The Polish Problem Becomes Acute
As we have seen above, scarcely was the ink dry on the Munich Agreement of September 1938 than German diplomats were raising the thorny issue of Danzig.
24 October 1938 Polish Ambassador Lipski Notes of Conversation with Joachim von Ribbentrop
In a conversation on 24 October over luncheon at the Grand Hotel in Berchtesgaden... Herr von Ribbentrop put forward a proposal for a basic settlement of issues between Poland and Germany which, as he expressed himself, would remove the causes of future strife. This included the reunion of Danzig with the Reich, while Poland would be assured of retaining railway and economic facilities there. Poland would agree to the building of an extraterritorial superhighway and railway line across Pomerania. In exchange, von Ribbentrop mentioned the possibility of an extension of the Polish-German agreement by twenty-five years and a guarantee of Polish-German frontiers. As a possible sphere for future cooperation between the two countries, the German Foreign Minister specified joint action in colonial matters, the emigration of Jews from Poland, and a joint policy toward Russia on the basis of the Anti-Comintern Pact. Herr von Ribbentrop asked the Ambassador to communicate his suggestions to Minister Beck; he would like to discuss these matters with him, with the Ambassador's participation....
On 19 November, Ambassador Lipski requested an interview with Ribbentrop. In diplomatic, but firm language, Warsaw rejected all the German proposals and offered no grounds for future discussions. Pointedly, Poland thereafter initiated a series of conversations with the Soviet Union, and published a joint communique about them on 26 November.. Ribbentrop's reaction was startlingly moderate.
On 5 January 1939, Polish Foreign Minister Jozef Beck had a personal meeting with Hitler and found him on his best behavior. Obviously, nothing had as yet been settled concerning German policy toward Poland.
5 January 1939 Memorandum of Conversation between Adolf Hitler and Jozef Beck
As for the details of German-Polish relations, the Führer wished to repeat once more that since 1934 there had been no change in the German attitude toward Poland. In order to arrive at a definitive settlement of the questions still pending between the two countries, one ought not to confine oneself to the rather negative agreement of 1934, but should try to bring the individual problems to a definitive settlement by treaty. From the German point of view the remaining problem was that of the Corridor and Danzig, which was psychologically very difficult for German sensibilities. In his opinion it was necessary to depart from old patterns here and seek solutions along entirely new lines. Thus, for example, in the case of Danzig there might conceivably be a settlement by which this city would be brought into the German political community again in accordance with the will of its population; naturally the Polish interests, especially in the economic field, would have to be fully protected. This was after all in the interest of Danzig as well, for Danzig could not live economically without Poland, either, and so he, the Führer, was thinking of a formula by which Danzig would come into the German political community, but remain with Poland economically.
Danzig is German, will always remain German, and will sooner or later become part of Germany. He could give the assurance, how ever, that no fait accompli would be engineered in Danzig.
With regard to the Corridor, which, as stated, was a difficult psychological problem for Germany, the Führer pointed out that it was of course completely absurd to want to deprive Poland of her outlet to the sea. If Poland were bottled up in this manner, she might, in view of the tension that would thereby arise, be likened to a loaded revolver whose trigger might be pulled at any minute. Thus, the necessity for Poland to have access to the sea definitely had to be recognized. In the same way, however, having a connection with East Prussia was a necessity for Germany; here too, by using entirely new methods of solution one could perhaps do justice to the interests of both.
If it should be possible on this rational basis to bring about a definitive settlement of the individual problems, which would of course have to do justice to both sides, the time would have come to supplement in a positive sense, in the manner of the agreements with France, the rather negative declaration of 1934 by a German guarantee of Poland's frontiers clearly laid down in a treaty. Poland would then obtain the great advantage of having her frontier with Germany, including the Corridor, secured by treaty. The Führer emphasized again the psychological difficulty of this problem and the fact that only he could bring about such a solution. It was by no means easy for him to guarantee the Corridor in this way, and he would undoubtedly be widely criticized for it, especially by bourgeois circles. But as a realistic statesman he still believed that such a solution was the best. When Germany had once given such a guarantee, as little would be heard about the Polish Corridor as was being said today about the South Tyrol or Alsace-Lorraine...
But consistent with his general approach, shortly after the occupation of Prague, Hitler asked for the army to be prepared for all eventualities and Danzig headed the list of potential problems. No doubt he had frequently been told of the dangers involved. As we have seen, State Secretary Weizsäcker repeatedly warned everyone he spoke with: "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."
Hitler insisted, however, that he was not interested in pushing the issue that hard.
25 March 1939 Notes of Conversation between Adolf Hitler and General Brauchitsch
Lipski is returning from Warsaw on Sunday, 26 March; his mission there was to inquire whether Poland was ready to make an arrangement about Danzig. The Führer left Berlin on the evening of 25 March and does not wish to be here when L&emdash; returns. For the present, Ribbentrop is to conduct the negotiations. The Führer does not wish to solve the Danzig question by force, however. He does not wish to drive Poland into the arms of Britain by this means.
A possible military occupation of Danzig could be contemplated only if L&emdash; gave an indication that the Polish government could not justify voluntary cession of Danzig to its own people and that a fait accompli would make a solution easier for it.
THE PROBLEM OF POLAND
For the present, the Führer does not intend to solve the Polish question. However, it should now be worked upon [by the Army]. A solution in the near future would have to be based on especially favorable political preconditions. In such a case Poland would have to be so beaten down that, during the next few decades it need not be taken into account as a political factor. In a solution of this kind the Führer envisages an advanced frontier, extending from the Eastern border of East Prussia to the Eastern tip of Silesia. The questions of evacuation and resettlement still remain open. The Führer does not wish to enter the Ukraine. Possibly a Ukrainian state might be established. But these questions too still remain open...
Hitler was apparently not sure of what his reactions ought to be, but characteristically, he did nothing to engage the arguments presented.
But when the British issued their guarantee to Poland, on 3 April 1939, he reacted in typical fashion. He issued a new directive for war; obviously, he wanted to be ready for all contingencies.
11 April 1939 Adolf Hitler Directive for War Against Poland
The present attitude of Poland requires ... the initiation of military preparations, to remove if necessary any threat from this direction for ever.
1. POLITICAL REQUIREMENTS AND AIMS: German relations with Poland continue to be based on the principles of avoiding any disturbances. Should Poland, however, change her policy towards Germany ... and adopt a threatening attitude, a final settlement might become necessary in spite of the Treaty in force with Poland.
The aim then would be to destroy Polish military strength and create in the East a situation which satisfies the requirements of national defense. The Free State of Danzig will be proclaimed a part of the Reich territory at the outbreak of hostilities, at the latest.
The political leaders consider it their task in this case to isolate Poland if possible, that is to say, to limit the war to Poland only. The development of increasing internal crises in France and resulting British restraint might produce such a situation in the not too distant future. Intervention by Russia, if she were in a position to intervene, cannot be expected to be of any use to Poland, because this would mean Poland's destruction by Bolshevism. The attitude of the Baltic States will be determined wholly by German military superiority.
Germany cannot count on Hungary as a certain ally. Italy's attitude is determined by the Rome-Berlin Axis.
2. MILITARY CONCLUSIONS: The great objectives in the reconstruction of the German Armed Forces will continue to be determined by the antagonism of the Western Democracies. Operation WHITE constitutes only a precautionary complement to these preparations. It is not to be looked upon in any way, however, as the necessary prerequisite for a military conflict with the Western opponents.
The isolation of Poland will be all the more easily maintained, even after the outbreak of hostilities, if we succeed in starting the war with sudden, heavy blows and in gaining rapid successes. The overall situation will require, however, that in all cases precautions be taken to safeguard the Western frontier and the German North Sea coast, as well as the air above them. Against the Baltic States&emdash;Lithuania in particular&emdash;security measures are to be carried out in case of a Polish march through this country.
3. TASKS OF THE ARMED FORCES: The task of the Armed Forces is to destroy the Polish Armed Forces. To this end a surprise attack is to be aimed at and prepared. Camouflaged or open general mobilization will not be ordered earlier than the day before the attack and at the latest possible moment....
All other frontiers are to be kept under observation only; the Lithuanian frontier is to be covered.
4. TASKS FOR THE BRANCHES OF THE ARMED FORCES:
a. ARMY: The operational objective in the East is the annihilation of the Polish Army. For this purpose, the German Army on the Southern flank may enter Slovak territory. On the Northern flank, communication between Pomerania and East Prussia must be established quickly.
The preparations for the opening of operations are to be made in such a way that, even without waiting for the planned deployment of mobilized units, positions can be taken up by the troops immediately available. A camouflaged assembly of these units just before the day of attack may be provided for. I reserve for myself the decision in this matter....
b. NAVY: The task of the Navy is the Baltic Sea is as follows:1. Destruction and/or elimination of the Polish Naval Forces.
2. Blockade of all sea-lanes to the Polish naval bases, especially Gdynia....
3. Suppression of Polish maritime trade.
4. Securing of the sea-route between the Reich and East Prussia.
5. Protection of German sea-communications to Sweden and the Baltic States....
In the North Sea and in the Skagerrak such measures are to be taken as are deemed advisable as precautions against surprise intervention in the conflict by the Western Powers. These measures are to be restricted to the absolute minimum. Their inconspicuousness must be assured. It is of decisive importance to avoid here any sort of action which might aggravate the political attitude of the Western Powers.
c. AIR FORCE: The Air Force, except for necessary forces left in the West, is to be used for a surprise attack on Poland. Besides destruction of the Polish Air Force in the shortest time possible, the tasks of the German Air Force are principally as follows: 1. Interference with Polish mobilization and prevention of planned strategic concentrations by the Polish Army. 2. Direct support of the Army....
TAKING POSSESSION OF DANZIG
Surprise occupation of the Free State of Danzig may become possible independent of Operation WHITE by exploiting a favorable political situation. Preparations are to be made on the following basis: ... Occupation by the Army will be carried out from East Prussia. The Navy will support the action of the Army by intervention from the sea.... The extent to which Air Force units can participate in the occupation will be decided by the Reich Air Minister (Göring).
Details of cooperation are to be settled directly between the branches of the Armed Forces.
On 28 April, Hitler told the Reichstag about his generous offer to Poland over Danzig and the Corridor and Warsaw's rejection. Now in the face of Polish non-cooperation, which was doubtlessly provoked by what he termed England's "blank check," the Führer announced the termination of both the German-Polish Non-Aggression Treaty, and the German- British Naval Accord.
The speech was greeted enthusiastically in army circles: "It frees the way for action against Poland. That is good and about time," Major Groscurth confided to his diary.
A month later, Hitler summoned his Commanders-in-Chief for still another speech, a four-hour harangue in which he insisted that his real purpose was not Danzig, but Lebensraum in the East sufficient to feed 80 million Germans.
23 May 1939 Major Schmundt Notes of Hitler Speech to the Commanders-in-Chief
The years behind us have been put to good use. Germany was outside the circle of the Great Powers. A balance of power had been established without Germany's participation. This balance is now being disturbed by Germany's claiming her vital rights and her reappearance in the circle of the Great Powers. All claims are regarded as '"breaking in".
The English are more afraid of economic dangers than of ordinary threats of force.
The ideological problems have been solved by the mass of 80,000,000 people. The economic problems must also be solved. To create the economic conditions necessary for this is a task no German can disregard. The solution of the problems demands courage. The principle must not prevail that one can accommodate oneself to the circumstances and thus shirk the solution of the problems. The circumstances must rather be adapted to suit the demands. This is not possible without "breaking in" upon other countries or attacking other people's possessions.
Living space proportionate to the greatness of the State is fundamental to every power. One can do without it for a time but sooner or later the problems will have to be solved by hook or by crook. The alternatives are rise or decline. In fifteen or twenty years' time the solution will be forced upon us. No German statesman can shirk the problem for longer. At present we are in a state of national ebullience as are two other states: Italy and Japan . . .
After six years the present position is as follows: The national political unification of the Germans has been achieved with minor exceptions. Further successes can no longer be won without bloodshed. The delineation of frontiers is now of military importance.
The Pole is not a new enemy. Poland will always be on the side of our adversaries. In spite of treaties of friendship, Poland has always been bent on exploiting every opportunity against us.
It is not Danzig that is at stake. For us it is a matter of expanding our living space in the East and making food supplies secure and also solving the problem of the Baltic States. Food supplies can only be obtained from thinly populated areas. But over and above fertility, the thorough German cultivation of an area will tremendously increase its productivity. No other openings can be seen in Europe.
Colonies: A warning against gifts of colonial possessions. This is no solution to the food problem. Blockade!
If fate forces us into a showdown with the West it is good to possess a largish area in the East. In war time we shall be even less able to rely on harvests than in peace time. The populations of non-German territories do not render military service and are available for labor service.
The problem of Poland cannot be dissociated from the showdown with the West. Poland's internal solidarity against Bolshevism is a doubtful barrier against Russia. Success in war in the West with a rapid decision is questionable and so is Poland's attitude. The Polish Government will not stand up to Russian pressure. And Poland sees danger to itself in a German victory over the West and would try to deprive us of victory.
There is, therefore, no question of sparing Poland, and we are left with the decision: TO ATTACK POLAND AT THE FIRST SUITABLE OPPORTUNITY.
We cannot expect a repetition of Czechia. There will be war. Our task is to isolate Poland&emdash;[i.e. war with Poland alone]. Success in isolating her will be decisive.
Therefore the Führer must reserve to himself the final order to strike. It must not come to a simultaneous showdown with the West (France and England).
The collection of notes from which the above excerpt is taken is undated, and appears to contain other items added later by Schmundt&emdash;such as a rambling denunciation of England and Hitler's determination to attack France, England and Russia all at once.
The editor believes that the excerpt printed above accurately catches the spirit of Hitler's speech on that date, while the other material is a later interpellation.
This interpretation is confirmed by the recollections of the Chief of the General Staff, General Franz Halder, who quoted Hitler on 23 May 1939 as saying: "I would have to be a complete idiot to slither into a world war&emdash;like those nincompoops of 1914&emdash;over the lousy Polish Corridor."
The notes conclude with a brief discussion of the omnipresent issue of resource allocations. Schmundt is doubtlessly accurate in quoting Hitler's approach.
In reply to Field Marshal Göring the Führer lays down that:
(a) the branches of the Armed Forces each determine what is to be constructed;
(b) nothing will be changed in the shipbuilding program;
(c) the armaments program will be completed by 1943 or 1944.
Throughout the early summer of 1939, systematic discussions about the future seemed to be constantly side-tracked by infighting among the different leaders. Hitler was mainly in Berchtesgaden, aloof from this turmoil.
16 June 1939 Helmuth Groscurth Diary Entry
Lahousen comes and interviews me concerning Karl Hermann Frank, who apparently is strongly working against us. Dr. B&emdash; has informed the Chief (Canaris) that Heydrich is gathering material against C&emdash;, in order to bring about his downfall. Very suspicious. I am of the opinion that we can stop this only by some ruthless counterattack. Every other alternative leads to our own destruction.
24 June 1939 Helmuth Groscurth Diary Entry
From the 20 to 24 June in Berlin. Heard much of interest. Most of it unwelcomed. I probably will not be back in Berlin again until the Fall. As D-day (for the invasion of Poland), they speak of 25 August. Top Secret, but it seems to be well known, even in Breslau! The invasion requires 1.5 million tons of coal. But 800,000 tons are all that we have for Poland! Reichsprotector Neurath has informed the Führer that he can no longer continue to bear the responsibilities for the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, because Heydrich is constantly working at cross-purposes. The Führer replied: "Again Heydrich. We must do something about him." State-Secretary Frank is completely thick with the SS, and works strongly against the Czechs. We suspect that he is also working against Canaris....
The Nazi-Soviet Agreement
The possibility of a German attack on Poland suddenly increased the importance of the Soviet Union to both sides. Without Russian cooperation, France and Britain could not aid Poland militarily, but neither state trusted Stalin. Chamberlain was ideologically hostile and shared the the British General Staff's contemptuous view of Soviet military power After the recent purge of several thousand officers the Red Army was dismissed as simply would ineffective.
The Munich Conference's abandonment of Czechoslovakia and the exclusion of the Soviet Union from the talks persuaded Stalin that Britain and France wished to push Moscow into a war with Germany while they came to terms with Hitler. In a speech to the Communist Party Congress on 10 March, Stalin warned that he would "not let our country be drawn into conflict by warmongers, whose custom is to let others pull their chestnuts out of the fire." As a sign of his changed approach, in May 1939, he removed Maxim Litvinov, the old Jewish Bolshevik who had long supported a concept of collective security through a pact with the Western Powers. His replacement as Foreign Commissar was Molotov.
Ribbentrop and Hitler rightly recognized that the Russians might be prepared to alter their policy towards Germany. The idea of an approach to the Soviet Union had long been supported by a group within the German Foreign Ministry and the Wehrmacht. Hitler had previously rejected their suggestions, but with Poland's acceptance of the guarantee by Britain and France, he was forced to reconsider his position.
By the end of July, Hitler learned that Britain and France were sending a military mission to Moscow for talks. He began toying with the idea of making his own approach to the Soviets. At Bayreuth for the Wagner Festival, he surprised former Foreign Minister Neurath with the question: "What do you say we come to an agreement with Russia?" A few days later, he had Ribbentrop hint to Soviet diplomats that Moscow and Berlin ought to decide Poland's fate between them.
On 4 August 1939, Hitler met with General Keitel and the latter's staff officer, Major Lossberg.
Bernd von Lossberg Postwar Account of a discussion with Hitler on 4 August 1939
Hitler blamed Chamberlain's thoughtless guarantee to Poland for stiffening Warsaw's opposition. If, he continued, war with Poland was inevitable, then there was no time like the present, since Britain still lagged far behind Germany in the arms race. "The gentlemen in London and Paris won't undertake anything against us this time either," he assured the officers.... "I will see to that. This Polish conflict will never, never, never result in a European war."
What Hitler feared was that if Russia aided Poland, Germany would once more be faced with a two front war, whereas if Russia could be won over, Poland would be isolated and encircled.In a surprisingly frank statement, he discussed this possibility with the League of Nations Commissioner of Danzig.
11 August 1939 Carl Burckhardt Account of a Conversation with Hitler
Everything I undertake [Hitler said] is directed against the Russians, if the West is too stupid and blind to grasp this, then I shall be compelled to come to an agreement with the Russians, beat the West, and then after their defeat turn against the Soviet Union with all my forces. I need the Ukraine so they can't starve us out like in the last war.
Another source had become alarmed at the drift toward another European conflict. Benito Mussolini, and his Foreign Minister Count Galeazzo Ciano, were frightened by Hitler's apparent drift toward war, and they sought to bring pressure upon their German Ally.
Count Ciano Diary Entries
10 August 1939: The Duce is more than ever convinced of the necessity of delaying the conflict. He himself has worked out the report concerning the [planned meeting with Hitler in Germany], which ends with an allusion to international negotiations to settle the problems that so dangerously disturb European life.
Before letting me go he recommends that I should frankly inform the Germans that we must avoid a conflict with Poland, since it will be impossible to localize it, and a general war would be disastrous for every body....
11 August 1939: Ribbentrop is evasive whenever I ask him for particulars about the German line of action. His conscience bothers him. He has lied too many times about German intentions toward Poland not to feel uneasy now about what he must tell me and what they are getting ready to do.
The decision to fight is implacable. He rejects any solution which might give satisfaction to Germany and thus avoid the struggle. I am certain that even if the Germans were given more than they ask for they would attack just the same, because they are possessed by the demon of destruction....
Before dinner, in a casual atmosphere, Ciano tried to pin Ribbentrop down.
While we were waiting to be seated at the dinner table, Ribbentrop informed me that the storm must break, as he would have talked with me of a minor, ordinary administrative measure. "Well, Ribbentrop," I asked, "what do you want? The Corridor or Danzig?"
"Not that any more," he said, gazing at me with his cold expressionless eyes, "we want war!"
12 August 1939: Hitler is very cordial, but he, too, is impassive and implacable in his decision.... I realize immediately that there is no longer anything that can be done. He has decided to strike, and strike he will. All our arguments will not in the least avail to stop him. he continues to repeat that he will localize the conflict with Poland, but his affirmation that the great war must be fought while he and the Duce are still young leads me to believe once more that he is acting in bad faith.
The Italians were not the only ones to become convince that an increasing war fever was running among Hitler's coterie.
13 August 1939 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
In the past weeks, there has been growing here strongly a desire for war. Himmler, Ribbentrop, and Gauleiter Forster (Danzig) have each been promoting the idea of war in their own spheres. Ribbentrop says he will guarantee English and French neutrality, provided we administer annihilating blows to the Poles in the first three days of fighting. This he thinks is certain.
My formula remains the same: if Poland commits a provocation of such effrontery that even Paris and London must see it as such, we could fall upon Poland. Otherwise, we should keep hands off.
In the meantime, some honorable solution becomes ever more difficult, and our game in London, Tokyo, and Moscow grows ever more complicated.
On this same day, 13 August, Molotov agreed to receive a German negotiator. On the 16th, he suggested the talks should be on a non-aggression pact. Ribbentrop agreed to fly at once to Moscow, but Molotov suggested delaying until 26 or 27 August.
The explanation for Stalin's motives can be found in the discussion then going on in Moscow between a Soviet team led by Marshal Voroshilov and General Heywood's British group.
17 August 1939 General T.G.G. Heywood to the British War Office
On 16 August, we arrived at the stage where Voroshilov indicated in the most emphatic manner that the right for the Soviet troops to cross Polish territory through the Wilno Corridor (as they call it) must be assured to them by France and Great Britain in order to enable them to undertake operations against East Prussia. Similar rights must be given to them in Galicia and in Romanian territory to assist the latter country.
To all suggestions that they should deal direct with Poland, they reply that France has a treaty of mutual assistance with Poland, that we have guaranteed its integrity and the Soviets have no such treaty (implying that we ought to remember that the Poles and Romanians have a mutual assistance treaty, the clauses of which are mainly directed against Russia), and that we are, therefore, in a much better position to obtain this permission from Poland and Romania.
At today's meeting, the Soviets firmly proposed to adjourn further discussions sine die (without scheduling new talks), unless, and until, the French and/or British Governments have sent us the necessary assurances regarding the above use of Polish an Romanian territory by their Forces. Only after strong representation by us as to the unfortunate repercussions which such action might have on outside opinion, did the Soviet Delegation ask for an interval in which to discuss this matter among them selves (i.e. consult the Kremlin); only then did they agree to fix a date (21 August) for the next meeting, or sooner, of course, if the above assurances are received, but to be put off if a reply is not received by us.
Unless, therefore, we can obtain the consent of Poland and Romania, or are prepared our selves to guarantee that we would obtain it if war should break out, the chances of obtaining Soviet signature to a military convention are extremely small. On the other hand, if we do get it I feel the chances are quite good, though, of course, there is bound to be a good deal of oriental bargaining and discussion of many other points.... I feel that if we do not obtain a rapid reply we shall have to work very hard to prevent the conference breaking down, but the very fact that the Soviets have asked us to approach the Poles and Romanians gives us very extensive opportunities of demanding adjournments in order to send members of the Mission either back to England and France, or even to Warsaw and Bucharest, to confer with the Polish and Romanian General Staffs....
Apparently unaware of this lackadasical approach by the Western negotiators, Hitler was now determined to push the talks with the Soviet Union. On 15 August, he had authorized Operation WHITE to continue on schedule, with an attack on Poland due for 25 August. To delay the talks with Russia would throw off this schedule. So on 20 August, he personally wrote to Stalin, asking him to receive Ribbentrop at once. As a reason, he gave an unambiguous explanation: "Poland's conduct towards us, a major power, is such that a crisis may blow up any day."
20 August 1939 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
We are engaged in a competitive race with the English, with Russia as the prize. If by the middle of the week Ribbentrop is able to negotiate a pact in Moscow, it will mean that the Russians consider the destruction of the Anti-Comintern Pact and the gaining of a free hand against Japan more important than the loss of possible French-English assistance. They would, thereby, be inviting us to attack Poland, for they would no longer fear a new 1812. Given the present firm determination of the Führer to have a war, Ribbentrop tries to remove every Italian hesitation. But my conversations with the Italian envoy here has demonstrated that the Italians are aiming at only one thing: how to get Rome's neck out of this noose.
Late in the afternoon of 21 August, Molotov replied that Stalin was willing to hold the meetings as requested and submitted a draft version of a non- aggression pact. "Now," Hitler exclaimed to his coterie, "I have Poland just where I want her." he immediately turned to the next problem&emdash;persuading the army leadership that the risk of a major war was now eliminated.
He scheduled a conference of the Commanders-in-Chief for Berchtesgaden, and at 11:15 pm. broke the news of the German-Soviet Pact to a startled world. he did not, however, mention his instructions to Ribbentrop to secure a secret agreement with the Soviets for a final partition of Poland.]
22 August 1939 Admiral Canaris Notes of Hitler Speech to Commanders-in-Chief, Berchtesgaden
I have called you together to give you a picture of the political situation, in order that you may have some insight into the individual factors on which I have based my decision to act and in order to strengthen your confidence. After this, we shall discuss military details....
It was clear to me that a conflict with Poland had to come sooner or later. I had already made this decision in the spring, but I thought that I would first turn against the West in a few years, and only after that against the East. But the sequence of these things cannot be fixed. Nor should one close one's eyes to threatening situations. I wanted first of all to establish a tolerable relationship with Poland in order to fight first against the West. But this plan, which appealed to me, could not be executed as fundamental points had changed. It became clear to me that, in the event of a conflict with the West, Poland would attack us. Poland is striving for access to the sea. The further development appeared after the occupation of the Memel Territory and it became clear to me that in certain circumstances a conflict with Poland might come at an inopportune moment. I give as reasons for this conclusion:
1. First of all two personal factors: My own personality and that of Mussolini. Essentially all depends on me, on my existence, because of my political talents. Furthermore, the fact that probably no one will ever again have the confidence of the whole German people as I have. There will probably never again in the future be a man with more authority than I have. My existence is therefore a factor of great value. But I can be eliminated at any time by a criminal or a lunatic.
The second personal factor is the Duce. His existence is also decisive. If anything happens to him, Italy's loyalty to the alliance will no longer be certain. The Italian Court is fundamentally opposed to the Duce. Above all, the Court regards the expansion of the empire as an encumbrance. The Duce is the man with the strongest nerves in Italy.
The third personal factor in our favor is Franco. We can ask only for benevolent neutrality from Spain. But this depends on Franco's personality. He guarantees a certain uniformity and stability in the present system in Spain. We must accept the fact that Spain does not as yet have a Fascist party with our internal unity.
The other side presents a negative picture as far as authoritative persons are concerned. There is no outstanding personality in England and France.
It is easy for us to make decisions. We have nothing to lose; we have everything to gain. Because of our restrictions our economic situation is such that we can only hold out for a few more years. Göring can confirm this. We have no other choice, we must act. Our opponents will be risking a great deal and can gain only a little. Britain's stake in a war is inconceivably great. Our enemies have leaders who are below the average. No personalities. No masters, no men of action.
Besides the personal factors, the political situation is favorable for us: In the Mediterranean, rivalry between Italy, France and England; in the Far East, tension between Japan and England; in the Middle East, tension which causes alarm in the Mohammedan world.
The English Empire did not emerge stronger from the last war. Nothing was achieved from the maritime point of view. Strife between England and Ireland. The Union of South Africa has become more independent. Concessions have had to be made to India. England is in the utmost peril. Unhealthy industrialization. A British statesman can only view the future with concern.
France's position has also deteriorated, above all in the Mediterranean.
Further factors in our favor are these: Since Albania, there has been a balance of power in the Balkans. Yugoslavia is infected with the fatal germ of decay because of her internal situation. Romania has not grown stronger. She is open to attack and vulnerable. She is threatened by Hungary and Bulgaria. Since Kemal's death, Turkey has been ruled by petty minds, unsteady, weak men.
All these favorable circumstances will no longer prevail in two or three year's time. No one knows how much longer I shall live. Therefore, better a conflict now.
The creation of Greater Germany was a great achievement politically, but militarily it was doubtful, since it was achieved by bluff on the part of the political leaders. It is necessary to test the military [machine]. If at all possible, not in a general reckoning, but by the accomplishment of individual tasks.
The relationship with Poland has become unbearable. My Polish policy hitherto was contrary to the views of the people. My proposals to Poland (Danzig and the Corridor) were frustrated by England's intervention. Poland changed her tone towards us. A permanent state of tension is intolerable. The power of initiative cannot be allowed to pass to others. The present moment is more favorable than in two or three years' time. An attempt on my life or Mussolini's could change the situation to our disadvantage. One cannot forever face one another with rifles cocked. One compromise solution suggested to us was that we should change our convictions and make kind gestures. They talked to us again in the language of Versailles. There was a danger of losing prestige. Now the probability is still great that the West will not intervene. We must take the risk with ruthless determination. The politician must take a risk just as much as the general. We are faced with the harsh alternatives of striking or of certain annihilation sooner or later.
Reference to previous hazardous under takings. I should have been stoned if I had not been proved right. The most dangerous step was our entry into the demilitarized zone in the Rhineland. Only a week before, I got a warning through France. I have always taken a great risk in the conviction that it would succeed.
Now it is also a great risk. Iron nerves, iron resolution.
The following special reasons fortify me in my view. England and France have undertaken obligations which neither is in a position to fulfill. There is no real rearmament in England, but only propaganda. A great deal of harm was done by many Germans (who were not in agreement with me) saying and writing to English people after the solution of the Czech question: The Führer succeeded because you lost your nerve, because you capitulated too soon. This explains the present propaganda war. The English speak of a war of nerves. One factor in this war of nerves is to boast the increase of armaments. But what are the real facts about British rearmament? The naval construction program for 1938 has not yet been completed. Only the reserve fleet has been mobilized. Purchase of trawler. No substantial strengthening of the Navy before 1941 or 1942. Little has been done on land. England will be able to send at most three divisions to the Continent. A little has been done for the Air Force, but it is only a beginning.... England is still vulnerable from the air. This can change in two or three years. England does not want the conflict to break out for two or three years.
The following is typical of England. Poland wanted a loan from England for her rearmament. England, however, only granted credits in order to make sure that Poland buys in England, although England cannot make deliveries. This suggests that England does not really want to support Poland. She is not risking eight million pounds in Poland, although she poured five hundred millions into China. England's position in the world is very precarious. She will not take any risks.
France is short of men (decline in the birth rate). Little has been done for rearmament. The artillery is obsolete. France did not want to embark on this adventure.
The West has only two possibilities for fighting against us:
1. Blockade: It will not be effective because of our autarky and because we have sources of supply in Eastern Europe.
2. Attack in the West from the Maginot Line: I consider this impossible.
Another possibility would be the violation of Dutch, Belgian and Swiss neutrality. I have no doubt that all these States, as well as Scandinavia, will defend their neutrality with all available means. England and France will not violate the neutrality of these countries.
Thus in actual fact, England cannot help Poland. There still remains an attack on Italy. Military intervention is out of the question. No one is counting on a long war. If Herr von Brauchitsch had told me that I would need four years to conquer Poland, I would have replied: "Then it cannot be done." It is nonsense to say that England wants to wage a long war.
We will hold our position in the West until we have conquered Poland. We must bear in mind our great production capacity. It is much greater than in 1914-1918.
The enemy had another hope, that Russia would become our enemy after the conquest of Poland. The enemy did not reckon with my great strength of purpose. Our enemies are small fry. I saw them in Munich.
I was convinced that Stalin would never accept the English offer. Russia has no interest in preserving Poland, and Stalin knows that it would mean the end of his regime, no matter whether his soldiers emerged from a war victorious or vanquished. Litvinov's replacement was decisive. I brought about the change towards Russia gradually. In connection with the commercial treaty talks we got into political conversations. Proposal for a non-aggression pact. Then came a comprehensive proposal from Russia. Four days ago I took a special step, which led to Russia replying yesterday that she is prepared to sign. Personal contact with Stalin is established. The day after tomorrow von Ribbentrop will conclude the treaty. Now Poland is in the position in which I wanted her.
We need not be afraid of a blockade. The East will supply us with grain, cattle, coal, lead and zinc. It is a mighty aim, which demands great efforts. I am only afraid that at the last moment some swine or other will yet submit a plan for mediation.
The political objectives go further. A start has been made on the destruction of England's hegemony. The way will be open for the soldiers after I have made the political preparations. Today's announcement of the non-aggression pact with Russia came as a bombshell. The consequences cannot be foreseen. Stalin also said that this course will benefit both countries. The effect on Poland will be tremendous.
In reply, Göring thanked the Führer and assured him that the Armed Forces would do their duty.
After this fiery speech, a buffet lunch was served, and then Hitler spoke for another hour, urging his commanders to display iron nerves&emdash;even if Britain and France broke off diplomatic relations. "Each and every one of you must act as though we have, all along, been longing for a fight with the Western Powers as well." He assured them that he would destroy Poland rapidly, and if necessary, brutally. But it would not lead to a general European war. "I will provide a propaganda motive for launching this war, whether credible or not; the victor is not challenged afterwards as to whether he has told the truth." He concluded this exhausting series of talks with the appeal: "I have done my duty. Now you do yours."
22 August 1939 Engel Diary Entry
Führer expressed himself this evening as reassured and impressed after his speech to the Commanding Generals. He requested Schmundt once again to get a reading of the reaction from the generals. As a group they are a unique body. The Führer believes himself to be a really good psychologist of people, and in his meetings&emdash;no matter whether before the people or before his party comrades&emdash;he always knows whether or not his words are having an effect. It is quite a different thing with these old officers, who put on a rigid, masked face from which no one can learn anything. The same thing happened to him again today.
Politically, he told us again that he was convinced that Poland would remain isolated. England and France were only bluffing, and he had no intention of getting himself involved in negotiations with these countries in the near future. If England leaves him in peace, he will do nothing against her. France is another story entirely. The settlement of Alsace-Lorraine is still outstanding. While that is a case for later worries, it will one day have to be cleared up....
The Führer repeated that he now looked more quietly upon developments than he had for some months. The fronts were now drawn, and the other side can choose. His greatest fear is that some "stupid emotional acrobat would approach him with weak-kneed proposals" in the last minute and thus destroy his whole game plan and force him once again to give in.
Not everyone in the audience, however, was as impressed as Engel.
24 August 1939 Helmuth Groscurth Diary Entry
Reported to Frankenberg and then to the chief (Canaris) and Tippelskirch. It seems that the war against Poland is fixed for the 26th. The chief showed me for two hours long his diaries, and especially his notes that he had taken from the Führer's speech before the commanding generals. He is done in by it. Everything in it is lies, and deceptions, not a single element of truth....
The Führer insisted that we could only hold out as we are now for a very few years, and so we must now conquer. Only he and the Duce are capable of this. But either one of them could "on any day and at any hour be destroyed by a criminal or an idiot." Therefore, he was forced to act quickly. he had first thought to carry out a war against the West. But he has now had to give that up for the time being. First he wants to free up his rear by attacking Poland. Recently, he said, the political leadership has had to work enormously hard; now it is the turn of the armed forces to show what they can do.
The war must be conducted with great brutality and ruthlessness and lead to the complete destruction of Poland. The purpose was not to conquer land, but to destroy their power. He will see to it that sufficient causes are presented for the war. Later on, no one in history will inquire about the grounds....
I have learned that the pretext for the war will be provided by 150 prisoners from the Concentration Camps, who will be decked out in Polish uniforms and then slaughtered! This is Heydrich's contribution. W.C (Canaris) has tried everything to void this plan, citing the full abhorrence of the army, etc. etc.
But Hitler was not getting this feed-back
24 August 1939 Engel Diary Entry
I am distraught over Schmundt's optimism. He reports that the generals were greatly impressed by the Führer's speech day before yesterday and confidently look forward to their coming tasks. They are generally convinced of the necessity for the forthcoming action.
That is absolutely not true! The Führer spoke very quietly and objectively, but the mood among the generals is very apprehensive. Not because of Poland, but because of what might develop further from that question. They firmly believe that the consequence will be war with France and England. And many fear that the Führer has decided to settle the Polish question with military power, at all costs.
On the same day as these talks, Ribbentrop in Moscow signed the Non-Aggression Pact and Secret Additional Protocols.
23 August 1939 Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union
The Government of the German Reich and The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, directed by the wish to strengthen the cause of peace between Germany and the U.S.S.R. and proceeding upon the basic provisions of the Treaty of Neutrality Concluded between Germany and the U.S.S.R. in April 1926, have reached the following agreement:
The two contracting parties undertake to refrain from any act of violence, any aggresSive action, or any attack against one another, whether individually or Jointly with other powers.
In case any of the contracting parties should become the object of warlike acts on the part of a third power, the other contracting party will not support that third power in any form.
The Governments of the two contracting parties will in future remain in contact with each other through continuous consultation in order to inform each other concerning questions affecting their mutual interests.
Neither of the two contracting parties will participate in any grouping of powers which is indirectly or directly aimed against the other party.
Should disputes or conflicts arise between the contracting parties regarding questions of any kind whatsoever, the two parties would clear away these disputes or conflicts solely by means of friendly exchanges of views or if necessary by arbitration commissions.
The present Treaty is concluded for a period of ten years with the provision that unless one of the contracting parties denounces it one year before the end of this period the duration of the validity of this treaty is to be regarded as automatically prolonged for another five years.
The present Treaty is to be ratified within the shortest possible time. The documents of ratification are to be exchanged in Berlin. The Treaty becomes effective upon signature.
SECRET ADDITIONAL PROTOCOL
On the occasion of the signature of the Non-Aggression Treaty between the German Reich and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the undersigned plenipotentiaries of the two parties discussed in strictly confidential conversations the question of the delimitation of their respective spheres of interest in Eastern Europe. These conversations led to the following result:
1. In the event of a territorial and political transformation in the territories belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern frontier of Lithuania shall represent the frontier of the spheres of interest both of Germany and the U.S.S.R.. In this connection the interest of Lithuania in the Vilna territory is recognized by both parties.
2. In the event of a territorial and political transformation of the territories belonging to the Polish State, the spheres of interest of both Germany and the U.S.S.R. shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narev, Vistula and San.
The question of whether the interests of both parties make the maintenance of an independent Polish State appear desirable and how the frontiers of this State should be drawn can be definitely determined only in the course of further political developments. In any case both Governments will resolve this question by means of a friendly understanding.
3. With regard to south-eastern Europe, the Soviet side emphasizes its interests in Bessarabia. The German side declares complete political désintéressement in these territories.
4. This Protocol will be treated by both parties as strictly secret.
By this division of Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence, Hitler was convinced that England would now drop its guarantee to Poland. He did not change his mind, even as secret wire-tap intercepts showed that despite the Nazi-Soviet Pact, London was supporting Warsaw.
Reactions to the Nazi-Soviet Pact
Chamberlain responded publicly to the news of the German-Soviet Pact and sent Hitler the following letter insisting that Britain was determined to stand by Poland if she were attacked.
23 August 1939 Chamberlain Letter to Hitler
Your Excellency will have already heard of certain measures taken by His Majesty's Government and announced in the press and on the wireless this evening. These steps have, in the opinion of His Majesty's Government, been rendered necessary by military movements which have been reported from Germany and by the fact that apparently the announcement of a German-Soviet Agreement is taken in some quarters in Berlin to indicate that intervention by Great Britain on behalf of Poland is no longer a contingency that need be reckoned with. No greater mistake could be made. Whatever may prove to be the nature of the German-Soviet Agreement, it cannot alter Great Britain's obligation to Poland, which His Majesty's Government have stated in public repeatedly and plainly and which they are determined to fulfill.
It is alleged that if His Majesty's Government had made their position more clear in 1914, the great catastrophe would have been avoided. Whether or not there is any force in that allegation, His Majesty's Government are resolved that on this occasion there shall be no such tragic misunderstanding.
If the case should arise, they are resolved and prepared to employ without delay all the forces at their command, and it is impossible to foresee the end of hostilities once engaged. It would be a dangerous illusion to think that if war once starts it will come to an early end, even if a success on any one of the several fronts on which it will be engaged should have been secured. Having thus made our position perfectly clear, I wish to repeat to you my conviction that war between our two peoples would be the greatest calamity that could occur. I am certain that it is desired neither by our people nor by yours, and I cannot see that there is anything in the questions arising between Germany and Poland which could not and should not be resolved without use of force, it [sic] only a situation of confidence could be restOred to enable discussions to be carried out in an atmosphere different from that which prevails today.
We have been, and at all times will be, ready to assist in creating conditions in Which such negotiations could take place and in which it might be possible concurrently to discuss the wider problems affecting future international relations, including matters of interest to us and to you . . .
But I am bound to say that there would be slender hope of bringing such negotiations to a successful issue, unless it were understood beforehand that any settlement reached would, when concluded, be guaranteed by other Powers. His Majesty's Government would be ready, if desired, to make such contribution as they could to the effective operation of such guarantees.
At this moment I confess I can see no other way to avoid a catastrophe that will involve Europe in war.
For his part, State Secretary Weizsäcker was determined to avoid the conflict.
23 August 1939 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
Since Herr von Ribbentrop has flown to Moscow, I participated in the preparation and course of the Führer's conversation with the British Ambassador.... The goal of the Führer was directed toward getting the British government to drop its guarantee for Poland. The Führer expects that by 24 August, under the impact of our coup in Moscow, the Chamberlain government will fall, and with it the idea of a guarantee of Poland.
My own judgment of events is quite different, and I explained it to the Führer in the following words: the English are prisoners of their own politics. They are neither a logical nor a systematic peoples, but rather emotional, and must be understood accordingly. Psychologically, they are, so to speak, under the influence of Whiskey. Whatever they do cannot be judged solely as tactics, etc. etc. If Chamberlain wishes, he could give out a call for war, and have the entire Parliament behind him.
The Führer does not agree with this version. He is pointed more directly than ever at war, and shows no hesitation in his determination to have a war. Furthermore, he expects the war to be only a local one with Poland, but he does speak&emdash;at least he did today&emdash;of being able to conduct a general war. Only a few days ago, he was of quite a different opinion.
24 August 1939 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
Again today another private conversation with the Führer.... He is still thinking along the lines of a localized war, and he will not abandon this idea. His reluctance to fight the Western Powers is more pronounced than I had believed yesterday. He still thinks the Poles will give way. He spoke again of a piecemeal solution. After the first concessions, England will abandon the Poles to their fate.
I told the Führer that we certainly must seize any opportunity of negotiating with the Poles if one occurs. For then the Poles would cave in. But if it were to come to a war with England, I requested to be dismissed from my position and permitted to return to the navy. For in such a war, the navy would have much to do and the foreign office precious little. The Führer looked at me quizzically and with a friendly rejection. He places his confidence in the English Parliament, which will insist on not joining in this localized war....
In the evening&emdash;after our return flight from Salzburg to Berlin&emdash;Ribbentrop, who had arrived from Moscow, explained to the Führer, Göring and me about his accomplishments. In the celebration, there were still some unquiet doubts, for the expected reaction of the British Parliament has not materialized. In spite of Moscow, England and France stand behind Poland.
On 25 August , the order to implement Operation WHITE was issued. Simultaneously, developments were occurring in Italy. The Italian Foreign Office was alarmed about the drift toward war. Ciano, the foreign minister, and also Mussolini's soon-in-law decided to try to head it off. The following account is from his secret diary:
25 August 1939 Count Ciano Diary Entry
During the night I had a telephone conversation with Ribbentrop who, at the instigation of Hitler, makes it known that the situation is becoming "critical" on account of the usual "Polish provocations." His tone is less decisive and overbearing than it was before. I speak to him of the advisability of seeing each other. The answer is evasive....
Two p.m. I am told of a message of Hitler to the Duce. I go to the Palazzo Venezia.... The ambiguous message is couched in abstract language but gives one to understand that the action will begin in a short time and asks for "Italian understanding." I use this phrase as a pretext to persuade the Duke to write to Hitler. We are not ready to go to war. We shall do it if you will furnish us all the material and raw materials we need. It is not the kind of communication that I should have wanted to make, but it is something.... The German reaction is cold.
9:30 p.m. [the German Ambassador] brings a brief note in which we are requested to make a precise list of what we need. During the drive, [the Ambassador] who is hostile to the military adventure, requests me to make out a complete list. He hopes that this will put the brakes on his government. In fact, there has been an initial suspension....
25 August 1939 Engel Diary Entry
Today the Commander-in-Chief of the Army [Brauchitsch] had his great day. In the morning came the answer from the Duce that he was not in a position to enter the war. The Führer was extremely cast down. You could see in him a certain perplexity about what to do next! Doubtlessly influenced decisively by Göring, this afternoon the Führer called Ribbentrop, Brauchitsch and Göring together. At the last moment, I was told to bring in Halder too. The result was that the attack that has been ordered for tomorrow has been stopped and Brauchitsch has guaranteed that everything can still be whistled back in time. The Führer was very happy over that and has decided to negotiate anew. Göring reported on some of his conversations with middlemen. Tonight the opinion seems to be that we will attempt to avoid a war, as long as the Poles remain reasonable.
26 August 1939 Engel Diary Entry
I have been with Brauchitsch who has spoken in some detail about yesterday's conversation and claims credit, not without some justice, for having put off the start of a war. he explained that his remarks to the Führer about being able to continue the mobilization process in an even more intensive fashion was only a feint. He knew that many peace feelers were running and in this question, for the first time, Göring has been our best ally. With his lips pulled into a tight grimace he added: "Göring well knows why he does not want a war, for even in a war, he can't live as well as he is today."
31 August 1939 Herbert Backe Letter
On August 27, Sunday, at his operational HQ in Potsdam ... Göring disclosed to us in strict confidence that Italy's not going to join in. This is why the attack was cancelled.... Now we've got to see how we can get out of the mess. He says that besides the Russian Pact, we've also signed a secret deal (it evidently partitions Poland, with Warsaw allocated to us). Göring spoke up stoutly for Mussolini and his predicament, but added that if he was a real man he would have overthrown the Monarchy. A tight spot for us. War unthinkable. If we get Danzig out of it, we'll be happy enough. Perhaps a slice of the Corridor too. Conference concluded that new situation has a silver lining for us too, as now we won't have any bones to pick with France, while Italy has; so if we drop Italy, we have a good chance to keep France out.... We must avoid war and try to save face.
Most observers believed that after the fiasco of orders and counter-orders, Hitler would be forced to call off Operation WHITE altogether. General Wagner from the General Staff wrote his wife on 26 August: "Couldn't write last night as everything very hectic. You can calm down&emdash;as far as I can see nothing's going to happen now!"
But the situation in the circle around Hitler was far from rational.
27 August 1939 Engel Diary Entry
I have again been to the Commander-in-Chief (Brauchitsch) informed him abut the course of events in the Reichs Chancellery. There everything is falling apart. Yesterday, there was a confrontation between Hewel and the Führer who wanted to bet that the English would not get involved, even if it came to a German war against Poland. Hewel strongly contradicted this point, saying: "My Führer, do not underestimate the British. If they perceive that there is no other way, then they become very stubborn and go their own way instead. I believe that I can judge this situation much more accurately than my own minister (Foreign Minister Ribbentrop)." The Führer was very angered by this and broke off the conversation.
(Brauchitsch) sees the situation in a very similar fashion and judges that the Führer does not know what he ought to do. The defection of the Italians (which Brauchitsch had expected) had been a great disappointment for the Führer. Now it was merely a question of persuading him that the British and French will live up to their guarantee if we attack, (and thus preserve peace by calling off the attack on Poland.) Brauchitsch places great value on Göring, who apparently has some contacts with England, and not only through Sweden....
28 August 1939 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
The two days following the counter-order stopping the invasion were filled with a series of attempts to camouflage the truth from foreign observers, from domestic ears, and even from ourselves. To these attempts belong the order for mobilization and the strong words used by many to convince others and themselves that it was still possible to fight the war&emdash;even without Italy and against Poland and the Western Powers. No constructive suggestions were put forward for a political solution to the mess. And if any were hinted at, Ribbentrop did his best to nip them in the bud. On Sunday, 27 August, the Führer said to his coterie that he was determined to pursue the total solution, but would cooperate in a piecemeal approach.
In spite of this, we are approaching a second crisis. For we will not be able to obtain what we want. And the rest of the world desires above all else, to end the unrest that has plagued it for the past year and a half. But here, on the contrary, there is growing among us a tendency for a Nibelung-type death [loyalty until all perish together in flames].
28 August 1939 Groscurth Diary Entry
Receive an account of Hitler's summoning of the Reichstag from two trusted agents; the Führer appeared at 5:30, flanked by Himmler, Heydrich, Goebbels, Wolff and Bormann. Not a single officer to be seen! Content of speech: situation very serious. He was determined to solve the Eastern Question one way or the other. He had made certain proposals to Henderson and waited for an answer. His minimum demand: Danzig and the Corridor. His maximum demand: whatever could be produced from the military situation. If the minimum demands were not met, then war. War with the most brutal and most inhuman means.
Like Friedrich the Great, he was willing to place all his bets on one card, and to personally go forward into the front lines, to fight where it would be particularly hot. Should the war prove difficult, and possibly even hopeless, it was still better to go down to defeat with honor than to capitulate. "As long as I live, there will be no talk of capitulation."
"If anyone of you believe that I have not acted out of any motive except my love for Germany, I hereby give you the right to shoot me down on the spot."
"The Soviet Alliance has been misunderstood by many party members. He was making a pact with Beelzebub in order to drive out the devil. The Soviet Union was not, in any case, a Bolshevik State any longer, but an authoritarian military dictatorship."
"There was no reason to fear a blockade because of our program of autarky and the new possibilities in the East."
He expected loyalty to duty, etc. etc. The resulting mandatory applause was weak. Hitler appeared nervous, as if he had been up all night, fidgety glances and movements.
29 August 1939 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
The general public gradually grows aware that this time the political leadership has not succeeded. even our limited measures such as the order for mobilization have found numerous critics. Above all, the military leadership is becoming convinced that the politicians advising the Führer have treated the army shamefully.
In the evening of August 28, Henderson returned from London and handed over a cool letter from Chamberlain, which contained the practical suggestion to open negotiations. It contained Minister Beck's agreement for direct talks, as long as the vital interests of Poland were respected.
Today, between two and three in the morning, there was greater optimism in the light of a rosy picture presented by a Swedish messenger who has talked with Chamberlain. &emdash;Göring said to the Führer, we will now be able to avoid the go-for-broke game. To which the Führer replied: "All my life I have always played go for broke."
Throughout the day, opinion here swayed from expressions of the closest friendship with England, to demands for war against her. Relations between us and Italy grow ever chillier. By late evening, opinion has once again swung fully behind the idea of war. In two months, they insist, Poland will be done for, and then we can set up a great Peace Conference with the Western Powers.
29 August 1939 Groscurth Diary Entry
Oster arrived with news from the Foreign Office. Ribbentrop has received Attolico and Ivanoff. Told them Henderson's message and the Führer's answer. Germany will negotiate with the Poles. The Italian-German alliance must, however, remain firm. Führer added: "No more conflict with Russia. Unconditional, radical and permanent peace for years to come in our pact with Russia. Germany will attend no international conference without Russia. Our demands for colonies remain, but they can wait. Polish provocations are intolerable. 21 serious incidents so-far on the border."
Führer no longer believes in a peaceful solution and told Henderson just that. Henderson was not given a written answer.... Ribbentrop declared, Germany is not bluffing. 5 million men have been mobilized.
The Führer has told Ribbentrop, Himmler, Bodenschatz and others: "Tonight, I am going to hatch something particularly diabolical for the Poles&emdash;something they will choke on." Göring alone seemed reasonable and said to the Führer: "But this time you won't have to play "go for broke"."
29 August 1939 Engel Diary Entry
Today was again filled with complete chaos, and no one sees clearly what is going to happen. Certain circles are systematically destroying all the new attempts at securing a peaceful resolution, and even I believe that these powers&emdash;which are found primarily in the Party&emdash;are stronger than those who really want to preserve the peace.
The Führer is shockingly upset, sullen, and caustic. Thus after some weeks of quiet, Schmundt and I are again the recipients of attacks upon the Army. The Führer intones that he well knows what they are thinking in the General Staff, and he has learned of certain occurrences about which he did not want to talk just now. One thing was clear, [he said]: he would no longer permit him self to be advised by the military in the issue of whether there should be peace or war! He simply could not conceive of German soldiers who were afraid of a fight! Frederick the Great must be spinning in his grave if he could see today's generals. He only intended to liquidate certain unjust relations between the Poles and the German State. Like everyone else, he did not want a war. But if the other side was so dumb as to bring one about, then they bore the responsibility and must be crushed. He only desired a (limited) "First Silesian War" (i.e. Frederick the Great's brief war which captured Silesia from Maria Theresa of Austria), nothing more; for the newly created flags of the Armed Forces&emdash;an armed force which he had formed&emdash;need some victory ribbons, or otherwise the idea of a glorious army has lost its meaning.
We left him very depressed.
But all were not depressed. In particular, the "radical" wing of the Party were pleased at developments.
29 August 1939 Heinrich Himmler Diary Entry
Ambassador Henderson came to see the Führer at 10:30 pm. Afterwards Göring, Hess, Bodenschatz and I joined the Führer in the conservatory. The Führer was accompanied by Ribbentrop. He told us what the British offer contained. It was very courteously phrased, but contained nothing of real substance. Altogether he was in a very good mood and mimicked in his inimitable way what Henderson had put forward&emdash;speaking German with a thick English accent.
The Führer then indicated that we now have to aim a document at the British (or Poles) that is little less than a masterpiece of diplomacy. He wants to spend tonight thinking it over; because he always gets most of his best ideas in the small hours between 5 and 6 am.
At this Göring inquired, "My God, don't you get any sleep even now? Or have you got insomnia again? The Führer replied that he often dozes from three to four o'clock in the morning and then suddenly wakes up to find the problems arrayed in pristine clarity before his eyes. They he jumps up and jots down a few key words in pencil. He himself doesn't know how it happens&emdash;all he does know is that in the wee small hours of the morning everything that might confuse or distract him disappears.
The "diabolical plan" which Hitler came up with in the wee hours of the morning of August 29 was beautiful. He composed 16 points, remarkably mild in tone. They were to be delivered to Poland as the basis for talks. The points were summarized in a briefing for the military leadership.
31 August 1939 Groscurth Diary Entry
At 7:30 Oster came with the following summary, which was relayed to me and Stulpnagel: German demands:
1. Danzig will become German. Gdingen remain Polish. Polish interests will be protected in Danzig.
2. Corridor: Plebiscite for entire area enclosed in the line Netze-Thorn-Marienburg, on the basis of the population figures for 1910 (Kinzel joked that the Poles could just as well demand it on the basis for the figures of 1410).
3. Occupation of the Corridor by an international contingent of troops until the plebiscite.
4. Reparations for all damage done to German speakers within Poland.
Very mild demands! Apparently the tactic is that should the Poles not accept them, the Western Powers will back away from helping Poland....
To cinch the bait, Hitler offered to negotiate directly with the Poles. But he made sure they could never accept. One of his conditions was that the foreign contingent of troops who would temporarily occupy the Corridor would included Soviet soldiers, which he knew would be totally unacceptable to Warsaw. And, the Poles would have only 24 hours to send a plenipotentiary to Berlin to negotiate.
The whole point of the proposal was to make Poland seem the guilty party. Weizsäcker suspected all was not what it seemed, but he was unprepared for the final twist.
30 August 1939 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
We are awaiting to see if England, as promised, can persuade Poland to send a special negotiator. The answers to date, while not unfavorable, are only procrastinating. we have worked out a reasonable compromise plan&emdash;the first constructive idea in months&emdash;but is it only "for show?"
At midnight, when Henderson brought the awaited answer, Ribbentrop treated him like dirt&emdash;and this is Ribbentrop's own version of the discussion. He read the compromise plan to Henderson, but did not give him a copy because, he said, since the English had delayed so long with their own reply, the plan was now outdated.
Thus, once again, we stand on the brink of war. Beaming, Ribbentrop went home.
The insulting behavior by Ribbentrop was certainly uncalled for. But in fact, the Poles were determined not to negotiate. They had told the British Government that they would not send a representative to Berlin to receive the German proposals, or to receive an ultimatum. Foreign Minister Beck told the British Ambassador, that "he had no intention of being treated like President Hacha." As a recent study has shown, Hitler was receiving copies of all the telegrams between Warsaw and London, so he was aware of this attempted deception.
31 August 1939 Polish Foreign Minister Jozef Beck to Ambassador Jozef Lipski
Please do not engage in any concrete discussions, and if the Germans put forward any concrete demands, say you are not authorized to accept or discuss them and will have to ask your government for further instructions.
31 August 1939 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
The day is devoted to the question whether contact can be established between Berlin and Warsaw. London and Rome are trying to secure it. I myself undertake the task of seeing that the Polish Ambassador, who has asked for an interview, is received. To manage this I had a discussion with Ribbentrop, who was dead set against the idea. I was forced to demand my resignation, and even more. The discussion&emdash;we were in the Reichs Chancellery&emdash;grew so heated that other people standing around stopped to listen. I said to Ribbentrop that I would be a filthy swine, if I did not give him my honest opinion on these matters. In the end, Lipski was received, but dismissed practically at once on the pretext that he had not brought with him full powers to negotiate.
Apparently, since last night, it has been firmly decided to carry out the war, no matter what were to happen. I suspect that it was Ribbentrop's advice which carried the day. For he deliberately cut all lines of communication which promised a way out. But why the Führer decided to open a war without Italy, and against the Western Powers, when up to now he had rejected both ideas, is still unclear to me. I understood his plan up to 30 August as a highly-spun bluff, with the full intention of giving way in the end. I will not write further of my attempts, carried on without interruption, of avoiding this development. They are without interest, because in the final analysis they all failed.
A new age begins. Does my life have any point any more? Only time will tell.
Action Against Poland
31 August 1939 12:30 pm Hitler Directive to the Army
1. Now that every political possibility has been exhausted for ending by peaceful means the intolerable situation on Germany's Eastern frontier, I have determined on a solution by force.
2. The attack on Poland is to be carried out in accordance with the preparations made for Operation WHITE, with the alterations, in respect of the Army, resulting from the fact that strategic deployment has by now been almost completed. Assignment of tasks and the operational objective remain unchanged.
Day of attack September 1, 1939 Time of attack 4:45 am.
This timing also applies for the Gdynia-Gulf of Danzig, and Dirschau Bridge operations.
3. In the West, it is important that the responsibility for the opening of hostilities should be made to rest squarely on Britain and France. Insignificant frontier violations should, for the time being, be opposed by purely local action. The neutrality about which we have given assurances to Holland, Belgium, Luxemburg, and Switzerland must be scrupulously respected. On land, the German western frontier is not to be crossed at any point, without my express permission. At sea, the same applies for all warlike actions or actions which could be regarded as such.
The defensive measures of the Air Force are, for the time being, to be restricted to those necessary to counter enemy air attacks at the Reich frontier, whereby the frontiers of neutral States are to e respected as long as possible in countering single aircraft and smaller units. Only if large French an British formations are employed over the neutral States in attacks against German territory and the air defense in the West is no longer assured, are counter measures to be allowed even over these neutral territories.
The speediest reporting to High Command of any violation of the neutrality of third States by our western opponents is particularly important.
4. If Britain and France open hostilities against Germany, it is the task of the Armed Forces operating in the West to conserve their strength as much as possible and thus maintain the conditions for a victorious conclusion of the operations against Poland. Within these limits, enemy forces and their military economic resources are to be injured as much as possible. Orders to go over to the attack are reserved to me in every case.
The Army will hold the West Wall and make preparations to prevent its being outflanked in the North through violation of Belgian or Dutch territory by the Western Powers. If French forces enter Luxemburg, the demolition of frontier bridges is authorized.
The Navy will carry on warfare against merchant shipping, directed mainly at Britain. ... The Baltic Sea is to be protected from enemy raids....
The Air force is, in the first place, to prevent the French and British Air Forces from attacking the German Army and German living space. In conducting the war against Britain, preparations are to be made for the use of the Air Force in disrupting British supplies by sea, the armaments industry, and the transport of troops to France. A favorable opportunity is to be taken for an effective attack on massed British naval units, especially against battleships and aircraft carriers. Attacks against London are reserved for my decision.
Preparations are to be made for the attacks against the British mainland, bearing in mind that partial success with insufficient forces is in all circumstances to be avoided.
On 1 September 1939, German troops crossed the Polish border; Hitler summoned the Reichstag to inform them that Germany was at war, "returning the fire" of the Polish aggressors&emdash;who had attacked the radio transmitter at Gleiwitz (the Concentration camp victims, dressed in Polish uniforms, were duly photographed for the world press!).
On the same day, Britain warned Hitler that it would honor its commitments to Poland, but secret wire-taps showed that London cautioned its Berlin representative to stress that the note was a warning, not an ultimatum.
On 1 September 1939, Hitler informed the Reichstag and the German people of his declaration of war. It was a masterful soeecg, but it contains a number of interesting points that one is surprised to find in such a declaration.
Address by Adolf Hitler, Chancellor of the Reich, before the Reichstag, 1 September 1939.
For months we have been suffering under the torture of a problem which the Versailles Diktat created&emdash;a problem which has deteriorated until it becomes intolerable for us. Danzig was and is a German city. The Corridor was and is German. Both these territories owe their cultural development exclusively to the German people. Danzig was separated from us, the Corridor was annexed by Poland. As in other German territories of the East, all German minorities living there have been ill-treated in the most distressing manner. More than 1,000,000 people of German blood had in the years 1919-1920 to leave their homeland.
As always, I attempted to bring about, by the peaceful method of making proposals for revision, an alteration of this intolerable position. It is a lie when the outside world says that we only tried to carry through our revisions by pressure. Fifteen years before the National Socialist Party came to power there was the opportunity of carrying out these revisions by peaceful settlements and understanding. On my own initiative I have, not once but several times, made proposals for the revision of intolerable conditions. All these proposals, as you know, have been rejected - proposals for limitation of armaments and even, if necessary, disarmament, proposals for limitation of warmaking, proposals for the elimination of certain methods of modern warfare. You know the proposals that I have made to fulfill the necessity of restoring German sovereignty over German territories. You know the endless attempts I made for a peaceful clarification and understanding of the problem of Austria, and later of the problem of the Sudetenland, Bohemia, and Moravia. It was all in vain.
It is impossible to demand that an impossible position should be cleared up by peaceful revision and at the same time constantly reject peaceful revision. It is also impossible to say that he who undertakes to carry out these revisions for himself transgresses a law, since the Versailles Diktat is not law to us. A signature was forced out of us with pistols at our head and with the threat of hunger for millions of people. And then this document, with our signature, obtained by force, was proclaimed as a solemn law.
In the same way, I have also tried to solve the problem of Danzig, the Corridor, etc., by proposing a peaceful discussion. That the problems had to be solved was clear. It is quite understandable to us that the time when the problem was to be solved had little interest for the Western Powers. But that time is not a matter of indifference to us. Moreover, it was not and could not be a matter of indifference to those who suffer most.
In my talks with Polish statesmen I discussed the ideas which you recognize from my last speech to the Reichstag. No one could say that this was in any way an inadmissible procedure on undue pressure. I then naturally formulated at last the German proposals, and I must once more repeat that there is nothing more modest or loyal than these proposals. I should like to say this to the world. I alone was in the position to make such proposal, for I know very well that in doing so I brought myself into opposition to millions of Germans. These proposals have been refused. Not only were they answered first with mobilization, but with increased terror and pressure against our German compatriots and with a slow strangling of the Free City of Danzig - economically, politically, and in recent weeks by military and transport means.
Poland has directed its attacks against the Free City of Danzig. Moreover, Poland was not prepared to settle the Corridor question in a reasonable way which would be equitable to both parties, and she did not think of keeping her obligations to minorities.
I must here state something definitely; German has kept these obligations; the minorities who live in Germany are not persecuted. No Frenchman can stand up and say that any Frenchman living in the Saar territory is oppressed, tortured, or deprived of his rights. Nobody can say this.
For four months I have calmly watched developments, although I never ceased to give warnings. In the last few days I have increased these warnings. I informed the Polish Ambassador three weeks ago that if Poland continued to send to Danzig notes in the form of ultimata, and if on the Polish side an end was not put to Customs measures destined to ruin Danzig's trade, then the Reich could not remain inactive. I left no doubt that people who wanted to compare the Germany of to-day with the former Germany would be deceiving themselves.
An attempt was made to justify the oppression of the Germans by claiming that they had committed acts of provocation. I do not know in what these provocations on the part of women and children consist, if they themselves are maltreated, in some cases killed. One thing I do know - that no great Power can with honour long stand by passively and watch such events.
I made one more final effort to accept a proposal for mediation on the part of the British Government. They proposed, not that they themselves should carry on the negotiations, but rather that Poland and Germany should come into direct contact and once more pursue negotiations.
I must declare that I accepted this proposal, and I worked out a basis for these negotiations which are known to you. For two whole days I sat in my Government and waited to see whether it was convenient for the Polish Government to send a plenipotentiary or not. Last night they did not send us a plenipotentiary, but instead informed us through their Ambassador that they were still considering whether and to what extent they were in a position to go into the British proposals. The Polish Government also said that they would inform Britain of their decision.
Deputies, if the German Government and its Leader patiently endured such treatment Germany would deserve only to disappear from the political stage. But I am wrongly judged if my love of peace and my patience are mistaken for weakness or even cowardice. I, therefore, decided last night and informed the British Government that in these circumstances I can no longer find any willingness on the part of the Polish Government to conduct serious negotiations with us.
These proposals for mediation have failed because in the meanwhile there, first of all, came as an answer the sudden Polish general mobilization, followed by more Polish atrocities. These were again repeated last night. Recently in one night there were as many as twenty-one frontier incidents: last night there were fourteen, of which three were quite serious. I have, therefore, resolved to speak to Poland in the same language that Poland for months past has used toward us. This attitude on the part of the Reich will not change.
The other European States understand in part our attitude. I should like here above all to thank Italy, which throughout has supported us, but you will understand that for the carrying on of this struggle we do not intend to appeal to foreign help. We will carry out this task ourselves. The neutral States have assured us of their neutrality, just as we had already guaranteed it to them.
When statesmen in the West declare that this affects their interests, I can only regret such a declaration. It cannot for a moment make me hesitate to fulfill my duty. What more is wanted? I have solemnly assured them, and I repeat it, that we ask nothing of those Western States and never will ask anything. I have declared that the frontier between France and Germany is a final one. I have repeatedly offered friendship and, if necessary, the closest co-operation to Britain, but this cannot be offered from one side only. It must find response on the other side. Germany has no interests in the West, and our western wall is for all time the frontier of the Reich on the west. Moreover, we have no aims of any kind there for the future. With this assurance we are in solemn earnest, and as long as others do not violate their neutrality we will likewise take every care to respect it.
I am happy particularly to be able to tell you of one event. You know that Russia and Germany are governed by two different doctrines. There was only one question that had to be cleared up. Germany has no intention of exporting its doctrine. Given the fact that Soviet Russia has no intention of exporting its doctrine to Germany. I no longer see any reason why we should still oppose one another. On both sides we are clear on that. Any struggle between our people would only be of advantage to others. We have, therefore, resolved to conclude a pact which rules out for ever any use of violence between us. It imposes the obligation on us to consult together in certain European questions. It makes possible for us economic co-operation, and above all it assures that the powers of both these powerful States are not wasted against one another. Every attempt of the West to bring about any change in this will fail.
At the same time I should like here to declare that this political decision means a tremendous departure for the future, and that it is a final one. Russia and Germany fought against one another in the World War. That shall and will not happen a second time. In Moscow, too, this pact was greeted exactly as you greet it. I can only endorse word for word the speech of Russian Foreign Commissar, Molotov.
I am determined to solve (1) the Danzig question; (2) the question of the Corridor; and (3) to see to it that a change is made in the relationship between Germany and Poland that shall ensure a peaceful co-existence. In this I am resolved to continue to fight until either the present Polish government is willing to continue to bring about this change or until another Polish Government is ready to do so. I am resolved t remove from the German frontiers the element of uncertainty, the everlasting atmosphere of conditions resembling civil war. I will see to it that in the East there is, on the frontier, a peace precisely similar to that on our other frontiers.
In this I will take the necessary measures to se that they do not contradict the proposals I have already made known in the Reichstag itself to the rest of the world, that is to say, I will not war against women and children. I have ordered my air force to restrict itself to attacks on military objectives. If, however, the enemy thinks he can form that draw carte blanche on his side to fight by the other methods he will receive an answer that will deprive him of hearing and sight.
This night for the first time Polish regular soldiers fired on our territory. Since 5.45 A.M. we have been returning the fire, and from now on bombs will be met by bombs. Whoever fight with poison gas will be fought with poison gas. Whoever departs from the rules of humane warfare can only expect that we shall do the same. I will continue this struggle, no matter against whom, until the safety of the Reich and its rights are secured.
For six years now I have been working on the building up of the German defenses. Over 90 millions have in that time been spent on the building up of these defense forces. They are now the best equipped and are above all comparison with what they were in 1914. My trust in them is unshakable. When I called up these forces and when I now ask sacrifices of the German people and if necessary every sacrifice, then I have a right to do so, for I also am to-day absolutely ready, just as we were formerly, to make every possible sacrifice.
I am asking of no German man more than I myself was ready throughout four years at any time to do. There will be no hardships for Germans to which I myself will not submit. My whole life henceforth belongs more than ever to my people. I am from now on just first soldier of the German Reich. I have once more put on that coat that was the most sacred and dear to me. I will not take it off again until victory is secured, or I will not survive the outcome.
Should anything happen to me in the struggle then my first successor is Party Comrade Goring; should anything happen to Party Comrade Goring my next successor is Party Comrade Hess. You would then be under obligation to give to them as Fuhrer the same blind loyalty and obedience as to myself. Should anything happen to Party Comrade Hess, then by law the Senate will be called, and will choose from its midst the most worthy - that is to say the bravest - successor.
As a National Socialist and as German soldier I enter upon this struggle with a stout heart. My whole life has been nothing but one long struggle for my people, for its restoration, and for Germany. There was only one watchword for that struggle: faith in this people. One word I have never learned: that is, surrender.
If, however, anyone thinks that we are facing a hard time, I should ask him to remember that once a Prussian King, with a ridiculously small State, opposed a stronger coalition, and in three wars finally came out successful because that State had that stout heart that we need in these times. I would, therefore, like to assure all the world that a November 1918 will never be repeated in German history. Just as I myself am ready at any time to stake my life&emdash;anyone can take it for my people and for Germany&emdash;so I ask the same of all others.
Whoever, however, thinks he can oppose this national command, whether directly of indirectly, shall fall. We have nothing to do with traitors. We are all faithful to our old principle. It is quite unimportant whether we ourselves live, but it is essential that our people shall live, that Germany shall live. The sacrifice that is demanded of us is not greater than the sacrifice that many generations have made. If we form a community [Gemeinschaft] closely bound together by vows, ready for anything, resolved never to surrender, then our will will master every hardship and difficulty. And I would like to close with the declaration that I once made when I began the struggle for power in the Reich. I then said: "If our will is so strong that no hardship and suffering can subdue it, then our will and our German might shall prevail.
On 2 September, Mussolini proposed a cease-fire and a Five-Power Peace Conference, while German troops stopped advancing but continued to hold their conquests. Hitler hesitated (and ordered the army to hurry up and take as much land as possible) because he feared he might have to accept this offer. But Neville Chamberlain turned the proposal down flat. He would talk, but only after German troops evacuated Poland.
On 3 September, Ambassador Henderson delivered England's ultimatum, giving Hitler two hours to get his soldiers out of Poland.]
3 September 1939 Colonel von Vormann Diary Entry
Last night everybody was in a splendid mood, hoping we'd succeeded in putting Britain and France into an at best an ambivalent posture.
But now the worst has happened, after all! At 9 am. the Englishman came with his ultimatum, expiring 11 am.; and at 11 the Frenchman with his ultimatum, deadline 5 pm. I'm not a grouser or defeatist, but the future looks very grim to me. This is just what we did not want. Until this morning the idea was to play for time somehow and to postpone the decision. Even today the Führer still believes that the Western Powers are only going to stage a phoney war, so to speak. That's why I've had to transmit an order to the Army at 1:50 pm. not to open hostilities in the West ourselves.
I can't share his belief. He's got the wrong idea of the British and French psyche.
Italian Foreign Minister Ciano, too, was appalled at the risks being run.
3 September 1939 Count Ciano Diary Entry
At eleven o'clock the news arrives that Great Britain has declared war on Germany. France does the same at 5 pm. But how can they fight this war? The German advance in Poland is overwhelming. It is not impossible for us to foresee a very rapid finish. In what way can France and England bring help to Poland? And when Poland is liquidated, will they want to continue a conflict for which there is no longer any reason? The Duce does not believe so. He believes, rather, after a short struggle, peace before the clash which he judges impossible from a military point of view. I agree. I am not a military man. I do not know how the war will develop, but I know one thing&emdash;it will develop and it will be long, uncertain, and relentless. The participation of Great Britain makes this certain. England has made this declaration to Hitler. The war can end only with Hitler's elimination or the defeat of Britain.
Equally bitter was the reaction of Ernst von Weizsäcker, the State-Secretary in the German Foreign Office who had tried to stop this war.
5 September 1939 Weizsäcker Diary Entry
We are now at war. God grant that not everything that is good and worthy should perish completely. The shorter the war lasts, the better for everyone. But still, we must bear in mind that the enemy will never make peace with Adolf Hitler and Herr von Ribbentrop.
What does all that mean?&emdash;Who cannot fail to see what it means?
Despite the rapid victories in Poland&emdash;aided substantially by the invasion of that country by the Red Army in mid-September&emdash;high-ranking officers and diplomats continued to be pessimistic. The war was far from over, and France and England appeared uninterested in Hitler's overtures of peace, addressed to the Reichstag on 6 October 1939.
The British position is succinctly stated in the private diaries of the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office, Sir Arthur Cadogan.
7 October 1939 Lord Cadogan Diary Entry
Called to War Cabinet 12:30 for discussion on reply to Hitler. I had talked to (Foreign Minister) Halifax about this; the line, according to me, is to say frankly (and the Prime Minister hesitates to say we won't make peace with Hitler. Get rid of Hitler: that is my war aim&emdash;not peace aim. Do that first: then you will win the war. Remove him, and there will be such disunity in Germany that they can't win. The French will object to this, and some members of the Cabinet. But it's right. And it should work if we couple it with an assurance that we don't want to dictate a peace. Not a very useful discussion....
Ultimately, the British Government did not issue such a blunt statement, announcing only: "What stands in the way of peace ... is the German Government, and the German Government alone."
World War II: Plan or Accident?
To counter criticism over his failed peace offer, and to incite his generals to greater trust in his own genius, Hitler called them together once more, to give his version of why the war had broken out.
In the light of the documents in this collection, the reader must examine this next document with one question in mind: was Hitler telling the truth? Did he have the war planned from the outset, or did he inadvertently stumble into a war that he did not want? If he was telling the truth, this document is one of the most remarkable confessions ever made by a head of state. If he is lying, it offers a most significant insight not only into his own personality and mental state, but also into the nature of decision-making in the Third Reich.
The immediate occasion for this speech was an on-going debate within the General Staff as to whether or not the war ought to be widened by opening hostilities on the Western Front.
23 November 1939 Colonel Schmundt Notes of Adolf Hitler Speech to the Generals
23 November 1939, 1200 hours. Conference with the Führer, to which all Supreme Commanders are ordered. The Führer gives the following speech:
The purpose of this conference is to give you an idea of the world of my thoughts, which governs me in the face of future events, and to tell you my decisions. The building up of our armed forces was only possible in connection with the ideological education of the German people by the Party. When I started my political task in 1919, my strong belief in final success was based on a thorough observation of the events of the day and the study of the reasons for their occurrence. Therefore, I never lost my belief, in the midst of setbacks which were not spared me during my period of struggle. Providence has had the last word and brought me success.
On top of that, I had a clear recognition of the probable course of historical events, and the firm will to make brutal decisions. The first decision was in 1919 when I, after long internal conflict, became a politician and took up the struggle against my enemies. That was the hardest of all decisions. I had, however, the firm belief that I would arrive at my goal. First of all, I desired a new system of selection. I wanted to educate a minority which would take over the leadership. After 15 years, I arrived at my goal, after strenuous struggles and many setbacks.
When I came to power in 1933, a period of the most difficult struggle lay behind me. Everything existing before that had collapsed. I had to reorganize everything beginning with the mass of the people and extending it to the armed forces. First reorganization of the interior, abolition of the appearances of decay and defeatist ideas, education to heroism. while reorganizing the interior, I undertook the second task: to release Germany from its international chains. Two particular accomplishments are to be pointed out: secession from the League of Nations and denunciation of the disarmament conference. it was a hard decision. The number of prophets who predicted that it would lead to the occupation of the Rhineland was large, the number of believers was very small. I was supported by the nation, which stood firmly behind me, when I carried out my intentions. After that the order for rearmament. Here again there were numerous prophets who predicted misfortunes, and only a few believers. In 1935 the introduction of compulsory armed service. After that, militarization of the Rhineland, again a process believed to be impossible at that time. The number of people who put trust in me was very small. Then the beginning of the fortifications for the whole country, especially in the West.
One year later, Austria came, this step also was considered doubtful. It brought about a considerable reinforcement for the Reich. The next step was Bohemia, Moravia and Poland. This step also was not possible to accomplish in one campaign. First of all, the Western fortifications had to be finished. It was not possible to reach the goal in one effort. It was clear to me from the first moment that I could not be satisfied with the Sudeten-German territory. That was only a partial solution. The decision to march into Bohemia was made. Then followed the erection of the Protectorate and with that, the basis for action against Poland was laid, but I wasn't quite clear at that time whether I would start first against the East and then in the West, or vice versa. Moltke (Prussian Chief of Staff in 1870) often made the same calculations in his time.
Under pressure the decision came to fight Poland first. One might accuse me of wanting to fight and fight again. In struggle I see the fate of all beings. Nobody can avoid a struggle if he does not want to lose out. The increasing number of our people requires a larger living space. My goal was to create a logical relationship between the number of people and the space for them to live in. The struggle must start here. No people can get away from the solution of this task or else it must yield and gradually die out. This is taught by history....
Struggles are different today than those of 100 years ago. Today we can speak of a racial fight. Today we fight for oil fields, rubber, treasures of the earth, etc. After the peace of Westphalia, Germany disintegrated. Disintegration, impotence of the German Reich was determined by that decree. This German impotence was removed by the creation of the Second Reich, when Prussia fulfilled her destiny. Then the opposition between us and France and England began. Since 1870 England has been against us. Bismarck and Moltke were certain that there would have to be one more military action. The danger at that time was of a two-front war. Moltke was at times in favor of a preventive war. To take advantage of the slow progress of the Russian mobilization. German armed might was not fully employed. Insufficient sternness of the leading personalities. The basic thought of Moltke was the offensive. He never thought of the defensive.
Many opportunities were missed after Moltke's death. The solution was only possible by attacking a country at a favorable moment. Political and military leadership always declared that the moment had not yet come. In 1914 there came the war on several fronts. It did not bring the solution of these problems. Today the second act of this drama is being written. For the first time in 67 years&emdash;must be made clear&emdash;we do not have a two-front war to wage. That which has been desired since 1870, and considered as impossible to achieve, has come to pass. For the first time in our history, we have to fight on only one front, the other front is at present free. But no one can know how long that will remain so. I have doubted for a long time whether I should strike in the East and then in the West. Basically I did not organize the armed forces in order not to strike. The decision to strike was always in me. Earlier or later I wanted to solve the problem. Under pressure it was decided that the East was to be attacked first.
If the Polish war was won so quickly, it was due to the superiority of our armed forces. The most glorious appearance in history. Unexpectedly small expenditures of men and material. Now the Eastern Front is held by only a few divisions. It is a situation which we previously viewed as unachievable. Now the situation is as follows: the opponent in the West lies behind his fortifications. There is no possibility of coming to grips with him there. The decisive question is: how long can we endure this situation? Russia is at present not dangerous. It is weakened by many incidents today. Moreover, we have a Pact with Russia. Pacts, however, are only held as long as they serve their purpose. Russia will hold herself to it only so long as Russia considers it to be to her benefit. Even Bismarck thought so. Let us consider the Russian Pact as only protecting our rear. For Russia has far-reaching goals, above all the strengthening of her position in the Baltic. And we can oppose Russia there only when we are free in the West. Further Russia is striving to increase he influence on the Balkans and is pushing toward the Persian Gulf. That is also the goal of our foreign policy. Russia will certainly do only that which she considers might benefit her. At the present moment she has retired from a policy of internationalism. In case she renounces this, she will proceed to one of Pan-Slavism. It is difficult to see into the future. It is a fact that at the present time the Russian army is of little worth. For the next one or two years, the present situation may continue....
Five million Germans have been called to the colors. Of what importance if a few of them collapse. Daring in the army, navy and air force. I cannot bear it when one says the army is not in good shape. Everything lies in the hands of the military leaders. I can do anything with the German soldier, if he is well led. we have succeeded with our small navy in clearing the North Sea of the British. Recognition of the small navy, especially the High Command of the navy. We have an air force which has succeeded in protecting the entire living space of the Germans. and the army achieved outstanding things in Poland. Even in the West it was shown that the German soldier is not inferior to the French.
Revolution from within is impossible. We are superior to the enemy numerically in the West. Behind our army stands the strongest armament industry in the world. I am disturbed only by the stronger and stronger appearance of the English. The English are a tough enemy. Above all on the defense.... There is no doubt that England will be very much represented in France at the latest within six to eight months.
We have an Achilles heel: the Ruhr. The progress of the war depends on our possession of the Ruhr. If England and France push through Belgium and Holland into the Ruhr, we shall be in the greatest danger. That could lead to the paralyzing of the German power of resistance. Every hope of compromise is childish: Victory or Defeat! The question is not the fate of a National Socialist Germany, but who is to dominate Europe in the future. The question is worthy of the greatest efforts. Certainly England and France will assume the offensive against Germany when they are fully armed. England and France have the means of pressure to bring Belgium and Holland to request English and French help. In Belgium and Holland the sympathies are all for France and England....
If the French army marches into Belgium in order to attack us, it will be too late for us. We must anticipate them. One more thing, U-boats, mines, and the air force (also with mines) can strike England effectively, if we have a better starting point. Now a flight to England demands so much fuel that sufficient bomb loads cannot be carried. The invention of a new type mine is of the greatest importance for the navy. Aircraft will be the chief mine layers now. We shall sow the English coast with mines which cannot be cleared. But this mine warfare of the air force demands a different starting point. England cannot live without its imports. We can feed ourselves. The permanent sowing of mines on the English coast will bring England to her knees. However, this can only occur if we have occupied Belgium and Holland. It is a difficult decision for me. None has ever achieved what I have achieved. My life is of no importance in all this, however, I have led the German people to a great height, even if the world does hate us now.
I am risking all this on a gamble. But I have to choose between victory or destruction. I choose victory. Greatest historical choice of all time, to be compared with the decision of Frederick the Great before the first Silesian War. Prussia owes its rise to the heroism of this one man. Even there, his closest advisors were disposed to capitulation. Everything depended on Frederick the Great. Even the decisions of Bismarck in 1866 and 1870 were no less great. My decision now is unchangeable. I shall attack France and England at the most favorable and quickest moment. Breach of the neutrality of Belgium and Holland is a meaningless issue. No one will question it when we have won. But we shall not bring about the violation of neutrality as idiotically as it was done in 1914. If we do not break their neutrality, then England and France will.
Without attack this war is not to be ended victoriously. I consider it as possible to end the war only by means of an attack. The question as to whether the attack will be successful, no one can answer. Everything depends upon the favorable instant. Military conditions are favorable. A prerequisite, however, is that the leadership must give an example of fanatical unity from above. There would not be any failures, if the leaders always had the courage found in individual riflemen....
The spirit of the great men of our history must hearten us all. Fate demands from us no more than from the great men of Germany's past. As long as I live I shall think only of the victory of my people. I shall shrink from nothing and shall destroy everyone who is opposed to me. I have decided to live my life so that I can stand unashamed if I have to die. I want to destroy the enemy. Behind me stands the German people, whose morale can only grow worse. Only he who struggles with destiny can have a good sense of intuition. In the last years I have experienced many examples of intuition. Even in the present murky developments, I see clearly like a prophet.
If we come through this struggle victoriously&emdash;and we shall come through victoriously&emdash;our time will enter into the historical consciousness of our people. I shall stand or fall in this struggle. I shall never survive the defeat of my people. No capitulation to the outside forces, no revolution from forces at home!
The final document in this chapter is almost an answer to Hitler's speech, although it was apparently composed a few weeks earlier. It is a memorandum by two young diplomats, Hasso von Etzdorf and Erich Kordt, who were both deeply involved with the resistance forces.
In this essay, they discuss the causes of the war&emdash;as seen from an objective diplomatic point of view&emdash;and answer many of Hitler's distortions of fact. They conclude that there can be only one way of ending the war&emdash;by removing Adolf Hitler and his government. Thus the seeds for the subsequently attempted assassination were sown not when Germany stood on the brink of defeat, but at the height of its military power.
Undated Memorandum Dr. Hasso von Etzdorf and Dr. Erich Kordt
A. THE THREATENING CALAMITY
In spite of the advice of responsible political and military experts, and contradicting his most-recently repeated formal assurances, Hitler has apparently decided to give a new turn to the war by an attack upon Belgium. The implementation of this decision, apparently scheduled for the middle of November, will mean the end of Germany.
1. The invasion, whose military goal is unclear, will certainly, despite initial successes, soon bog down in total standstill and thus not contribute to the outcome of the war at all. Reasons: the November weather which will hinder a rational employment of our air force; the natural defenses provided by geography (the Ardennes, steep river valleys, the Albert Canal) which will decisively block the use of tanks; the fortifications; and the strengthening of the Belgian Army by the French, for any violation of Belgian neutrality by us will automatically create a joint French-Belgian front.
2. Contrary to other evaluations, the will to resist by the French will not be weakened by our invasion but strengthened: the French will be provided with a very popular war&emdash;a cause which they have hitherto lacked&emdash;the direct threat to the "sacred soil of France" by way of Belgium and the clear necessity for an offensive resistance against it. In England, where even our complete domination of the European coastline would be insufficient to force her "to the ground" by way of our air attacks (because of our lack of sufficient airplanes, insufficient ground support organization, and the nonsense that passes for strategy in the Air Force Command), the invasion of Belgium would remove any last doubts that the war against Hitler must be carried out to the end.
3. It would bring the entrance of the United States into the war with all its moral and military consequences (and we must remember they will send not only material but soldiers filled with a crusading spirit). And the neutrals of the present war (1.2 billion peoples as compared to only 200 million in the last war), whose desire for peace is so strong that they will accept any terms that would end the war, in spite of their openly expressed horror about a possible Hitler victory; these very neutrals would, after the invasion of Belgium, come to the conclusion that only the defeat of Hitler could ensure their existence. It is therefore likely that more states would enroll in the war against us. And Italy would find it impossible to continue its benevolent neutrality (permitting the transportation of raw materials). Finally, the Soviet Union is scarcely likely to make Germany's work any easier, and is probably unable to do so in any case; they will probably, as in the last few weeks, limit themselves to building up their won strength, especially in those areas where it is least risky, and even in directions opposed to Germany (the looting of corpses!).
Thus, the action against Belgium would only create a front against us, which in time we cannot withstand, neither
4. in war materials ... nor
5. in the war economy (the growing closing off of neutral lands, weakening of our production and thus of our ability to buy the necessary food supplies imported from the Baltic States, and with only questionable assistance from Russia because of transport difficulties), nor
The results would be: destruction of our military and home fronts&emdash;and the collapse would produce Bolshevism in Germany, or in the best of circumstances a division of Germany into individual particularist states.
B. THE NEEDS OF THE HOUR
The decision whether Belgium's neutrality should be violated is thus decisive for the whole future of the nation. In other words: this order to invade must be prevented from going into effect.
This is only possible if the Hitler government is destroyed beforehand. Arguments, protests, and even threats to resign by the military leadership have shown in the past that they can produce neither a more reasonable program nor Hitler's submission. Hitler's determination to attack Belgium springs from his very temperament ("nothing is impossible," preference for violent methods), and his present obsession (intoxication from his last bloody success and blood thirst for further ones), and finally from his own realization that his government will never be able to arrive at a compromise peace with the enemies. Thus, it is better that the boats be destroyed and the bridges burned.
C. NO TIME FOR SCRUPLES!!
I. Let no one object: "The Führer" has led Germany so uniquely in foreign, domestic and economic affairs, and has so often demonstrated notorious luck, that nothing is impossible for him, and so it would be unthinkable and impudent to prevent him from his course of action.
The so-called infallibility of the Führer is a blasphemous myth. His successes have been only superficial, or else the result of natural developments, in which his own chosen methods have produced disadvantages which more than offset the advantages gained.
1. Hitler often brags that the revision of the Versailles Treaty was his accomplishment. This is quite false:
a. The end of reparations had already been reached in July 1932, and military equality of status occurred on 11 December 1932. Their practical implementation was first jeopardized when Hitler mobilized the public opinion of the entire world against Germany through his policies.
b. The incorporation of Austria was, before Hitler's seizure of power, only a foreign policy, and not a domestic issue. It was his persecution of domestic enemies within Germany, which first brought the Austrian government's decision to oppose the frequently demonstrated desire of the Austrian people for Anschluß. No previous Austrian government would have dared to oppose Anschluß, and the only real block had been French and Italian opposition. Had a correct policy been followed instead of Hitler's, this opposition would have been removed at the latest during the Abyssinian conflict (by an option for or against Italy), that is, more than two years before 13 March 1938.
c. Along the same lines, the destruction of the Little Entente and thus the incorporation of Czechoslovakia within the German sphere of influence would have occurred directly after the Anschluß of Austria, in a matter of months, and not of years.
d. The violent occupation of rump Czechia brought with it the heaviest injury for Germany's foreign reputation, while, on the contrary, a peaceful and negotiated inclusion of Czechia would have avoided this.
e. And without the march on Prague, a campaign against Poland in the fall of 1938 or spring of 1939 would have succeeded, and without any offers of help for Poland from the Western Powers. But this was precisely at a time when Hitler still continued to regard Poland as an essential protection against the Soviet Union!
f. Finally, the predictions which Hitler made about the present conflict before it began speak for itself: he spoke of the isolation of the German-Polish conflict, and the official participation of Ally Italy. The refusal of Italy and the conclusion of the British-Polish Pact led first to a withdrawal of the marching orders that had already been issued, but they were later given out once more under the belief that the Western Powers would conduct at most a war of appearances, in order to give way quickly, after the termination of the Polish campaign. In no other country on this earth would the foreign minister and head of the government still retain their positions after such irresponsible misjudgments.
2. The balance-sheet of Hitler's domestic and economic policies is not different:
The elimination of unemployment and the liberation of Germany from the danger of Bolshevism is often said to be Hitler's greatest accomplishment. But it can be proved that the unemployment of the years 1929-1932 was not a German, but a general problem. And all the industrial states of the world who were affected in the same fashion by the Depression have experienced in the years 1932-1937 a great economic upswing and its accompanying significant lessening of unemployment. And in most countries this was accomplished without the heavy mortgaging of the future, without a strong growth of domestic debts, and without the squandering of the national treasury as Hitler's policies have brought with them.
The domestic reorganization which Hitler accomplished has not really brought a greater unity to the German people. On the contrary, in place of the controllable individual states, which were gradually being replaced by a strong central authority through an inevitable process of evolution, a multitude of nearly independent satrapies has appeared, each of which act according to their own discretion, and in practice are answerable to no one. In addition to the armed forces, there is now a whole series of para-military units, who obey only their own laws. The unified administration has been dissolved in a damaging dualism of party and state. The Christian religion of our people has been replaced by a unique mixture of a so-called Weltanschauung, which seriously damages the ethical state of the people and calls forth a general degeneracy and licentiousness. The Rule of Law has disappeared, making room for an age of arbitrariness and corruption, which grotesquely turns upside-down the motto that the common good should precede individual good. Germany has never been closer to chaos and Bolshevism than now, after six years of the Hitler government, which has, moreover, in the last weeks been responsible for turning 20 million people (in Eastern Poland) over to Bolshevism.
II. Let no one further object: Now that the Führer has just triumphed in Poland with a stupendous success which allows us to hope that the future will hold only the most beautiful things, the people and the army leadership (even in high positions stupidity is rampant) would not understand a coup d'etat at this time, but would instead condemn the perpetrators of such a plan.
The German public's non-recognition of the situation and their lack of understanding for the need to make concessions after a splendid military campaign, is fully comprehensible. The bankruptcy of our policy will first become widely recognized only when it becomes general! But at that point, even though a coup d'etat would then be popular, it would be too late and would not prevent the calamity, and all of us, whether with or against Hitler, would be destroyed, along with all our beautiful Polish laurels. For once the furies of war have been released from their vault, reason alone cannot lock them up again. War follows its own inexorable laws, and every military command wants to win, which means today, destroy!
The relative unpopularity of a coup must be overcome with a necessary dose of civil courage. As soon as the public's eyes are opened to what they could have received at the hands of this mad man, a better evaluation of the coup would shortly prevail. In general already, a wide-spread gloomy uncertainty about the outcome of the war (which has grown up following the original optimism about a rapid peace) has begun to create a situation favorable to our plans. And, last but not least, we should add to this the strong desire of many people, and among them not the worst Germans, who long for the destruction of the Hitler regime.
III. Finally, let no one insist: The soldier must honor his oath.
The oath was sworn to Herr Hitler as the responsible leader of Germany; that means it was sworn with the understanding of mutual responsibilities. This oath has lost all of its legality, since Hitler, following his own urging, is prepared to sacrifice Germany to his own insane goals. The German soldier is therefore freed from his oath. but he retains his highest national obligation, to save the Fatherland from this man, this perverter of all loyalty.
And to those who, nevertheless, think that his oath to Herr Hitler is still valid and that it is not within the tradition of the German soldier or the German civil servant to break a solemn oath, to those we must answer: in the past, during moments of the greatest danger for the nation and the state, German patriots have not hesitated to follow their consciences. Yorck (in turning against Napoleon despite his King's orders to remain a loyal ally of the French) renounced his allegiance to his King once it proved unbearable. And there are enough examples in our history of a revolutionary disposition, a "Fronde" of Prussian Officers. One need mention only Marwitz and what he had to say on this theme&emdash;even leaving aside for the moment, whether Herr Hitler has ever earned that transfiguring respect, which alone can justify giving him the force of higher law than is usually granted to a tribune of the people.
D. A NEW GOVERNMENT FOR THE REICH
1. An Honorable Peace: The conditions under which a new German government could negotiate peace depend on the strength, and primarily the military strength, which Germany could throw into the scale. The intervention of elements who wish to preserve the state, therefore, can be guaranteed success only as long as a military defeat, or a domestic revolution (like that in November 1918) can be avoided. A new government a la November 9, 1918 will be able to offer little more than the "Government of the People" did at Versailles. Only a government which can count on an intact army can win a true "peace with honor," that is a peace which leaves German intact within its ethnographical boundaries (along the principles of the Munich Agreement), which creates a land-bridge to East Prussia, and which restores to Germany the Eastern Silesian industrial territory.
Such a peace would represent the true national interest. It would avoid the disadvantages of having foreign peoples incorporated into the Reich, and yet would still ensure for Germany the geographical and economic foundations for overwhelming influence on rump Czechia and rump Poland. Finally, such a peace would be the proper crown for the sacrifices and laurels won in the Polish campaign. And mildness in victory is always a great political accomplishment (See the Peace of Nikolsburg)[the treaty with Russia which ended the Seven Years War.]
For the other side, such a peace would have the following factors working for it: a general rejoicing over the destruction of dangers which a Hitler government represented for all states; the French abhorrence for a war which did not involve fighting for their own land; the forceful desire for peace on the part of the whole neutral world; and the general fear of a further advance of Bolshevism in Europe.
Such a peace would also save face for England and France, since both countries would be pleased with the restoration of rump Czechia and rump Poland.
2. ... (missing from the document which has survived. The authors say that it contained suggestions about a new German constitution, calling for the restoration of the monarchy.)
3. First Measures:
a. Announcement of our Platform: We are forced to act in this last hour before foreign and domestic dissolution for the conclusion of an honorable peace; for the creation of the Rule of Law (habeas corpus act, elimination of the GESTAPO); for a renewal of the state in the spirit of decency, morality and the Prussian tradition; for the participation of the people in public decisions as is appropriate for free Germans (dissolution of the NSDAP); for a legal and truly German (Prussian) socialism; for a Christian and ethical revival.
b. Essential measures: Among other measures, occupation of the radio stations and press; occupation of the post office and gas works, etc.
Local purges through military commanders, etc.
END OF READINGS.
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