British and French Appeasement
Britain and France were totally unaware of the opposition growing among the German military to Hitler's plans. They saw instead the concentrated psychological warfare being waged against the Czechs. In August and September, the German press was full of stories of alleged Czech atrocities against Sudeten Germans. Clearly, the campaign aimed at having the Western Powers put pressure on the Czechs to make concessions. Hitler was confident that the Czechs would refuse and that the England and France would then feel morally justified to abandon Czechoslovakia to its fate.
The campaign was effective. Both Britain and France urged Prague to make concessions to the Sudeten Germans.Prime Minister Chamberlain had been determined all along to avoid war over Czechoslovakia, and the French, who were official allies of Prague, now followed this lead.
20 July 1938 French Foreign Minister Georges Bonnet Memorandum
I have had a talk with M. Osusky the Czech envoy to France. It was a question of explaining clearly once again to M. Osusky the French position. I read to him again the key passages of the British memorandum of 22 May 1938. The British Government was not willing to support France in the Sudeten affair... It considered moreover that the outcome of a conflict would be "doubtful" at the present time.
The Czechoslovak government must fully understand our position: France will not go to war for the Sudeten affair. Certainly, publicly we will affirm our solidarity, as the Czechoslovak government desires, but this affirmation of solidarity is to allow the Czechoslovak government to reach a peaceful and honorable solution with the Sudeten Germans. In no case must the Czechoslovak government think that if war breaks out we will be at her side, especially since in this matter our diplomatic isolation is almost total...
I told him that, of course, if I had to speak publicly I would recall the bonds that united us to Czechoslovakia. But the Czechoslovak government had to be fully convinced that France, like England would not go to war. It is painful for me to have conversations of this kind with M. Osusky, with whom I am on friendly terms. But above all, it is essential for things to be clear...
When the German Chargè in London, Kordt (a brother of Weizsäcker's chief advisor), brutally pointed out that Berlin was insisting that they would tolerate no solution that left the Czechoslovakian state intact, the principle British advisor to Prime Minister Chamberlain did not seemed disturbed.
23 August 1938 Memorandum of an Interview between Kordt and Sir Horace Wilson
[Wilson said] a policy of this nature could quite well be discussed with Great Britain. It was only necessary that this policy should not be rendered impossible by the sudden use of force by us. He completely agreed with my remarks on the present unnatural and absurd position of Czechoslovakia. If there was a possibility here of settling the question by peaceful political means. the British Government was prepared to enter into serious negotiations. He asked me if the Führer were prepared to regard such a solution of the Czechoslovak problem as the beginning of further negotiations on a larger scale. The Führer had used the simile to an Englishman (he thought it was Lord Halifax) that European culture rested on two pillars which must be linked by a powerful arch: Great Britain and Germany. Great Britain and Germany were in fact the two countries in which the greatest order reigned and which were the best governed. Both were built up on the national principle, which had been designed by nature itself as the only working principle of human relationship. The reverse of this, Bolshevism, meant anarchy and barbarism. It would be the height of folly if these two leading white races were to exterminate each other in war. Bolshevism would be the gainer thereby.
Wilson then turned to Germany's south-eastern policy. A constructive solution of the Czech question by peaceful means would leave the way clear for Germany to exert large-scale policy in the south-cast. he himself was not one of those who held the view that Germany wanted to organize south-eastern Europe and then to use its resources for the annihilation of the British Empire. In these areas he could see possibilities of action for Germany better than any that could be imagined. The Balkan countries were the natural buyers of German manufactured goods. and on the other hand were the natural sources of raw materials essential to Germany. There was no sense in sending a turkey from Budapest to London instead of to Berlin. Neither had Great Britain any intention of opposing development by Germany in a south-easterly direction. Her only wish was that she should not be debarred from trade there....
Britain was apparently prepared for Germany to annex areas as long as it was done through negotiations, and this included broader areas of South-Eastern Europe. France, for her part, was equally determined not to get dragged into a war over Czechoslovakia.
19 September 1938 Georges Bonnet Memorandum
After the meeting of the cabinet, I handed to M. Osusky the Franco-British plan. I reminded him of our previous talks in June and in July. If I had continued, as the Czechoslovak government wanted, to affirm publicly our solidarity with Prague, Prague knew very well that it was not with a view to war&emdash;England and ourselves did not want to go to war&emdash;but in order to allow Prague to reach a peaceful settlement; he had been warned of that for a long time. I regretted that a solution had not bee reached sooner. In any case, the Franco-British plan represented for Czechoslovakia the least unpleasant solution at the present hour.
Since we know that a special German Wire-tap unit was monitoring all Czech dispatches and telephone calls, it is entirely likely that this information formed the cause of Hitler's conviction that the western powers would not fight.
If Prague were deliberately playing a double game here&emdash;seeking public statements of solidarity from France and England which they hoped to turn against them and force support&emdash;it is not surprising that opposition forces to Hitler within Germany should have misread the signs.
During late August 1938, these resistance leaders believed that Hitler was driving Germany into a war and that only the strongest statements from Britain and France about their determination to fight, would save the day.
German Opposition to War
19 August 1938 Weizsäcker Memorandum of a conversation with Ribbentrop
During a conversation with the Minister on 19 August, he explained to me that the Führer was firmly resolved to settled the Czech affair by force of arms. He described the middle of October as the latest possible date because of technical reasons governing air operations. The other powers would certainly not make any more and, even if they did, we should accept their challenge and defeat them as well.
I refuted this whole theory, as previously, and remarked that we must reach the political stage of a falling off in British interest in the Czech affair and also of British tolerance before we could take up the matter without running an unjustifiable risk. Herr von Ribbentrop sought to represent the question of responsibility in such a way that I was responsible to him alone, he to the Führer alone, and the Führer solely to the German people, while I maintained that it was necessary to be deeply rooted in the theory of such a policy in order to carry it out to the best advantage. Herr von Ribbentrop declared that the Führer had never yet made a mistake; his most difficult decisions and acts (occupation of the Rhineland) already lay behind him. It was necessary to believe in his genius, just as he, R., did from long years of experience. If I had not yet reached the stage of blind belief in the question under discussion&emdash;as I expressly told Ribbentrop I had not&emdash;then he desired of me, in a friendly manner and urgently, too, that I should do so. I should certainly regret it later, it I did not succeed in doing so and the facts then contradicted me.
The conversation, during which Ribbentrop sought to corroborate his arguments by citing a large number of military aspects, passed off for the rest calmly and as between intimates.
It may also be worthy of note that, according to Ribbentrop's account, the Führer intends to move into Czechoslovakia himself at the head of the leading armored division. The Foreign Minister is to accompany him into action...
A few days later, the army received confirmation of Hitler's final decision to use military force.
27 August 1938 Helmuth Groscurth Diary Entry
Visit to office by Karl Hermann Frank. He reports on his conversation with the Führer on August 26. The Führer is determined on war! He orders the immediate organizing of provocative incidents in Czechoslovakia. He abuses President Benes, wants to take him alive and then personally string him up. Admiral C. requests that Henlein relay our objections to the war directly to the Führer. Frank is puzzled by our pessimism, but also shares some of it.
In a last desperate bid to halt these developments, General Ludwig Beck appealed to all the leading generals to resign as a group. When this failed, he offered his own resignation on 27 August 1938. Hitler accepted it at once, but asked Beck not to publish the news, because of the damage it might do to Germany in these tense days. Surprisingly, Beck&emdash;who was still a German patriot to the core&emdash;agreed to this request. Thus the whole effect of his resignation was voided!
In the meantime, other forces continued to apply pressure.
30 August 1938 Weizsäcker to Ribbentrop
The Political Situation at the End of August
Germany is keyed up for war with Czechoslovakia and is completely prepared for it. These preparations are widely known abroad. From the middle of September further preparations (troop concentrations) will take place which will likewise not be concealed from other countries. There is no question, therefore, of a surprise element here.
Reviewing the attitude of the other countries, Weizsäcker notes that neither Hungary nor Italy is committed to helping, so Germany stands alone.
Czechoslovakia is playing for high stakes and would not avoid a war, because in her view she is confident of receiving assistance from outside.
Great Britain and France wish to prevent war as far as they can; nevertheless, they are not ready for the decision to sacrifice their friendship for Czechoslovakia in order to keep the peace. Poland is on the alert and wants to keep all roads open to her self... The only certainty is that, in event of war, Poland will not permit the Russians to set foot in their country.
The coming weeks will raise the Czech problem from a localized one to a European crisis. The attitude of the European great powers in their diplomatic and military faces will then be demonstrated in a clearer fashion than hitherto. There will then no longer be any doubt that if Germany invade Czechoslovakia she will have the Western Powers as her enemies. In this situation the leaders of German policy must, in my opinion, revise their plans. If they do not do so, the war&emdash;shortly after the German invasion&emdash;would develop into a European one. This war would sooner or later end in a German capitulation. The coalition of the Western Powers can, if it will, decide the war against German without any great bloodshed by the mere employment of siege tactics. The consequences of such a defeat for Adolf Hitler's reconstruction work are obvious.
However, there is no need for us to sacrifice the fruits of our previous Czech policy if we change our warlike tactics. What can be achieved at present can be obtained by negotiations on the existing basis, whereby reduction of our military preparations would lead pari passu to a change of policy by the opposite side.
Whether there will be opportunity and indeed necessity to take military action against the Czechs later on, depends on whether the Czechs, as is expected, will oppress the Sudeten Germans further, forfeit British and French help, and expose their flanks to a German surprise attack. Meanwhile it would be advisable to tighten more and more the German economic screw on the Czechs.
2 September 1938 Helmuth Groscurth Diary Entry
He has learned that Hitler had told Admiral Horthy, Regent of Hungary, that Germany will attack Czechoslovakia between September 15 and October 15. According to Hitler, "England and France will not counterattack."
In the afternoon, [Henlein's liaison in Berlin] reports on his conversation with the Führer on August 30. The Führer believes that England is bluffing in order to win time. He will, therefore, receive no English representative. There is no reason to expect the intervention of England, but if it happens, Germany stands fully armed and ready. England has no fighter planes that can interfere with the faster German bombers. The English anti-aircraft reaches 3000 meters lower than the Germans'. England has no ships with which it can attack the German coastline. German provisioning is assured by our potatoes and the new potato harvest (??). Should France attack, a "small revision" in the Western boundaries may be expected. The western fortifications are up and are terrifically strong [total nonsense!] Now is the most favorable time for an attack against Czechoslovakia. December will be much too late&emdash;"they may have arrested my Henlein by then." Henlein has been ordered to Berchtesgaden.
This evening, dinner with Admiral Canaris and the Hungarian Military Attaché Homlok. The Italian Ambassador, Attolico, on direct orders from the Italian government, has declared that the present time is unbelievably unfavorable for an attack. General Beck has taken formal leave of the Admiral, and announced that he was the only one who had never disappointed him.
Later we receive a report from Paris on the discussion between Premier Bonnet and German Ambassador Welczeck. France declares in no uncertain terms that it will intervene and hold to her alliance with Czechoslovakia. They urgently suggest negotiations and are ready for the most broad concessions and will exercise the strongest pressures upon Prague to accept these. "But an honorable people must keep their word." They go so far as to suggest that if Hitler preserves the peace, he would be jubilantly welcomed in Paris and celebrated as a really great man. "This statement will be entered into the official archives of the French Government, and they request that it be relayed word for word directly to the Führer."
It becomes clearer everyday what kind of a situation we face! The Führer has ordered that the Sudeten German Party initiate its "incidents" in Czechoslovakia beginning on Sunday...
4 September 1938 Helmuth Groscurth Diary Entry
On September 3 we learned that he Führer said good-bye to Henlein at Berchtesgaden with the words: "Long live the war&emdash;even if it lasts two to eight years!" Burger has been sent to Nürnberg with a special plane in order to speak with Henlein. The latter is very reserved and has said that the settlement will take place in September, according to the Führer's orders.
The Chief of the French General Staff has visited the German military attaché in Paris and has fervently beseeched that Germany stop its military actions. If this did not happen at once, France would be forced to take security precautions. The results would be incalculable, for such an action would be bound to produce further misunderstandings. The Chief of the General Staff of the French Air Force, during his Berlin visit, told Field Marshal Göring with brutal frankness: France will attack Germany, if Germany attacks Czechoslovakia.
The Führer has brushed aside the report of Welczeck on his conversation with Bonnet, and announced that such things didn't interest him now!!! On his return trip from Berchtesgaden, Ribbentrop said to one of his staff that he and Himmler must get together in order to draw up a list of those generals who should, upon the outbreak of war, be immediately arrested and shot...
On the same day, Weizsäcker discussed the hopeless situation with Erich Kordt and the latter asked: "Is there no way to prevent this war?" To which Weizsäcker replied: "Do you have a man with a pistol? I regret that there has been nothing in my upbringing that would fit me to kill a man." (from Deutsch, Conspiracy, 42-43.)
But Weizsäcker decided to do what was in his power and two days later con acted the British government. Using his friend, the League of Nations Governor of Danzig and Swiss citizen, Carl Burckhardt, he told everything he knew about Hitler's belief that England and France would not fight. Weizsäcker pleaded for England to make a stand!
5 September 1938 Sir G. Warner (Berne) to Lord Halifax
Important informant just arrived from Germany and who asked that his name should not be mentioned tells me he heard from highly placed personages (one at Berlin) that Herr Hitler has decided to attack Czechoslovakia in about 6 weeks. No leave will be given to members of the party after Nürnberg Rally. After stormy interview with Herr Hitler, General Beck resigned as he declined to participate in attack on friendly state. Herr Hitler means to make so overwhelming an attack on Czechoslovakia that England and France will not dare to intervene. Report of General Staff on the prospects of successful war was of a neutral character. Personage at Berlin who was in despair said that only hope of peace is for Prime Minister to send a letter through intermediary to Herr Hitler beginning with remarks calculated to please him, such as reference to his desire for a peaceful settlement, but ending by saying that if Czechoslovakia were attacked, England would support her with all forces at her command.
It is of course essential that nothing should be said which might compromise informants.
8 September 1938 Skrine Stevenson (Geneva) to Strang (British Foreign Office)
Carl Burckhardt came and saw me this after noon. He began by telling me that Forster [Nazi Gauleiter of Danzig], after his return from England had avoided him ... until the 31st of August, when he had sent a message to the effect that he would like Burckhardt to come to his country house. On arrival there Burckhardt found Forster in a state of exaltation and the ensuing conversation was so extravagant that Burckhardt had difficulty in believing that Forster was in his right mind.
The latter had spoken openly of the forthcoming German attack on Czechoslovakia, in the course of which he said Prague would be laid in ruins in a few hours by successive attacks by 1,500 bombing planes. He had said that Italy would undoubtedly march with Germany, that France would probably not march and that England had no intention whatever of doing so in any circumstances. He had also said that the last war had been thrust on Germany because other nations wished it. "This time it is we who want it." ...
Shortly after his conversation with Herr Forster, Carl Burckhardt left for Berlin. There he saw someone whom he does not wish to name. It will be obvious however to you after you read this letter of whom he is speaking. Carl Burckhardt recounted the conversation he had had with Forster and told his interlocutor that he had shown Herr Forster that he did not believe that he (Herr Forster) was talking sense as he knew that such ideas were not those of Herr Hitler.
At that his interlocutor threw up his hands and said "But unfortunately those are exactly the ideas of the Führer." He went on to say that the Führer was completely sequestrated by Herr Ribbentrop and Herr Himmler, who had joined forces. Herr Ribbentrop had regained his position of ascendancy. He and Herr Himmler did nothing but exacerbate the already extravagant state of mind in which the Führer was. They did this by keeping from him any who might give him sensible advice, by showing him only those criticisms from the foreign press which they knew would irritate him and particularly cartoons of himself, and in general by persuading him that he had nothing to fear from Great Britain and little to fear from France.
General von Beck had taken his courage in both hands and had gone to Hitler with his resignation ready in his pocket. He had told Hitler the truth and had then offered his resignation, which had been accepted. Burckhardt's interlocutor had also tried to tell Herr Hitler the truth. The latter refused to listen to him and his position had as result become very shaky. General von Beck had come to him and told him about his resignation. Burckhardt's interlocutor had then announced his intention of resigning, but had agreed not to do so at the urgent request of General von Beck.
Burckhardt's interlocutor also told him that Admiral Horthy had been asked to speak plainly to the Führer. He had done so and on being asked the result by Burckhardt's interlocutor had replied: "I began to speak to him and I had to stop in the middle of what I was saying, as I am, after all, the Head of State of a country and it was not seemly that I should be thus spoken to, for in the middle of a sentence the Führer screamed at me: 'Nonsense! Shut up!'"
Burckhardt asked his interlocutor what, if anything could be done. The latter had said that the only thing he could think of was something which he, in his position, hesitated to put forward. He had, however, thought it over very carefully, and in the conflict of loyalties had decided that his sense of patriotism overcame his loyalty to his chief, whose influence on the Führer he regarded as fatal. He had therefore come to the conclusion that the only method of bringing Hitler to see the truth would be a personal letter from the Prime Minister showing that if an attack were made by Germany on Czechoslovakia, a war would start in which Great Britain would inevitably be on the opposite side to Germany. Such a letter should be brought by a personal messenger, who should see that the Führer received a correct translation of it...
Burckhardt had said that this was a very difficult thing to ask of the Prime Minister. The latter would undoubtedly hesitate long before engaging his country in the manner suggested. Burckhardt's interlocutor said he fully appreciated this, but was convinced that Herr Hitler had been fatally misled by Ribbentrop in regard to Great Britain, and he could see no other way of bringing the truth home.
Carl Burckhardt, who has known his interlocutor for a long time and appreciates his absolute loyalty in ordinary circumstances to his superiors, was so much impressed by this conversation that he got into his car and drove 900 kilometers in one day to Berne to recount the conversation to George Warner...
I gather that George Warner's telegram was a short one. I therefore feared that a great deal of background had necessarily been omitted and I asked whether any further details would be of interest. He assured me that they would. Hence this letter, which in view of its interest and urgency I am sending by special messenger tonight. For you will agree that it is quite unprecedented that a very high official of the proven loyalty of Burckhardt's interlocutor should take a step of this kind.
Unfortunately, Weizsäcker had totally misread Neville Chamberlain's policy, and so this courageous act came to nought.
Meanwhile, even the complacent members of the officers' corps were now getting alarmed.
5 September 1938 Jodl Diary Entry
General Stulpnagel asks for written assurance that the Army High Command will be informed five days in advance if the plan is to take place. I agree and add that the overall meteorological situation can be estimated to some extent only for two days in advance, and that therefore the plans might be changed up to that moment (D-day minus 2). General Stulpnagel mentions that for the first time he wonders whether the previous basis of the plan is not being abandoned. It presupposed that the Western Powers would not interfere. It now seems as if the Führer will stick to his decision even though he may no longer be of this opinion. It must be added that Hungary is moody, and Italy reserved.
I must admit that I am worrying too, when comparing the change of opinion about political and military potentialities, according to the directives of 24 June; 5 November 1937; 7 December 1937; 30 May 1938 with the last statements. In spite of that, one must be aware of the fact that the other nations will do everything they can to apply pressure to us. We must pass this test of nerves, but because only very few people know the art of withstanding this pressure successfully, the only possible solution is to inform only a very small circle of officers of news that causes us anxiety, and not to have it circulate through anterooms as heretofore...
When this sentiment made its appearance even in the pro-Hitler circle around Jodl and Keitel, it is not surprising that Beck, and his successor as Chief of the General Staff, General Franz Halder, assumed that there was broad military support for their plans to arrest Hitler and dispose of him "while resisting arrest" or "trying to escape." This action was to be carried out by Captain Friedrich Wilhelm Heinz and 60 picked men, who were to be admitted to the Chancellery by Erich Kordt.
They were prepared to move, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain intervened. After Hitler delivered a menacing speech against Czechoslovakia on 12 September, Chamberlain offered to fly to Berchtesgaden, in order to discuss the issue with the German Chancellor. The meeting was arranged for 15 September 1938.
The Road to Munich
15 September 1938 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
The Führer explained in a friendly fashion to Herr von Ribbentrop and me, the course of his talks, shortly after N.Ch. had left the Berghof. By making no bones about his brutal intention of settling the Czech question at once&emdash;even at the risk of a general European war&emdash;and by indicating that he would then have no further claims on Europe, [Hitler] had prodded Ch. into undertaking to work towards the ceding of the Sudeten regions to Germany. He, the Führer, had not been able to refuse a plebiscite. If the Czechs reject this the way will be clear for a German invasion; if the Czechs agree, it would be their turn a little later on, perhaps in early spring 1939. There are in fact distinct advantages in disposing of the first&emdash;Sudeten-German&emdash;stage amicable.
In this confidential discussion the Führer did not conceal that he has taken a future war into account, and is toying with far- reaching plans. For these he volunteered not only nationalist motives, but what might be termed educational ones as well, or ones of subconscious dynamism. In this conversation, the Führer radiated self-confidence and spoke of his fearlessness in war and in politics, and his unambiguously expressed determination to lead Germany into the inevitable military confrontation with our enemies during his lifetime.
The Führer then related a number of details about his talk with Chamberlain, giving examples of the little tricks of bluff and bluster which he had used to intimidate and manipulate his conversation partner into a corner.
Chamberlain flew back to Britain promising to secure French and Czech approval. In the meantime the situation in the Sudetenland deteriorated rapidly. The incidents ordered by Berlin multiplied; Czech repression was severe, and on 17 September, leaders of the Sudeten-German-Party fled to Germany, promising to bring the Sudetenland "Heim ins Reich"&emdash;home to Germany.
On 18 September, the French and British governments agree to pressure Prague to cede all areas with 59% of more Germans. On the next day they wired their plan to the Czechs and asked for an immediate reply. (See above p. &emdash;) On 20 September, the Czech government rejected the Franco-British plan, but British officials believed this was mere face-saving. They thought Prague will bow to an ultimatum. British and French governments followed this advice and issued a strong warning: unless Czechoslovakia accepted the proposals, Britain and France would not be obliged to aid Prague if war broke out. On 21 September 1938, Prague agreed to a plebiscite and secession of those areas which vote for Germany.
In his most recent reconstruction of these events, British author David Irving cites a number of secret wire-tap reports which the Germans had obtained, comprising all the important conversations between the Czech embassy in London and President Benes. They revealed a very complex game. The Czechs were counting on a rapid overthrow of Chamberlain's government and the creation of a cabinet dedicated to saving Czechoslovakia even at the risk of war. To further this plan, the Czech government would pretend to accept the terms Hitler had required.
Armed with this information, Hitler now proceeded to make sure that Czechoslovakia could never accept the terms. During the Berchtesgaden discussions, in reply Chamberlain's question whether Germany was not really aiming at the liquidation of the Czech state, Hitler replied that "apart from the demands of the Sudeten Germans, similar demands would of course be made by the Poles, Hungarians and Ukrainians living in Czechoslovakia which it would be impossible to ignore in the long run, but that he was not of course their spokesman." Now, he insured that these countries would make their demands. In a meeting with the Prime Minister of Hungary, he outlined his new approach.
21 September 1938 Schmidt Memorandum of a Meeting between Hitler and Hungarian Prime Minister
[Hitler] reproached the Hungarian gentlemen for the undecided attitude of Hungary in the present time of crisis. He, the Führer, was determined to settle the Czech question even at the risk of a world war. Germany demanded the entire German area. He was convinced that neither England nor France would intervene. It was Hungary's last opportunity to join in, for, if she did not. he would not be in a position to put in a word for Hungarian interests. In his opinion the best thing would be to destroy Czechoslovakia. In the long run it was quite impossible to tolerate the existence of this aircraft carrier in the heart of Europe. He presented two demands to the Hungarians: (1) that Hungary should make an immediate demand for a plebiscite in the territories which she claimed, and (2) that she should not guarantee any proposed new frontiers for Czechoslovakia. In certain circumstances Hungary might threaten to resign from the League of Nations and to establish a Freikorps. The Czechoslovak problem would be settled by the Führer in three weeks time at the latest...
The Führer declared further that he would present the German demands to Chamberlain with brutal frankness. In his opinion, action by the Army would provide the only satisfactory solution. There was, however, a danger of the Czechs submitting to every demand... The Führer then stressed once more that he would put forward the German demands at Godesberg (where he was to meet Chamberlain) with the starkest realism. If, as a result, disturbances started in Czechoslovakia, he would then start military operations. It would, however, always be preferable if the pretext for this were provided by the Czechs.
Prime Minister Imrédv promised to send the Führer today a document. to be treated as confidential, in which Hungarian demands would be set down in detail. The Führer intends to make good use of this document at Godesberg in talks with the British.
Counselor of Legation Brücklmeier gave me the further information that Ambassador Lipski had been requested to obtain a similar document from the Polish Government....
Meanwhile, Chamberlain and Daladier had won from the Prague government a willingness to cede the disputed territories to Germany. Pleased that he had now avoided a war, the British Prime Minister flew to meet Hitler at Bad Godesberg on the Rhine.
22 September 1938 Minutes of a Talk between Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain at Bad Godesberg
Mr. Chamberlain referred to the situation as it had been at the end of the conversation with the Führer at Berchtesgaden... He had succeeded, after laborious negotiations, in persuading not only the British and French Cabinets, but also the Czechoslovak Government to agree in principle to what the Führer had demanded during his last conversation. He, Chamberlain, would now outline roughly the proposal which he could make as a result of this.
On the basis of self-determination all Germans in Czechoslovakia must now be given the opportunity of decided for Germany... The simplest method ... would be the attempt to manage without a plebiscite... There were no difficulties to be overcome in the cession to Germany of districts where there was a preponderant German majority. But in districts where there was a mixed population, the frontier delimitation must be more carefully carried out... A commission must be set up, and provided with guiding principles, while still possessing the necessary freedom of action to determine the frontier with regard to geographical, strategic, political or other considerations... In all districts where the German population reached 80%, the decision presented no difficulty at all. Where, however, the proportion of Germans was smaller, an average figure must be taken as a guiding principle. He had in mind 65%, while it must be left to the discretion of the commission to go below this figure in individual cases.
As for the composition of the commission, he suggested three members&emdash;a German, a Czech and a neutral. The latter would be the chairman of the commission and would have the casting vote...
In conclusion, there was one more point to be mentioned. Through the alteration of the frontier, Czechoslovakia would lose her fortifications...
The Führer expressed to the British Prime Minister his sincere thanks for his efforts to bring about a peaceful solution of the Czechoslovak problem... and asked if the plan just expounded by Mr. Chamberlain had been submitted to the Czechoslovak Government.
When Mr. Chamberlain replied in the affirmative, the Führer answered "I'm exceedingly sorry but that won't do any longer"... Three and a half million Germans had been handed over to Czechoslovakia contrary to their immediately expressed wish and in contradiction of all historical traditions. A million Slovaks had likewise been incorporated in this State, although never in history had Slovaks been ruled by Czechs. A large area had been torn from Hungary, so that almost a million Hungarians were living in Czechoslovakia against their will. In addition, in 1920, when Poland was engaged in a struggle against Bolshevism, Czechoslovakia had annexed the Teschen territory, which meant that some hundred thousand Poles had been included in this country against their will...
It was his duty ... to remind the British Prime Minister of the demands of the other nationalities within Czechoslovakia and added that the latter had the sincere sympathy of the German Reich, and that peace could not be established in Central Europe until the claims of all these nationalities had been settled...
The Führer referred to the present critical stage of the Sudeten German problem. Long delay was impossible. The most important thing was to act quickly... In 20 years Prague had not succeeded in solving the nationalities problem. Certain circles were now attempting to mobilize the mob and to arouse militant Bolshevist instincts by referring to alleged Russian support. Not an hour should be wasted. In the interests of peace, definite and clear-cut facts must be established as quickly as possible...
Speed was also essential because of the untenable situation in the frontier areas... According to statistics as of 20 September, the number of refugees alone during the last two weeks had reached 103,780. Whole villages had been depopulated, families had been torn asunder, the men arrested and conscripted and their wives and children had fled across the frontier; sons parted from their parents and children from their mothers. Tempers were rising and action must be taken with all speed... Within three or four days this state of affairs would develop into a regular frontier war...
The British Prime Minister replied that he was both disappointed and puzzled at the attitude taken by the Führer. He had thought that the Führer, after acceptance of his demands for cession of territory, would then be ready to discuss with him the methods and procedure for putting this demand into effect... Now that he had returned with the agreement of his colleagues in the Cabinet and of the French Cabinet to the principle of cession ... he could rightly say that the Führer had got from him what he had demanded. In order to achieve this, he [Chamberlain] had risked his whole political career...
Agreement had been reached in principle. It was now a question of establishing methods of applying this principle and he would ask the Führer to use his influence for moderation with all concerned.
The Führer answered that the only possibility of avoiding disturbances was to draw a frontier at once which would coincide with the language frontier and beyond which the Czechoslovaks would have to withdraw their troops and governmental authorities. Reich organizations would then enter the zone thus created... The situation was clear: as spokesman for the Germans he could see two possibilities
1) a peaceful solution, in which the new frontier would be established essentially on the lines of the ethnic frontier,
2) a military solution in which the new frontier would be established by the military authorities on a strategic basis.
As for the remainder of Czechoslovakia, it did not interest Germany...
Chamberlain then asked for the German map of the areas to be ceded by Czechoslovakia... He [Chamberlain] had no power to negotiate. he could only report the nonacceptance of his proposal and the counterproposal made by Germany, and try to convince his own country of the correctness of his line of action. The Führer had certainly not made his task easier.
The Führer replied that his was no easy task either. The feeling of the German people was such that they would prefer the establishment of a strategic frontier, with the corresponding methods, to negotiation.
Chamberlain answered that he, the Führer, had the power to establish this strategic frontier at any time. But what was the sense of starting a conflict, which would cost human lives and mean the destruction of rich lands? In present day circumstances, even the victor in a war had usually no real gain, and success was certain only up to a certain point; what followed was extremely uncertain. Therefore, it seemed better to him to try to find a solution by peaceful means, a solution which would give the Führer the certainty that his demands would be fulfilled.
The Führer answered that the situation was almost intolerable. At any moment, while the negotiations were going on here, there might be an explosion somewhere in the Sudeten German area which would make all efforts for a peaceful solution fruitless. The quickest and best solution would there fore be to prevent the chance of possible incidents in the disputed area by occupation by German troops and administrative bodies. He repeated that he was prepared afterward to undertake the frontier adjustments rendered necessary by the plebiscite.
In conclusion ... the Führer explained to Mr. Chamberlain the map of the Sudeten German areas to be surrendered, while repeating part of his above-mentioned ideas...
Ivon Kirkpatrick, the First Secretary of the British Embassy in Berlin, was present at the meeting and has left a good description of the atmosphere of this meeting. The following selection begins after Hitler had rejected Chamberlain's proposals.
Ivon Kirkpatrick Postwar Account of 22 September 1938 Meeting
We seemed to have reached a deadlock, but for internal reasons Hitler did not want an early breakdown. So after a considerable period of ill-tempered floundering on both sides he suggested that it might be well to have a look at Mr Chamberlain's proposals in regard to the ways and means of meeting the German demands. Hitler listened to these proposals with increasing impatience and replied that he must decline to accept them on the ground that they involved an intolerable delay. Whilst we were arguing, he said, Germans were being killed by the Czechs, and that was a state of affairs for which he could not be responsible. At intervals little scraps of paper were sent in to Hitler reporting fresh outrages against the Sudeten Germans. No, he shouted, the territory within the so-called language boundary must be ceded at once, without any delay. and occupied by German troops. Mr Chamberlain said that he could not accept an immediate German military interruption. Let Hitler send in police if public order were threatened. but British opinion would be outraged by a military occupation. Hitler must remember that Britain was not ruled by a dictator and that he should take into account the Prime Minister's situation before Parliament and the public. Hitler characteristically retorted that his role depended on the suffrage of the German people and Mr Chamberlain must take into account the rising anger of the German nation at the Czech maltreatment of Germans. The argument waxed hotly and Schmidt had a trying time.
The next day, Hitler and Chamberlain exchanged letters restating their positions. The Germans also composed a memorandum to be given to Chamberlain, which succinctly stated Hitler's demands.
23 September 1938 Official German Note
With a view to bringing about an immediate and final solution of the Sudeten German problem the following proposals are now made by the German Government:
1. Withdrawal of the whole Czech armed forces, police, customs officials ... from the area as designated ... which is to be handed over to Germany on 1 October.
2. The evacuated territory is to be handed over in its present conditions...
3. The Czech Government discharges at once to their homes all Sudeten Germans serving in the armed forces.
4. The Czech Government liberates all political prisoners of German race.
5. The German Government agrees to permit a plebiscite to take place in areas to be more definitely defined, before at latest 25 November ... All persons who were residing in the areas in question on 28 October 1918, or were born there prior to this date will be eligible to vote. A simple majority of all eligible male and female voters will determine the desire of the population...
6. The German Government proposes that an authoritative German-Czech commission should be set up to settle all further details.
Fearing the German plan would shock the Czechs into armed resistance, Chamberlain went back to Hitler for a second meeting.
23 September 1938 Minutes of Second Talk between Hitler and Chamberlain at Bad Godesberg
Chamberlain complained that in spite of their recognition of his personal efforts, the Germans had not examined the British proposals properly and were now hastily and precipitately making for a solution by force which would entail frightful losses in human life and great suffering for those involved in the catastrophe. At this point, the Führer interjected that Chamberlain was mistaken if he thought that his ideas and suggestions had not been examined by the Germans. He (the Führer) had ... already been determined to settle the question quite differently, and the German memorandum, which had now been handed over, was the result of the fact that the British proposals had been examined and taken into consideration...
Chamberlain went on to say that he could not believe that the Führer, just for the sake of a few days, would be prepared to gamble away all chances of collaboration between Germany and Great Britain, and of the achievement of a durable peace and lasting welfare among the nations... If a little more time were allowed a clash might possibly be avoided...
At this point a message was brought to the Führer that Benes had just (10:30 p.m.) announced over the Czechoslovak radio general mobilization in Czechoslovakia. When the Führer communicated this information to the British, they were extremely taken aback, and Chamberlain said that a development which he had long feared had taken place.
When the Führer thereupon stated that now, of course, the whole affair was settled, Chamberlain contradicted him and described the mobilization in Czechoslovakia as an understandable measure of precaution. In itself mobilization was not an offensive measure...
The Führer answered that now that mobilization had once taken place, the Czechs would not dream of ceding any territory to Germany. Chamberlain disagreed. the Czechs, urged by Great Britain and France, had already agreed to the cession of territory. They would not go back on this assurance... The Führer had repeatedly told him that in the Sudetenland people were being shot, persecuted, and driven from the country, and that this was an intolerable situation which must come to an end. If, however, this end were brought about by a war, then there would be infinitely more loss of life and the result would be infinitely more destruction and devastation...
The Führer here recalled the German proverb: "Better an end to terror, than terror without end."
Chamberlain asked the Führer whether the German memorandum was really his last word, and whether he was really resolved to go no farther, when agreement had already been so nearly reached. The Führer answered that the memorandum was indeed his last word and that, moreover, he must repeat that Czech mobilization compelled him to take certain military measures.
Chamberlain answered that in these circumstances there was no point in continuing the conversations. He had done his utmost; his efforts had failed. He was going away with a heavy heart, for the hopes with which he had come to Germany were destroyed. But his conscience was clear. He had done every thing humanly possible to bring about a peaceful solution...
The Führer pointed out that Mr. Chamberlain had not yet studied the German document sufficiently to express a final opinion on it. He asked him to state more precisely what he objected to in the German memorandum. The fact remained that Czechoslovak territory would be ceded to Germany. Agreement on that had been reached by all sides. Cession meant that at a given time Czech troops and police would have to leave the district and German troops would occupy it...
Chamberlain repeated that he would naturally fulfill his duty as mediator by forwarding the document to Czechoslovakia... He could, however, repeat at once that the worst feature was the time limit which was ... completely insufficient...
The Führer answered that the Czechs had now mobilized for the second time; the first time had been on May 21... It would therefore be best if the period of uncertainty were made as short as possible, as had been done in the German memorandum.
At this point, the British withdrew for a short private consultation.
When the conversation was resumed, the Führer stated that .. if it would facilitate Chamberlain's task, he would substitute ... for the time limits mentioned in the original memorandum, a provision according to which the Czech Government would have to surrender the area marked on the enclosed map by 1 October. Chamberlain answered that in his capacity of mediator he was naturally not in a position to accept or reject proposals by the Führer; he could only transmit them...
On 25 September, the British, French and Czechoslovak governments rejected Hitler's memorandum. Chamberlain, however, suggested direct German-Czech talks. Hitler's reply was a fiery speech, delivered against President Benes.
26 September 1938 Hitler Sportspalast Speech
Hitler began his speech with his usual historical survey of his numerous peace offers, and of his triumphs in the Rhineland and Austria.
Now we stand on the brink of the last problem that must be solved, and will be solved. It is the last territorial demand which I have to make on Europe, but it is a demand which I cannot escape and which, God help me, I will carry out to fulfillment.
He reviewed the recent developments and then singles out President Benes as the stumbling block in reaching an amicable settlement.
In this process, I left no doubts at all that German patience was now finally at an end. I left no doubts at all that, although it is a characteristic German virtue to be patient for a long, long time, the moment has now arrived to end all this.
Then finally, England and France placed upon Czechoslovakia the only possible demand: German territory must be evacuated and returned to the Reich. Today we know what talks Herr Benes held in those days. Faced with the declaration of England and France that they would no longer support Czechoslovakia unless the destiny of the Sudeten Germans was changed an the territory evacuated, Herr Benes found a way out. He announced that the territory would have to be ceded. That was his public announcement. But then what did he do? Not turn the territory over, but rather drive the Germans out... We see the fearsome results in the numbers: on one day, 10,000 refugees; on the next, 20,000; a day later already 37,000; again two days later, 41,000; then 62,000; then 78,000. Now there flowed 90,000; 107, 000; 137,000; and today&emdash;217,000. Whole areas have been depopulated; villages have been burned down. Germans have been smoked out with grenades and poison gas. And Benes sits in Prague and is satisfied: "Nothing can happen, because in the end, England and France stands behind me!"
And so, my fellow Germans, I believe the time has come to talk in plain language.... Benes has only 7 million Czechs, while on this side stands a nation of over 75 million! Herr Benes places his hopes in the rest of the world; he and his diplomats make no secret of that. They declare: we hope that Chamberlain will be defeated, that Daladier will be replaced, that governments everywhere will fall. They place their trust in the Soviet Union...
I now demand that after twenty years, Herr Benes&emdash;the "Father of Lies"&emdash;be finally forced to tell the truth. He must be forced to turn over this territory to us on 1 October 1. At the moment when Czechoslovakia solves her problems, that is to say, when the Czechs have come to terms with their other minorities, and that peaceably and not through oppression, then I shall have no further interest in the Czech State. And I can guarantee him we want no Czechs.
I have in conclusion only the following to say: two men now face each other. There is Herr Benes! And here am I. We are tow men of different personalities. In the great contest of the world war, Herr Benes loitered around on the fringes of the world, while I did my duty as an honest German soldier...
We want no Czechs. But here, before the whole German people, I want to state that my patience is at an end! I have made Herr Benes an offer, which is nothing more than the implementation of that which he himself has already promised. He has the final decision in his hands! Peace or War! He will either accept this offer and finally give freedom to the Germans, or else we will ourselves secure that freedom!
The world must recognize one thing; in four and a half years of war, and in the long years of my political career, no one has ever accused me of one thing: I have never been a coward! ... Now I place myself before my people, as their first soldier, and&emdash;let the world take notice&emdash;behind me ... the whole German nation unites itself to me. They perceive my will as their own will, just as I make their future and their destiny the source of my actions. And we want to make this common will so strong that it will equal that which we possessed during the years of political struggle ... when we never doubted our success, never doubted our final victory.
In those years, a troop of brave men and women flocked to me. And they marched with me. And now, I ask you, my German people, to fall in behind me, man for man, woman for woman. In this hour ... we are resolved! Herr Benes, make your choice!
As so often before, such massive speeches had their greatest effect on the orator himself. Hitler left the Sportspalast convinced of the correctness of his own decision.
9 October 1938 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
Among the numerous similar remarks of the Führer in my presence is one in the night of 27-28 September to the effect that he would now liquidate the Czech problem by war. This was said only in the presence of Ribbentrop and myself and was not calculated for its effect upon a third party. For that reason it is incorrect to assume that the Führer had perhaps put up a huge and highly exaggerated bluff. His resentment from May 22 (when the Czechs had mobilized for the first time) and the English had reproached him for yielding, carried him on the warlike course.
28 September 1938 Colonel Schmundt Notes
TOP MILITARY SECRET
At 1 pm. on 27 September, the Führer and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces ordered all troops scheduled to participate in the attack from their training areas to action stations.
The divisions (about 21 reinforced regiments or 7 divisions) must be so ready for action that operation against GREEN are possible from September 30, the decision having been taken at 12 noon, one day previously.
Alerted, the military conspirators prepared to move. Major Groscurth, visiting his brother in Berlin, was unable to sit for any length of time. When asked what was troubling him, he replied: "How can I be silent? Tonight Hitler will be arrested."
But a number of developments caused Hitler to hesitate before attacking. News arrive of French and British mobilization, which indicated that the Western Powers were not bluffing. His own military leaders doubted their ability to fight Britain and France while simultaneously attacking Czechoslovakia. Göring and Mussolini both advised against war and Hitler himself observed the unenthusiastic response of the German people to military preparations.
Then, in non-stop meeting throughout the morning and early afternoon of September 28, Göring, former foreign minister Neurath, and Weizsäcker, supported the urgent request of the British and French for some peaceful solution. Neurath finally proposed the compromise of an occupation of the Sudetenland in stages, with only the first stage beginning on 1 October. Late in the afternoon, their arguments prevailed, and Hitler agreed to a conference in Munich to arrange for the details. Chamberlain, Daladier, and Mussolini accepted. Full victory for Hitleror so it seemed.
But for the conspirators it was a bitter blow. At the last moment, they had to call off their plans. The following excerpt notes their feelings.
Postwar Recollection of General von Witzleben upon Learning of a Conference in Munich
You see, Gentlemen, for this poor, foolish nation, he is again our hotly loved Führer, the unique, the God-sent, and we? we are a small group of reactionary and discontented officers and politicians, who have dared in the moment of the highest triumph of the greatest statesman of all times, to throw pebbles in his path. If we do something now, then history, and not only German history, will report of us that we deserted the greatest German in the moment when he was greatest, and in the moment when the whole world recognized his greatness.
The Munich Conference
at the Muinich Conference
Ambassador François-Poncet and Weizsäcker
at the Munich Conference
The conference took place on 29 September and concentrated upon a memorandum drafted by Neurath, Göring and Weizsäcker in order to circumvent Ribbentrop who, like his master, had opposed to the idea of a conference. The memorandum was then shown to Hitler and. after its approval, was passed to the Italians who then produced it at the conference as if it was their own. Agreement was finally reached on the early morning of the 30th:
30 September 1938 The Munich Agreement
Germany, the United Kingdom. France and Italy, taking into consideration the agreement which has already been reached in principle for the cession to Germany of the Sudeten German territory, have agreed on the following terms and conditions governing the said cession and the measures consequent thereon, and by this agreement they each hold themselves responsible for the steps necessary to secure fulfillment:
1. The evacuation shall begin on 1 October.
2. The United Kingdom, France and Italy agree that the evacuation of the territory shall be completed by 10 October, without any existing installations having been destroyed, and that the Czechoslovak Government shall be held responsible for carrying out the evacuation without damage to the said installations.
3 The conditions governing the evacuation shall be laid down in detail by an international commission composed of representatives of Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Czechoslovakia.
4. The occupation by stages of the predominantly German territory by German troops shall begin on 1 October. The four territories marked on the attached map will be occupied by German troops in the following order: The territory marked No. I on 1 and 2 October, the territory marked No. II on 2 and 3 October, the territory marked No. III on 3, 4 and 5 October, the territory marked No. IV on 6 and 7 October. The remaining territory of preponderantly German character shall be ascertained by the aforesaid international commission forthwith and shall be occupied by German troops by 10 October.
5. The international commission referred to in Paragraph 3 shall determine the territories in which a plebiscite is to be held. These territories shall be occupied by international bodies until the plebiscite has been completed. The same commission shall fix the conditions on which the plebiscite is to be held, taking as a basis the conditions of the Saar plebiscite. The commission shall also fix a date. not later than the end of November, on which the plebiscite shall be held.
6. The final determination of the frontiers shall be carried out by the international commission. This commission shall also be entitled to recommend to the four Powers, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, in certain exceptional cases, minor modifications in the strictly ethnographical determination of the zones which are to be transferred without plebiscite.
7. There shall be a right of option into and out of the transferred territories. the option to be exercised within six months from the date of this agreement. A German-Czechoslovak commission shall determine the details of the option. consider ways of facilitating the transfer of population and settle questions of principle arising out of the said transfer.
8. The Czechoslovak Government shall within a period of four weeks from the date of this agreement release from their military and police forces any Sudeten Germans who may wish to be released, and the Czechoslovak Government shall within the same period release Sudeten German prisoners who are serving terms of imprisonment for political offenses.
Annex to the Agreement
His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom and the French Government have entered into the above agreement on the basis that they stand by the offer. contained in Paragraph 6 of the Anglo-French proposals of 19 September. relating to an international guarantee of the new boundaries of the Czechoslovak State against unprovoked aggression.
When the question of the Polish and Hungarian minorities in Czechoslovakia has been settled, Germany and Italy for their part shall give a guarantee to Czechoslovakia .
Since the Munich Conference was concerned only with the details of the occupation of the Sudetenland and not with any principles, it ended smoothly enough. Reaction in Germany was staggering.
Reactions to Munich Agreement
29 September 1938 Jodl Diary Entry
The pact of Munich is signed. Czechoslovakia as a power is finished. Four zones as set forth will be occupied between 2 and 7 October. The remaining part of those areas with mainly German character will be occupied by 10 October. The genius of the Führer and his determination not to shun even a World War has again won the victory without the use of force. The hope remains that the incredulous, the weak, and the doubtful have been converted and will remain that way.
1 October 1938 Engel Diary Entry
After his meeting with Chamberlain, the Führer spoke a long time to me and Schmundt over the results of the agreement. My impression is that he really liked the old gentleman and desires to negotiate more with him. The Führer expressed the thought that things could now finally quiet down.... He himself at present is in no way thinking on any kind of a step which might politically become dangerous. First, at the very least, the newly won prizes must be digested. And then too the solution of the controversial question with Poland won't run away. At a given time, he would proceed to soften up the Poles, for which task he would use the same methods that have now proven useful with the Czechs. In the long run, however, peaceful quiet could be maintained only if the entire Versailles Treaty were annulled.
There seems no reason to question the accuracy of this analysis, but within a very short time, Hitler appears to have grown very angry that he had been cheated out of a war in 1938. The following diary entry by the new State Secretary of the Foreign Office was written only weeks after the event. Although it is unnecessarily harsh on Neurath (whom he thought should have intervened earlier in the crisis), it provides a good analysis of Hitler's apparent determination for war.
9 October 1938 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
We appeared to have won the game when Chamberlain announce his visit to the Obersalzberg [Berchtesgaden] in order to preserve peace. This represented a rejection of Czechoslovakia's crisis politics. One could have reached an agreement without difficulty, on the basis of English mediation, about how the Sudetenland was to be split off and transferred to us ill a peaceful manner.
However. we were dominated by the determination to have a war of revenge and destruction against Czechoslovakia. Thus, we conducted the second phase of discussions with Chamberlain in Bad Godesberg in such a way that despite our basic agreement. what had been decided was bound to fail. The group who wanted war, namely Ribbentrop and the SS had nearly succeeded in prompting the Führer to attack. Thus, the assumption that the Führer was intending a huge bluff is incorrect. His resentment stemming from 22 May, when the English accused him of pulling back, led him on to the path of war. I have not quite managed to establish what influences then finally decided him to issue invitations to the four power meeting in Munich on 28 October and thereby to leave the path of war. Naturally, one can find 100 different reasons for this change of course. Herr von Neurath is quite wrong to describe himself as one of them because, in a dereliction of duty. he failed to make his voice heard in the months of June-September, including the 27-29 September.
Two factors were probably decisive: (a) His observation that our people regarded the approach of war with a silent obstructiveness and were far from enthusiastic. (Dr Goebbels said that loudly to the Führer at table in the Reich Chancellery over the heads of all those present), and (b) Mussolini's appeal at the last moment, i.e. on the morning of the 28th, when the mobilization was planned for 2 p.m. The idea of a four power conference was first mentioned in my presence by the Führer and received general and warm approval with the exception of those referred to above. Herr von Ribbentrop was still working against the agreement on the evening of the 28th and on the 29th since he obviously considered war to the best solution.
The following conversation occurred many years after the fact and it may be colored by the passage of time, but other contemporary documents from late 1938 also mention Hitler's unhappiness with the Munich Agreement. Schacht, for example, overheard Hitler remarking to an SS officer, "That fellow Chamberlain has spoiled my entry into Prague." So this statement may reflect Hitler's inner feelings.
21 February 1945 Adolf Hitler Alleged Conversation Recorded by Martin Bormann
If was on the eve of Munich that I realized beyond a doubt that the enemies of the Third Reich were determined to have our hide at all costs and that there was no possibility of coming to terms with them. When that arch-capitalist bourgeois Chamberlain, with his deceptive umbrella in his hand, put himself to the trouble of going all the way to Berchtesgaden to discuss matters with that upstart Hitler, he knew very well that he really intended to wage ruthless war against us. He was quite prepared to tell me any thing which he thought might serve to lull my suspicions. His one and only object in undertaking this trip was to gain time. What we ought then to have done was to strike at once. We ought to have gone to war in 1938. It was the last chance we had of localizing the war.
But they gave way all along the line and, like the poltroons that they are, ceded to all our demands. Under such conditions it was very difficult to seize the initiative and commence hostilities. At Munich we lost a unique opportunity of easily and swiftly winning a war that was inevitable in any case. Although we were ourselves not fully prepared, we were nevertheless better prepared than the enemy. September 1938 would have been the most favorable date. And what a chance we had to limit the conflict.
We ought then and there to have settled our disputes by force of arms and disregarded the inclination of our opponents to meet all our demands. When we solved the Sudeten question by force we would have liquidated Czechoslovakia at the same time&emdash;and left all the blame squarely on Benes' shoulders. The Munich solution could not have been any thing but provisional for, obviously, we could not tolerate in the heart of Germany an abscess, small though it was, like an independent Czech State. We lanced that abscess in March 1939, but in circumstances that were psychologically less favorable than those which would have obtained had we settled the issue by force in 1938. For in March 1939, for the first time, we put our selves in the wrong in the eyes of world opinion. No longer were we restricting ourselves to re-uniting Germans to the Reich, but were establishing a protectorate over a non-German population. A war waged in 1938 would have been a swift war&emdash;for the emancipation of the Sudeten Germans, the Slovaks, the Hungarians and even of those Poles who were under Czech domination. Great Britain and France, taken by surprise and discountenanced by the course of events, would have remained passive&emdash;particularly in view of the fact that world opinion would have been on our side. Finally, Poland, the main prop of French policy in Eastern Europe, would have been at our side. If Great Britain and France had made war on us in these circumstances, they would have lost face. In actual fact, I'm quite sure they would not have gone to war; but they would have lost face all the same. Once our arms had spoken, we could have left till later the settlement of the remaining territorial problems in Eastern Europe and the Balkans without fear of provoking the intervention of the two powers, already discredited in the eyes of their protegés. As far as we ourselves were concerned, we should thus have gained the time required to enable us to consolidate our position, and we would have postponed the world war for several years to come. In fact, in these circumstances I doubt very much whether a second world war would indeed have been inevitable.
It is by no means unreasonable to presume that in the breasts of the well-off nations, degeneration and love of comfort could well have proven stronger than the congenital hatred they bore us&emdash;particularly when it is remembered that they must have realized that all our aspirations were, in reality, oriented Eastwards. Our adversaries might even have deluded themselves with the hope that we might perhaps exhaust ourselves in the pursuit of these eastern aspirations of ours. In any event, it would for them have been a case of heads I win, tails you lose, since it would have insured for them maintenance of peace in the West, and at the same time would have allowed them to take advantage of the resultant weakening of Russia, whose growing power had been a source of preoccupation for them, though to a lesser degree than had been our own resurgence.
If this passage tells us something about Hitler's dissatisfaction with Munich, it also contains an inadvertent confession at how he had misjudged the world opinion in 1938. World and German opinion, however, was suddenly distracted by the ugly anti-Semitic excesses following the assassination in Paris of a German embassy official by a young Polish Jew, whose parents had recently been deported from Germany. To bolster his sagging reputation (On 21 October his wife had told Hitler she wanted a divorce), Joseph Goebbels utilized the assassination to organize and unleash a frightful pogrom&emdash;the Night of Broken Glass, 9-10 November 1938. Hitler privately disproved of the action, but took no steps to punish Goebbels or the SA or Heydrich, who had given orders to the SS and SD to to cooperate. Reaction from the German army leaders was shock.
21 December 1938 Groscurth Diary Entry
Keitel has raised serious complaints against Heydrich to Göring. But Göring can do nothing since the Führer is supporting Heydrich. Göring, on the contrary, is powerless....
Heydrich has again lectured in the National Political Course, offered by the Army's training program! In the process, he disavowed the anti-Semitic action, and laid full blame upon the Propaganda Ministry. Privately he was heard to say that the Night of Broken Glass action was the greatest blow to the state and to the party since 1934. But in spite of these sentiments, he still gave orders to participate in it!
Captain Wiedemann, the Führer's adjutant, fears that there will soon be an outbreak of civil war. But in the circle around the Führer there reigns complete rapture; no one recognized the truth anymore. The Führer himself refuses to accept any advice.
Memoranda concerning the economic and financial situation, which now are catastrophic, no longer are circulated to the General Staff or its head, even if they are submitted by influential and important people.
How is all this going to end?
Hitler's View on War
Hitler's own preoccupation seemed to be his nagging regrets that he had not used the Sudeten issue to bring about an open war. One of the most remarkable documents which has survived from these days is a speech which he gave to members of the German Press Corps on 10 November, just six weeks after the Munich Conference, and one day after the Night of Broken Glass&emdash;which he passes over in silence.
This speech has recently been found to exist on long-playing records, and excerpts follow.
10 November 1938 Adolf Hitler Speech Before German Journalists
The successes of this year 1938 are due first of all, naturally, to the tremendous educational work which National Socialism has undertaken within the German people. Gradually the fruits of this work are beginning to ripen; the German people magnificently passed the tests of the past few months, indeed we can truly say they passed them better than any other nation in Europe. These successes are obviously also the results of the decisiveness of the nation's leaders. You may believe me, gentlemen, that it was not always easy first to make these decisions and then to stick to them. For naturally the whole nation&emdash;especially the intellectuals&emdash;did not always support these decisions; there are always a relatively high number of clever people&emdash;who can raise more objections rather than support any decision. And thus, it was all the more important to stick by the decisions taken as long ago as last May, and carry them out with iron determination against all opposition. Another factor in our success was the preparations made in many fields, the most important of all those in the area of military rearmament. A whole series of measures were undertaken in the spring of this year, all of which were supposed to, were necessary to, were indeed able to be come operative by a specified date. Foremost was our powerful fortifications in the West.
And finally, a precondition for our success was the exploitation of circumstances&emdash;perhaps this was the most important factor of all. It appeared to me that the general world situation was more favorable to the implementation of our demands than at any time before. But in all this, we must not forget one thing which was also decisive, namely propaganda, and indeed propaganda not only directed to the domestic market, but propaganda aimed abroad. If the German people this time&emdash;as I have already stressed&emdash;adopted an attitude different from that of most other nations and different even from that which our own people only a short while ago would have selected, then this result must be attributed to the continuous work of enlightenment, that is the propaganda with which we have seized the German people. Here, the press has played its great role. This past year, we defined certain tasks for our propaganda&emdash;and here I place the press you represent as the prime instrument. Our first task was the gradual preparation of the German people. For decades, circumstances have forced me to talk only of peace. Only by continuously emphasizing a German will for peace and peaceful goals was I able, step by step, to gain freedom for the German people, and provide the armaments which are the necessary prerequisites for the next step. It is understood of course that decades of "peace propagandizing" also has its less-desirable side-effects: it can all too easily lead to the conclusion in the minds of many people that the present government's program is to preserve peace under all circumstances. Such a conclusion would lead not only to a false evaluation of our goals, but also to a point where instead of standing armed for all developments, the German nation might be filled with a spirit which in the long run would act in a defeatist manner and thereby jeopardize or destroy the achievements of the present government. Only constraint caused me year after year to speak of peace. Now it is necessary to change the psychological outlook of the German people and slowly make them under stand that there are objectives which, if they cannot be attained by peaceful methods, must be accomplished by force. It was not necessary to propagandize the use of force as such, but it was necessary to explain to the German people certain foreign developments in such a fashion that the inner voice of the people would slowly begin to cry for the employment of force. In other words, certain events must be so explained so that in the minds of the broad masses of the people the conviction automatically and gradually spreads: it can't go on like this. If we can't settle it amicably, then we will have to settle it with force. This job required months; it was begun according to plan; it was prosecuted and strengthened according to plan. Many didn't understand it, gentlemen; many were of the opinion that the whole campaign was overdone. Such are those effete intellectuals, who have not the faintest idea how a people can be made to stand up straight, even as it begins to thunder and lightning.
The second task was to expose the rest of the world to this propaganda from a variety of viewpoints. Firstly, it was necessary to convince the rest of the world that ours were urgent and serious problems. Secondly, it was necessary to make it clear to the other nations that the German nation had gradually come to a point where we could no longer be toyed with. That message people had to discover slowly from our method of handling this Sudeten problem. And finally, we had to persuade them of the solidarity of the German people. In all these our press was used substantially. Further, it was necessary to use the press and other propaganda means to intimidate the enemy directly, especially the ones close by, namely Czechoslovakia.
Under whatever conditions which prevailed, the Sudeten problem had to be solved this year. It was suddenly no longer possible to adjourn the meeting. And the preparations which were undertaken and now for the first time carried out were of such a magnitude that camouflage did not appear to be possible. Above all, it was also no longer likely that the rest of the world would have believed our explanations. Somehow, I knew that his phonograph record, called peace, had played itself out. Others were simply not listening to the melody any longer or not believing the lyrics. I came to the conviction that there was only one possible alternative, namely nothing more and nothing less than to say the truth, brutally and ruthlessly. It was my conviction that such an approach would paralyze the State which was most affected by it. People have often asked me: "Are you sure that all this was right? For months there has been continuous target practice all around Czechoslovakia, without interruptions "stray" shots alarm Czech bunkers, constantly the heaviest kind of artillery shells. You are making it all so obvious." I was convinced that such activities would slowly but surely wear down the nerves of the gentlemen in Prague.... Many people, naturally did not approve. They said: "It is all so exaggerated and overdone; moreover it's not fair. After all Czechoslovakia is only a small state." Only intellectuals talk like that, not the people. The people love a plainer, more distance, a more pungent diet. But certain intellectuals, who in Germany are always thinking themselves to be the guardians of the moral of others, felt themselves responsible for a so-called sense of justice, etc., for moderation in everything and in all things. Many of these did not under stand this. But believe me, our methods were necessary. An ultimately, after all, success is what counts. I would like to state for the record here that in fact our propaganda was simply splendid, superbly implemented, and that the press adapted itself to this task so well that it was a delight for me to read through so many German newspapers every day. I really had to admit that first it would have a permanent impression on the German people, and secondly its effects would not remain useless abroad, and thirdly, above all it would work constantly on the nerves of the responsible men of Prague. Thanks and Praise to God they all knew German and thus could read our newspapers. I was convinced they would never last the course, and I have received many proofs of this. Since Czechoslovakia's entire telephone connections with Paris and London had to go over German territory, we could (and we were so free, or so indecent, or whatever you want to call it as to) tap these telephones, and we were thus in a position to establish every day how this press campaign was working and we could confirm its effectiveness when, for example, Herr Masaryk in London would say: "There is nothing more we can do&emdash;the Germans naturally with their crazy propaganda&emdash;no one believes us any more&emdash;everything is lost&emdash;we can explain whatever we want to say, but it is all in vain&emdash;nothing is worth trying, etc.&emdash;they've pinned everything down, etc. etc." Almost every day I confirmed how effective was the working of our propaganda, especially that contained in our press.
The success, I say, in this area was decisive, and it is, gentlemen, something enormous! It is almost like a dream so great that our contemporaries can scarcely measure it. The degree of our success came home most sharply to me as I stood for the first time in the middle of the Czechoslovak fortifications. Then it became clear to me what it means to obtain a fortified from nearly 1300 miles long without firing a single shot. Gentlemen, we have in fact used propaganda in the service of an idea, and acquired 10 million people and 100,00 square kilometers of land. That is something prodigious....
Now, once again, we have great tasks ahead of us. There is one above all, gentlemen: we must now proceed, step by step, to strengthen the self-confidence of the German people! I know this is a task which cannot be completed in one or two years. We need public opinion that is strong, firmly rooted in self-confidence, if possible, even reaching the intellectual circles.... The Führer of this nation can achieve no more than the nation itself gives him.... I must have behind me a faithful, united, confident and trusting German people. It is our mutual and formidable task to achieve that objective, and it is a fabulous task....
It is necessary that you men of the press adhere blindly to the principle: "The leadership acts correctly." Gentlemen, we must all claim some license for ourselves to make mistakes. Even newspapermen are not free of this danger. But we can all prevail only if we do not mutually illuminate our mistakes before the world, but rather seek to emphasize the positive. In other words, the basic correctness of the leadership must always be stressed. Above all, mark you, that is necessary for the people's own sake. I hear so often, even today questions&emdash;really lapses into liberalism&emdash;like this: "Well, shouldn't we perhaps leave it up to the general public this time?" Mark you, gentlemen, I believe I have accomplished quite a bit in my life, in any case a great deal more than a shoemaker or a milkmaid. And yet it is possible that I do not entirely agree on some point with other gentlemen who also have accomplished a great deal. But it is certain that a decision must be made, and it is quite impossible to leave that decision in the hands of milk maids, dairy farmers, and shoemakers. That is out of the question. Therefore, it is irrelevant totally whether a particular decision is entirely right&emdash;that is totally unimportant. What is important is for the entire nation to stand in closed ranks behind the decision. It must be a united front, and then whatever is not quite right about the decision will be made good by the resolve with which the entire nation stands behind it.
This is important for the years to come, gentlemen! Only in this way will we free our people from the kind of doubts which make them unhappy. The vast majority of men has but one single desire: that they may be well led, that they be able to trust their leadership, that the leaders not argue among themselves, but stand solidly in front of them. Believe me, I know.... When the people see this picture&emdash;the Führer with all his men at his side&emdash;it calms them enormously and makes them happy! They want that! Thus it was earlier in German history. The people are always happy when some stand together above them as leaders; it strengthens the mutual cohesiveness of the people below as well. This we must understand and act so as to keep and continue that impression among the people. They must be convinced that their leadership is acting correctly and that everyone is in agreement. And then it will be very easy for the leadership to assert itself psychologically in critical situations against the surrounding world.
There is just one thing I would like to say in conclusion, gentlemen: in liberal countries the function of the press is seen as the press plus the people against the government. Here it must read: leadership plus propaganda and press, guiding the people!... And to the people itself, this leadership must appear as a single dedicated body. Opinions can be exchanged privately among ourselves. To the people, there should just be one opinion. Gentlemen, that is the perfectly clear principle! If we can enforce it completely, then the German people will become great and powerful by virtue of this leadership. Then we will not be standing in 1938, at he end of a historical epoch, but we will surely be standing at the beginning of a greater one.
I believe in the future of the German people... Whoever doubts the future of this greatest bloc of mankind, or does not believe in its future, is only a weakling himself. We are, I am certain at the beginning of our German life and the German future. It is our good fortune to prepare for an help mold this future.... This conviction must motivate us all on the road ahead....
As we shall see below, in a series of discussions in late December 1938 and early January 1939, Hitler made it clear that he did not anticipate military action against Poland. But if action against that country was was not next on the agenda, what was the purpose of this war- like talk to the German Press? Part of the explanation for Hitler's calmness towards the Poles was his growing obsession with having been cheated at Munich from his desire to liquidate Czecho-Slovakia (as it was now officially called).
Within three weeks of the Munich Conference, he had given directives to the General Staff for future studies. Significantly, the Polish question was not one of them. But rump-Czechia (the German term of disdain for the the two northern provinces&emdash;Bohemia and Moravia&emdash;in which the Czechs lived) figured prominently.
21 October 1938 Adolf Hitler Directive to the Armed Forces
TOP SECRET BY OFFICER ONLY
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 that Directive comes into force, the Armed Forces must be prepared at all times for the following eventualities:
1. securing the frontiers of the Reich and protecting it against surprise air attacks.
2. liquidation of the remainder of the Czech State.
3. the occupation of Memelland ....
2. LIQUIDATION OF RUMP CZECHIA: It must be possible to smash, at any time, the remainder of the Czech State, should it pursue an anti-German policy.
The preparations to be made by the Armed Forces for this eventuality will be considerably less in extent than those for Operation GREEN; on the other hand, as planned mobilization measures will have to be dispensed with, they must guarantee a continuous and considerably higher state of preparedness. The organization, order of battle, and degree of preparedness of the units earmarked for this purpose are to be prearranged in peacetime for a surprise assault so that Czechia herself will be deprived of all possibility of organized resistance. The aim is the speedy occupation of Bohemia and Moravia and the cutting off of Slovakia. The precautions must be made so that the defense of our Western frontier can be carried out simultaneously...
After Warsaw's rejection of his overture, Hitler added to the original charge to the Armed Forces.
24 November 1938 General Keitel Supplement to Hitler Directive
The Führer has ordered:
1. Apart from the 3 contingencies mentioned ... 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, but not a war against Poland...
The plans of the various branches of the Armed Forces are to be submitted by 10 January 10 1939...
But the primary military attention was to remain directed towards Prague.
17 December 1938 General Keitel Second Supplement to Hitler Directive
With reference to the liquidation of Rump Czechia, the Führer has given the following orders:
The case is to be prepared on the assumption that no appreciable resistance is to be expected. Outwardly it must be quite clear that it is only a peaceful action and not a warlike undertaking. The action must there fore be carried out only with the peacetime Armed Forces, without reinforcement through mobilization... Army units detailed to march in must not, as a general rule, leave their stations until the night before the crossing of the frontier, and must not, as previously planned, deploy on the frontier. Administrative transport required beforehand must be kept to a minimum and must as far as possible be camouflaged. Any necessary movements of the individual units&emdash;especially of motorized formations&emdash;to training areas near the frontier require the approval of the Führer.
The Air Force is to act on corresponding lines ...
A second explanation for Hitler's reluctance to be tougher toward the Poles is of course the possibility that he had not as yet made up his mind&emdash;even to the point of ordering military studies.
But a third explanation must also be mentioned. Hitler was aware of the united opposition of the military high command to any aggressive action which might unleash a war. Although he had not stumbled onto the plans for a coup in September, which had been so close to implementation, he suspected the worst from his generals. He set out to defeat them in his typical way&emdash;through the power of oratory.
In January 1939, he scheduled a series of meetings for senior officers, and lectured them on the glorious dream he had for Germany and the necessity for their complete obedience to his leader ship. These talks are a counterpart to his speech before the representatives of the press.
The third of these meetings was held on February 10, 1939, and a phonograph version has been transcribed.
10 February 1939 Adolf Hitler Speech to his Commanders
It is probably unique in world history for a man to have embarked as I did on a political career in 1919&emdash;twenty years ago&emdash;with my background, and to have achieved what I have these last twenty years. Gentlemen, I did it through the loyalty of the Movement that I created. It gave me its blind support not just in good times, but in bad times as well.
Is it too much for me to ask this of the German officers as well? In fact, I'm asking even more! I can't be satisfied just with the German officer paying lip-service to my orders&emdash;particularly when everything's going well&emdash;I must demand of the German officer that even if the whole nation should desert me in my fight for our Weltanschauung, then he must stand at my side, man to man, with the entire officer corps, and the German soldier too. For six years, now, gentlemen, we had one good fortune after another. In these six years, we have really pulled off miracles....
It is now the duty of all of us to set forth on a new path, calmly and courageously, seizing every opportunity we can. Take my word for it, gentlemen, my triumphs these last few years have only resulted from grasping sudden opportunities. Past generations of cowardly leaders and their advisors missed these opportunities by comfortably objecting: "Militarily speaking, we're not quite ready."
I have taken it upon myself to solve the German problem, that is the German living space problem. Take good note of that; as long as I live, this ideal will govern my every action. Take heed too: the moment I believe that I can make a killing, I'll always strike immediately and I won't hesitate to go to the very brink. Because I'm convinced this problem has to be solved, one way or the other. I'll never shrug my shoulders and say: "Oh dear! I'll leave that for whomever comes after me."
We can best preserve the respect, the prestige that we have already won by seizing every slim opportunity we get to snatch fresh victories. In this way, we will familiarize ourselves with the enemy and, I dare say, the enemy will gradually get accustomed to Germany's strength too. So don't be surprised if over the coming years every opportunity is taken to attain these German objectives, and please give me your blindest support. Above all, take it from me that I will always have scrutinized these matters from every possible angle first&emdash;and that once I announce my decision to take this or that course of action, that decision is irrevocable and I will force it through, whatever the odds against us.
He concluded with an assurance that everything was going according to plan. Two interpretations can be made from this, and both are remarkable: either Hitler believed he was self-consciously following a program, or else he desperately needed to convince his officers that he had everything under control.
All our actions during 1938 represent only the logical extension of the decisions which began to be realized in 1933. It is not the case that during this year of 1938&emdash;let us say&emdash;a particular action occurred which was not previously envisaged. On the contrary, all the individual decisions which have been realized since 1933 are not the result of momentary considerations but represent the implementation of a previously existing plan, though perhaps not exactly according to the schedule which was envisaged. For example, in 1933 I was not exactly certain when the withdrawal from the League of Nations would occur. However, it was clear that this withdrawal had to be the first step towards Germany's revival. And it was further clear that we would have to choose the first appropriate moment. we could see from the start that the next step would have to be rearmament without the permission of foreign countries, but naturally we could not gauge the exact speed and extent of this rearmament right from the start. It was also further obvious that, after certain period of rearmament, Germany would have to take the daring step of proclaiming to the world its freedom from restrictions on rearmament. At the beginning, naturally one could not foresee the right moment for this step. Finally. it was further clear that every further step must first involve the remilitarization of the Rhineland. The date for this was in fact envisaged as being one year later: I did not think I would carry it out until 1937. the circumstances at the time made it seem appropriate to carry it out as early as 1936. It was also quite obvious that the Austrian and the Czech problems would have to be solved in order further to strengthen Germany's political and, in particular, her strategic position. To start with, I was not quite sure whether both problems ought to be or could be solved simultaneously or whether one should deal first with the question of Czechoslovakia or with the Austrian questions. There was no doubt that these questions would have to be solved and so all these decisions were not ideas which were realized at the moment of their conception, but were long-made plans which I was determined to realize the moment I thought the circumstances at the time would be favorable.
Many, but not all of those present were impressed.
25 February 1939 Helmuth Groscurth Diary Entry
Visit Berlin ... In the morning a visit to the office and talk with the Admiral [Canaris], Radke, and Oster. The Admiral appeared very nervous and depressed... Oster showed me a written account of the Führer's latest talk before the commanding generals...
According to this, he had been forced in September to pull back and thus had not been able to reach his goal. He has to lead a war in his lifetime, for never again will a German leader enjoy such unlimited confidence of the people, and thus only he is capable of a war. His war aims: a) domination of Europe; b) world pre-eminence for centuries. War must be undertaken soon because of the armaments pace of the other powers. The officer corps must unconditionally stand behind him, even should the party, etc. break away. The commanding generals must swear allegiance with drawn daggers...
The Elimination of Rump Czecho-Slovakia
Emboldened by his oratorical successes, which as before seemed to have their biggest impact on Hitler himself, the Führer now decided to attack Czechoslovakia at once. Despite diligent investigations by dozens of historians, no rational explanation can be given for this decision. Perhaps Hitler was just carried away by his own speeches?
13 February 1939 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
For those of us who know that in about 4 weeks, rump-Czechia will be dealt its death blow, it was interesting to hear the Führer declare that he himself used to prefer the element of surprise, but has now abandoned this method since it was used up! He went on to sketch out the September crisis of the last year in this way: "I owe my triumph to my unshakeable determination, which left the other side aware I would resort to war, if necessary." He did not mention at all motives of peaceful solution (such as ultimately prevailed) or renunciation of war.
Alarmed by this tendency, Weizsäcker worked out a script which would permit the incorporation of Bohemia and Moravia (the German names for rump- Czechia) without risking a war. He was, however, not enthusiastic.
February 1939 Weizsäcker Memorandum for Hitler and Ribbentrop
I. The foreign policy move which would be the most popular within Germany, and the most acceptable to foreign nations would be the re-taking of Memel and Danzig, as well as the creation of a broader and firm land bridge through the Corridor to east Prussia. Poland has, at present, few sympathizers and scarcely any help can be expected from third parties. In our hands alone would rest the decision to reduce Poland to a size acceptable to us as a cushion against Russia. (I gave this same advice in December 1938 to Herr von Ribbentrop).
II. If, on the contrary, precedence were given to some territorial elimination of the Czechoslovakian problem, the most difficult and the most important problem would be to come up with a suitable justification. From a military point of view, our actions should come as a surprise, but politically, on the contrary, it must appear for both domestic and foreign consumption to be completely legal and, to a certain extent, forced upon us.
III. A script for such a procedure might be as follows:
1. Declaration of independence by Slovakia, proclaimed by the government in Pressburg [German name for Bratislava].
2. Message to Rome that in the face of the Czech-Slovak confrontation, we are going to restore order, take over the direct protection of Czechia, and provide a guarantee of borders for Slovakia.
3. Suggest to Budapest that the moment for an Hungarian intervention to rectify its borders in the Carpathian-Ukraine would occur if unrest were to break out there. We would, however, insist on a plebiscite to determine the future disposition of this territory, and all international communications, transportation, and economic interests be preserved.
4. At the outbreak of Slovak-Czech fighting the government in Pressburg would appeal to Berlin to take over security of its borders.
5. Appeals from the Germans in Czechia for protection of their lives and interests.
6. Inform Rome that we are now forced to march in to protect the Slovaks from military attacks from the Czechs. Actual invasion of Czechia, however, would occur only should Prague reject our proposals concerning a new Treaty of Friendship. This treaty would guarantee German control of Prague and yet protect the Czechs as much as possible.
7. Ultimatum to Prague: accept the Treaty of Friendship, which would give to Czechia all the advantages of external security domestic independence, and cultural autonomy. The population borders of fall 1938 would remain unchanged. But foreign policy matters would pass to the Reich; the army would be transformed into a police for domestic security; the borders be guaranteed; German enclaves in Czechia would be legitimatized; economic ties with Germany set up according to our understanding; and in all other matters, full independence. Should these demands be rejected, the German military would occupy the country, otherwise, only a military presence on the Slovak-Czech border by German troops.
8. Invasion from the North and South along the lines of protecting the Slovak-Czech border on the Waag river.
9. Hungarian invasion of the Carpathian-Ukraine permitted, should unrest break out there.
10. Note to Poland, Paris, and London over the background, and the motivations of our response to a situation forced upon us.
11. Propaganda along the lines of:a. the past sins of the Czechs
b. the moderation of the German response.
c. historical precedents of similar action.
Hitler apparently was pleased with this proposal, especially when, in late February, Slovakian patriots informed him that they planned to change Slovakia's status (created after the Munich Conference) into one of full independence, and the Prague government seemed powerless to stop it. All seemed going according to plan, but unexpectedly the Czechs responded to the growing Slovak separatism. On 9 March 1939, President Hacha ordered Czech troops into Slovakia, where they deposed the government in Bratislava [Pressburg] and appointed a new Prime Minister. This new Slovak government opposed secession, and claimed that it had the support of a majority of the Slovak people.
Msgr. Jozef Tiso, the deposed Prime Minister and head of the Slovak separatists, escaped by taking refuge in the Jesuit college. On 13 March, German agents managed to smuggle Msgr. Tiso to Berlin, where he was taken to see Hitler.]
13 March 1939 Notes of Conference between Adolf Hitler and Slovak Prime Minister Tiso
The Führer greets Prime Minister Tiso and describes in a long detailed account the developments in Czecho-Slovakia. Since the autumn of last year, Germany had experienced two disappointments. One was with regard to Czecho-Slovakia, who, partly because of ill-will, partly out of weakness, could not prevent the development of political circumstances which were intolerable to Germany... With the greatest forbearance, Germany had renounced claims to those German enclaves lying away from her borders, in order to assure to Czecho-Slovakia a normal living space. There had been no thanks for this... Everywhere [in Czechia], Germans had been provoked or discriminated against... In recent weeks the circumstances had become unbearable. While we were treating the Czechs in Germany well, the situation in Czecho-Slovakia was unstable. Germany could no longer permit these conditions. German nationals over there were defending them selves, and they did not see why things should be worse now than before (the Munich Agreement).
The second disappointment for us was the attitude of Slovakia. In the past year, the Führer had had to face a difficult decision, whether or not to permit Hungary to occupy Slovakia [as she had until 1918]... Recently he had sent Keppler as his minister to Bratislava, and [the new Prime Minister] Sidor had declared that he was a soldier of Prague, and would oppose a separation of Slovakia from the Czecho-Slovak Union. If the Führer had known this earlier, he would not have needed to antagonize his friends Hungary...
Now he had permitted Minister Tiso to come here in order to make this question clear in a very short time... It was not a question of days, but of hours. He had stated that if Slovakia wished to make herself independent, he would support this endeavor and even guarantee it. He would stand by his word as long as Slovakia would make it clear that she wished independence. If she hesitated or did not wish to dissolve the connection with Prague, he would leave the destiny of Slovakia to the mercy of events for which he was no longer responsible. Then he would look after German interests only, and they did not extend east of the Carpathians. Germany had nothing to do with Slovakia, which had never belonged to Germany [but had for centuries been a part of the Kingdom of Hungary, which still claimed it as part of its territory.]
The Reich Foreign Minister also emphasized that a decision was a matter of hours, not days, He handed to the Führer a report just received announcing Hungarian troop movements on the Slovak frontier. the Führer read this report. told Tiso of its contents and expressed the hope that Slovakia would reach a decision soon .
Tiso thanked the Führer for his words ... and gave his assurance that the Führer could rely on Slovakia... He would now withdraw ... and show that [Slovakians] were worthy of the Führer's care and interest for their country...
Hitler was perfectly sincere in disclaiming any interest in Slovakia. What he wanted, however, was aid in destroying the rump state recognized at Munich. The British and French guarantees to Czechoslovakia would be meaningless if the Slovaks had destroyed the state from within by rebelling from Prague.
14 March 1939 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
Upon my return from a vacation trip to the Mediterranean and Tripoli, I outlined my thoughts on the current foreign policy situation to Herr von Ribbentrop. We should at once begin to clear up our relations with Poland, occupy Memel, and then let fly at Danzig and the Corridor. In the meantime, we ought to leave the Czechoslovakian Problem on the shelf.
Actually, my view was that we already had the Czechs firmly in hand. They are never very pleasant people. If they exist outside the borders of Germany, they are like fleas in your fur coat, but if brought into the Reich, they would be like lice under the skin!
The Führer, however, was moved by the forceful requirement to recover that which, in September 1938 he had conceded. He was determined, by the middle of March, to solve the problem, and indeed on the basis of an alleged Slovak-Czech confrontation and fight. But then this script fell through, and the move against Czechia had to be based on a direct German-Czech confrontation...
Nevertheless, I consider this new action to be a mistake, since it will only subtract from our international reputation, and particularly in the following ways: a new enslaved peoples will be created, who will strive to be free again; the enemy powers will gain some new arguments, and Rome&emdash;who will not be consulted beforehand&emdash;will gain some new doubts. The entire action will work well for us only in Warsaw, where it will doubtlessly create an unparalleled insolence.
It was an awkward position for Hitler. Despite Msgr. Tiso's brave words and the declaration of independence he had forced through the Slovakian Parliament, no Slovak revolt had broken out. And German troops were arrayed on the border, ready to attack the Czechs at dawn on 15 March. Yet Berlin had not as yet manufactured a suitable pretext. Then on 14 March, President Emil Hacha, concerned about saving what he could of his unfortunate country, asked to come to Berlin. This action was the lucky break Hitler needed
15 March 1939 Notes of Conversation between Adolf Hitler and Emil Hacha
President Hacha greeted the Führer and thanked him for receiving him. For a long time he had wanted to make the acquaintance of a man whose wonderful ideas he had often read about and followed with interest... He was convinced that he destiny of Czecho-Slovakia lay in the Führer's hands, and he believed that that destiny was in safe keeping in the hands of the Führer. He had no need to deplore what had happened recently in Slovakia. He had long been convinced that he different nationalities in this political State could not live together... He as not alone in this opinion, for certainly 80% of the population shared it with him...
Then he came to what affected him the most, the fate of his people. He felt that it was precisely the Führer who would understand his holding the view that Czechia had the right to wish to live a national life. It was self-evident that Czecho-Slovakia's geographical position demanded the best relations with Germany. That was the basis for a national life of its own. This conviction was shared by the majority of the Czech people. There were naturally some exceptions, but one had to bear in mind that the new Czecho-Slovakia had been in existence for only 6 months. Czecho-Slovakia was being blamed because there still existed many supporters of the Benes system. But those named were not supporters at all. It was only in journalistic circles that this system still had friends. The Government was trying by every means to silence them. This was about all he had to report.
The Führer replied by expressing regret that he had to require the President to undertake this journey. This morning, however, after long reflection, he had come to the conclusion that this journey by the President, in spite of his advanced years, might be of great benefit to his country, because it was only a matter of hours now before Germany intervened. Fundamentally, the German Reich felt no antagonism toward any other nation. We were in sympathy with nations which did us no harm, or at least disinterested in them. Neither did the German people feel any hatred for Czecho-Slovakia. But Czechia had adopted a very different attitude toward us.... Slovakia was a matter of complete indifference to him. Had she drawn closer to Germany, this would merely have involved a liability, and hence he was glad not to have it now. He had no interest whatever East of the Little Carpathians.
In the autumn he had not wished to draw the final conclusions [about the ultimate fate of this area], because he had thought a co existence possible, but already at that time, and later during his conversations with Czech envoy Chvalkovsky, he had left no doubt that if the Benes tendencies did not disappear completely, he would destroy this state ruthlessly. Chvalkovsky had under stood this at the time and had begged the Führer to have patience. The Führer had granted this, but months had passed without any change taking place. The new regime had not succeeded in making the old one disappear psychologically; he saw this in the press, in propaganda by word of mouth, in the dismissal of German officials, and in many acts that were to him symbolic of the whole situation. He had not understood this at first, but when it had become clear to him he definitely drew his conclusions, for, had things continue to develop along these lines, the relationship with Czecho-Slovakia would, in a few years, again be exactly where it had been 6 months ago. Why had Czecho-Slovakia not at once reduced her army?... As the State no longer had a role in foreign affairs, such an army had no justification. He quoted several examples which had proved to him that the spirit in the [Czech] Army had not changed. This symptom had convinced him that the [Czech] Army also was a heavy political liability for the future. Add to this the relentless development of a situation of economic stringency, and furthermore the protests from the minorities who could no longer put up with a life of this kind
"And so last Sunday my die was cast. I sent for the Hungarian Minister and informed him that I withdrew my restraining hand from that country." We were now faced by this state of affairs, and he had given the order for invasion by the German troops and for the incorporation of Czechia into the German Reich.
He wished to give Czechia the fullest measure of autonomy and her won way of life, more than she had ever enjoyed in Austrian days. Germany's attitude toward Czechia would be decided tomorrow and the day after and depended on the attitude of the Czech people and Army toward the German troops. He no longer had any confidence in the Government...
Tomorrow morning at 6:00, the German Army was to enter Czechia from all sides and the German Air Force would occupy the Czech air fields. There were two possibilities. The first was that the entry of the German troops might develop into fighting. In this case resistance would be broken by brute force with all available means. The other possibility was that the entry of the German troops would take place satisfactorily, in which case it would be easy for the Führer, upon the reconstruction of Czech national life, to accord Czechia a generous way of life of their own, autonomy, and a certain measure of national liberty.
At this moment we were witnessing a great turning point in history. He did not want to ill treat or de-nationalize the Czechs. he was doing all this not from hatred but in order to protect Germany. If last autumn Czechoslovakia had not given in, the Czechs would have been exterminated. No one would have prevented his doing so. It was his desire that the Czech people should live their national life to the full, and he firmly believed that some formula could be found which would go far toward meeting Czech wishes. if it came to a battle tomorrow, then pressure would create counter-pressure. They would destroy one another, and then it would no longer be possible for him to grant the promised con cessions. In two days, the Czech Army would cease to exist. Naturally, Germans would fall too, and this would engender a hatred which would compel him in self-preservation not to concede any autonomy. The world would not move a muscle... He was almost ashamed to say it, but for every Czech battalion, there was a German division. Thus the military action was not exactly small, but it was launched on a grand scale. He would like now to advise Hacha to with draw with Chvalkovsky and discuss what was to be done.
Hacha said that to him the position was quite clear and that resistance was folly. But he asked the Führer how, in the space of 4 hours, he was to set about restraining the whole Czech people from offering resistance. The Führer said ... he should get in touch with his Prague offices. It was a grave decision, 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 Czechia.
Hacha inquired whether the whole reason for invasion was to disarm the Czech Army. This could perhaps be done in some other way. The Führer said that his decision was irrevocable. They surely knew what a decision by the Führer meant. He saw no other possibility... For Hacha this was today the most difficult task of his life, but he believed that in only a few years this decision would be comprehensible and in 50 years would probably be regarded as a blessing.
Thereupon the two Czechs withdrew. After ... they had made up their minds as to the wording of the agreement, they met once more in the Führer's study for a final consultation. Once again the military situation was fully discussed, and Field Marshal Göring described the situation in detail...
The Führer said that he believed, in spite of all the bitterness that would be caused by the entry and occupation by the German Reich, that nevertheless the knowledge would dawn slowly that a century-long coexistence of the two countries would be beneficial. The idea that the two countries would have to fight each other would disappear. Czechia was embedded in the German Reich, and common sense should make it clear to everyone that the watchword must be a co-existence of the closest kind. Moreover, the problem of denationalization was not involved, as such an idea was in itself quite alien to the Germans and also to national Socialist ideology. We did not desire or intend de-nationalization. They would live happily as Czechs, and we wished to live happily as Germans. In this respect the German Reich could be extremely generous.
Hacha interpolated that this remark of the Führer was of surpassing importance to him...
The Führer said that the Czech people would gain economically by union with Germany because they would become part of the great German economic area. He did not wish to destroy Czech economy but wished to invigorate it considerably. Hacha inquired whether precise instructions about this had been already drawn up. The Führer replied that this was a matter for an economic commission, for the whole thing had come as a surprise even to him. A few weeks ago he had not yet known anything about the whole matter. He spoke once more about that time and the tactics of Benes, and finally about May 28, when he had disclosed to a narrow circle his decision to act. The Führer concluded with the remark that the agreement which would now be signed would have to be final, acceptable, and unequivocal. In any case the Czechs were getting more rights than they had ever accorded the Germans in their territory.
When the aging President Hácha showed signs of suffering a heart attack, he was revived by an injection from Hitler's doctor, and agreed to the following communiqué.
14 March 1939 Communique
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 Führer of the German Reich. The Führer 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 jubilation over Hacha's capitulation&emdash;which gave him the legal pretext for occupation&emdash;was unexpected. After supervising last minute details, he waited until General Keitel announced that the 6:00 invasion was proceeding on schedule, and then returned to his tiny office to dismiss his dutiful secretaries who had stayed up all night. Their account of what happened is interesting.
Postwar Testimony Christa Schroeder and Gerda Daranowski
"Well children!", Hitler exclaimed. "Now put one here and one here," tapping his cheeks; "One peck each! This is the most wonderful day of my life. I have now accomplished what other strove in vain for centuries to achieve. Bohemia and Moravia are back in the Reich. I will go down as the greatest German of all times."
Later that same day, German troops, with Hitler at their head, occupied Bohemia and Moravia. Hitler spent the night in Hradschin Palace in Prague. The next day, an official "Protectorate" was announced, allegedly granting the Czechs a degree of cultural autonomy. It did not fool anyone, and foreign reaction, especially from Great Britain, was harsh and bitter.
Reactions to the Occupation of Prague
18 March 1939 Helmuth Groscurth Diary Entry
The Chamberlain speech was disastrous for us. Who will ever believe us again, now that we have broken every treaty we have signed and blatantly thrown away our best argument&emdash;namely the principle of national self-determination? It would have been much more important to have solved the Polish question. How will we be able to digest the Czechs? Won't the old proverb&emdash;"In the instant that the conquest ends, revolution begins"&emdash;prove itself true once more, after the first surprise of the Czechs is over? Fortunately Neurath has been named Reichsprotector. Karl Hermann Frank, however, is a little wild and dangerous because of his hatred of the Czechs, and he is State Secretary!
Weizsäcker too lamented the action against Prague, because it now seemed impossible to solve the Danzig and Corridor questions in a peaceful manner.
27 March 1939 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
It will no longer be possible to solve the Danzig problem, now that we have used up our political capital over Prague and Memel. A new German-Polish conflict now would unleash an avalanche which would overwhelm us. For the time being the only way we can deal with the Poles' insolent attitude and their high-handed rebuffs to our offer (Danzig returns to Germany, extra-territorial highway to East Prussia, recognition of frontiers) is to break the Polish spirit. But neither an intermediate solution, or a war with Poland can be even considered.
As we shall see, Hitler seemed to share this point of view. But he was apparently surprised by the strong British reactions to the occupation of Prague.
Outraged by the occupation of rump Czecho-Slovakia, British policy makers soon found themselves caught up in a dramatic mix-up. On 17 March, Romanian Ambassador Viorel Tilea told them that Germany had issued an ultimatum to his country which would end its independence. He asked for help.
Sir Alexander Cadogan, British Permanent Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Diary Entries
March 17, 1939: Politically awful. Really worse than last Sept.... Tilea came to see me and Halifax with story of German "ultimatum" to Romania. On that [we] drafted telegram to threatened States, referring to this threat and asking them, more or less, what they will do about it.
March 18, 1939: Subsequently we got from [British Ambassador to Romania] denial of the story from the Romanian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.... We got P.M. (Prime Minister Chamberlain) back from Birmingham and there was a Cabinet at 5. They, as far as I can make out, were bellicose.
No documents exist to show that Germany had ever made such a threat. Equally false was the conclusion of a British intelligence report of 18 March: "that from the purely military point of view, Germany may be preparing for a drive through Hungary into Romania, in concert with Bulgaria..." But the coincidence of these two false reports prompted the British government to undertake, for the first time in its history, military commitments in Central Europe. In the cabinet meeting on March 20, Chamberlain justified this new approach: "The real issue was that if Germany showed signs that she intended to proceed with her march for world domination, we must take steps to stop her by attacking her on two fronts. We should attack Germany, not in order to save a particular victim, but to pull down the bully."
March 20, 1939: These are awful days. The crisis is worse, really, than last Sept.... It's more critical and more imminent, and more acute. And I'm afraid we have reached the cross-roads. I always said that, as long as Hitler could pretend he was incorporating Germans in the Reich, we could pretend that he had a case. if he proceeded to gobble up other nationalities, that would be the time to call "Halt!" That time has come, and I must stick to my principle, because on the whole, I think it right. I don't believe he can gobble all Europe, or at least I don't believe that, if he does, it will do him much good. But we must have a moral position, and we shall lose it if we don't do something now.... But of course we are not ready (nor ever shall be).
March 26, 1939: Whole situation looks as murky as it can be, and all the little States are weakening and showing funk.... If we want to stem the German expansion, I believe we must try to build a dam now.... If we are set on this course, we must set about it quickly and firmly. It might act as a deterrent to avert war, although I confess I think the chances of that are rather slight.
March 29, 1939: In evening Ian Colvin (News-Chronicle) came and ... gave hair- raising details of imminent German thrust against Poland. I was not entirely convinced. I am getting used to these stories. But Halifax seemed impressed, and we took him over to the Prime.Minister.... Halifax, who stayed behind with P.M., came over later, and said latter agreed to idea of an immediate declaration of support of Poland to counter a quick putsch by Hitler....
A month later, now aware that none of the three alleged causes of the guarantee had been true, Lord Cadogan could still justify British action:
The principal object of our guarantee was to deter Germany from any further acts of aggression, and by obtaining a reciprocal guarantee from Poland to ensure that, if war must ensue, Germany would have to fight on two fronts. We have been told that this is essential. Germany is unable at the moment to embark on a war on two fronts. If she were free to expand Eastward and to obtain control of the resources of Central and Eastern Europe she might then be strong enough to turn upon the Western countries with overwhelming strength. Our object was, therefore, ... to build up a peace front to the East and South-east of Germany.... In this combination, Poland was the key.
Thus, the guarantee was not aimed at saving a country but to make sure that Poland participated in a war with Germany. This decision ended all opportunity to solve the Danzig question peacefully.
Years afterwards, Lord Cadogan re-read his diary for 1939 and commented:
Of course, our guarantee could give no possible protection to Poland in any imminent attack upon her. But it set up a signpost for Chamberlain. He was committed, and in the event of a German attack on Poland he would be spared the agonizing doubts and indecisions. You might say that this was cruel to Poland. I wouldn't agree, because our military situation must have been known to them, and they should have been quite aware of the peril that threatened them. You might say that it was cynical. On a short view, perhaps it was. But it did bring us into the war.... And in the end we, with our Allies won it. Though of course, the poor Poles cannot be expected to appreciate the results for them.
Prompted by such reasoning, Chamberlain made his famous speech
31 March 1939 Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain Declaration to the House of Commons
In the event of any action which clearly threaten Polish independence and which the Polish government accordingly considered it vital to resist.... 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 he French Government has authorized me to make it plain that it stands in the same position in this matter, as does His Majesty's Government.
The first reaction to this new state of affairs came from the German foreign office.
5 April 1939 Weizsäcker to Moltke (Warsaw)
Lipski will probably be received here again before Easter. At this interview he will be told the following with reference to his last conversation with the Foreign Minister:
Our offer to Poland will not be repeated. The Polish government had apparently not fully understood the significance of this offer. We could not help that. The future would show whether Poland had been well advised. The counterproposal put forward by Lipski had, as was well-known, already been rejected by the Foreign Minister as a basis for negotiations. End of statement to Lipski.
Please do not enter into any further material discussion on the German offer and the Polish counter-offer. We must prevent Poland from throwing the ball back to us and then maneuvering us into the position of appearing to have let a Polish offer go unheeded. Other principal missions have likewise been instructed not to enter into serious discussions on the Polish question, but rather to evade the subject calmly and not to give any indications of further German intentions.
Hitler's New Military Strategy
In the meantime, the events of 1938 had only further complicated Germany's rearmament. Now in addition to the constant competition came a major disagreement over strategy. Since May 1938, Britain was clearly Germany's main opponent, and only a navy could defeat that enemy. But to the horror of the officers who would have to fight such a war, Hitler appeared primarily concerned not an immediate threat, which he insisted was unlikely, but with the construction of a large battle fleet capable of engaging both the United States and if necessary Britain, and only after he had having secured control of the European continent..
Confronted by Raeder with request to postpone the costly and time-consuming grand fleet idea, Hitler refused to budge and even threatened to hand over naval tasks to the Air Force if the Navy could not do the job. "If I could build the Third Reich in six years," he told the Commander-in-Chief of the Navy, "then surely the Navy can build these six ships in six years." He insisted that the fleet would not be needed until 1944 at the earliest.
27 January 1939 Hitler Order For the Navy
It is my express wish that the naval construction which I have ordered should be given priority over all other tasks including the rearmament of the other two services and including exports. The construction covers the implementation of the new program as well as the maintenance of the preparedness of the naval forces for war.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Navy shall put direct and indirect requests for personnel, materials, and finance to the Delegate of the Four Year Plan, Field Marshal Göring, who is responsible for ensuring their urgent fulfillment on schedule by conveying corresponding instructions to the Reich agencies involved.
Typically, Hitler's arbitrary reallocation of resources within the armed forces resolved nothing and only further revealed the total inability of German resources to meet his impractical demands. By February 1939, there was already a shortage of one million industrial workers and the Army Ordinance Office estimated that if only the military programs were initiated, an 870 per cent increase in the number of workers would be required. Moreover, there were shortages in housing in industrial areas and the forced labor conscription programs were highly unpopular. Only recruitment of foreign labor was open. Significantly, by 1 June 1939, 40,000 skilled workers had been acquired from defeated Czechoslovakia, not to mention large quantities of military equipment, raw materials, and productive capacity. Increasingly, it became clear that plunder, especially of human workers, was one of the Germany's basic needs.
In this situation, the badly needed systematic allocation of scarce resources required a clear set of priorities but Hitler refused such an approach. Raeder had gotten his naval program by bypassing the Armed Forces High Command and going directly to Hitler. In turn, Hitler continually shifted his own priorities, while encouraging each of the service chiefs to press ahead independently with their own goals. Sometimes, as in the case of the Navy, he even threatened to transfer tasks to a rival if the leadership proved insufficiently committed.
Hitler's sense of being under tremendous time pressure encouraged him to concentrate on the production of the immediate requirements rather than a proper coordination of the economy and the preparation of productive capacity and raw material supplies for a long war. In Hitler's eyes the Four Year Plan was essentially a stop-gap measure to avoid the worst bottlenecks until Germany could conquer the supplies of raw materials she needed. By concentrating her limited but powerful forces, Germany would simply seize the resources needed for the next stage.In effect, Hitler apparently came to believe Germany had to make war in order to continue her rearmament. It was a vicious circle of destruction, without much rational understanding.
This approach was strongly criticized by General Thomas, head of the Economic Planning Office of the Armed Forces.
24 May 1939 General Thomas Lecture
... In conclusion we can state that the total German rearmament, in the field of personnel as well as of war matériel, represents an achievement of the German people probably unique in the world, and a testimony to resolute leadership and to the energy and creativeness innate in the German people. The great efforts of German industry and of the German people in both finance and hard work have undoubtedly yielded the desired result and we can perceive today that German armament in its breadth and its state of preparedness has a considerable start over the armament of all other countries.
But if one compares the armament situation not in terms of its breadth and preparedness, but in terms of the depth of armament or, to put it another way, the possibility of endurance in the event of a new world war, the picture looks different....
Gentlemen! All the time I have been in charge of my department. I have always pointed out the difference between armament in breadth and armament in depth.
By armament in breadth I mean the number and strength of the armed forces in peacetime and the preparations made to increase them in the event of war. Armament in depth, on the other hand, embraces all those measures, particularly those affecting materials and of an economic nature, which serve to provide supplies during war and therefore strengthen our powers of endurance. We are all clear about our present superiority in breadth and in the initial striking power of our armament; now we must analyze whether we can retain this superiority in an armaments race and thereby achieve superiority in depth of armament.
Allow me first to say a few words about the dangers which can develop if too much attention is paid to armament in breadth at the expense of armament in depth.
We all know that in every war, soon after the beginning of operations, a request comes for new formations and that then all available resources are recklessly released to provide these new formations. At the same time, there is a request for increased amounts of munitions and all the other necessities, and woe betide the leadership of economic warfare if it is not in a position to fulfill these demands owing to a lack of reserves of finished goods or raw materials and semi-finished products. Here again the old proverb still holds good: 'Save in time of plenty and you will have something in time of need.' You will understand if, particularly at the present time in which the sections of the armed forces are considerably enlarged every year, I emphasize in all seriousness the need of improving our armament in depth....
The information which we have so far received does not indicate that the western Great Powers are as yet pursuing rearmament with the same energy as we are. But should the political situation lead to a long-drawn-out armaments race we must of course realize that the Western Powers, considering the capacity of their economies for producing armaments, will be in a position to catch up with the German lead in 1-1 l/2 years. The combined economic strength of Britain, America, and France is in the long run greater than that of the Axis Powers and in an armaments race the Western Powers will not have the same difficulties which Germany and Italy will always have on account of their lack of raw materials and manpower. If it comes to such an armaments race and then to a war the result of that war will, in my opinion, depend on whether the Axis States succeed in bringing about a decision by a quick decisive blow. If they do not succeed in this, if it comes to a struggle like that of the World War, then the depth of military economic power, that is, the powers of endurance, will decide the issue.
It is not my task to speculate on the possible success or failure of such a lightning war [Blitzkrieg]. I myself do not believe that a conflict between the Axis Powers and the Western Powers will be a question of a lightning war, that is, a matter of days and weeks. As far as I am concerned, as Chief of Defense Economic Staff, it is essential for the armaments industry to be prepared for a long war. Our preparations must concentrate on strengthening our armament in depth as much as possible.
There are three particularly important points which must chiefly concern us in this connection:
1. The securing of the German food situation;
2. The securing of iron ore supplies;
3. The oil and rubber question....
Another problem is that considerable financial resources are called for and are employed on projects which do not serve German armament and could be postponed for a few years. At the moment our German economy is not 100 per cent employed but 125 per cent. And these superfluous 25 per cent are the contracts which bring disorder into the economy and lay upon us a considerable financial burden. In our present military and economic situation, we must in my opinion follow one path only, that of bringing back the old order into the economy and concentrating all our economic resources on the strengthening of our economic armament .
Concentration of our resources must be our watchword in all spheres, in personnel as in materials, in the regulation of manpower as in the distribution of raw materials and machinery....
As far as we can tell, Hitler never bothered to engage in this discussion. In typical fashion, his mind had suddenly turned to another issue: Poland.
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