whole world and for the history of all nations. I, sir, am placed in a much more modest and smaller sphere ...

I once took over a State which was faced by complete ruin, thanks to its trust in the promises of the rest of the world and to the bad regime of democratic governments ... I have conquered chaos in Germany, re-established order and enormously increased production ... developed traffic, caused mighty roads to be built and canals to be dug, called into being gigantic new factories and at the same time endeavored to further the education and culture of our people.

I have succeeded in finding useful work once more for the whole of the seven million unemployed ... Not only have I united the German people politically, but I have also rearmed them. I have also endeavored to destroy sheet by sheet that treaty which in its four hundred and forty-eight articles contains the vilest oppression which peoples and human beings have ever been expected to put up with.

I have brought back to the Reich provinces stolen from us in 1919. I have led back to their native country millions of Germans who were torn away from us and were in misery ... and, Mr. Roosevelt, without spilling blood and without bringing to my people, and consequently to others, the misery of war ...

You, Mr. Roosevelt, have a much easier task in comparison. You became President of the United States in 1933 when I became Chancellor of the Reich. From the very outset you stepped to the head of one of the largest and wealthiest States in the world ... Conditions prevailing in your country are on such a large scale that you can find time and leisure to give your attention to universal problems ... Your concerns and suggestions cover a much larger and wider area than mine, because my world, Mr. Roosevelt, in which Providence has placed me and for which I am therefore obliged to work, is unfortunately much smaller, although for me it is more precious than anything else, for it is limited to my people!

I believe however that this is the way in which I can be of the most service to that for which we are all concerned, namely, the justice, well-being, progress and peace of the whole community.

In the hoodwinking of the German people, this speech was Hitler's greatest masterpiece. But as one traveled about Europe in the proceeding days it was easy to see that, unlike a number of Hitler's previous orations, this one no longer fooled the people or the governments abroad. In contrast to the Germans, they were able to see through the maze of deceptions. And they realized that the German Fuehrer, for all his masterful oratory, though scoring off Roosevelt, had not really answered the President's fundamental questions: Had he finished with aggression? Would he attack Poland?

As it turned out, this was the last great peacetime public speech of Hitler's life. The former Austrian waif had come as far in this world as was possible by the genius of his oratory. From now on he was to try to make his niche in history as a warrior.

Retiring for the summer to his mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden, Hitler did not publicly respond to the Polish answer to him which was given on May 5 in a speech by Colonel Beck to Parliament and in an official government memorandum presented to Germany on that date. The Polish statement and Beck's speech constituted a dignified, conciliatory but also firm reply.

It is clear [it said] that negotiations, in which one State formulates demands and the other is obliged to accept those demands unaltered, are not negotiations.


In his speech to the Reichstag on April 28, Hitler had omitted his customary attack on the Soviet Union. There was not a word about Russia. Colonel Beck, in his reply, had mentioned "various other hints" made by Germany "which went much further than the subjects of discussion" and reserved the right "to return to this matter, if necessary" -- a veiled but obvious reference to Germany's previous efforts to induce Poland to join the Anti-Comintem Pact against Russia. Though Beck did not know it, nor did Chamberlain, those anti-Russian efforts were now being abandoned. Fresh ideas were beginning to germinate in Berlin and Moscow.

It is difficult to ascertain exactly when the first moves were made in the two capitals toward an understanding between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union which was to lead to such immense consequences for the world. One of the first slight changes in the wind, as has already been noted, [xiv] took place as far back as October 3, 1938, four days after Munich, when the counselor of the German Embassy in Moscow informed Berlin that Stalin would draw certain conclusions from the Sudeten settlement, from which he had been excluded, and might well become "more positive" toward Germany. The diplomat strongly advocated a "wider" economic collaboration between the two countries and renewed his appeal in a second dispatch a week later. [27] Toward the end of October, the German ambassador in Moscow, Friedrich Werner Count von der Schulenburg, notified the German Foreign Office that it was his "intention in the immediate future to approach Molotov, the Chairman of the Council of the People's Commissars, in an attempt to reach a settlement of the questions disturbing German-Soviet relations." [28] The ambassador would hardly have conceived such an intention on his own, in view of Hitler's previous extremely hostile attitude toward Moscow. The hint must have come from Berlin.

That it did becomes clear from a study of the captured Foreign Office archives. The first step, in the German view, was to improve trade between the two countries. A Foreign Office memorandum of November 4, 1938, reveals "an emphatic demand from Field Marshal Goering's office at least to try to reactivate our Russian trade, especially insofar as Russian raw materials are concerned." [29] The Russo-German economic agreements expired at the end of the year and the Wilhelmstrasse files are full of material showing the ups and downs experienced in negotiating a renewal. The two sides were highly suspicious of each other but were vaguely drawing closer together. On December 22, there were lengthy talks in Moscow between Russian trade officials and Germany's crack economic troubleshooter, Julius Schnurre.

Shortly after the New Year, the Soviet ambassador in Berlin, Alexei Merekalov, made one of his infrequent trips to the Wilhelmstrasse to inform it "of the Soviet Union's desire to begin a new era in German-Soviet economic relations." And for a few weeks there were promising talks, but by February 1939 they had pretty much broken down, ostensibly over whether the main negotiations should be conducted in Moscow or Berlin. But the real reason was revealed in a memorandum of the director of the Economic Policy Department of the German Foreign Office on March 11, 1939: Though Germany was hungry for Russia's raw materials and Goering was constantly demanding that they be obtained, the Reich simply could not supply the Soviet Union with the goods which would have to be exchanged. The director thought the "rupture of negotiations" was "extremely regrettable in view of Germany's raw-materials position." [30]

But if the first attempt to draw nearer in their economic relations had failed for the time being, there were other straws in the wind. On March 10, 1939, Stalin made a long speech at the first session of the Eighteenth Party Congress in Moscow. Three days later the attentive Schulenburg filed a long report on it to Berlin. He thought it "noteworthy that Stalin's irony and criticism were directed in considerably sharper degree against Britain than against the so-called aggressor States, and in particular, Germany." The ambassador underlined Stalin's remarks that "the weakness of the democratic powers ... was evident from the fact that they had abandoned the principle of collective security and had turned to a policy of nonintervention and neutrality. Underlying this policy was the wish to divert the aggressor States to other victims." And he quoted further the Soviet dictator's accusations that the Western Allies were

pushing the Germans further eastward, promising them an easy prey and saying: "Just start a war with the Bolsheviks, everything else will take care of itself. This looks very much like encouragement ... It looks as if the purpose ... was to engender the fury of the Soviet Union against Germany ... and to provoke a conflict with Germany without apparent reasons.

In conclusion Stalin formulated the guiding principles:

1. To continue to pursue a policy of peace and consolidation of economic relations with all countries.

2.... Not to let our country be drawn into conflict by warmongers, whose custom it is to let others pull their chestnuts out of the fire. [31]

This was a plain warning from the man who made all the ultimate decisions in Russia that the Soviet Union did not intend to be maneuvered into a war with Nazi Germany in order to spare Britain and France; and if it was ignored in London, it was at least noticed in Berlin. [xv]

Still, it is evident from Stalin's speech and from the various diplomatic exchanges which shortly took place that Soviet foreign policy, while cautious, was still very much open. Three days after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia on March 15, the Russian government proposed, as we have seen, [xvi] a six-power conference to discuss means of preventing further aggression, and Chamberlain turned it down as "premature." [xvii] That was on March 18. Two days later an official communique in Moscow, which the German ambassador there hurriedly wired to Berlin, denied that the Soviet Union had offered Poland and Rumania assistance "in the event of their becoming the victims of aggression." Reason: "Neither Poland nor Rumania had approached the Soviet government for assistance or informed [it] of any danger threatening them." [34]

The British government's unilateral guarantee of Poland of March 31 may have helped to convince Stalin that Great Britain preferred an alliance with the Poles to one with the Russians and that Chamberlain was intent, as he had been at the time of Munich, on keeping the Soviet Union out of the European concert of powers. [35]

In this situation the Germans and Italians began to glimpse certain opportunities. Goering, who now had an important influence on Hitler in foreign affairs, saw Mussolini in Rome on April 16 and called the Duce's attention to Stalin's recent speech to the Communist Party Congress. He had been impressed by the Soviet dictator's statement that "the Russians would not allow themselves to be used as cannon fodder for the capitalist powers." He said he "would ask the Fuehrer whether it would not be possible to put out feelers cautiously to Russia ... with a view to rapprochement." And he reminded Mussolini that there had been "absolutely no mention of Russia in the Fuehrer's latest speeches." The Duce, according to the confidential German memorandum of the meeting, warmly welcomed the idea of a rapprochement of the Axis Powers with the Soviet Union. The Italian dictator too had sensed a change in Moscow; he thought a rapprochement could be "effected with comparative ease."

The object [said Mussolini] would be to induce Russia to react coolly and unfavorably to Britain's efforts at encirclement, on the lines of Stalin's speech ... Moreover, in their ideological struggle against plutocracy and capitalism the Axis Powers had, to a certain extent, the same objectives as the Russian regime. [36]

This was a radical turn in Axis policy, and no doubt it would have surprised Chamberlain had he learned of it. Perhaps it would have surprised Litvinov too.

On the very day of this discussion between Goering and Mussolini, April 16, the Soviet Foreign Commissar received the British ambassador in Moscow and made a formal proposal for a triple pact of mutual assistance between Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. It called for a military convention between the three powers to enforce the pact and a guarantee by the signatories, to be joined by Poland, if it desired, of all the nations in Central and Eastern Europe which felt themselves menaced by Nazi Germany. It was Litvinov's last bid for an alliance against the Third Reich, and the Russian Foreign Minister, who had staked his career on a policy of stopping Hitler by collective action, must have thought that at last he would succeed in uniting the Western democracies with Russia for that purpose. As Churchill said in a speech on May 4, complaining that the Russian offer had not yet been accepted in London, "there is no means of maintaining an Eastern front against Nazi aggression without the active aid of Russia." No other power in Eastern Europe, certainly not Poland, possessed the military strength to maintain a front in that region. Yet the Russian proposal caused consternation in London and Paris.

Even before it was rejected, however, Stalin made his first serious move to play the other side of the street.

The day after Litvinov made his far-reaching offer to the British ambassador in Moscow, on April 17, the Soviet ambassador in Berlin paid a visit to Weizsaecker at the German Foreign Office. It was the first call, the State Secretary noted in a memorandum, that Merekalov had made on him since he assumed his post nearly a year before. After some preliminary remarks about German-Russian economic relations, the ambassador turned to politics and

asked me point-blank [Weizsaecker wrote] what I thought of German-Russian relations ... The Ambassador spoke somewhat as follows:

Russian policy had always followed a straight course. Ideological differences had had very little adverse effect on relations between Russia and Italy and need not disturb those with Germany either. Russia had not exploited the present friction between Germany and the Western democracies against us, neither did she wish to do that. As far as Russia was concerned, there was no reason why she should not live on a normal footing with us, and out of normal relations could grow increasingly improved relations.

With this remark, toward which he had been steering the conversation, M. Merekalov ended the talk. He intends to visit Moscow in a day or two. [37]

In the Russian capital, to which the Soviet ambassador returned, there was something up.

It came out on May 3. On that date, tucked away on the back page of the Soviet newspapers in a column called "News in Brief," appeared a small item: "M. Litvinov has been released from the Office of Foreign Commissar at his own request." He was replaced by Vyacheslav Molotov, Chairman of the Council of the People's Commissars.

The German charge d'affaires reported the change to Berlin the next day.

The sudden change has caused the greatest surprise here, as Litvinov was in the midst of negotiations with the British delegation, had appeared in close proximity to Stalin at the parade on May 1 ...

Since Litvinov had received the British Ambassador as recently as May 2 and had even been mentioned in the press yesterday as a guest of honor at the parade, it seems that his dismissal must be due to a spontaneous decision by Stalin... . At the last Party Congress Stalin urged caution lest the Soviet Union be dragged into conflicts. Molotov, who is not a Jew, has the reputation of being the "most intimate friend and closest collaborator" of Stalin. His appointment is obviously intended to provide a guarantee that foreign policy will be conducted strictly on lines laid down by Stalin. [38]

The significance of Litvinov's abrupt dismissal was obvious to all. It meant a sharp and violent turning in Soviet foreign policy. Litvinov had been the archapostle of collective security, of strengthening the power of the League of Nations, of seeking Russian security against Nazi Germany by a military alliance with Great Britain and France. Chamberlain's hesitations about such an alliance were fatal to the Russian Foreign Commissar. In Stalin's judgment -- and his was the only one which counted in Moscow-Litvinov's policies had failed. Moreover, they threatened to land the Soviet Union in a war with Germany which the Western democracies might well contrive to stay out of. It was time, Stalin concluded, to try a new tack. * If Chamberlain could appease Hitler, could not the Russian dictator? The fact that Litvinov, a Jew, was replaced by Molotov, who, as the German Embassy had emphasized in its dispatch to Berlin, was not, might be expected to have a certain impact in high Nazi circles.

To see that the significance of the change was not lost on the Germans, Georgi Astakhov, the Soviet charge d'affaires, brought the matter up on May 5 when he conferred with Dr. Julius Schnurre, the German Foreign Office expert on East European economic affairs.

Astakhov touched upon the dismissal of Litvinov [Schnurre reported] and tried ... to learn whether this event would cause a change in our attitude toward the Soviet Union. He stressed the great importance of the personality of Molotov, who was by no means a specialist in foreign policy but who would have all the greater importance for future Soviet foreign policy. [39]

The charge also invited the Germans to resume the trade negotiations which had been broken off in February.

The British government did not reply until May 8 to the Soviet proposals of April 16 for a military alliance. The response was a virtual rejection. It strengthened suspicions in Moscow that Chamberlain was not willing to make a military pact with Russia to prevent Hitler from taking Poland.

It is not surprising, then, that the Russians intensified their approach to the Germans. On May 17 Astakhov again saw Schnurre at the Foreign Office and after discussing problems of trade turned to larger matters.

Astakhov stated [Schnurre reported] that there were no conflicts in foreign policy between Germany and the Soviet Union and that therefore there was no reason for any enmity between the two countries. It was true that in the Soviet Union there was a distinct feeling of being menaced by Germany. It would undoubtedly be possible to eliminate this feeling of being menaced and the distrust in Moscow ... In reply to my incidental question he commented on the Anglo-Soviet negotiations to the effect that, as they stood at the moment, the result desired by Britain would hardly materialize. [40]

Three days later, on May 20, Ambassador von der Schulenburg had a long talk with Molotov in Moscow. The newly appointed Commissar for Foreign Affairs was in a "most friendly" mood and informed the German envoy that economic negotiations between the two countries could be resumed if the necessary political bases for them were created. This was a new approach from the Kremlin but it was made cautiously by the cagey Molotov. When Schulenburg asked him what he meant by "political bases" the Russian replied that this was something both governments would have to think about. All the ambassador's efforts to draw out the wily Foreign Commissar were in vain. "He is known," Schulenburg reminded Berlin, "for his somewhat stubborn manner." On his way out of the Russian Foreign Office, the ambassador dropped in on Vladimir Potemkin, the Soviet Deputy Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and told him he had not been able to find out what Molotov wanted of a political nature. "I asked Herr Potemkin," Schulenburg reported, "to find out." [41]

The renewed contacts between Berlin and Moscow did not escape the watchful eyes of the French ambassador in the German capital. As early as May 7, four days after Litvinov's dismissal, M. Coulondre was informing the French Foreign Minister that, according to information given him by a close confidant of the Fuehrer, Germany was seeking an understanding with Russia which would result in, among other things, a fourth partition of Poland. Two days later the French ambassador got off another telegram to Paris telling of new rumors in Berlin "that Germany had made, or was going to make, to Russia proposals aimed at a partition of Poland." [42]
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:17 am

Part 3 of 4


Although the top brass of the Wehrmacht had a low opinion of Italian military power, Hitler now pressed for a military alliance with Italy, which Mussolini had been in no hurry to conclude. Staff talks between the two high commands began in April and Keitel reported to OKW his "impression" that neither the Italian fighting services nor Italian rearmament were in very good shape. A war, he thought, would have to be decided quickly, or the Italians would be out of it. [43]

By mid-April, as his diary shows,44 Ciano was alarmed by increasing signs that Germany might attack Poland at any moment and precipitate a European war for which Italy was not prepared. When, on April 20, Ambassador Attolico in Berlin wired Rome that German action against Poland was "imminent" Ciano urged him to hasten arrangements for his meeting with Ribbentrop so that Italy would not be caught napping.

The two foreign ministers met at Milan on May 6. Ciano had arrived with written instructions from Mussolini to emphasize to the Germans that Italy wished to avoid war for at least three years. To the Italian's surprise, Ribbentrop agreed that Germany wished to keep the peace for that long too. In fact, Ciano found the German Foreign Minister "for the first time" in a "pleasantly calm state of mind." They reviewed the situation in Europe, agreed on improving Axis relations with the Soviet Union and adjourned for a gala dinner.

When after dinner Mussolini telephoned to see how the talks had gone, and Ciano replied that they had gone well, the Duce had a sudden brain storm. He asked his son-in-law to release to the press a communique saying that Germany and Italy had decided to conclude a military alliance. Ribbentrop at first hesitated. He finally agreed to put the matter up to Hitler, and the Fuehrer, when reached by telephone, readily agreed to Mussolini's suggestion. [45][/quote]

Thus, on a sudden impulse, after more than a year of hesitation, Mussolini committed himself irrevocably to Hitler's fortunes. This was one of the first signs that the Italian dictator, like the German, was beginning to lose that iron self-control which up until this year of 1939 had enabled them both to pursue their own national interests with ice-cold clarity. The consequences for Mussolini would soon prove disastrous.

The "Pact of Steel," as it came to be known, was duly signed with considerable pomp at the Reich Chancellery in Berlin on May 22. Ciano had bestowed on Ribbentrop the Collar of the Annunziata, which not only made Goering furious but, as the Italian Foreign Minister noticed, brought tears to his eyes. In fact, the plump Field Marshal had made quite a scene, complaining that the collar really should have been awarded to him since it was he who had really promoted the alliance.

"I promised Mackensen [the German ambassador in Rome]," Ciano reported, "that I would try to get Goering a collar."

Ciano found Hitler looking "very well, quite serene, less aggressive," though he seemed a little older and his eyes more deeply wrinkled, probably from lack of sleep. [xviii] The Fuehrer was in the best of spirits as he watched the two foreign ministers sign the document.

It was a bluntly worded military alliance and its aggressive nature was underlined by a sentence in the preamble which Hitler had insisted on putting in declaring that the two nations, "united by the inner affinity of their ideologies ... are resolved to act side by side and with united forces to secure their living space." The core of the treaty was Article III.

If contrary to the wishes and hopes of the High Contracting Parties it should happen that one of them became involved in warlike complications with another Power or Powers, the other High Contracting Party would immediately come to its assistance as an ally and support it with all its military forces on land, at sea and in the air.

Article V provided that in the event of war neither nation would conclude a separate armistice or peace. [46]

In the beginning, as it would turn out, Mussolini did not honor the first, nor, at the end, did Italy abide by the second.


The day after the signing of the Pact of Steel, on May 23, Hitler summoned his military chiefs to the study in the Chancellery in Berlin and told them bluntly that further successes could not be won without the shedding of blood and that war therefore was inevitable.

This was a somewhat larger gathering than a similar one on November 5, 1937, when the Fuehrer had first imparted his decision to go to war to the commanders in chief of the three armed services. [xix] Altogether fourteen officers were present, including Field Marshal Goering, Grand Admiral Raeder (as he now was), General von Brauchitsch, General Halder, General Keitel, General Erhard Milch, Inspector General of the Luftwaffe, and Rear Admiral Otto Schniewind, naval Chief of Staff. The Fuehrer's adjutant, Lieutenant Colonel Rudolf Schmundt, was also present and, luckily for history, took notes. His minutes of the meeting are among the captured German documents. Apparently Hitler's words on this occasion were regarded as such a top secret that no copies of the minutes were made; the one we have is in Schmundt's own handwriting. [47]

It is one of the most revealing and important of the secret papers which depict Hitler's road to war. Here, before the handful of men who will have to direct the military forces in an armed conflict, Hitler cuts through his own propaganda and diplomatic deceit and utters the truth about why he must attack Poland and, if necessary, take on Great Britain and France as well. He predicts with uncanny accuracy the course the war will take -- at least in its first year. And yet for all its bluntness his discourse -- for the dictator did all the talking -- discloses more uncertainty and confusion of mind than he has shown up to this point. Above all, Britain and the British continue to baffle him, as they did to the end of his life.

But about the coming of war and his aims in launching it he is clear and precise, and no general or admiral could have left the Chancellery on May 23 without knowing exactly what was coming at the summer's end. Germany's economic problems, he began, could only be solved by obtaining more Lebensraum in Europe, and "this is impossible without invading other countries or attacking other people's possessions."

Further successes can no longer be attained without the shedding of blood ...

Danzig is not the subject of the dispute at all. It is a question of expanding our living space in the East, of securing our food supplies and also of solving the problem of the Baltic States... . There is no other possibility in Europe ... If fate forces us into a showdown with the West it is invaluable to possess a large area in the East. In wartime we shall be even less able to rely on record harvests than in peacetime.

Besides, Hitler adds, the population of non-German territories in the East will be available as a source of labor -- an early hint of the slave labor program he was later to put into effect.

The choice of the first victim was obvious.

There is no question of sparing Poland and we are left with the decision:

To attack Poland at the first suitable opportunity. [xx]

We cannot expect a repetition of the Czech affair. There will be war. Our task is to isolate Poland. Success in isolating her will be decisive.

So there will be war. With an "isolated" Poland alone? Here the Fuehrer is not so clear. In fact, he becomes confused and contradictory. He must reserve to himself, he says, the final order to strike.

It must not come to a simultaneous showdown with the West -- France and England.

If it is not certain that a German-Polish conflict will not lead to war with the West, then the fight must be primarily against England and France.

Fundamentally therefore: Conflict with Poland -- beginning with an attack on Poland -- will only be successful if the West keeps out of it.

If that is not possible it is better to fall upon the West and to finish off Poland at the same time.

In the face of such rapid-fire contradictions the generals must have winced, perhaps prying their monocles loose, though there is no evidence in the Schmundt minutes that this happened or that anyone in the select audience even dared to ask a question to straighten matters out.

Hitler next turned to Russia. "It is not ruled out," he said, "that Russia might disinterest herself in the destruction of Poland." On the other hand, if the Soviet Union allied herself to Britain and France, that "would lead me to attack England and France with a few devastating blows." That would mean committing the same mistake Wilhelm II made in 1914, but though in this lecture Hitler drew several lessons from the World War he did not draw this one. His thoughts now turned toward Great Britain.

The Fuehrer doubts the possibility of a peaceful settlement with England. It is necessary to be prepared for the showdown. England sees in our development the establishment of a hegemony which would weaken England. Therefore England is our enemy, and the conflict with England is a matter of life and death.

What will this conflict be like? [xxi]

England cannot finish off Germany with a few powerful blows and force us down. It is of decisive importance for England to carry the war as near as possible to the Ruhr. French blood will not be spared. (West Wall!) The duration of our existence is dependent on possession of the Ruhr.

Having decided to follow the Kaiser in one mistake -- attacking France and England if they lined up with Russia -- Hitler now announced that he would follow the Emperor in another matter which eventually had proved disastrous to Germany.

The Dutch and Belgian air bases must be militarily occupied. Declarations of neutrality can be ignored. If England wants to intervene in the Polish war, we must make a lightning attack on Holland. We must aim at establishing a new line of defense on Dutch territory as far as the Zuyder Zee. The war with England and France will be a war of life and death.

The idea that we can get off cheaply is dangerous; there is no such possibility. We must then burn our boats and it will no longer be a question of right or wrong but of to be or not to be for eighty million people.

Though he had just announced that Germany would attack Poland "at the first suitable opportunity" and though his listeners knew that almost all of Germany's military strength was being concentrated on that objective, Hitler, as he rambled on, could not keep his thoughts off Great Britain.

"England," he emphasized, "is the driving force against Germany." Whereupon he discussed her strengths and weaknesses.

The Britisher himself is proud, brave, tough, dogged and a gifted organizer. He knows how to exploit every new development. He has the love of adventure and the courage of the Nordic race ...

England is a world power in herself. Constant for three hundred years. Increased by alliances. This power is not only something concrete but must also be considered as psychological force, embracing the entire world.

Add to this immeasurable wealth and the solvency that goes with it.

Geopolitical security and protection by a strong sea power and courageous air force.

But Britain, Hitler reminded his hearers, also had her weaknesses, and he proceeded to enumerate them.

If in the last war we had had two more battleships and two more cruisers and had begun the Battle of Jutland in the morning, the British fleet would have been defeated and England brought to her knees. [xxii] It would have meant the end of the World War. In former times ... to conquer England it was necessary to invade her. England could feed herself. Today she no longer can.

The moment England is cut off from her supplies she is forced to capitulate. Imports of food and fuel oil are dependent on naval protection.

Luftwaffe attacks on England will not force her to capitulate. But if the fleet is annihilated instant capitulation results. There is no doubt that a surprise attack might lead to a quick decision.

A surprise attack with what? Surely Admiral Raeder must have thought that Hitler was talking through his hat. Under the so-called Z Plan, promulgated at the end of 1938, German naval strength would only begin to approach that of the British by 1945. At the moment, in the spring of 1939, Germany did not have the heavy ships to sink the British Navy, even by a surprise attack.

Perhaps Britain could be brought down by other means. Here Hitler came down to earth again and outlined a strategic plan which a year later, in fact, would be carried out with amazing success.

The aim must be to deal the enemy a smashing or a finally decisive blow right at the start. Considerations of right or wrong, or of treaties, do not enter into the matter. This will be possible only when we do not "slide" into a war with England on account of Poland.

Preparations must be made for a long war as well as for a surprise attack, and every possible intervention by England on the Continent must be smashed.

The Army must occupy the positions important for the fleet and the Luftwaffe. If we succeed in occupying and securing Holland and Belgium, as well as defeating France, the basis for a successful war against England has been created.

The Luftwaffe can then closely blockade England from western France and the fleet undertake the wider blockade with submarines.

That is precisely what would be done a little more than a year later. Another decisive strategic plan, which the Fuehrer emphasized on May 23, would also be carried out. At the beginning of the last war, had the German Army executed a wheeling movement toward the Channel ports instead of toward Paris, the end, he said, would have been different. Perhaps it would have been. At any rate he would try it in 1940.

"The aim," Hitler concluded, apparently forgetting all about Poland for the moment, "will always be to force England to her knees."

There was one final consideration.

Secrecy is the decisive prerequisite for success. Our objectives must be kept secret from both Italy and Japan.

Even Hitler's own Army General Staff, whose Chief, General Halder, sat there listening, was not to be trusted entirely. "Our studies," the Fuehrer laid down, "must not be left to the General Staff. Secrecy would then no longer be assured." He ordered that a small planning staff in OKW be set up to work out the military plans.

On May 23, 1939, then, Hitler, as he himself said, burned his boats. There would be war. Germany needed Lebensraum in the East. To get it Poland would be attacked at the first opportunity. Danzig had nothing to do with it. That was merely an excuse. Britain stood in the way; she was the real driving force against Germany. Very well, she would be taken on too, and France. It would be a life-and-death struggle.

When the Fuehrer had first outlined his plans for aggression to the military chiefs, on November 5, 1937, Field Marshal von Blomberg and General von Fritsch had protested -- at least on the grounds that Germany was too weak to fight a European war. [xxiii] During the following summer General Beck had resigned as Chief of the Army General Staff for the same reason. But on May 23, 1939, not a single general or admiral, so far as the record shows, raised his voice to question the wisdom of Hitler's course.

Their job, as they saw it, was not to question but to blindly obey. Already they had been applying their considerable talents to working out plans for military aggression. On May 7, Colonel Guenther Blumentritt of the Army General Staff, who with Generals von Rundstedt and von Manstein formed a small "Working Staff," submitted an estimate of the situation for Case White. Actually it was a plan for the conquest of Poland. It was an imaginative and daring plan, and it would be followed with very few changes. [48]

Admiral Raeder came through with naval plans for Case White in a top-secret directive signed May 16. [49] Since Poland had only a few miles of coast on the Baltic west of Danzig and possessed only a small navy, no difficulties were expected. France and Britain were the Admiral's chief concern. The entrance to the Baltic was to be protected by submarines, and the two pocket battleships and the two battleships, with the "remaining" submarines, were to prepare for "war in the Atlantic." According to the instructions of the Fuehrer, the Navy had to be prepared to carry out its part of "White" by September 1 but Raeder urged his commanders to hasten plans because "due to the latest political developments" action might come sooner. [50]

As May 1939 came to an end German preparations for going to war by the end of the summer were well along. The great armament works were humming, turning out guns, tanks, planes and warships. The able staffs of the Army, Navy and Air Force had reached the final stage of planning. The ranks were being swelled by new men called up for "summer training." Hitler could be pleased with what he had accomplished.

The day after the Fuehrer's lecture to the military chiefs, on May 24, General Georg Thomas, head of the Economic and Armaments Branch of OKW, summed up that accomplishment in a confidential lecture to the staff of the Foreign Office. Whereas it had taken the Imperial Army, Thomas reminded his listeners, sixteen years -- from 1898 to 1914 -- to increase its strength from forty-three to fifty divisions, the Army of the Third Reich had jumped from seven to fifty-one divisions in just four years. Among them were five heavy armored divisions and four light ones, a "modern battle cavalry" such as no other nation possessed. The Navy had built up from practically nothing a fleet of two battleships of 26,000 tons, [xxiv] two heavy cruisers, seventeen destroyers and forty-seven submarines. It had already launched two battleships of 35,000 tons, one aircraft carrier, four heavy cruisers, five destroyers and seven submarines, and was planning to launch a great many more ships. From absolutely nothing, the Luftwaffe had built up a force of twenty-one squadrons with a personnel of 260,000 men. The armament industry, General Thomas said, was already producing more than it had during the peak of the last war and its output in most fields far exceeded that of any other country. In fact, total German rearmament, the General declared, was "probably unique in the world."

Formidable as German military power was becoming at the beginning of the summer of 1939, the prospect of success in the war which Hitler was planning for the early fall depended on what kind of a war it was. Germany was still not strong enough, and probably would never be, to take on France, Britain and Russia in addition to Poland. As the fateful summer commenced, all depended on the Fuehrer's ability to limit the war -- above all, to keep Russia from forming the military alliance with the West which Litvinov, just before his fall, had proposed and which Chamberlain, though he had at first seemed to reject it, was, by May's end, again mulling over.


In a debate in the House of Commons on May 19, the British Prime Minister had again taken a cool and even disdainful view, as Churchill thought, of the Russian proposals. Somewhat wearily he had explained to the House that "there is a sort of veil, a sort of wall, between the two Governments which it is extremely difficult to penetrate." Churchill, on the other hand, backed by Lloyd George, argued that Moscow had made "a fair offer ... more simple, more direct, more effective" than Chamberlain's own proposals. He begged His Majesty's Government "to get some brutal truths into their heads. Without an effective Eastern front, there can be no satisfactory defense in the West, and without Russia there can be no effective Eastern front."

Bowing to the storm of criticism from all sides, Chamberlain on May 27 finally instructed the British ambassador in Moscow to agree to begin discussions of a pact of mutual assistance, a military convention and guarantees to the countries threatened by Hitler. [xxv] Ambassador von Dirksen in London advised the German Foreign Office that the British government had taken the step "with the greatest reluctance." Furthermore, Dirksen divulged what was perhaps the primary reason for Chamberlain's move. The British Foreign Office, he reported urgently to Berlin, had got wind of "German feelers in Moscow" and was "afraid that Germany might succeed in keeping Soviet Russia neutral or even inducing her to adopt benevolent neutrality. That would have meant the complete collapse of the encirclement action." [53]

On the last day of May, Molotov made his first public speech as Commissar for Foreign Affairs in an address to the Supreme Council of the U.S.S.R. He castigated the Western democracies for their hesitation and declared that if they were serious in joining Russia to stop aggression they must get down to brass tacks and come to an agreement on three main points:

1. Conclude a tripartite mutual-assistance pact of a purely defensive character.

2. Guarantee the states of Central and Eastern Europe, including all European states bordering on the Soviet Union.

3. Conclude a definite agreement on the form and scope of the immediate and effective aid to be afforded each other and the smaller states threatened by aggression.

Molotov also declared that the talks with the West did not mean that Russia would forego "business relations on a practical footing" with Germany and Italy. In fact, he said that "it was not out of the question" that commercial negotiations with Germany could be resumed. Ambassador von der Schulenburg, in reporting the speech to Berlin, pointed out that Molotov had indicated that Russia was still prepared to conclude a treaty with Britain and France "on condition that all her demands are accepted," but that it was now evident from the address that it would take a long time before any real agreement was reached. He pointed out that Molotov had "avoided sallies against Germany and showed readiness to continue the talks begun in Berlin and Moscow." [54]

This readiness was now suddenly shared by Hitler in Berlin.

During the last ten days of May, Hitler and his advisers blew hot and cold over the thorny question of making advances to Moscow in order to thwart the Anglo-Russian negotiations. It was felt in Berlin that Molotov in his talk with Ambassador von der Schulenburg on May 20 [xxvi] had thrown cold water on Germany's approaches, and on the following day, May 21, Weizsaecker wired the ambassador that in view of what the Foreign Commissar had said "we must now sit tight and wait to see if the Russians will speak more openly." [55]

But Hitler, having fixed September 1 for his attack on Poland, could not afford to sit tight. On or about May 25, Weizsaecker and Friedrich Gaus, director of the Legal Department of the German Foreign Office, were summoned to Ribbentrop's country house at Sonnenburg and, according to Gaus's affidavit submitted at Nuremberg, [xxvii] informed that the Fuehrer wanted "to establish more tolerable relations between Germany and the Soviet Union." Draft instructions to Schulenburg were drawn up by Ribbentrop outlining in considerable detail the new line he was to take with Molotov, whom he was asked to see "as soon as possible." This draft is among the captured German Foreign Office documents. [56]

It was shown to Hitler, according to a notation on the document, on May 26. It is a revealing paper. It discloses that by this date the German Foreign Office was convinced that the Anglo-Russian negotiations would be successfully concluded unless Germany intervened decisively. Ribbentrop therefore proposed that Schulenburg tell Molotov the following:

A real opposition of interests in foreign affairs does not exist between Germany and Soviet Russia ... The time has come to consider a pacification and normalization of German-Soviet Russian foreign relations ... The Italo-German alliance is not directed against the Soviet Union. It is exclusively directed against the Anglo-French combination ...

If against our wishes it should come to hostilities with Poland, we are firmly convinced that even this need not in any way lead to a clash of interests with Soviet Russia. We can even go so far as to say that when settling the German-Polish question -- in whatever way this is done -- we would take Russian interests into account as far as possible.

Next the danger to Russia of an alliance with Great Britain was to be pointed up.

We are unable to see what could really induce the Soviet Union to play an active part in the game of the British policy of encirclement ... This would mean Russia undertaking a one-sided liability without any really valuable British quid pro quo ... Britain is by no means in a position to offer Russia a really valuable quid pro quo, no matter how the treaties may be formulated. All assistance in Europe is rendered impossible by the West Wall ... We are therefore convinced that Britain will once more remain faithful to her traditional policy of letting other powers pull her chestnuts out of the fire.

Schulenburg also was to emphasize that Germany had "no aggressive intentions against Russia." Finally, he was instructed to tell Molotov that Germany was ready to discuss with the Soviet Union not only economic questions but "a return to normal in political relations."

Hitler thought the draft went too far and ordered it held up. The Fuehrer, according to Gaus, had been impressed by Chamberlain's optimistic statement of two days before, May 24, when the Prime Minister had told the House of Commons that as the result of new British proposals he hoped that full agreement with Russia could be reached "at an early date." What Hitler feared was a rebuff. He did not abandon the idea of a rapprochement with Moscow but decided that for the time being a more cautious approach would be best.

The backing and filling which took place in the Fuehrer's mind during the last week of May is documented in the captured German Foreign Office papers. On or about the twenty-fifth -- the exact day is not quite certain -- he had suddenly come out for pushing talks with the Soviet Union in order to thwart the Anglo-Russian negotiations. Schulenburg was to see Molotov at once for that purpose. But Ribbentrop's instructions to him, which were shown Hitler on the twenty-sixth, were never sent. The Fuehrer canceled them. That evening Weizsaecker wired Schulenburg advising him to maintain an "attitude of complete reserve -- you personally should not make any move until further notice." [57]

This telegram and a letter which the State Secretary wrote the ambassador in Moscow on May 27 but did not mail until May 30, when a significant postscript was added, go far to explaining the hesitations in Berlin. [58] Weizsaecker, writing on the twenty-seventh, informed Schulenburg that it was the opinion in Berlin that an Anglo-Russian agreement would "not be easy to prevent" and that Germany hesitated to intervene decisively against it for fear of provoking "a peal of Tartar laughter" in Moscow. Also, the State Secretary revealed, both Japan and Italy had been cool toward Germany's proposed move in Moscow, and the reserve of her allies had helped to influence the decision in Berlin to sit tight. "Thus," he concluded, "we now want to wait and see how deeply Moscow and Paris-London mutually engage themselves."

For some reason Weizsaecker did not post his letter at once; per):laps he felt that Hitler had not yet fully made up his mind. When he did mail it on May 30, he added a postscript:

P.S. To my above lines I must add that, with the approval of the Fuehrer, an approach is nonetheless now to be made to the Russians, though a very much modified one, and this by means of a conversation which I am to hold today with the Russian charge d'affaires.

This talk with Georgi Astakhov did not get very far, but it represented for the Germans a new start. Weizsaecker's pretext for calling in the Russian charge was to discuss the future of the Soviet trade delegation in Prague, which the Russians were anxious to maintain. Around this subject the two diplomats sparred to find out what was in each other's mind. Weizsaecker said he agreed with Molotov that political and economic questions could not be entirely separated and expressed interest in the "normalization of relations between Soviet Russia and Germany." Astakhov asserted that Molotov had no "intention of barring the door against further Russo-German discussions."

Cautious as both men were, the Germans were encouraged. At 10:40 o'clock that evening of May 30 Weizsaecker got off a "most urgent" telegram [59] to Schulenburg in Moscow:

Contrary to the tactics hitherto planned we have now, after all, decided to make a certain degree of contact with the Soviet Union. [xxviii]

It may have been that a long secret memorandum which Mussolini penned to Hitler on May 30 strengthened the Fuehrer's resolve to turn to the Soviet Union, however cautiously. As the summer commenced, the Duce's doubts mounted as to the advisability of an early conflict. He was convinced, he wrote Hitler, that "war between the plutocratic, self-seeking conservative nations" and the Axis was "inevitable." But -- "Italy requires a period of preparation which may extend until the end of 1942 , . . Only from 1943 onward will an effort by war have the greatest prospects of success." After enumerating several reasons why "Italy needs a period of peace," the Duce concluded: "For all these reasons Italy does not wish to hasten a European war, although she is convinced of the inevitability of such a war." [60]

Hitler, who had not taken his good friend and ally into his confidence about the date of September 1 which he had set for attacking Poland, replied that he had read the secret memorandum "with the greatest interest" and suggested that the two leaders meet for discussions sometime in the future. In the meantime the Fuehrer decided to see if a crack could be made in the Kremlin wall. All through June preliminary talks concerning a new trade agreement were held in Moscow between the German Embassy and Anastas Mikoyan, the Russian Commissar for Foreign Trade.

The Soviet government was still highly suspicious of Berlin. As Schulenburg reported toward the end of the month (June 27), the Kremlin believed the Germans, in pressing for a trade agreement, wished to torpedo the Russian negotiations with Britain and France. "They are afraid," he wired Berlin, "that as soon as we have gained this advantage we might let the negotiations peter out." [61]

On June 28 Schulenburg had a long talk with Molotov which proceeded, he told Berlin in a "secret and urgent" telegram, "in a friendly manner." Nevertheless, when the German ambassador referred assuringly to the nonaggression treaties which Germany had just concluded with the Baltic States, [xxix] the Soviet Foreign Commissar tartly replied that "he must doubt the permanence of such treaties after the experiences which Poland had had." Summing up the talk, Schulenburg concluded:

My impression is that the Soviet Government is greatly interested in learning our political views and in maintaining contact with us. Although there was no mistaking the strong distrust evident in all that Molotov said, he nevertheless described a normalization of relations with Germany as being desirable and possible. [62]

The ambassador requested telegraphic instructions as to his next move. Schulenburg was one of the last survivors of the Seeckt, Maltzan and Brockdorff-Rantzau school which had insisted on a German rapprochement with Soviet Russia after 1919 and which had brought it about at RapaUo. As his dispatches throughout 1939 make clear, he sincerely sought to restore the close relations which had existed during the Weimar Republic. But like so many other German career diplomats of the old school he little understood Hitler.

Suddenly on June 29 Hitler, from his mountain retreat at Berchtesgaden, ordered the talks with the Russians broken off.

Berchtesgaden, June 29, 1939

... The Fuehrer has decided as follows:

The Russians are to be informed that we have seen from their attitude that they are making the continuation of further talks dependent on the acceptance of the basis for our economic discussions as fixed in January. Since this basis was not acceptable to us, we would not be interested in a resumption of the economic discussions with Russia at present.

The Fuehrer has agreed that this answer be delayed for a few days. [63]

Actually, the substance of it was telegraphed to the German Embassy in Moscow the next day.

The Foreign Minister [Weizsaecker wired] ... is of the opinion that in the political field enough has been said until further instructions and that for the moment the talks should not be taken up again by us.

Concerning the possible economic negotiations with the Russian Government, the deliberations here have not yet been concluded. In this field too you are requested for the time being to take no further action, but to await instructions.  [64]

There is no clue in the secret German documents which explains Hitler's sudden change of mind. The Russians already had begun to compromise on their proposals of January and February. And Schnurre had warned on June 15 that a breakdown in the economic negotiations would be a setback for Germany both economically and politically.

Nor could the rocky course of the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations have so discouraged Hitler as to lead him to such a decision. He knew from the reports of the German Embassy in Moscow that Russia and the Western Powers were deadlocked over the question of guarantees to Poland, Rumania and the Baltic States. Poland and Rumania were happy to be guaranteed by Britain and France, which could scarcely help them in the event of German aggression except by the indirect means of setting up a Western front. But they refused to accept a Russian guarantee or even to allow for Soviet troops to pass through their territories to meet a German attack. Latvia, Estonia and Finland also stoutly declined to accept any Russian guarantee, an attitude which, as the German Foreign Office papers later revealed, was encouraged by Germany in the form of dire threats should they weaken in their resolve.

In this impasse Molotov suggested at the beginning of June that Great Britain send its Foreign Secretary to Moscow to take part in the negotiations. Apparently in the Russian view this would not only help to break the deadlock but would show that Britain was in earnest in arriving at an agreement with Russia. Lord Halifax declined to go. [xxx] Anthony Eden, who was at least a former Foreign Secretary, offered to go in his place, but Chamberlain turned him down. It was decided, instead, to send William Strang, a capable career official in the Foreign Office who had previously served in the Moscow Embassy and spoke Russian but was little known either in his own country or outside of it. The appointment of so subordinate an official to head such an important mission and to negotiate directly with Molotov and Stalin was a signal to the Russians, they later said, that Chamberlain still did not take very seriously the business of building an alliance to stop Hitler.

Strang arrived in Moscow on June 14, but though he participated in eleven Anglo-French meetings with Molotov, his appearance had little effect on the course of Anglo-Soviet negotiations. A fortnight later, on June 29, Russian suspicion and irritation was publicly displayed in an article in Pravda by Andrei Zhdanov under the headline, "British and French Governments Do Not Want a Treaty on the Basis of Equality for the Soviet Union." Though purporting to write "as a private individual and not committing the Soviet Government," Zhdanov was not only a member of the Politburo and president of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Soviet Parliament but, as Schulenburg emphasized to Berlin in reporting on the matter, "one of Stalin's confidants [whose] article was doubtless written on orders from above."

It seems to me [Zhdanov wrote] that the British and French Governments are not out for a real agreement acceptable to the U.S.S.R. but only for talks about an agreement in order to demonstrate before the public opinion of their own countries the alleged unyielding attitude of the U.S.S.R. and thus facilitate the conclusion of an agreement with the aggressors. The next few days will show whether this is so or not. [66]

Stalin's distrust of Britain and France and his suspicion that the Western Allies might in the end make a deal with Hitler, as they had the year before at Munich, was thus publicized for all the world to ponder. Ambassador von der Schulenburg, pondering it, suggested to Berlin that one purpose of the article was "to lay the blame on Britain and France for the possible breakdown of the negotiations." [67]


Still Adolf Hitler did not rise to the Russian bait. Perhaps it was because all during June he was busy at Berchtesgaden supervising the completion of military plans to invade Poland at the summer's end.

By June 15 he had General von Brauchitsch's top-secret plan for the operations of the Army against Poland. [68] "The object of the operation," the Commander in Chief of the Army, echoing his master, declared, "is to destroy the Polish armed forces. The political leadership demands that the war should be begun by heavy surprise blows and lead to quick successes. The intention of the Army High Command is to prevent a regular mobilization and concentration of the Polish Army by a surprise invasion of Polish territory and to destroy the mass of the Polish Army, which is expected to be west of the Vistula -- Narew line, by a concentric attack from Silesia on the one side and from Pomerania-East Prussia on the other."

To carry out his plan, Brauchitsch set up two army groups -- Army Group South, consisting of the Eighth, Tenth and Fourteenth armies, and Army Group North, made up of the Third and Fourth armies. The southern army group, under the command of General von Rundstedt, was to attack from Silesia "in the general direction of Warsaw, scatter opposing Polish forces and occupy as early as possible with forces as strong as possible the Vistula on both sides of Warsaw with the aim of destroying the Polish forces still holding out in western Poland in co-operation with Army Group North." The first mission of the latter group was "to establish connection between the Reich and East Prussia" by driving across the Corridor. Detailed objectives of the various armies were outlined as well as those for the Air Force and Navy. Danzig, said Brauchitsch, would be declared German territory on the first day of hostilities and would be secured by loyal forces under German command.

A supplemental directive issued at the same time stipulated that the order of deployment for "White" would be put into operation on August 20. "All preparations," it laid down, "must be concluded by that date." [69]

A week later, on June 22, General Keitel submitted to Hitler a "preliminary timetable for Case White." [70] The Fuehrer, after studying it, agreed with it "in the main" but ordered that "so as not to disquiet the population by calling up reserves on a larger scale than usual ... civilian establishments, employers or other private persons who make inquiries should be told that men are being called up for the autumn maneuvers." Also Hitler stipulated that "for reasons of security, the clearing of hospitals in the frontier area which the Supreme Command of the Army proposed should take place from the middle of July must not be carried out."

The war which Hitler was planning to launch would be total war and would require not only military mobilization but a total mobilization of all the resources of the nation. To co-ordinate this immense effort a meeting of the Reich Defense Council was convoked the next day, on June 23, under the chairmanship of Goering. Some thirty-five ranking officials, civil and military, including Keitel, Raeder, Halder, Thomas and Milch for the armed forces and the Ministers of the Interior, Economics, Finance and Transport, as well as Himmler, were present. It was only the second meeting of the Council but, as Goering explained, the body was convoked only to make the most important decisions and he left no doubt in the minds of his hearers, as the captured secret minutes of the session reveal, that war was near and that much remained to be done about manpower for industry and agriculture and about many other matters relating to total mobilization. [71]

Goering informed the Council that Hitler had decided to draft some seven million men. To augment the labor supply Dr. Funk, the Minister of Economics, was to arrange "what work is to be given to prisoners of war and to the inmates of prisons and concentration camps." Himmler chimed in to say that "greater use will be made of the concentration camps in wartime." And Goering added that "hundreds of thousands of workers from the Czech protectorate are to be employed under supervision in Germany, particularly in agriculture, and housed in hutments." Already, it was obvious, the Nazi program for slave labor was taking shape.

Dr. Frick, the Minister of the Interior, promised to "save labor in the public administration" and enlivened the proceedings by admitting that under the Nazi regime the number of bureaucrats had increased "from twenty to forty fold -- an impossible state of affairs." A committee was set up to correct this lamentable situation.

An even more pessimistic report was made by Colonel Rudolf Gercke, chief of the Transport Department of the Army General Staff. "In the transportation sphere," he declared bluntly, "Germany is at the moment not ready for war."

Whether the German transportation facilities would be equal to their task depended, of course, on whether the war was confined to Poland. If it had to be fought in the West against France and Great Britain it was feared that the transport system would simply not be adequate. In July two emergency meetings of the Defense Council were called "in order to bring the West Wall, by August 25 at the latest, into the optimum condition of preparedness with the material that can be obtained by that time by an extreme effort." High officials of Krupp and the steel cartel were enlisted to try to scrape up the necessary metal to complete the armament of the western fortifications. For on their impregnancy, the Germans knew, depended whether the Anglo-French armies would be inclined to mount a serious attack on western Germany while the Wehrmacht was preoccupied in Poland.

Though Hitler, with unusual frankness, had told his generals on May 23 that Danzig was not the cause of the dispute with Poland at all, it seemed for a few weeks at midsummer that the Free City might be the powder keg which any day would set off the explosion of war. For some time the Germans had been smuggling into Danzig arms and Regular Army officers to train the local defense guard in their use. [xxxi] The arms and officers came in across the border from East Prussia, and in order to keep closer watch on them the Poles increased the number of their customs officials and frontier guards. The local Danzig authorities, now operating exclusively on orders from Berlin, countered by trying to prevent the Polish officials from carrying out their duties.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Wed Feb 07, 2018 4:17 am

Part 4 of 4

The conflict reached a crisis on August 4 when the Polish diplomatic representative in Danzig informed the local authorities that the Polish customs inspectors had been given orders to carry out their functions "with arms" and that any attempt by the Danzigers to hamper them would be regarded "as an act of violence" against Polish officials, and that in such a case the Polish government would "retaliate without delay against the Free City."

This was a further sign to Hitler that the Poles could not be intimidated and it was reinforced by the opinion of the German ambassador in Warsaw, who on July 6 telegraphed Berlin that there was "hardly any doubt" that Poland would fight "if there was a clear violation" of her rights in Danzig. We know from a marginal note on the telegram in Ribbentrop's handwriting that it was shown the Fuehrer. [73]

Hitler was furious. The next day, August 7, he summoned Albert Forster, the Nazi Gauleiter of Danzig, to Berchtesgaden and told him that he had reached the extreme limit of his patience with the Poles. Angry notes were exchanged between Berlin and Warsaw -- so violent in tone that neither side dared to make them public. On the ninth, the Reich government warned Poland that a repetition of its ultimatum to Danzig "would lead to an aggravation of German-Polish relations ... for which the German Government must disclaim all responsibility." The next day the Polish government replied tartly

that they will continue to react as hitherto to any attempt by the authorities of the Free City to impair the rights and interests which Poland enjoys in Danzig, and will do so by such means and measures as they alone may deem appropriate, and that they will regard any intervention by the Reich Government as an act of aggression. [74]

No small nation which stood in Hitler's way had ever used such language. When on the following day, August 11, the Fuehrer received Carl Burckhardt, a Swiss, who was League of Nations High Commissioner at Danzig and who had gone more than halfway to meet the German demands there, he was in an ugly mood. He told his visitor that "if the slightest thing was attempted by the Poles, he would fall upon them like lightning with all the powerful arms at his disposal, of which the Poles had not the slightest idea."

M. Burckhardt said [the High Commissioner later reported] that that would lead to a general conflict. Herr Hitler replied that if he had to make war he would rather do it today than tomorrow, that he would not conduct it like the Germany of Wilhelm II, who had always had scruples about the full use of every weapon, and that he would fight without mercy up to the extreme limit. [75]

Against whom? Against Poland certainly. Against Britain and France, if necessary. Against Russia too? With regard to the Soviet Union, Hitler had finally made up his mind.


A fresh initiative had come from the Russians.

On July 18, E. Babarin, the Soviet trade representative in Berlin, accompanied by two aides, called on Julius Schnurre at the German Foreign Office and informed him that Russia would like to extend and intensify German-Soviet economic relations. He brought along a detailed memorandum for a trade agreement calling for a greatly increased exchange of goods between the two countries and declared that if a few differences between the two parties were clarified he was empowered to sign a trade treaty in Berlin. The Germans, as Dr. Schnurre's confidential memorandum of the meeting shows, were rather pleased. Such a treaty, Schnurre noted, "will not fail to have its effect at least in Poland and Britain." [76] Four days later, on July 22, the Russian press announced in Moscow that Soviet-German trade negotiations had been resumed in Berlin.

On the same day Weizsaecker rather exuberantly wired Ambassador von der Schulenburg in Moscow some interesting new instructions. As to the trade negotiations, he informed the ambassador, "we will act here in a markedly forthcoming manner, since a conclusion, and this at the earliest possible moment, is desired here for general reasons. As far as the purely political aspect of our conversations with the Russians is concerned," he added, "we regard the period of waiting stipulated for you in our telegram [of June 30] [xxxii] as having expired. You are therefore empowered to pick up the threads again there, without in any way pressing the matter." [77]

They were, in fact, picked up four days later, on July 26, in Berlin. Dr. Schnurre was instructed by Ribbentrop to dine Astakhov, the Soviet charge, and Babarin at a swank Berlin restaurant and sound them out. The two Russians needed little sounding. As Schnurre noted in his confidential memorandum of the meeting, "the Russians stayed until about 12:30 A.M." and talked "in a very lively and interested manner about the political and economic problems of interest to us."

Astakhov, with the warm approval of Babarin, declared that a Soviet-German political rapprochement corresponded to the vital interests of the two countries. In Moscow, he said, they had never quite understood why Nazi Germany had been so antagonistic to the Soviet Union. The German diplomat, in response, explained that "German policy in the East had now taken an entirely different course."

On our part there could be no question of menacing the Soviet Union. Our aims were in an entirely different direction ... German policy was aimed at Britain ... 1 could imagine a far-reaching arrangement of mutual interests with due consideration for vital Russian problems.

However, this possibility would be barred the moment the Soviet Union aligned itself with Britain against Germany. The time for an understanding between Germany and the Soviet Union was opportune now, but would no longer be so after the conclusion of a pact with London.

What could Britain offer Russia? At best, participation in a European war and the hostility of Germany. What could we offer against this? Neutrality and keeping out of a possible European conflict and, if Moscow wished, a German-Russian understanding on mutual interests which, just as in former times, would work out to the advantage of both countries ... Controversial problems [between Germany and Russia] did not, in my opinion, exist anywhere along the line from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and to the Far East. In addition, despite all the divergencies in their views of life, there was one thing common to the ideology of Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union: opposition to the capitalist democracies in the West. [78]

Thus in the late-evening hours of July 26 in a small Berlin restaurant over good food and wine partaken by second-string diplomats was Germany's first serious bid for a deal with Soviet Russia made. The new line which Schnurre took had been given him by Ribbentrop himself. Astakhov was pleased to hear it. He promised Schnurre that he would report it at once to Moscow.

In the Wilhelmstrasse the Germans waited impatiently to see what the reaction in the Soviet capital would be. Three days later, on July 29, Weizsaecker sent a secret dispatch by courier to Schulenburg in Moscow.

It would be important for us to know whether the remarks made to Astakhov and Babarin have met with any response in Moscow. If you see an opportunity of arranging a further conversation with Molotov, please sound him out on the same lines. If this results in Molotov abandoning the reserve he has so far maintained you could go a step further ... This applies in particular to the Polish problem. We would be prepared, however the Polish problem may develop ... to safeguard all Soviet interests and to come to an understanding with the Government in Moscow. In the Baltic question, too, if the talks took a positive course, the idea could be advanced of so adjusting our attitude to the Baltic States as to respect vital Soviet interests in the Baltic Sea. [79]

Two days later, on July 31, the State Secretary wired Schulenburg "urgent and secret":

With reference to our dispatch of July 29, arriving in Moscow by courier today:

Please report by telegram the date and time of your next interview with Molotov as soon as it is fixed.

We are anxious for an early interview. [80]

For the first time a note of urgency crept into the dispatches from Berlin to Moscow.

There was good reason for Berlin's sense of urgency. On July 23, France and Britain had finally agreed to Russia's proposal that militarystaff talks be held at once to draw up a military convention which would spell out specifically how Hitler's armies were to be met by the three nations. Although Chamberlain did not announce this agreement until July 31, when he made it to the House of Commons, the Germans got wind of it earlier. On July 28 Ambassador von Welczeck in Paris wired Berlin that he had learned from "an unusually well-informed source" that France and Britain were dispatching military missions to Moscow and that the French group would be headed by General Doumenc, whom he described as being "a particularly capable officer" and a former Deputy Chief of Staff under General Maxime Weygand. [81] It was the German ambassador's impression, as he stated in a supplementary dispatch two days later, that Paris and London had agreed to military-staff talks as a last means of preventing the adjournment of the Moscow negotiations. [82]

It was a well-founded impression. As the confidential British Foreign Office papers make clear, the political talks in Moscow had reached an impasse by the last week in July largely over the impossibility of reaching a definition of "indirect aggression." To the British and French the Russian interpretation of that term was so broad that it might be used to justify Soviet intervention in Finland and the Baltic States even if there were no serious Nazi threat, and to this London at least -- the French were prepared to be more accommodating -- would not agree.

Also, on June 2 the Russians had insisted that a military agreement setting down in detail the "methods, form and extent" of the military help which the three countries were to give each other should come into force at the same time as the mutual-assistance pact itself. The Western Powers, which did not think highly of Russia's military prowess, [xxxiii] tried to put Molotov off. They would only agree to starting staff talks after the political agreement had been signed. But the Russians were adamant. When the British tried to strike a bargain, offering on July 17 to begin staff conversations at once if the Soviet Union would yield on its insistence on signing political and military agreements simultaneously and also -- for good measure -- accept the British definition of "indirect aggression," Molotov answered with a blunt rejection. Unless the French and British agreed to political and military agreements in one package, he said, there was no point in continuing the negotiations. This Russian threat to end the talks caused consternation in Paris, which seems to have been more acutely aware than London of the course of Soviet-Nazi flirtations, and it was largely due to French pressure that the British government, on August 23, while refusing to accept the Russian proposals on "indirect aggression," reluctantly agreed to negotiate a military convention. [84]

Chamberlain was less than lukewarm to the whole business of staff talks. [xxxiv] On August 1 Ambassador von Dirksen in London informed Berlin that the military negotiations with the Russians were "regarded skeptically" in British government circles.

This is borne out [he wrote] by the composition of the British Military Mission.  [xxxv] The Admiral ... is practically on the retired list and was never on the Naval Staff. The General is also purely a combat officer. The Air Marshal is outstanding as a pilot and an instructor, but not as a strategist. This seems to indicate that the task of the Military Mission is rather to ascertain the fighting value of the Soviet forces than to conclude agreements on operations ... The Wehrmacht attaches are agreed in observing a surprising skepticism in British military circles about the forthcoming talks with the Soviet armed forces. [86]

Indeed, so skeptical was the British government that it neglected to give Admiral Drax written authority to negotiate -- an oversight, if it was that, which Marshal Voroshilov complained about when the staff officers first met. The Admiral's credentials did not arrive until August 21, when they were no longer of use.

But if Admiral Drax had no written credentials he certainly had secret written instructions as to the course he was to take in the military talks in Moscow. As the British Foreign Office papers much later revealed, the Admiral was admonished to "go very slowly with the [military] conversations, watching the progress of the political negotiations," until a political agreement had been concluded. [87] It was explained to him that confidential military information could not be imparted to the Russians until the political pact was signed.

But since the political conversations had been suspended on August 2 and Molotov had made it clear that he would not assent to their being renewed until the military talks had made some progress, the conclusion can scarcely be escaped that the Chamberlain government was quite prepared to take its time in spelling out the military obligations of each country in the proposed mutual-assistance pact. [xxxvi] In fact the confidential British Foreign Office documents leave little doubt that, by the beginning of August, Chamberlain and Halifax had almost given up hope of reaching an agreement with the Soviet Union to stop Hitler but thought that if they stretched out the staff negotiations in Moscow this might somehow deter the German dictator from taking, during the next four weeks, the fatal step toward war. [xxxvii]

In contrast to the British and French, the Russians placed on their military mission the highest officers of their armed forces: Marshal Voroshilov, who was Commissar for Defense, General Shaposhnikov, Chief of the General Staff of the Red Army, and the commanders in chief of the Navy and Air Force. The Russians could not help noting that whereas the British had sent the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir Edmund Ironside, to Warsaw in July for military talks with the Polish General Staff, they did not consider sending this ranking British officer to Moscow.

It cannot be said that the Anglo-French military missions were exactly rushed to Moscow. A plane would have got them there in a day. But they were sent on a slow boat -- a passenger-cargo vessel -- which took as long to get them to Russia as the Queen Mary could have conveyed them to America. They sailed for Leningrad on August 5 and did not arrive in Moscow until August 11.

By that time it was too late. Hitler had beaten them to it.

While the British and French military officers were waiting for their slow boat to Leningrad the Germans were acting swiftly. August 3 was a crucial day in Berlin and Moscow.

At 12:58 P.M. on that day Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop, who invariably left the sending of telegrams to State Secretary von Weizsaecker, got off on his own a wire marked "Secret -- Most Urgent" to Schulenburg in Moscow.

Yesterday I had a lengthy conversation with Astakhov, on which a telegram follows.

1expressed the German wish for remolding German-Russian relations and stated that from the Baltic to the Black Sea there was no problem which could not be solved to our mutual satisfaction. In response to Astakhov's desire for more concrete conversations on topical questions ... I declared myself ready for such conversations if the Soviet Government would inform me through Astakhov that they also desired to place German-Russian relations on a new and definitive basis. [89]

It was known at the Foreign Office that Schulenburg was seeing Molotov later in the day. An hour after Ribbentrop's telegram was dispatched, Weizsaecker got off one of his own, also marked "Secret -- Most Urgent."

In view of the political situation and in the interests of speed, we are anxious, without prejudice to your conversation with Molotov today, to continue in more concrete terms in Berlin the conversations on harmonizing German-Soviet intentions. To this end Schnurre will receive Astakhov today and will tell him that we would be ready for a continuation on more concrete terms. [90]

Though Ribbentrop's sudden desire for "concrete" talks on everything from the Baltic to the Black Sea must have surprised the Russians -- at one point, as he informed Schulenburg in his following telegram which was sent at 3:47 P.M., he "dropped a gentle hint [to Astakhov] at our coming to an understanding with Russia on the fate of Poland" -- the Foreign Minister emphasized to his ambassador in Moscow that he had told the Russian charge that "we were in no hurry." [91]

This was bluff, and the sharp-minded Soviet charge called it when he saw Schnurre at the Foreign Office at 12:45 P.M. He remarked that while Schnurre seemed to be in a hurry, the German Foreign Minister the previous day "had shown no such urgency." Schnurre rose to the occasion.

I told M. Astakhov [he noted in a secret memorandum]92 that though the Foreign Minister last night had not shown any urgency to the Soviet Government, we nevertheless thought it expedient to make use of the next few days [xxxviii] for continuing the conversations in order to establish a basis as quickly as possible.

For the Germans, then, it had come down to a matter of the next few days. Astakhov told Schnurre that he had received "a provisional answer" from Molotov to the German suggestions. It was largely negative. While Moscow too desired an improvement in relations, "Molotov said," he reported, "that so far nothing concrete was known of Germany's attitude."

The Soviet Foreign Commissar conveyed his ideas directly to Schulenburg in Moscow that evening. The ambassador reported in a long dispatch filed shortly after midnight [93] that in a talk lasting an hour and a quarter Molotov had "abandoned his habitual reserve and appeared unusually open." There seems no doubt of that. For after Schulenburg had reiterated Germany's view that no differences existed between the two countries "from the Baltic to the Black Sea" and reaffirmed the German wish to "come to an understanding," the unbending Russian Minister enumerated some of the hostile acts that the Reich had committed against the Soviet Union: the Anti-Comintern Pact, support of Japan against Russia and the exclusion of the Soviets from Munich.

"How," asked Molotov, "could the new German statements be reconciled with these three points? Proofs of a changed attitude of the German Government were for the present still lacking."

Schulenburg seems to have been somewhat discouraged.

My general impression [he telegraphed Berlin] is that the Soviet Government are at present determined to conclude an agreement with Britain and France, if they fulfill all Soviet wishes ... I believe that my statements made an impression on Molotov; it will nevertheless require considerable effort on our part to cause a reversal in the Soviet Government's course.

Knowledgeable though the veteran German diplomat was about Russian affairs, he obviously overestimated the progress in Moscow of the British and French negotiators. Nor did he yet realize the lengths to which Berlin was now prepared to go to make the "considerable effort" which he thought was necessary to reverse the course of Soviet diplomacy.

In the Wilhelmstrasse confidence grew that this could be accomplished. With Russia neutralized, Britain and France either would not fight for Poland or, if they did, would easily be held on the western fortifications until the Poles were quickly liquidated and the German Army could turn its full strength on the West.

The astute French charge d'affaires in Berlin, Jacques Tarbe de St.-Hardouin, noticed the change of atmosphere in the German capital. On the very day, August 3, when there was so much Soviet-German diplomatic activity in Berlin and Moscow, he reported to Paris: "In the course of the last week a very definite change in the political atmosphere has been observed in Berlin ... The period of embarrassment, hesitation, inclination to temporization or even to appeasement has been succeeded among the Nazi leaders by a new phase." [94]


It was different with Germany's allies, Italy and Hungary. As the summer progressed, the governments in Budapest and Rome became increasingly fearful that their countries would be drawn into Hitler's war on Germany's side.

On July 24 Count Teleki, Premier of Hungary, addressed identical letters to Hitler and Mussolini informing them that "in the event of a general conflict Hungary will make her policy conform to the policy of the Axis." Having gone so far, he then pulled back. On the same day he wrote the two dictators a second letter stating that "in order to prevent any possible misinterpretation of my letter of July 24, I ... repeat that Hungary could not, on moral grounds, be in a position to take armed action against Poland." [95]

The second letter from Budapest threw Hitler into one of his accustomed rages. When he received Count Csaky, the Hungarian Foreign Minister, at Obersalzberg on August 8, in the presence of Ribbentrop, he opened the conversation by stating that he had been "shocked" at the Hungarian Prime Minister's letter. He emphasized, according to the confidential memorandum drawn up for the Foreign Office, that he had never expected help from Hungary -- or from any other state -- "in the event of a German-Polish conflict." Count Teleki's letter, he added, "was impossible." And he reminded his Hungarian guest that it was due to Germany's generosity that Hungary had been able to regain so much territory at the expense of Czechoslovakia. Were Germany to be defeated in war, he said, "Hungary would be automatically smashed too."

The German memorandum of this conversation, which is among the captured Foreign Office documents, reveals Hitler's state of mind as the fateful month of August got under way. Poland, he said, presented no military problem at all for Germany. Nevertheless, he was reckoning from the start with a war on two fronts. "No power in the world," he boasted, "could penetrate Germany's western fortifications. Nobody in all my life has been able to frighten me, and that goes for Britain. Nor will I succumb to the oft-predicted nervous breakdown." As for Russia:

The Soviet Government would not fight against us ... The Soviets would not repeat the Czar's mistake and bleed to death for Britain. They would, however, try to enrich themselves, possibly at the expense of the Baltic States or Poland, without engaging in military action themselves.

So effective was Hitler's harangue that at the end of a second talk held the same day Count Csaky requested him "to regard the two letters written by Teleki as not having been written." He said he would also make the same request of Mussolini.

For some weeks the Duce had been worrying and fretting about the danger of the Fuehrer dragging Italy into war. Attolico, his ambassador in Berlin, had been sending increasingly alarming reports about Hitler's determination to attack Poland. [xxxix] Since early June Mussolini had been pressing for another meeting with Hitler and in July it was fixed for August 4 at the Brenner. On July 24 he presented to Hitler through Attolico "certain basic principles" for their discussion. If the Fuehrer considered war "inevitable," then Italy would stand by her side. But the Duce reminded him that a war with Poland could not be localized; it would become a European conflict. Mussolini did not think that this was the time for the Axis to start such a war. He proposed instead "a constructive peaceful policy over several years," with Germany settling her differences with Poland and Italy hers with France by diplomatic negotiation. He went further. He suggested another international conference of the Big Powers. [97]

The Fuehrer's reaction, as Ciano noted in his diary on July 26, was unfavorable, and Mussolini decided it might be best to postpone his meeting with Hitler. [98] He proposed instead, on August 7, that the foreign ministers of the two countries meet immediately. Ciano's diary notes during these days indicate the growing uneasiness in Rome. On August 6 he wrote:

We must find some way out. By following the Germans we shall go to war and enter it under the least favorable conditions for the Axis, and especially for Italy. Our gold reserves are reduced to almost nothing, as well as our stocks of metals ... We must avoid war. I propose to the Duce the idea of my meeting with Ribbentrop ... during which I would attempt to continue discussion of Mussolini's project for a world conference.

August 9. -- Ribbentrop has approved the idea of our meeting. I decided to leave tomorrow night in order to meet him at Salzburg. The Duce is anxious that I prove to the Germans, by documentary evidence, that the outbreak of war at this time would be folly.

August 10. -- The Duce is more than ever convinced of the necessity of delaying the conflict. He himself has worked out the outline of a report concerning the meeting at Salzburg which ends with an allusion to international negotiations to settle the problems that so dangerously disturb European life.

Before letting me go he recommends that I shall frankly inform the Germans that we must avoid a conflict with Poland since it will be impossible to localize it, and a general war would be disastrous for everybody. [99]

Armed with such commendable but, in the circumstances, naive thoughts and recommendations, the youthful Fascist Foreign Minister set out for Germany, where during the next three days -- August 11, 12 and 13 -- he received from Ribbentrop and especially from Hitler the shock of his life.


For some ten hours on August 11, Ciano conferred with Ribbentrop at the latter's estate at Fuschl, outside Salzburg, which the Nazi Foreign Minister had taken from an Austrian monarchist who, conveniently, had been put away in a concentration camp. The hot-blooded Italian found the atmosphere, as he later reported, cold and gloomy. During dinner at the White Horse Inn at St.Wolfgang not a word was exchanged between the two. It was scarcely necessary. Ribbentrop had informed his visitor earlier in the day that the decision to attack Poland was implacable.

"Well, Ribbentrop," Ciano says he asked, "what do you want? The Corridor or Danzig?"

"Not that any more," Ribbentrop replied, gazing at him with his cold, metallic eyes. "We want war!"

Ciano's arguments that a Polish conflict could not be localized, that if Poland were attacked the Western democracies would fight, were bluntly rejected. The day before Christmas Eve four years later -- 1943 -- when Ciano lay in Cell 27 of the Verona jail waiting execution at the instigation of the Germans, he still remembered that chilling day of August II at Fuschl and Salzburg. Ribbentrop, he wrote in his very last diary entry on December 23, 1943, had bet him "during one of those gloomy meals at the Oesterreichischer Hof in Salzburg" a collection of old German armor against an Italian painting that France and Britain would remain neutral -- a bet, he remarks ruefully, which was never paid. [100]

Ciano moved on to Obersalzberg, where Hitler during two meetings on August 12 and 13 reiterated that France and Britain would not fight. In contrast to the Nazi Foreign Minister, the Fuehrer was cordial, but he was equally implacable in his determination to go to war. This is evident not only from Ciano's reports but from the confidential German minutes of the meeting, which are among the captured documents. [101] The Italian Minister found Hitler standing before a large table covered with military staff maps. He began by explaining the strength of Germany's West Wall. It was, he said, impenetrable. Besides, he added scornfully, Britain could put only three divisions into France. France would have considerably more, but since Poland would be defeated "in a very short time," Germany could then concentrate 100 divisions in the west "for the life-and-death struggle which would then commence."

But would it? A few moments later, annoyed by Ciano's initial response, the Fuehrer was contradicting himself. The Italian Minister, as he had promised himself, spoke up to Hitler. According to the German minutes, he expressed "Italy's great surprise at the entirely unexpected gravity of the situation." Germany, he complained, had not kept her ally informed. "On the contrary," he said, "the Reich Foreign Minister had stated [at Milan and Berlin in May] that the Danzig question would be settled in due course." When Ciano went on to declare that a conflict with Poland would spread into a European war his host interrupted to say that he differed.

"I personally," said Hitler, "am absolutely convinced that the Western democracies will, in the last resort, recoil from unleashing a general war." To which Ciano replied (the German minutes add) "that he hoped the Fuehrer would prove right but he did not believe it." The Italian Foreign Minister then outlined in great detail Italy's weaknesses, and from his tale of woe, as the Germans recorded it, Hitler must have been finally convinced that Italy would be of little help to him in the coming war. [xl] One of Mussolini's reasons, Ciano said, for wanting to postpone the war was that he "attached great importance to holding, according to plan, the World Exhibition of 1942" -- a remark that must have astounded the Fuehrer, lost as he was in his military maps and calculations. He must have been equally astounded when Ciano naively produced the text of a communique, which he urged to be published, stating that the meeting of the Axis ministers had "reaffirmed the peaceful intentions of their governments" and their belief that peace could be maintained "through normal diplomatic negotiations." Ciano explained that the Duce had in mind a peace conference of the chief European nations but that out of deference to "the Fuehrer's misgivings" he would settle for ordinary diplomatic negotiations.

Hitler did not, the first day, turn down completely the idea of a conference but reminded Ciano that "Russia could no longer be excluded from future meetings of the powers." This was the first mention of the Soviet Union but it was not the last.

Finally when Ciano tried to pin his host down as to the date of the attack on Poland Hitler replied that because of the autumn rains, which would render useless his armored and motorized divisions in a country with few paved roads, the "settlement with Poland would have to be made one way or the other by the end of August."

At last Ciano had the date. Or the last possible date, for a moment later Hitler was storming that if the Poles offered any fresh provocation he was determined "to attack Poland within forty-eight hours." Therefore, he added, "a move against Poland must be expected any moment." That outburst ended the first day's talks except for Hitler's promise to think over the Italian proposals.

Having given them twenty-four hours' thought, he told Ciano the next day that it would be better if no communique of any kind were issued about their talks. [xli] Because of the expected bad weather in the fall

it was of decisive importance, firstly [he said], that within the shortest possible time Poland should make her intentions plain, and secondly, that no further acts of provocation of any sort should be tolerated by Germany.

When Ciano inquired as to "what the shortest possible time" was, Hitler replied, "By the end of August at the latest." While it would take only a fortnight, he explained, to defeat Poland, the "final liquidation" would require a further two to four weeks -- a remarkable forecast of timing, as it turned out.

Finally, at the end, Hitler uttered his customary flattery of Mussolini, whom Ciano must have convinced him he could no longer count on. He personally felt fortunate, he declared, "to live at a time when, apart from himself, there was another statesman living who would stand out in history as a great and unique figure. It was a source of great personal happiness that he could be a friend of this man. When the hour struck for the common fight he would always be found at the side of the Duce, come what may."

However much the strutting Mussolini might be impressed by such words, his son-in-law was not. "I return to Rome," he wrote in his diary on August 13, after the second meeting with Hitler, "completely disgusted with the Germans, with their leader, with their way of doing things. They have betrayed us and lied to us. Now they are dragging us into an adventure which we have not wanted and which might compromise the regime and the country as a whole."

But Italy at the moment was the least of Hitler's concerns. His thoughts were concentrating on Russia. Toward the end of the meeting with Ciano, on August 12, a "telegram from Moscow," as the German minutes put it, was handed to the Fuehrer. The conversation was interrupted for a few moments while Hitler and Ribbentrop perused it. They then informed Ciano of its contents.

"The Russians," Hitler said, "have agreed to a German political negotiator being sent to Moscow."



i. See above, p. 428. The three "contingencies" were the liquidation of the rest of Czechoslovakia, occupation of Memel and protection of the Reich's frontiers.

ii. Italics in the original.

iii. See above, p. 212.

iv. See above, pp. 212-13.

v. As a result of that war, Poland pushed its eastern boundary 150 miles east of the  ethnographic Curzon Line, at the expense of the Soviet Union -- a frontier which  transferred four and a half million Ukrainians and one and a half million White  Russians to Polish rule. Thus Poland's western and eastern borders were unacceptable  to Germany and Russia respectively -- a fact which seems to have been lost  sight of in the Western democracies when Berlin and Moscow began to draw together  in the summer of 1939.
vi. "I must confess," Chamberlain wrote in a private letter on March 26, "to the  most profound distrust of Russia. I have no belief whatever in her ability to maintain  an effective offensive, even if she wanted to. And 1 distrust her motives ...  Moreover, she is both hated and suspected by many of the smaller states, notably  by Poland, Rumania and Finland." (Feiling. The Life of Neville Chamberlain,  p. 603.)

vii. See above, pp. 428-29.
viii. In the telegram of instructions to Kennard [18] it was made clear that Russia was to be left out in the cold. "It is becoming clear," it said, "that our attempts to consolidate the situation will be frustrated if the Soviet Union is openly associated with the initiation of the scheme. Recent telegrams from a number of His Majesty's Missions abroad have warned us that the inclusion of Russia would not only jeopardise the success of our constructive effort but also tend to consolidate the relations of the parties to the Anti-Comintern Pact, as well as excite anxiety among a number of friendly governments."

ix.  See above, p. 454.

x. Chamberlain could not have been ignorant of Poland's military weakness. Colonel Sword, the British military attache in Warsaw, had sent to London a week before, on March 22, a long report on the disastrous strategic position of Poland, "bounded on three sides by Germany," and on the deficiencies of the Polish armed forces, especially in modern arms and equipment. [20]

On April 6, while Colonel Beck was in London discussing a mutual-assistance pact, Colonel Sword and also the British air attache in Warsaw, Group Captain Vachell, sent fresh reports which were even less hopeful. Vachell emphasized that during the next twelve months the Polish Air Force would have "no more than about 600 aircraft, many of which are no match for German aircraft." Sword reported that the Polish Army and Air Force were both so lacking in modern equipment that they could put up only a limited resistance to an all-out German attack. Ambassador Kennard, summing up his attaches' reports, informed London that the Poles would be unable to defend the Corridor or the western frontier against Germany and would have to fall back on the Vistula in the heart of Poland. "A friendly Russia," he added, was "thus of paramount importance" for Poland. [21]
xi. Actually, the relay of the broadcast to the American radio networks was cut off  after Hitler had begun to speak. This led to reports in New York that he had been  assassinated. I was in the control room of the short-wave section of the German  Broadcasting Company in Berlin, looking after the relay to the Columbia Broadcasting  System in New York, when the broadcast was suddenly shut off. To my  protests, German officials answered that the order had come from Hitler himself.  Within fifteen minutes CBS was telephoning me from New York to check on the  assassination report. I could easily deny it because through an open telephone  circuit to Wilhelmshaven I could hear Hitler shouting his speech. It would have  been difficult to shoot the Fuehrer that day because he spoke behind a bulletproof  glass enclosure.
xii. On the day of the speech Weizsaecker wired Hans Thomsen, German charge in Washington, instructing him to give the Fuehrer's address the widest possible publicity in the United States and assuring him that extra funds would be provided for the purpose. On May I Thomsen replied, "Interest in speech surpasses anything so far known. I have therefore directed that the English text printed here is to be sent ... to tens of thousands of addressees of all classes and callings, in accordance with the agreed plan. Claim for costs to follow." [26]
xiii. Hitler was careful to use the Gaelic word for Prime Minister.
xiv. See above, p. 427.
xv. Though an Associated Press dispatch from Moscow (published in the New York  Times March 12) reported that Stalin's condemnation of efforts to embroil Russia  in a war with Germany had led to talk in diplomatic circles in Moscow of the possibility  of a rapprochement between the Soviet Union and Germany, Sir William  Seeds, the British ambassador, apparently did not participate in any such talk. In  his dispatch reporting Stalin's speech Seeds made no mention of such a possibility. One Western diplomat, Joseph E. Davies, former American ambassador in Moscow, who was now stationed in Brussels, did draw the proper conclusions from Stalin's speech. "It is a most significant statement," he noted in his diary on March II. "It bears the earmarks of a definite warning to the British and French governments that the Soviets are getting tired of 'nonrealistic' opposition to the aggressors. This ... is really ominous for the negotiations ... between the British Foreign Office and the Soviet Union. It certainly is the most significant danger signal that I have yet seen." On March 21 he wrote to Senator Key Pittman: "... Hitler is making a desperate effort to alienate Stalin from France and Britain. Unless the British and French wake up, I am afraid he will succeed." [32]

xvi. See above, p. 460.

xvii. In explaining to the Soviet ambassador in London, Ivan Maisky, on March 19 why the Russian proposal for a conference, preferably at Bucharest, was "not acceptable," Lord Halifax said that no Minister of the Crown could be spared for the moment to go to Bucharest. It is obvious that this rebuff soured the Russians in the subsequent negotiations with the British and French. Maisky later told Robert Boothby, a Conservative M.P., that the rejection of the Russian proposal had been "another smashing blow at the policy of effective collective security" and that it had decided the fate of Litvinov. [33]
xviii. If some credence can be cautiously given to the published journal of Litvinov (Notes for a Journal), Stalin had been contemplating such a change since Munich, from which the Soviet Union had been excluded. Toward the end of 1938, according to an entry in this journal, Stalin told Litvinov that "we are prepared to come to an agreement with the Germans ... and also to render Poland harmless." In January 1939 the Foreign Commissar noted: "It would appear they have decided to remove me." In the same entry he reveals that all his communications with the Soviet Embassy in Berlin must now go through Stalin and that Ambassador Merekalov, on Stalin's instructions, is about to begin negotiations with Weizsaecker in  order to let Hitler know "in effect: 'We couldn't come to an agreement until now,  but now we can.''' The Journal is a somewhat dubious book. Professor Edward  Hallett Carr, a British authority on the Soviet Union, investigated it and found that  though undoubtedly it had been touched up to a point where some of it was "pure  fiction," a large part of it fairly represents Litvinov's outlook.
 xix. Ciano's diary for May 22 is full of titbits about Hitler and his weird entourage.  Frau Goebbels complained that the Fuehrer kept his friends up all night and exclaimed,  "It is always Hitler who talks! He repeats himself and bores his guests."  Ciano also heard hints "of the Fuehrer's tender feelings for a beautiful girl. She is  twenty years old, with beautiful quiet eyes, regular features and a magnificent body.  Her name is Sigrid von Lappus. They see each other frequently and intimately."  (The Ciano Diaries, p. 85.) Ciano, a great man with the ladies himself, was obviously intrigued.  Apparently he had not yet heard of Eva Braun. Hitler's mistress,  who was rarely permitted at this time to come to Berlin.
xx. See above, p. 305.
xxi. Emphasis in the original.

xxii. Emphasis in the original.

xxiii. Hiller's understanding of the Battle of Jutland was obviously faulty.
 xxiv. See above, p. 308.
xxv. In giving these tonnages for German battleships, General Thomas was deceiving  even the Foreign Office. An interesting German naval document51 dated more  than a year before, February 18, 1938, notes that false figures on battleship tonnage  had been furnished the British government under the Anglo-German naval agreement.  It states that the actual tonnage of the 26,000 -- ton ships was 31,300 tons;  that of the 35,000 -- ton battleships (the top level in the British and American navies)  was actually 41,700 tons. It is a curious example of Nazi deceit.
xxvi. On May 27, the British ambassador and the French charge d'affaires in Moscow  presented Molotov with an Anglo-French draft of the proposed pact. To the surprise  of the Western envoys, Molotov took a very cool view of it. [52]
xxvii. See above, pp. 481-82.

xxviii. The affidavit was rejected as evidence by the tribunal and is not published in the Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression or Trial of the Major War Criminals volumes of the Nuremberg evidence. This does not detract from its authenticity. All material dealing with Nazi-Soviet collaboration during this period was handled gingerly by the tribunal, one of whose four judges was a Russian.

  xix. In Nazi-Soviet Relations, a volume of German Foreign Office documents on that  subject published by the U.S. State Department in 1949, the English translation  of the telegram came out much stronger. The key sentence was given as: "We  have now decided to undertake definite negotiations with the Soviet Union." This  has led many historians, including Churchill, to conclude that this telegram of  May 30 marked the decisive turning point in Hitler's efforts to make a deal with  Moscow. That turning point came later. As Weizsaecker pointed out in the May 30  postscript to his letter to Schulenburg, the German approach, which Hitler had  approved, was to be "a very much modified one."
 xxx. To try to forestall an Anglo-French-Russian guarantee of Latvia and Estonia,  which bordered on the Soviet Union, Germany had hastily signed nonaggression  pacts with these two Baltic States on June 7. Even before this, on May 31, Germany  had pushed through a similar pact with Denmark, which, considering recent  events, appears to have given the Danes an astonishing sense of security.
xxxi. According to the British Foreign Office papers, Halifax told Maisky on June 8  that he had thought of suggesting to the Prime Minister that he should go to Moscow,  "but it was really impossible to get away." Maisky, on June 12, after Strang  had left, suggested to Halifax that it would be a good idea for the Foreign Secretary  to go to Moscow "when things were quieter," but Halifax again stressed the impossibility of  his being absent from London "for the present." [65]
xxxii. On June 19 the High Command of the Army had informed the Foreign Office  that 168 German Army officers "have been granted permission to travel through  the Free State of Danzig in civilian clothes on a tour for study purposes." Early in  July General Keitel inquired of the Foreign Office "whether it is politically advisable  to show in public the twelve light and four heavy guns which are in Danzig  and to let exercises be carried out with them, or whether it is better to conceal the  presence of these guns." [72] How the Germans succeeded in smuggling in heavy  artillery past the Polish inspectors is not revealed in the German papers.
xxxiii. See above, p. 495.
xxxiv. The British High Command, like the German later, grossly underestimated the  potential strength of the Red Army. This may have been due in large part to the  reports it received from its military attaches in Moscow. On March 6, for instance,  Colonel Firebrace, the military attache, and Wing Commander Hallawell, the air  attache, had filed long reports to London to the effect that while the defensive capabilities  of the Red Army and Air Force were considerable they were incapable of  mounting a serious offensive. Hallawell thought that the Russian Air Force, "like  the Army, is likely to be brought to a standstill as much by the collapse of essential  services as by enemy action." Firebrace found that the purge of higher officers had  severely weakened the Red Army. But he did point out to London that "the Red  Army considers war inevitable and is undoubtedly being strenuously prepared for  it." [83]
xxxv. Strang, negotiating with Molotov in Moscow, was even cooler. "It is, indeed, extraordinary," he wrote the Foreign Office on July 20, "that we should be expected to talk military secrets with the Soviet Government before we are sure that they will be our allies."

The Russian view was just the opposite and was put by Molotov to the Anglo-French negotiators on July 27: "The important point was to see how many divisions each party would contribute to the common cause and where they would be located." [85] Before the Russians committed themselves politically they wanted to know how much military help they could expect from the West.

xxxvi. The British mission consisted of Admiral Sir Reginald Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, who had been Commander in Chief, Plymouth, 1935-1938, Air Marshal Sir Charles Burnett and Major General Heywood.
xxxvii. A conclusion reached by Arnold Toynbee and his collaborators in their book, The Eve of War, 1939, based largely on the British Foreign Office documents. See p. 482.

xxxviii. On August 16, Air Marshal Sir Charles Burnett wrote to London from Moscow: "I understand it is the Government's policy to prolong negotiations as long as possible If we cannot get acceptance of a treaty." Seeds, the British ambassador in Moscow, had wired London on July 24, the day after his government agreed to staff talks: "I am not optimistic as to the success of military conversations, nor do I think they can in any case be rapidly concluded, but to begin with them now would give a healthy shock to the Axis Powers and a fillip to our friends, while they might be prolonged sufficiently to tide over the next dangerous few months." [88] In view of what Anglo-French intelligence knew of the meetings of Molotov with the German ambassador, of German efforts to interest Russia in a new partition of Poland -- which Coulondre had warned Paris of as early as May 7 (see above, p. 482), of massive German troop concentrations on the Polish border, and of Hitler's intentions, this British trust in stalling in Moscow is somewhat startling.
xxxix. Emphasis in the original document.

xl. Typical was a vivid report Attolico sent of a talk he had with Ribbentrop on July 6. If Poland dared to attack Danzig, the Nazi Foreign Minister told him, Germany would settle the Danzig question in forty-eight hours -- at Warsaw! If France were to intervene over Danzig, and so precipitate a general war, let her; Germany would like nothing better. France would be "annihilated"; Britain, if she stirred, would be bringing destruction on the British Empire. Russia? There was going to be a Russian-German treaty, and Russia was not going to march. America? One speech of the Fuehrer's had been enough to rout Roosevelt; and Americans would not stir anyway. Fear of Japan would keep America quiet.

I listened [Attolico reported] in wondering silence, while Ribbentrop drew this picture of the war ad usum Germaniae which his imagination has now established indelibly in his head ... He can see nothing but his version -- which is a really amazing one -- of an assured German victory in every field and against all comers ... At the end, I observed that, according to my understanding, there was complete agreement between the Duce and the Fuehrer that Italy and Germany were preparing for a war that was not to be immediate. [96]

But the astute Attolico did not believe that at all. All through July his dispatches warned of imminent German action in Poland.
xli. At one point, Ribbentrop, with obvious exasperation, told Ciano, "We don't need  you!"; to which Ciano replied, "The future will show." (From General Halder's  unpublished diary, entry of August 14. [102] Halder says he got it through Weizsaecker.)
xlii. Though the German minutes explicitly state that Ciano agreed with Hitler "that  no communique should be issued at the conclusion of the conversation," the Germans  immediately double-crossed their Italian ally. D.N.B., the official German  news agency, issued a communique two hours after Ciano's departure and without  any consultation whatever with the Italians, that the talks had covered all the  problems of the day -- with particular attention to Danzig -- and had resulted in a  "hundred per cent" agreement. So much so, the communique added, that not a  single problem had been left in suspense, and therefore there would be no further  meetings, because there was no occasion for them. Attolico was furious. He protested  to the Germans, accusing them of bad faith. He tipped off Henderson that  war was imminent. And in an angry dispatch to Rome he described the German  communique as "Machiavellian," pointed out that it was deliberately done to bind  Italy to Germany after the latter's attack on Poland and pleaded that Mussolini  should be firm with Hitler in demanding German fulfillment of the "consultation"  provisions of the Pact of Steel and under these provisions insist on a month's grace  to settle the Danzig question through diplomatic channels. [103]
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Wed Feb 07, 2018 10:07 pm

Part 1 of 2


THE "TELEGRAM FROM MOSCOW" whose contents Hitler disclosed to Ciano at Obersalzberg on the afternoon of August 12 appears to have been, like certain previous "telegrams" which have figured in this narrative, of doubtful origin. No such wire from the Russian capital has been found in the German archives. Schulenburg did send a telegram to Berlin from Moscow on the twelfth, but it merely reported the arrival of the Franco-British military missions and the friendly toasts exchanged between the Russians and their guests.

Yet there was some basis for the "telegram" with which Hitler and Ribbentrop had so obviously tried to impress Ciano. On August 12 a teleprint was sent to Obersalzberg from the Wilhelmstrasse reporting the results of a call which the Russian charge had made on Schnurre in Berlin on that day. Astakhov informed the Foreign Office official that Molotov was now ready to discuss the questions raised by the Germans, including Poland and other political matters. The Soviet government proposed Moscow as the place of these negotiations. But, Astakhov made it clear, they were not to be hurried. He stressed, Schnurre noted in his report, which apparently was rushed to Obersalzberg, "that the chief emphasis in his instructions from Molotov lay in the phrase 'by degrees' ... The discussions could be undertaken only by degrees." [1]

But Adolf Hitler could not wait for negotiations with Russia "by degrees." As he had just revealed to a shocked Ciano, he had set the last possible date for the onslaught on Poland for September 1, and it was now almost the middle of August. If he were to successfully sabotage the Anglo-French parleys with the Russians and swing his own deal with Stalin, it had to be done quickly -- not by stages but in one big leap.

Monday, August 14, was another crucial day. While Ambassador von der Schulenburg, who obviously had not yet been taken fully into the confidence of Hitler and Ribbentrop, was writing Weizsaecker from Moscow advising him that Molotov was "a strange man and a difficult character" and that "I am still of the opinion that any hasty measures in our relations with the Soviet Union should be avoided," he was being sent a "most urgent" telegram from Berlin.2 It came from Ribbentrop and it was dispatched from the Wilhelmstrasse (the Foreign Minister was still at Fuschl) at 10:53 P.M. on August 14. It directed the German ambassador to call upon Molotov and read him a long communication "verbatim."

This, finally, was Hitler's great bid. German-Russian relations, said Ribbentrop, had "come to a historic turning point ... There exist no real conflicts of interests between Germany and Russia ... It has gone well with both countries previously when they were friends and badly when they were enemies."

The crisis which has been produced in Polish-German relations by English policy [Ribbentrop continued] and the attempts at an alliance which are bound up with that policy, make a speedy clarification of German-Russian relations necessary. Otherwise matters ... might take a turn which would deprive both Governments of the possibility of restoring German-Russian friendship and in due course clarifying jointly territorial questions in Eastern Europe. The leadership of both countries, therefore, should not allow the situation to drift, but should take action at the proper time. It would be fatal if, through mutual ignorance of views and intentions, the two peoples should finally drift apart.

The German Foreign Minister, "in the name of the Fuehrer," was therefore prepared to act in proper time.

As we have been informed, the Soviet Government also feel the desire for a clarification of German-Russian relations. Since, however, according to previous experience this clarification can be achieved only slowly through the usual diplomatic channels, I am prepared to make a short visit to Moscow in order, in the name of the Fuehrer, to set forth the Fuehrer's views to M. Stalin. In my view, only through such a direct discussion can a change be brought about, and it should not be impossible thereby to lay the foundations for a final settlement of German-Russian relations.

The British Foreign Secretary had not been willing to go to Moscow, but now the German Foreign Minister was not only willing but anxious to go -- a contrast which the Nazis calculated quite correctly would make an impression on the suspicious Stalin. [i] The Germans saw that it was highly important to get their message through to the Russian dictator himself. Ribbentrop therefore added an "annex" to his urgent telegram.

I request [Ribbentrop advised Schulenburg] that you do not give M. Molotov these instructions in writing, but that they reach M. Stalin in as exact a form as possible and I authorize you, if the occasion arises, to request from M. Molotov on my behalf an audience with M. Stalin, so that you may be able to make this important communication directly to him also. In addition to a conference with Molotov, a detailed discussion with Stalin would be a condition for my making the trip. [3]

There was a scarcely disguised bait in the Foreign Minister's proposal which the Germans, not without reason, must have thought the Kremlin would rise to. Reiterating that "there is no question between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea which cannot be settled to the complete satisfaction of both counties," Ribbentrop specified "the Baltic States, Poland, southeastern questions, etc." And he spoke of the necessity of "clarifying jointly territorial questions of Eastern Europe."

Germany was ready to divide up Eastern Europe, including Poland, with the Soviet Union. This was a bid which Britain and France could not -- and, obviously, if they could, would not -- match. And having made it, Hitler, apparently confident that it would not be turned down, once more -- on the same day, August 14 -- called in the commanders in chief of his armed forces to listen to him lecture on the plans and prospects for war.


"The great drama," Hitler told his select listeners, "is now approaching its climax." While political and military successes could not be had without taking risks, he was certain that Great Britain and France would not fight. For one thing, Britain "has no leaders of real caliber. The men I got to know at Munich are not the kind that start a new world war." As at previous meetings with his military chiefs, the Fuehrer could not keep his mind off England and he spoke in considerable detail of her strengths and weaknesses, especially the latter.

England [Halder noted down the words], unlike in 1914, will not allow herself to blunder into a war lasting for years ... Such is the fate of rich countries. Not even England has the money nowadays to fight a world war. What should England fight for? You don't get yourself killed for an ally.

What military measures, Hitler asked, could Britain and France undertake?

Drive against the West Wall unlikely [he answered]. A northward swing through Belgium and Holland will not bring speedy victory. None of this would help the Poles.

All these factors argue against England and France entering the war ... There is nothing to force them into it. The men of Munich will not take the risk ... English and French general staffs take a very sober view of the prospects of an armed conflict and advise against it....

All this supports the conviction that while England may talk big, even recall her Ambassador, perhaps put a complete embargo on trade, she is sure not to resort to armed intervention in the conflict.

So Poland, probably, could be taken on alone, but she would have to be defeated "within a week or two," Hitler explained, so that the world could be convinced of her collapse and not try to save her.

Hitler was not quite ready to tell his generals just how far he was going that very day to make a deal with Russia, though it would have immensely pleased them, convinced as they were that Germany could not fight a major war on two fronts. But he told them enough to whet their appetite for more.

"Russia," he said, "is not in the least disposed to pull chestnuts out of the fire." He explained the "loose contacts" with Moscow which had started with the trade negotiations. He was now considering whether "a negotiator should go to Moscow and whether this should be a prominent figure." The Soviet Union, he declared, felt under no obligation to the West. The Russians understood the destruction of Poland. They were interested in a "delimitation of spheres of interest." The Fuehrer was "inclined to meet them halfway."

In all of Halder's voluminous shorthand notes on the meeting there is no mention that he, the Chief of the Army's General Staff, or General von Brauchitsch, its Commander in Chief, or Goering questioned the Fuehrer's course in leading Germany into a European conflict -- for despite Hitler's confidence it was by no means certain that France and Britain would not fight nor that Russia would stay out. In fact, exactly a week before, Goering had received a direct warning that the British would certainly fight if Germany attacked Poland.

Early in July a Swedish friend of his, Birger Dahlerus, had tried to convince rum that British public opinion would not stand for further Nazi aggression and when the Luftwaffe chief expressed his doubts had arranged for him to meet privately with a group of seven British businessmen on August 7 in Schleswig-Holstein, near the Danish border, where Dahlerus had a house. The British businessmen, both orally and in a written memorandum, did their best to persuade Goering that Great Britain would stand by its treaty obligations with Poland should Germany attack. Whether they succeeded is doubtful, though DaWerus, a businessman himself, thought so. [iii] This curious Swede, who was to playa certain role as a peacemaker between Germany and Britain in the next hectic weeks, certainly had high connections in Berlin and London. He had access to Downing Street, where on July 20 he had been received by Lord Halifax, with whom he discussed the coming meeting of British businessmen with Goering; and soon he would be called in by Hitler and Chamberlain themselves. But, though well-meaning in his quest to save the peace, he was naive and, as a diplomat, dreadfully amateurish. Years later at Nuremberg, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe, in a devastating cross-examination, led the Swedish diplomatic interloper to admit sadly that he had been badly misled by Goering and Hitler. [4]

And why did not General Halder, who had been the ringleader in the plot eleven months before to remove Hitler, speak up on August 14 to oppose the Fuehrer's determination to go to war? Or, if he thought that useless, why did he not renew plans to get rid of the dictator on the same grounds as just before Munich: that a war now would be disastrous for Germany? Much later, in his interrogation at Nuremberg, Halder would explain that even at mid-August 1939 he simply did not believe that Hitler would, in the end, risk war, regardless of what he said.5 Also, a diary entry of August 15, the day after the meeting with Hitler at the Berghof, shows that Halder did not believe that France and Britain would risk war either.

As for Brauchitsch, he was not the man to question what the Fuehrer planned to do. Hassell, who on August 15 learned of the military conference at the Obersalzberg from Gisevius, got word through to the Army chief that he was "absolutely convinced" that Britain and France would intervene if Germany invaded Poland. "Nothing can be done with him," Hassell noted sadly in his diary. "Either he is afraid or he doesn't understand what it is all about... . Nothing is to be hoped for from the generals ... Only a few have kept clear heads: Halder, Canaris, Thomas." [6]

Only General Thomas, the brilliant head of the Economic and Armaments Branch of OKW, dared to openly challenge the Fuehrer. A few days after the August 14 military conference, following a discussion with the now largely inactive conspirators Goerdeler, Beck and Schacht, General Thomas drew up a memorandum and personally read it to General Keitel, the Chief of OKW. A quick war and a quick peace were a complete illusion, he argued. An attack on Poland would unleash a world war and Germany lacked the raw materials and the food supplies to fight it. But Keitel, whose only ideas were those he absorbed from Hitler, scoffed at the very idea of a big war. Britain was too decadent, France too degenerate, America too uninterested, to fight for Poland, he said. [7]

And so as the second half of August 1939 began, the German military chiefs pushed forward with their plans to annihilate Poland and to protect the western Reich just in case the democracies, contrary to all evidence, did intervene. On August 15 the annual Nuremberg Party Rally, which Hitler on April I had proclaimed as the "Party Rally of Peace" and which was scheduled to begin the first week in September, was secretly canceled. A quarter of a million men were called up for the armies of the west. Advance mobilization orders to the railways were given. Plans were made to move Army headquarters to Zossen, east of Berlin. And on the same day, August 15, the Navy reported that the pocket battleships Graf Spee and Deutschland and twenty-one submarines were ready to sail for their stations in the Atlantic.

On August 17 General Halder made a strange entry in his diary: "Canaris checked with Section I [Operations]. Himmler, Heydrich, Obersalzberg: 150 Polish uniforms with accessories for Upper Silesia."

What did it mean? It was only after the war that it became clear. It concerned one of the most bizarre incidents ever arranged by the Nazis. Just as Hitler and his Army chiefs, it will be remembered, had considered cooking up an "incident," such as the assassination of the German minister, in order to justify their invading Austria and Czechoslovakia, so now they concerned themselves, as time began to run out, with concocting an incident which would, at least in their opinion, justify before the world the planned aggression against Poland.

The code name was "Operation Himmler" and the idea was quite simple -- and crude. The S.S. -- Gestapo would stage a faked attack on the German radio station at Gleiwitz, near the Polish border, using condemned concentration camp inmates outfitted in Polish Army uniforms. Thus Poland could be blamed for attacking Germany. Early in August Admiral Canaris, chief of the Abwehr Section of OKW, had received an order from Hitler himself to deliver to Himmler and Heydrich 150 Polish uniforms and some Polish small arms. This struck him as a strange business and on August 17 he asked General Keitel about it. While the spineless OKW Chief declared he did not think much of "actions of this kind," he nevertheless told the Admiral that "nothing could be done," since the order had come from the Fuehrer. [8] Repelled though he was, Canaris obeyed his instructions and turned the uniforms over to Heydrich.

The chief of the S.D. chose as the man to carry out the operation a young S.S. secret-service veteran by the name of Alfred Helmut Naujocks. This was not the first of such assignments given this weird individual nor would it be the last. Early in March of 1939, shortly before the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, Naujocks, at Heydrich's instigation, had busied himself running explosives into Slovakia, where they were used, as he later testified, to "create incidents."

Alfred Naujocks was a typical product of the S.S.-Gestapo, a sort of intellectual gangster. He had studied engineering at Kiel University, where he got his first taste of brawling with anti-Nazis; on one occasion he had his nose bashed in by Communists. He had joined the S.S. in 1931 and was attached to the S.D. from its inception in 1934. Like so many other young men around Heydrich he dabbled in what passed as intellectual pursuits in the S.S. -- "history" and "philosophy" especially while rapidly emerging as a tough young man (Skorzeny was another) who could be entrusted with the carrying out of the less savory projects dreamed up by Himmler and Heydrich. [iv] On October 19, 1944, Naujocks deserted to the Americans and at Nuremberg a year later made a number of sworn affidavits, in one of which he preserved for history the account of the "incident" which Hitler used to justify his attack on Poland.

On or about August 10, 1939, the chief of the S.D., Heydrich, personally ordered me to simulate an attack on the radio station near Gleiwitz near the Polish border [Naujocks related in an affidavit signed in Nuremberg November 20, 1945] and to make it appear that the attacking force consisted of Poles. Heydrich said: "Practical proof is needed for these attacks of the Poles for the foreign press as well as for German propaganda." ...

My instructions were to seize the radio station and to hold it long enough to permit a Polish-speaking German who would be put at my disposal to broadcast a speech in Polish. Heydrich told me that this speech should state that the time had come for conflict between Germans and Poles ... Heydrich also told me that he expected an attack on Poland by Germany in a few days.

I went to Gleiwitz and waited there fourteen days ... Between the 25th and 31st of August, I went to see Heinrich Mueller, head of the Gestapo, who was then nearby at Oppeln. In my presence, Mueller discussed with a man named Mehlhorn [v] plans for another border incident, in which it should be made to appear that Polish soldiers were attacking German troops ... Muel· ler stated that he had 12 to 13 condemned criminals who were to be dressed in Polish uniforms and left dead on the ground of the scene of the incident to show they had been killed while attacking. For this purpose they were to be given fatal injections by a doctor employed by Heydrich. Then they were also to be given gunshot wounds. After the incident members of the press and other persons were to be taken to the spot of the incident ...

Mueller told me he had an order from Heydrich to make one of those criminals available to me for the action at Gleiwitz. The code name by which he referred to these criminals was "Canned Goods." [9]

While Himmler, Heydrich and Mueller, at Hitler's command, were arranging for the use of "Canned Goods" to fake an excuse for Germany's aggression against Poland, the Fuehrer made his first decisive move to deploy his armed forces for a possibly bigger war. On August 19 -- another fateful day -- orders to sail were issued to the German Navy. Twenty-one submarines were directed to put out for positions north and northwest of the British Isles, the pocket battleship Gra! Spee to depart for waters off the Brazilian coast and her sister ship, the Deutschland, to take a position athwart the British sea lanes in the North Atlantic. [vi]

The date of the order to dispatch the warships for possible action against Britain is significant. For on August 19, after a hectic week of frantic appeals from Berlin, the Soviet government finally gave Hitler the answer he wanted.


Ambassador von der Schulenburg saw Molotov at 8 P.M. on August 15 and, as instructed, read to him Ribbentrop's urgent telegram stating that the Reich Foreign Minister was prepared to come to Moscow to settle Soviet-German relations. According to a "most urgent, secret" telegram which the German envoy got off to Berlin later that night, the Soviet Foreign Commissar received the information "with the greatest interest" and "warmly welcomed German intentions of improving relations with the Soviet Union." However, expert diplomatic poker player that he was, Molotov gave no sign of being in a hurry. Such a trip as Ribbentrop proposed, he suggested, "required adequate preparation in order that the exchange of opinions might lead to results."

What results? The wily Russian dropped some hints. Would the German government, he asked, be interested in a nonaggression pact between the two countries? Would it be prepared to use its influence with Japan to improve Soviet-Japanese relations and "eliminate border conflicts"? -- a reference to an undeclared war which had raged all summer on the Manchurian-Mongolian frontier. Finally, Molotov asked, how did Germany feel about a joint guarantee of the Baltic States?

All such matters, he concluded, "must be discussed in concrete terms so that, should the German Foreign Minister come here, it will not be a matter of an exchange of opinions but of making concrete decisions." And he stressed again that "adequate preparation of the problems is indispensable." [10]

The first suggestion, then, for a Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact came from the Russians -- at the very moment they were negotiating with France and Great Britain to go to war, if necessary, to oppose further German aggression. [vii] Hitler was more than willing to discuss such a pact "in concrete terms," since its conclusion would keep Russia out of the war and enable him to attack Poland without fear of Soviet mtcrvention. And with Russia out of the conflict he was convinced that Britain and France would get cold feet.

Molotov's suggestions were just what he had hoped for; they were more specific and went further than anything which he had dared to propose. There was only one difficulty. With August running out he could not wait for the slow Soviet tempo which was indicated by Molotov's insistence on "adequate preparation" for the Foreign Minister's visit to Moscow. Schulenburg's report on his conversation with Molotov was telephoned by the Wilhelmstrasse to Ribbentrop at Fuschl at 6:40 A.M. on August 16 and he hurried across the mountain to seek further instruction from the Fuehrer at Obersalzberg. By early afternoon they had drawn up a reply to Molotov and it was rushed off on the teleprinter to Weizsaecker in Berlin with instructions to wire it "most urgent" to Moscow immediately. [12]

The Nazi dictator accepted the Soviet suggestions unconditionally. Schulenburg was directed by Ribbentrop to see Molotov again and inform him

that Germany is prepared to conclude a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union and, if the Soviet Government so desire, one which would be undenounceable for a term of twenty-five years. Further, Germany is ready to guarantee the Baltic States jointly with the Soviet Union. Finally, Germany is prepared to exercise influence for an improvement and consolidation of Russian-Japanese relations.

All pretense was now dropped that the Reich government was not in a hurry to conclude a deal with Moscow.

The Fuehrer [Ribbentrop's telegram continued] is of the opinion that, in view of the present situation and of the possibility of the occurrence any day of serious events (please at this point explain to M. Molotov that Germany is determined not to endure Polish provocation indefinitely), a basic and rapid clarification of German-Russian relations, and of each country's attitude to the questions of the moment, is desirable.

For these reasons I am prepared to come by airplane to Moscow at any time after Friday, August 18, to deal, on the basis of full powers from the Fuehrer, with the entire complex of German-Russian relations and, if the occasion arises, to sign the appropriate treaties.

Again Ribbentrop added an "annex" of personal instructions to his ambassador.

I request that you again read these instructions word for word to Molotov and ask for the views of the Russian Government and of M. Stalin immediately. Entirely confidentially, it is added for your guidance that it would be of very special interest to us if my Moscow trip could take place at the end of this week or the beginning of next week.

The next day, on their mountaintop, Hitler and Ribbentrop waited impatiently for the response from Moscow. Telegraphic communication between Berlin and Moscow was by no means instantaneous -- a condition of affairs which did not seem to be realized in the rarefied atmosphere of the Bavarian Alps. By noon of the seventeenth, Ribbentrop was wiring Schulenburg "most urgent" requesting "a report by telegram regarding the time when you made your request to be received by Molotov and the time for which the conversation has been arranged." [13] By dinnertime the harassed ambassador was replying, also "most urgent," that he had only received the Foreign Minister's telegram at eleven the night before, that it was by then too late to conduct any diplomatic business and that first thing in the morning of today, August 17, he had made an appointment with Molotov for 8 P.M. [14]

For the now frantic Nazi leaders it turned out to be a disappointing meeting. Conscious of Hitler's eagerness and no doubt fully aware of the reasons for it, the Russian Foreign Commissar played with the Germans, teasing and taunting them. After Schulenburg had read to him Ribbentrop's telegram, Molotov, taking little note of its contents, produced the Soviet government's written reply to the Reich Foreign Minister's first communication of August 15.

Beginning acidly with a reminder of the Nazi government's previous hostility to Soviet Russia, it explained "that until very recently the Soviet Government have proceeded on the assumption that the German Government are seeking occasion for clashes with the Soviet Union ... Not to mention the fact that the German Government, by means of the so-called Anti-Comintern Pact, were endeavoring to create, and have created, the united front of a number of States against the Soviet Union." It was for this reason, the note explained, that Russia "was participating in the organization of a defensive front against [German] aggression."

If, however [the note continued], the German Government now undertake a change from the old policy in the direction of a serious improvement in political relations with the Soviet Union, the Soviet Government can only welcome such a change, and are, for their part, prepared to revise their policy in the sense of a serious improvement in respect of Germany.

But, the Russian note insisted, it must be "by serious and practical steps" -- not in one big leap, as Ribbentrop proposed.

What steps?

The first step: conclusion of a trade and credit agreement.

The second step, "to be taken shortly thereafter": conclusion of a nonaggression pact.

Simultaneously with the second step, the Soviets demanded the "conclusion of a special protocol defining the interests of the contracting parties in this or that question of foreign policy." This was more than a hint that in regard to dividing up Eastern Europe at least, Moscow was receptive to the German view that a deal was possible.

As for the proposed visit of Ribbentrop, Molotov declared that the Soviet government was "highly gratified" with the idea, "since the dispatch of such an eminent politician and statesman emphasized how serious were the intentions of the German Government. This stood," he added, "in noteworthy contrast to England, which, in the person of Strang, had sent only an official of second-class rank to Moscow. However, the journey by the German Foreign Minister required thorough preparation. The Soviet Government did not like the publicity that such a journey would cause. They preferred to do practical work without much fuss." [15]

Molotov made no mention of Ribbentrop's urgent, specific proposal that he come to Moscow over the weekend, and Schulenburg, perhaps somewhat taken aback by the course of the interview, did not press the matter.

The next day, after the ambassador's report had been received, Ribbentrop did. Hitler, it is obvious, was now growing desperate. From his summer headquarters on the Obersalzberg there went out on the evening of August 18 a further "most urgent" telegram to Schulenburg signed by Ribbentrop. It arrived at the German Embassy in Moscow at 5: 45 A.M. on the nineteenth and directed the ambassador to "arrange immediately another conversation with M. Molotov and do everything possible to see that it takes place without any delay." There was no time to lose. "I ask you," Ribbentrop wired, "to speak to M. Molotov as follows":

... We, too, under normal circumstances, would naturally be ready to pursue a realignment of German-Russian relations through diplomatic channels, and to carry it out in the customary way. But the present unusual situation makes it necessary, in the opinion of the Fuehrer, to employ a different method which would lead to quick results.

German-Polish relations are becoming more acute from day to day. We have to take into account that incidents might occur any day that would make the outbreak of open conflict unavoidable ... The Fuehrer considers it necessary that we be not taken by surprise by the outbreak of a German-Polish conflict while we are striving for a clarification of German-Russian relations. He therefore considers a previous clarification necessary. if only to be able to take into account Russian interests in case of such a conflict. which would, of course, be difficult without such a clarification.

The ambassador was to say that the "first stage" in the consultations mentioned by Molotov, the conclusion of the trade agreement, had been concluded in Berlin this very day (August 18) and that it was now time to "attack" the second stage. To do this the German Foreign Minister proposed his "immediate departure for Moscow," to which he would come "with full powers from the Fuehrer, authorizing me to settle fully and conclusively the total complex of problems." In Moscow, Ribbentrop added, he would "be in a position ... to take Russian wishes into account."

What wishes? The Germans now no longer beat around the bush.

I should also be in a position [Ribbentrop continued] to sign a special protocol regulating the interests of both parties in questions of foreign policy of one kind or another; for instance, the settlement of spheres of interest in the Baltic area. Such a settlement will only be possible, however, in an oral discussion.

This time the ambassador must not take a Russian "No."

Please emphasize [Ribbentrop concluded] that German foreign policy has today reached a historic turning point ... Please press for a rapid realization of my journey and oppose appropriately any fresh Russian objections. In this connection you must keep in mind the decisive fact that an early outbreak of open German-Polish conflict is possible and that we, therefore, have the greatest interest in having my visit to Moscow take place immediately. [16]

August 19 was the decisive day. Orders for the German submarines and pocket battleships to sail for British waters were being held up until word came from Moscow. The warships would have to get off at once if they were to reach their appointed stations by Hitler's target date for the beginning of the war, September l -- only thirteen days away. The two great army groups designated for the onslaught on Poland would have to be deployed immediately.

The tension in Berlin and especially on the Obersalzberg, where Hitler and Ribbentrop waited nervously for Moscow's decision, was becoming almost unbearable. The Foreign Office dispatches and memoranda that day disclosed the jittery feelings in the Wilhelmstrasse. Dr. Schnurre reported that the discussions with the Russians on the trade agreement had ended the previous evening "with complete agreement" but that the Soviets were stalling on signing it. The signature, he said, was to have taken place at noon this day, August 19, but at noon the Russians had telephoned saying they had to await instructions from Moscow. "It is obvious," Schnurre reported, "that they have received instructions from Moscow to delay the conclusion of the treaty for political reasons." [17] From the Obersalzberg, Ribbentrop wired Schulenburg "most urgent" to be sure to report anything Molotov said or any sign of "Russian intentions" by telegram, but the only wire received from the ambassador during the day was the text of a denial by Tass, the Soviet news agency, in Moscow that the negotiations between the Russian and Anglo-French military delegations had become snarled over the Far East. However, the Tass dementi added that there were differences between the delegations on "entirely different matters." This was a signal to Hitler that there was still time -- and hope.

And then at 7: 10 P.M. on August 19 came the anxiously awaited telegram:



The Soviet Government agree to the Reich Foreign Minister coming to Moscow one week after the announcement of the signature of the economic agreement. Molotov stated that if the conclusion of the economic agreement is made public tomorrow, the Reich Foreign Minister could arrive in Moscow on August 26 or 27.

Molotov handed me a draft of a nonaggression pact.

A detailed account of the two conversations I had with Molotov today, as well as the text of the Soviet draft, follows by telegram at once.


The first talk in the Kremlin, which began at 2 P.M. on the nineteenth and lasted an hour, did not, the ambassador reported, go very well. The Russians, it seemed, could not be stampeded into receiving Hitler's Foreign Minister. "Molotov persisted in his opinion," Schulenburg wired, "that for the present it was not possible even approximately to fix the time of the journey since thorough preparations would be required ... To the reasons I repeatedly and very emphatically advanced for the need of haste, Molotov rejoined that, so far, not even the first step -- the concluding of the economic agreement -- had been taken. First of all, the economic agreement had to be signed and published, and achieve its effect abroad. Then would come the turn of the nonaggression pact and protocol.

"Molotov remained apparently unaffected by my protests, so that the first conversation closed with a declaration by Molotov that he had imparted to me the views of the Soviet Government and had nothing to add to them."

But he had something, shortly.

"Hardly half an hour after the conversation had ended," Schulenburg reported, "Molotov sent me word asking me to call on him again at the Kremlin at 4:30 P.M. He apologized for putting me to the trouble and explained that he had reported to the Soviet Government."

Whereupon the Foreign Commissar handed the surprised but happy ambassador a draft of the nonaggression pact and told him that Ribbentrop could arrive in Moscow on August 26 or 27 if the trade treaty were signed and made public tomorrow.

"Molotov did not give reasons," Schulenburg added in his telegram, "for his sudden change of mind. I assume that Stalin intervened." [19]

The assumption was undoubtedly correct. According to Churchill, the Soviet intention to sign a pact with Germany was announced to the Politburo by Stalin on the evening of August 19. [20] A little earlier that day -- between 3 P.M. and 4:30 P.M. -- it is clear from Schulenburg's dispatch, he had communicated his fateful decision to Molotov.

Exactly three years later, in August 1942, "in the early hours of the morning," as Churchill later reported, the Soviet dictator gave to the British Prime Minister, then on a mission to Moscow, some of the reasons for his brazen move. [21]

We formed the impression [said Stalin] that the British and French Governments were not resolved to go to war if Poland were attacked, but that they hoped the diplomatic line-up of Britain, France and Russia would deter Hitler. We were sure it would not. "How many divisions," Stalin had asked, "will France send against Germany on mobilization?" The answer was: "About a hundred." He then asked: "How many will England send?" The answer was: "Two, and two more later." "Ah, two, and two more later," Stalin had repeated. "Do you know," he asked, "how many divisions we shall have to put on the Russian front if we go to war with Germany?" There was a pause. "More than three hundred."

In his dispatch reporting the outcome of his conversations with Molotov on August 19, Schulenburg had added that his attempt to induce the Foreign Commissar to accept an earlier date for Ribbentrop's journey to Moscow "was, unfortunately, unsuccessful."

But for the Germans it had to be made successful. The whole timetable for the invasion of Poland, indeed the question of whether the attack could take place at all in the brief interval before the autumn rains, depended upon it. If Ribbentrop were not received in Moscow before August 26 or 27 and then if the Russians stalled a bit, as the Germans feared, the target date of September 1 could not be kept.

At this crucial stage, Adolf Hitler himself intervened with Stalin. Swallowing his pride, he personally begged the Soviet dictator, whom he had so often and for so long maligned, to receive his Foreign Minister in Moscow at once. His telegram to Stalin was rushed off to Moscow at 6:45 P.M. on Sunday, August 20, just twelve hours after the receipt of Schulenburg's dispatch. The Fuehrer instructed the ambassador to hand it to Molotov "at once."

M. STALIN, Moscow,

I sincerely welcome the signing of the new German-Soviet Commercial Agreement as the first step in the reshaping of German-Soviet relations. [viii]

The conclusion of a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union means to me the establishment of German policy for a long time. Germany thereby resumes a political course that was beneficial to both States during bygone centuries ...

I accept the draft of the nonaggression pact that your Foreign Minister, M. Molotov, handed over, but consider it urgently necessary to clarify the questions connected with it as soon as possible.

The substance of the supplementary protocol desired by the Soviet Union can, I am convinced, be clarified in the shortest possible time if a responsible German statesman can come to Moscow himself to negotiate. Otherwise the Government of the Reich are not clear as to how the supplementary protocol could be cleared up and settled in a short time.

The tension between Germany and Poland has become intolerable ... A crisis may arise any day. Germany is determined from now on to look after the interests of the Reich with all the means at her disposal.

In my opinion, it is desirable in view of the intentions of the two States to enter into a new relationship to each other, not to lose any time. I therefore again propose that you receive my Foreign Minister on Tuesday, August 22, but at the latest on Wednesday, August 23. The Reich Foreign Minister has the fullest powers to draw up and sign the nonaggression pact as well as the protocol. A longer stay by the Foreign Minister in Moscow than one to two days at most is impossible in view of the international situation. I should be glad to receive your early answer.


During the next twenty-four hours, from the evening of Sunday, August 20, when Hitler's appeal to Stalin went out over the wires to Moscow, until the following evening, the Fuehrer was in a state bordering on collapse. He could not sleep. In the middle of the night he telephoned Goering to tell of his worries about Stalin's reaction to his message and to fret over the delays in Moscow. At 3 A.M. on the twenty-first, the Foreign Office received a "most urgent" wire from Schulenburg saying that Hitler's telegram, of which Weizsaecker had advised him earlier, had not yet arrived. "Official telegrams from Berlin to Moscow," the ambassador reminded the Foreign Office, "take four to five hours, inclusive of two hours' difference in time. To this must be added the time for deciphering." [23] At 10:15 A.M. on Monday, August 21, the anxious Ribbentrop got off an urgent wire to Schulenburg: "Please do your utmost to ensure that the journey materializes. Date as in telegram." [24] Shortly after noon, the ambassador advised Berlin: "I am to see Molotov at 3 P.M. today." [25]

Finally, at 9:35 P.M. on August 21, Stalin's reply came over the wires in Berlin.


I thank you for the letter. I hope that the German-Soviet nonaggression pact will bring about a decided turn for the better in the political relations between our countries.

The peoples of our countries need peaceful relations with each other. The assent of the German Government to the conclusion of a nonaggression pact provides the foundation for eliminating the political tension and for the establishment of peace and collaboration between our countries.

The Soviet Government have instructed me to inform you that they agree to Herr von Ribbentrop's arriving in Moscow on August 23.

J. STALlN [28]

For sheer cynicism the Nazi dictator had met his match in the Soviet despot. The way was now open to them to get together to dot the i's and cross the t's on one of the crudest deals of this shabby epoch.

Stalin's reply was transmitted to the Fuehrer at the Berghof at 10: 30 P.M. A few minutes later, this writer remembers -- shortly after 11 P.M. -- a musical program on the German radio was suddenly interrupted and a voice came on to announce, "The Reich government and the Soviet government have agreed to conclude a pact of nonaggression with each other. The Reich Minister for Foreign Affairs will arrive in Moscow on Wednesday, August 23, for the conclusion of the negotiations."

The next day, August 22, 1939, Hitler, having been assured by Stalin himself that Russia would be a friendly neutral, once more convoked his top military commanders to the Obersalzberg, lectured them on his own greatness and on the need for them to wage war brutally and without pity and apprised them that he probably would order the attack on Poland to begin four days hence, on Saturday, August 26 -- six days ahead of schedule. Stalin, the Fuehrer's mortal enemy, had made this possible.


The generals found Hitler in one of his most arrogant and uncompromising moods. [ix] "I have called you together," he told them, "to give you a picture of the political situation in order that you may have some insight into the individual factors on which I have based my irrevocable decision to act and in order to strengthen your confidence. After that we shall discuss military details." First of all, he said, there were two personal considerations.

My own personality and that of Mussolini.

Essentially, all depends on me, on my existence, because of my political talents. Furthermore, the fact that probably no one will ever again have the confidence of the whole German people as I have. There will probably never again in the future be a man with more authority than) have. My existence is therefore a factor of great value. But I can be eliminated at any time by a criminal or a lunatic.

The second personal factor is the Duce. His existence is also decisive. If something happens to him, Italy's loyalty to the alliance will no longer be certain. The Italian Court is fundamentally opposed to the Duce.

Franco too was a help. He would assure Spain's "benevolent neutrality." As for "the other side," he assured his listeners, "there is no outstanding personality in England or France."

For what must have been a period of several hours, broken only by a late lunch, the demonic dictator rambled on, and there is no evidence from the records that a single general, admiral or Air Force commander dared to interrupt him to question his judgment or even to challenge his lies. He had made his decision in the spring, he said, that a conflict with Poland was inevitable, but he had thought that first he would turn against the West. In that case, however, it became "clear" to him that Poland would attack Germany. Therefore she must be liquidated now.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Wed Feb 07, 2018 10:08 pm

Part 2 of 2

The time to fight a war, anyway, had come.

For us it is easy to make the decision. We have nothing to lose; we can only gain. Our economic situation is such that we cannot hold out more than a few years. Goering can confirm this. We have no other choice, we must act ...

Besides the personal factor, the political situation is favorable to us; in the Mediterranean, rivalry among Italy, France and England; in the Orient, tension ...

England is in great danger. France's position has also deteriorated. Decline in birth rate ... Yugoslavia carries the germ of coIlapse ... Rumania is weaker than before ... Since Kemal's death, Turkey has been ruled by small minds, unsteady, weak men.

AIl these fortunate circumstances will not prevail in two to three years. No one knows how long I shall live. Therefore a showdown, which it would not be safe to put off for four to five years, had better take place now.

Such was the Nazi Leader's fervid reasoning.

He thought it "highly probable" that the West would not fight, but the risk nevertheless had to be accepted. Had he not taken risks -- in occupying the Rhineland when the generals wanted to pull back, in taking Austria, the Sudetenland and the rest of Czechoslovakia? "Hannibal at Cannae, Frederick the Great at Leuthen, and Hindenburg and Ludendorff at Tannenberg," he said, "took chances. So now we also must take risks which can only be mastered by iron determination." There must be no weakening.

It has done much damage that many reluctant Germans in high places spoke and wrote to Englishmen after the solution of the Czech question. The Fuehrer carried his point when you lost your nerve and capitulated too soon.

Halder, Witzleben and Thomas and perhaps other generals who had been in on the Munich conspiracy must have winced at this. Hitler obviously knew more than they had realized.

At any rate, it was now time for them all to show their fighting qualities. Hitler had created Greater Germany, he reminded them, "by political bluff." It had now become necessary to "test the military machine. The Army must experience actual battle before the big final showdown in the West." Poland offered such an opportunity.

Coming back to England and France:

The West has only two possibilities to fight against us:

1. Blockade: It will not be effective because of our self-sufficiency and our sources of aid in the East.

2. Attack from the West from the Maginot Line. I consider this impossible.

Another possibility is the violation of Dutch, Belgium and Swiss neutrality. England and France will not violate the neutrality of these countries. Actually they cannot help Poland.

Would it be a long war?

No one is counting on a long war. If Herr von Brauchitsch had told me that I would need four years to conquer Poland I would have replied, It cannot be done. It is nonsense to say that England wants to wage a long war.

Having disposed, to his own satisfaction, at least, of Poland, Britain and France, Hitler pulled out his ace card. He turned to Russia.

The enemy had another hope, that Russia would become our enemy after the conquest of Poland. The enemy did not count on my great power of resolution. Our enemies are little worms. I saw them at Munich.

I was convinced that Stalin would never accept the English offer. Only a blind optimist could believe that Stalin would be so crazy as not to see through England's intentions. Russia has no interest in maintaining Poland ... Litvinov's dismissal was decisive. It came to me like a cannon shot as a sign of a change in Moscow toward the Western Powers.

I brought about the change toward Russia gradually. In connection with the commercial treaty we got into political conversations. Finally a proposition came from the Russians for a nonaggression treaty. Four days ago I took a special step which brought it about that Russia announced yesterday that she is ready to sign. The personal contact with Stalin is established. The day after tomorrow Ribbentrop will conclude the treaty. Now Poland is in the position in which I wanted her ... A beginning has been made for the destruction of England's hegemony. The way is open for the soldier, now that I have made the political preparations.

The way would be open for the soldiers, that is, if Chamberlain didn't pull another Munich. "I am only afraid," Hitler told his warriors, "that some Schweinehund [x] will make a proposal for mediation."

At this point the meeting broke up for lunch, but not until Goering had expressed thanks to the Fuehrer for pointing the way and had assured him that the armed services would do their duty. [xi]

The afternoon lecture was devoted by Hitler mainly to bucking up his military chiefs and trying to steel them for the task ahead. The rough jottings of all three records of the talk indicate its nature.

The most iron determination on our part. No shrinking back from anything. Everyone must hold the view that we have been determined to fight the Western powers right from the start. A life-and-death struggle ... A long period of peace would not do us any good ... A manly bearing ... We have the better men ... On the opposite side they are weaker ... In 1918 the nation collapsed because the spiritual prerequisites were insufficient. Frederick the Great endured only because of his fortitude.

The destruction of Poland has priority. The aim is to eliminate active forces, not to reach a definite line. Even if war breaks out in the West, the destruction of Poland remains the primary objective. A quick decision, in view of the season.

I shall give a propagandist reason for starting the war -- never mind whether it is plausible or not. The victor will not be asked afterward whether he told the truth or not. In starting and waging a war it is not right that matters, but victory.

Close your hearts to pity! Act brutally! Eighty million people must obtain what is their right ... The stronger man is right ... Be harsh and remorseless! Be steeled against all signs of compassion! ... Whoever has pondered over this world order knows that its meaning lies in the success of the best by means of force ...

Having thundered such Nietzschean exhortations, the Fuehrer, who had worked himself up to a fine fit of Teutonic fury, calmed down and delivered a few directives for the campaign ahead. Speed was essential. He had "unshakable faith" in the German soldier. If any crises developed they would be due solely to the commanders' losing their nerve. The first aim was to drive wedges from the southeast to the Vistula, and from the north to the Narew and the Vistula. Military operations, he insisted, must not be influenced by what he might do with Poland after her defeat. As to that he was vague. The new German frontier, he said, would be based on "sound principles." Possibly he would set up a small Polish buffer state between Germany and Russia.

The order for the start of hostilities, Hitler concluded, would be given later, probably for Saturday morning, August 26.

The next day, the twenty-third, after a meeting of the OKW section chiefs, General Halder noted in his diary: "Y Day definitely set for the 26th (Saturday)."


By the middle of August the military conversations in Moscow between the Western democracies and the Soviet Union had come to a virtual standstill -- and for this the intransigence of the Poles was largely to blame. The Anglo-French military missions, it will be remembered, after taking a slow boat to Leningrad, had arrived in Moscow on August 11, exactly one week after the frustrated Mr. Strang had left the Russian capital, obviously relieved to be able to turn over to the generals and admirals the difficult and unpleasant job of trying to negotiate with the Russians. [xii]

What now had to be worked out hurriedly was a military convention which would spell out in detail just how and where, and with what, Nazi armed force could be met. But as the confidential British minutes of the day-to-day military conversations and the reports of the British negotiators reveal [29] the Anglo-French military team had been sent to Moscow to discuss not details but rather "general principles." The Russians, however, insisted on getting down at once to hard, specific and -- in the Allied view -- awkward facts, and Voroshilov's response to the Allied declaration of principles made at the first meeting by General Doumenc was that they were "too abstract and immaterial and do not oblige anyone to do anything ... We are not gathered here," he declared coolly, "to make abstract declarations, but to work out a complete military convention."

The Soviet Marshal posed some very definite questions: Was there any treaty which defined what action Poland would take? How many British troops could reinforce the French Army on the outbreak of the war? What would Belgium do? The answers he got were not very reassuring. Doumenc said he had no knowledge of Polish plans. General Heywood answered that the British envisaged "a first contingent of sixteen divisions, ready for service in the early stages of a war, followed later by a second contingent of sixteen divisions." Pressed by Voroshilov to reveal how many British troops there would be immediately on the outbreak of war, Heywood replied, "At the moment there are five regular divisions and one mechanized division in England." These paltry figures came as an unpleasant surprise to the Russians, who were prepared, they said, to deploy 120 infantry divisions against an aggressor in the west at the very outbreak of hostilities.

As for Belgium, General Doumenc answered the Russian question by saying that "French troops cannot enter unless and until they are asked to, but France is ready to answer any call."

This reply led to the crucial question before the military negotiators in Moscow and one which the British and French had been anxious to avoid. During the very first meeting and again at a critical session on August 14, Marshal Voroshilov insisted that the essential question was whether Poland was willing to permit Soviet troops to enter her territory to meet the Germans. If not, how could the Allies prevent the German Army from quickly overrunning Poland? Specifically -- on the fourteenth -- he asked, "Do the British and French general staffs think that the Red Army can move across Poland, and in particular through the Vilna gap and across Galicia in order to make contact with the enemy?"

This was the core of the matter. As Seeds wired London, the Russians had now

raised the fundamental problem, on which the military talks will succeed or fail and which has indeed been at the bottom of all our difficulties since the very beginning of the political conversations, namely, how to reach any useful agreement with the Soviet Union as long as this country's neighbors maintain a sort of boycott which is only to be broken ... when it is too late.

If the question came up -- and how could it help coming up? -- Admiral Drax had been instructed by the British government on how to handle it. The instructions, revealed in the confidential British papers, seem unbelievably naive when read today. The "line of argument" he was to take in view of the refusal of Poland and Rumania "even to consider plans for possible co-operation" was:

An invasion of Poland and Rumania would greatly alter their outlook. Moreover, it would be greatly to Russia's disadvantage that Germany should occupy a position right up to the Russian frontier ... It is in Russia's own interest therefore that she should have plans ready to help both Poland and Rumania should these countries be invaded.

If the Russians propose that the British and French governments should communicate to the Polish, Roumanian or Baltic States proposals involving co-operation with the Soviet Government or General Staff, the Delegation should not commit themselves but refer home.

And this is what they did.

At the August 14 session Voroshilov demanded "straightforward answers" to his questions. "Without an exact and unequivocal answer," he said, "continuance of the military conversations would be useless ... The Soviet Military Mission," he added, "cannot recommend to its Government to take part in an enterprise so obviously doomed to failure."

From Paris General Gamelin counseled General Doumenc to try to steer the Russians off the subject. But they were not to be put off. [30]

The meeting of August 14, as General Doumenc later reported, was dramatic. The British and French delegates were cornered and they knew it. They tried to evade the issue as best they could. Drax and Doumenc asserted they were sure the Poles and Rumanians would ask for Russian aid as soon as they were attacked. Doumenc was confident they would "implore the Marshal to support them." Drax thought it was "inconceivable" that they should not ask for Soviet help. He added -- not very diplomatically, it would seem -- that "if they did not ask for help when necessary and allow themselves to be overrun, it may be expected that they would become German provinces." This was the last thing the Russians wanted, for it meant the presence of the Nazi armies on the Soviet border, and Voroshilov made a special point of the Admiral's unfortunate remark.

Finally, the uncomfortable Anglo-French representatives contended that Voroshilov had raised political questions which they were not competent to handle. Drax declared that since Poland was a sovereign state, its government would first have to sanction the entry of Russian troops. But since this was a political matter, it would have to be settled by the governments. He suggested that the Soviet government put its questions to the Polish government. The Russian delegation agreed that this was a political matter. But it insisted that the British and French governments must put the question to the Poles and pressure them to come to reason.

Were the Russians, in view of their dealings with the Germans at this moment, negotiating in good faith with the Franco-British military representatives? Or did they, as the British and French foreign offices, not to mention Admiral Drax, later concluded, insist on the right to deploy their troops through Poland merely to stall the talks until they saw whether they could make a deal with Hitler? [xiii]

In the beginning, the British and French confidential sources reveal, the Western Allies did think that the Soviet military delegation was negotiating in good faith -- in fact, that it took its job much too seriously. On August 13, after two days of staff talks, Ambassador Seeds wired London that the Russian military chiefs seemed really "to be out for business." As a result, Admiral Drax's instructions to "go very slowly" were changed and on August 15 he was told by the British government to support Doumenc in bringing the military talks to a conclusion "as soon as possible." His restrictions on confiding confidential military information to the Russians were partially lifted.

Unlike the British Admiral's original instructions to stall, those given General Doumenc by Premier Daladier personally had been to try to conclude a military convention with Russia at the earliest possible moment. Despite British fears of leaks to the Germans, Doumenc on the second day of the meetings had confided to the Russians such "highly secret figures," as he termed them, on the strength of the French Army that the Soviet members promised "to forget" them as soon as the meeting was concluded.

As late as August 17, after he and Drax had waited vainly for three days for instructions from their governments as to how to reply to the Polish question, General Doumenc telegraphed Paris: "The U.S.S.R. wants a military pact ... She does not want us to give her a piece of paper without substantial undertakings. Marshal Voroshilov has stated that all problems ... would be tackled without difficulty as soon as what he called the crucial question was settled." Doumenc strongly urged Paris to get Warsaw to agree to accepting Russian help.

Contrary to a widespread belief at the time, not only in Moscow but in the Western capitals, that the British and French governments did nothing to induce the Poles to agree to Soviet troops meeting the Germans on Polish soil, it is clear from documents recently released that London and Paris went quite far -- but not quite far enough. It is also clear that the Poles reacted with unbelievable stupidity. [31]

On August 18, after the first Anglo-French attempt was made in Warsaw to open the eyes of the Poles, Foreign Minister Beck told the French ambassador, Leon Noel, that the Russians were "of no military value," and General Stachiewicz, Chief of the Polish General Staff, backed him up by declaring that he saw "no benefit to be gained by Red Army troops operating in Poland."

The next day both the British and French ambassadors saw Beck again and urged him to agree to the Russian proposal. The Polish Foreign Minister stalled, but promised to give them a formal reply the next day. The Anglo-French demarche in Warsaw came as the result of a conversation earlier on the nineteenth in Paris between Bonnet, the French Foreign Minister, and the British charge d'affaires. Somewhat to the Briton's surprise, this archappeaser of Hitler was now quite aroused at the prospect of losing Russia as an ally because of Polish stubbornness.

It would be disastrous [Bonnet told him] if, in consequence of a Polish refusal, the Russian negotiations were to break down ... It was an untenable position for the Poles to take up in refusing the only immediate efficacious help that could reach them in the event of a German attack. It would put the British and French Governments in an almost impossible position if we had to ask our respective countries to go to war in defense of Poland, which had refused this help.

If this were so -- and there is no doubt that it was -- why then did not the British and French governments at this crucial moment put the ultimate pressure on Warsaw and simply say that unless the Polish government agreed to accept Russian help Britain and France could see no use of themselves going to war to aid Poland? The formal Anglo- Polish mutual-security treaty had not yet been signed. Could Warsaw's acceptance of Russian military backing not be made a condition of concluding that pact? [xiv]

In his talk with the British charge in Paris on August 19, Bonnet suggested this, but the government in London frowned upon such a "maneuver," as Downing Street called it. To such an extreme Chamberlain and Halifax would not go.

On the morning of August 20 the Polish Chief of Staff informed the British military attache in Warsaw that "in no case would the admission of Soviet troops into Poland be agreed to." And that evening Beck formally rejected the Anglo-French request. The same evening Halifax, through his ambassador in Warsaw, urged the Polish Foreign Minister to reconsider, emphasizing in strong terms that the Polish stand was "wrecking" the military talks in Moscow. But Beck was obdurate. "I do not admit," he told the French ambassador, "that there can be any kind of discussion whatsoever concerning the use of part of our territory by foreign troops. We have not got a military agreement with the U.S.S.R. We do not want one."

Desperate at such a display of blind stubbornness on the part of the Polish government, Premier Daladier, according to an account he gave to the French Constituent Assembly on July 18, 1946, took matters in his own hands. After once more appealing to the Poles to be realistic, he telegraphed General Doumenc on the morning of August 21 authorizing him to sign a military convention with Russia on the best terms he could get, with the provision, however, that it must be approved by the French government. The French ambassador, Paul-Emile Naggiar, was at the same time instructed by Bonnet, according to the latter's subsequent account, to tell Molotov that France agreed "in principle" to the passage of Soviet troops through Poland if the Germans attacked.

But this was only an idle gesture, as long as the Poles had not agreed -- and, as we know now, a futile gesture in view of the state of Russo-German dealings. Doumenc did not receive Daladier's telegram until late in the evening of August 21. When he brought it to the attention of Voroshilov on the evening of the next day -- the eve of Ribbentrop's departure for Moscow -- the Soviet Marshal was highly skeptical. He demanded to see the French General's authorization for saying -- as Doumenc had -- that the French government had empowered him to sign a military pact permitting the passage of Russian troops through Poland. Doumenc, obviously, declined. Voroshilov next wanted to know what the British response was and whether the consent of Poland had been obtained. These were embarrassing questions and Doumenc merely answered that he had no information.

But neither the questions nor the answers had by this time any reality. They were being put too late. Ribbentrop was already on his way to Moscow. The trip had been announced publicly the night before, and also its purpose: to conclude a nonaggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Voroshilov, who seems to have developed a genuine liking for the French General, tried gently to let him know that their contacts were about to end.

I fear one thing [Voroshilov said]. The French and English sides have allowed the political and military discussions to drag on too long. That is why we must not exclude the possibility, during this time, of certain political events. [xv]


Those "certain political events" now took place.

Armed with full powers in writing from Hitler to conclude a nonaggression treaty "and other agreements" with the Soviet Union, which would become effective as soon as they were signed, Ribbentrop set off by plane for Moscow on August 22. The large German party spent the night at Koenigsberg in East Prussia, where the Nazi Foreign Minister, according to Dr. Schmidt, worked throughout the night, constantly telephoning to Berlin and Berchtesgaden and making copious notes for his talks with Stalin and Molotov.

The two large Condor transport planes carrying the German delegation arrived in Moscow at noon on August 23, and after a hasty meal at the embassy Ribbentrop hurried off to the Kremlin to confront the Soviet dictator and his Foreign Commissar. This first meeting lasted three hours and, as Ribbentrop advised Hitler by "most urgent" wire, it went well for the Germans. [32] Judging by the Foreign Minister's dispatch, there was no trouble at all in reaching agreement on the terms of a nonaggression pact which would keep the Soviet Union out of Hitler's war. In fact the only difficulty, he reported, was a distinctly minor one concerning the division of spoils. The Russians, he said, were demanding that Germany recognize the small ports of Libau and Windau in Latvia "as being in their sphere of interest." Since all of Latvia was to be placed on the Soviet side of the line dividing the interests of the two powers, this demand presented no problem and Hitler quickly agreed. Ribbentrop also advised the Fuehrer after the first conference that "the signing of a secret protocol on the delimitation of mutual spheres of interest in the whole Eastern area is contemplated."

The whole works -- the nonaggression treaty and the secret protocol -- were signed at a second meeting at the Kremlin later that evening. So easily had the Germans and Russians come to agreement that this convivial session, which lasted into the small hours of the following morning, was taken up mostly not by any hard bargaining but with a warm and friendly discussion of the state of the world, country by country, and with the inevitable, effusive toasts customary at gala gatherings in the Kremlin. A secret German memorandum by a member of the German delegation who was present has recorded the incredible scene. [33]

To Stalin's questions about the ambitions of Germany's partners, Italy and Japan, Ribbentrop gave breezy, reassuring answers. As to England the Soviet dictator and the Nazi Foreign Minister, who was now on his best behavior, found themselves at once in accord. The British military mission in Moscow, Stalin confided to his guest, "had never told the Soviet government what it really wanted." Ribbentrop responded by emphasizing that Britain had always tried to disrupt good relations between Germany and the Soviet Union. "England is weak," he boasted, "and wants to let others fight for her presumptuous claim to world dominion."

"Stalin eagerly concurred," says the German memorandum, and he remarked: "If England dominated the world, that was due to the stupidity of the other countries that always let themselves be bluffed."

By this time the Soviet ruler and Hitler's Foreign Minister were getting along so splendidly that mention of the Anti-Comintern Pact no longer embarrassed them. Ribbentrop explained again that the pact had been directed not against Russia but against the Western democracies. Stalin interposed to remark that "the Anti-Comintern had in fact frightened principally the City of London [i.e., the British financiers] and the English shopkeepers. "

At this juncture, the German memorandum reveals, Ribbentrop felt himself in such good humor at Stalin's accommodating manner that he even tried to crack a joke or two -- a remarkable feat for so humorless a man.

The Reich Foreign Minister [the memorandum continues] remarked jokingly that M. Stalin was surely less frightened by the Anti-Comintern Pact than the City of London and the English shopkeepers. What the German people thought of this matter was evident from a joke, which had originated with the Berliners, well known for their wit and humor, that Stalin will yet join the Anti-Comintern Pact himself.

Finally the Nazi Foreign Minister dwelt on how warmly the German people welcomed an understanding with Russia. "M. Stalin replied," says the German record, "that he really believed this. The Germans desired peace."

Such hokum grew worse as the time for toasts arrived.

M. Stalin spontaneously proposed a toast to the Fuehrer:

"I know how much the German nation loves its Fuehrer. I should therefore like to drink to his health."

M. Molotov drank to the health of the Reich Foreign Minister ... MM. Molotov and Stalin drank repeatedly to the Nonaggression Pact, the new era of German-Russian relations, and to the German nation.

The Reich Foreign Minister in turn proposed a toast to M. Stalin, toasts to the Soviet Government, and to a favorable development of relations between Germany and the Soviet Union.

And yet despite such warm exchanges between those who until recently had been such mortal enemies, Stalin appears to have had mental reservations about the Nazis' keeping the pact. As Ribbentrop was leaving, he took him aside and said, "The Soviet Government take the new pact very seriously. He could guarantee on his word of honor that the Soviet Union would not betray its partner."

What had the new partners signed?

The published treaty carried an undertaking that neither power would attack the other. Should one of them become "the object of belligerent action" by a third power, the other party would "in no manner lend its support to this Third Power." Nor would either Germany or Russia "join any grouping of Powers whatsoever which is aimed directly or indirectly at the other Party." [xvi]

Thus Hitler got what he specifically wanted: an immediate agreement by the Soviet Union not to join Britain and France if they honored their treaty obligations to come to the aid of Poland in case she were attacked. [xvii]

The price he paid was set down in the "Secret Additional Protocol" to the treaty:

On the occasion of the signature of the Nonaggression Treaty between Germany and the Soviet Union the undersigned plenipotentiaries discussed in strictly confidential conversations the question of the delimitation of their respective spheres of interest in Eastern Europe.

1. In the event of a territorial and political transformation in the territories belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern frontier of Lithuania shall represent the frontier of the spheres of interest both of Germany and the U.S.S.R.

2. In the event of a territorial and political transformation of the territories belonging to the Polish State, the spheres of interest of both Germany and the U.S.S.R. shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narew, Vistula and San.

The question whether the interests of both Parties make the maintenance of an independent Polish State appear desirable and how the frontiers of this State should be drawn can be definitely determined only in the course of further political developments.

In any case both Governments will resolve this question by means of a friendly understanding.

Once again Germany and Russia, as in the days of the German kings and Russian emperors, had agreed to partition Poland. And Hitler had given Stalin a free hand in the eastern Baltic.

Finally, in Southeastern Europe, the Russians emphasized their interest in Bessarabia, which the Soviet Union had lost to Rumania in 1919, and the Germans declared their disinterest in this territory -- a concession Ribbentrop later was to regret.

"This protocol," the document concluded, "will be treated by both parties as strictly secret." [36]

As a matter of fact, its contents became known only after the war with the capture of the secret German archives.

On the following day, August 24, while the jubilant Ribbentrop was winging his way back to Berlin, the Allied military missions in Moscow requested to see Voroshilov. Admiral Drax had actually sent an urgent letter to the Marshal requesting his views on the continuation of their talks.

Voroshilov gave them to the British and French military staffs at 1 P.M. the next day, August 25. "In view of the changed political situation," he said, "no useful purpose can be served in continuing the conversations."

Two years later, when German troops were pouring into Russia in violation of the pact, Stalin would still justify his odious deal with Hitler, made behind the backs of the Anglo-French military delegations which had come to negotiate in Moscow. "We secured peace for our country for one and a half years," he boasted in a broadcast to the Russian people on July 3, 1941, "as well as an opportunity of preparing our forces for defense if fascist Germany risked attacking our country in defiance of the pact. This was a definite gain for our country and a loss for fascist Germany."

But was it? The point has been debated ever since. That the sordid, secret deal gave Stalin the same breathing space -- peredyshka -- which Czar Alexander I had secured from Napoleon at Tilsit in 1807 and Lenin from the Germans at Brest Litovsk in 1917 was obvious. Within a short time it also gave the Soviet Union an advanced defensive position against Germany beyond the existing Russian frontiers, including bases in the Baltic States and Finland -- at the expense of the Poles, Latvians, Estonians and Finns. And most important of all, as the official Soviet History of Diplomacy later emphasized, it assured the Kremlin that if Russia were later attacked by Germany the Western Powers would already be irrevocably committed against the Third Reich and the Soviet Union would not stand alone against the German might as Stalin had feared throughout the summer of 1939.

All this undoubtedly is true. But there is another side to the argument. By the time Hitler got around to attacking Russia, the armies of Poland and France and the British Expeditionary Force on the Continent had been destroyed and Germany had the resources of all of Europe to draw upon and no Western front to tie her hands. All through 1941, 1942 and 1943 Stalin was to complain bitterly that there was no second front in Europe against Germany and that Russia was forced to bear the brunt of containing almost the entire German Army. In 1939-40, there was a Western front to draw off the German forces. And Poland couId not have been overrun in a fortnight if the Russians had backed her instead of stabbing her in the back. Moreover, there might not have been any war at all if Hitler had known he must take on Russia as well as Poland, England and France. Even the politically timid German generals, if one can judge from their later testimony at Nuremberg, might have put their foot down against embarking on war against such a formidable coalition. Toward the end of May, according to the French ambassador in Berlin, both Keitel and Brauchitsch had warned Hitler that Germany had little chance of winning a war in which Russia participated on the enemy side.

No statesmen, not even dictators, can foretell the course of events over the long run. It is arguable, as Churchill has argued, that cold-blooded as Stalin's move was in making a deal with Hitler, it was also "at the moment realistic in a high degree." [39] Stalin's first and primary consideration, as was that of any other head of government, was his nation's security. He was convinced in the summer of 1939, as he later told Churchill, that Hitler was going to war. He was determined that Russia should not be maneuvered into the disastrous position of having to face the German Army alone. If a foolproof alliance with the West proved impossible, then why not turn to Hitler, who suddenly was knocking at his door?

By the end of July 1939, Stalin had become convinced, it is obvious, not only that France and Britain did not want a binding alliance but that the objective of the Chamberlain government in Britain was to induce Hitler to make his wars in Eastern Europe. He seems to have been intensely skeptical that Britain would honor its guarantee to Poland any more than France had kept its obligations to Czechoslovakia. And everything that had happened in the West for the past two years tended to increase his suspicions: the rejection by Chamberlain of Soviet proposals, after the Anschluss and after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, for conferences to draw up plans to halt further Nazi aggression; Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler at Munich, from which Russia had been excluded; the delays and hesitations of Chamberlain in negotiating a defensive alliance against Germany as the fateful summer days of 1939 ticked by.

One thing was certain -- to almost everyone but Chamberlain. The bankruptcy of Anglo-French diplomacy, which had faltered and tottered whenever Hitler made a move, was now complete. [xviii] Step by step, the two Western democracies had retreated: when Hitler defied them by declaring conscription in 1935, when he occupied the Rhineland in 1936, when he took Austria in 1938 and in the same year demanded and got the Sudetenland; and they had sat by weakly when he occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939. With the Soviet Union on their side, they still might have dissuaded the German dictator from launching war or, if that failed, have fairly quickly defeated him in an armed conflict. But they had allowed this last opportunity to slip out of their hands. [xvii] Now, at the worst possible time in the worst possible circumstances, they were committed to come to the aid of Poland when she was attacked.

The recriminations in London and Paris against the double-dealing of Stalin were loud and bitter. The Soviet despot for years had cried out at the "fascist beasts" and called for all peace-loving states to band together to halt Nazi aggression. Now he had made himself an accessory to it. The Kremlin could argue, as it did, that the Soviet Union had only done what Britain and France had done the year before at Munich: bought peace and the time to rearm against Germany at the expense of a small state. If Chamberlain was right and honorable in appeasing Hitler in September 1938 by sacrificing Czechoslovakia, was Stalin wrong and dishonorable in appeasing the Fuehrer a year later at the expense of Poland, which had shunned Soviet help anyway?

Stalin's cynical and secret deal with Hitler to divide up Poland and to obtain a free hand to gobble up Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Bessarabia was not known outside Berlin and Moscow, but it would soon become evident from Soviet acts, and it would shock most of the world even at this late date. The Russians might say, as they did, that they were only repossessing territories which had been taken away from them at the end of the First World War. But the peoples of these lands were not Russian and had shown no desire to return to Russia. Only force, which the Soviets had eschewed in the heyday of Litvinov, could make them return.

Since joining the League of Nations the Soviet Union had built up a certain moral force as the champion of peace and the leading opponent of fascist aggression. Now that moral capital had been utterly dissipated.

Above an, by assenting to a shoddy deal with Nazi Germany, Stalin had given the signal for the commencement of a war that almost certainly would develop into a world conflict. This he certainly knew. [xix] As things turned out, it was the greatest blunder of his life.



i. See p. 523.

ii. The only source found for what happened at this meeting is in the unpublished  diary of General Halder, Chief of the Army General Staff. It is the first entry,  August 14, 1939. Halder kept his diary in Gabelsberger shorthand and it is an  immensely valuable record of the most confidential military and political goings  on in Nazi Germany from August 14, 1939, to September 24, 1942, when he was  dismissed from his post. The Obersalzberg entry consists of Halder's shorthand  notes jotted down while Hitler spoke and a summary which he added at the end. It is  strange that no American or British publisher has published the Halder diary. The  writer had access to the German longhand version of it, transcribed by Halder himself,  during the writing of this vclume. Hitler's daily record book confirms the  date of this meeting and adds that besides the commanders in chief, Brauchitsch,  Goering and Raeder, Dr. Toot, the engineer who built the West Wall, also was  present.
iii. Dahlerus told the Nuremberg tribunal on March 19, 1946, when he was on the  stand as a witness for Goering, that the Field Marshal had assured the British  businessmen "on his word of honor" that he would do everything in his power to  avert war. But Goering's state of mind at this time may have been more accurately  expressed in a statement he made two days after seeing the British visitors. In  boasting about the Luftwaffe's air defenses, he said, "The Ruhr will not be subjected  to a single bomb. If an enemy bomber reaches the Ruhr, my name is not  Hermann Goering: you can call me Meier!" -- a boast he was soon to rue.
iv. Naujocks had a hand in the "Venlo Incident," which will be recounted further on.  He was involved in an undertaking to disguise German soldiers in Dutch and Belgian  frontier guard uniforms at the time of the invasion of the West in May 1940.  Early in the war, he managed a section of the S.D. which forged passports and  while thus employed proposed "Operation Bernhard," a fantastic plan to drop  forged British banknotes over England. Heydrich eventually tired of him and forced  him to serve in the ranks of an S.S. regiment in Russia, where he was wounded. In  1944 Naujocks turned up in Belgium as an economic administrator, but his principal  job at that time appears to have been to carry out in Denmark the murder of  a number of members of the Danish resistance movement. He probably deserted  to the American Army in Belgium to save his neck. In fact, he had a charmed  life. Held as a war criminal, he made a dramatic escape from a special camp in  Germany for war criminals in 1946 and thus escaped trial. At the time of writing,  he has never been apprehended or heard of. An account of his escape is given in  Schaumburg-Lippe, Zwischen Krone und Kerker.
v. S.S. Oberfuehrer Dr. Mehlhorn, who administered the S.D. under Heydrich. Schellenberg, in his memoirs (The Labyrinth, pp. 48-50), recounts that Mehlhorn told him on August 26 that he had been put in charge of staging the faked attack at Gleiwitzbut that Mehlhorn got out of it by feigning illness. Mehlhorn's stomach grew stronger in later years. During the war he was a notable instigator of Gestapo terror in Poland.

vi. The submarines sailed between August 19 and 23, the Grat Spee on the twenty-first and the Deutschland on the twenty-fourth.

vii. The British government soon learned of this. On August 17 Sumner Welles, the U.S. Undersecretary of State, informed the British ambassador in Washington of Molotov's suggestions to Schulenburg. The American ambassador in Moscow had wired them to Washington the day before and they were deadly accurate. [11] Ambassador Steinhardt had seen Molotov on August 16.

viii. It was signed in Berlin at 2 A.M. on Sunday, August 20.
ix. No official minutes of Hitler's harangue have been found, but several records of  it. two of them made by high-ranking officers from notes jotted down during the  meeting, have come to light. One by Admiral Hermann Boehm. Chief of the High  Seas Fleet. was submilted at Nuremberg in Admiral Raeder's defense and is  published in the original German in TMWC. XLI, pp. 16-25. General Halder made  voluminous notes in his unique Gabelsberger shorthand, and an English translation  of them from his diary entry of August 22 is published in DGFP, VII, pp. 557-59.  The chief document of the session used by the prosecution as evidence in the  Nuremberg trial was an unsigned memorandum in two parts from the OKW files  which were captured by American troops at Saalfelden in the Austrian Tyrol. It is  printed in English translation in NCA, III, pp. 581-86 (Nuremberg Document 798-PS), 665-66 (N.D. 1014-PS), and also in DGFP, VII, pp. 200-6. The original  German text of the two-part memorandum is, of course. in the TMWC volumes. It  makes Hitler's language somewhat more lively than do Admiral Boehm and General  Halder. But all three versions are similar in content and there can be no doubt of  their authenticity. At Nuremberg there was some doubt about a fourth account  of Hitler's speech, listed as N.D. C·3 (NCA, VII, pp. 752-54), and though it was  referred to in the proceedings the prosecution did not submit it in evidence. While  it undoubtedly rings true, it may have been embellished a little by persons who were  not present at the meeting at the Berghof. In piecing together Hitler's remarks  I have used the records of Boehm and Halder and the unsigned memorandum  submitted at Nuremberg as evidence.
x. "Dirty dog."

xi. According to the account in Nuremberg Document C-3 (see footnote above, p. 529), Goering jumped up on the table and gave "bloodthirsty thanks and bloody promises. He danced around like a savage. The few doubtful ones remained silent." This description greatly nettled Goering during an interrogation at Nuremberg on August 28 and 29, 1945. "I dispute the fact that I stood on the table," Goering said. "I want you to know that the speech was made in the great hall of Hitler's private house. I did not have the habit of jumping on tables in private homes. That would have been an attitude completely inconsistent with that of a German officer."

"Well, the fact is." Colonel John H. Amen, the American interrogator, said at this point, "that you led the applause after the speech, didn't you?"

"Yes, but not on the table," Goering rejoined. [27]

xii. "A humiliating experience," Strang had called it in a dispatch to the Foreign  Office on July 20. [28]
xiii. The timing is important. Molotov did not receive the Nazi proposal that Ribbentrop  come to Moscow until the evening of August 15. (See above, p. 520.) And  though he did not accept it definitely he did hint that Russia would be interested in  a nonaggression pact with Germany, which of course would have made negotiation  of a military alliance with France and Britain superfluous. The best conclusion this  writer can come to is that, as of August 14, when Voroshilov demanded an "unequivocal  answer" to the question of allowing Soviet troops to meet the Germans  in Poland, the Kremlin still had an open mind as to which side to join. Unfortunately  the Russian documents, which could clear up this crucial question, have  not been published. At any rate, Stalin does not seem to have made his final  decision until the afternoon of August 19. (See above, p. 526.)
xiv. Lloyd George, in a speech in the Commons on April 3, four days after Chamberlain's  unilateral guarantee to Poland had been announced, had urged the British  government to make such a condition. "If we are going in without the help of  Russia we are walking into a trap. It is the only country whose armies can get  there [to Poland].... I cannot understand why, before committing ourselves to  this tremendous enterprise, we did not secure beforehand the adhesion of Russia  ... If Russia has not been brought into this matter because of certain feelings the  Poles have that they do not want the Russians there, it is for us to declare the  conditions, and unless the Poles are prepared to accept the only conditions with  which we can successfully help them, the responsibility must be theirs."
xv. At a session of the military delegates the morning before, on August 21, Voroshilov had demanded the indefinite adjournment of the talks on the excuse that he and his colleagues would be busy with the autumn maneuvers. To the Anglo-French protests at such a delay the Marshal had answered, "The intentions of the Soviet Delegation were, and still are, to agree on the organization of military co-operation of the armed forces of the three parties ... The U.S.S.R., not having a common frontier with Germany, can give help to France, Britain, Poland and Rumania, only on condition that her troops are given rights of passage across Polish and Rumanian territory ... The Soviet forces cannot co-operate with the armed forces of Britain and France if they are not allowed onto Polish and Rumanian territory ... The Soviet Military Delegation cannot picture to itself how the governments and general staffs of Britain and France, in sending their missions to the U.S.S.R.... could not have given them some directives on such an elementary matter ... This can only show that there are reasons to doubt their desire to come to serious and effective co-operation with the U.S.S.R."

The logic of the Marshal's military argument was sound and the failure of the French and especially the British governments to answer it would prove disastrous. But to have repeated it -- with all the rest of the statement -- on this late date, August 21, when Voroshilov could not have been ignorant of Stalin's decision of August 19, was deceitful.

xvi. The wording of the essential articles is almost identical to that of a Soviet draft which Molotov handed Schulenburg on August 19 and which Hitler, in his telegram to Stalin, said he accepted. The Russian draft had specified that the nonaggression treaty would be valid only if a "special protocol" were signed simultaneously and made an integral part of the pact. [34]

According to Friedrich Gaus, who participated at the evening meeting, a highfalutin preamble which Ribbentrop wanted to insert stressing the formation of friendly Soviet-German relations was thrown out at the insistence of Stalin. The Soviet dictator complained that "the Soviet government could not suddenly present to the public assurances of friendship after they had been covered with pails of manure by the Nazi government for six years." [35]

xvii. Article VII provided for the treaty to enter into force immediately upon signature. Formal ratification in two such totalitarian states was, to be sure, a mere formality. But it would take a few days. Hitler had insisted on this provision.

xviii. And of Polish diplomacy too. Ambassador Noel reported Foreign Minister Beck's reaction to the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in a dispatch to Paris: "Beck is quite unperturbed and does not seem in the slightest worried. He believes that, in substance, very little has changed."

xix. Despite many warnings, as we have seen, that Hitler was courting the Kremlin. On June 1, M. Coulondre, the French ambassador in Berlin, had informed Bonnet, the French Foreign Minister, that Russia was looming larger and larger in Hitler's thoughts. "Hitler will risk war," Coulondre wrote, "if he does not have to fight Russia. On the other hand, if he knows he has to fight her too he will draw back rather than expose his country, his party and himself to ruin." The ambassador urged the prompt conclusion of the Anglo-French negotiations in Moscow and advised Paris that the British ambassador in Berlin had made a similar appeal to his government in London. (French Yellow Book, Fr. ed., pp. 180-81.)

On August 15, both Coulondre and Henderson saw Weizsaecker at the Foreign Office. The British ambassador informed London that the State Secretary was confident that the Soviet Union "would in the end join in sharing the Polish spoils." (British Blue Book, p. 91.) And Coulondre, after his talk with Weizsaecker, wired Paris: "It is necessary at all costs to come to some solution of the Russian talks as soon as possible." (French Yellow Book, p. 282.)

Throughout June and July, Laurence Steinhardt, the American ambassador in Moscow, had also sent warnings of an impending Soviet-Nazi deal, which President Roosevelt passed on to the British, French and Polish embassies. As early as July 5, when Soviet Ambassador Constantine Oumansky left for a leave in Russia, he carried with him a message from Roosevelt to Stalin "that if his government joined up with Hitler, it was as certain as that the night followed day that as soon as Hitler had conquered France he would turn on Russia." (Joseph E. Davies, Mission to Moscow, p. 450.) The President's warning was cabled to Steinhardt with instructions to repeat it to Molotov, which the ambassador did on August 16. (U.S. Diplomatic Papers, 1939, I, pp. 296-99.)

xx. Years before, Hitler had written prophetically in Mein Kampf: "The very fact of the conclusion of an alliance with Russia embodies a plan for the next war. Its outcome would be the end of Germany." (See p. 660 of the Houghton Mifflin edition, 1943.)
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

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Part 1 of 3


THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT had not waited idly for the formal signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact in Moscow. The announcement in Berlin on the late evening of August 21 that Ribbentrop was flying to Moscow to conclude a German-Russian agreement stirred the British cabinet to action. It met at 3 P.M. on the twenty-second and issued a communique stating categorically that a Soviet-Nazi nonaggression pact "would in no way affect their obligation to Poland, which they have repeatedly stated in public and which they are determined to fulfill." At the same time Parliament was summoned to meet on August 24 to pass the Emergency Powers (Defense) Bill, and certain precautionary mobilization measures were taken.

Though the cabinet statement was as clear as words could make it, Chamberlain wanted Hitler to have no doubts about it. Immediately after the cabinet meeting broke up he wrote a personal letter to the Fuehrer.

... Apparently the announcement of a German-Soviet Agreement is taken in some quarters in Berlin to indicate that intervention by Great Britain on behalf of Poland is no longer a contingency that need be reckoned with. No greater mistake could be made. Whatever may prove to be the nature of the German-Soviet Agreement, it cannot alter Great Britain's obligation to Poland ...

It has been alleged that, if His Majesty's Government had made their position more clear in 1914, the great catastrophe would have been avoided. Whether or not there is any force in that allegation, His Majesty's Government are resolved that on this occasion there shall be no such tragic misunderstanding.

If the case should arise, they are resolved, and prepared, to employ without delay all the forces at their command, and it is impossible to foresee the end of hostilities once engaged ... [1]

Having, as he added, "thus made our position perfectly clear," the Prime Minister again appealed to Hitler to seek a peaceful solution of his differences with Poland and once more offered the British government's co-operation in helping to obtain it.

The letter, which Ambassador Henderson, flying down from Berlin, delivered to Hitler shortly after 1 P.M. on August 23 at Berchtesgaden, threw the Nazi dictator into a violent rage. "Hitler was excitable and uncompromising," Henderson wired Lord Halifax. "His language was violent and exaggerated both as regards England and Poland." [2] Henderson's report of the meeting and the German Foreign Office memorandum on it -- the latter among the captured Nazi papers -- agree on the nature of Hitler's tirade. England, he stormed, was responsible for Poland's intransigence just as it had been responsible for Czechoslovakia's unreasonable attitude the year before. Tens of thousands of Volksdeutsche in Poland were being persecuted. There were even, he claimed, six cases of castration -- a subject that obsessed him. He could stand it no more. Any further persecution of Germans by the Poles would bring immediate action.

I contested every point [Henderson wired Halifax] and kept calling his statements inaccurate but the only effect was to launch him on some fresh tirade.

Finally Hitler agreed to give a written answer to the Prime Minister's letter in two hours' time, and Henderson withdrew to Salzburg for a little respite. [i] Later in the afternoon Hitler sent for him and handed him his reply. In contrast to the first meeting, the Fuehrer, Henderson reported to London, "was quite calm and never raised his voice."

He was, he said [Henderson reported], fifty years old; he preferred war now to when he would be fifty-five or sixty.

The megalomania of the German dictator, declaiming on his mountaintop, comes out even more forcibly in the German minutes of the meeting. After quoting him as preferring to make war at fifty rather than later, they add:

England [Hitler said] would do well to realize that as a front-line soldier he knew what war was and would utilize every means available. It was surely quite clear to everyone that the World War [i.e., 1914-1918] would not have been lost if he had been Chancellor at the time.

Hitler's reply to Chamberlain was a mixture of all the stale lies and exaggerations which he had been bellowing to foreigners and his own people since the Poles dared to stand up to him. Germany, he said, did not seek a conflict with Great Britain. It had been prepared all along to discuss the questions of Danzig and the Corridor with the Poles "on the basis of a proposal of truly unparalleled magnanimity." But the unconditional guarantee of Poland by Britain had only encouraged the Poles "to unloosen a wave of appalling terrorism against the one and a half million German inhabitants living in Poland." Such "atrocities" he declared, "are terrible for the victims but intolerable for a Great Power such as the German Reich." Germany would no longer tolerate them.

Finally he took note of the Prime Minister's assurance that Great Britain would honor its commitments to Poland and assured him "that it can make no change in the determination of the Reich Government to safeguard the interests of the Reich ... Germany, if attacked by England, will be found prepared and determined." [3]

What had this exchange of letters accomplished? Hitler now had a solemn assurance from Chamberlain that Britain would go to war if Germany attacked Poland. The Prime Minister had the Fuehrer's word that it would make no difference. But, as the events of the next hectic eight days would show, neither man believed on August 23 that he had heard the last word from the other.

This was especially true of Hitler. Buoyed up by the good news from Moscow and confident that, despite what Chamberlain had just written him, Great Britain and, in its wake, France would have second thoughts about honoring their obligations to Poland after the defection of Russia, the Fuehrer on the evening of August 23, as Henderson was flying back to Berlin, set the date for the onslaught on Poland: Saturday, August 26, at 4:30 A.M.

"There will be no more orders regarding Y Day and X Hour," General Halder noted in his diary. "Everything is to roll automatically."

But the Chief of the Army General Staff was wrong. On August 25 two events occurred which made Adolf Hitler shrink back from the abyss less than twenty-four hours before his troops were scheduled to break across the Polish frontier. One originated in London, the other in Rome.

On the morning of August 25, Hitler, who on the previous day had returned to Berlin to welcome Ribbentrop back from Moscow and receive a firsthand report on the Russians, got off a letter to Mussolini. It contained a belated explanation as to why he had not been able to keep his Axis partner informed of his negotiations with the Soviet Union. (He had "no idea," he said, that they would go so far so fast.) And he declared that the Russo-German pact "must be regarded as the greatest possible gain for the Axis."

But the real purpose of the letter, whose text is among the captured documents, was to warn the Duce that a German attack on Poland was liable to take place at any moment, though Hitler refrained from giving his friend and ally the exact date which he had set. "In case of intolerable events in Poland," he said, "I shall act immediately ... In these circumstances no one can say what the next hour may bring." Hitler did not specifically ask for Italy's help. That was, by the terms of the Italo-German alliance, supposed to be automatic. He contented himself with expressing the hope for Italy's understanding. [4] Nevertheless, he was anxious for an immediate answer. The letter was telephoned by Ribbentrop personally to the German ambassador in Rome and reached the Duce at 3:20 P.M.

In the meantime, at 1:30 P.M., the Fuehrer had received Ambassador Henderson at the Chancellery. His resolve to destroy Poland had in no way lessened but he was more anxious than he had been two days before, when he had talked with Henderson at Berchtesgaden, to make one last attempt to keep Britain out of the war. [ii] The ambassador found the Fuehrer, as he reported to London, "absolutely calm and normal and [he] spoke with great earnestness and apparent sincerity." Despite all his experience of the past year Henderson could not, even at this late date, see through the "sincerity" of the German Leader. For what Hitler had to say was quite preposterous. He "accepted" the British Empire, he told the ambassador, and was ready "to pledge himself personally to its continued existence and to commit the power of the German Reich for this."

He desired [Hitler explained] to make a move toward England which should be as decisive as the move towards Russia ... The Fuehrer is ready to conclude agreements with England which would not only guarantee the existence of the British Empire in all circumstances so far as Germany is concerned, but would also if necessary assure the British Empire of German assistance regardless of where such assistance should be necessary.

He would also be ready, he added, "to accept a reasonable limitation of armaments" and to regard the Reich's western frontiers as final. At one point, according to Henderson, Hitler lapsed into a typical display of sentimental hogwash, though the ambassador did not describe it as that when he recounted it in his dispatch to London. The Fuehrer stated

that he was by nature an artist, not a politician, and that once the Polish question was settled he would end his life as an artist and not as a warmonger.

But the dictator ended on another note.

The Fuehrer repeated [says the verbal statement drawn up by the Germans for Henderson] that he is a man of great decisions ... and that this is his last offer. If they [the British government] reject these ideas, there will be war.

In the course of the interview Hitler repeatedly pointed out that his "large comprehensive offer" to Britain, as he described it, was subject to one condition: that it would take effect only "after the solution of the German-Polish problem." When Henderson kept insisting that Britain could not consider his offer unless it meant at the same time a peaceful settlement with Poland, Hitler replied, "If you think it useless then do not send my offer at all."

However, the ambassador had scarcely returned to the embassy a few steps up the Wilhelmstrasse from the Chancellery before Dr. Schmidt was knocking at the door with a written copy of Hitler's remarks -- with considerable deletions -- coupled with a message from the Fuehrer begging Henderson to urge the British government "to take the offer very seriously" and suggesting that he himself fly to London with it, for which purpose a German plane would be at his disposal. [5]

It was rarely easy, as readers who have got this far in this book are aware, to penetrate the strange and fantastic workings of Hitler's fevered mind. His ridiculous "offer" of August 25 to guarantee the British Empire was obviously a brain storm of the moment, for he had not mentioned it two days before when he discussed Chamberlain's letter with Henderson and composed a reply to it. Even making allowances for the dictator's aberrations, it is difficult to believe that he himself took it as seriously as he made out to the British ambassador. Besides, how could the British government, as he requested, be asked, to take it "very seriously" when Chamberlain would scarcely have time to read it before the Nazi armies hurtled into Poland at dawn on the morrow -- the X Day which still held?

But behind the "offer," no doubt, was a serious purpose. Hitler apparently believed that Chamberlain, like Stalin, wanted an out by which he could keep his country out of war. [iii] He had purchased Stalin's benevolent neutrality two days before by offering Russia a free hand in Eastern Europe "from the Baltic to the Black Sea." Could he not buy Britain's nonintervention by assuring the Prime Minister that the Third Reich would never, like the Hohenzollern Germany, become a threat to the British Empire? What Hitler did not realize, nor Stalin -- to the latter's awful cost -- was that to Chamberlain, his eyes open at long last, Germany's domination of the European continent would be the greatest of all threats to the British Empire -- as indeed it would be to the Soviet Russian Empire. For centuries, as Hitler had noted in Mein Kampf, the first imperative of British foreign policy had been to prevent any single nation from dominating the Continent.

At 5:30 P.M. Hitler received the French ambassador but had little of importance to say to him beyond repeating that "Polish provocation of the Reich" could no longer be endured, that he would not attack France but that if France entered the conflict he would fight her to the end. Whereupon he started to dismiss the French envoy by rising from his chair. But Coulondre had something to say to the Fuehrer of the Third Reich and he insisted on saying it. He told him on his word of honor as a soldier that he had not the least doubt "that if Poland is attacked France will be at the side of Poland with all its forces."

"It is painful to me," Hitler replied, "to think of having to fight your country, but that does not depend on me. Please say that to Monsieur Daladier." [6]

It was now 6 P.M. of August 25 in Berlin. Tension in the capital had been building up all day. Since early afternoon all radio, telegraph and telephone communication with the outside world had been cut off on orders from the Wilhelmstrasse. The night before, the last of the British and French correspondents and nonofficial civilians had hurriedly left for the nearest frontier. During the day of the twenty-fifth, a Friday, it became known that the German Foreign Office had wired the embassies and consulates in Poland, France and Britain requesting that German citizens be asked to leave by the quickest route. My own diary notes for August 24-25 recall the feverish atmosphere in Berlin. The weather was warm and sultry and everyone seemed to be on edge. All through the sprawling city antiaircraft guns were being set up, and bombers flew continually overhead in the direction of Poland. "It looks like war," I scribbled on the evening of the twenty-fourth; "War is imminent," I repeated the next day, and on both nights, I remember, the Germans we saw in the Wilhelmstrasse whispered that Hitler had ordered the soldiers to march into Poland at dawn.

Their orders, we now know, were to attack at 4:30 on Saturday morning, August 26. [iv] And up until 6 P.M. on the twenty-fifth nothing that had happened during the day, certainly not the personal assurances of Ambassadors Henderson and Coulondre that Britain and France would surely honor their commitments to Poland, had budged Adolf Hitler from his resolve to go ahead with his aggression on schedule. But about 6 P.M., or shortly afterward, there arrived news from London and Rome that made this man of apparently unshakable will hesitate.

It is not quite clear from the confidential German records and the postwar testimony of the Wilhelmstrasse officials at just what time Hitler learned of the signing in London of the formal Anglo-Polish treaty which transformed Britain's unilateral guarantee of Poland into a pact of mutual assistance. [v] There is some evidence in Halder's diary and in the German Naval Register that the Wilhelmstrasse got wind at noon on August 25 that the pact would be signed during the day. The General Staff Chief notes that at 12 noon he got a call from OKW asking what was the latest deadline for postponement of the decision to attack and that he replied: 3 P.M. The Naval Register also mentions that news of the Anglo-Polish pact and of "information from the Duce" was received at noon.7 But this is impossible. Word from Mussolini did not arrive, according to a German notation on the document, until "about 6 P.M." And Hitler could not have learned of the signing of the Anglo-Polish treaty in London until about that time, since this event only took place at 5:35 P.M. -- and, at that, barely fifteen minutes after the Polish ambassador in London, Count Edward Raczynski, had received permission from his Foreign Minister in Warsaw over the telephone to affix his signature. [vi]

Whatever time he received it -- and around 6 P.M. is an accurate guess -- Hitler was moved by the news from London. This could well be Britain's answer to his "offer," the terms of which must have reached London by now. It meant that he had failed in his bid to buy off the British as he had bought off the Russians. Dr. Schmidt, who was in Hitler's office when the report arrived, remembered later that the Fuehrer, after reading it, sat brooding at his desk. [8]


His brooding was interrupted very shortly by equally bad news from Rome. Throughout the afternoon the German dictator had waited with "unconcealed impatience," as Dr. Schmidt describes it, for the Duce's reply to his letter. The Italian ambassador, Attolico, was summoned to the Chancellery at 3 P.M., shortly after Henderson had departed, but he could only inform the Fuehrer that no answer had been received as yet. By this time Hitler's nerves were so strained that he sent Ribbentrop out to get Ciano on the long-distance telephone, but the Foreign Minister was unable to get through to him. Attolico, Schmidt says, was dismissed "with scant courtesy." [9]

For some days Hitler had been receiving warnings from Rome that his Axis partner might go back on him at the crucial moment of the attack on Poland, and this intelligence was not without foundation. No soener had Ciano returned from his disillusioning meetings with Hitler and Ribbentrop on August 11 to 13, than he set to work to turn Mussolini against the Germans -- an action which did not escape the watchful eyes of the German Embassy in Rome. The Fascist Foreign Minister's diary traces the ups and downs of his efforts to make the Italian dictator see the light and disassociate himself, in time, from Hitler's war, [10] On the evening of his return from Berchtesgaden on August 13, Ciano saw the Duce and after describing his talks with Hitler and Ribbentrop tried to convince his chief that the Germans "have betrayed us and lied to us" and "are dragging us into an adventure."

The Duce's reactions are varied [Ciano noted in his diary that night]. At first he agrees with me. Then he says that honor compels him to march with Germany. Finally, he states that he wants his part of the booty in Croatia and Dalmatia.

August 14. -- I find Mussolini worried. 1 do not hesitate to arouse in him every possible anti-German reaction by every means in my power. 1 speak to him of his diminished prestige and his playing the role of second fiddle. And, finally, 1 turn over to him documents which prove the bad faith of the Germans on the Polish question. The alliance was based on premises which they now deny; they are traitors and we must not have any scruples in ditching them. But Mussolini still has many scruples.

On the next day. Ciano talked it out with Mussolini for six hours.

August 15. -- The Duce ... is convinced that we must not march blindly with the Germans. However ... he wants time to prepare the break with Germany ... He is more and more convinced that the democracies will fight ... This time it means war. And we cannot engage in war because our plight does not permit us to do so.

August 18. -- A conversation with the Duce in the morning; his usual shifting feelings. He still thinks it possible that the democracies will not march and that Germany might do good business cheaply, from which business he does not want to be excluded. Then, too, he fears Hitler's rage. He believes that a denunciation of the pact or something like it might induce Hitler to abandon the Polish question in order to square accounts with Italy. All this makes him nervous and disturbed.

August 20. -- The Duce made an about-face. He wants to support Germany at any cost in the conflict which is now close at hand ... Conference between Mussolini, myself, and Attolico. [The ambassador had returned from Berlin to Rome for consultations.] This is the substance: It is already too late to go back on the Germans ... The press of the whole world would say that Italy is cowardly ... I try to debate the matter but it is useless now. Mussolini holds very stubbornly to his idea . . .

August 21. -- Today I have spoken very clearly ... When 1 entered the room Mussolini confirmed his decision to go along with the Germans. "You, Duce, cannot and must not do it . .. I went to Salzburg in order to adopt a common line of action. 1 found myself face to face with a Diktat. The Germans, not ourselves, have betrayed the alliance ... Tear up the pact. Throw it in Hitler's face! ..."

The upshot of this conference was that Ciano should seek a meeting with Ribbentrop for the next day at the Brenner and inform him that Italy would stay out of a conflict provoked by a German attack on Poland. Ribbentrop was not available for several hours when Ciano put in a call for him at noon, but at 5:30 he finally came on the line. The Nazi Foreign Minister could not give Ciano an immediate answer about meeting on the Brenner on such quick notice, because he was "waiting for an important message from Moscow" and would cal1 back later. This he did at 10:30 P.M.

August 22. -- Last evening at 10:30 a new act opened [Ciano recorded in his diary]. Ribbentrop telephoned that he would prefer to see me in Innsbruck rather than at the frontier, because he was to leave later for Moscow to sign a political pact with the Soviet Government.

This was news, and of the most startling kind, to Ciano and Mussolini. They decided that a meeting of the two foreign ministers "would no longer be timely." Once more their German ally had shown its contempt for them by not letting them know about the deal with Moscow.

The hesitations of the Duce, the anti-German feelings of Ciano and the possibility that Italy might. crawl out of its obligations under Article III of the Pact of Steel, which called for the automatic participation in war of one party if the other party "became involved in hostilities with another Power," became known in Berlin before Ribbentrop set off for Moscow on August 22.

On August 20, Count Massimo Magistrati, the Italian charge d'affaires in Berlin, called on Weizsaecker at the Foreign Office and revealed "an Italian state of mind which, although it does not surprise me," the State Secretary informed Ribbentrop in a confidential memorandum, [11] "must in my opinion definitely be considered." What Magistrati brought to the attention of Weizsaecker was that since Germany had not adhered to the terms of the alliance, which cal1ed for close contact and consultation on major questions, and had treated its conflict with Poland as an exclusively German problem, "Germany was thus forgoing Italy's armed assistance." And if contrary to the German view the Polish conflict developed into a big war, Italy did not consider that the "prerequisites" of the alliance existed. In brief, Italy was seeking an out.

Two days later, on August 23, a further warning was received in Berlin from Ambassador Hans Georg von Mackensen in Rome. He wrote to Weizsaecker on what had been happening "behind the scenes." The letter, according to a marginal note in Weizsaecker's handwriting on the captured document, was "submitted to the Fuehrer." It must have opened his eyes. The Italian position, following a series of meetings between Mussolini, Ciano and Attolico, was, Mackensen reported, that if Germany invaded Poland she would violate the Pact of Steel, which was based on an agreement to refrain from war until 1942. Furthermore, contrary to the German view, Mussolini was sure that if Germany attacked Poland both Britain and France would intervene -- "and the United States too after a few months." While Germany remained on the defensive in the west the French and British,

in the Duce's opinion, would descend on Italy with all the forces at their disposal. In this situation Italy would have to bear the whole brunt of the war in order to give the Reich the opportunity of liquidating the affair in the East ... [12]

It was with these warnings in mind that Hitler got off his letter to Mussolini on the morning of August 25 and waited all day, with mounting impatience, for an answer. Shortly after midnight of the day before, Ribbentrop, after an evening recounting to the Fuehrer the details of his triumph in Moscow, rang up Ciano to warn him, "at the instigation of the Fuehrer," of the "extreme gravity of the situation due to Polish provocations." [vii] A note by Weizsaecker reveals that the call was made to "prevent the Italians from being able to speak of unexpected developments."

By the time Ambassador Mackensen handed Mussolini Hitler's letter at the Palazzo Venezia in Rome at 3:20 P.M. on August 25, the Duce, then, knew that the German attack on Poland was about to take place. Unlike Hitler, he was certain that Great Britain and France would immediately enter the war, with catastrophic consequences for Italy, whose Navy was no match for the British Mediterranean Fleet and whose Army would be overwhelmed by the French. [viii] According to a dispatch which Mackensen got off to Berlin at 10:25 P.M. describing the meeting, Mussolini, after carefully reading the letter twice in his presence, declared that he was "in complete agreement" about the Nazi-Soviet Pact and that he realized that an "armed conflict with Poland could no longer be avoided." Finally -- "and this he emphasized expressly," Mackensen reported -- "he stood beside us unconditionally and with all his resources."  [13]

But this was not what the Duce wrote the Fuehrer, unbeknownst to the German ambassador, the text of which was hurriedly telephoned by Ciano to Attolico, who had returned to his post in Berlin and who "about 6 P.M." arrived at the Chancellery to deliver it in person to Adolf Hitler. It struck the Fuehrer, according to Schmidt, who was present, like a bombshell. After expressing his "complete approval" of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and his "understanding concerning Poland," Mussolini came to the main point.

As for the practical attitude of Italy in case of military action (Mussolini wrote, and the emphasis is his], my point of view is as follows:

If Germany attacks Poland and the conflict remains localized, Italy will afford Germany every form of political and economic assistance which is requested of her.

If Germany attacks Poland [ix] and the latter's allies open a counterattack against Germany, I inform you in advance that it will be opportune for me not to take the initiative in military operations in view of the present state of Italian war preparations, of which we have repeatedly and in good time informed you, Fuehrer, and Herr von Ribbentrop.

Our intervention can, nevertheless, take place at once if Germany delivers to us immediately the military supplies and the raw materials to resist the attack which the French and English would predominantly direct against us.

At our meetings the war was envisaged for 1942, and by that time I would have been ready on land, on sea and in the air, according to the plans which had been concerted.

I am furthermore of the opinion that the purely military measures which have already been taken, and other measures to be taken later, will immobilize, in Europe and Africa, considerable French and British forces.

I consider it my bounden duty as a loyal friend to tell you the whole truth and inform you beforehand about the real situation. Not to do so might have unpleasant consequences for us all. This is my view, and since within a short time I must summon the highest governmental bodies, I beg you to let me know yours.

MUSSOLINI [x] [15]

So though Russia was in the bag as a friendly neutral instead of a belligerent, Germany's ally of the Pact of Steel was out of it -- and this on the very day that Britain had seemed to commit herself irrevocably by signing a mutual-assistance pact with Poland against German aggression. Hitler read the Duce's letter, told Attolico he would answer it immediately and icily dismissed the Italian envoy.

"The Italians are behaving just as they did in 1914," Dr. Schmidt overheard Hitler remark bitterly after Attolico had left, and that evening the Chancellery echoed with unkind words about the "disloyal Axis partner." But words were not enough. The German Army was scheduled to hop off against Poland in nine hours, for it was now 6:30 P.M. of August 25 and the invasion was set to begin at 4:30 A.M. on August 26. The Nazi dictator had to decide at once whether, in view of the news from London and Rome, to go ahead with it or postpone or cancel it.

Schmidt, accompanying Attolico out of Hitler's study, bumped into General Keitel rushing to the presence of the Fuehrer. A few minutes later the General hurried out, crying excitedly to his adjutant, "The order to advance must be delayed again!"

Hitler, pushed into a comer by Mussolini and Chamberlain, had swiftly made his decision. "Fuehrer considerably shaken," Halder noted in his diary, and then continued:

7:30 P.M. -- Treaty between Poland and England ratified. No opening of hostilities. All troop movements to be stopped, even near the frontier if not otherwise possible.

8:35 P.M. -- Keitel confirms. Canaris: Telephone restrictions lifted on England and France. Confirms development of events.

The German Naval Register gives a more concise account of the postponement, along with the reasons:

August 25: -- Case White already started will be stopped at 20:30 (8:30 P.M.) because of changed political conditions. (Mutual-Assistance Pact England-Poland of August 25, noon, and information from Duce that he would be true to his word but has to ask for large supply of raw materials.) [16]

Three of the chief defendants at Nuremberg submitted, under interrogation, their version of the postponement of the attack. [17] Ribbentrop claimed that when he heard about the Anglo-Polish pact and "heard" that "military steps were being taken against Poland" (as if he didn't know all along about the attack) he went "at once" to the Fuehrer and urged him to call off the invasion of Poland, to which "the Fuehrer at once agreed." This is surely entirely untrue.

But the testimony of Keitel and Goering at least seemed more honest. "I was suddenly called to Hitler at the Chancellery," Keitel recounted on the stand at Nuremberg, "and he said to me, 'Stop everything at once. Get Brauchitsch immediately. I need time for negotiations.'"

That Hitler still believed at this late hour that he could negotiate his way out of his impasse was confirmed by Goering during a pretrial interrogation at Nuremberg.

On the day that England gave her official guarantee to Poland the Fuehrer called me on the telephone and told me that he had stopped the planned invasion of Poland. I asked him whether this was just temporary or for good. He said, "No, I will have to see whether we can eliminate British intervention."

Though Mussolini's last-minute defection was a heavy blow to Hitler, it is obvious from the above testimony that Britain's action in signing a mutual-assistance treaty with Poland was the stronger influence in inducing the German leader to postpone the attack. Yet it is strange that after Ambassador Henderson on this very day had again warned him that Britain would fight if Poland were attacked and that after the British government had now solemnly given its word to that effect in a formal treaty, he still believed he could, as he told Goering, "eliminate British intervention." It is likely that his experience with Chamberlain at Munich led him to believe that the Prime Minister again would capitulate if a way out could be concocted. But again it is strange that a man who had previously shown such insight into foreign politics did not know of the changes in Chamberlain and in the British position. After all, Hitler himself had provoked them.

It took some doing to halt the German Army on the evening of August 25, for many units were already on the move. In East Prussia the order calling off the attack reached General Petzel's I Corps at 9:37 P.M. and only the frantic efforts of several officers who were rushed out to the forward detachments succeeded in stopping the troops. The motorized columns of General von Kleist's corps to the south had begun to move at dusk up to the Polish frontier. They were halted on the border by a staff officer who made a quick landing in a small scouting plane on the frontier. In a few sectors the orders did not arrive until after the shooting began, but since the Germans had been provoking incidents all along the border for several days the Polish General Staff apparently did not suspect what had really happened. It did report on August 26 that numerous "German bands" had crossed the border and attacked blockhouses and customs posts with machine guns and hand grenades and that "in one case it was a Regular Army detachment."


The news on the evening of August 25 that Hitler had called off the attack on Poland caused great jubilation among the conspiratorial members of the Abwehr. Colonel Oster gave Schacht and Gisevius the news, exclaiming, "The Fuehrer is done for," and the next morning Admiral Canaris was even more in the clouds. "Hitler," Canaris declared, "will never survive this blow. Peace has been saved for the next twenty years." Both men thought there was no further need of bothering to overthrow the Nazi dictator; he was finished.

For several weeks as the fateful summer approached its end the conspirators, as they conceived themselves, had again been busy, though with what purpose exactly it is difficult to comprehend. Goerdeler, Adam von Trott, Helmuth von Moltke, Fabian von Schlabrendorff and Rudolf Pechel had all made the pilgrimage to London and there had informed not only Chamberlain and Halifax but Churchill and other British leaders that Hitler planned to attack Poland at the end of August. These German opponents of the Fuehrer could see for themselves that Britain, right up to its umbrella-carrying Chamberlain, had changed since the days of Munich, and that the one condition they themselves had made the year before to their resolve to get rid of Hitler, namely that Britain and France declare they would oppose any further Nazi aggression by armed force, had now been fulfilled. What more did they want? It is not clear from the records they have left, and one gathers the impression that they did not quite know themselves. Well-meaning though they were, they were gripped by utter confusion and a paralyzing sense of futility. Hitler's hold on Germany -- on the Army, the police, the government, the people -- was too complete to be loosened or undermined by anything they could think of doing.

On August 15, Hassell visited Dr. Schacht at his new bachelor quarters in Berlin. The dismissed Minister of Economics had just returned from a six-month journey to India and Burma. "Schacht's view is," Hassell wrote in his diary, "that we can do nothing but keep our eyes open and wait, that things will follow their inevitable course." Hassell himself told Gisevius the same day, according to his own diary entry, that he "too was in favor of postponing direct action for the moment."

But what "direct action" was there to be put off? General Halder, keen as Hitler to smash Poland, was not at the moment interested in getting rid of the dictator. General von Witzleben, who was to have led the troops in the overthrow of the Fuehrer the year before, was now in command of an army group in the west and was, therefore, in no position to act in Berlin, even if he had wished to. But did he have any such wish? Gisevius visited him at his headquarters, found him listening to the BHC radio news from London and soon realized that the General was interested merely in finding out what was going on.

As for General Halder, he was preoccupied with last-minute plans for the onslaught on Poland, to the exclusion of any treasonable thoughts about getting rid of Hitler. When interrogated after the war -- on February 26, 1946 -- at Nuremberg, he was exceedingly fuzzy about why he and the other supposed enemies of the Nazi regime had done nothing in the last days of August to depose the Fuehrer and thus save Germany from involvement in war. "There was no possibility," he said. Why? Because General von Witzleben had been transferred to the west. Without Witzleben the Army could not act.

What about the German people? When Captain Sam Harris, the American interrogator, reminding Halder that he had said the German people were opposed to war, asked, "If Hitler were irrevocably committed to war, why couldn't you count on the support of the people before the invasion of Poland?" Halder replied, "You must excuse me if I smile. If I hear the word 'irrevocably' connected with Hitler, I must say that nothing was irrevocable." And the General Staff Chief went on to explain that as late as August 22, after Hitler had revealed to his generals at the meeting on the Obersalzberg his "irrevocable" resolve to attack Poland and fight the West if necessary, he himself did not believe that the Fuehrer would do what he said he would do. [18] In the light of Halder's own diary entries for this period, this is an astonishing statement indeed. But it is typical not only of Halder but of most of the other conspirators.

Where was General Beck, Halder's predecessor as Chief of the Army General Staff and the acknowledged leader of the conspirators? According to Gisevius, Beck wrote a letter to General von Brauchitsch but the Army Commander in Chief did not even acknowledge it. Next, Gisevius says, Beck had a long talk with Halder, who agreed with him that a big war would be the ruin of Germany but thought "Hitler would never permit a world war" and that therefore there was no need at the moment to try to overthrow him. [19]

On August 14, Hassell dined alone with Beck, and recorded their feeling of frustration in his diary.

Beck [is] a most cultured, attractive and intelligent man. Unfortunately, he has a very low opinion of the leading people in the Army. For that reason he could see no place there where we could gain a foothold. He is firmly convinced of the vicious character of the policies of the Third Reich. [20]

The convictions of Beck -- and of the others around him -- were high and noble, but as Adolf Hitler prepared to hurl Germany into war not one of these estimable Germans did anything to halt him. The task was obviously difficult and perhaps, at this late hour, impossible to fulfill. But they did not even attempt it.

General Thomas, perhaps, tried. Following up his memorandum to Keitel which he had personally read to the OKW Chief at the middle of August, [xi] he called on him again on Sunday, August 27, and, according to his own account, "handed him graphically illustrated statistical evidence ... [which] demonstrated clearly the tremendous military-economic superiority of the Western Powers and the tribulation we would face." Keitel, with unaccustomed courage, showed the material to Hitler, who replied that he did not share General Thomas' "anxiety over the danger of a world war, especially since he had now got the Soviet Union on his side." [21]

Thus ended the attempts of the "conspirators" to prevent Hitler from launching World War II, except for the feeble last-minute efforts of Dr. Schacht, of which the canny financier made much in his own defense at the Nuremberg trial. On his return from India in August he wrote letters to Hitler, Goering and Ribbentrop -- at the fateful moment none of the opposition leaders seem to have gone beyond writing letters and memoranda -- but, to his "very great surprise," as he said later, received no replies. Next he decided to go to Zossen, a few miles southeast of Berlin, where the Army High Command had set up headquarters for the Polish campaign, and personally confront General von Brauchitsch. To tell him what? On the witness stand at Nuremberg Schacht explained that he intended to tell the Army chief that it would be unconstitutional for Germany to go to war without the approval of the Reichstag! It was therefore the duty of the Army Commander in Chief to respect his oath to the constitution!

Alas, Dr. Schacht never got to see Brauchitsch. He was warned by Canaris that if he came to Zossen the Army commander "would probably have us arrested immediately" -- a fate that did not seem attractive to this former supporter of Hitler. [22] But the real reason Schacht did not go to Zossen on his ridiculous errand (it would have been child's play for Hitler to get the rubber-stamp Reichstag to approve his war had he wanted to bother with such a formality) was stated by Gisevius when he took the witness stand on behalf of Schacht at Nuremberg. It seems that Schacht planned to go to Zossen on August 25 and called off the trip when Hitler on that evening called off the attack on Poland scheduled for the next day. Three days later, according to the testimony of Gisevius, Schacht again decided to carry out his mission at Zossen but Canaris informed him it was too late. [23] It wasn't that the "conspirators" missed the bus; they never arrived at the bus station to try to catch it.

As ineffective as the handful of anti-Nazi Germans in staying Hitler's hand were the various neutral world leaders who now appealed to the Fuehrer to avert war. On August 24, President Roosevelt sent urgent messages to Hitler and the President of Poland pressing them to settle their differences without resorting to arms. President Moscicki, in a dignified reply the following day, reminded Roosevelt that it was not Poland which was "formulating demands and demanding concessions" but that nevertheless it was willing to settle its disputes with Germany by direct negotiation or by conciliation, as the American President had urged. Hitler did not reply (Roosevelt had reminded him that he had not answered the President's appeal to him of last April) and on the next day, August 25, Roosevelt sent a second message, informing Hitler of Moscicki's conciliatory response, and beseeching him to "agree to the pacific means of settlement accepted by the Government of Poland."

To the second letter there was no answer either, although on the evening of August 26 Weizsaecker summoned the American charge d'affaires in Berlin, Alexander C. Kirk, and asked him to tell the President that the Fuehrer had received the two telegrams and had placed them "in the hands of the Foreign Minister for consideration by the government."

The Pope took to the air on August 24 to make a broadcast appeal for peace, beseeching "by the blood of Christ ... the strong [to] hear us that they may not become weak through injustice ... [and] if they desire that their power may not be a destruction." On the afternoon of August 31 the Pope sent identical notes to the governments of Germany, Poland, Italy and the two Western Powers "beseeching, in the name of God, the German and Polish Governments ... to avoid any incident," begging the British, French and Italian governments to support his appeal and adding:

The Pope is unwilling to abandon hope that pending negotiations may lead to a just pacific solution.

His Holiness, like almost everyone else in the world, did not realize that the "pending negotiations" were but a propaganda trick by Hitler to justify his aggression. Actually, as shortly will be shown, there were no bona fide negotiations, pending or otherwise, on that last afternoon of the peace.
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Re: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi

Postby admin » Thu Feb 08, 2018 2:27 am

Part 2 of 3

A few days earlier, on August 23, the King of the Belgians, in the name of the rulers of the "Oslo" powers (Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Finland and the three Scandinavian states), had also broadcast a moving appeal for peace, calling "on the men who are responsible for the course of events to submit their disputes and their claims to open negotiation." On August 28 the King of the Belgians and the Queen of the Netherlands jointly offered their good offices "in the hope of averting war." [24]

Noble in form and in intent as all these neutral appeals were, there is something unreal and pathetic about them when reread today. It was as if the President of the United States, the Pope and the rulers of the small Northern European democracies lived on a different planet from that of the Third Reich and had no more understanding of what was going on in Berlin than of what might be transpiring on Mars. This ignorance of the mind and character and purposes of Adolf Hitler, and indeed of the Germans, who, with a few exceptions, were ready to follow him blindly no matter where nor how, regardless of morals, ethics, honor, or the Christian concept of humanity, was to cost the peoples led by Roosevelt and the monarchs of Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, Norway and Denmark dearly in the months to come.

Those of us who were in Berlin during those last few tense days of peace and who were attempting to report the news to the outside world knew very little either of what was going on in the Wilhelmstrasse, where the Chancellery and the Foreign Office were, or in the Bendlerstrasse, where the military had their offices. We followed as best we could the frantic comings and goings in the Wilhelmstrasse. We sifted daily an avalanche of rumors, tips and "plants." We caught the mood of the people in the street and of the government officials, party leaders, diplomats and soldiers of our acquaintance. But what was said at Ambassador Henderson's frequent and often stormy interviews with Hitler and Ribbentrop, what was written between Hitler and Chamberlain, between Hitler and Mussolini, between Hitler and Stalin, what was talked about between Ribbentrop and Molotov and between Ribbentrop and Ciano, what was contained in all the secret, coded dispatches humming over the wires between the stumbling, harassed diplomats and foreign-office officials, and all the moves which the military chiefs were planning or making -- of all this we and the general public remained almost completely ignorant at the time.

A few things, of course, we, and the public, knew. The Nazi-Soviet Pact was trumpeted to the skies by the Germans, though the secret protocol dividing up Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe remained unknown until after the war. We knew that even before it was signed Henderson had flown to Berchtesgaden to emphasize to Hitler that the pact would not prevent Britain from honoring its guarantee to Poland. As the last week of August began we felt in Berlin that war was inevitable  -- unless there was another Munich -- and that it would come within a few days. By August 25 the last of the British and French civilians had skipped out. The next day the big Nazi rally at Tannenberg scheduled for August 27, at which Hitler was to have spoken, was publicly called off, as was the annual party convention at Nuremberg (the "Party Rally of Peace," Hitler had officially called it), due to convene the first week of September. On August 27 the government announced that rationing of food, soap, shoes, textiles and coal would begin on the following day. This announcement, I remember, above all others, woke up the German people to the imminence of war, and their grumbling about it was very audible. On Monday, August 28, the Berliners watched troops pouring through the city toward the east. They were being transported in moving vans, grocery trucks and every other sort of vehicle that could be scraped up.

That too must have alerted the man in the street as to what was up. The weekend, I remember, had been hot and sultry and most of the Berliners, regardless of how near war was, had betaken themselves to the lakes and the woods which surround the capital. Returning to the city Sunday evening, they learned from the radio that there had been a secret, unofficial meeting of the Reichstag at the Chancellery. A D.N.B. communique stated that the "Fuehrer outlined the gravity of the situation" -- this was the first the German public had been told by Hitler that the hour was grave. No details of the meeting were given and no one outside of the Reichstag members and of Hitler's entourage could know of the mood the Nazi dictator was in that day. Halder's diary of August 28 supplied -- much later -- one account, given him by Colonel Oster of the Abwehr.

Conference at Reich Chancellery at 5:30 P.M. Reichstag and several Party notables ... Situation very grave. Determined to solve Eastern question one way or another. Minimum demands: return of Danzig, settling of Corridor question. Maximum demands: "Depending on military situation." If minimum demands not satisfied, then war: Brutal! He will himself be on front line. The Duce's attitude served our best interests.

War very difficult, perhaps hopeless; "As long as I am alive there will be no talk of capitulation." Soviet Pact widely misunderstood by Party. A pact with Satan to cast out the Devil ... "Applause on proper cues, but thin."

Personal impression of Fuehrer: exhausted, haggard, croaking voice, preoccupied. "Keeps himself completely surrounded now by his S.S. advisers."

In Berlin too a foreign observer could watch the way the press, under Goebbels' expert direction, was swindling the gullible German people. For six years, since the Nazi "co-ordination" of the daily newspapers, which had meant the destruction of a free press, the citizens had been cut off from the truth of what was going on in the world. For a time the Swiss German-language newspapers from Zurich and Basel could be purchased at the leading newsstands in Germany and these presented objective news. But in recent years their sale in the Reich had been either prohibited or limited to a few copies. For Germans who could read English or French, there were occasionally a few copies of the London and Paris journals available, though not enough to reach more than a handful of persons.

"How completely isolated a world the German people live in," I noted in my diary on August 10, 1939. "A glance at the newspapers yesterday and today, reminds you of it." I had returned to Germany from a brief leave in Washington, New York and Paris, and coming up in the train from my home in Switzerland two days before I had bought a batch of Berlin and Rhineland newspapers. They quickly propelled one back to the cockeyed world of Nazism, which was as unlike the world I had just left as if it had been on another planet. I noted further on August 10, after I had arrived in Berlin:

Whereas all the rest of the world considers that the peace is about to be broken by Germany, that it is Germany that is threatening to attack Poland ... here in Germany, in the world the local newspapers create, the very reverse is maintained ... What the Nazi papers are proclaiming is this: that it is Poland which is disturbing the peace of Europe; Poland which is threatening Germany with armed invasion ...



You ask: But the German people can't possibly believe these lies? Then you talk to them. So many do.

By Saturday, August 26, the date originally set by Hitler for the attack on Poland, Goebbels' press campaign had reached its climax. I noted in my diary some of the headlines.


On my way to Broadcast House at midnight I picked up the Sunday edition (August 27) of the Voelkischer Beobachter. Across the whole top of the front page were inch-high headlines:


There was no mention, of course, of any German mobilization, though, as we have seen, Germany had been mobilized for a fortnight.


After recovering from the cold douche of Mussolini's letter which had arrived early in the evening of August 25 and which, along with the news of the signing of the Anglo-Polish alliance, had caused him to postpone the attack on Poland scheduled for the next day, Hitler got off a curt note to the Duce asking him "what implements of war and raw materials you require and within what time" in order that Italy could "enter a major European conflict." The letter was telephoned by Ribbentrop personally to the German ambassador in Rome at 7 :40 P.M. and handed to the Italian dictator at 9: 30 P.M. [25]

The next morning, in Rome, Mussolini had a meeting with the chiefs of the Italian armed services to draw up a list of his minimum requirements for a war lasting twelve months. In the words of Ciano, who helped draw it up, it was "enough to kill a bull -- if a bull could read it." [26] It included seven million tons of petroleum, six million tons of coal, two million tons of steel, one million tons of timber and a long list of other items down to 600 tons of molybdenum, 400 tons of titanium, and twenty tons of zirconium. In addition Mussolini demanded 150 antiaircraft batteries to protect the Italian industrial area in the north, which was but a few minutes' flying time from French air bases, a circumstance which he reminded Hitler of in a letter which he now composed. This message was telephoned by Ciano to Attolico in Berlin shortly after noon on August 26 and immediately delivered to Hitler. [27]

It contained more than a swollen list of materials needed. By now the deflated Fascist leader was obviously determined to wriggle out of his obligations to the Third Reich, and the Fuehrer, after reading this second letter, could no longer have the slightest doubt of it.

FUEHRER [Mussolini wrote his comrade], I would not have sent you this list, or else it would have contained a smaller number of items and much lower figures, if 1had had the time agreed upon beforehand to accumulate stocks and to speed up the tempo of autarchy.

It is my duty to tell you that unless I am certain of receiving these supplies, the sacrifices I should call on the Italian people to make ... could well be in vain and could compromise your cause along with my own.

On his own hook, Ambassador Attolico, who was opposed to war, and especially to Italy's joining Germany in it if it came, emphasized to Hitler, when he delivered the message, "that all material must be in Italy before the beginning of hostilities" and that this demand was "decisive." [xii]

Mussolini was still hoping for another Munich. He added a paragraph to his note, declaring that if the Fuehrer thought there was still "any possibility whatsoever of a solution in the political field" he was ready, as before, to give his German colleague his full support. Despite their close personal relations and their Pact of Steel and all the noisy demonstrations of solidarity they had given in the past years, the fact remains that even at this eleventh hour Hitler had not confided to Mussolini his true aim, the destruction of Poland, and that the Italian partner remained quite ignorant of it. Only at the end of this day, the twenty-sixth, was this gulf between them finally bridged.

Within three hours on August 26, Hitler sent a long reply to the Duce's message. Ribbentrop again telephoned it, at 3:08 P.M., to Ambassador von Mackensen in Rome, who rushed it to Mussolini shortly after 5 P.M. While some of Italy's requirements such as coal and steel, Hitler said, could be met in full, many others could not. In any case, Attolico's insistence that the materials must be supplied before the outbreak of hostilities was "impossible."

And now, finally, Hitler took his friend and ally into his confidence as to his real and immediate aims.

As neither France nor Britain can achieve any decisive successes in the West, and as Germany, as a result of the Agreement with Russia, will have all her forces free in the East after the defeat of Poland ... I do not shrink from solving the Eastern question even at the risk of complications in the West.

Duce, I understand your position, and would only ask you to try to achieve the pinning down of Anglo-French forces by active propaganda and suitable military demonstrations such as you have already proposed to me. [29]

This is the first evidence in the German documents that, twenty-four hours after he had canceled the onslaught on Poland, Hitler had recovered his confidence and was going ahead with his plans, "even at the risk" of war with the West.

The same evening, August 26, Mussolini made somewhat of an effort to still dissuade him. He wrote again to the Fuehrer, Ciano again telephoned it to Attolico and it reached the Reich Chancellery just before 7 P.M.


I believe that the misunderstanding into which Attolico involuntarily fell was cleared up immediately ... That which I asked of you, except for the antiaircraft batteries, was to be delivered in the course of twelve months. But even though the misunderstanding has been cleared up, it is evident that it is impossible for you to assist me materially in filling the large gaps which the wars in Ethiopia and Spain have made in Italian armaments.

I will therefore adopt the attitude which you advise, at least during the initial phase of the conflict, thereby immobilizing the maximum Franco- British forces, as is already happening, while I shall speed up military preparations to the utmost possible extent.

But the anguished Duce -- anguished at cutting such a sorry figure at such a crucial moment -- still thought that the possibilities of another Munich should be looked into.

... I venture to insist anew [he continued] and not at all from considerations of a pacifist character foreign to my nature, but by reason of the interests of our two peoples and our two regimes, on the opportunity for a political solution which I regard as still possible and such a one as will give full moral and material satisfaction to Germany. [30]

The Italian dictator was, as the records now make clear, striving for peace because he was not ready for war. But his role greatly disturbed him. "I leave you to imagine," he declared to Hitler in this last of the exchange of messages on August 26, "my state of mind in finding myself compelled by forces beyond my control not to afford you real solidarity at the moment of action." Ciano noted in his diary after this busy day that "the Duce is really out of his wits. His military instinct and his sense of honor were leading him to war. Reason has now stopped him. But this hurts him very much ... Now he has had to confront the hard truth. And this, for the Duce, is a great blow."

After such a plentiful exchange of letters, Hitler was now resigned to Mussolini's leaving him in the lurch. Late on the night of August 26 he got off one more note to his Axis partner. It was dispatched by telegram from Berlin at 12: 10 A.M. on August 27 and reached Mussolini that morning at 9 o'clock.


I have received your communication on your final attitude. I respect the reasons and motives which led you to take this decision. In certain circumstances it can nevertheless work out well.

In my opinion, however, the prerequisite is that, at least until the outbreak of the struggle, the world should have no idea of the attitude Italy intends to adopt. I therefore cordially request you to support my struggle psychologically with your press or by other means. I would also ask you, Duce, if you possibly can, by demonstrative military measures, at least to compel Britain and France to tie down certain of their forces, or at all events to leave them in uncertainty.

But, Duce, the most important thing is this: If, as I have said, it should come to a major war, the issue in the East will be decided before the two Western Powers can score a success. Then, this winter, at latest in the spring, I shall attack in the West with forces which will be at least equal to those of France and Britain ...

I must now ask a great favor of you, Duce. In this difficult struggle you and your people can best help me by sending me Italian workers, for both industrial and agricultural purposes ... In specially commending this request of mine to your generosity, I thank you for all the efforts you have made for our common cause.


The Duce replied meekly late in the afternoon that the world would "not know before the outbreak of hostilities what the attitude of Italy is" -- he would keep the secret well. He would also tie down as many Anglo-French military and naval forces as possible and he would send Hitler the Italian workers he requested. [32] Earlier in the day he had repeated to Ambassador von Mackensen "in forceful terms," as the latter reported to Berlin, "that he still believed it possible to attain all our objectives without resort to war" and had added that he would again bring this aspect up in his letter to the Fuehrer. [33] But he did not. For the moment he seemed too discouraged to even mention it again.

Although France would provide almost the entire Allied army on Germany's western border if war were suddenly to come, and although, in the initial weeks, it would far outnumber the German forces there, Hitler seemed unconcerned as August began to run out about what the French would do. On August 26, Premier Daladier dispatched to him a moving and eloquent letter reminding him of what France would do; it would fight if Poland were attacked.

Unless you attribute to the French people [Daladier wrote] a conception of national honor less high than that which I myself recognize in the German people, you cannot doubt that France will be true to her solemn promises to other nations, such as Poland ...

After appealing to Hitler to seek a pacific solution of his dispute with Poland, Daladier added:

If the blood of France and of Germany flows again, as it did twenty-five years ago, in a longer and even more murderous war, each of the two peoples will fight with confidence in its own victory, but the most certain victors will be the forces of destruction and barbarism. [34]

Ambassador Coulondre, in presenting the Premier's letter, added a passionate verbal and personal appeal of his own, adjuring Hitler "in the name of humanity and for the repose of his own conscience not to let pass this last chance of a peaceful solution." But the ambassador had the "sadness" to report to Paris that Daladier's letter had not moved the Fuehrer -- "he stands pat."

Hitler's reply to the French Premier the next day was cleverly calculated to play on the reluctance of Frenchmen to "die for Danzig," though he did not use the phrase -- that was left for the French appeasers. Germany had renounced all territorial claims on France after the return of the Saar, Hitler declared; there was therefore no reason why they should go to war. If they did, it was not his fault and it would be "very painful" to him.

That was the extent of the diplomatic contact between Germany and France during the last week of peace. Coulondre did not see Hitler after the meeting on August 26 until all was over. The country that concerned the German Chancellor the most at this juncture was Great Britain. As Hitler had told Goering on the evening of August 25, when he postponed the move into Poland, he wanted to see whether he could "eliminate British intervention."


"Fuehrer considerably shaken," General Halder had noted in his diary on August 25 after the news from Rome and London had induced Hitler to draw back from the precipice of war. But the next afternoon the General Staff Chief noticed an abrupt change in the Leader. "Fuehrer very calm and clear," he jotted down in his diary at 3:22 P.M. There was a reason for this and the General's journal gives it. "Get everything ready for morning of 7th Mobilization Day. Attack starts September 1." The order was telephoned by Hitler to the Army High Command.

Hitler, then, would have his war with Poland. That was settled. In the meantime he would do everything he could to keep the British out. Halder's diary notes convey the thinking of the Fuehrer and his entourage during the decisive day of August 26.

Rumor has it that England is disposed to consider comprehensive proposal. [xiii] Details when Henderson returns. According to another rumor England stresses that she herself must declare that Poland's vital interests are threatened. In France more and more representations to the government against war ...

Plan: We demand Danzig, corridor through Corridor, and plebiscite on the same basis as Saar. England will perhaps accept. Poland probably not. Wedge between them. [35]

The emphasis is Halder's and there is no doubt that it accurately reflects up to a point what was in Hitler's mind. He would contrive to drive a wedge between Poland and Britain and give Chamberlain an excuse to get out of his pledge to Warsaw. Having ordered the Army to be ready to march on September I, he waited to hear from London about his grandiose offer to "guarantee" the British Empire.

He now had two contacts with the British government outside of the German Embassy in London, whose ambassador (Dirksen) was on leave, and which played no part in the frenzied eleventh-hour negotiations. One contact was official, through Ambassador Henderson, who had flown to London in a special German plane on the morning of Saturday, August 26, with the Fuehrer's proposals. The other was unofficial, surreptitious and, as it turned out, quite amateurish, through Goering's Swedish friend, the peripatetic Birger Dahlerus, who had flown to London from Berlin with a message for the British government from the Luftwaffe chief on the previous day.

"At this time," Goering related later during an interrogation at Nuremberg, "I was in touch with Halifax by a special courier outside the regular diplomatic channels." [xiv] [36] It was to the British Foreign Secretary in London that the Swedish "courier" made his way at 6:30 P.M. on Friday, August 25. Dahlerus had been summoned to Berlin from Stockholm the day before by Goering, who informed him that despite the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which had been signed the preceding night, Germany wanted an "understanding" with Great Britain. He put one of his own planes at the Swede's disposal so that he could rush to London to apprise Lord Halifax of this remarkable fact.

The Foreign Secretary, who an hour before had signed the Anglo- Polish mutual-assistance pact, thanked Dahlerus for his efforts and informed him that Henderson had just conferred with Hitler in Berlin and was flying to London with the Fuehrer's latest proposals and that since official channels of communication between Berlin and London had now been reopened he did not think the services of the Swedish intermediary would be needed any longer. But they soon proved to be. Telephoning Goering later that evening to report on his conference with Halifax, Dahlerus was informed by the Field Marshal that the situation had deteriorated as the result of the signing of the Anglo-Polish treaty and that probably only a conference between representatives of Britain and Germany could save the peace. As he later testified at Nuremberg, Goering, like Mussolini, had in mind another Munich.

Late the same night the indefatigable Swede informed the British Foreign Office of his talk with Goering, and the next morning he was invited to confer again with Halifax. This time he persuaded the British Foreign Secretary to write a letter to Goering, whom he described as the one German who might prevent war. Couched in general terms, the letter was brief and noncommittal. It merely reiterated Britain's desire to reach a peaceful settlement and stressed the need "to have a few days" to achieve it. [xv]

Nevertheless it struck the fat Field Marshal as being of the "greatest importance." Dahlerus had delivered it to him that evening (August 26), as he was traveling in his special train to his Luftwaffe headquarters at Oranienburg outside Berlin. The train was stopped at the next station, an automobile was commandeered and the two men raced to the Chancellery, where they arrived at midnight. The Chancellery was dark. Hitler had gone to bed. But Goering insisted on arousing him. Up to this moment Dahlerus, like so many others, believed that Hitler was not an unreasonable man and that he might accept a peaceful settlement, as he had the year before at Munich. The Swede was now to confront for the first time the weird fantasies and the terrible "temper of the charismatic dictator. [38] It was a shattering experience.

Hitler took no notice of the letter which Dahlerus had brought from Halifax and which had seemed important enough to Goering to have the Fuehrer waked up in the middle of the night. Instead, for twenty minutes he lectured the Swede on his early struggles, his great achievements and all his attempts to come to an understanding with the British. Next, when Dahlerus had got in a word about his having once lived in England as a worker, the Chancellor questioned him about the strange island and its strange people whom he had tried so vainly to understand. There followed a long and somewhat technical lecture on Germany's military might. By this time, Dahlerus says, he thought his visit "would not prove useful." In the end, however, the Swede seized an opportunity to tell his host something about the British as he had come to know them.

Hitler listened without interrupting me ... but then suddenly got up, and, becoming very excited and nervous, walked up and down saying, as though to himself, that Germany was irresistible ... Suddenly he stopped in the middle of the room and stood there staring. His voice was blurred, and his behavior that of a completely abnormal person. He spoke in staccato phrases: "If there should be war, then 1 shall build V-boats, build V-boats, V-boats, V-boats, V-boats." His voice became more indistinct and finally one could not follow him at all. Then he pulled himself together, raised his voice as though addressing a large audience and shrieked: "I shall build airplanes, build airplanes, airplanes, airplanes, and 1 shall annihilate my enemies." He seemed more like a phantom from a storybook than a real person. I stared at him in amazement and turned to see how Goering was reacting, but he did not turn a hair.

Finally the excited Chancellor strode up to his guest and said, "Herr Dahlerus, you who know England so well, can you give me any reason for my perpetual failure to come to an agreement with her?" Dahlerus confesses that he "hesitated at first" to answer but then replied that in his personal opinion the British "lack of confidence in him and in his Government was the reason."

"Idiots!" Dahlerus says Hitler stormed back, flinging out his right arm and striking his breast with his left hand. "Have I ever told a lie in my life?"

The Nazi dictator thereupon calmed down, there was a discussion of Hitler's proposals made through Henderson and it was finally settled that Dahlerus should fly back to London with a further offer to the British government. Goering objected to committing it to writing and the accommodating Swede was told he must, instead, commit it to memory. It contained six points:

1. Germany wanted a pact or alliance with Britain.

2. Britain was to help Germany obtain Danzig and the Corridor, but Poland was to have a free harbor in Danzig, to retain the Baltic port of Gdynia and a corridor to it.

3. Germany would guarantee the new Polish frontiers.

4. Germany was to have her colonies, or their equivalent, returned to her.

5. Guarantees were to be given for the German minority in Poland.

6. Germany was to pledge herself to defend the British Empire.

With these proposals imprinted in his memory, Dahlerus flew to London on the morning of Sunday, August 27, and shortly after noon was whisked by a roundabout route so as to avoid the snooping press reporters and ushered into the presence of Chamberlain, Lord Halifax, Sir Horace Wilson and Sir Alexander Cadogan. It was obvious that the British government now took the Swedish courier quite seriously.

He had brought with him some hastily scribbled notes jotted down in the plane describing his meeting with Hitler and Goering the night before. In these notes he assured the two leading members of the British cabinet who now scanned his memorandum that during the interview Hitler had been "calm and composed." Although no record of this extraordinary Sabbath meeting has been found in the Foreign Office archives, it has been reconstructed in the volume of Foreign Office papers (Volume VII, Third Series) from data furnished by Lord Halifax and Cadogan and from the emissary's memorandum. The British version differs somewhat from that given by Dahlerus in his book and at Nuremberg, but taking the various accounts together what follows seems as accurate a report as we shall ever get.

Chamberlain and Halifax saw at once that they were faced with two sets of proposals from Hitler, the one given to Henderson and the other now brought by Dahlerus, and that they differed. Whereas the first had proposed to guarantee the British Empire after Hitler had settled accounts with Poland, the second seemed to suggest that the Fuehrer was ready to negotiate through the British for the return of Danzig and the Corridor, after which he would "guarantee" Poland's new boundaries. This was an old refrain to Chamberlain, after his disillusioning experiences with Hitler over Czechoslovakia, and he was skeptical of the Fuehrer's offer as Dahlerus outlined it. He told the Swede that he saw "no prospect of a settlement on these terms; the Poles might concede Danzig, but they would fight rather than surrender the Corridor."

Finally it was agreed that Dahlerus should return to Berlin immediately with an initial and unofficial reply to Hitler and report back to London on Hitler's reception of it before the official response was drawn up and sent to Berlin with Henderson the next evening. As Halifax put it (according to the British version), "the issues might be somewhat confused as a result of these informal and secret communications through M. Dahlerus. It was [therefore] desirable to make it clear that when Dahlerus returned to Berlin that night he went, not to carry the answer of His Majesty's Government, but rather to prepare the way for the main communication" which Henderson would bring. [39]

So important had this unknown Swedish businessman become as an intermediary in the negotiations between the governments of the two most powerful nations in Europe that, according to his own account, he told the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary at this critical juncture that "they should keep Henderson in London until Monday [the next day] so that the answer could be given after they had been informed how Hitler regarded the English standpoint." [40]

And what was the English standpoint, as Dahlerus was to present it to Hitler? There is some confusion about it. According to Halifax's own rough notes of his verbal instructions to Dahlerus, the British standpoint was merely this:

i. Solemn assurance of desire for good understanding between G. and Gt.B. [The initials are Halifax's.] Not a single member of the Govt. who thinks different. ii. Gt.B. bound to honor her obligations to Poland. iii. German- Polish differences must be settled peacefully. [41]

According to Dahlerus, the unofficial British reply entrusted to him was more comprehensive.

Naturally, Point 6, the offer to defend the British Empire, was rejected. Similarly they did not want to have any discussion on colonies as long as Germany was mobilized. With regard to the Polish boundaries, they wanted them to be guaranteed by the five great powers. Concerning the Corridor, they proposed that negotiations with Poland be undertaken immediately. As to the first point [of Hitler's proposals] England was willing in principle to come to an agreement with Germany. [42]

Dahlerus flew back to Berlin Sunday evening and saw Goering shortly before midnight. The Field Marshal did not consider the British reply "very favorable." But after seeing Hitler at midnight, Goering rang up Dahlerus at his hotel at 1 A.M. and said that the Chancellor would "accept the English standpoint" provided the official version to be brought by Henderson Monday evening was in agreement with it.

Goering was pleased, and Dahlerus even more so. The Swede woke up Sir George Ogilvie Forbes, the counselor of the British Embassy, at 2 A.M. to give him the glad tidings. Not only to do that but -- such had his position become, at least in his own mind -- to advise the British government what to say in its official reply. That note, which Henderson would be bringing later on this Monday, August 28, must contain an undertaking, Dahlerus emphasized, that Britain would persuade Poland to negotiate with Germany directly and immediately.

Dahlerus has just telephoned [read a later dispatch from Forbes on August 28] from Goering's office following suggestions which he considers most important:

1. British reply to Hitler should not contain any reference to Roosevelt plan. [xvi]

2. Hitler suspects Poles will try to avoid negotiations. Reply should therefore contain clear statement that the Poles have been strongly advised to immediately establish contact with Germany and negotiate. [xvii] [43]

Throughout the day the now confident Swede not only heaped advice on Forbes, who dutifully wired it to London, but himself telephoned the British Foreign Office with a message for Halifax containing further suggestions.

At this critical moment in world history the amateur Swedish diplomat had indeed become the pivotal point between Berlin and London. At 2 P.M. on August 28, Halifax, who had been apprised both from his Berlin embassy and from Dahlerus' telephone call to the Foreign Office of the Swede's urgent advice, wired the British ambassador in Warsaw, Sir Howard Kennard, to see Foreign Minister Beck "at once" and get him to authorize the British government to inform Hitler "that Poland is ready to enter at once into direct discussion with Germany." The Foreign Secretary was in a hurry. He wanted to include the authorization in the official reply to Hitler which Henderson was waiting to carry back to Berlin this same day. He urged his ambassador in Warsaw to telephone Beck's reply. Late in the afternoon Beck gave the requested authorization and it was hastily inserted in the British note. [44]

Henderson arrived back in Berlin with it on the evening of August 28, and after being received at the Chancellery by an S.S. guard of honor, which presented arms and rolled its drums (the formal diplomatic pretensions were preserved to the end), he was ushered into the presence of Hitler, to whom he handed a German translation of the note, at 10:30 P.M. The Chancellor read it at once.

The British government "entirely agreed" with him, the communication said, that there must "first" be a settlement of the differences between Germany and Poland. "Everything, however," it added, "turns upon the nature of the settlement and the method by which it is to be reached." On this matter, the note said, the Chancellor had been "silent." Hitler's offer. to "guarantee" the British Empire was gently declined. The British government "could not, for any advantage offered to Great Britain, acquiesce in a settlement which put in jeopardy the independence of a State to whom they had given their guarantee."

That guarantee would be honored, but because the British government was "scrupulous" concerning its obligations to Poland the Chancellor must not think it was not anxious for an equitable settlement.

It follows that the next step should be the initiation of direct discussions between the German and Polish Governments on a basis ... of safeguarding Poland's essential interests and the securing of the settlement by an international guarantee.

They [the British government] have already received a definite assurance from the Polish Government that they are prepared to enter into discussions on this basis, and H. M. Government hope the German Government would also be willing to agree to this course.

... A just settlement ... between Germany and Poland may open the way to world peace. Failure to reach it would ruin the hopes of an understanding between Germany and Great Britain, would bring the two countries into conflict and might well plunge the whole world into war. Such an outcome would be a calamity without parallel in history. [45]

When Hitler had finished reading the communication, Henderson began to elaborate on it from notes, he told the Fuehrer, which he had made during his conversations with Chamberlain and Halifax. It was the only meeting with Hitler, he said later, in which he, the ambassador, did most of the talking. The gist of his remarks was that Britain wanted Germany's friendship, it wanted peace, but it would fight if Hitler attacked Poland. The Fuehrer, who was by no means silent, replied by expatiating on the crimes of Poland and on his own "generous" offers for a peaceful settlement with her, which would not be repeated. In fact today "nothing less than the return of Danzig and the whole of the Corridor would satisfy him, together with a rectification in Silesia, where ninety per cent of the population voted for Germany at the postwar plebiscite." This was not true nor was Hitler's rejoinder a moment later that a million Germans had been driven out of the Corridor after 1918. There had been only 385,000 Germans there, according to the German census of 1910, but by this time, of course, the Nazi dictator expected everyone to swallow his lies. For the last time in his crumbling mission to Berlin, the British ambassador swallowed a good deal, for, as he declared in his Final Report, "Herr Hitler on this occasion was again friendly and reasonable and appeared to be not dissatisfied with the answer which I had brought to him."

"In the end I asked him two straight questions," Henderson wired London at 2:35 A.M. in a long dispatch describing the interview. [46]

Was he willing to negotiate direct with the Poles, and was he ready to discuss the question of an exchange of populations? He replied in the affirmative as regards the latter (though I have no doubt that he was thinking at the same time of a rectification of frontiers).

As to the first point, he would first have to give "careful consideration" to the whole British note. At this point, Henderson recounted in his dispatch, the Chancellor turned to Ribbentrop and said, "We must summon Goering to discuss it with him." Hitler promised a written reply to the British communication on the next day, Tuesday, August 29.

"Conversation was conducted," Henderson emphasized to Halifax, "in quite a friendly atmosphere in spite of absolute firmness on both sides." Probably Henderson, despite all of his personal experience with his host, did not quite appreciate why Hitler had made the atmosphere so friendly. The Fuehrer was still resolved to go to war that very weekend against Poland; he was still hopeful, despite all the British government and Henderson had said, of keeping Britain out of it.

Apparently, Hitler, encouraged by the obsequious and ignorant Ribbentrop, simply could not believe that the British meant what they said, though he said he did.

The next day Henderson added a postscript to his long dispatch.

Hitler insisted that he was not bluffing, and that people would make a big mistake jf they believed that he was. I replied that I was fully aware of the fact and that we were not bluffing either. Herr Hitler stated that he fully realized that. [47]

He said so, but did he realize it? For in his reply on August 29 he deliberately tried to trick the British government in a way which he must have thought would enable him to eat his cake and have it too.

The British reply and Hitler's first reaction to it generated a burst of optimism in Berlin, especially in Goering's camp, where the inimitable Dahlerus now spent most of his time. At 1:30 in the morning of August 29 the Swede received a telephone call from one of the Field Marshal's adjutants, who was calling from the Chancellery, where Hitler, Ribbentrop and Goering had pondered the British note after Henderson's departure. The word to Dahlerus from his German friend was that the British reply "was highly satisfactory and that there was every hope that the threat of war was past."

Dahlerus conveyed the good news by long-distance telephone to the British Foreign Office later that morning, informing Halifax that "Hitler and Goering considered that there was now a definite possibility of a peaceful settlement." At 10:50 A.M. Dahlerus saw Goering, who greeted him effusively, pumped his hand warmly and exclaimed, "There will be peace! Peace is secured!" Fortified with such happy assurances, the Swedish courier made immediately for the British Embassy to let Henderson, whom he had not yet personally met, in on the glad tidings. According to the ambassador's dispatch describing this encounter, Dahlerus reported that the Germans were highly optimistic. They "agreed" with the "main point" of the British reply. Hitler, Dahlerus said, was asking "only" for Danzig and the Corridor -- not the whole Corridor but just a small one along the railroad tracks to Danzig. In fact, Dahlerus reported, the Fuehrer was prepared to be "most reasonable. He would go a long way to meet the Poles." [48]

Sir Nevile Henderson, on whom some light was finally dawning, was not so sure. He told his visitor, according to the latter, that one could not believe a word that Hitler said and the same went for Dahlerus' friend, Hermann Goering, who had lied to the ambassador "heaps of times." Hitler, in the opinion of Henderson, was playing a dishonest and ruthless game.

But the Swede, now at the very center of affairs, could not be persuaded  -- his awakening was to come even after Henderson's. Just to make sure that the ambassador's inexplicable pessimism did not jeopardize his own efforts, he again telephoned the British Foreign Office at 7:10 P.M. to leave a message for Halifax that there would be "no difficulties in the German reply." But, advised the Swede, the British government should tell the Poles "to behave properly." [49]

Five minutes later, at 7: 15 o'clock on the evening of August 29, Henderson arrived at the Chancellery to receive from the Fuehrer Germany's actual reply. It soon became evident how hollow had been the optimism of Goering and his Swedish friend. The meeting, as the ambassador advised Halifax immediately afterward, "was of a stormy character and Herr Hitler was far less reasonable than yesterday."

The formal, written German note itself reiterated the Reich's desire for friendship with Great Britain but emphasized that "it could not be bought at the price of a renunciation of vital German interests." After a long and familiar rehearsal of Polish misdeeds, provocations and "barbaric actions of maltreatment which cry to heaven," the note presented Hitler's demands officially and in writing for the first time: return of Danzig and the Corridor, and the safeguarding of Germans in Poland. To eliminate "present conditions," it added, "there no longer remain days, still less weeks, but perhaps only hours."

Germany, the communication continued, could no longer share the British view that a solution could be reached by direct negotiations with Poland. However, "solely" to please the British government and in the interests of Anglo-German friendship, Germany was ready "to accept the British proposal and enter into direct negotiations" with Poland. "In the event of a territorial rearrangement in Poland," the German government could not give guarantees without the agreement of the Soviet Union. (The British government, of course, did not know of the secret protocol of the Nazi-Soviet Pact dividing up Poland.) "For the rest, in making these proposals," the note declared, "the German Government never had any intention of touching Poland's vital interests or questioning the existence of an independent Polish State."

And then, at the very end, came the trap.

The German Government accordingly agree to accept the British Government's offer of their good offices in securing the dispatch to Berlin of a Polish emissary with full powers. They count on the arrival of this emissary on Wednesday, August 30, 1939.

The German Government will immediately draw up proposals for a solution acceptable to themselves and will, if possible, place these at the disposal of the British Government before the arrival of the Polish negotiator. [50]

Henderson read through the note while Hitler and Ribbentrop watched him and said nothing until he came to the passage saying that the Germans expected the arrival of a Polish emissary with full powers on the following day.

"That sounds like an ultimatum," he commented, but Hitler and Ribbentrop strenuously denied it. They merely wished to stress, they said, "the urgency of the moment when two fully mobilized armies were standing face to face."

The ambassador, no doubt mindful of the reception accorded by Hitler to Schuschnigg and Hacha, says he asked whether if a Polish plenipotentiary did come he would be "well received" and the discussions "conducted on a footing of complete equality."

"Of course," Hitler answered.

There followed an acrimonious discussion provoked at one point by Hitler's "gratuitous" remark, as Henderson put it, that the ambassador did not "care a row of pins" how many Germans were being slaughtered in Poland. To this Henderson says he made a "heated retort." [xviii]

"I left the Reich Chancellery that evening filled with the gloomiest forebodings," Henderson recounted later in his memoirs, though he does not seem to have mentioned this in his dispatches which he got off to London that night. "My soldiers," Hitler had told him, "are asking me, 'Yes or no?'" They had already lost a week and they could not afford to lose another "lest the rainy season in Poland be added to their enemies."

Nevertheless it is evident from the ambassador's official reports and from his book that he did not quite comprehend the nature of Hitler's trap until the next day, when another trap was sprung and the Fuehrer's trickery became clear. The dictator's game seems quite obvious from the text of his formal note. He demanded on the evening of August 29 that an emissary with full powers to negotiate show up in Berlin the next day. There can be no doubt that he had in mind inflicting on him the treatment he had accorded the Austrian Chancellor and the Czechoslovak President under what he thought were similar circumstances. If the Poles, as he was quite sure, did not rush the emissary to Berlin, or even if they did and the negotiator declined to accept Hitler's terms, then Poland could be blamed for refusing a "peaceful settlement" and Britain and France might be induced not to come to its aid when attacked. Primitive, but simple and clear. [xix]

But on the night of August 29 Henderson did not see it so clearly. While he was still working on his dispatches to London describing his meeting with Hitler he invited the Polish ambassador to come over to the embassy. He filled him in on the German note and his talk with Hitler and, by his own account, "impressed on him the need for immediate action. I implored him, in Poland's own interests, to urge his Government to nominate without any delay someone to represent them in the proposed negotiations." [52]

In the London Foreign Office, heads were cooler. At 2 A.M. on August 29, Halifax, after pondering the German reply and Henderson's account of the meeting with Hitler, wired the ambassador that while careful consideration would be given the German note, it was "of course unreasonable to expect that we can produce a Polish representative in Berlin today, and German Government must not expect this." [53] The diplomats and Foreign Office officials were now laboring frantically around the clock and Henderson conveyed this message to the WiIhelmstrasse at 4: 30 A.M.

He conveyed four further messages from London during the day, August 30. One was a personal note from Chamberlain to Hitler advising him that the German reply was being considered "with all urgency" and that it would be answered later in the afternoon. In the meantime the Prime Minister urged the German government, as he said he had the Polish government, to avoid frontier incidents. For the rest, he "welcomed the evidence in the exchanges of views which are taking place of the desire for an Anglo-German understanding." [54] The second message was in similar terms from Halifax. A third from the Foreign Secretary spoke of reports of German sabotage in Poland and asked the Germans to refrain from such activities. The fourth message from Halifax, dispatched at 6:50 P.M., reflected a stiffening of both the Foreign Office and the British ambassador in Berlin.

On further reflection, Henderson had got off a wire to London earlier in the day:

While I still recommend that the Polish Government should swallow this eleventh-hour effort to establish direct contact with Hitler, even if it be only to convince the world that they were prepared to make their own sacrifice for preservation of peace, one can only conclude from the German reply that Hitler is determined to achieve his ends by so-called peaceful fair means if he can, but by force if he cannot. [55]

By this time even Henderson had no more stomach for another Munich. The Poles had never considered one -- for themselves. At 10 A.M. that morning of August 30, the British ambassador in Warsaw had wired Halifax that he felt sure "that it would be impossible to induce the Polish Government to send M. Beck or any other representative immediately to Berlin to discuss a settlement on the basis proposed by Hitler. They would sooner fight and perish rather than submit to such humiliation, especially after the examples of Czechoslovakia, Lithuania and Austria." He suggested that if negotiations were to be "between equals" they must take place in some neutral country. [56]

His own stiffening attitude thus reinforced from his ambassadors in Berlin and Warsaw, Halifax wired Henderson that the British government could not "advise" the Poles to comply with Hitler's demand that an emissary with full powers come to Berlin. It was, said the Foreign Secretary, "wholly unreasonable."

Could you not suggest [Halifax added] to German Government that they adopt the normal procedure, when their proposals are ready, of inviting the Polish Ambassador to call and handing proposals to him for transmission to Warsaw and inviting suggestions as to conduct of negotiations. [57]

The promised British reply to Hitler's latest note was delivered to Ribbentrop by Henderson at midnight on August 30-31. There now ensued a highly dramatic meeting which Dr. Schmidt, the only observer present, later described as "the stormiest 1 have ever experienced during my twenty-three years as interpreter." [58]

"I must tell you," the ambassador wired Halifax immediately afterward, "that Ribbentrop's whole demeanor during an unpleasant interview was aping Hitler at his worst." And in his Final Report three weeks later Henderson recalled the German Foreign Minister's "intense hostility, which increased in violence as I made each communication in turn. He kept leaping from his chair in a state of great excitement and asking if I had anything more to say. I kept replying that I had." According to Schmidt, Henderson was also aroused from his chair. At one point, says this sole eyewitness, both men leaped from their seats and glared at each other so angrily that the German interpreter thought they were coming to blows.

But what is important for history is not the grotesqueness of this meeting between the German Minister for Foreign Affairs and His Majesty's Ambassador in Berlin at midnight of August 30-31, but a development, during the tempestuous interview, which produced Hitler's final act of trickery and completed, when it was too late, the education of Sir Nevile Henderson insofar as the Third Reich was concerned.

Ribbentrop scarcely glanced at the British reply or listened to Henderson's attempted explanation of it. [xx] When Henderson ventured to ask for the German proposals for a Polish settlement, which had been promised the British in Hitler's last note, Ribbentrop retorted contemptuously that it was now too late since the Polish emissary had not arrived by midnight. However, the Germans had drawn up proposals and Ribbentrop now proceeded to read them.

He read them in German "at top speed, or rather gabbled to me as fast as he could, in a tone of utmost annoyance," Henderson reported.

Of the sixteen articles 1 was able to gather the gist of six or seven, but it would have been quite impossible to guarantee even the exact accuracy of these without a careful study of the text itself. When he had finished I accordingly asked him to let me see it. Ribbentrop refused categorically, threw the document with a contemptuous gesture on the table and said that it was now out of date since no Polish emissary had arrived by midnight. [xxi]
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