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David L. Hoggan
The Forced War
When Peaceful Revisionism Failed
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Introduction • 1,100 Words

Shortly after midnight on July 4, 1984, the headquarters of the Institute for Historical Review was attacked by terrorists. They did their job almost to perfection: IHR’s office were destroyed, and ninety per cent of its inventory of books and tapes wiped out. To this day the attackers have not been apprehended, and the authorities — local, state, and federal — have supplied little indication that they ever will be.

The destruction of IHR’s offices and stocks meant a crippling blow for Historical Revisionism, the world-wide movement to bring history into accord with the facts in precisely those areas in which it has been distorted to serve the interests of a powerful international Establishment, an Establishment all the more insidious for its pious espousal of freedom of the press. That one of the few independent voices for truth in history on the planet was silenced by flames on America’s Independence Day in the year made infamous by George Orwell must have brought a cynical smile to the face of more than one enemy of historical truth: the terrorists, whose national loyalties certainly lie elsewhere than in America, chose the date well. Had IHR succumbed to the arsonists, what a superb validation of the Orwellian dictum: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”!

One of the chief casualties of the fire was the text of the book you now hold in your hands. Too badly charred to be reproduced for printing plates, over six hundred pages of The Forced War had to be laboriously reset, reproofed, and recorrected. That this has now been achieved, despite the enormous losses and extra costs imposed by the arson, despite the Institute’s dislocation and its continued harassment, legal and otherwise, by the foes of historical truth, represents a great triumph for honest historiography, for The Forced War, more than a quarter century after it was written, remains the classic refutation of the thesis of Germany’s “sole guilt” in the origins and outbreak of the Second World War.

By attacking one of the chief taboos of our supposedly irreverent and enlightened century, David Hoggan, the author of The Forced War, unquestionably damaged his prospects as a professional academic. Trained as a diplomatic historian at Harvard under William Langer and Michael Karpovich, with rare linguistic qualifications, Hoggan never obtained tenure. Such are the rewards for independent thought, backed by thorough research, in the “land of the free.”

The Forced War was published in West Germany in 1961 as Der erzwungene Krieg by the Verlag der Deutschen Hochschullehrer-Zeitung (now Grabert Verlag) in Tübingen. There it found an enthusiastic reception among Germans, academics and laymen, who had been oppressed by years of postwar propaganda, imposed by the victor nations and cultivated by the West German government, to the effect that the German leadership had criminally provoked an “aggressive” war in 1939. Der erzwungene Krieg has since gone through thirteen printings and sold over fifty thousand copies. The famous German writer and historian Armin Mohler declared that Hoggan had brought World War II Revisionism out of the ghetto” in Germany.

While Der erzwungene Krieg was considered important enough to be reviewed in more than one hundred publications in the Bundesrepublik, West Germany’s political and intellectual Establishment, for whom the unique and diabolical evil of Germany in the years 1933-1945 constitutes both foundation myth and dogma, was predictably hostile. A 1964 visit by Hoggan to West Germany was attacked by West Germany’s Minister of the Interior, in much the same spirit as West Germany’s President Richard von Weizsäcker attempted to decree an end to the so-called Historikerstreit (historians’ debate) due to its Revisionist implications in 1988. More than one influential West German historian stooped to ad hominem attack on Hoggan’s book, as the American was chided for everything from his excessive youth (Hoggan was nearly forty when the book appeared) to the alleged “paganism” of his German publisher.

The most substantive criticism of The Forced War was made by German historians Helmut Krausnick and Hermann Graml, who, in the August 1963 issue of Geschichte in Wissenschaft und Unterricht (History in Scholarship and Instruction), attacked the book on grounds of a number of instances of faulty documentation. A Revisionist historian, Professor Kurt Glaser, after examining The Forced War and its critics’ arguments in Der Zweite Weltkrieg und die Kriegsschuldfrage (The Second World War and the Question of War Guilt), found, that while some criticisms had merit, “It is hardly necessary to repeat here that Hoggan was not attacked because he had erred here and there — albeit some of his errors are material — but because he had committed heresy against the creed of historical orthodoxy.”

Meanwhile, in the United States, Hoggan and Harry Elmer Barnes, Hoggan’s mentor and the most influential American Revisionist scholar and promoter, became embroiled in a dispute over Hoggan’s failure to revise The Forced War in the face of the few warranted criticisms. Hoggan, proud and somewhat temperamental, refused to yield, despite a substantial grant arranged for him by Barnes. Barnes’s death in 1968 and financial difficulties created an impasse with the original publisher which blocked publication until IHR obtained the rights; IHR’s difficulties have been mentioned above. Habent sua fata libelli.

Whatever minor flaws in Hoggan’s documentation, The Forced War, in the words of Harry Elmer Barnes, written in 1963, “In its present form, … it not only constitutes the first thorough study of the responsibility for the causes of the Second World War in any language but is likely to remain the definitive Revisionist work on this subject for many years.” Hoggan prophesied well: the following quarter century has produced no Revisionist study of the origins of the war to match The Forced War; as for the Establishment’s histories regarding Hitler’s foreign policy, to quote Professor H.W. Koch of the University of York, England, writing in 1985, such a major work is still lacking” (Aspects of the Third Reich. ed. H.W. Koch, St. Martin’s Press, New York, p. 186). Thus its publication after so many years is a major, if belated, victory for Revisionism in the English-speaking world. If the publication of The Forced War can contribute to an increase in the vigilance of a new generation of Americans regarding the forced wars that America’s interventionist Establishment may seek to impose in the future, the aims of the late David Hoggan, who passed away in August 1988, will have been, in part, realized.

IHR would like to acknowledge the assistance of Russell Granata and Tom Kerr in the publication of The Forced War; both these American Revisionists gave of their time so that a better knowledge of the past might produce a better future, for their children and ours.

— Theodore J. O’Keefe, January, 1989

Preface • 3,900 Words

This book is an outgrowth of a research project in diplomatic history entitled Breakdown of German-Polish Relations in 1939. It was offered and accepted as a doctoral dissertation at Harvard University in 1948. It was prepared under the specific direction of Professors William L. Langer and Michael Karpovich who were recognized throughout the historical world as being leading authorities on modern European history, and especially in the field of diplomatic history.

During the execution of this investigation I also gained much from consultation with other experts in this field then at Harvard, such as Professor Sidney B. Fay, Professor Harry R. Rudin, who was guest professor at Harvard during the academic year, 1946-1947, and Professor David Owen, at that time the chairman of the Harvard History Department and one of the world’s leading experts on modern British history.

It has been a source of gratification to me that the conclusions reached in the 1948 monograph have been confirmed and extended by the great mass of documentary and memoir material which has been made available since that time.

While working on this project, which is so closely and directly related to the causes of the Second World War, I was deeply impressed with the urgent need for further research and writing on the dramatic and world-shaking events of 1939 and their historical background in the preceding decade.

It was astonishing to me that, nine years after the launching of the Second World War in September 1939, there did not exist in any language a comprehensive and reliable book on this subject. The only one devoted specifically and solely to this topic was Diplomatic Prelude by Sir Lewis B. Namier, an able English-Jewish historian who was a leading authority on the history of eighteenth century Britain. He had no special training or capacity for dealing with contemporary diplomatic history. His book, published in 1946, was admittedly based on the closely censored documents which had appeared during the War and on the even more carefully screened and unreliable material produced against the National Socialist leaders at the Nuremberg Trials.

This lack of authentic material on the causes of the second World War presented a remarkable contrast to that which existed following the end of the first World War. Within less than two years after the Armistice of November 1918, Professor Sidney B. Fay had discredited for all time the allegation that Germany and her allies had been solely responsible for the outbreak of war in August 1914. This was a fantastic indictment. Yet, on it was based the notorious war-guilt clause (Article 239) of the Treaty of Versailles that did so much to bring on the explosive situation which, as will be shown in this book, Lord Halifax and other British leaders exploited to unleash the second World War almost exactly twenty years later.

By 1927, nine years after Versailles, there was an impressive library of worthy and substantial books by so-called revisionist scholars which had at least factually obliterated the Versailles war-guilt verdict. These books had appeared in many countries; the United States, Germany, England, France, Austria and Italy, among others. They were quickly translated, some even into Japanese. Only a year later there appeared Fay’s Origins of the World War, which still remains, after more than thirty years, the standard book in the English language on 1914 and its background. Later materials, such as the Berchtold papers and the Austro-Hungarian diplomatic documents published in 1930, have undermined Fay’s far too harsh verdict on the responsibility of the Austrians for the War. Fay himself has been planning for some time to bring out a new and revised edition of his important work. This challenging contrast in the historical situation after the two World Wars convinced me that I could do no better than to devote my professional efforts to this very essential but seemingly almost studiously avoided area of contemporary history; the background of 1939. There were a number of obvious reasons for this dearth of sound published material dealing with this theme.

The majority of the historians in the victorious allied countries took it for granted that there was no war-guilt question whatever in regard to the second World War. They seemed to be agreed that no one could or ever would question the assumption that Hitler and the National Socialists were entirely responsible for the outbreak of war on September 1, 1939, despite the fact that, even in 1919, some able scholars had questioned the validity of the war-guilt clause of the Versailles Treaty. The attitude of the historical guild after the second World War was concisely stated by Professor Louis Gottschalk of the University of Chicago, a former President of the American Historical Association: “American historians seem to be generally agreed upon the war-guilt question of the second World War.” In other words, there was no such question.

This agreement was not confined to American historians; it was equally true not only of those in Britain, France and Poland but also of the great majority of those in the defeated nations: Germany and Italy. No general revisionist movement like that following 1918 was stirring in any European country for years after V-J Day. Indeed, it is only faintly apparent among historians even today.

A second powerful reason for the virtual non-existence of revisionist historical writing on 1939 was the fact that it was — and still is — extremely precarious professionally for any historian anywhere to question the generally accepted dogma of the sole guilt of Germany for the outbreak of hostilities in 1939. To do so endangered the tenure and future prospects of any historian, as much in Germany or Italy as in the United States or Britain. Indeed, it was even more risky in West Germany. Laws passed by the Bonn Government made it possible to interpret such vigorous revisionist writing as that set forth after 1918 by such writers as Montgelas, von Wegerer, Stieve, and Lutz as a political crime. The whole occupation program and NATO political set-up, slowly fashioned after V-E Day, was held to depend on the validity of the assertion that Hitler and the National Socialists were solely responsible for the great calamity of 1939. This dogma was bluntly stated by a very influential German political scientist, Professor Theodor Eschenburg, Rector of the University of Tübingen:

“Whoever doubts the exclusive guilt of Germany for the second World War destroys the foundations of post-war politics.”

After the first World War, a strong wave of disillusionment soon set in concerning the alleged aims and actual results of the War. There was a notable trend towards peace, disarmament sentiment, and isolation, especially in the United States. Such an atmosphere offered some intellectual and moral encouragement to historians who sought to tell the truth about the responsibility for 1914. To do so did not constitute any basis for professional alarm as to tenure, status, promotion and security, at least after an interval of two or three years following the Armistice. There was no such period of emotional cooling-off, readjustment, and pacific trends after 1945. Before there had even been any opportunity for this, a Cold War between former allies was forecast by Churchill early in 1946 and was formally proclaimed by President Truman in March 1947. The main disillusionment was that which existed between the United States and the Soviet Union and this shaped up so as to intensify and prolong the legend of the exclusive guilt of the National Socialists for 1939. The Soviet Union was no more vehement in this attitude than the Bonn Government of Germany.

There were other reasons why there was still a dearth of substantial books on 1939 in 1948 — a lacuna which exists to this day — but those mentioned above are the most notable. Countries whose post-war status, possessions and policies rested upon the assumption of exclusive German guilt were not likely to surrender their pretensions, claims, and gains in the interest of historical integrity. Minorities that had a special grudge against the National Socialists were only too happy to take advantage of the favorable world situation to continue and to intensify their program of hate and its supporting literature, however extreme the deviation from the historical facts.

All these handicaps, difficulties and apprehension in dealing with 1939 were quite apparent to me in 1948 and, for the most part, they have not abated notably since that time. The sheer scholarly and research opportunities and responsibilities were also far greater than in the years after 1918. Aside from the fact that the revolutionary governments in Germany, Austria and Russia quickly opened their archives on 1914 to scholars, the publication of documents on the responsibility for the first World War came very slowly, and in some cases required two decades or more.

After the second World War, however, there was soon available a veritable avalanche of documents that had to be read, digested and analyzed if one were to arrive at any certainty relative to the responsibility for 1939. Germany had seized the documents in the archives of the countries she conquered. When the Allies later overcame Germany they seized not only these, but those of Germany, Austria, Italy and several other countries. To be sure, Britain and the United States have been slow in publishing their documents bearing on 1939 and 1941, and the Soviet leaders have kept all of their documentary material, other than that seized by Germany, very tightly closed to scholars except for Communists. The latter could be trusted not to reveal any facts reflecting blame on the Soviet Union or implying any semblance of innocence on the part of National Socialist Germany.

Despite all the obvious problems, pitfalls and perils involved in any effort actually to reconstruct the story of 1939 and its antecedents, the challenge, need and opportunities connected with this project appeared to me to outweigh any or all negative factors. Hence, I began my research and writing on this comprehensive topic, and have devoted all the time I could take from an often heavy teaching schedule to its prosecution.

In 1952, I was greatly encouraged when I read the book by Professor Charles C. Tansill, Back Door to War. Tansill’s America Goes to War was, perhaps, the most learned and scholarly revisionist book published after the first World War. Henry Steele Commager declared that the book was “the most valuable contribution to the history of the pre-war years in our literature, and one of the notable achievements of historical scholarship of this generation.” Allan Nevins called it “an admirable volume, and absolutely indispensable” as an account of American entry into the War, on which the “approaches finality.” Although his Back Door to War was primarily designed to show how Roosevelt “lied the United States into war,” it also contained a great deal of exciting new material on the European background which agreed with the conclusions that I had reached in my 1948 dissertation.

Three years that I spent as Scientific Assistant to the Rector and visiting Assistant Professor of History in the Amerika Institut at the University of Munich gave me the opportunity to look into many sources of information in German materials at first hand and to consult directly able German scholars and public figures who could reveal in personal conversation what they would not dare to put in print at the time. An earlier research trip to Europe sponsored by a Harvard scholarship grant, 1947-1948, had enabled me to do the same with leading Polish figures and to work on important Polish materials in a large number of European countries.

Three years spent later as an Assistant Professor of History at the University of California at Berkeley made it possible for me to make use of the extensive collection of documents there, as well as the far more voluminous materials at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, California, where I had done my first work in the archives while an under-graduate student at Stanford. Research grants thereafter permitted me to be free from teaching duties for several years and to devote myself solely to research and writing. Whatever defects and deficiencies my book may possess, they are not due to lack of application to cogent research in the best collections of documents for over nearly a decade and a half.

In various stages of the preparation of my book I gained much from the advice, counsel and assistance of Harry R. Rudin, Raymond J. Sontag, Charles C. Tansill, M.K. Dziewanowski, Zygmunt Gasiorowski, Edward J. Rozek, Otto zu Stolberg-Wernigerode, Vsevolod Panek, Ralph H. Lutz, Henry M. Adams, James J. Martin, Franklin C. Palm, Thomas H.D. Mahoney, Reginald F. Arragon, Richard H. Jones, and Ernest G. Trimble.

By 1957, I believed that I had proceeded far enough to have a manuscript worthy of publication and offered it to a prominent publisher. Before any decision could be reached, however, as to acceptance or rejection, I voluntarily withdrew the manuscript because of the recent availability of extensive and important new documentary materials, such as the Polish documentary collection, Polska a Zagranica, and the vast collection of microfilm reproductions based on the major portion of the German Foreign Office Archives from the 1936-1939 period, which had remained unpublished.

This process of drastic revision, made mandatory by newly available documentation, has been repeated four times since 1957. It is now my impression that no probable documentary revelations in any predictable future would justify further withholding of the material from publication. The results of my work during the last fifteen years in this field have recently been published in Germany (November, 1961) under the title Der erzwungene Krieg (The Forced War). The German edition went through four printings within one year.

Neither this book nor the present English-language edition will exhaust this vast theme or preclude the publication of many other books in the same field. But it will not strain the truth to assert that my book constitutes by far the most complete treatment which has appeared on the subject in any language based on the existing and available documentation. Indeed, amazing as it seems, it is the only book limited to the subject in any language that has appeared since 1946, save for Professor A.J.P. Taylor’s far briefer account which was not published until the spring of 1961, the still more brief account in Germany by Walther Hofer, the rather diffuse symposium published under the auspices of Professor Arnold J. Toynbee at London in 1958, and Frau Annelies von Ribbentrop’s Verschwörung gegen den Frieden (Conspiracy Against Peace, Leoni am Starnbergersee, 1962).

It represents, to the best of my ability, an accurate summation and assessment of the factors, forces and personalities that contributed to bring on war in September 1939, and to the entry of the Soviet Union, Japan, and the United States into the conflict later on. Valid criticism of the book in its present and first edition will be warmly welcomed. Such suggestions as appear to me to be validated by reliable documentation will be embodied in subsequently revised editions.

Although the conclusions reached in this book depart widely from the opinions that were set forth in allied war propaganda and have been continued almost unchanged in historical writing since 1945, they need not be attributed to either special ability or unusual perversity. They are simply those which one honest historian with considerable linguistic facility has arrived at by examining the documents and monographs with thoroughness, and by deriving the logical deductions from their content. No more has been required than professional integrity, adequate information, and reasonable intelligence. Such a revision of wartime propaganda dogmas and their still dominating vestiges in current historical writings in this field is inevitable, whatever the preconceived ideas held by any historian, if he is willing to base his conclusions on facts. This is well illustrated and confirmed by the example of the best known of contemporary British historians, Professor A.J.P. Taylor.

Taylor had written numerous books relating to German history, and his attitude had led to his being regarded as vigorously anti-German, if not literally a consistent Germanophobe. Admittedly in this same mood, he began a thorough study of the causes of the second World War from the sources, with the definite anticipation that he would emerge with an overwhelming indictment of Hitler as solely responsible for the causes and onset of that calamitous conflict. What other outcome could be expected when one was dealing with the allegedly most evil, bellicose, aggressive and unreasonable leader in all German history?

Taylor is, however, an honest historian and his study of the documents led him to the conclusion that Hitler was not even primarily responsible for 1939. Far from planning world conquest, Hitler did not even desire a war with Poland, much less any general European war. The war was, rather, the outcome of blunders on all sides, committed by all the nations involved, and the greatest of all these blunders took place before Hitler came to power in 1933. This was the Versailles Treaty of 1919 and the failure of the victorious Allies and the League of Nations to revise this nefarious document gradually and peacefully in the fifteen years preceding the Hitler era.

So far as the long-term responsibility for the second World War is concerned, my general conclusions agree entirely with those of Professor Taylor. When it comes to the critical months between September 1938, and September 1939, however, it is my carefully considered judgment that the primary responsibility was that of Poland and Great Britain. For the Polish-German War, the responsibility was that of Poland, Britain and Germany in this order of so-called guilt. For the onset of a European War, which later grew into a world war with the entry of the Soviet Union, Japan and the United States, the responsibility was primarily, indeed almost exclusively, that of Lord Halifax and Great Britain.

I have offered my reasons for these conclusions and have presented and analyzed the extensive documentary evidence to support them. It is my conviction that the evidence submitted cannot be factually discredited or overthrown. If it can be, I will be the first to concede the success of such an effort and to readjust my views accordingly. But any refutation must be based on facts and logic and cannot be accomplished by the prevailing arrogance, invective or innuendo. I await the examination of my material with confidence, but also with an open mind in response to all honest and constructive criticism.

While my primary concern in writing this book has been to bring the historical record into accord with the available documentation, it has also been my hope that it might have the same practical relevance that revisionist writing could have had after the first World War. Most of the prominent Revisionists after the first World War hoped that their results in scholarship might produce a comparable revolution in European politics and lead to the revision of the Versailles Treaty in time to discourage the rise of some authoritarian ruler to undertake this task. They failed to achieve this laudable objective and Europe was faced with the danger of a second World War.

Revisionist writing on the causes of the second World War should logically produce an even greater historical and political impact than it did after 1919. In a nuclear age, failure in this respect will be much more disastrous and devastating than the second World War. The indispensable nature of a reconsideration of the merits and possible services of Revisionism in this matter has been well stated by Professor Denna F. Fleming, who has written by far the most complete and learned book on the Cold War and its dangers, and a work which also gives evidence of as extreme and unyielding a hostility to Germany as did the earlier writings of A.J.P. Taylor: “The case of the Revisionists deserved to be heard…. They may help us avoid the ‘one more war’ after which there would be nothing left worth arguing about.”

Inasmuch as I find little in the documents which lead me to criticize seriously the foreign policy of Hitler and the National Socialists, some critics of the German edition of my book have charged that I entertain comparable views about the domestic policy of Hitler and his regime. I believe, and have tried to demonstrate, that the factual evidence proves that Hitler and his associates did not wish to launch a European war in 1939, or in preceding years. This does not, however, imply in any sense that I have sought to produce an apology for Hitler and National Socialism in the domestic realm. It is no more true in my case than in that of A.J.P. Taylor whose main thesis throughout his lucid and consistent volume is that Hitler desired to accomplish the revision of the Treaty of Versailles by peaceful methods, and had no wish or plan to provoke any general war.

Having devoted as much time to an intensive study of this period of German history as any other American historian, I am well aware that there were many defects and shortcomings in the National Socialist system, as well as some remarkable and substantial accomplishments in many fields. My book is a treatise on diplomatic history. If I were to take the time and space to analyze in detail the personal traits of all the political leaders of the 1930’s and all aspects of German, European and world history at the time that had any bearing on the policies and actions that led to war in September 1939, it would require several large volumes.

The only practical procedure is the one which I have followed, namely, to hold resolutely to the field of diplomatic history, mentioning only those outstanding political, economic, social and psychological factors and situations which bore directly and powerfully on diplomatic actions and policies during these years. Even when closely restricted to this special field, the indispensable materials have produced a very large book. If I have found Hitler relatively free of any intent or desire to launch a European war in 1939, this surely does not mean that any reasonable and informed person could regard him as blameless or benign in all his policies and public conduct. Only a naive person could take any such position. I deal with Hitler’s domestic program only to refute the preposterous charge that he made Germany a military camp before 1939.

My personal political and economic ideology is related quite naturally to my own environment as an American citizen. I have for years been a warm admirer of the distinguished American statesman and reformer, the late Robert Marion La Follette, Sr. I still regard him as the most admirable and courageous American political leader of this century. Although I may be very much mistaken in this judgment and appraisal, it is sincere and enduring. What it does demonstrate is that I have no personal ideological affinity with German National Socialism, whatever strength and merit it may have possessed for Germany in some important respects. Nothing could be more presumptuous and absurd, or more remote from my purposes in this book, than an American attempt to rehabilitate or vindicate Germany’s Adolf Hitler in every phase of his public behavior. My aim here is solely to discover and describe the attitudes and responsibilities of Hitler and the other outstanding political leaders and groups of the 1930’s which had a decisive bearing on the outbreak of war in 1939.

David Leslie Hoggan
Menlo Park, California

Chapter 1 • The New Polish State • 11,300 Words
The Anti-Polish Vienna Congress — The 19th Century Polish Uprisings — Pro-German Polish Nationalism — Pro-Russian Polish Nationalism — Pro-Habsburg Polish Nationalism — Pilsudski’s Polish Nationalism — Poland in World War I — Polish Expansion After World War I — The Pilsudski Dictatorship — The Polish Dictatorship After Pilsudski’s Death

The Anti-Polish Vienna Congress

A tragedy such as World War I, with all its horrors, was destined by the very nature of its vast dimensions to produce occasional good results along with an infinitely greater number of disastrous situations. One of these good results was the restoration of the Polish state. The Polish people, the most numerous of the West Slavic tribes, have long possessed a highly developed culture, national self-consciousness, and historical tradition. In 1914 Poland was ripe for the restoration of her independence, and there can be no doubt that independence, when it came, enjoyed the unanimous support of the entire Polish nation. The restoration of Poland was also feasible from the standpoint of the other nations, although every historical event has its critics, and there were prominent individuals in foreign countries who did not welcome the recovery of Polish independence.

The fact that Poland was not independent in 1914 was mainly the fault of the international congress which met at Vienna in 1814 and 1815. No serious effort was made by the Concert of Powers to concern itself with Polish national aspirations, and the arrangements for autonomy in the part of Russian Poland known as the Congress Kingdom were the result of the influence of the Polish diplomat and statesman, Adam Czartoryski, on Tsar Alexander I. The Prussian delegation at Vienna would gladly have relinquished the Polish province of Posen in exchange for the recognition of Prussian aspirations in the German state of Saxony. Great Britain, France, and Austria combined against Prussia and Russia to frustrate Prussian policy in Saxony and to demand that Posen be assigned to Prussia. This typical disregard of Polish national interests sealed the fate of the Polish nation at that time.

The indifference of the majority of the Powers, and especially Great Britain, toward Polish nationalism in 1815 is not surprising when one recalls that the aspirations of German, Italian, Belgian, and Norwegian nationalism were flouted with equal impunity. National self-determination was considered to be the privilege of only a few Powers in Western Europe.

The first Polish state was founded in the 10th century and finally destroyed in its entirety in 1795, during the European convulsions which accompanied the Great French Revolution. The primary reason for the destruction of Poland at that time must be assigned to Russian imperialism. The interference of the expanding Russian Empire in the affairs of Poland during the early 18th century became increasingly formidable, and by the mid-18th century Poland was virtually a Russian protectorate. The first partition of Poland by Russia, Prussia, and Austria in 1772 met with some feeble opposition from Austrian diplomacy. Prussia made a rather ineffective effort to protect Poland from further destruction by concluding an alliance with her shortly before the second partition of 1792. The most that can be said about Russia in these various situations is that she would have preferred to obtain the whole of Poland for herself rather than to share territory with the western and southern neighbors of Poland. The weakness of the Polish constitutional system is sometimes considered a cause for the disappearance of Polish independence, but Poland would probably have maintained her independence under this system had it not been for the hostile actions of neighboring Powers, and especially Russia.

Poland was restored as an independent state by Napoleon I within twelve years of the final partition of 1795. The new state was known as the Grand Duchy of Warsaw. It did not contain all of the Polish territories, but it received additional land from Napoleon in 1809, and, despite the lukewarm attitude of the French Emperor toward the Poles, it no doubt would have been further aggrandized had Napoleon’s campaign against Russia in 1812 been successful. It can truthfully be said that the long eclipse of Polish independence during the 19th century was the responsibility of the European Concert of Powers at Vienna rather than the three partitioning Powers of the late 18th century.

The 19th Century Polish Uprisings

The privileges of autonomy granted to Congress Poland by Russia in 1815 were withdrawn sixteen years later following the great Polish insurrection against the Russians in 1830-1831. Polish refugees of that uprising were received with enthusiasm wherever they went in Germany, because the Germans too were suffering from the oppressive post-war system established by the victors of 1815. The Western Powers, Great Britain and France, were absorbed by their rivalry to control Belgium and Russia was allowed to deal with the Polish situation undisturbed. New Polish uprisings during the 1846-1848 period were as ineffective as the national revolutions of Germany and Italy at that time. The last desperate Polish uprising before 1914 came in 1863, and it was on a much smaller scale than the insurrection of 1830-1831.

The British, French, and Austrians showed some interest in diplomatic intervention on behalf of the Poles, but Bismarck, the Minister-President of Prussia, sided with Russia because he believed that Russian support was necessary for the realization of German national unity. Bismarck’s eloquent arguments in the Prussian Landtag (legislature) against the restoration of a Polish state in 1863, reflected this situation rather than permanent prejudice on his part against the idea of an independent Poland. It is unlikely that there would have been effective action on behalf of the Poles by the Powers at that time had Bismarck heeded the demand of the majority of the Prussian Landtag for a pro-Polish policy. Great Britain was less inclined in 1863 than she had been during the 1850’s to intervene in foreign quarrels as the ally of Napoleon III. She was disengaging herself from Anglo-French intervention in Mexico, rejecting proposals for joint Anglo-French intervention in the American Civil War, and quarreling with France about the crisis in Schleswig-Holstein.

The absence of new Polish uprisings in the 1863-1914 period reflected Polish recognition that such actions were futile rather than any diminution of the Polish desire for independence. The intellectuals of Poland were busily at work during this period devising new plans for the improvement of the Polish situation. A number of different trends emerged as a result of this activity. One of these was represented by Jozef Pilsudski, and he and his disciples ultimately determined the fate of Poland in the period between the two World Wars. Pilsudski participated in the revolutionary movement in Russia before 1914 in the hope that this movement would shatter the Russian Empire and prepare the way for an independent Poland.

The unification of Germany in 1871 meant that the Polish territories of Prussia became integral parts of the new German Empire. Relations between Russia, Germany, and Austria-Hungary, the three Powers ruling over Polish territories, were usually harmonious in the following twenty year period. This was possible, despite the traditional Austro-Russian rivalry in the Balkans, because of the diplomatic achievement of Bismarck. The situation changed after the retirement of Bismarck in 1890, and especially after the conclusion of the Franco-Russian alliance in 1894. There was constant tension among the three Powers during the following period. Russia was allied with France against Germany, and it was evident that an Eastern European, a Western European, or an Overseas imperial question might produce a war. This situation seemed more promising for Poland than when the three Powers ruling Polish territories were in harmony. It was natural that these changed conditions were reflected in Polish thought during these years.

Pro-German Polish Nationalism

Most of the Polish territory was ruled by Russia, and consequently it was quite logical for some Poles to advocate collaboration with Germany, the principal opponent of Russia, as the best means of promoting Polish interests. Wladyslaw Studnicki, a brilliant Polish scholar with contacts in many countries, was an exponent of this approach. He believed that Russia would always be the primary threat to Polish interests. His historical studies had convinced him that the finest conditions for Poland had existed during periods of peaceful relations and close contact with Germany.

He noted that Poland, while enfeoffed to Germany during the Middle Ages, had received from the Germans her Christian religion, her improved agricultural economy, and her flourishing medieval development of crafts. German craft colonization had been the basis for the growth of Polish cities, and the close cultural relationship between the two countries was demonstrated by every fourth 20th century Polish word, which was of German origin. He recalled that relations between Germany and Poland were usually friendly during the Middle Ages, and also during the final years before the Polish partitions.

Studnicki believed that Poland’s real future was in the East, where she might continue her own cultural mission, and also profit nationally. He asserted during World War I that Poles should cease opposing the continuation of German rule in the province of Posen, which had a Polish majority, and in the province of West Prussia, which had a German majority. Both of these regions had been Polish before the first partition of 1772. He favored a return to the traditional Polish eastern policy of federation with such neighboring nations as the Lithuanians and White Russians.

Studnicki believed that collaboration with Germany would protect Poland from destruction by Russia without endangering the development of Poland or the realization of Polish interests. He advocated this policy throughout the period from World War I to World War II. After World War II, he wrote a moving account of the trials of Poland during wartime occupation, and of the manner in which recent events had made more difficult the GermanPolish understanding which he still desired.

Pro-Russian Polish Nationalism

The idea of permanent collaboration with Russia also enjoyed great prestige in Poland despite the fact that Russia was the major partitioning Power and that the last Polish insurrection had been directed exclusively against her rule. The most brilliant and popular of modern Polish political philosophers, Roman Dmowski, was an advocate of this idea. Dmowski’s influence was very great, and his most bitter adversaries adopted many of his ideas. Dmowski refused to compromise with his opponents, or to support any program which differed from his own.

Dmowski was the leader of a Polish political group within the Russian Empire before World War I known as the National Democrats. They advocated a constitution for the central Polish region of Congress Poland, which had been assigned to Russia for the first time at the Vienna Congress in 1815, but they did not oppose the further union of this region with Russia. They welcomed the Russian constitutional regime of 1906, and they took their seats in the legislative Duma rather than boycott it. Their motives in this respect were identical with those of the Polish Conservatives from the Polish Kresy; the new constitution could bestow benefits on Poles as well as Russians. The Polish Kresy, which also served as a reservation for Jews in Russia, included all Polish territories taken by Russia except Congress Poland. The National Democrats and the Polish Conservatives believed that they could advance the Polish cause within Russia by legal means.

Dmowski was a leading speaker in the Duma, and he was notorious for his clever attacks on the Germans and Jews. He confided to friends that he hoped to duplicate the career of Adam Czartoryski, who had been Foreign Secretary of Russia one century earlier and was acknowledged to have been the most successful Polish collaborator with the Russians. Unwelcome restrictions were imposed on the constitutional regime in the years after 1906 by Piotr Stolypin, the new Russian strong man, but these failed to dampen Dmowski’s ardor. He believed that the combined factors of fundamental weakness in the Russian autocracy and the rising tide of Polish nationalism would enable him to achieve a more prominent role.

Dmowski was an advocate of modernity, which meant to him a pragmatic approach to all problems without sentimentality or the dead weight of outmoded tradition. In his book, Mysli nowoczesnego Polaka (Thoughts of a Modern Pole), 1902, he advised that the past splendor of the old Polish monarchy should be abandoned even as an ideal. He recognized that the Polish nation needed modern leadership, and he proclaimed that “nations do not produce governments, but governments do produce nations.” He continued to envisage an autonomous Polish regime loyal to Russia until the latter part of World War I. His system of thought was better suited to the completely independent Poland which emerged from the War. He demanded after 1918 that Poland become a strictly national state in contrast to a nationalities state of the old Polish or recent Habsburg pattern. Dmowski did not envisage an unexceptional Poland for the Poles, but a state with strictly limited minorities in the later style of Kemal in Turkey or Hitler in Germany. He believed that the inclusion of minorities in the new state should stop short of risking the total preponderance of the dominant nationality.

Dmowski opposed eastward expansion at Russian expense, and he argued that the old Lithuanian-Russian area, which once had been under Polish rule, could not be assimilated. Above all, the Jews were very numerous in the region, and he disliked having a Jewish minority in the new Polish state. In 1931 he declared that “the question of the Jews is the greatest question concerning the civilization of the whole world.” He argued that a modern approach to the Jewish question required the total expulsion of the Jews from Poland because assimilation was impossible. He rejected both the 18th century attempt to assimilate by baptism and the 19th century effort at assimilation through common agreement on liberal ideas. He insisted that experience had proved both these attempted solutions were futile. He argued that it was not Jewish political influence which posed the greatest threat, but Jewish economic and cultural activities. He did not believe that Poland could become a respectable business nation until she had eliminated her many Jews. He recognized the dominant Western trend in Polish literature and art, but he did not see how Polish culture could survive what he considered to be Jewish attempts to dominate and distort it. He firmly believed that the anti-Jewish policy of the Tsarist regime in Russia had been beneficial. His ideas on the Jewish question were popular in Poland, and they were either shared from the start or adopted by most of his political opponents.

Dmowski’s basic program was defensive, and he was constantly seeking either to protect the Poles from threats to their heritage, or from ambitious schemes of expansion which might increase alien influences. There was only one notable exception to this defensive pattern of his ideas. He favored an ambitious and aggressive policy of westward expansion at the expense of Germany, and he used his predilection for this scheme as an argument for collaboration with Russia.

He believed in the industrialization of Poland and in a dominant position for the industrial middle class. He argued that westward expansion would be vital in increasing Polish industrial resources.

The influence of Dmowski’s thought in Poland has remained important until the present day. His influence continued to grow despite the political failures of his followers after Jozef Pilsudski’s coup d’Etat in 1926. Dmowski deplored the influence of the Jews in Bolshevist Russia, but he always advocated Russo-Polish collaboration in foreign policy.

Pro-Habsburg Polish Nationalism

Every general analysis of 20th century Polish theory on foreign policy emphasizes the Krakow (Cracow) or Galician school, which was easily the most prolific, although the practical basis for its program was destroyed by World War I. The political leaders and university scholars of the Polish South thought of Austrian Galicia as a Polish Piedmont after the failure of the Polish insurrection against Russia in 1863. Michal Bobrzynski, the Governor of Galicia from 1907 to 1911, was the outstanding leader of this school. In his Dzieje Polski w Zarysie (Short History of Poland), he eulogized Polish decentralization under the pre-partition constitution, and he attacked the kings who had sought to increase the central power. In 1919 he advocated regionalism in place of a centralized national system. He also hoped that the Polish South would occupy the key position in Poland as a whole. The political activities of the Krakow group before the War of 1914 were directed against the National Democrats, with their pro-Russian orientation, and against the Ukrainians in Galicia, with their national aspirations. Bobrzynski envisaged the union of all Poland under the Habsburgs, and the development of a powerful federal system in the Habsburg Empire to be dominated by Austrian Germans, Hungarians, and Poles. He advocated a federal system after the collapse of the Habsburg Empire in 1918, and he supported the claims to the old thrones of the Habsburg pretender. He argued with increasing exasperation that Poland alone could never maintain herself against Russia and Germany without additional support from the South.

Pilsudski’s Polish Nationalism

A fourth major program for the advancement of Polish interests was that of Jozef Pilsudski, who thought of Poland as a Great Power. His ideas on this vital point conflicted with the three programs previously mentioned. Studnicki, Dmowski, and Bobrzynski recognized that Poland was one of the smaller nations of modern Europe. It seemed inevitable to them that the future promotion of Polish interests would demand a close alignment with at least one of the three pre-1918 powerful neighboring Powers, Germany, Russia, or Austria-Hungary. It is not surprising that there were groups in Poland which favored collaboration with each of these Powers, but it is indeed both startling and instructive to note that the strongest of these groups advocated collaboration with Russia, the principal oppressor of the Poles.

Pilsudski opposed collaboration with any of the stronger neighbors of Poland. He expected Poland to lead nations weaker than herself and to maintain alliances or alignments with powerful but distant Powers not in a position to influence the conduct of Polish policy to any great extent. Above all, his system demanded a defiant attitude toward any neighboring state more powerful than Poland. His reasoning was that defiance of her stronger neighbors would aid Poland to regain the Great Power status which she enjoyed at the dawn of modern history. Dependence on a stronger neighbor would be tantamount to recognizing the secondary position of Poland in Central Eastern Europe. He hoped that a successful foreign policy after independence would eventually produce a situation in which none of her immediate neighbors would be appreciably stronger than Poland. He hoped that Poland in this way might eventually achieve national security without sacrificing her Great Power aspirations.

This approach to a foreign policy for a small European nation was reckless, and its partisans said the same thing somewhat more ambiguously when they described it as heroic. Its radical nature is evident when it is compared to the three programs described above, which may be called conservative by contrast. Another radical policy in Poland was that of the extreme Marxists who hoped to convert the Polish nation into a proletarian dictatorship. These extreme Marxists were far less radical on the foreign policy issue than the Pilsudski group.

For a period of twenty-five years, from 1914 until the Polish collapse of 1939, Pilsudski’s ideas had a decisive influence on the development of Poland. No Polish leader since Jan Sobieski in the 17th century had been so masterful. Poles often noted that Pilsudski’s personality was not typically Polish, but was much modified by his Lithuanian background. He did not share the typical exaggerated Polish respect for everything which came from abroad. He was not unpunctual as were most Poles, and he had no trace of either typical Polish indolence or prodigality. Above all, although he possessed it in full measure, he rarely made a show of the great personal charm which is typical of nearly all educated Poles. He was usually taciturn, and he despised excessive wordiness.

Pilsudski’s prominence began with the outbreak of World War I. He was personally well prepared for this struggle. Pilsudski addressed a group of Polish university students at Paris in February 1914. His words contained a remarkable prophecy which did much to give him a reputation for uncanny insight. He predicted that a great war would break out which might produce the defeat of the three Powers ruling partitioned Poland. He guessed correctly that the Austrians and Germans might defeat the Russians before succumbing to the superior material reserves and resources of the Western Powers. He proposed to contribute to this by fighting the Russians until they were defeated and then turning against the Germans and Austrians.

This strategy required temporary collaboration with two of the Powers holding Polish territories, but it was based on the recognition that in 1914, before Polish independence, it was inescapable that Poles would be fighting on both sides in the War. Pilsudski accepted this inevitable situation, but he sought to shape it to promote Polish interests to the maximum degree. Pilsudski had matured in politics before World War I as a Polish Marxist revolutionary. He assimilated the ideas of German and Russian Marxism both at the university city of Kharkov in the Ukraine, and in Siberia, where hundreds of thousands of Poles had been exiled by Russian authorities since 1815. He approached socialism as an effective weapon against Tsarism, but he never became a sincere socialist. His followers referred to his early Marxist affiliation as Konrad Wallenrod socialism. Wallenrod, in the epic of Adam Mickiewicz, infiltrated the German Order of Knights and became one of its leaders only to undermine it. Pilsudski adhered to international socialism for many years, but he remained opposed to its final implications.

Pilsudski was convinced that the Galician socialist leaders with whom he was closely associated would ultimately react in a nationalist direction. One example will suggest why he made this assumption. At the July 1910 international socialist congress in Krakow, Ignaz Daszynski, the Galician socialist leader, was reproached by Herman Lieberman, a strict Marxist, for encouraging the celebration by Polish socialists of the 500th anniversary of Grunwald. Grunwald was the Polish name for the victory of the Poles, Lithuanians and Tartars over the German Order of Knights at Tannenberg in 1410, and its celebration in Poland at this time was comparable to the July 4th independence holiday in the United States. Daszynski heaped ridicule and scorn on Lieberman. He observed sarcastically that it would inflict a tremendous injury on the workers to tolerate this national impudence. He added that it was positively criminal to refer to Wawel (the former residence of Polish kings in Krakow) because this might sully the red banners of socialism. Pilsudski himself later made the cynical remark that those who cared about socialism might ride the socialist trolley to the end of the line, but he preferred to get off at independence station.

Pilsudski was active with Poles from other political groups after 1909 in forming separate military units to collaborate with Austria-Hungary in wartime. This action was encouraged by Austrian authorities who hoped that Pilsudski would be able to attract volunteers from the Russian section. Pilsudski was allowed to command only one brigade of this force, but he emerged as the dominant leader. The Krakow school hoped to use his military zeal to build Polish power within the Habsburg Empire, and one of their leaders, Jaworski, remarked that he would exploit Pilsudski as Cavour had once exploited Garibaldi. Pilsudski, like Garibaldi, had his own plans, and events were to show that he was more successful in realizing them.

Poland in World War I

World War I broke out in August 1914 after Russia, with the encouragement of Great Britain and France, ordered the general mobilization of her armed forces against Germany and Austria-Hungary. The Russians were determined to support Serbia against Austria-Hungary in the conflict which resulted from the assassination of the heir to the Austrian and Hungarian thrones and his wife by Serbian conspirators. Russian mobilization plans envisaged simultaneous military action against both the Germans and Austro-Hungarians. Poincaré and Viviani, the French leaders, welcomed the opportunity to engage Germany in a conflict, because they hoped to reconquer Alsace-Lorraine. Sir Edward Grey and the majority of the British leaders looked forward to the opportunity of winning the spoils of war from Germany, and of disposing of an allegedly dangerous rival. Austria-Hungary wished to maintain her security against Serbian provocations, and the German leaders envisaged war with great reluctance as a highly unwelcome development.

Russia, as the ally of Great Britain and France, succeeded in keeping the Polish question out of Allied diplomacy until the Russian Revolution of 1917. A Russian proclamation of August 18, 1914, offered vague rewards to the Poles for their support in the war against Germany, but it contained no binding assurances. Dmowski went to London in November 1915 to improve his contacts with British and French leaders, but he was careful to work closely with Alexander Izvolsky, Russian Ambassador to France and the principal Russian diplomat abroad. Dmowski’s program called for an enlarged autonomous Polish region within Russia. His activities were for the most part welcomed by Russia, but Izvolsky reported to foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov in April 1916 that Dmowski went too far in discussing certain aspects of the Polish question.

Pilsudski in the meantime had successfully resisted attempts by the Austrian War Department to deprive his cadres of their special status when it became obvious that they were no magnet to the Poles across the Russian frontier. Responsibility for maintaining the separate status of the forces was entrusted to a Polish Chief National Committee (Naczelnik Komitet Narodowy). The situation was precarious because many of the Galician Poles proved to be pro-Russian after war came, and they did not care to join Pilsudski. They expected Russia to win the war. They might be tolerated following a Russian victory as mere conscripts of Austria, but they would be persecuted for serving with Pilsudski. As a result, there were only a few thousand soldiers under Pilsudski and his friends during World War I. The overwhelming majority of all Polish veterans saw military service only with the Russians. Large numbers of Polish young men from Galicia fled to the Russians upon the outbreak of war to escape service with either the Austrians or with Pilsudski. It was for this reason that the impact of Pilsudski on the outcome of the war against Russia was negligible. He nevertheless achieved a prominent position in Polish public opinion, whatever individual Poles might think of him, and he managed to retain it. General von Beseler, the Governor of German-occupied Poland, proclaimed the restoration of Polish independence on November 5, 1916, following an earlier agreement between Germany and Austria-Hungary. His announcement was accompanied by a German Army band playing the gay and exuberant Polish anthem from the Napoleonic period, Poland Still Is Not Lost! (Jeszcze Polska nie Zginele!). Polish independence was rendered feasible by the German victories over Russia in 1915 which compelled the Russians to evacuate most of the Polish territories, including those which they had seized from Austria in the early months of the war. Pilsudski welcomed this step by Germany with good reason, although he continued to hope for the ultimate defeat of Germany in order to free Poland from any German influence and to aggrandize Poland at German expense.

A Polish Council of State was established on December 6, 1916, and met for the first time on January 14, 1917. The position of the Council during wartime was advisory to the occupation authorities, and the prosecution of the war continued to take precedence over every other consideration. Nevertheless, important concessions were made to the Poles during the period from September 1917 until the end of the war. The Council was granted the administration of justice in Poland and control over the Polish school system, and eventually every phase of Polish life came under its influence. The Council was reorganized in the autumn of 1917, and on October 14, 1917, a Regency Council was appointed in the expectation that Poland would become an independent kingdom allied to the German and Austro-Hungarian monarchies. The German independence policy was recognized by Poles everywhere as a great aid to the Polish cause, and Roman Dmowski, never a friend of Germany, was very explicit in stating this in his book, Polityka Polska i Odbudowanie Panstwa (Polish Policy and the Reconstruction of the State), which described the events of this period. Negotiators for the Western Allies, on the other hand, were willing to reverse the German independence policy as late as the summer of 1917 and to offer all of Poland to Austria-Hungary, if by doing so they could separate the Central Powers and secure a separate peace with the Habsburgs.

The Germans for their part were able to assure President Wilson in January 1917, when the United States was still neutral in the War, that they had no territorial aims in the West and that they stood for the independence of Poland. President Wilson delivered a speech on January 22, 1917, in which he stressed the importance of obtaining access to the Sea for Poland, but James Gerard, the American Ambassador to Germany, assured German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg that Wilson did not wish to see any Baltic port of Germany detached from German rule. It is not surprising that in German minds both before and after the 1918 armistice the Wilson Program for Poland envisaged access to the Sea in terms of free port facilities and not in the carving of one or more corridors to the Sea through German territory. There was no objection from Germany when the Polish Council of State in Warsaw sent a telegram to Wilson congratulating him for his speech of January 22, 1917, which had formulated Wilsonian Polish policy in terms later included as the 13th of the famous 14 Points.

The Russian Provisional Government raised the question of Polish independence in a statement of March 29, 1917, but they stressed the necessity of a permanent Russo-Polish “alliance,” with special “guarantees,” as the conditio sine qua non. Arthur James Balfour, the Conservative leader in the British Coalition Government, endorsed the Russian proposition, although he knew that the Russians intended a merely autonomous Poland. Dmowski responded to the March 1917 Russian Revolution by advocating a completely independent Poland of 200,000 square miles, which was approximately equal to the area of the German Empire, and he attempted to counter the arguments raised against Polish independence in Great Britain and France.

Pilsudski at this time was engaged in switching his policy from support of Germany to support of the Western Allies. He demanded a completely independent Polish national army before the end of the war, and the immediate severance of any ties which made Poland dependent on the Central Powers. He knew that there was virtually no chance for the fulfillment of these demands at the crucial stage which the war had reached by the summer of 1917. The slogan of his followers was a rejection of compromise: “Never a state without an army, never an army without Pilsudski.” Pilsudski was indeed head of the military department of the Polish Council of State, but he resigned on July 2, 1917, when Germany and Austria-Hungary failed to accept his demands.

Pilsudski deliberately provoked the Germans until they arrested him and placed him for the duration of the war in comfortable internment with his closest military colleague, Kazimierz Sosnkowski, at Magdeburg on the Elbe. It was Pilsudski’s conviction that only in this way could he avoid compromising himself with the Germans before Polish public opinion. His arrest by Germany made it difficult for his antagonists in Poland to argue that he had been a mere tool of German policy. It was a matter of less concern that this accusation was made in the Western countries despite his arrest during the months and years which followed.

A threat to Pilsudski’s position in Poland was implicit in the organization of independent Polish forces in Russia after the Revolution under a National Polish Army Committee (Naczpol). These troops were under the influence of Roman Dmowski and his National Democrats. The conclusion of peace between Russia and Germany at BrestLitovsk in March 1918 stifled this development, and the Polish forces soon began to surrender to the Germans. The Bolshevik triumph and peace with Germany dealt a severe blow to the doctrine of Polish collaboration with Russia. The surrender by Germany of the Cholm district of Congress Poland to the Ukraine at Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 dealt a fatal blow to the prestige of the Regency Council in Poland, and prepared the way for the establishment of an entirely new Government when Germany went down in revolution and defeat in November 1918.

Polish Expansion After World War I

It was fortunate for Pilsudski that the other Poles were unable to achieve any thing significant during his internment in Germany. He was released from Magdeburg during the German Revolution, and he returned speedily to Poland. On November 14, 1918, the Regency Council turned over its powers to Pilsudski, and the Poles, who were in the midst of great national rejoicing, despite the severe prevailing economic conditions, faced an entirely new situation. Pilsudski knew there would be an immediate struggle for power among the political parties. His first step was to consolidate the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) of Congress Poland, and the Polish Social-Democratic Party (PPSD) of Galicia under his own leadership.

Pilsudski had an enormous tactical advantage which he exploited to the limit. He was a socialist, and he had fought for the Germans. His principal political opponents, the National Democrats, were popular with the Western Powers. Poland was not mentioned in the November 1918 armistice agreement with Germany, and soon after the armistice a protracted peace conference began. Pilsudski was persona non grata at Versailles. He gladly expressed his confidence in the Paris negotiation efforts of the National Democrats in the interest of obtaining a united Polish front. It was not his responsibility, but that of his opponents, to secure advantages for Poland at the peace conference. This effort was almost certain to discredit his opponents, because Polish demands were so exorbitant that they could scarcely be satisfied. Pilsudski was free to turn his own efforts toward the Polish domestic situation. He made good use of his time, and he never lost the political initiative gained during those days. His cause was aided by an agreement he made with the Germans as early as November 11, 1918, before the armistice in the West. According to this agreement, the occupation troops would leave with their arms which they would surrender at the frontier (German-Congress Poland frontier of 1914, which was confirmed at Brest-Litovsk, 1918). The operation was virtually completed by November 19, 1918, and the agreement was faithfully carried out by both sides.

The Polish National Committee in Paris, which was dominated by Roman Dmowski and the National Democrats, faced a much less promising situation. The diplomats of Great Britain and France regarded the Poles with condescension, and Premier Clemenceau informed Paderewski, the principal collaborator of Dmowski in the peace negotiation, that in his view Poland owed her independence to the sacrifices of the Allies. The Jewish question also plagued the Polish negotiators, and they were faced by demands from American Jewish groups which would virtually have created an independent Jewish state within Poland. President Wilson was sympathetic toward these demands, and he emphasized in the Council of Four (United States, Great Britain, France, Italy) on May 1, 1919, that “the Jews were somewhat inhospitably regarded in Poland.” Paderewski explained the Polish attitude on the Jewish question in a memorandum of June 15, 1919, in which he observed that the Jews of Poland “on many occasions” had considered the Polish cause lost, and had sided with the enemies of Poland. Ultimately most of the Jewish demands were modified, but article 93 of the Versailles treaty forced Poland to accept a special pact for minorities which was highly unpopular.

The Polish negotiators might have achieved their extreme demands against Germany had it not been for Lloyd George, because President Wilson and the French were originally inclined to give them all that they asked. Dmowski demanded the 1772 frontier in the West, plus the key German industrial area of Upper Silesia, the City of Danzig, and the southern sections of East Prussia. In addition, he demanded that the rest of East Prussia be constituted as a separate state under Polish control, and later he also requested part of Middle Silesia for Poland. Lloyd George soon began to attack the Polish position, and he concentrated his effort on influencing and modifying the attitude of Wilson. It was clear to him that Italy was indifferent, and that France would not be able to resist a common Anglo-American program.

Lloyd George had reduced the Polish demands in many directions before the original draft of the treaty was submitted to the Germans on May 7, 1919. A plebiscite was scheduled for the southern districts of East Prussia, and the rest of that province was to remain with Germany regardless of the outcome. Important modifications of the frontier in favor of Germany were made in the region of Pomerania, and the city of Danzig was to be established as a protectorate under the League of Nations rather than as an integral part of Poland. Lloyd George concentrated on Upper Silesia after the Germans had replied with their objections to the treaty. Wilson’s chief expert on Poland, Professor Robert Lord of Harvard University, made every effort to maintain the provision calling for the surrender of this territory to Poland without a plebiscite. Lloyd George concentrated on securing a plebiscite, and ultimately he succeeded.

The ultimate treaty terms gave Poland much more than she deserved, and much more than she should have requested. Most of West Prussia, which had a German majority at the last census, was surrendered to Poland without plebiscite, and later the richest industrial section of Upper Silesia was given to Poland despite the fact that the Poles lost the plebiscite there. The creation of a League protectorate for the national German community of Danzig was a disastrous move; a free harbor for Poland in a Danzig under German rule would have been far more equitable. The chief errors of the treaty included the creation of the Corridor, the creation of the so-called Free City of Danzig, and the cession of part of Upper Silesia to Poland. These errors were made for the benefit of Poland and to the disadvantage of Germany, but they were detrimental to both Germany and Poland. An enduring peace in the German-Polish borderlands was impossible to achieve within the context of these terms. The settlement was also contrary to the 13th of Wilson’s 14 Points, which, except for the exclusion of point 2, constituted a solemn Allied contractual agreement on peace terms negotiated with Germany when she was still free and under arms. The violation of these terms when defenseless Germany was in the chains of the armistice amounted to a pinnacle of deceit on the part of the United States and the European Western Allies which could hardly be surpassed. The position of the United States in this unsavory situation was somewhat modified by the American failure to ratify the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and 1920. The Polish negotiators remained discredited at home because they had failed to achieve their original demands, which had been widely publicized in Poland.

An aspect of this situation especially pleasing to Pilsudski was the confused condition of Russia which caused the Allied diplomats to postpone the discussion of the eastern frontiers of Poland. Pilsudski was more interested in eastward expansion than in the westward expansion favored by Dmowski. The absence of any decisions at Paris concerning the status quo in the East gave Pilsudski a welcome opportunity to pursue his own program in that area.

The left-wing radical tide was rising with Poland, but Pilsudski was not unduly worried by this situation. He allowed the sincere Marxist, Moraczewski, to form a government. The government proclaimed an electoral decree on November 28, 1918, which provided for proportional representation and universal suffrage. Pilsudski secretly undermined the Government in every direction, and he encouraged his friends in the army to oppose it. He also knew that the National Democrats hated socialism, and played them off against Moraczewski.

On January 4, 1919, while Roman Dmowski was in Paris, the National Democrats recklessly attempted to upset Moraczewski by a poorly planned coup d’Etat. Pilsudski defended the Government, and the National Democrats lost prestige when their revolt was crushed. Pilsudski did not relish the barter of parliamentary politics, but Walery Slawek, his good friend and political expert, did most of this distasteful work for him. This enabled Pilsudski to concentrate at an early date on the Polish Army and Polish foreign policy, which were his two real interests. Pilsudski won over many prominent opponents; he had earlier won the support of Edward Smigly-Rydz, who directed the capture of Lvov (Lemberg) from the Ukrainians in November 1918. Smigly-Rydz later succeeded Pilsudski as Marshal of Poland.

There was action in many directions on the military front. A Slask-Pomorze-Poznan (Silesia-West PrussiaPosen) Congress was organized by the National Democrats on December 6, 1918, and it attempted to seize control of the German eastern provinces in the hope of presenting the peace conference at Paris with a fait accompli. Ignaz Paderewski arrived in Poznan a few weeks later on a journey from London to Warsaw, and a Polish uprising broke out while he was in this city. Afterward the Poles, in a series of bitter battles, drove the local German volunteer militia out of most of Posen province. The Germans in January 1919 evacuated the ancient Lithuanian capital of Wilna (Wilno), and Polish forces moved in. When the Bolshevik Armies began their own drive through the area, the Poles lost Wilna, but the Germans stopped the Red advance at Grodno on the Niemen River. The National Democrats controlled the Polish Western Front and Pilsudski dominated the East. The National Democrats were primarily interested in military action against Germany. Pilsudski’s principal interest was in Polish eastward expansion and in federation under Polish control with neighboring nations. On April 19, 1919, when the Poles recaptured Wilna, a proclamation was issued by Pilsudski. It was not addressed, as a National Democratic proclamation would have been, to the local Polish community, but “to the people of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.” It referred graciously to the presence of Polish forces in “your country.” Pilsudski also issued an invitation to the Ukrainians and White Russians to align themselves with Poland. He intended to push his federalist policy while Russia was weak, and to reduce Russian power to the minimum degree.

Pilsudski’s growing prestige in the East was bitterly resented by the National Democrats. They denounced him from their numerous press organs as an anti clerical radical under the influence of the Jews. They argued with justification that the country was unprepared for an extensive eastern military adventure. They complained that the further acquisition of minorities would weaken the state, and they concluded that Pilsudski was a terrible menace to Poland. Pilsudski cleverly appealed to the anti-German prejudice of the followers of his enemies. He argued that Russia and Germany were in a gigantic conspiracy to crush Poland, and that to retaliate by driving back the Russians was the only salvation. He tried in every way to stir up the enthusiasm of the weary Polish people for his eastern plans.

Pilsudski also did what he could to stem the rising Lithuanian nationalism which objected to every form of union with Poland. By July 17, 1919, Polish forces had driven the Ukrainian nationalist forces out of every corner of the former Austrian territory of East Galicia. It was comparatively easy afterward for Pilsudski to arrive at an agreement with Semyon Petlura, the Ukrainian socialist leader who was hard pressed by the Bolsheviks. Petlura agreed that the entire territory of Galicia should remain with Poland, and Pilsudski encouraged the organization of new Ukrainian armed units.

Pilsudski believed that Petlura would be more successful than Skoropadski, the earlier Ukrainian dictator, in enlisting Ukrainian support. He deliberated constantly on delivering a crushing blow against the Bolsheviks, who were hard pressed by the White Russian forces of General Denikin during most of 1919. He negotiated with Denikin, but he did not strike during 1919 on the plea that the Polish forces were not yet ready. He dreaded far more than Bolshevism a victorious White Russian regime, which would revive Russian nationalist aspirations in the West at the expense of Poland.

While Pilsudski was planning and postponing his blow against the Bolsheviks, his prejudice against the parliamentary form of government was augmented by the first Sejm which had been elected on January 26, 1919. Two coalition groups of the National Democrats sent 167 deputies. The Polish Peasant Party, which endorsed the foreign policy of Dmowski and denounced Pilsudski, elected 85 deputies. These three groups of Pilsudski opponents occupied 260 of the 415 seats of the Sejm. Many of the other deputies, who were divided among a large number of parties, were either Germans or Jews. These election results were no chance phenomenon, but they represented a trend in Polish opinion which had developed over a long period. It was evident that this situation could not be changed without severe manipulation of the election system. No politician of Pilsudski’s ambitions could admire an election system which demonstrated his own unpopularity. His natural inclination toward the authoritarian system was greatly increased by his experience with parliamentary politics in his own country.

Dissatisfaction with the terms of the Versailles treaty was uppermost in Polish public opinion by June 1919. The Poles were in consternation at the prospect of a plebiscite in Upper Silesia. They had claimed that most of the inhabitants favored Poland, but they were secretly aware that the vast majority would vote for Germany in a free election. The Poles were also furious at the Allied inclination to support the Czechs in their attempt to secure by force the mixed ethnic area and rich industrial district of Teschen.

Adalbert Korfanty, a veteran National Democratic leader, set out to accomplish Poland’s purpose in Upper Silesia by terror and intimidation. The French commander of the Allied occupation force, General Le Rond, collaborated with invading Polish filibuster forces. The Italian occupation forces stationed in Upper Silesia were attacked by the Poles and suffered heavy casualties because they sought to obstruct the illegal Polish advance. It was widely assumed in Poland during 1919 and 1920 that the desperate campaign in Upper Silesia would be futile. The unexpected Polish reward there was not received until 1922.

These reverses suffered by the Poles in the West added to the demand for effective action in the East. Interest gradually increased during the latter part of 1919 while Pilsudski continued his preparations. The high nobility from the eastern territories led much agitation, but support for the program also had become noticeable in all parts of the country. Pilsudski concluded a second pact with Petlura in October 1919 which provided that further Ukrainian territory east of the old frontier between Russia and Austrian Galicia would become Polish, and, in addition, an independent Ukrainian state in the East would remain in close union with Poland. The collapse of Denikin in December 1919 was a signal to the Bolsheviks that they might soon expect trouble with Poland on a much larger scale than in the preceding sporadic hostilities which had extended from Latvia to the Ukraine. The Bolsheviks on January 28, 1920, offered Pilsudski a favorable armistice line in the hope of trading territory for time. Pilsudski was not impressed, despite the fact that the Western Allies disapproved of his plans. Pilsudski categorically informed the Allies on March 13, 1920, that he would demand from the Bolsheviks the right to dispose of the territory west of the 1772 Polish-Russian frontier. This frontier was far to the East of the line proposed by the Bolsheviks, and it was evident that a decisive conflict would ensue.

Pilsudski and Petlura launched their offensive to drive the Bolsheviks from the Ukraine on April 26, 1920. The Skulski cabinet, which had followed earlier governments of Moraczewski and Paderewski, did not dare to oppose Pilsudski’s plans, and Foreign Minister Patek openly approved Pilsudski’s eastern program. The Polish troops under the command of General Smigly-Rydz scored conspicuous successes, and on May 8th a Polish patrol on a streetcar rode into the center of Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. A huge celebration of the Kiev victory took place in the St. Alexander church in Warsaw on May 18, 1920. Pilsudski was presented with the old victory laurels of Stephen Bathory and Wladislaw IV.

Russia was less prostrate than in the 17th century “time of troubles (Smutnoye Vremya),” and dreams of Polish imperialism were soon smashed under the hoofs of Budenny’s Red Army horses. The Russian counter-offensive strategy of outflanking the Poles was completely successful. The military reversals in the east created a cabinet crisis and the Skulski Government was forced to resign. On June 24, 1920, Wladislaw Grabski, a National Democrat and an opponent of Pilsudski, formed a government. His first step was to go to Belgium to plead with the Western Allied Command for aid. The Russians had penetrated deeply into Poland from two directions when Grabski arrived at Spa on July 10th. One of their armies had broken across the old Niemen defense line, and the other was driving on Lvov.

The poorly disciplined Russians had become totally disorganized by the rapidity of their advance, and the major commanders failed to cooperate because of petty jealousies. Pilsudski had the expert advice of General Maxime Weygand and other French officers when he directed the Poles to victory in the battle of Warsaw on August 16, 1920. The famous expression in Poland, “the miracle of the Vistula (cud nad Wisla),” was coined by Professor Stanislaw Stronski, a National Democrat, to suggest that any Polish victory under Pilsudski’s leadership was a miracle.

The Vistula victory brought tremendous prestige to Pilsudski, and it solidified his position as the strongest man in Poland, but the opponents of Pilsudski remained in office and the popular dissatisfaction with the war increased. Pilsudski was willing to strike eastward again after the Russian retreat, and to launch a second expedition against Kiev, but he knew this was an impossibility because of public opinion in war-torn Poland. Jan Dabski, who was selected by the Government as chief delegate to negotiate with the Russians, was a bitter critic of Pilsudski’s policy and was influenced by Dmowski. Dmowski opposed the idea of federating with the White Russians and the Ukrainians, but he believed that Poland could assimilate a fairly large proportion of the people from the regions which had been under Polish rule in the past. Consequently, at the Riga peace in early 1921, the White Russian and Ukrainian areas were partitioned between the Soviet Union and Poland, with the bulk of both areas going to the Soviet Union. Federalism had been abandoned as an immediate policy, and the followers of Pilsudski resorted to Dmowski’s program of assimilating the minorities.

The Polish people who had been influenced by the romanticist ideas of Henryk Sienkiewicz, the popular Polish author, denounced the Riga peace as an abandonment of their ancient eastern territories. Pilsudski himself shared this view, and in a lecture on August 24, 1923, he blamed “the lack of moral strength of the nation” for the Polish failure to conquer the Ukraine following the victory at Warsaw in 1920.

The Dmowski disciples chafed at their failure to realize many of their aspirations against Germany in the West. It seemed that no one in Poland was satisfied with the territorial limits attained by the new state, although most foreign observers, whether friendly or hostile, believed that Poland had obtained far more territory than was good for her. It soon became evident that the post war course of Polish expansion had closed with the Riga peace, and with the partition of Upper Silesia. Poland had reached the limits of her ability to exploit the confusion which had followed in the wake of World War I. Her choices were to accept her gains as sufficient and to seek to retain all or most of them, or to bide her time while awaiting a new opportunity to realize her unsatisfied ambitions. The nature of her future foreign policy depended on the outcome of the struggle for power within Poland.

The Czechs during the Russo-Polish war had consolidated their control over most of the rich Teschen industrial district, and the Lithuanians, with the connivance of the Bolsheviks, had recovered Wilna. The Czechs were extremely popular with the Allies, and enjoyed strong support from France. The Czech leaders also had expressed their sympathy and friendship toward Bolshevik Russia in strong terms during the recent Russo-Polish war, and they had done what they could to prevent Allied war material from reaching Poland. The Poles were unable to revenge themselves upon the Czechs immediately, but, when the League of Nations awarded Wilna to Lithuania on October 8, 1920, local Polish forces under General Zeligowski seized the ancient capital of Lithuania on orders from Pilsudski. The Lithuanians received no support from the League of Nations. They refused to recognize the Polish seizure, and they protested by withdrawing their diplomatic representatives from Poland and by closing their Polish frontier. The Soviet-Polish frontier also was virtually closed, and a long salient of Polish territory in the North-East extended as far as the Dvina River and Latvia without normal economic outlets. The Lithuanians revenged themselves upon the League of Nations, which had failed to support them, by seizing the German city of Memel, which had been placed under a League protectorate similar to the one established at Danzig in 1920. It was a sad reflection on the impotence of the German Reich that a tiny new-born nation could seize an ancient Prussian city, and it also indicated the problematical nature of Woodrow Wilson’s cherished international organization, the League of Nations.

The Pilsudski Dictatorship

Years of reconstruction followed in Poland, and for a considerable time there was much talk of sweeping economic and social reforms. Poland in March 1921 adopted a democratic constitution, which lacked the approval of Pilsudski. The constant shift of party coalitions always hostile to his policies irritated him, and the assassination immediately after the election of 1922 of his friend, President Gabriel Narutowicz, did not improve matters. Pilsudski, whose prestige remained enormous, bided his time for several years, and he consolidated his control over the army. Finally, in May 1926 he seized a pretext to overthrow the existing regime. A recent shift in the party coalitions had brought his sworn enemy, Wincenty Witos, back to the premiership, and the subsequent sudden dismissal of Foreign Minister Alexander Skrzynski, in whom Pilsudski had publicly declared his confidence, was considered a sufficient provocation. Pilsudski grimly ordered his cohorts to attack the existing regime, and, after a brief civil war, he was able to take control. Fortunately for Pilsudski, Dmowski was a great thinker, but no man of action. The divided opponents of the new violence were reduced to impotence.

These events were too much even for the nationalists among the Polish socialists, and the break between Pilsudski and his former Party was soon complete. This meant that Pilsudski had no broad basis of popular support in the country, although he had obtained control of the army by gaining the confidence of its officers. He was feared and respected, but not supported, by the political parties of Poland. It seemed possible to attain the support of the Conservatives, but they required the pledge that he would not attack their economic interests. This pledge would be tantamount to the rejection of popular demands for economic reform.

Pilsudski at an October 1926 conference in Nieswicz arrived at a far-reaching agreement with the great Conservative landowners led by Prince Eustachy Sapieha, Count Artur Potocki, and Prince Albrecht Radziwill. On this occasion, Stanislaw Radziwill, a hero of the 1920 war from a famous family, was awarded posthumously the Virtuti Militari, which was the highest decoration the new state could bestow. Pilsudski declared himself to be neither a man of party nor of social class, but the representative of the entire nation. His hosts in turn graciously insisted that Pilsudski’s family background placed him equal among them, not only as a noble, but as a representative of the higher nobility.

The effect of these negotiations was soon apparent. In December 1925 a land reform law had been passed calling for the redistribution of up to five million acres of land annually for a period of ten years. Most of the land subdivided by the Government was taken from the Germans and distributed among the Poles. This intensified minority grievances by depriving thousands of German agricultural laborers of their customary employment with German landowners. Nothing was done on the agricultural scene to cope with the pressing problem of rural overpopulation in Poland. The Polish peasantry was increasing at a more rapid rate than the urbanites, and the city communities, with their relatively small population, could not absorb the increase. The backward Polish system of agriculture, except on a few of the largest estates, and the absence of extensive peasant land ownership in many areas, increased the inevitable hardship of the two decades of reconstruction which followed World War I. The large number of holdings so small as to be totally inadequate was about the same in 1939 as it had been in 1921. The regime after 1926 increased the speed of the reallocation of the most poorly distributed small holdings, but the scope of this policy was minor in relation to the total farm problem. The Peasant Party leaders, who were soon persecuted by Pilsudski for their opposition to his regime, were regarded as martyrs in the Polish countryside, where the new system was denounced with hatred.

The Polish socialists had sufficiently consolidated their influence over the urban workers by the time of Pilsudski’s coup d’Etat to control most of the municipal elections. The socialist leaders turned against Pilsudski, and chronic industrial unemployment and scarce money embittered the Polish urban scene. The industrialization of Congress Poland had proceeded rapidly during the two generations before World War I, and progress in textiles was especially evident. The Russian market was lost as a result of the war, and Polish exports were slow to climb tariff barriers abroad, while low purchasing power restricted the home market. Profits in Polish industry were not sufficient to attract truly large foreign investments, although much of the existing industry was under foreign capitalistic control. Despite a 25% increase in the population of Poland between 1913 and 1938, the Polish volume of industrial products passed the 1913 level only in 1938, and the volume of real wages in Poland had still failed to do so. As a result of economic stagnation, the new regime was able to offer the Poles very little to distract them from their political discontent.

These unfavorable conditions illustrate the situation of the Polish regime on the domestic front, and they offer a parallel to the unfavorable relations of Poland with most of her neighbors in the years immediately after 1926, and especially with the Soviet Union, Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Lithuania. The domestic and foreign scenes presented a perpetual crisis which accustomed the Polish leadership to maintain its composure, and to develop an astonishing complacency under adverse conditions. Roman Dmowski on the home front in December 1926 directly challenged Pilsudski’s claim to represent the nation by establishing his own Camp of Great Poland. For nearly four years this organization dominated the ideological scene. It demanded the improvement of relations with Russia, the permanent renunciation of federalism, the intensification of nationalism, a program to assimilate the minorities, and a plan to expel the Jews.

Pilsudski retaliated with great severity on September 10, 1930, by means of a purge organized by Walery Slawek. No one dared to silence Dmowski, but Pilsudski deprived him of many followers, and adopted many of his ideas. The arrest of opposition leaders, the use of the concentration camp system, and the adoption of terroristic tactics during elections intimidated the opposition at least temporarily. A new coalition of Government supporters was able to obtain 247 of 444 seats in the Sejm elected in November 1930. This was the first major election won by Pilsudski.

There was much talk about a governing clique of colonels in Poland, and many of the principal advisers and key officials of the new regime held that rank. This situation reflected Pilsudski’s policy of rewarding his military collaborators and disciples. These men were intensely loyal, and their admiration for their chief, whom they regarded as infallible, knew no limits. They energetically adopted Dmowski’s campaign against the minorities, and they discussed many plans for a new constitution which would buttress the executive power and reverse the democratic principles of the 1921 document. It was claimed that the 1921 constitution had been constructed with a jealous eye on Pilsudski, and that this explained its purpose in placing extraordinary limits on the executive power, and in providing for a weak president on the French model.

The key to the 1935 document, of which Walery Slawek was the chief author, was a presidency sufficiently powerful to “place the government in one house,” and to control all branches of the state, including the Sejm, the Senate, the armed forces, the police, and the courts of justice. The president also was given wide discretionary powers in determining his successor.

The Polish Dictatorship After Pilsudski’s Death

Pilsudski died of cancer in May 1935 at the comparatively early age of sixty-eight. This raised the question of the succession in the same year that the new constitution was promulgated, and Walery Slawek hoped to become the Polish strong man. He was widely regarded as the most able of Pilsudski’s collaborators, and the conspiracy of the other disciples against him has often been regarded as a major cause of the misfortunes which soon overtook Poland. A carefully organized coalition, which was originally based on an understanding between Ignaz Moscicki, the Polish scientist in politics, and Edward Smigly-Rydz, the military leader, succeeded in isolating Slawek and in eliminating his influence. The constitution of 1935 had been designed by Slawek for one powerful dictator, but the new collective dictatorship was able to operate under it for the next few years. Walery Slawek committed suicide in April 1939, when it seemed increasingly probable that the collective leadership would submerge the new Polish state in disaster.

There is an impressive analysis of the new Polish state by Colonel Ignacy Matuszewski, one of Pilsudski’s principal disciples. It was written shortly after the death of the Marshal. It reads more like an obituary than a clarion call to a system lasting and new, and its author is extraordinarily preoccupied with the personality and actions of Pilsudski at the expense of current problems and the road ahead. In this respect the book mirrored the trend of the era, because this was indeed the state of mind of the epigoni who ruled Poland from 1935 to 1939.

Matuszewski was editor of the leading Government newspaper, Gazeta Polska, from 1931 to 1936, and later he was president of the Bank of Warsaw, the key financial organ of the regime. Originally he had been a disciple of Dmowski and an officer in the Tsarist forces, but he gladly relinquished both for the Pilsudski cause in 1917. He was one of the heroes in the 1920-1921 war with Russia, and he remained with the Army until the coup d’Etat of 1926, which he favored. He had an important part in Polish diplomacy both in Warsaw and abroad during the years from 1926 to 1931.

His book, Proby Syntez (Trial Synthesis), appeared in 1937. It defined the Polish regime ideologically and explained its aims. The author’s thought, like Roman Dmowski’s, was influenced mainly by the political philosophy of Hegel.

Matuszewski declared that it was the will of the Polish nation to secure and maintain its national freedom. He believed that only the condition of the Polish race would decide Poland’s ability to exercise this will. He added that the extraordinary achievement of one man had simplified Polish endeavors. He listed 1905, 1914, 1918, 1920, and 1926 as the years in which Pilsudski raised Poland from oblivion. In 1905, during a major Russian revolution, Pilsudski led the Polish radical struggle against Russia. In 1914 he led the Polish military struggle against Russia. In 1918 he returned from Magdeburg to arrange for the evacuation of Poland by the Germans. In 1920 he led the Poles to victory over Communist Russia. In 1926 he crushed the conflicting elements at home and unified Poland.

Matuszewski ominously warned his readers that the Polish national struggle of the 20th century had scarcely begun when Pilsudski died. He insisted that Poland had far-reaching problems to solve both at home and abroad. He described the 1926 coup d’Etat as an important step on the home front, and as a victory over anarchy. He declared that the first Sejm had shown that Poland could not afford to surrender the executive power to legislative authority. He extolled the 1935 constitution which invested the basic power in the presidency. He maintained that unless the government of Poland was kept in one building (i.e., unless central control was completely simplified), the country would have civil war instead of domestic peace.

Matuszewski argued, as did other advocates of authoritarian systems, that the Polish regime retained a truly democratic character. He praised the Government for an allegedly enlightened awareness of the traditional past, in contrast to the Dmowski group, and for an awareness of the traditional needs of Poland. He also argued that the fixed ideological dogmas of such other authoritarian regimes as Russia, Italy, and Germany deprived them of flexibility in responding to popular needs, and consequently gave them an “aristocratic character” which he claimed Poland lacked, he described the constitutional regime of 1935 as a “traditional synthesis” and not an arbitrary system.

It was to his credit that Matuszewski did not claim a broad basis of popular support for the existing Polish system. He did assume from his theory of statism that it would eventually be possible to bridge the gulf between the wishes of the citizens and the policy of the state without sacrificing the essential principles of the system. Matuszewski regarded his book, his numerous articles, and his editorials as contributions to an educational process which would one day accomplish this.

Matuszewski denied any affinity between Poland and the other authoritarian states or Western liberal regimes. He proclaimed Polish originality in politics to be a precious heritage for all Poles who cared to appreciate it. It was not his purpose to cater to whims and fancies, but to reshape mistaken systems of values. The people would not be allowed to impose their will on the new Polish state, either in domestic affairs or foreign policy. Whatever happened would be the responsibility of the small clique governing the nation.

Matuszewski neglected to mention that there were people in Poland not opposed to the regime who regarded the future with misgiving for quite another reason. They feared that the governing clique lacked the outstanding leadership necessary to promote the success of any system, whatever its theoretical foundations.

The new Polish state on the domestic front faced many grave problems arising from unfavorable economic conditions, the dissatisfaction of minorities, and the general unpopularity of the regime. The situation was precarious, but far from hopeless. Within the context of a cautious and conservative foreign policy, which was indispensable under the circumstances, the Polish state might have strengthened its position without outstanding leadership. It was indisputable that foreign policy was the most crucial issue facing Poland when Pilsudski died.

If Poland allowed herself, despite her awareness of past history, to become the instrument of the old and selfish balance of power system of distant Great Britain, if she rejected comprehensive understandings with her greater neighbors, and if she became involved in conflicts beyond her own strength, her future would bring terrible disappointments. The new Polish state could not possibly survive under these circumstances.

The issue can merely be suggested at this point. Later it will become clear how great were the opportunities, and how much was lost. The situation, despite its problems, held promise when Pilsudski died.

Chapter 2 • The Roots of Polish Policy • 8,800 Words
Pilsudski’s Inconclusive German Policy — The Career of Jozef Beck — The Hostility between Weimar Germany and Poland — Pilsudski’s Plans for Preventive War against Hitler — The 1934 German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact — Beck’s Position Strengthened by Pilsudski — Beck’s Plan for Preventive War in 1936 — Hitler’s Effort to Promote German-Polish Friendship — The Dangers of an Anti-German Policy

Pilsudski’s Inconclusive German Policy

The Polish Government was concerned on the home front from 1935 to 1939 with plans for the industrialization of Poland, and in doing what could be done to gain popular support for the regime. These endeavors were relatively simple compared to the conduct of Polish foreign policy during the same period. There was a mystery in Polish foreign policy: what was the real Polish attitude toward Germany? An answer is necessary in explaining all other aspects of Polish policy. This question does not apply to the early period of the new Polish state because there was no real chance for a Polish-German understanding during the 1919-1933 period of the German Weimar Republic. The weakness of the Weimar Republic would automatically have confined any understanding to the status quo established by the Treaty of Versailles, and Poland made several overtures to reach an agreement with Germany on this basis. These overtures were futile, because the leaders of the Weimar Republic considered that the status quo of 1919 was intolerable for Germany.

The situation changed before Pilsudski died. Germany became stronger, and relations between Germany and Poland improved after a ten year non-aggression pact was concluded by the two countries on January 26, 1934. This non-aggression pact failed to include German recognition of the 1919 status quo, but the Polish leaders no longer expected Germany to recognize it. It was understood among Pilsudski’s entourage that Hitler was more moderate about this question than his predecessors. It also was clear by 1935 that Hitler desired more than a mere truce with Poland. He recognized the key position of Poland in the East, and he was aiming at a policy of close collaboration. This had become one of his most important goals.

It was current Polish policy when Pilsudski died in 1935 to place relations with Germany and the Soviet Union on an equal basis. This was not what Hitler had in mind. Polish policy seemed to remain unchanged during the following years while Germany continued to recover her former strength. It was questionable if the Polish leaders would permit any change in policy toward Germany.

German foreign policy from 1933 to 1939 emphasized the need to cope with the alleged danger to European civilization from Bolshevism. This was less vital to Hitler than the recovery of German power, but the steps he took to revise the Paris peace treaties of 1919 were explained as measures necessary to strengthen Germany and Europe against Bolshevism. The position of Poland between Germany and the Soviet Union indicated that Hitler would require complete clarity about Polish policy. Poland’s unfortunate geographical position made an ambiguous Polish policy the one thing which Hitler could not tolerate indefinitely. The Polish leaders recognized at an early date that Poland would be compelled to choose between the roles of friendly neighbor or enemy of Germany. The choice was not a foregone conclusion if Hitler was prepared to be generous to Poland, and by 1939 the Polish diplomats were in disagreement about this crucial issue. They wished to treat the problem as Pilsudski would have done, but it was impossible to fulfill indefinitely the intentions of their deceased leader. Conditions continued to change after his death.

An American parallel offers an illustration of this problem. President Roosevelt issued instructions for the use of atomic weapons while Germany was still participating in World War II. He died before the end of war with Germany. President Truman claimed to be following Roosevelt’s policy when he ordered the use of atomic weapons against Japan in August 1945, but neither he nor his advisers knew whether Roosevelt would have permitted this atrocity after the unconditional surrender of Germany. This is another example of the dilemma presented to epigoni by changing circumstances.

Pilsudski was renowned for his ability to adapt his policies to changing circumstances. If he had died in 1932, his successors would never have known whether or not he would have concluded the non-aggression pact of 1932 with Germany. It was impressive when the followers of Pilsudski spoke of carrying out the policies of the dead Marshal. In reality, they had to conduct their own policies. It would be a disadvantage whenever they thought they were responding to the wishes of Pilsudski. Independent judgment is the most essential attribute of foreign policy. Nothing is more fatal for it than the weight of a dead man’s hand.

The Career of Jozef Beck

The leadership of Poland was collective after 1935, but primary responsibility for the conduct of foreign policy rested with Colonel Jozef Beck. He was appointed foreign minister in 1932. He held this post until the Polish collapse in 1939, and he considered no one in Poland to be his equal in the field of foreign relations.

Beck was descended from a Lower German family which had emigrated to Poland several hundred years earlier. His affluent father had conspired against the Russians and had been imprisoned by them. His mother came from a family of land-owning gentry in the region of Cholm. Beck was born at Warsaw in 1894, but he received his earliest impressions in the German cultural environment of Riga, where his family moved shortly after his birth. The family soon decided to elude the persecutions of the Russians altogether, and in 1900 they moved to Austrian Galicia.

Beck went to school in Krakow and Lvov, and he improved his contact with the Germans by a period of study in Vienna. He was nineteen years of age when World War I came. He had no political affiliations, but he decided at once to join Pilsudski’s Forces. He followed Pilsudski’s line of opposing the Polish Council of State in 1917, and he was interned by the Germans. He was released when he offered to join a Hungarian regiment. His admiration for the Magyars was increased by military service with them. He became intimately acquainted during this period with the Carpatho-Ukrainian area, which acquired decisive importance for Poland in 1938. He returned to service in the Polish Army at the end of World War I, and he participated in the Russo-Polish War of 1920-1921. He achieved distinction in this war, and he was frequently in close personal contact with Pilsudski in the fighting along the Niemen River during the autumn of 1920. A military alliance was concluded between France and Poland shortly before the close of the Russo-Polish War, and Beck was selected to represent the Polish Army in France as military attaché.

Beck was satisfied to remain with the Army, and he was on active service until after the coup d’Etat of 1926. Pilsudski then selected him as his principal assistant in conducting the business of the War Office, which was personally directed by the Marshal. Pilsudski was disconcerted in 1930 by the inclination of Foreign Minister Zaleski to take the League of Nations seriously. It was evident that a change was required. Pilsudski recognized the problematical character of League pretensions, although he admitted that they could sometimes be exploited for limited purposes. He decided that Beck should terminate his military career, and enter diplomacy. He knew that he could trust Beck to share his views. Beck was appointed Under-Secretary of State at the Polish Foreign Office in December 1930. He succeeded Zaleski as Foreign Minister in November 1932.

Beck’s ability to get on well with Pilsudski for many years reveals much about his personality. He had a sense of humor, and an ability to distinguish between pretentious sham and reality. His successful career also reveals personal bravery, a good education, and extensive administrative experience. He had personal charm and sharpness of intellect. He had never known reverses in his career, and he possessed a supreme degree of confidence in his own abilities. This success was a weakness, because it made Beck arrogant and disinclined to accept advice from others after Pilsudski’s death. The relationship between Pilsudski and Beck was based on the prototypes of father and son, with Beck in the role of the gifted, but slightly spoiled son.

Pilsudski appointed Count Jan Szembek to succeed Beck as Under-secretary of State at the Polish Foreign Office. Szembek was the brother-in-law of an earlier Polish Foreign Minister, Count Skrzynski, who had been a favorite of the Marshal Szembek had acquired valuable experience as a diplomat of Austria-Hungary, and after 1919 he had represented Poland at Budapest, Brussels, and Bucharest. Pilsudski relied on Szembek to exert a steadying influence on Beck. It was unfortunate that Beck usually ignored Szembek’s advice during the difficult months prior to the outbreak of World War ll.

The Hostility between Weimar Germany and Poland

The improvement of German-Polish relations after 1934 contrasted with the en mity which had existed between the two nations during the preceding years. A German-Polish trade war had begun in 1925 shortly before Pilsudski took power in Poland. This was an especially severe economic blow to Poland, because 43,2% of Polish exports had gone to Germany in 1924, and 34.5% of Polish imports had been received from the Germans. A trade treaty was finally signed by Germany and Poland in March 1930. It would have mitigated some of the hardship caused by five years of economic warfare, but it was rejected by the German Reichstag.

The Locarno treaties of October 16, 1925, were considered to be a diplomatic defeat for Poland. They provided for the guarantee of the German borders with Belgium and France, and for the improvement of German relations with those two Powers. The Poles at Locarno raised the question of a German guarantee of the Polish frontiers without success. It was easy for German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann to convice the British and French that such a guarantee would be an impossibility for Germany. This event terminated the uniform treatment of all European frontiers under the Paris treaties, and it produced a distinction between favored western and second-class eastern frontiers. This distinction implied a victory for the doctrine of eastern territorial revision in favor of Germany.

The 1926 Russo-German Treaty of Friendship followed Locarno, and if offered a basis for the coordination of Russian and German programs of territorial revision at Poland’s expense. The Russians had urged an anti-Polish understanding since the economic agreement of 1922 with the Germans at Rapallo. Stresemann gave the Russians an explicit assurance after Locarno that Germany planned to conduct her territorial revision at Poland’s expense in close collaboration with the Soviet Union.

The British considered themselves free of any obligation to defend the Poles against German or Russian revisionism. Sir Austen Chamberlain, the British Foreign Secretary at the time of Locarno, paraphrased Bismarck when he said that the eastern questions were not worth the bones of a single British grenadier. Poland had her 1921 military pact with France, but the Allied evacuation of the Rhineland in 1930 modified the earlier assumption that French military power was omnipresent in Europe. Pilsudski distrusted the French, and he resented their policy of favoring the Czechs over Poland. He was convinced that Czechoslovakia would not survive as an independent state.

Relations between Russia and Poland appeared to improve somewhat after 1928 and the inauguration of the Soviet First Five Year Plan, which absorbed Russian energies in gigantic changes on the domestic front. An additional factor was Russian preoccupation with the Far East after the Russo-Chinese War of 1929 and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931. This trend culminated in the 1932 Russo-Polish non-agression pact, and in the understanding that the Soviet Union would not aid Germany in a German-Polish conflict. The Russians were not informed that the Polish-Rumanian alliance of 1921 was directed exclusively against the Soviet Union. They made no inquiries about the alliance when they signed their treaty with Poland. This was natural, because the initiative for the Russo-Polish treaty came from Russia.

The policy of Poland toward Germany during the last years of the Weimar Republic was a combination of threats and an effort to keep Germany impotent. Polish Foreign Minister Zaleski told the President of the Danzig Senate in September 1930 that only a Polish army corps could solve the Danzig question. The Brüning Government in Berlin frankly feared a Polish attack during 1931. The general disarmament conference opened at Geneva in February 1932 after a twelve year delay. Poland opposed the disarmament of the Allied nations or the removal of restrictions on German arms contained in the Treaty of Versailles. It was feared at Geneva that Pilsudski’s decision to send the warship Wicher to Danzig in June 1932 was a Polish plot to seize Danzig in the fashion of the earlier Lithuanian seizure of Memel. Pilsudski received many warnings against action of this kind. Pilsudski was merely intimidating the Germans. He would have liked to take Danzig, but he considered the step impossible while the West was conducting a policy of conciliation toward Germany.

Pilsudski’s Plans for Preventive War against Hitler

Adolf Hitler was appointed German Chancellor by President Paul von Hindenburg on January 30, 1933. Pilsudski regarded Hitler as less dangerous to Poland than his immediate predecessors, Papen and Schleicher, but the Polish policy of hostility toward Germany went further in 1933 than in 1932. This was because Pilsudski viewed the appointment of Hitler as an effective pretext for Allied action against Germany. Pilsudski’s 1933 plans for preventive war against the Germans have been a controversial topic for many years, and there have been impressive efforts to refute the contention that Pilsudski did have such plans. The question remained in doubt until 1958. Lord Vansittart, with the approval of the British Government, revealed the authenticity of the Pilsudski war proposals of 1933 twenty-five years after the event. He observed that Pilsudski’s plans were “an idea, of which too little has been heard.” Vansittart believed that a war against Germany in 1933 might have been won with about 30,000 casualties. He added that in World War II Hitler was “removed at a cost of 30,000,000 lives.” Vansittart revealed that the opposition of the British Government to the plans in 1933 was the decisive factor in discouraging the French, and in prompting them to reject a preventive war. It should be added that Pilsudski’s willingness to throttle a weak Germany in 1933 provides no clue to the policy he might have pursued toward a strong Germany in 1939.

Hitler told a British correspondent on February 12, 1933, that the status quo in the Polish Corridor contained injustices for Germany which would have to be removed. The Conservative Government in Danzig several days later adopted a defiant attitude toward Poland in a dispute concerning the mixed Danzig-Polish Harbor Police Commission. News of these events reached Pilsudski at the vacation resort of Pikiliszi in Northern Poland. He decided to conduct a demonstration against the Germans at the worst possible moment for them, on the day following their national election of March 5, 1933. The Polish warship Wilja disembarked Polish troops at the Westerplatte arsenal in Danzig harbor during the early morning of March 6, 1933. Kasimierz Papée, the Polish High Commissioner in Danzig, informed Helmer Rosting, the Danish League High Commissioner, that the Polish step countered recent allegedly threatening events in Danzig. The Poles, it should be noted, were inclined to distort the demonstrations of the local National Socialist SA (Storm Units) as troop movements. Pilsudski supported his first move several days later by concentrating Polish troops in the Corridor. His immediate objective was to occupy East Prussia with the approval and support of France.

Hitler was not inclined to take the Polish threat seriously despite warnings from Hans Adolf von Moltke, the German Minister at Warsaw. The German generals were worried about possible aggressive Polish action, and they reported to Defense Minister Werner von Blomberg that Germany had almost no chance in a war against Poland. This would even be true if Poland attacked without allies. The Danzig authorities enlisted British support against Poland at Geneva, and Sir John Simon, the British Foreign Secretary, delivered a sharply critical speech to Jozef Beck in the League Council. The Danzig authorities promised to conciliate Poland in the issues of current dispute, and Beck announced on March 14, 1933, that Poland would soon withdraw her reinforcements from Danzig.

The internal situation in Germany was calm again at this juncture, and Hitler turned his attention to relations with Poland. He launched efforts to conciliate the Poles and to win their confidence, and these became permanent features of his policy. He intervened directly in Danzig affairs to establish quiet, and he endeavored to win the Poles by direct assurances. These efforts were temporarily and unintentionally frustrated by Mussolini’s Four Power Pact Plan of March 17, 1933, which envisaged revision for Germany at Polish expense in the hope of diverting the Germans from their interest in Austria. Pilsudski responded by resuming his plans for military action against Germany in April 1933. A series of unfortunate incidents contributed to the tension. A wave of persecution against the Germans living in Poland culminated in ‘Black Palm Sunday’ at Lodz on April 9, 1933. German property was damaged, and local Germans suffered beatings and humiliations.

Hitler adopted a positive attitude toward the Four Power Pact Plan because he admired Mussolini and desired to improve relations with his Western neighbors, but he explained in a communiqué of May, 1933, that he did not intend to exploit this project to obtain concessions from Poland. This announcement followed a conversation of Hitler and German Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath with the Polish Minister at Berlin. The conversation convinced Hitler that it might be possible to reach an understanding with Poland.

The Four Power Pact (Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy) was signed on June 7, 1933, but French reservations rendered it useless. This did not prevent the Poles from regarding the Pact as a continuation of Locarno diplomacy at the expense of Poland. Jozef Beck condemned the Four Power Pact on June 8, 1933. Hitler’s assurances in May 1933 had produced some effect and Beck did not direct any special criticism toward Germany.

The ultimate aims of German policy in Eastern Europe were never clearly defined, but Hitler was shaping a definite policy toward Poland. Hitler had said little about Poland from 1930 to 1933 while the National Socialists were rapidly increasing their influence in Germany prior to heading the Government. It was widely assumed that Hitler was anti-Polish because his chief ideological spokesman, Alfred Rosenberg, had written a book, Die Zukunft einer deutschen Aussenpolitik (A Future German Foreign Policy, Munich, 1927), which contained a number of sharply anti-Polish observations. Hitler in 1933 experienced no difficulty in correcting the views of Rosenberg, a mild-mannered and devoted subordinate, and he began to combat the wishes of the German Army and German Foreign Office for an anti-Polish and pro-Soviet policy. Hitler began to envisage a full-scale alliance between Germany and Poland. He terminated the last military ties between Russia and Germany in the autumn of 1933, and military collaboration between the two countries became a thing of the past. The political situation within Danzig was clarified by the election of May 28, 1933. The National Socialists obtained the majority of votes, and they formed a Government. Hitler in the future could exert the decisive influence in that crucial and sensitive area.

It gradually became apparent that Polish fears of an anti-Polish policy under Hitler were without foundation. King Gustav V of Sweden had predicted to the Poles that this would be the case. The Swedish monarch was aware of foreign policy statements made to prominent Swedes by Hermann Göring, the number 2 National Socialist leader of Germany. Göring had realized that Hitler was not inclined toward an anti-Polish policy long before this was evident to the world.

On May 30, 1933, Pilsudski announced the appointment of Jozef Lipski as Polish Minister to Berlin. Lipski was born in Germany of Polish parents in 1894. He was friendly toward Germany, and he favored German-Polish cooperation. His appointment was a hint that Pilsudski wished to support Hitler’s efforts to improve relations with Poland. Under-Secretary Jan Szembek presented a favorable report on recent developments in Germany after a visit in August 1933, and discussions were held in Warsaw and Berlin to improve German-Polish trade relations.

A last crisis in German-Polish relations in 1933 took place when Hitler withdrew Germany from the League of Nations. This step on October 19, 1933, was a response to the Simon disarmament plan of October 14th which denied Germany equality nearly twenty-one months after the opening of the disarmament conference. Pilsudski could not resist this opportunity of returning to his plans for military action while Germany was weak, and history would have taken a different course had the French supported his plans. Hitler was extremely worried by the possibility of retaliation against Germany. He urged the other German leaders to exercise extreme caution in their utterances on foreign affairs, and on every possible occasion he insisted that Germany was dedicated to policies of peace and international cooperation.

The 1934 German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact

An important meeting took place between Hitler and Lipski on November 15, 1933. The French had refused to support Pilsudski in a war against Germany. Hitler gave new assurances of his desire for friendship with Poland. A sensation was caused on the following day by a German-Polish communiqué which announced the intention of the two countries to conclude a non-aggression pact. The Czechs since May 1933 had enjoyed the prospect of an improvement in German-Polish relations which would exacerbate relations between Paris and Warsaw. The Czech envoys in Berlin and Warsaw after November 16, 1933, confirmed these expectations which had first been expressed by Stephan Osusky, the Minister of Prague at Paris.

Pilsudski hesitated once more in December 1933 before he gave his final order to conclude the Pact. His attitude toward the treaty at the time of signature was frankly cynical. He believed that the Pact might postpone a day of reckoning between Germany and Poland, but he doubted if it would endure for the ten year period specified in its terms. He believed it could be used to strengthen the diplomatic position of Poland. The Czechs were right about French resentment toward Poland, but they were wrong in their expectation that France would react by ignoring Polish interests. France cultivated closer relations with Poland after January 1934 in a manner which had been unknown in earlier years.

Hitler regarded the Pact as a personal triumph over the German Foreign Office, the German Army, and the German Conservatives. The role of President von Hindenburg was important in questions of foreign policy until his death in August 1934, and Hindenburg was identified with the groups hostile toward Hitler. Hitler had succeeded in convincing the old President that an improvement in relations with Poland was a wise step. He promised him that no proposals for eventual German-Polish action against Russia had been made in connection with the Pact.

Hitler knew that the non-aggression pact was merely a first step in his courtship of Poland. This fact received emphasis from Beck’s visit to Moscow in February 1934. No other Polish visit of this kind took place during the period from World War I to World War II, and Beck’s visit was a deliberate demonstration. The purpose of the visit was to show that Poland was maintaining impartiality in her own relations with Russia and Germany while Russo-German relations were deteriorating.

A series of practical agreements were concluded between Germany and Poland after Beck returned from Russia. These concerned border traffic, radio broadcasts, activities of journalists in the respective countries, and the exchange of currency. The world was much impressed by the sensible pattern of German-Polish relations in contrast to the earlier period. The 1934 Pact doubtless increased the prestige of both Germany and Poland. It would be difficult to determine which country received the greater benefit. The Poles were not willing to attack Germany without French aid, which was not available. The Germans were powerless to revise the Versailles Treaty by force. A policy of German collaboration with the Russians might have hurt the Poles, and a policy of Polish collaboration with the Czechs might have injured Germany. These alternative policies were discussed in various quarters, but both would have been difficult to implement at the time. The Pact was an asset to both parties, and it brought approximately equal benefits to both.

Jan Szembek played in important role on behalf of the Pact on the Polish side with his conversations in Germany and the Western countries. A similar role was played on the German side by Joseph Goebbels, German Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment. Beck accepted an invitation to discuss current problems at Geneva with Goebbels and German Foreign Minister von Neurath in the autumn of 1933. Beck later observed that the motive “of knowing his adversaries” was sufficient to prompt his acceptance. Beck and Goebbels communicated without difficulty, and the Polish Foreign Minister was not offended when the German propaganda expert referred to the League as “a modern tower of Babel.” Beck explained that Poland intended to remain in the League, but she had no objection to bilateral pacts which ignored the League. Goebbels assured Beck that Hitler was prepared to renounce war as an instrument of German policy toward Poland, and to recognize the importance to Poland of the Franco-Polish alliance. Beck agreed not to raise the question of a German guarantee of the Polish frontier. The clarification of these points was decisive for the conclusion of the Pact.

Joseph Goebbels came to Warsaw in the summer of 1934, and his visit was a great success. Hermann Göring began a series of annual visits to Poland in the autumn of the same year. The exchange of views in 1934 between Göring and the Polish leaders on the Czech situation and the German and Polish minorities of Czechoslovakia was especially significant. Göring criticized the contrast between the liberal Czech facade, and the actual stern police policies directed against the Germans, Poles, Slovaks, Hungarians, and Ruthenians. Pilsudski assured Göring that the Czechs were neither respected nor loved in Poland. Göring advocated an alliance between Poland and Germany within a common anti-Soviet front, but Pilsudski displayed no inclination to coordinate Polish policy with German aims in the East. He evaded Göring’s suggestion by observing that Poland was pursuing a policy of moderation toward Russia.

Beck’s Position Strengthened by Pilsudski

Beck attempted to follow up the 1934 Pact by securing Polish equality with the Great Powers. He insisted that Poland, “in all objectivity,” was a Great Power, and he retaliated against all slights received by Polish leaders. He had visited Paris shortly after his own appointment as Polish Foreign Minister, but he had not been received at the railroad station by French Foreign Minister Joseph Paul Boncour. Louis Barthou, a later French Foreign Minister sincerely admired by Beck, visited Warsaw in April 1934. Beck refused to meet him at the station, and he evidently enjoyed this opportunity to settle accounts. It was not surprising that a sharp note of tension pervaded the Warsaw atmosphere during the Barthou visit.

Beck had another reason for dissatisfaction at this time. He had tried in vain to secure an agreement from the League Council which would relieve Poland from unilateral servitudes in the treatment of minorities under article 93 of the Versailles Treaty. Beck was on the watch for some pretext to repudiate this part of the 1919 settlement. An opportunity arrived with the decision to admit the Soviet Union to the League of Nations in September 1934. Beck declared that it would be intolerable to permit a Communist state to intervene in Polish affairs. He added that it was necessary to abrogate article 93 before Russia attempted to exploit it as a League member. The abrogation took place on September 13, 1934, five days before the Soviet Union entered the League.

Pilsudski held an important conference on foreign policy with Beck and other Polish leaders at Belvedere Palace after Barthou departed from Warsaw in April 1934. Pilsudski conceded that Poland enjoyed a favorable situation, but he predicted that it would not endure. He announced that plans existed for every war time eventuality, but it would require great efforts to increase Polish strength to a point where these plans might be pursued with some prospect of success. He denounced anyone who suspected that attractive personalities among the German leaders had caused him to modify Polish foreign policy, and he insisted that no foreigners should be allowed to influence Polish policy. President Moscicki, who presided at the conference, confirmed the fact that he had inspected the Marshal’s various war plans.

Everyone was impressed when Pilsudski made a special gesture of expressing personal confidence in Beck and in his successful conduct of Polish foreign policy. This was exceptional treatment, because the taciturn Marshal rarely complimented one subordinate in the presence of others. It was his custom to bestow rare praise in strictly private audiences. Pilsudski was obviously seeking to inspire maximum confidence in Beck among the other Polish leaders. His gesture at the conference made the position of Beck virtually impregnable.

Pilsudski addressed an important question to the Ministers which reflected his distrust of Germany after the 1934 Pact. He asked them whether danger to Poland from East or West was greater at the moment. The conference agreed that Russian imperialism had slowed down since Stalin had established his supremacy. They also recognized that both Germany and Russia were coping with important internal problems which were absorbing most of their energies at the moment. They failed to agree on a definitive answer to the Marshal’s principal question.

Pilsudski appointed a special committee under General Fabrycy to study the question. The Foreign Office was directed to collaborate with the Army in preparing a series of fact-finding reports. Edward Smigly-Rydz did not like the new agency, because it produced an overlap of Army and Foreign Office jurisdiction, and he forced it to adjourn sine die after the death of Pilsudski. The committee concluded that Russia presented the greatest threat to Poland during the period of its deliberations in 1934 and 1935.

Pilsudski customarily discussed the reports of this committee with Beck. He confided on one occasion that in 1933 he had been tempted to wage a preventive war against Germany without French support. He had decided to negotiate, because he was uncertain how the Western Powers would have reacted to a Polish campaign against Germany.

Pilsudski conducted his last conference with a foreign statesman when Anthony Eden came to Warsaw in March 1935. The British diplomat intended to proceed to Moscow. Pilsudski asked if Eden had previously discussed questions of policy with Stalin. Eden replied in the affirmative, and Pilsudski exclaimed: “I congratulate you on having had a conversation with this bandit!” The Polish Marshal hoped to participate in conversations between Beck and Pierre Laval on May 10, 1935. He intended to warn the French leader, who was about to visit Moscow, not to conclude an alliance with the Soviet Union. It was too late when Laval arrived in Warsaw, because Pilsudski was dying of cancer. Beck entertained the French Premier at a gala reception in Raczynski Palace. He hastened afterward in full dress and orders to report to the Marshal. Pilsudski greeted him with a few personal remarks characteristic of their intimacy. He then asked with customary bluntness if Beck was ever afraid. Beck replied that Poles whom Pilsudski had honored with his confidence knew no fear. Pilsudski observed that this was fortunate, because it meant Beck would have the courage to conduct Polish policy. The two men discussed the French situation, and they expressed their mutual detestation of the proposed Franco-Russian alliance.

The Marshal died on May 12, 1935. His last major decision on policy had been to oppose attempts to frustrate Hitler’s move to defy the Versailles Treaty on March 16, 1935. The remilitarization of Germany was proclaimed, and the Germans restored peacetime conscription. Pilsudski observed that it was no longer possible to intimidate Germany.

Beck’s Plan for Preventive War in 1936

There were six weeks of official mourning in Warsaw after Pilsudski’s death, and then Beck visited Berlin. Beck met Hitler for the first time. The German Chancellor proclaimed his desire to arrive at an understanding with England. He also discussed his program to maintain permanently good relations with Poland. He admitted that Germany’s current policy toward Poland could be interpreted as a tactical trick to gain time for some future day of reckoning, but he insisted that it was in reality a permanent feature of his policy. Hitler conceded that his policy toward Poland was not popular in Germany, but he assured Beck that he could maintain it. He mentioned his success in persuading President von Hindenburg to accept this policy in 1934.

Hitler warmly praised Pilsudski’s acceptance of the non-aggression pact. Beck observed that Pilsudski’s attitude had been decisive on the Polish side. He added that the general Polish attitude toward the treaty was one of distrust. Beck confided that he intended to base his own future policy on Pilsudski’s instructions. Hitler, who hoped that these instructions were favorable to Germany, made no comment, but he probably considered Beck’s remark to be extremely naive. Beck added that Pilsudski had been profoundly convinced that the decision to improve German-Polish relations was correct.

Beck concluded from this conversation that Hitler was alarmed by Pilsudski’s death, and feared that it might lead to the deterioration of German-Polish relations. Beck was also convinced that Hitler was sincere in his effort to obtain German public approval for his policy of friendship toward Poland.

The major issues of European diplomacy at this time were the problems arising from the wars in Spain and Ethiopia and the Franco-Russian alliance pact of May 1935. The alliance pact remained unratified for more than nine months after signature. The Locarno treaties of 1925 had recognized the existing alliance system of France, but this did not include an alliance with the Communist East. Hitler warned repeatedly after the signature of the pact that its ratification would, in his opinion, release Germany from her limitations of sovereignty under the Locarno treaties. The Franco-Russian pact was a direct threat to Germany, and Hitler believed that a demilitarized Rhineland, as provided at Locarno and in the Versailles Treaty, was a strategic luxury which Germany could not afford. The French were constantly discussing steps to be taken if Germany reoccupied the Rhineland, but they were unable to obtain an assurance from London that Great Britain would consider such a move to be in ‘flagrant violation’ of the Locarno treaties.

Jozef Beck asked a group of his leading diplomats on February 4, 1936, to study possible Polish obligations to France in the event of a German move. It was more than doubtful if Poland was obliged to support French action against Germany in this contingency. In reality, the principal Polish preoccupation was to discover whether or not France would act. Beck hoped for a war in alliance with France against Germany. He believed that the unpopular Polish regime would acquire tremendous prestige and advantages from a military victory over Germany. His attitude illustrates the deceptiveness of the friendship between Poland and Germany during these years, which on the Polish side was pure treachery beneath the facade. No such step against Germany after the signing of the 1934 Pact was contemplated while Pilsudski still lived. Pilsudski refused to sanction steps against Germany in 1935 when Hitler repudiated the military provisions of the Versailles Treaty.

Hitler announced at noon on March 7, 1936, that German troops were re-occupying demilitarized German territory in the West. Beck did not hesitate. He did not consider waiting for France to request military aid against Germany. He hoped to force the French hand by an offer of unlimited Polish assistance. Beck summoned French Ambassador Léon Noël on the afternoon of March 7th after a hasty telephone conversation with Edward SmiglyRydz. Beck presented the French Ambassador with an unequivocal declaration. He said that Poland would attack Germany in the East if France would agree to invade Western Germany.

Many volumes of documents explain French policy at this crucial juncture. The incumbent French Cabinet was weak, and the country was facing national elections under the unruly shadow of the emerging Popular Front. French Foreign Minister Pierre-Etienne Flandin was noted for his intimate contacts with Conservative circles in London, and he was considered to be much under British influence at this time. The indiscretions of Sir Robert Vansittart in December 1935 had enabled unscrupulous journalists to expose the Hoare-Laval Plan to conciliate Italy, and the subsequent outcry in Great Britain had wrecked the plan. This led to the overthrow of the strong Government of Pierre Laval in January 1936, and it destroyed the Stresa Front for the enforcement by Great Britain, France, and Italy, of the key treaty provisions against Germany. British opinion was aroused against Italy, and inclined to tolerate anything Hitler did at this point. The British leaders continued to favor Germany as a bulwark against French and Russian influence.

The French Military Counter-Intelligence, the famous 2nd Bureau, informed the Government that Germany had more divisions in the field than France, and that the outcome of a war between France and Germany would be doubtful in the event of French mobilization. The French did not believe that Poland was capable of striking an effective blow against Germany, and no arrangements could be made to bring the more impressive forces of the Soviet Union into the picture. It was decided that the prospect of ultimate success would not be favorable without active British support against Germany. France did not care to take the risk alone, or merely in the company of one or two weak Eastern European allies. There was danger that Great Britain might support Hitler. The fact that Hitler sent only 30,000 troops in the first wave of Rhineland occupation was not of decisive importance. French counterintelligence was less concerned about occupying the Left Bank of the Rhine than with prosecuting the war after that limited objective had been attained. French experts doubted if their armies would be able to cross the Rhine.

Beck’s effort to plunge most of Europe into war had failed. He was not entirely surprised by the French attitude, and he had taken the precaution of instructing the official Iskra Polish news agency to issue a pro-German statement about recent events on the morning of March 8th. It is impossible to find any trace of Pilsudski in tactics of this sort.

Beck soon realized that his démarche with the French had produced no effect. He contemptuously described French Foreign Minister Flandin as a weakling, and as a “most sad personage.” He hurriedly visited London in an attempt to influence the British attitude. The British were not prepared to take Beck seriously, and he suffered a rebuff. Discussions with King Edward VIII and the Conservative leaders produced no results.

The Germans failed to understand what Beck was doing during the early phase of the Rhineland crisis. Beck assumed an aloof position when the League of Nations met at London in mid-March 1936 to investigate the Rhineland affair. Beck was dissatisfied with Polish Ambassador Chlapowski at Paris, and he appointed Juliusz Lukasiewicz to succeed him. Lukasiewicz had represented Poland at Moscow for several years, and Beck considered him to be the most able of Polish envoys. The March 1936 Rhineland crisis convinced Beck that it was indispensable to have his best man at the Paris post.

Hitler’s Effort to Promote German-Polish Friendship

Hitler was content to keep Germany in the background of European developments during the remainder of 1936 and throughout 1937. Göring visited Poland again in February 1937, and he presented a new plan for closer collaboration between Poland and Germany. He supported this project with great vigor in conversations with Marshal Smigly-Rydz. He conceded that Germany would eventually request a few advantages from Poland in exchange for German concessions. He promised that the price would not be high. Hitler had empowered him to assure the Polish Marshal that Germany would not request the return of the Corridor. He added that in his own opinion Germany did not require this region. He promised that Germany would continue to oppose collaboration with Soviet Russia. Smigly-Rydz was told that Göring had refused to discuss such projects with Marshal Tukhachevsky, the Russian Army Commander, when the latter was in Berlin. Göring promised that collaboration between Germany and Poland would ban forever the Rapallo nightmare of a far-reaching agreement between the Soviet Union and Germany.

Göring did an able job of clarifying the German position in his discussions with Polish leaders, but these meetings produced no immediate fruit. Beck at this time had no intention of placing Poland in the GermanJapanese anti-Comintern front. He was pursuing a policy of complete detachment toward both Russia and Germany. He did not assume that this policy would prevent friction between Poland and her neighbors, because this was not his aim. It was his purpose to advance the position of Poland at the expense of both Germany and Russia, and this precluded collaboration with either country. His policy became more unrealistic with each passing day as Germany recovered from the blows of World War I and from the treatment she had received under the subsequent peace treaties.

The Dangers of an Anti-German Policy

Historical changes always have suggested the need for parallel adaptations of policy. A warning to this effect was offered by Olgierd Gorka, a Polish historian, on September 18, 1935, at the Polish historical conference held in Wilna. Gorka pointed out that conditions for the existence of Poland were worse in 1935 than at the time of the first partition of Poland in 1772. The population ratio between Poland and the three partitioning Powers of 1772 had been 1:2, but the population ratio between Poland on the one hand, and Germany and the Soviet Union on the other, was 1:8 in 1935. A hostile Polish policy toward both Germany and Russia was like a canary seeking to devour two cats. Gorka concluded that it was necessary for the Polish leaders to take account of these realities in the formulation of their policies.

There were many attempts during this period to analyze the heritage of Pilsudski in the conduct of Polish foreign policy. The most comprehensive was Miedzy Niemcami a Rosja (Between Germany and Russia, Warsaw, 1937) by Adolf Bochenski. It is vital to emphasize at least one of these studies in order to illustrate the extraordinary complexity of current Polish speculation of foreign policy. It must be understood that it is impossible to measure with exactitude the political influences of such a book, but the importance of Bochenski was recognized throughout the Polish émigré press following his death in action near Ancona, Italy, in 1944. Indeed, W.A. Zbyszewski, in the distinguished London Polish newspaper Wiadomosci, on December 7, 1947, went so far as to describe Adolf Bochenski as the greatest Polish intellectual of the 20th century, thus placing him, at least in this respect, ahead of Roman Dmowski. Bochenski was a member of the Krakow school of historians, both the foreign policy pursued by Jozef Beck during the following two years appeared to be in complete harmony with Bochenski’s ideas.

Bochenski, along with others of the Krakow group, was unwilling to accept the pro-Russian ideas of Dmowski and the National Democrats. He denounced Dmowski’s thesis of the bad German and good Russian neighbor.

A Pilsudski-type policy was more to Bochenski’s liking, although, like Beck, he lacked Pilsudski’s flexible approach. Bochenski argued against a policy of collaboration with either Germany or Russia under any circumstances. He regarded an eventual German attempt to recover both West Prussia and East Upper Silesia as inevitable, and he noted that Studnicki and his pro-German group were as much in fear of German territorial revision as other Poles.

War with both Germany and Russia was regarded by Bochenski as inevitable. He predicted that there would be an understanding between Hitler and Stalin, and that the Soviet Union would seek to obtain territorial revision in the West at the expense of Poland.

Bochenski’s statement that it would be unendurable for his generation of Poles to be dependent on either Germany or Russia was more emotional than factual. It was inconsistent with his numerous attacks on the large numbers of pro-Russian Poles.

The Soviet Union appeared more dangerous than Germany to Bochenski, because France constituted a greater allied weight for Poland against Germany than Rumania did against Russia, He predicted a new Russo-German war, but he was mistaken in expecting that such a conflict would ultimately guarantee “the great power status of Poland.” Had Bochenski proved, or at least made plausible, his claim that Poland could profit from such a war, he would have created an imposing theoretical basis for the reckless Polish foreign policy which he advocated. Instead, he merely returned to the familiar old story of how World War I was advantageous for Poland, and to the naive assumption that history would repeat itself in the course of a second major conflict of this sort. He was on more solid ground in claiming that Soviet-German rivalry in the 1930’s was responsible for the allegedly brilliant showing made by Beck on the European stage, but this fair-weather phenomenon was no basis for a Polish foreign policy.

Bochenski admitted that Polish opposition to both Germany and Russia would make inevitable the temporary collaboration of these two rivals against Poland. He claimed this was advantageous, because Poland was not a status quo state but a revisionist state, and conflict with Germany and Russia would justify later Polish claims against them both.

Bochenski made it quite clear that Poland was not in a position to smash either Germany or Russia by her own efforts. Poland required a disastrous international situation to destroy or weaken both Germany and Russia. Bochenski was intoxicated by the vision of distant Powers, such as Great Britain and the United States, running amok in Germany and Russia. He considered the possibility of partitioning Germany into a number of small states, but he concluded that this was unfeasible because of the irresistible national self-consciousness of the German people. He decided that it was possible to inflict greater damage on Russia than on Germany, because the former contained a huge population of hostile minorities.

Bochenski speculated that the dissolution of the Soviet Union would remove a strong potential ally of Germany, and would make it easier for Poland and France to control a defeated Germany. He admitted that “a small group” in Poland favored an alliance with Germany to smash Russia. Bochenski called Russia and Czechoslovakia the two sick men of Europe, because both states, in his opinion, contained minorities more numerous than the ruling nationality. There could be little objection in Bochenski’s view to policies working toward the destruction of both states.

Bochenski admitted that the creation of an independent Ukraine would create a problem for Poland, because such a state would always seek to obtain Volhynia and East Galicia, the Ukrainian territories controlled by Poland. He counted on a much greater conflict of interests between Russia and an independent Ukraine, and he observed that it did not matter with which of these states Poland collaborated. The primary objective was to have two states in conflict where there was now one. An independent White Russian state would add to the confusion, and to the spread of Polish influence. He noted that there was a Ukrainian minority problem within Poland with or without an independent Ukraine. The ideal solution for Bochenski would be a federal imperium in which Poland persuaded the Ukraine and White Russia associate with her.

Bochenski believed that the destruction of Russia would improve Polish relations with France. He complained that France always had sacrificed Poland to any stronger Ally in the East, and that the French policy of seeking to bring Soviet troops into the heart of Europe was contrary to the interests of Poland. The dissolution of Russia would render Poland the permanent major ally of France in the East.

Bochenski denounced the Czech state as a menace to Poland, and he ridiculed the Czechs for their allegedly fantastic claims to German territory at the close of World War I. He added that the pro-Soviet policy of the Czechs made it necessary for Poland to count them among his enemies. He recognized that Germany would inevitably profit most from the collapse of the Czech state, but he refused to accept this as an argument against an anti-Czech policy. He believed it would be calamitous for Polish interests if the Czechs succeeded in assimilating the Slovak area, and he noted that Andréas Hlinka, the popular Slovak leader, recognized this danger when he advised Slovak students to go to Budapest instead of Prague. Bochenski admitted that the Slovaks, in contrast to the Czechs, were friendly toward Germany, but he believed that Polish policy might eventually reap rewards in Slovakia.

Bochenski insisted that the Little Entente (Czechoslovakia, Rumania, Yugoslavia) combination of France was virtually dead and would not be of concern to Poland much longer. Poland was primarily interested in maintaining her own close relations with Rumania. He admitted that Rumania was pro-German be cause of the danger from Russia, but he noted that she was also pro-Polish. He hoped that it would be possible to reconcile RomanianHungarian differences, and he advocated the assignment of Ruthenia to Hungary when the Czech state was dissolved. Bochenski believed that Poland needed to establish her influence over a number of weaker neighboring states (Ukraine White Russia, Lithuania, Rumania, Hungary, Slovakia) and then proclaim her own Monroe Doctrine. He cited en passant the axiom that Poland could not afford to surrender one inch of the territory gained at Versailles or Riga. He added ominously that Poland, in the face of some irretrievable disaster, might meet the crushing fate of Hungary at Trianon in 1919.

Bochenski concluded that defeats would be in store for Poland until radical changes were made in Europe. He welcomed the allegedly inevitable future conflict between Poland and Germany. He believed that the worst thing which could happen would be to have a Communist Russia in the East and a Communist German state to the West of Poland. It is easy to see today that this is exactly what did happen as the result of the adoption and pursuit of the policy advocated by Bochenski.

Allied propagandists in the period of World War I were in the habit of citing obscure German books, which scarcely anyone Germany had ever read, to prove the alleged rapacity and baseness of Germany. This type of propaganda has made every later attempt to cite an allegedly important book understandably suspect. Nevertheless, Bochenski’s book contained the blueprint of Polish policy during the 1935-1939 period, and it was the most important book on foreign policy which appeared in Poland at that time. Its salient points were accompanied by several brilliant insights into the earlier epochs of European history.

Bochenski advocated a policy of blood and disasters. He decried any attempts to arrive at understandings with either Germany or Russia. He conceded that Polish enmity toward Germany and the Soviet Union would lead to collaboration between these two states. He pointed to an illusory rainbow in the sky, but this was scant consolation for the Poles who would fail to survive. He felt no compunction in desiring the ruin and destruction of the principal neighbors of Poland.

The salvation of Poland depended upon the repudiation of this policy. Bochenski declared that Poland would not give up one inch of territory obtained as a result of World War I and its aftermath. He insisted that Germany would eventually demand large stretches of former German territory. It remained to be seen what the Polish leaders would say when Hitler agreed to recognize the Polish Western frontier and to forego any German claim to the former German territories held by Poland. In 1937 it was still not too late for Poland. Conditions in Europe were changing, but Polish policy could reflect the change. The danger was that Great Britain would ultimately encourage Poland to challenge Germany and plunge the new Polish state into hopeless destruction. The roots of Polish policy were in the experiences of World War I. If the Polish leaders could be shown that the changes in Europe precluded the repetition of World War I, they might be expected to adapt their policy to new conditions. On the other hand, if Great Britain announced anew her intention to destroy Germany despite the absence of any conflict between British and German interests, the Poles, under these circumstances, could scarcely be blamed for failing to liberate themselves from their old World War I illusions. The key to Polish policy, once the reasonable German attitude toward Poland had been revealed, was in London. The undistinguished Polish leaders after 1935 could scarcely resist lavish and intoxicating offers of support from the British Empire. This would be true despite the fact that any Anglo-Polish alliance against Germany would be a disaster for the sorely-tried Polish people.

Chapter 3 • The Danzig Problem • 8,300 Words
The Repudiation of Self-Determination at Danzig — The Establishment of the Free City Regime — The Polish Effort to Acquire Danzig — Danzig’s Anguish at Separation from Germany — Poland’s Desire for a Maritime Role — Hitler’s Effort to Prevent Friction at Danzig — The Chauvinism of Polish High Commissioner Chodacki — The Deterioration of the Danzig Situation after 1936 — The Need for a Solution

The Repudiation of Self-Determination at Danzig

The establishment of the so-called Free City of Danzig by the victorious Allied and Associated Powers in 1919 was the least defensible territorial provision of the Versailles Treaty. It was soon evident to observers in the Western World, and to the people of Germany, Poland, and Danzig, that this incredibly complicated international arrangement could never function satisfactorily.

Danzig in 1919 was an ordinary provincial German city without any expectation or desire to occupy a central position on the stage of world politics. The Danzigers would have welcomed special Polish economic privileges in their city as a means of increasing the commerce of their port. They were horrified at the prospect of being detached from Germany and separately constituted in an anomalous position under the jurisdiction of an experimental League of Nations, which did not begin to exist until 1920.

One might well ask what the attitude of the people of Portland, Oregon, would be if their city were suddenly detached from the United States and placed under the jurisdiction of the United Nations in the interest of guaranteeing special port facilities to Canada near the estuary of the Columbia River. It would be small consolation to recall that the area around Portland, before passing under the sovereignty of the United States in 1846, was settled by the British Hudson Bay Company. The traditionally friendly relations between Canadians and Portlanders would soon deteriorate under such exacerbating conditions.

It is not surprising that the National Socialists of Adolf Hitler won an electoral majority at Danzig before this was possible in Germany. The Danzigers hoped that perhaps Hitler could do something to change the intolerable conditions established during 1919 and the following years. It was easy in 1939 for Margarete Gärtner, the National Socialist propagandist, to compile extensive quotations from approximately one hundred leading Western experts who deplored the idiocy of the Danzig settlement of 1919. Her list was merely a sampling, but it was sufficient to substantiate the point that at Danzig a nasty blunder had been made.

The issue exploited by Lord Halifax of Great Britain to destroy the friendship between Germany and Poland in March 1939 was the Danzig problem. The final collapse of the Czech state in March 1939 produced less effect in neighboring Poland, where the leaders were inclined to welcome the event, than in the distant United States. The Polish leaders had agreed that the return of Memel from Lithuania to Germany in March 1939 would not constitute an issue of conflict between Germany and Poland. Hitler emphasized that Germany would not claim one inch of Polish territory, and that she was prepared to recognize the Versailles Polish frontier on a permanent basis. Polish diplomats had suggested that a settlement of German requests for improved transit to German East Prussia would not present an insuperable problem. The German leaders were disturbed by Polish discrimination against the Germans within Poland, but they were not inclined to recognize this problem as an issue which could produce a conflict between the two states. It was primarily Danzig which made the breach. It was the discussion of Danzig between Germany and Poland which prompted the Polish leaders to warn Hitler that the pursuance of German aims in this area would produce a Polish-German war.

Polish defiance of Hitler on the Danzig question did not occur until the British leaders had launched a vigorous encirclement policy designed to throttle the German Reich. It is very unlikely that the Polish leaders would have defied Hitler had they not expected British support. The Polish leaders had received assurances ever since September 1938 that the British leaders would support them against Hitler at Danzig. Many of the Polish leaders said that they would have fought to frustrate German aims in Danzig had Poland been without an ally in the world. They were seeking to emphasize the importance which they attached to Danzig in discussing what they might have done in this hypothetical situation. This does not mean that they actually would have fought for Danzig in a real situation of this kind, and it is doubtful if Pilsudski would have fought for Danzig in 1939 even with British support. It is evident that Danzig was the issue selected by the Polish leaders to defy Hitler after the British had offered an alliance to Poland.

It is easy to see to-day that the creation of the Free City of Danzig was the most foolish provision of the Versailles Treaty. A similar experiment at Trieste in 1947 was abandoned after a few years because it was recognized to be unworkable, and it is hoped that Europe in the future will be spared further experiments of this kind. Danzig had a National Socialist regime after 1933, and Carl Burckhardt, the last League High Commissioner in Danzig, said in 1937 that the union between Danzig and the rest of Germany was inevitable. The Polish leaders professed to believe that it was necessary to prevent Danzig from returning to the Reich. This is especially difficult to understand when it is recalled that the Poles after 1924 had their own thriving port city of Gdynia on the former German coast, and that otherwise the Poles had never had a port of their own throughout their entire recorded history. The Poles claimed that the Vistula was their river, and that they deserved to control its estuary. When Joseph Goebbels observed that it would be equally logical for Germany to demand Rotterdam and the mouth of the Rhine, the Poles answered with the complaint that the Germans controlled the mouths of many of their rivers, such as the Weser, the Elbe, and the Oder, but for unfortunate Poland it was the Vistula or nothing. The Germans might well have answered this complaint with one of their own to the effect that it was unfair of God to endow Poland with richer agricultural land than Germany possessed. The Poles were usually impervious to logic when Danzig was discussed. This in itself made a preposterous situation more difficult, although a compromise settlement on the basis of generous terms from Hitler might have been possible had it not been for British meddling.

The Establishment of the Free City Regime

Danzig was historically the key port at the mouth of the great Vistula River artery. The modern city of Danzig was founded in the early 14th century, and it was inhabited almost exclusively by Germans from the beginning. There had previously been a fishing village at Danzig inhabited by local non-Polish West Slavs which was mentioned in a church chronicle of the 10th century. The Germans first came to the Danzig region during the eastward colonization movement of the German people in the late Middle Ages. Danzig was the capital of the Prussian province of West Prussia when the victors of World War I decided to separate this Baltic port from Germany. The city had been a provincial capital within the German Kingdom of Prussia prior to the establishment of the North German Federation in 1867 and of the German Second Empire in 1871.

The Allied Powers in 1920 converted Danzig from a German provincial capital to a German city state in the style prevailing in the other Hanseatic cities of Bremen, Hamburg, and Lübeck. The latter three cities remained separate federal states within the German Empire created by Bismarck. The difference was that the victorious Powers insisted that Danzig should not join the other states of the German Union, or again become a part of Germany. They also decreed that Danzig should submit to numerous servitudes established for the benefit of Poland.

The renunciation of Danzig by Germany and the creation of the Free City regime was stipulated by articles 100 to 108 of the Versailles Treaty. A League High Commissioner was to be the first instance of appeal in disputes between Poland and Danzig. The foreign relations of Danzig were delegated to Poland, and the Free City was to be assigned to the Polish customs area. The Poles were allowed unrestricted use of Danzig canals, docks, railroads, and roads for trading purposes and they were delegated control over river traffic, and over telegraph, telephone, and postal communications between Poland and Danzig harbor. The Poles had the privilege of improving, leasing, or selling transit facilities. The residents of Danzig forfeited German citizenship, although formal provision was made for adults to request German citizenship within a two year period. Double citizenship in Danzig and Germany was forbidden. The League of Nations, as the Sovereign authority, was granted ownership over all possessions of the German and Prussian administrations on Danzig territory. The League was to stipulate what part of these possessions might be assigned to Poland or Danzig.

The formal treaty which assigned specific property of Poland was ratified on May 3, 1923. The Poles received the Petershagen and Neufahrwasser barracks, naval supplies, oil tanks, all weapons and weapon tools from the dismantled Danzig arms factory, supply buildings, an apartment building, the state welfare building on Hansa square, the major railroad lines and their facilities, and ownership over most of the telegraph and telephone lines. Other facilities were assigned to the Free Harbor Commission supervised by the League of Nations in which the Poles participated. The Poles requested a munitions depot and base for a small Polish Army garrison. The Westerplatte peninsula close to the densely populated Neufahrwasser district was assigned to Poland on October 22, 1925. The Danzig Parliament protested in vain that this decision constituted “a new rape of Danzig.” The Poles also received permission to station warships and naval personnel in the area. These various awards meant that by 1925 the Polish Government was the largest owner of property in the Free City area.

The Danzig constitution was promulgated on June 14, 1922, after approval by Poland and the League of Nations. Provisions were enacted to guarantee the use of the Polish language by Poles in the Danzig courts, and a special law guaranteeing adequate educational facilities for the Polish minority was passed on December 20, 1921. The Danzig constitution was based on the concept of popular sovereignty despite the denial to Danzigers of the right of self-determination. The constitution stipulated that the construction of fortifications or manufacture of war material could not be undertaken without League approval.

The constitution provided for a Volkstag (assembly) of 120 members with four year terms. It was primarily a consultative body with the right to demand information about public policy, although the formal approval of the Volkstag for current legislation enacted by the Senate was required. The Senate with its 22 members was the seat of carefully circumscribed local autonomy. The President and the other seven major administrative officers, who were comparable to city commissioners, were elected for four years and received fixed salaries. The seven Senate administrative departments included justice and trade, public works, labor relations, interior (police), health and religion, science and education, and finance. There was no separate executive authority.

The Danzig constitution of 1922 replaced the Weimar German constitution of August 11, 1919, which had been tolerated as the fundamental law of Danzig until that time. The election to the Weimar constitutional assembly in January 1919 had taken place throughout West Prussia, and it constituted a virtual plebiscite in favor of remaining with Germany. The Allies refused to permit them a plebiscite of their own which they knew would end in a defeat for Poland. The British Government played a more active role than any other Power, including Poland, in the organization of the Danzig regime. British policy was decisive in the regulation of early disputes between Danzig and Poland. The British at Danzig furnished the first three League High Commissioners, Sir Reginald Tower, General Sir Richard Haking, and Malcolm S. MacDonnell, and the last of the British High Commissioners, after an Italian and Danish interlude, was Sean Lester from Ulster, who held office from 1934 until late 1936. British interest was largely a reflection of British investment and trade, and much of the industrial enterprise of Danzig came under the control of British citizens during these years. The British also played a decisive role in securing the appointment of Carl Jacob Burckhardt, the Swiss historian who succeeded Lester and who held office until the liberation of Danzig by Germany on September 1, 1939. The so-called liberation of Danzig by the Red Army on March 30, 1945, referred to in recent editions of the Encyclopaedia Britanica, was actually the annihilation of the city.

The territory of the Free City had approximately 365,000 inhabitants in 1922. The Polish minority constituted less than 3% of the population at that time, but the continued influx of Poles raised the proportion to 4% by 1939. The introduction of proportional representation enabled the Poles to elect 5 of the 120 members of the second Volkstag following the promulgation of the unpopular 1922 constitution. The German vote was badly split among the usual assortment of Weimar German parties. The Conservatives (DNVP) elected 34 deputies and the Communists elected 11. The Social Democrat Marxists elected 30 and the Catholic Center 15. The remaining 25 deputies were elected by strictly local Danzig German parties. This disastrous fragmentation in the face of a crisis situation was changed after the National Socialists won the Danzig election of 1933. The divided Danzig Senate presided over by a Conservative president was followed by a united National Socialist Senate. This created a slightly more favorable situation for coping with the moves of the Polish Dictatorship at Danzig.

It would not be correct to define Danzig’s status as a Polish protectorate under the new system despite extensive Polish servitudes (i.e. privileges under international law). Danzig was a League of Nations protectorate. This was true despite the fact that the Allies, and not the League, created the confusing Free City regime, and despite the absence of a formal ceremony in which actual sovereignty was transferred to the League. The protectorate was administered by a League of Nations High Commissioner resident in Danzig, by the Security Council of the League of Nations in Geneva, and, after 1936, by a special committee of League member states. The capital of the political system which included Danzig was moved from Berlin to Geneva, and this was an extremely dubious move from the standpoint of the Danzigers. The League was in control at Danzig as it had been in Memel before Lithuania was permitted to seize that German city.

The Poles with varying success began an uninterrupted campaign in 1920 to push their rights at Danzig beyond the explicit terms of Versailles and the subsequent treaties. One of the earliest Polish aims was to establish the Polish Supreme Court as the final court of jurisdiction over Danzig law. This objective was never achieved because of opposition from the League High Commissioners, but Poland was eventually able to establish her Westerplatte garrison despite the early opposition of League High Commissioner General Sir Richard Haking. The Poles never abandoned these efforts, and everyone in Danzig knew that their ultimate objective was annexation of the Free City.

The existing system was unsatisfactory for Poland, Germany, and Danzig. The Poles wished to usurp the role of the League, and both Germany and Danzig favored the return of the new state to the German Reich. There could be no talk of the change of system in Germany in 1933 alienating the Danzigers, because the National Socialists won their majority in Danzig before this had been accomplished in Germany. The change of system in Germany was matched by the unification of Danzig under National Socialist leadership.

The Polish Effort to Acquire Danzig

Dmowski and Paderewski presented many arguments (at Versailles) to support their case for the Polish annexation of Danzig. It should occasion no surprise that Poland sought to achieve this program of annexation. The strategic and economic importance of Danzig at the mouth of the river on which the former and present capitals of Poland, Krakow and Warszawa (Warsaw), were located, was very great. The National Democratic leaders were not worried that they would create German hostility by making this “conquest.” They argued at Versailles that Germany in any case would seek revenge from Poland because of the other treaty provisions. They claimed that the region on which Danzig was situated belonged to the Poles by right of prior settlement, and they spoke of the socalled recent German invasion of the territory some six hundred years earlier. The history of the Polish state, from the Viking regime imposed in the 10th century until the 18th century partitions, extended over eight hundred years, and the Poles were satisfied that their state was more ancient than Danzig.

They were confident that they could contend with the German argument against their case on this point. The German argument was based on two principal facts. In the first place, Germanic tribes had occupied the Danzig area until the late phase of the “Wandering of the Peoples (Völkerwanderung)” in the 4th century AD. Secondly, the Poles had never settled the Danzig region before the Germans arrived to found their city in the late Middle Ages.

The Polish reply to this German argument was two-fold. They contended that the early German tribes in the Danzig area were representative of the entire Germanic civilization, which included, besides Germany, Scandinavia, England, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. They concluded that the Germans had no right to base claims on the early history of these tribes. Secondly, the small early West Slavic tribes, which were bordered by the West Slavic Poles, West Slavic Czechs, Borussians, and Germans on land, and on water by the Baltic Sea, had been largely assimilated by their neighbors. These tribes had settled the Danzig region between the “Wandering of the Peoples” and the founding of Danzig by the Germans. It was argued that these early West Slavic tribes, who had maintained a fishing village on the site of the later city of Danzig, were more intimately related to the Poles than to their other neighbors. It was this doctrine which provided the claim that Poland might legitimately consider herself the heir to the entire German territory between the Elbe and the Vistula. At one time or another this area had been occupied by West Slavic tribes.

These were the principal so-called historical arguments of the Poles. They claimed along economic lines that Danzig had grown rich on the Polish hinterland. This was undoubtedly true, although the local West Prussian hinterland, which had long been German, also contributed to Danzig’s prosperity.

We have noted the Polish natural law argument that Danzig should belong to them because they controlled most of the Vistula River. They also raised the strategic argument that ownership of Danzig was necessary to defend Poland and to guarantee Polish access to the Sea. The second point, if one overlooks the feasibility of granting Poland port facilities in German harbors, had been met after 1924 by the construction of the neighboring port of Gdynia. The first point concerning defense does not merit lengthy examination. Danzig was distant from the bulk of Polish territory, and therefore it could contribute little to the defense of Poland. Ian D. Morrow, the principal British historian of the treaty settlement in the eastern borderlands, concluded that the problem of Polish claims to Danzig “constitutes as it were a permanent background to the history of the relations between the Free City of Danzig and the Republic of Poland.”

The German Order of Knights played an important role in the early history of Danzig. The Order had been commissioned by the Roman Catholic Popes and German Emperors to end the threat of heathen invasion in Eastern Europe. The Order established its control over West Prussia by 1308. Danzig was developed within this territory by German settlers, and the Order permitted her to join the Hanseatic League. Danzig grew rapidly for more than one hundred and fifty years under the protection of the Order, and at one time it was the leading ship building city of the world. The first Poles appeared in the area, and the tax register at Danzig indicated that 2% of the new settlers in the period from 1364 to 1400 were Polish.

Polish historians have emphasized that a trading settlement of Germans on the Danzig site had first received approval for an urban charter in 1235 from Swantopolk, a West Slavic chieftain. They therefore concluded that the first German trading settlement in the area was under Slavic sovereignty. They have regarded this as a sort of precedent to suggest that the Poles were requesting a return to the original state of affairs when they demanded Danzig. This is an impossible mystique for anyone questioning the allegedly close affinity between the early West Slavic tribes of the coastal area and the Poles.

Polish historians see a great tragedy for Poland in the conquest of West Prussia by the German Order of Knights in 1308. The Knights were able, at least temporarily, to establish a common frontier between their conquests along the Baltic Sea and the rest of Germany. They also attained a frontier with the German Knights of the Sword farther to the North. This linked up the German eastern conquests of the Middle Ages in one contiguous system from Holstein to the Gulf of Finland. It meant that any belated Polish attempt to attain territorial access to the Baltic Sea would have to contend with a solid barrier of German territory between Poland and the coast. The various German Orders in their conquests had never seized any territory inhabited by the Poles. This meant that the Poles, if they attacked the Germans, would be unable to claim either to Pope or to Emperor that they were seeking to liberate Polish territories under German control.

Confusion in the Papacy during the 15th century, and distractions in the German Empire, enabled the Poles to isolate the German Order of Knights, and to attack the Order with the aid of Tartar and Lithuanian allies. The relations between the Poles and the German Emperors, however, remained peaceful throughout this same period. There were no wars at all between the German Emperors and the Polish Kings from this time until the disappearance of Poland in the 18th century.

The Poles began their victorious struggle against the Order in 1410. They never lost the initiative after their great field victory at Tannenberg (Grünwald) in the first year of the war. The struggle dragged on to the accompaniment of sporadic bursts of activity from the Poles, and the Germans defended themselves stubbornly in their cities. The ultimate outcome of the war was influenced by internal German struggles between the colonists and the celibate knights from all parts of Germany. The colonists in both town and countryside had begun to consider themselves the native Germans several generations ·after the first settlement, and they regarded the Knights, who had no family roots in these provinces, as foreigners. The internecine struggles which followed decisively weakened the Order. The territorial integrity of the Order state was shattered at the peace of Thorn in 1466.

Some Polish historians regard the period of the Order in West Prussia as a mere episode in which Poland at last had begun to make good her claims to the heritage of the West Slavic tribes. The Poles in 1466 annexed most of West Prussia and part of East Prussia. They reached the Baltic coast, but they failed to establish Polish maritime interests. Danzig seceded from the Order state, but she retained her status of German city within the Hanseatic League. Her position was unique. Unlike the other Hanseatic cities, she was neither a member of a German territorial state nor under the immediate jurisdiction of the Emperor. Danzig enjoyed the theoretical protection of the Polish Kings, but she was independent of them. She never compromised her independence by permitting a Polish army to control the city. King Stephen Bathory of Poland became impatient with the state of affairs in 1576. He threatened the Danzigers with war if they did not accept his demand for a Polish military occupation and a permanent Polish garrison. Danzig in reply did not hesitate to defy Stephen Bathory. The war which followed was a humiliation for the proud Polish state at the zenith of her power. The Polish forces were unable to capture Danzig. Danzig in the 17th century declined rapidly in commercial importance along with the other cities of the Hanseatic League. There were many complex causes both economic and political, but the principal factor was the successful manner in which the Dutch and the Danes conspired to thwart Hanseatic interests. Danzig continued to maintain her freedom from Polish control despite her decline, and indeed, the Polish state itself experienced a period of uninterrupted decline after the great Ukrainian uprising against Poland in 1648. The situation of Danzig remained unchanged until she was annexed by Prussia in the 18th century.

Prussia surrendered to Napoleon I at the Peace of Tilsit in 1807. Danzig was separated from Prussia and converted into a French protectorate with a permanent French garrison. By this time the city had become ardently Prussian, and this unnatural state of affairs, which was also inflicted on Bremen, Hamburg, and Lübeck, was violently resented by the Danzigers. The French regime at Danzig was threatened by Napoleon’s debacle in Russia in 1812. This event enabled the Prussians to recover Danzig early in 1814 after a long siege. Danzig remained enthusiastically Prussian until the city was literally annihilated by Russian and Mongolian hordes in 1945.

Danzig’s Anguish at Separation from Germany

Danzig saw nothing of war or invasion from 1814 until the defeat of Germany in 1918. The Danzigers did not contemplate the possibility of annexation by the new Polish state until after the close of World War I. They were assured by German Chancellor Hertling in February 1918 that President Wilson’s peace program with its 13th Point on Polish access to the Sea did not threaten their affiliation with Germany in any way. The President’s Ambassador had assured the German Government that this was the case when the point about Polish access to the Sea was discussed before American entry into the war. The Presidents program was based on national self-determination, and Danzig was exclusively German.

The Danzigers thought of port facilities for the Poles in German harbors along the lines subsequently granted to the Czechs at Hamburg and Stettin. This arrangement satisfied the Czech demand for access to the Sea. No one thought of Polish rule at Danzig until it became known that the Poles were demanding Danzig at the peace conference, and that President Wilson favored their case. The disillusioned Danzigers petitioned the German authorities at Weimar to reject any peace terms which envisaged the separation of Danzig from Germany. There was still some hope in April 1919, when the Allies refused to permit Polish troops in the West under General Haller to return to Poland by way of Danzig. German troops occupied Danzig at that time, and the Poles were required to return home by rail.

The Danzigers were in despair after receiving the preliminary draft of the Versailles Treaty in May 1919. They discovered that some queer fate was conspiring to force them into the ludicrous and dubious situation of a separate’ state. Danzig discovered in May 1919 that the 14 Points and self-determination had been a trick, a ruse de guerre a l’americaine, and in June 1919, with the acceptance of the treaty by the Weimar Government; it was evident that Danzig must turn her back on her German Fatherland. The Allied spokesmen in Danzig urged her to hasten about it, and not be sentimental. The Germans had been tricked and outsmarted by the Allies. After all, Danzig had lost World War I.

Poland’s Desire for a Maritime Role

The distinguished Polish historian, Oskar Halecki, has declared that the demands of Dmowski at Versailles were “unanimously put forward by the whole nation.” Polish spokesmen have insisted that the entire Polish nation was longing for a free marine frontier in the North, and for a coastal position which would enable Poland to play an active maritime role. This was doubtless true after 1918, although for more than three hundred years, when Poland from the 15th to the 18th centuries held most of the West Prussian coastline, the Poles played no maritime role. It should be added that they also held coastal territory east of the Vistula with harbor facilities during those years. When struggles occurred during the 17th century between rival Swedish and Polish Vasa kings, the Poles chartered German ships and crews from East Prussian bases to defend their coasts from the Swedes father than to undertake their own naval defense.

Poland made no effort to build a merchant marine or to acquire colonies, although the neighboring German principality of Brandenburg, with a less favor able 17th century geographic and maritime position, engaged in foreign trade and acquired colonies in Africa. These facts in no way diminished the Polish right to play a maritime role in the 20th century, but it was unwarranted for Polish spokesmen to mislead the Polish people about their past. An especially crass example of this was offered by Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski, Vice-Premier of Poland from 1935 to 1939, and from 1926 the leading Government figure in Polish commerce and industry. Kwiatkowski was a close personal friend of President Moscicki, and he was entrusted with the organization of the Central Industrial Region (COP) of Poland before World War II. He was an expert engineer who had studied in Krakow, Lvov, and Munich, and he had earned the proud title “creator of Gdynia” for his collaboration with Danish colleagues in the construction of Poland’s principal port. Kwiatkowski, like some other scientists, was guilty of distorting history, and he went to absurd lengths to identify Poland with the nests of West Slavic pirates of the early Middle Ages who had operated from Rügen Island off the coast of Pomerania. Kwiatkowski announced at a maritime celebration on July 31, 1932, that, if the heroes of Poland’s great naval past could raise their voices once again, “one great, mighty, unending cry would resound along a stretch of hundreds of miles from the Oder to the Memel: ‘Long live Poland!’.”

At Paris the Poles had argued that Danzig was indispensable for their future maritime position. Lloyd George frustrated their plan to annex Danzig, but they were told by the Danes that the West Prussian coast north of Danzig presented the same physical characteristics as the north-eastern coast of Danish Zeeland. The Danes had built Copenhagen, and there was no reason why the Poles could not build their own port instead of seeking to confiscate a city built by another nation. The Poles were fascinated by this prospect, and they were soon busy with plans for the future port of Gdynia.

The construction of Gdynia and Polish economic discrimination in favor of the new city after 1924 produced a catastrophic effect on the trade of the unfortunate Danzigers. The Polish maritime trade in 1929 was 1,620 million Zloty, of which 1,490 million Zloty still passed through Danzig. The total land and sea trade by 1938 had declined to 1,560 million Zloty, and only 375 million went by way of Danzig. The Danzig trade was confined mainly to bulk products such as coal and ore. Imports of rice, tobacco, citrus fruits, wool, jute, and leather, and exports of beetsugar and eggs passed through Gdynia. Danzig was virtually limited to the role of port for the former German mining region of East Upper Silesia. The trade of Gdynia had become more than three times as valuable as that of Danzig. Trade between Danzig and Germany was discouraged by a heavy Polish protective tariff.

Polish concern about Danzig might have diminished after the successful completion of the port of Gdynia had Polish ambitions been less insatiable. Unfortunately this was not the case, and the Poles remained as jealous as before of their position within the so-called Free City.

The Poles had originally insisted that Danzig was the one great port they needed to guarantee their maritime access. They soon began to speak of modern sea power, and it was easy to demonstrate that one port was a narrow foundation for a major naval power. They described Danzig as their second lung, which they needed to breathe properly. It was a matter of complete indifference to them that Danzig did not wish to be a Polish lung. They were equally unmoved by the fact that millions of their Ukrainian subjects did not care to live within the Polish state, and that nearly one million Germans had left Poland in despair during the eighteen years after the Treaty of Versailles. Life had been made sufficiently miserable for them to do otherwise. It could be expected that the Germans would also evacuate a Polish Danzig, and thus make room for a Polish Gdansk. The Polish leaders were encouraged to hope for this result because of the manifestly ridiculous and humiliating situation created for Danzig by the Treaty of Versailles.

The preoccupation of the Polish leaders with Danzig was quite extraordinary. This was indicated by the press and by the analytical surveys of the Polish Foreign Office, Polska a Zagranica (Poland and Foreign Lands), which were sent to Polish diplomatic missions abroad. These secret reports were also distributed among Foreign Office officials, Cabinet members, and Army leaders. They emphasized the consolidation of National Socialist rule at Danzig after the 1934 Pact, the economic problems of Danzig, and the constitutional conflict between the Danzig Senate and the League. It was possible to conclude from these reports that Danzig was the cardinal problem of Polish foreign policy despite the conclusion of the 1934 Pact with Germany. The line taken by the Polish Foreign Office was simple and direct. It was noted that Polish public opinion was increasingly aroused about Danzig, and that the Government continued to maintain great interest in the unresolved Danzig problem. Above all, it was stressed that Danzig, although it did not belong to Poland, was no less important to Poland than Gdynia, which was Polish. It would be impossible to convey Polish aspirations at Danzig in terms more eloquent.

It should be evident at this point that no serious person could expect a lasting agreement between Germany and Poland without a final settlement of the Danzig question. The Danzig status quo of Versailles was a source of constant friction between Germany and Poland. The Polish leaders after 1935 continued to believe that the ideal solution would have been the annexation of Danzig by Poland, and Pilsudski himself had favored this solution, under favorable conditions, such as the aftermath of a victorious preventive war against Germany.

Pilsudski’s preventive war plans dated from 1933, when Germany was weak. After the 1934 Pact, the Poles opened an intensive propaganda campaign against the Czechs, and the prospects for a Polish success at Teschen, in cooperation with Germany, were not entirely unfavorable. It seemed by contrast that Poland had nothing more to seek at Danzig. Pilsudski had declared in March 1935 that no Power on earth could intimidate Germany any longer.

Hitler talked with good sense and conviction of abandoning claims to many German territories in Europe which had been lost after World War I. These included territories held by Denmark in the North, France in the West, Italy in the South, and Poland in the East. Hitler expected Poland to reciprocate by conceding the failure of her earlier effort to acquire Danzig. Hitler was not prepared to concede that Danzig was lost to Germany merely because she had been placed under the shadowy jurisdiction of the League. Danzig was a German National Socialist community plagued with a Polish economic depression and prevented from pursuing policies of recovery to improve her position. Danzig wished to return to Germany. Hitler had no intention of perpetuating the humiliating status quo of surrendering this purely German territory to Poland. He was wining to recognize extensive Polish economic rights at Danzig. It would have been wise for the Poles to concentrate upon obtaining favorable economic terms and otherwise to wash their hands of the problem.

Hitler’s Effort to Prevent Friction at Danzig

The Poles were seeking to extend their privileges at Danzig when Hitler was appointed Chancellor in 1933. There had been chronic tension between Danzig and Poland throughout the period of the Weimar Republic in Germany. Indeed, the 1919 settlement at Danzig virtually precluded conditions of any other kind. The improvement of German-Polish relations shortly after the advent of Hitler was accompanied by a temporary relaxation of tension between Poland and Danzig, but it would have required a superhuman effort to maintain a lasting détente within the context of the Versailles status quo. Hermann Rauschning, the first National Socialist Danzig Senate leader, was known to be extremely hostile to Poland, but Hitler persuaded him to go to Warsaw for talks with the Polish leaders in July 1933. Rauschning was accompanied by Senator Artur Greiser, who was known for his moderate views on Poland. A favorable development took place on August 5, 1933. Danzig and Poland agreed to settle important disputes by bilateral negotiation instead of carrying their complaints to the League of Nations. Either party was obliged to give three months’ notice before appealing to the League if bilateral negotiations failed. The Poles also agreed to modify their policies of economic discrimination against Danzig, but they failed to keep this promise.

The following year was relatively calm although there were many irritating minor incidents involving economic problems and the operations of Polish pressure groups on Danzig territory. Danzig and Poland concluded an economic pact on August 8, 1934, which contained mutual advantages on taxes and the marketing of Polish goods in Danzig territory. The conciliatory trend at Danzig was strengthened when Greiser succeeded Rauschning as Senate President on November 23, 1934. The Poles had no complaints about Greiser, but they objected to Albert Forster, the National Socialist District Party Leader. Forster was an energetic and forceful Franconian with the Sturheit (stubbornness) characteristic of the men of his district. He was one of Hitler’s best men, and his assignment at Danzig was a significant indication of the seriousness of Germany’s intentions. Forster was less cosmopolitan than Greiser, but he was highly intelligent, and he fully understood the scope and significance of the Danzig problem despite his West German origin. He was a stubborn negotiator with both Poland and the League, but he loyally supported Hitler’s plans for a lasting agreement with Poland. He also shared Hitler’s enthusiasm for an understanding with England. Lord Vansittart described Forster in his memoirs as “a rogue [Forster was exceptionally handsome] who came to our house with glib professions and a loving mate [Forster’s wife was exceptionally beautiful].” This brief rejection of Forster by the leading British Germanophobe tallied closely with the negative attitude of the Poles.

The effort of Hitler to achieve greater harmony with Poland at Danzig did not achieve lasting results. Friction began to increase again early in 1935, and this trend continued until the outbreak of war in 1939. Many of the new disputes were economic in nature. Danzig was experiencing a severe depression, and the local National Socialist regime wished to do more to help the people than had been done by the Conservative regime in the past. The lack of freedom made it impossible to emulate the increasing prosperity which existed in Germany. The deflationary monetary policies of Poland were anathema in Danzig, where the Danziger Gulden was tied to the scarce Zloty of the Poles. An attempt to free the Gulden from the Zloty, without leaving the Polish customs union, produced a crisis in May 1935. Danzig received much expert advice from Hjalmar Schacht. the President of the German Reichsbank. The Polish financial experts regarded this as unwarranted German interference in the affairs of German Danzig. The crisis reached a climax on July 18, 1935, when Poland put Danzig under a blockade, and commanded the shipment of all goods through Gdynia. Danzig responded by opening her economic border with East Prussia in defiance of Poland. This involved an attempt to circumvent the Polish customs inspectors and to ignore the Polish tariff requirements. Hitler intervened at this critical point and used his influence to obtain the agreement of August 8, 1935, which amounted to a total retreat for Danzig. This capitulation ended any hope that Danzig might be able to ameliorate the economic depression through her own efforts.

A typical dispute of this drab period transpired in 1936 when the Poles abruptly issued regular Army uniforms to the Polish customs inspectors in the hope of accustoming the Danzig population to a regular Polish military occupation. The Danzig Government protested, but the Poles, as usual, refused to accept protests from Danzig. A dangerous atmosphere was maintained by the constant agitation of the Polish pressure groups. The Polish Marine and Colonial League demonstrated in Warsaw in July 1936 for the expansion of existing Polish privileges at Danzig, and its activities were accompanied by a new campaign against Danzig in the Polish press. Relations between Poland and Danzig were as bad as they had been during the Weimar Republic. Hitler had attempted to reduce friction on the basis of the status quo, but this effort had failed.

The Chauvinism of Polish High Commissioner Chodacki

Josef Beck, Poland’s Foreign Minister, soon decided that renewed tension had made Danzig the most prominent front in the conduct of Polish diplomacy, except possible Paris. He decided to recall Kasimierz Papée, the Polish High Commissioner, and to replace him with a man who enjoyed his special confidence. The choice had fallen on Colonel Marjan Chodacki, who ranked second in Beck’s estimation to Juliusz Lukasiewicz at Paris. Chodacki in 1936 was Poland’s diplomatic representative at Prague. Beck invited his friend to return to Warsaw from Prague on December 1936 for three days of intensive discussions on the Danzig situation before clearing the channels for his new appointment. Beck told Chodacki at Warsaw of his decision, and he requested him to take the Danzig post. Chodacki accepted with the slightest hesitation. Beck asked if Chodacki was not afraid to accept such a dangerous mission. Chodacki, instead of replying, asked Beck a question in return: “Are you not afraid to send me there?.” Beck agreed with a smile that this question had a point. He knew that his friend was the most ardent and sensitive of Polish patriots.

Beck outlined the situation. He expected Chodacki to maintain Poland’s position at Danzig by means short of war, but he intimated that events at Danzig might ultimately lead to war. Beck emphasized the importance of the British and French attitudes toward Polish policy at Danzig, and Chodacki realized that Beck wished to have the support of the Western Powers in any conflict with Germany. It was evident that Paris and London would be decisive in the determination of Polish policy at Danzig. Beck admitted that the two Western Powers seemed to be indifferent about Danzig in 1936, but he expected their attitudes to change later. He discussed the details of current disputes at Danzig, and it was evident that the two men were incomplete agreement. Chodacki assumed the new post several days later.

The Danzigers had been annoyed with League High Commissioner Sean Lester for several years. Lester was an Ulsterman who seemed to delight in conducting a one man crusade against National Socialism and all its works in Danzig. The officers of the German cruiser Leipzig ostentatiously refused to call on Lester when their ship visited Danzig harbor in June 1936. The Danzigers repeatedly urged the British to withdraw him, and at last this request was granted. Several replacements were considered, but the choice fell on Carl Jacob Burckhardt, a prominent Swiss historian who was an expert on Cardinal Richelieu and the traditions of European diplomacy. Burckhardt was acceptable to the Poles, and he received his appointment from the League Security Council on February 18, 1937. Burckhardt had been extraordinarily discreet in concealing his fundamental sympathy for Germany. He was later criticized by many League diplomats, but at the time he was universally regarded as an admirable choice.

Chodacki had been sent to Danzig to maintain the claims and position of Poland, whereas Burckhardt was merely the caretaker of the dying League regime. Chodacki was instructed to insist on Polish terms at Danzig, and he was not expected to believe in the permanent preservation of peace. The emphasis of his mission was on stiffening the Polish line without risking a conflict until Poland had British and French support. The attitude he adopted at Danzig was provocative and belligerent. He delivered an important speech to a Polish audience at GrossTrampken, Danzig territory, on Polish Independence Day, November 11, 1937. He made the following significant statement, which left no doubt about his position: “I remember very well the time I went into the Great War, hoping for Poland’s resurrection. The Poles here in Danzig should likewise live and wait in the hope that very presently they may be living on Polish soil”.

This was holiday oratory, but it should have revealed to the last sceptic that neither Chodacki nor Beck had abandoned hope of annexing Danzig to Poland. A final solution would be required to end the unrest caused by rival German and Polish aspirations at Danzig, and there could be no lasting understanding between Poland and Germany until such a solution was achieved. Self-determination for the inhabitants was the best means of resolving this issue in view of the conflicting German and Polish claims. It was no longer news to the Danzigers that many Poles hoped for the ultimate annexation of Danzig to Poland. They would not have been surprised to discover that Beck’s High Commissioner entertained similar sentiments privately. It would be difficult to argue that Chodacki’s publicly announced campaign of Polish irredentism was calculated to reduce the growing tension between Danzig and Poland. Beck had responded to the Danzig situation by sending a chauvinist to maintain the Polish position.

The Deterioration of the Danzig Situation after 1936

Issues of dispute between Danzig and Poland were markedly on the increase throughout 1937. Chodacki later declared that fifteen one thousand page volumes would be required to describe the Danzig-Polish disputes prior to World War II. There can be no doubt that the year 1937 contributed its share. Times remained hard in both Danzig and Poland, and the great majority of disputes were economic in nature. The Poles placed heavy excise taxes on imports from the huge Danzig margarine industry to protect Polish competitors. They rejected the contention of Danzig that this measure was a violation of the August 6, 1934, economic treaties to eliminate trade barriers between the two countries. This single dispute produced an endless series of reprisals and recriminations.

Irresponsible fishing in troubled waters by foreigners also occasioned much bad feeling. A typical example was the circulation of rumors by the Daily Telegraph, an English newspaper. The Daily Telegraph reported on May 10, 1937, that Joseph Goebbels had announced Germany’s intention to annex Danzig in the near future. It is easy to understand the effect produced on the excitable Poles in the Danzig area by such reporting, and it would have been a pleasant surprise if this particular newspaper of Kaiser-interview and Hoare-Laval Pact fame had not contributed to alarmism at Danzig. The statement attributed to Goebbels in this instance was purely an invention. By 1938, tension had been built up to a point where incidents of violence played an increasingly prominent role. Meetings of protest, more frequently than otherwise about imaginary wrongs, were organized by pressure groups in surrounding Polish towns. They invariably ended with cries of: “We want to march on Danzig!” and with the murderous slogan: “Kin the Hitlerites!”

Chodacki told Smigly-Rydz at Polish Army maneuvers in September 1937 that the National Socialist revolution in Danzig was virtually completed, and that the “Gleichschaltung” (coordination) of Danzig within the German system had been achieved. The one exception was that Danzig still had her made-in Poland depression, whereas Germany was swimming in plenty. The effective organization work of Albert Forster convinced the Poles that Danzig was at last slipping through their fingers. Awareness of this increased Polish exasperation. Chodacki claimed that in 1938 one of his speeches at Torun or elsewhere in West Prussia would have been sufficient to set a crowd of tens of thousands marching against Danzig. He admitted that he was often tempted to deliver such a speech. He felt goaded by fantastic attacks in the Krakow press that he was too conciliatory toward Danzig.

The Need for a Solution

The Danzig problem by 1938 was a skein of conflicting interests between exasperated Poles and impatient Danzigers. The absurd regime established at Versailles was a failure. Hitler intervened repeatedly for moderation, but he was no less disgusted with the humiliating farce than the Danzigers, and he was weary of conciliation at Danzig’s expense. Intelligent foreign observers expected this attitude. Lord Halifax, who had out-maneuvered Gandhi of India on many occasions, visited Hitler at Berchtesgaden on November 19,1937. He inquired whether Hitler planned to do something about Danzig. Hitler was understandably evasive in his reply, but Halifax made no secret of the fact that he expected German action to recover Danzig.

The current mentality of the Polish leaders indicated that a solution would be difficult, and it is painful to recall that the entire problem would not have existed had Danzig not been placed in a fantastic situation by the peacemakers of 1919. The Danzig problem resulted from a wretched compromise between Lloyd George and Woodrow Wilson. It epitomized the comment of the American publicist, Porter Sargent: “The Anglo-Saxon peoples held the world in the palms of their hands, and what a mess they made of it”. There was nothing left but to try for a solution. It would be scant consolation in the event of failure to know that the blame would be shared by men of two generations. The cost of failure would be paid by untold generations.

Chapter 4 • Germany, Poland, and the Czechs • 10,700 Words
The Bolshevik Threat to Germany and Poland — Hitler’s Anti-Bolshevik Foreign Policy — Polish Hostility Toward the Czechs — Polish Grievances and Western Criticism — The Anti-German Policy of Benes — Neurath’s Anti-Polish Policy Rejected by Hitler — The German-Polish Minority Pact of 1937 — The Bogey of the Hossbach Memorandum — Hitler’s November 1937 Danzig Declaration — Austria as a Czech Buffer

The Bolshevik Threat to Germany and Poland

The failure of two neighboring nations with similar interests to cooperate against a mutual danger posing a threat to their existence is a sorrowful spectacle. The civilizations of ancient Greece and of Aztec America were overwhelmed by alien invaders because of internecine strife. In the 1930’s, the authoritarian and nationalistic states of Germany and Poland were seeking to promote the development, livelihood, and culture of their national communities, but they faced a common threat from the Soviet Union. The ideology of the Soviet Union was based on the doctrines of class hatred and revolutionary internationalism of Karl Marx.

The peoples of Russia were suffering on an unprecedented scale from their misfortune in falling prey to the merciless minority clique of Bolshevik revolutionaries, who seized power in the hour of Russian defeat in World War I. The Bolsheviks later wrought untold havoc on the peoples of Poland and Germany. The Communists by means of murder and terror have depopulated the entire eastern part of Germany, and they hold Central Germany, the heart of the country, in an iron grip.

It is a sad commentary that millions of Germans and Poles are now collaborating under a system which has destroyed the freedom of their two nations. They were unable to unite in defense of their freedom. It is of course possible that the Soviet Union would have triumphed over Germany and Poland had the two nations been allies. It is more likely that a Polish-German alliance would have been the rock to break the Soviet tide. The present power of the Bolsheviks is so great that no one knows if it is possible to prevent their conquest of the world, and the failure of German-Polish cooperation is one of the supreme tragedies of world history.

The conflict between Warsaw and Berlin became the pretext in 1939 for the implementation of the antiquated English balance of power policy. This produced a senseless war of destruction against Germany. As it turned out, each Allied soldier of the West was fighting unwittingly for the expansion of Bolshevism, and he was simultaneously undermining the security of every Western nation. Never were so many sacrifices made for a cause so ignoble. Neither Germany nor Poland desired to evangelize the world or to impose alien systems of government of foreign nations throughout the globe. There was a monumental difference between them and the Soviet Union on this point. The elements of friction between Germany and Poland, despite the senseless provisions of the 1919 Versailles Treaty, were markedly reduced under the benign influence of the treaty between Pilsudski and Hitler. A few concessions on both sides, if only in the interest of establishing a common front against Bolshevism, could have reduced this friction to insignificance. The two nations were natural allies. They were new states seeking to overcome the uncertainty and fear occasioned by the frustration of their healthy nationalist aspirations over many centuries. The leaders of both nations hated the Bolshevist system and they regarded it as the worst form of government devised by man. They realized that the Soviet Union possessed natural resources and population which made the combined resources and populations of Germany and Poland puny by comparison.

It is evident from a survey of the international situation sent to missions abroad by the Polish Foreign Office in 1936 that the Soviet Union was regarded as the greatest foreign threat to Poland. This report confirmed the impressions of the diplomatic-military committee established by Pilsudski in 1934 to study the German and Russian situations. Nevertheless, Poland rebuffed the suggestions of Hermann Göring after 1934 for GermanPolish collaboration against the Soviet Union. The great question was whether or not Poland intended permanently to follow a policy of impartiality toward the Soviet Union and Germany.

Polish experts in Moscow were impressed by mid-1936 with the improved living conditions in Russia under the 2nd Five Year Plan, which appeared to be far less drastic and cruel than the 1st Five Year Plan. They conceded that the Soviet system was consolidating its position. A new series of Soviet purges began later the same year. They lasted nearly three years, and dwarfed the bloody Cheka purges of 1918, or the purge in 1934 which followed the assassination of Sergei Kirov, the Leningrad administrator. Foreign observers wondered whether the new purges would strengthen or weaken the Soviet regime. Opinions were divided on this crucial point, but it was evident that the new upheavals constituted a crisis for the regime.

Hitler’s Anti-Bolshevik Foreign Policy

Recent Soviet developments did not affect the tempo of Hitler’s policy, which was geared to speed, although actual German preparations for defense were exceedingly lax because of monetary inflation fears. Hitler was striving to win the friendship of Great Britain, and to foster Anglo-German collaboration in the spirit and tradition of Bismarck, Cecil Rhodes, and Joseph Chamberlain. He was aware of the traditional British balance of power policy. He realized that he must complete his continental defensive preparations against Bolshevism before the British decided that he was “too strong”, and moved to crush him as they had crushed Napoleon.

Hitler hoped that the British would not intervene while he was securing Germany’s position through understandings with Germany’s principal neighbors, and by a limited and moderate program of territorial revision. British leaders had opposed the German customs union before 1848, and they had opposed the national unification of Germany during the following years. Nevertheless, Bismarck had outbluffed Palmerston at Schleswig-Holstein in 1864, and it was evident by 1871 that Tories and Liberals alike were wining to accept the results of Bismarck’s unification policy despite his repeated use of force. Germany was conceded to be the strongest military power on the European continent after 1871. The balance of power was operating, but the British faced colonial conflicts with France and Russia, and the 1875 Franco-German “war scare” crisis showed that Germany could still be checked by a hostile combination. At that time, a momentary coalition of France, Great Britain, and Russia was formed against Germany within a few days.

Hitler hoped that a German program of territorial revision and defense against Communism would be accepted by the British leaders, if it was carried through with sufficient speed. If the tempo was slow, the latent British hostility toward everything German could easily produce new flames. The traditional warlike ardor of the British upper classes was momentarily quiescent, but it could be aroused with relative ease. Hitler hoped that a refusal to pursue political aims overseas or in the West or South of Europe would convince the British leaders, once his position was secure, that his program was moderate. His strength would still be insufficient to overshadow the primary position of the British Empire in the world. He was wining to place Germany politically in a subservient position to Great Britain, and to accept a unilateral obligation to support British interest at any point. Hitler hoped that the British would appreciate the advantages of this situation. They could play off the United States against Germany. Germany would be useful in resisting American assaults against the sacred British doctrine of colonialism, and the United States could be used to counter any German claims for special privileges.

Hitler’s ideas were confirmed by a brilliant report of January 2, 1938, from Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Ambassador to Great Britain. Ribbentrop pointed out that there was no real possibility of an Anglo-German agreement while conditions were unsettled, but that perhaps a strong German policy and the consolidation of the German position would make such an agreement possible. The German Ambassador emphasized that an understanding with Great Britain had been the primary aim of his activity during his many months in London. He had reached his conclusions after personal conversations with the principal personalities of British public affairs. Ribbentrop’s report was decisive in winning for him the position of German Foreign Minister in February 1938. No other German diplomat of the period had presented Hitler with a comparable analysis of British policy and of the British attitude toward Germany. The Ribbentrop report was comparable to the 1909 memorandum of Alfred Kiderlen-Waechter on Anglo-German and Russo-German relations. This memorandum had been requested by Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg, and it brought Kiderlen from the obscure Bucharest legation to the Wilhelmstrasse despite the fact that he was disliked by Kaiser Wilhelm II.

The controversial question of whether or not the Russian regime was successfully consolidating its position could not be decisive for Hitler under these circumstances. The impulse for rapid moves and definitive results arose from Hitler’s evaluation of the situation in London. Hitler’s basic program, after the recovery of the Saar and the restoration of German defenses in the Rhineland, was to liberate the Germans of Austria, aid the Germans of Czechoslovakia and place German relations with France, Italy, and Poland, his principal neighbors, on a solid basis. It would be possible afterward to talk to the British about a lasting agreement, when the prospects for success would be more favorable. Improved German-American relations would follow automatically from an AngloGerman understanding. Hitler also hoped to act as moderator between Japan and Nationalist China to restore peace in the Far East, and to close the door to Communist penetration which was always opened by war and revolution. If this moderate program could be achieved, the prospects for the final success of the Bolshevik world conspiracy in the foreseeable future would be bleak.

No nation occupied a more crucial position in the realization of Hitler’s program than Poland, because Hitler recognized that the Poland of Pilsudski and his successors was a bulwark against Communism. The Polish leaders failed to recognize the importance of German support against the Soviet Union. Germany and Poland were conducting policies of defense against Bolshevism, but there were no plans for aggressive action against Russia, and the Polish leaders failed to see the need for any understanding with Germany to cope with the existing situation.

Polish Hostility Toward the Czechs

The attitudes of the German and Polish leaders toward little Czechoslovakia were identical. The Czech problem, in contrast to the problem of Bolshevism, had moderate dimensions, and both countries were inclined to contemplate a solution of their grievances against the Czechs by some sort of aggressive action. The Polish press was many years ahead of the press of Germany in advocating the dissolution of Czechoslovakia. A Polish press campaign with this objective began in 1934, after the conclusion of the German-Polish pact. The German and Polish leaders in the same year discussed their mutual dislike of the Czechs in terms more concrete than the Poles were willing to employ toward the Soviet Union. There have been many attempts to solve the Czech problem during the past five generations. This problem arose with the spread of a hitherto unknown anti-German Czech nationalism during the 19th century. The problem did not exist in the 12th century when Bishop Otto of Freysing, a princely medieval chronicler, related the exploits of Czech shock troops fighting for Frederick I (Hohenstaufen) in his wars against the Lombard League. It did not exist in the 13th century when the proud new city of Königsberg (Royal Hill) on the Pregel River in East Prussia was named after Ottokar, a Bohemian king of the Premyslid line, who was noted for his brave deeds and for his loyalty to the Holy Roman Empire. It did not exist in the 14th century when Charles IV (Luxemburg-Premyslid) made Prague the most glorious capital city the Holy Roman Empire had ever known. It did not exist in the 15th century when John Hus, the martyr of the Czech religious reform movement, reported back to Bohemia, on his trip to the Council of Constance, that the audience which listened to him at Nuremberg was the most enthusiastic and grateful congregation he had ever encountered. It did not exist in the 16th century, when the Austrian duchies and the Bohemian kingdom were firmly welded under the Habsburg sceptre within the framework of the Holy Roman Empire, or in the 17th century, when Bohemian Germans and Czechs fought on both sides in the Thirty Years’ War. All historians agree that the 18th century period of Habsburg rule was the most tranquil in Bohemian history.

By 1848, the modern intellectual movement of Czech nationalism, which originated from the impact of the Slavophile teachings of Johann Gottfried Herder in the late 18th century, had begun to make considerable headway with the Czech masses. The Frankfurt Parliament in 1848 anticipated the dissolution of the Austrian Empire, and it quite naturally assumed that Bohemia and Moravia, which had been integral parts of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, would find their future in a modern national German state. It came as a rude shock when the Czech historian and nationalist leader, Francis Palacky, addressed the Frankfurt Parliament with the announcement that his Czech faction hoped Austria would be preserved, and that they would oppose union with Germany if this effort failed. Only the continuation of the Austrian Empire stood as a buffer between the Czechs and Germany [after 1848]. Eduard Benes, the 20th century Czech nationalist leader, advocated full autonomy for both Germans and Czechs of Bohemia in his Dijon dissertation of 1908. He envisaged a Habsburg Reich in which full equality would exist among Slavs, Germans, and Magyars. This seemed feasible, since the experiment of granting full equality to the Magyars in 1867 had proven successful.

The Austro-Hungarian Empire held out with amazing vitality during the first four years of bitter conflict in World War I. The overwhelming majority of Czech deputies to the Austrian Reichsrat (parliament) were loyal to the Habsburg state during these four years. In the summer and autumn of 1918, during the fifth year of the war, unendurable famine and plague produced a demoralization of loyalty among the many nationalities of the Austrian part of the Empire. The Habsburg state was paralyzed. It had attempted to escape from the war by means of a separate peace, but it had failed. The problem of the Czechs and Germany could be postponed no longer. Arnold Toynbee, in his massive survey, Nationality and the War, had predicted in 1915 that Austria-Hungary would collapse, and he had advised that Bohemia and Moravia, the two mixed German-Czech regions, should be assigned to Germany in the coming peace treaty.

The world was confronted in the meantime with one of the most bold conspiracies of history. Czech revolutionaries went abroad during World War I to organize a propaganda movement among the Allies for the creation of a veritable Czech empire. The Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary was condemned because the allegedly dominant German and Magyar nationalities constituted merely half the total population of the federated Habsburg states. The Czech revolutionaries although constituting less than half the total population. The situation would have been still worse had not some of their more extravagant schemes failed, such as the creation of a Slavic corridor from Bohemia to Croatia. It was surely the most brazen program of national aggrandizement to arise from World War I. It was also the program least likely to succeed over a protracted period, unless the subject peoples could be appeased, and unless good relations could be established with neighboring states. The Czech nationalist leaders, and their small group of Slovak allies, who in contrast to the mass of the Slovak people had fallen under Czech influence, made little progress in either direction during the twenty years following World War I. It is for this reason that there was still a Czech problem after World War II, which had now become a problem of Czech imperialism. They might have pressed for Czech autonomy within an independent Austrian state, which later could have been united with Germany at one stroke, while retaining guarantees for the Czechs. If this did not seem feasible following the accomplishments of Czech revolutionaries at Prague after October 1918, there were still other alternatives. They might at least have contested the spread of Czech rule over the traditional German parts of Bohemia and Moravia, or over the indisputably Magyar regions from the Danube to Ruthenia. It would have been easy for them to insist that the Czechs keep their promises of autonomy to the Slovaks. These promises had been incorporated in the famous Czech-Slovak declaration of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in October 1918 (prior to the Czech declaration of independence at Washington, D.C., on October 23, 1918). The first Czech president, Thomas Masaryk, had declared that his pledge to the Slovaks, which he later violated, was solemn and binding.

The Allies might have contested the assignment of the distant region of Ruthenia to Czech rule, or they might have insisted on binding minority guarantees for a Czech state which had promised to become another Switzerland, but which developed a unitary state system and centralized administration in the French style. The Allies did none of these things, and the Czech Government was soon spending lavish sums subsidizing foreign writers to fill the foreign press with deceptively optimistic reports about their regime.

The Czechs had a solid economic position in the unravished principal Austrian industrial regions, the industrial heart of a former Great Power, which had fallen under their control. They also had a flourishing agricultural economy, and conditions of relative prosperity existed in their richly endowed country until the advent of the world depression in 1929. Czechoslovakia appeared to be a wealthy and progressive country when compared to such backward states as Yugoslavia or Rumania, and the Czech leaders were not reticent in taking full credit for this phenomenon.

A system of liberal politics prevailed among the principal Czech political parties, and this was part of their heritage from Austrian parliamentary experience. Czech propagandists exploited this fact to claim that their country was a model democracy. A war-weary generation in the West was looking for a few good results from the recent holocaust, and it is not surprising that Philoczechism became a popular phenomenon. There was also some thing romantic about it, because relatively few people in Great Britain or France had been aware of the existence of the Czechs prior to World War I. There had been talk of Bohemians in the old days, and few seemed to be certain whether this term included Slavs, Germans, or both.

The Czech émigrés during World War I were more successful than the Poles in ingratiating themselves with the Western Allies. This was not fully evident until the period of peacemaking, when Czech and Polish interests clashed. In the early phase of World War I, Roman Dmowski and Thomas Masaryk, the leading Polish and Czech spokesmen in the West, vied with one another in being pro-Russian. Thomas Masaryk dreamed of a Czech kingdom under a Romanov prince, but his dream was shattered by the Russian Revolution. The Polish state which emerged from the war developed a policy contrary to the pro-Russian attitude of Dmowski, but in the Czech state the pro-Russian attitude and policy of Masaryk, and of Eduard Benes, his principal disciple, prevailed after the war. The accidental conflict in 1918 between the Czech prisoners of war in Russia, and the Bolsheviks, was not permitted by Masaryk to destroy the fundamental pro-Russian orientation of Czech policy.

There was conflict between Poles and Czechs in the rich Austrian industrial region of Teschen, which was under the control of the local Polish community when Austria-Hungary concluded an armistice with the Western Powers. The Teschen area consisted of the five principal districts of Friedeck, Freistadt, Bielitz, Teschen, and Jablonkau. The Polish deputies of the Austrian Reichsrat proposed to their Czech colleagues at the end of World War I that Friedeck, which had a distinct Czech majority, should go to the Czech state, and that the latter four districts should be assigned to Poland. The Czechs and Poles in the area agreed to a provisional compromise along these lines, and it was decided that 519 square kilometers should be Czech and 1,762 square kilometers Polish. The Poles did not realize that Eduard Benes had persuaded French Foreign Minister Pichon in June 1918 to support a Czech claim for the entire area. The Poles concentrated on securing their claims against Germany during the weeks following the Austro-Hungarian and German armistice agreements of November 1918, and they regarded the Teschen area with complacency. This mood was shattered on the eve of the Polish national election of January 26, 1919, when the Czechs ordered a surprise attack against the Poles in the Teschen area. Czech action was based on the assumption that the Teschen question could be resolved by force, and that the district was well worth a local war, particularly since Western Allied support of the Czech position against Poland was assured.

The Western Allied leaders intervened on February 1,1919, after the Czechs had completed their military advance, and they ordered a cessation of military operations pending a final solution by the Peace Conference. A plebiscite was proposed in the following months, but the Czechs, with French support, concentrated first on delaying, and then on canceling, this development. Their objective was achieved in 1920 during the Russo-Polish war. The Poles were told in good ultimative form at the Spa conference in July 1920 that they must relinquish their demand for a plebiscite, and submit to the arbitration of the Allied Powers. The greater part of the Teschen area was assigned to Czechoslovakia on July 28, 1920. The Czech objective had been achieved by an exceedingly adroit combination of force and diplomacy.

The Poles were aware of the fact that the Czechs had used their influence to prevent the assignment of East Galicia to Poland, although this issue was ultimately decided in favor of Poland by the separate treaty between Russia and Poland at Riga in 1921. The Poles were equally conscious that Czechoslovakia favored the Soviet Union during the 1920-1921 war. The French were increasingly inclined to regard the Czech pro-Russian policy as realistic, and hence to favor Czechoslovakia over Poland. It was evident after the Pilsudski coup d’Etat in 1926 that Czech political leaders were in close contact with many of the Polish politicians opposing the Warsaw dictatorship.

Polish Grievances and Western Criticism

Experts on Central-Eastern Europe have criticized the insufficient cooperation among the so-called succession states after 1918. The Poles in particular have received a large share of this criticism. It has been said that Polish differences with the Czechs over Teschen, or over the Czech pro-Soviet orientation, were minor compared to the importance of Czechoslovakia as a bastion which protected the Polish southern flank against German expansion. It has been argued that the Poles and Czechs both profited from World War I, and that they should have been prepared to cooperate in defending their positions against revisionist Powers. Emphasis has been placed on the contention that they were sister Slavic nations with special ties of ethnography and culture.

Winston Spencer Churchill had much to say on the subject of Czech-Polish relations. Churchill was the most articulate advocate of the British encirclement of Germany in the period before the Czech crisis of 1938. Churchill was noted for his belligerency, which was often regarded by his compatriots as a romantic love of adventure. He was noted for adopting the most uncompromising view of a situation and also the one most likely to produce a conflict. This had been true of his attitude in the Sudan, South Africa, and India, during the 1936 British abdication crisis, and toward many other problems in addition to Anglo-German relations. The same Churchill saw no reason why Poland should not turn her other cheek to the Czechs. When Polish leaders failed to look at matters the same way, Churchill invoked strong criticism: “The heroic characteristics of the Polish race must not blind us to their record of folly and ingratitude which over centuries had led them through measureless suffering.” The arguments of strategy, politics and race appeared to Churchill to dictate a Polish policy of friendship toward Czechoslovakia.

The three arguments which impressed Churchill carried little weight with the Polish leaders. They were not inclined after the death of Pilsudski in 1935 to modify the existing anti-Czech policy. This did not mean that they were unwilling under all circumstances to fight at the side of the Czechs in some war against Germany, and they made this clear to their French allies during the Czech crisis in 1938. If France supported the Czechs, if the Czechs were wining to fight, and if the Czechs disgorged the territory seized from Poland in 1919-1920, the Poles would cooperate with the Czechs. The Poles did not expect these conditions to be met for the simple reason that they did not believe the Czechs would dare to fight the Germans.

The primary aim of Polish policy was to secure Polish claims against the Czechs by agreement, by threat of force, or by force. Foreign Minister Rickard Sandler of Sweden asked Beck before the 1938 Czech crisis why it was difficult to achieve an entente between Warsaw and Prague. The Polish Foreign Minister replied that one factor was Poland’s lack of enthusiasm about a Power whose claim to an independent existence was problematical. Czechoslovakia, in his opinion, was an artificial creation which violated the liberty of nations, and especially of Slovakia and Hungary. Beck’s attitude was that of Mussolini, who publicly referred to the Czech state as CzechoGermano-Polono-Magyaro-Rutheno-Rumano-Slovakia. Beck emphasized that the Czechs were a minority in their own state, and that none of the other nationalities desired to remain under Czech rule. He also objected to Czech hypocrisy in stressing the allegedly liberal and democratic nature of their regime. They granted extensive rights on paper to all citizens of the state, but they exercised a brutal and arbitrary police power over the nationalities which constituted the majority of the population. Sandler was much impressed by Beck’s remarks, and he observed that the Czechs obviously lacked the capacity to achieve good relations with their neighbors.

Beck’s attitude was not based primarily on these abstract considerations. Pilsudski’s program had called for the federation (of the Lithuanians, White Russians and Ukrainians) under Polish control. If this program had been achieved, the Poles would have been a sort of minority within a large federation, although the granting of actual autonomy to the other peoples would have been in contrast to the Czech system. Ideological differences were not decisive for Beck, who did not consider the democratic liberalism of France an insurmountable obstacle to FrancoPolish collaboration. He could not consistently boycott the same ideology at Prague.

The situation, quite apart from the specific dispute over Teschen, was deter mined by purely power political considerations. Poland and Czechoslovakia were bitter rivals for power and influence in the same Central-Eastern European area. Both were allied separately with Rumania, and Warsaw resented the fact that Bucharest usually appeared to be closer to Prague. The Czech alliances with both Yugoslavia and Rumania gave Prague a position of power in the general area equal to that of Warsaw. The Czechs also had an alliance with France, and they enjoyed better treatment from Paris than Warsaw received. They had ties with other allies of France in a general system directed against Germany and Hungary. The warm friendship between Prague and Moscow gave Czechoslovakia an extra trump, which the Poles could match only by establishing closer relations with Germany.

In the Polish mind, the advantage of eliminating a dangerous rival far outweighed the consideration that Germany would be in a position to secure a greater immediate gain than Poland at Czech expense. Loyalty toward the Versailles treaty and the other Paris treaties of 1919 was not a compelling motive, because the Poles were dissatisfied with the terms of these treaties.

The argument that the two nations were sister Slavic communities was anathema to the Poles. This reminded them of the indiscriminate Pan-Slavic vehicle of Russian domination over the lesser Slavic peoples. The Poles did not reject ties with sister Slavic communities, but they opposed to the Czech or Russian idea of Pan-Slavism their own more exclusive concept, which substituted themselves for the Russians as the dominant Slavic force. The Czechs were at least half-German in race, according to many Poles, and they were considered Predominantly German in the cultural, political and social spheres. The Russians also were placed at the outside border of Slavdom because of their enormous Asiatic racial admixture. The same criterion was applied to the Serbs and the Bulgars, who had experienced a strong oriental influx in their Balkan environment. The Slavic community recognized by the Poles included themselves, the Ukrainians, the White Russians, the Slovaks, the Croatians, and the Slovenians. According to Beck, the two foreign Slavic peoples most popular in Poland because of close cultural ties with the Poles were the Slovaks and the Croats.

Relations between Warsaw and Belgrade, also, were cool, although there were no disputes between two countries separated so widely geographically. The Polish attitude toward Yugoslavia was negative, because the Roman Catholic Croats in Yugoslavia were oppressed by the semi-oriental Greek Orthodox Serbs, who possessed the real power in the state. The Slovak people in Czechoslovakia were conspicuously unhappy under the alien rule and oppressive economic domination of the Czechs. In Poland the argument of cultural affinity could be a great force in condemning rather than in supporting the idea of collaboration with Prague.

It would provoke endless controversy to decide whether Churchill or the Polish leaders had the more noble understanding of what Poland owed Czechoslovakia, or what would best serve Polish interests. It is more relevant to realize that the Polish leaders had a definite Czech policy, and that it was an intelligible policy whatever one may think of it. Beck never would have been at a loss in replying to any arguments on this subject from Churchill. The Czechs had taken the initiative in provoking the antagonism between Czechoslovakia and Poland. It is true· that the ultimate dissolution of Czechoslovakia made the Polish military position more vulnerable on the German side, but this would not have been serious had not Poland provoked a conflict with Germany instead of accepting German friendship. The main military threat to Poland came from the Soviet Union. In this respect the removal of Czechoslovakia was a gain, because the Czechs had made it clear that they would support Russia in the event of a conflict between Poland and Russia.

The Anti-German Policy of Benes

The critical attitude of Hitler toward Czechoslovakia is much easier to analyze and to explain. He had realized since his boyhood days at Linz that the Germans were confronted with a Czech problem, although at the time this problem was a matter of concern only to those Germans who were subjects of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. He had never sympathized with Czech aspirations for political independence, and he regarded it as a misfortune that in many respects, and particularly in local government, the Czechs of Bohemia enjoyed more privileges than the Bohemian Germans under Habsburg rule. Habsburg policy was based on the assumption that the loyalty of the Bohemian Germans could be taken for granted, but special privileges were required for the Czechs to appease their nationalism. Hitler became a German nationalist at an early date, and, as such, an opponent of the multi-national Habsburg system. He knew that Bohemia, which had been traversed on foot by his musical idol, Richard Wagner, had been an integral part of the One Thousand Year Reich of Charlemagne.

Hitler, contrary to popular superstition, never referred to his own regime as the One Thousand Year Reich. Nevertheless, like any other German conscious of them, he had a profound respect for the traditions of German history. If the role of Bohemia within Germany had worked well for more than one thousand years, one could be pardoned for skepticism toward the radical solution of placing that region within the confines of a Slavic state.

It might have been possible for a larger number of people to accept this radical solution in time had conditions within Czechoslovakia been tolerable for the Germans living there, and had these local Germans become resigned to their fate. The Sudeten Germans were divided into four groups of Bavarian, Franconian, Saxon, and Silesian dialects and local cultures. They were far less aggressive politically than the Czechs, and they submitted without violence to the establishment of Czech rule in 1918 and 1919. It would have been easy to appease them, and it could have been done with a little local autonomy and with an impartial economic policy. The Czechs should have realized the importance of this for the future of their state, since the ratio of Germans to Czechs in the entire region of Bohemia-Moravia was approximately 1:2, and there were far more Germans than Czechs in Slovakia. The Czechs, instead, soon developed a contemptuous attitude toward the Germans, and they began to believe that the Germans could be handled more effectively as passive subjects than as active citizens.

The Germans were divided politically, but a new development appeared after conditions became increasingly worse for them and better for the Germans across the frontier. In the 1935 national Czechoslovak election, the Sudeten German Party (SdP), which was inspired by admiration for Adolf Hitler and his policies, captured the majority of the German vote, and it became the largest single party in Czechoslovakia. There were 800,000 unemployed workers in Czechoslovakia at that time, and 500,000 of these were Sudeten Germans. Marriages and births were few, and the death-rate was high. It is not surprising that conditions changed after the liberation of the Sudetenland in 1938. The Northern Sudetenland (the three districts of Eger, Aussig, and Troppau: the two southern sections were assigned to Bavaria and German Austria) led all regions of Germany in the number of marriages in 1939 (approximately 30% ahead of the national average). The birth-rate in 1940 was 60% greater than the birth-rate of 1937. The period of Czech rule was a bad time for the Bohemian Germans, and conditions prior to the Munich conference became steadily worse. These people were patient, but they were not cowards, and the ultimate reaction was inevitable.

It is impossible under these circumstances to claim that Hitler created an artificial problem, either in the Sudetenland or in the Bohemian-Moravian region as a whole. This problem had been created in the first instance by the peacemakers of Paris, and in the second instance by Czech misrule. It was evident that the Sudeten problem would come to a head of its own momentum if Hitler succeeded in liberating the Germans of Austria from the Schuschnigg dictatorship. Hitler had no definite plans before May 1938 for dealing with this problem, but he was determined to alleviate conditions for the Germans in some way, and there can be no doubt that he [no less ardently than the Polish leaders] hoped for the total dissolution of Czechoslovakia. It is for these reasons that the German and Polish leaders found a basis for agreement whenever Czechoslovakia was discussed.

This situation, and especially the inevitable German attitude toward Czechoslovakia, was no mystery to foreign statesmen before the year of the Czech crisis, 1938. Lord Halifax, who was British Foreign Secretary throughout most of 1938, told Hitler after a luncheon at Berchtesgaden on November 19, 1937, that Great Britain realized that the Paris treaties of 1919 contained mistakes which had to be rectified. Halifax assured Hitler that Great Britain did not believe in preserving the status quo at all costs. He mentioned the burning questions of Danzig, Austria, and Czechoslovakia quite on his own initiative, and without any prompting from Hitler. This was before Hitler had made any statement publicly that Germany was concerned either with the Czech or Danzig problems. Indeed, no such statement was necessary, since the situation was perfectly obvious.

At one time it seemed that common antipathy toward Czechoslovakia might cement a virtual alliance between Germany and Poland. It was evident that this commost bond would disappear after the Czech problem was solved, unless the Poles realized that antipathy toward the Soviet Union was a much more important issue in uniting the two countries. In the meantime, the points of friction between Germany and Poland would remain unless an understanding far more comprehensive than the 1934 Pact could be attained.

Neurath’s Anti-Polish Policy Rejected by Hitler

It remained established German policy after 1934 to expect some revision of the Versailles Treaty along the German eastern frontier. An enduring German-Polish collaboration would depend upon a successful agreement on this issue. The German-Polish non-aggression pact of January 1934 was as silent as the Locarno treaties about German recognition of the eastern status quo. The Germans did not consider the Versailles treaty binding, because it violated the armistice agreement of 1918, and it was signed under duress. The Polish leaders were aware of this, and occasionally Berk sought to obtain new guarantees without concluding a comprehensive agreement with Germany.

Beck instructed Ambassador Lipski at Berlin to propose a German-Polish declaration on Danzig in September 1937. The Germans were requested to join in avowing that “it is imperative to maintain the statute which designates Danzig as the Free City.” Foreign Mimster Konstanin von Neurath of Germany was less friendly than Hitler toward Poland, and he peremptorily instructed Moltke in Warsaw “to tell Beck again” that Germany would not recognize the peace treaties of 1919.

Neurath had been Foreign Minister since 1932. He served under several Chancellors of the Weimar Republic, and he was retained at his post by Hitler. He was not a particularly zealous Foreign Minister of the Third Reich, because he was an aristocrat who had little sympathy for Hitler’s egalitarian measures. Hitler admired Neurath personally, but he recognized him as a weak link in the chain of German policy. Hitler was more intimate with Joachim von Ribbentrop, an ex-officer and merchant sincerely devoted to Hitler’s policies. Ribbentrop gradually replaced Alfred Rosenberg as the principal National Socialist Party expert on foreign affairs, and he developed an extensive Party bureaucratic organization to keep in touch with foreign countries. This organization was known as the Ribbentrop Office, and it foreign contacts were so extensive that it came to be looked upon as Germany’s second and unofficial foreign service. Ribbentrop wished to retain control of this organization, and at the same time come to the top in the regular German Foreign Office. His ambition was recognized by the professional diplomats, and they did what they could to place obstacles in his way.

Neurath was pleased that he had persuaded Hitler to send Ribbentrop, and not Franz von Papen, as German Ambassador to London in 1936. Neurath believed that Ribbentrop would be unable to cope with the British situation, and that he would ruin his career at this difficult post. Papen, who had known Ribbentrop for many years, was more astute, and he feared that the London embassy would provide the non-professional diplomat with an opportunity to show Hitler what he could do. The event was to prove that Papen was right.

Neurath rejected Beck’s gesture in September 1937 without consulting Hitler, because he assumed that no other German response was possible. Hitler did not wish to bind Germany permanently to the Danzig status quo, but he had a more flexible conception of German foreign policy. He was counting on Polish friendship in dealing with the crises which were likely to arise in Austria and Czechoslovakia.

Beck’s attempt to regulate Danzig affairs exclusively with Germany conformed to a trend. Great Britain and France were represented with Sweden on a new League Commission of Three to supervise League responsibilities as the sovereign Power at Danzig. This was clearly a caretaker arrangement, and Foreign Minister Anthony Eden of Great Britain tacitly spoke for the Commission when he told the new League High Commissioner, Carl Jacob Burckhardt, on September 15, 1937, that “British policy had no special interest as such in the situation in Danzig.” This position was consistent with British policy established by Prime Minister David Lloyd George in 1919 when he said that Great Britain would never fight for the Danzig status quo. Burckhardt had no illusions about the role of the League at Danzig. He told Adolf Hitler on September 18, 1937, that he hoped the role of the League was merely temporary, and that the ultimate fate of Danzig would be settled by a direct agreement between Germany and Poland. Hitler listened to Burckhardt’s views without offering any plan for a solution. Burckhardt surmised that Hitler feared to raise the Danzig question, because it would affect the related questions of the Corridor, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. Hitler, after nearly five years in power, had pursued no questions of territorial revision, although responsibility for the ill-fated Austrian revolution of July 1934 had been falsely attributed to him.

Jozef Lipski, the Polish Ambassador in Berlin, knew that Hitler was a sincere advocate of an understanding with Poland. Lipski was not inclined to accept the categorical statement on Danzig by Neurath. He hoped to obtain the declaration of Danzig which Beck had requested, and he was encouraged by conversations with Marshal Göring. The German Marshal had many duties connected with the German Air Force, the second German Four Year Plan, and the Prussian State Administration, but he was also intensely interested in foreign affairs. He was the Second Man in the Reich, and Hitler employed him as an Ambassador-at-large to Poland. He knew the Polish leaders, and he desired a lasting understanding with Poland. He was accustomed to discuss important matters of state with Polish representatives. He usually gave the German Foreign Office full information concerning these discussions, but it was sometimes necessary to inquire what he had said to foreign diplomats.

Lipski approached Neurath several times for a Danzig declaration. Neurath on October 18, 1937, bluntly told Lipski that “some day there would have to be a basic settlement on the Danzig question between Poland and us, since it would otherwise permanently disturb German-Polish relations.” Neurath added that the sole aim of such a discussion would be “the restoration of German Danzig to its natural connection with the Reich, in which case extensive consideration could be given to Poland’s economic interests.”

Lipski was surprised, and he asked if the question would be broached soon, or perhaps immediately. Neurath evaded this inquiry, but he requested Lipski to inform Beck of his attitude. Lipski mentioned that Robert Ley, Chief of the German Labor Front, Artur Greiser, President of the Danzig Senate, and Albert Forster, District National Socialist Party Leader at Danzig, had declared publicly in recent days that Danzig must return to Germany. Neurath did not question or seek to excuse these statements. He replied that there was a need to solve the Danzig problem, and his conversation with Lipski ended in an impasse.

There was also the problem of German access by land to East Prussia, which had been severed from the Reich. In May 1935, when Germany was engaged in her huge superhighway construction project, German Ambassador Hans Adolf von Moltke informed Beck at Warsaw that Germany wished to build a super highway across the Polish Corridor to East Prussia. He inquired about the Polish attitude toward this plan, and Beck said that he would study the question. This was the beginning of protracted evasion by Beck. Repeated reminders from Moltke did not produce a definite statement about the Polish attitude toward the project. Fritz Todt, the National Inspector for Roads in Germany, discussed German plans with Julian Piasecki, the Polish Deputy Minister for Transportation. Moltke concluded after more than two years of fruitless inquiry that the attitude of the Polish Government was negative. The plan embodied a vital German national interest, and its acceptance by Poland would have improved prospects for a comprehensive German-Polish agreement. Moltke was unwilling to concede a final defeat in this matter.

Moltke presented a startling proposition to the German Foreign Office in October 1937. He suggested that Germany should build a superhighway up to the Corridor boundary from both Pomerania and East Prussia without waiting for Polish permission to link the route through the Corridor. Moltke failed to see that this would be a provocation which would stiffen Polish resistance to the German proposal. He believed that possible Polish objection to the construction of major military roads into the frontier area would be rendered pointless, and the Poles would find it expedient to conclude an agreement. He also had another factor in mind. The influx of tourists into Germany had greatly increased since the 1936 Olympic Games at Berlin, and Moltke believed that the complaints of foreigners, and especially tourists, who would be irritated by the break in the superhighway to historic old East Prussia, could be exploited to apply pressure on the Poles.

The Poles knew that the Germans desired a superhighway across their Corridor, and Neurath’s conversations with Lipski suggested the possibility that Germany was about to demand Danzig. Lipski was reticent when he conversed with Neurath again on October 23, 1937, and Neurath retained the false impression that the Poles were prepared to accept a German solution of the Danzig question. Neurath was also weighing favorably a suggestion from Albert Forster in Danzig that an offer to use Polish steel for the superhighway and a new Vistula bridge might influence the Poles to accept the highway project.

The attitude of Neurath was fully shared by Czech Ambassador Slavik in Warsaw. The Czech diplomat regarded the recovery of Danzig by Germany as inevitable. He reported to Foreign Minister Kamil Krofta that in the opinion of Léon Noël, the French Ambassador to Poland, Danzig was lost to Poland. The conclusion of a provisional agreement on Danzig between Germany and Poland on November 5, 1937, did not change his opinion. He reported to Krofta on November 7, 1937, that League High Commissioner Burckhardt continued to insist that the union of Danzig with Germany could not be prevented. It was not surprising that the Czechs were complacent in their expectation that the German campaign of territorial revision would begin at Danzig in the vicinity of Poland. They were counting on Italy to prevent a German move into Austria, and they had nothing to fear from Germany as long as the Schuschnigg dictatorship was maintained. The fate of Danzig was a matter of complete indifference to Czechoslovakia.

The German-Polish Minority Pact of 1937

The Germans had sought a treaty on minorities with Poland since 1934. when Beck exploited Russian entry into the League of Nations as a pretext to repudiate the existing treaties. The Germans of Poland were in a weak position, and they lacked the compact organization of the Germans in Czechoslovakia. The Polish treatment of the Germans after 1918 was harsh. Approximately 70% of the 1918 German population of Posen and West Prussia had emigrated to Germany before the Pilsudski coup d’Etat in 1926, and this comprised no less than 820,000 individuals from these two former German provinces. Polish propaganda often pretended that the Germans who remained were largely great landowners, but this was not so. It is true that 80% of the 325,000 Germans remaining in the two provinces by 1937 lived from agriculture, but they were mainly peasants. There were still 165,000 Germans by 1939 in East Upper Silesia, which had been detached from Germany despite the German victory in the 1921 plebiscite. There were also 364,000 Germans in Congress Poland in 1939, and there were 60,000 within the former Kresy territory of Volhynia. Germans were scattered through the Wilna area, and as late as 1939 there were over 900,000 Germans in the former German and Russian Polish territories. This did not include Austrian Galicia, where the Germans were mainly agricultural, although the industrial town of Bielitz had a German population of 62%. A critical study of the 1931 Polish census, which contained startling inaccuracies in several directions, showed that the given figure of 727,000 Germans was short of the real figure by more than 400,000.

Polish policy toward the Germans during the early years was more severe in the former German territories than in Galicia, Congress Poland, or the Kresy. More than one million acres of German-owned land were confiscated during the years from 1919-1929 in the provinces of Posen and West Prussia. German language schools throughout Poland were closed during the years before 1934. There were 21 German deputies in the Polish Sejm after the 1928 election, 5 German deputies after the election in autumn 1930, and no German deputies after 1935. Two Germans were allowed to sit in the less important Polish Senate at that time, but they were denied their seats many months before the outbreak of the German-Polish war in 1939.

The exceptionally miserable conditions in the former German provinces inevitably produced protests from the local German population. There was much enthusiasm among the younger Germans in 1933 when the Hitler Revolution triumphed in the Reich, and this further irritated and antagonized the Poles. The older Germans were aware of this, and many of them were concerned about it. The younger Germans were attracted to the Young German Party for Poland (JDP) which had been founded by Dr. Rudolf Wiesner at Bielitz in 1921. A number of more conservative German parties had opposed this group, and in 1934 Senator Hasbach attempted to unite the conservative opposition in the Council of Germans in Poland (RDP). The conservatives controlled most of the remaining German language press, and in 1937 there was a split in the Young German leadership, when a more radical faction under Wilhelm Schneider sought to obtain control. Wiesner won out after much difficulty, but it was a conspicuous fact that no outstanding leadership emerged in any of the German groups. The contrast between the German factions in Poland and the Sudeten German Party in Czechoslovakia under Konrad Henlein was very great.

Both the conservative and radical groups were nominally pro-Hitler, but the latter had more ambitious ideas concerning the extent to which social reforms like those of the Reich could be of benefit in improving conditions for the Germans of Poland. Neither group indicated the slightest expectation that they would or could come under German rule. The Office for Ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche Mittelstelle) in the Reich, which promoted cultural contracts between Germans abroad and Germany, did not interfere with the struggle between the German political factions in Poland. Both factions hoped that the rapprochement between Germany and Poland would improve their position, but there was no indication of this in the years after the conclusion of the 1934 pact. The Germans of Poland, with very few exceptions, remained strictly loyal to the Polish state, and later research by the Dutch expert, Louis de Jong, contradicted the popular Polish claim that there was a German 5th column in Poland. The agents of the German intelligence service in Poland were almost exclusively Jews and Poles. Thousands of young Germans of military age were serving with the Polish Army when war came in 1939. The prominent Germans of Poland remained in the country in September 1939 and experienced arrest, transportation into the interior, or death.

An article in Gazeta Polska, the Government newspaper at Warsaw, stated on October 21, 1935, that moral solidarity and cultural ties were clearly within the rights of the Germans of Poland. This was all that the German minority sought.

The Germans of Poland failed to unite, but their morale improved after 1933. They took an active part in the 1935 Polish national election, although it was known that they would be allowed no seats in the Sejm. The National Democrats, a strictly Polish party, boycotted the same election. They provoked the authorities in a manner of which the Germans would never have dreamed. The Germans of Poland, when allowance is made for a few individual exceptions, were passive, and not trouble-makers. Hider was understandably concerned about their unfair treatment, but he merely wished that they would receive decent treatment as Polish subjects.

The Polish minority in Germany was more united and more ably organized. The Union of Poles in Germany (Zwiazek Polakow w Niemczech) was organized at Berlin in 1922. All members automatically received the newspaper, Polak w Niemczech (The Pole in Germany). It had been true for generations that many people of Polish descent in Germany preferred to be considered German. The Union of Poles sought to combat this tendency, and it opposed the so-called “subjective census” introduced by the Weimar Republic and continued by Hitler. The old Hohenzollern bureaucracy had counted Poles on the basis of documentary evidence. The modern technique called for a subjective declaration of ethnic identity in addition to an identification of the mother tongue. This meant in Weimar days that a person could say his mother tongue was Polish, but that he was ethnically German. Many thousands of Poles had emigrated to work in West German industry as well as in the industries of France, and now the census permitted them to identify themselves as Germans. Under the conditions, only 14,000 claimed to be Poles in the census of 1939, although the Germans estimated that there must be at least 260,000 Poles in Germany by objective criteria, and the Polish Government claimed that there were 1,500,000. Economic conditions in Germany were good, there was no economic discrimination against the Poles, and the national feeling of the Polish minority was lax. The same trend had been displayed in elections to the Reichstag during the Weimar Republic, but under Hitler it became an avalanche.

During the 1928 school year, only 6,600 children had attended Polish schools in Germany, and of these 4,172 were in the Berlin and Ruhr areas. On the other hand, the Poles maintained many cooperatives, which were less explicitly an indication of national identity. The Polish press in Germany welcomed the improved economic and social conditions under Hitler, and it recognized the National Socialist program to secure these conditions for the Polish minority. The German citizen law of September 15, 1935, was explicit in recognizing that the Polish minority enjoyed full citizen rights. In 1937, the Polish minority organization still maintained 58 grammar schools and 2 high schools (gymnasia), and these institutions provided ample space for Polish children wishing to attend Polish schools in the Reich. A general meeting of the Polish organization was held on March 6, 1938, in the Strength through Joy (KdF) theater in Berlin with Father Domanski and Secretary-General Czeslaw Kaczmarek presiding. Many proud speeches were made. A large organization was formally in evidence, but there was little behind it, as the May 1939 German census clearly revealed.

A promising German-Polish pact on minorities was concluded at last on November 5, 1937. It was agreed that on the same day Hitler would speak to the leaders of the Polish minority and President Moscicki of Poland would address the German minority leaders. Hitler was extremely pleased with what he regarded as a concrete step in the direction of a comprehensive German-Polish understanding. He could not know that the Polish leaders would consider the new pact a dead letter. He agreed to amnesty a number of German citizens of Polish extraction, who had violated German criminal laws. He also granted Lipski’s request for a compromise declaration on Danzig. It was agreed that the Danzig question would not be permitted to disturb German-Polish relations. Hitler displayed his Austrian charm when he received the delegation from the Polish minority in Germany. He emphasized to them that he was an Austrian, and that precisely for this reason he could understand their situation especially well. The Poles were extremely pleased by the warmly personal nature of Hitler’s remarks. The reception given to the German minority leaders by President Moscicki at a vacation resort in the Beskiden mountains was more reserved.

The Bogey of the Hossbach Memorandum

A mysterious event which took place on the same day as the German-Polish minority pact has furnished ideal subject matter for professional propagandists. Hitler addressed a conference attended by some of his advisers, but without the majority of his Cabinet. The narrow circle included Defense Minister Werner von Blomberg, Army Commander Werner von Fritsch, Navy Commander Erich Raeder, Air Force Commander Hermann Göring, and Foreign Minister Konstantin von Neurath. Colonel Hossbach, an officer of the German General Staff assigned by the General Staff for liaison work with Hitler, was also present. This man was in no sense Hitler’s personal adjutant, although this idea has persisted in many accounts.

The so-called Hossbach version of the conference, which is supposed to have become one of the most celebrated documents of all time, was written several days after the event, and it could carry no weight in a normal court of law, even if an actual copy of this memorandum was available. Hossbach had been an opponent of Hitler and his system since 1934, and he was not averse to the employment of illegal and revolutionary means in eliminating Hitler. He was an ardent admirer of General Ludwig Beck, the German Chief of Staff, whose life he had once helped to save on the occasion of a cavalry accident. Beck was a determined foe of Hitler, and he was engaged in organizing opposition against the German Chancellor. Hossbach was naturally on the alert to provide Beck with every possible kind of propaganda material. Hitler was popular in Germany, and only extreme methods might be effective in opposing him.

It would be the duty of every historian to treat the so-called Hossbach memorandum with reserve, even if it could be shown that the version introduced at Nuremberg was an authentic copy of the memorandum which Hossbach began to write on November 10, 1937 (he failed to recall later when he completed his effort). The fact is, however, that no copies of this original version have been located since World War II. The version introduced by the American Prosecution at Nuremberg, the only one extant, was said to be a copy made from the original version in late 1943 or early 1944, but Hossbach declared in a notarized affidavit on June 18, 1946, that he could not remember whether or not the Nuremberg copy corresponded to the original which he had made nearly nine years earlier. In other words, the sensational document, which was the primary instrument used in securing the conviction and execution of a number of Germany’s top leaders, has never been verified, and there is no reason to assume that it is authentic. Raeder explained that Hitler’s views, as expressed on November 5, 1937, offered no basis to conclude that any change in German foreign policy was about to take place, but the judges at Nuremberg, with the dubious help of an unconfirmed record, decided that Hitler had revealed unmistakably his unalterable intention to wage a war of criminal aggression.

Fritsch and Blomberg were dead when this conference was investigated after World War II, but Neurath and Göring agreed with Raeder about the essential nature of Hitler’s remarks. Hitler had discussed German aspirations in Central Europe and the danger of war, but this was certainly a very different thing than announcing an intention to pursue a reckless foreign policy or to seek a war. Even the alleged Hossbach memorandum introduced at Nuremberg, as A.J.P. Taylor has pointed out, does not anticipate any of the actual events which followed in Europe during 1938 and 1939. It does contain some offensive and belligerent ideas, but it outlines no specific actions, and it establishes no time tables. Hence, error had been added to error. It was false to assume that the document was authentic in the first place, and it was incorrect to assume that even the fraudulent document contained any damaging evidence against Hitler and the other German leaders. Unfortunately, most of the later historians in Germany and elsewhere have blindly followed the Nuremberg judgment and have arrived at the mistaken conclusion that Hitler’s conference of November 5, 1937, was relevant to the effort of determining the responsibility for World War II.

Hitler’s November 1937 Danzig Declaration

The November 5, 1937, treaty on minorities would have resolved one of the two major points of friction between Germany and Poland had it been observed by the Poles. It guarded against assimilation by force, restrictions against the use of the mother tongue, suppression of associations, denial of schools, and the pursuit of policies of economic discrimination.

The other principal point of friction was the Danzig-Corridor problem. Hitler hoped to reassure the Poles by his statement that he was contemplating peaceful negotiation to resolve this problem. Neurath was not content to leave Hitler’s vague assurance unqualified, and he sought to interpret it as part of a quid pro quo bargain. According to Neurath, Hitler’s promise to the Poles on Danzig would be a dead letter if they did not respect the treaty on minorities.

The Poles attempted to interpret Hitler’s statement as a disavowal that Germany intended to acquire Danzig. They were on weak ground in this effort, because the German failure to accord them a voluntary recognition of their frontiers meant that Germany was automatically claiming the territory assigned to Poland on the western side of the German 1914 eastern frontier. The Polish Foreign Office on November 9, 1937, protested against a speech by Albert Forster in Düsseldorf on November 6th. Forster had declared to a large audience that his aim was to achieve the reunion of Danzig with the Reich. This speech was merely one incident in a major campaign to acquaint the German population with the Danzig problem.

It was decided at the German Foreign Office on November 23, 1937, that the recent Danzig meetings carried out by Forster in various German cities had been so successful that this program should be intensified. Plans were made to prepare one hundred additional meetings in the near future, and an additional fifty meetings before April 1938. Arrangements were made to provide the best possible speakers from Danzig. The Danzig Senate President, the Volkstag President (Danzig Lower House), the Danzig District Propaganda Leader, the Danzig Labor Front Leader, and many other prominent Danzigers were enrolled in addition to Forster. It was discovered that Der Danziger Vorposten (The Danzig Sentinel), the principal news organ of Danzig, was an excellent newspaper, and plans were made to increase its circulation in the Reich. Das Deutsche Danzig (German Danzig), a travelling Danzig exposition, was also planned, and it was scheduled to open at Muenster in Westphalia by the end of November 1937. The German Foreign Office had concluded that current knowledge and awareness of Danzig in the Reich was “proper” but “insufficient.” This activity was an excellent indication of the German attitude toward Hitler’s Danzig declaration. It was regarded as the hopeful beginning of a definite diplomatic campaign to recover Danzig.

Austria as a Czech Buffer

The German Foreign Office assumption about Danzig was basically correct although somewhat premature. Hitler did not pursue the Danzig question during the winter of 1937-1938, and by February 1938 the Austrian question commanded his full attention. It was soon evident that an Austrian crisis was approaching its climax, and there could be no doubt that a solution of the Austrian problem would automatically raise the Czechoslovakian problem. The existence of 3,500,000 unhappy Sudeten Germans could be ignored neither by the Czechs, by Hitler, nor by the world if the Germans of Austria were united with Germany. A Czechoslovakian crisis in turn could provide the first major opportunity for Germany and Poland to cooperate in an international crisis, because the attitudes of both of these states toward the Czechs were hostile and fundamentally identical. If this cooperation proved successful, it might be possible to deal with the two principal points of friction between Germany and Poland with greater prospect of success.

The Czechs were well aware of the hostility of their principal neighbors. It was not surprising that on February 22, 1938, during the early phase of the Austrian crisis, Kamil Krofta, Czechoslovakia’s Foreign Minister, prepared a memorandum which explained why he favored definite Czech action to prevent the reunion of Austria and Germany. The complacent assumption that Danzig was the primary objective of German expansion would be shattered unless the puppet dictatorship in Austria could be maintained as a buffer against the realization of Hitler’s dream of Greater Germany. Palacky had supported an independent Austria against the Frankfurt Parliament in 1848, and Krofta hoped that it would be possible to support an independent Austria, although merely a fragmentary rump-Austria, against Hitler.

In the foreground the Czechs were facing a surprise, and the Germans and the Poles were soon in a position to score their separate triumphs at Czech expense. In the background was the Soviet Union, the greatest single peril either Germans or Poles had ever had to face. It was desirable for Germany and Poland to unite against this danger, although perhaps no one, including the German and the Polish leaders, knew how great the peril really was.

Chapter 5 • The Road to Munich • 18,700 Words
Hitler’s Peaceful Revision Policy in 1938 — The January 1938 Hitler-Beck Conference — The Rise of Joachim von Ribbentrop — The Fall of Kurt von Schuschnigg — The Double Game of Lord Halifax — The Secret War Aspirations of President Roosevelt — The Peace Policy of Georges Bonnet — Litvinov’s Hopes for a FrancoGerman War — The Reckless Diplomacy of Eduard Benes — The War Bid of Benes Rejected by Halifax — Hitler’s Decision to Liberate the Sudetenland — The Sportpalast Pledge of September 26, 1938 — Hungarian Aspirations in Czechoslovakia — British Encouragement of Polish Defiance at Danzig — Polish Pressure on the Czechs — The Soviet Threat to Poland — The Failure of Benes to Deceive Beck — The Munich Conference — The Polish Ultimatum to Czechoslovakia — German Support to Poland Against the Soviet Union — AngloGerman Treaty Accepted by Hitler

Hitler’s Peaceful Revision Policy in 1938

The year 1938 retains a special place in the annals of Europe. It was the year of Adolf Hitler’s greatest triumphs in foreign policy. A.J.P. Taylor, in his epochal book, The Origins of the Second World War, has proved beyond dispute that Hitler’s principal moves in 1938 were nothing more than improvised responses to the actions of others. Yet, in 1938, Hitler liberated ten million Germans who had been denied self-determination by the peacemakers of 1919. Hitler gained for the German people the same rights enjoyed by the peoples of Great Britain, France, Italy, and Poland. He managed to achieve his victories without provoking an armed conflict. Nothing of the kind had happened in Europe before. There had been dynastic unions in which territories had been united without actual violence, but never had the leader of one nation triumphed over two hostile foreign Governments without shedding blood. Hitler proved something which the League of Nations claimed that it would prove but never did. Peaceful territorial revision in Europe was possible. No one could have said this with any assurance before 1938, because empirical evidence was lacking. We now have the empirical evidence. The threat of force was used by Hitler to achieve these results, but the shedding of blood in senseless wars was avoided. A cursory examination of these triumphs will be vital in explaining why the major successes of Hitler in 1938 were not duplicated on a smaller scale in September 1939.

Perhaps no statesman has been more violently criticized than Hitler by his compatriots and by foreigners throughout the world. This is not surprising when one considers that Hitler failed to carry out his program after 1939, and that his failure was total because of the savagery of his opponents. Some critics condemn Hitler from the hour of his birth. At the other extreme are those who perhaps regard themselves as friendly or sympathetic toward him, but who say that Hitler did not know how to wait, or did not know when to stop. It is customary to condemn failure and to worship success. This tendency is part of the fundamental desire of mankind to simplify the world in which we live and to find a natural order and purpose in things. Nietzsche had this in mind when he wrote that a good war justifies every cause. No one can be immune from this desire, because it is “human-all-too-human,” but momentary detachment, within the context of past events, is and should be possible. It will be evident later that the Munich conference was not the final solution to Germany’s problems, and that the adoption by Hitler of a passive wait-and-see policy at that stage would have been merely a simple and dangerous panacea.

Hitler had no idea of what was in store when 1938 opened. There had been no sequel to the November 5, 1937, conference with Foreign Minister Neurath and the military men. He had no specific plans and no timetable for the accomplishment of territorial revision. When he looked out the Berghof windows at Berchtesgaden into the mountains of Austria, he did not know that within a few weeks he would return to his Austrian homeland for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. The achievements of Hitler in 1938 were not the result of careful foresight and planning in the style of Bismarck, but of the rapid exploitation of fortuitous circumstances in the style of Frederick the Great during the early years of his reign.

The January 1938 Hitler-Beck Conference

Hitler discussed the European situation with Polish Foreign Minister Beck at Berlin on January 14, 1938. This conference was important. The development of German-Polish relations since the November 5, 1937, declaration on minorities had caused disappointment in both countries, and it was necessary to clear the atmosphere. Polish protests about statements in Germany concerning Danzig had produced much bad feeling, although Albert Forster had agreed at Hitler’s suggestion to go to Warsaw to discuss the situation with Polish leaders. German efforts to persuade the Poles to accept periodic talks on mutual minority problems met with evasion in Warsaw. The Germans presented protests on current Polish economic discrimination against minority Germans in the East Upper Silesian industrial area, but these protests remained unanswered. German Ambassador Moltke bluntly told Beck on December 11, 1937, that Germany was disillusioned in her hopes for favorable results under the new treaty.

The Germans were also concerned about the Polish annual agrarian reform law which was announced early each year. These laws were used to expropriate land owned by Germans in Poland, and especially in the former German provinces. There was a rumor that the 1938 law would be more drastic than those of previous years, which later proved to be the case. Neurath had arranged to meet Beck on January 13, 1938, and he had prepared a careful memorandum containing many grievances. He intended to emphasize the agrarian law, and the special de-Germanization measures of Polish frontier ordinances, which proclaimed the right of the Polish state to prevent others than ethnic Poles from owning property in the region of the frontier. He also intended to protest the bitterly anti-German policy of Governor Grazynski in Polish East Upper Silesia, and to complain about the Polish press which remained anti-German despite the latest agreement. He intended to deplore the absence of a “psychological breakthrough” to better relations between the two countries.

Neurath was frustrated by an order from Hitler which forbade him to raise these controversial points. The Polish Foreign Office on January 12, 1938, denounced the plan for periodic meetings to discuss minority problems as a “dangerous road” which could lead to friction. Moltke wired Neurath on the same day that Beck intended to concentrate on the Danzig question in his conversation with the German Foreign Minister. Neurath had little enthusiasm for his conference with Beck under these circumstances, and he was evasive when the Polish Foreign Minister suggested that the League High Commissioner should be removed from Danzig. He finally agreed that Beck should sound out the mood at Geneva in order to consider the possibility of pursuing the question at an “appropriate time.”

Beck confided to Neurath that he was delighted with the new anti-Jewish Government of Octavian Goga in Rumania, and with the elimination, which was only temporary in this instance, of the Rumanian liberal regime. Beck finally made the significant statement that Polish relations with Czechoslovakia could not be worse, and he “could not imagine that they would ever change.” He added pointedly that Poland had no political interest whatever in Austria. He indicated that Polish interests south of the Carpathians were limited to Poland’s Rumanian ally, to Polish territorial aspirations in Czechoslovakia, and to the eastern and largely non-Czech part of the Prague domain.

Beck assured Neurath that combating Bolshevism, with which the Czechs had formally allied themselves in June 1935, was a primary aim of Polish policy. Neurath immediately raised the question of Polish participation in the 1936 German-Japanese anti-Comintern pact, which Italy had joined a few weeks previously. Beck hastily replied that this arrangement was “impracticable for Poland.” Beck was convinced that the great Soviet purges were undermining Russian strength, and he was determined to avoid a commitment with Germany which he considered unnecessary.

Hitler met Beck the following day, and he made a statement which the Polish Foreign Minister should have considered very carefully. They discussed the current Civil War in Spain and Hitler observed that he was vitally interested in the struggle against Bolshevism in Europe. He then added that his anti-Bolshevik policy would, nevertheless, have to take second place to his aim of strengthening and consolidating German power. The restoration of Germany was the primary mandate which he had received from the German people. It is important to bear this declaration in mind when examining the contention that Hitler reversed his entire foreign policy in seeking an accommodation with Russia in 1939. Actually, such a policy was conceivable at any moment when German interests were in serious jeopardy.

Hitler also informed Beck with studied emphasis that he would never give his consent to cooperate with Poland in securing a revision of the Danzig statute, if the purpose of such a revision was to perpetuate the Free City regime. He hoped that Beck would realize that his attitude was unalterable on this point. The conversation turned to Austria, and it was evident to Beck that Hitler was preoccupied with conditions in that country. Hitler informed Beck that he would invade Austria immediately, if any attempt were made to restore the Habsburg dynasty. He confided that his current Austrian policy was based on peaceful relations with Vienna along the lines of the 1936 Austro-German treaty. This treaty had been negotiated by Franz von Papen, who had been German envoy in Austria since October 1934, and Austrian Foreign Minister Guido Schmidt. It constituted a truce between the two countries in the undeclared war which had existed since Hitler came to power in 1933. Austria, under the terms of this treaty, had obliged herself to conduct a foreign policy consistent with her character as a German state. Hitler mentioned that his policy toward Czechoslovakia was confined to improving the status of the German minority, but he confided his opinion that “the whole structure of the Czech state, however, was impossible.” Neither Hitler nor Beck were aware of the role of Czech President Benes in bringing on the Russian army purge by advising Stalin of alleged pro-German treason in the Red Army. Nevertheless, they both recognized the danger of Bolshevist penetration in Czechoslovakia, and Beck “heartily agreed” with Hitler’s remarks about the Czechs. Beck confided something to Hitler that he had never told the Russians. He revealed that Poland’s alliance with Rumania was directed exclusively against the Soviet Union, and he added that Poland hoped to strengthen Rumania against Bolshevism. He also claimed that he wished to increase German-Polish friendship, and “to continue the policy initiated by Marshal Pilsudski.”

The January 14, 1938, conversation between Hitler and Beck was the last one for nearly a year, and it played an important role in improving cooperation between the two countries despite the local incidents of friction which continued to occur. The relations between the two men were on a more friendly basis than before, and State Secretary Weizsäcker was not overstating the case when he informed Moltke that the meeting had been “satisfactory on both sides.” This was possible because points of interest had been emphasized, and differences had been ignored.

The Rise of Joachim von Ribbentrop

Two scandals involving Defense Minister Werner von Blomberg and Army Comander Werner von Fritsch occurred in Germany in January 1938. The latter was acquitted by a special military court in March 1938 of having engaged in the homosexual practices with which he had been charged. The Blomberg scandal was caused by the Blomberg-Erna Grühn marriage at which Hitler had been a witness. The fact soon came to light that Erna Grühn had a record as a registered prostitute in Berlin. No one, including Blomberg himself, believed that the Defense Minister could continue his duties under these circumstances. The dismissal of Fritsch as Army Commander, before the final verdict on his case, was an injustice based on mere suspicion, but it was perfectly legal, since Hitler had the constitutional power to dismiss him.

These developments necessitated changes, and Hitler decided to extend them. Ribbentrop was at last appointed Foreign Minister to replace Neurath, and several other important changes were made in the diplomatic service. Hassell was withdrawn as German Ambassador at Rome and replace by Mackensen, who had been State Secretary at the Foreign Office. The withdrawal of Ulrich von Hassell was a logical step, since he opposed the idea of a German-Italian alliance. Ernst von Weizsäcker was selected to replace Hans Georg von Mackensen as State Secretary, with the approval of Ribbentrop, who believed that Weizsäcker could be trusted to execute his policy, and that Mackensen could not. In reality, both men were in fundamental opposition to Hitler, but Ribbentrop was not aware of this at the time.

Dirksen was transferred from Tokio and later sent to London to replace Ribbentrop, and Ott was sent to replace Dirksen at the Tokyo post. Papen was informed at Vienna on February 4, 1938, that he would be recalled as German Ambassador to Austria. It was evident that Hitler believed the limit had been reached with Franz von Papen’s conciliatory Austrian policy. It is uncertain what Hitler would have done in the following days with the Austrian post, because Papen immediately took the initiative in determining the course of events in Austria. He was dismayed when he received word of his recall. He took leave of his family on February 5th, and proceeded to Berchtesgaden for an interview with Hitler. It was his impression that the German Chancellor was much preoccupied with the situation in Austria, but undecided about the future course of German policy toward that country.

The Fall of Kurt von Schuschnigg

Papen had earlier suggested to Hitler that an interview with Austrian Dictator Kurt von Schuschnigg might be useful, and Hitler had granted him permission to arrange one; Schuschnigg was understandably reluctant, and Hitler appeared to have forgotten about the matter. When Papen called on Hitler on February 5th, he mentioned that Schuschnigg had at last expressed a desire for a conference and that it could be speedily arranged. Hitler was at once enthusiastic, and he told Papen to continue temporarily as German Ambassador to Austria. Papen was somewhat nettled by this procedure, since he had taken leave of the Austrian Government in his ambassadorial capacity, but he realized that Hitler was in the habit of cutting through conventional practices when the need for action arose.

Papen arranged a conference between Hitler and Schuschnigg at Berchtesgaden for February 12th. Hitler instructed Papen to tell the Austrian Chancellor that German officers would be present that day, so Schuschnigg came to Berchgaden accompanied by Austrian military officers and by Foreign Minister Guido Schmidt. Hitler greeted Schuschnigg courteously, and then proceeded to subject him, as a German, to moral pressure. By 11:00 p.m. Schuschnigg had agreed to cease persecuting Austrian National Socialists, to admit the National Socialist Austrian leader, Seyss-Inquart, to the Cabinet as Minister of Interior, and to permit Hitler to broadcast a speech to Austria in return for a Schuschnigg speech to Germany. The Austrian Chancellor was later ashamed that he had accepted these conditions, and he claimed that Hitler had been violent in manner during the first two hours of conversation. Papen denied this, and he insisted that the meeting had ended in general satisfaction. Papen was accustomed to Hitler and familiar with his occasional passionate outbursts, and from this perspective the day appeared less stormy to him. Schuschnigg recalled that Hitler thanked Papen in his presence at the end of the meeting and said that “through your (Papen’s) assistance I was appointed Chancellor of Germany and thus the Reich was saved from the abyss of Communism.”

Hitler was exhilarated by this personal success. In a major speech on February 20, 1938, he drew the attention of the world to the ten million Germans in the two neighboring states of Austria and Czechoslovakia. He stressed that these Germans had shared the same Reich with their compatriots until 1866. Austria-Hungary was closely allied a few years later with the new German Reich of Bismarck, and in this way a form of union continued to link the Germans. They had shared the same common experience of World War I as soldiers for the Central Powers. The peacemakers of 1919 had frustrated their desire for union within a new Germany.

Schuschnigg began to consider means of repudiating the Berchtesgaden agreement of February 12, 1938, shortly after he returned to Austria. He realized that he required the appearance of some moral mandate to achieve this aim. He knew that his regime could never win an honest election of the issues of continued separation from Germany, and of his own scarcely veiled project of restoring the Habsburgs in the tiny Austrian state. At last he decided to stage a fraudulent plebiscite. He announced at Innsbruck on March 9, 1938, that a plebiscite on the important issue of the future of Austria would be held within the short span of four days, on March 13, 1938. It had been determined in advance that the balloting would be subjected to official scrutiny, which would render impossible the anonymity of the voters’ choice. Negative ballots would have to be supplied by the voters themselves, and it was required that for validity they should be of such an odd, fractional size that they could be readily disqualified. The vote-of-confidence question in Schuschnigg was to be phrased in terms as confusing and misleading as possible. Schuschnigg forced Hitler’s hand in the Austrian question by means of this chicanery. Great Britain had been hastily seeking an agreement with Italy since January 1938 in the hope of using it to preserve the independence of the Austrian puppet state. The agreement was not concluded until April 1938, when it was too late to be of use. Mussolini had vainly advised Schuschnigg to abandon his risky plan for a plebiscite. Apparently Schuschnigg, and not Hitler, had become impatient and was determined to force the issue regardless of the consequences.

Schuschnigg was informed by Seyss-Inquart on March 11, 1938, at 10:00 a.m., that he must agree within one hour to revoke the fraudulent plebiscite, and agree to a fair and secret-ballot plebiscite within three to four weeks, on the question of whether Austria should remain independent or be reunited with the rest of Germany. Otherwise the German Army would occupy Austria. The failure of a reply within the specified time produced a new ultimatum demanding that Seyss-Inquart succeed Schuschnigg as Chancellor of Austria. The crisis had reached a climax, and there was no retreat for either side.

The principal danger to Germany was that Italy, the only other European Great Power which bordered Austria, would intervene. France had no engagements toward Austria, no common frontier, and was in the midst of a Cabinet crisis. Lord Halifax, who had been appointed British Foreign Secretary the previous month to succeed Anthony Eden, did everything he could to incite Italian action against Germany. The British diplomatic representatives in Vienna favored Schuschnigg’s decision for a plebiscite. Halifax warned Ribbentrop in London on March 10, 1938, that there would be “possible consequences” in terms of British intervention against Germany if Hitler used force in Central Europe. Ribbentrop was in London to take leave of his ambassadorial post, and Neurath was directing the German Foreign Office during this interval. Early on March 11, 1938, Halifax instructed British Ambassador Henderson in Berlin to see Hitler and to warn him against German interference in Austria. On the same day, Halifax was informed from Rome that Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano refused to discuss the Austrian situation with British diplomatic representatives. The situation had developed so quickly that Germany had been unable to arrive at an agreement with Italy, but Mussolini decided to make no difficulties for Hitler when the crisis came. Ciano had anticipated this situation when he wrote in his diary on February 23, 1938, that an Italian war against Germany on behalf of Schuschnigg would be an impossibility. This did not change the fact that the Italian leaders were very unhappy about the Austrian situation. Hitler received word at 10:25 p.m., on March 11, 1938, that Mussolini accepted the Anschluss (union, i.e. with Austria).

It was evident by this time that there would be no resistance to German troops entering Austria, and Hitler was now convinced that there would be no overt foreign intervention. He left Hermann Göring in Chargé at Berlin, and he proceeded to his Austrian homeland. He was greeted with a joyously enthusiastic reception from the mass of the Austrian people. Hitler knew that his undisturbed Austrian triumph had been possible because Mussolini had sacrificed a former sphere of Italian influence, and on March 13, 1938, he wired Mussolini from Austria: “Mussolini, I shall never forget this of you!” When Halifax saw that France was immobilized by a domestic crisis and that Italy was disinclined to act, it was decided at London to adopt a friendly attitude toward the Austrian Anschluss situation. This was easy to do, because the German leaders during the next few days were so happy to see Germany score a major success for the first time in twenty years that they were prepared to embrace the entire world in the spirit of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (Seid umschlungen, Ihr Millionen!: Be embraced, you millions of humanity!). The recorded version of a telephone conversation between Ribbentrop in London and Göring in Berlin on March 13, 1938, offers an indication of this. Ribbentrop praised the British attitude and added: “I do think one knows pretty well over here what is going on.” He told Göring that he had emphasized [to Halifax on March 12th] the importance of an Anglo-German understanding and Göring commented: “I was always in favor of a German-English understanding.” Ribbentrop suggested: “Chamberlain also is very serious about an understanding,” and Göring replied: “I am also convinced that Halifax is an absolutely reasonable man.” Ribbentrop concluded this phase of the discussion with the comment: “I received the best impression of Halifax as well as of Chamberlain.”

The Double Game of Lord Halifax

It was easy for Halifax to praise the Germans to their faces, and to seek to undermine them secretly, but one must inquire after the purpose of this double game. The official British policy in Europe was conducted under the label of appeasement. This attractive term for a conciliatory policy had been popularized by French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand in the 1920’s and revived by British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden during the Rhineland crisis in 1936. Appeasement to Britain meant a sincere French policy of conciliation toward Germany. Later the Communist press, and the “liberal” (19th century liberalism would have been hostile to the Soviet Union) journalists allied with it, succeeded in convincing the broad, unsuspecting masses in the Western countries that this term had an odious connotation. The Communists at this time also invented the epithet “Cliveden set,” following a week-end which Neville Chamberlain spent at the Astor estate of Cliveden-on-the-Thames from March 26-28, 1938. The fact that Anthony Eden, who was popular with the Communists at the time, spent more week-ends at Cliveden than Chamberlain made no difference to them, because they were no more inclined to be honest about Cliveden than about the Reichstag fire of 1933, which had been attributed to the National Socialists by the Communist agent at Paris, Willie Münsterberg. The mass of the people in the Western countries accepted the story about the Reichstag despite the absence of proof, and the Communists were correct in anticipating that they would believe the Chargé of a sinister “pro-Nazi conspiracy” at Cliveden. Communist propaganda victories were easy when the majority of Western “liberals” were working as their allies. President Roosevelt, in a speech at Chicago in 1937, included the Soviet Union among the so-called peace-loving nations of the world in contrast to the allegedly evil and aggressive Germans, Italians, and Japanese.

There was no Cliveden set and no genuine British appeasement policy. The use of this term by Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, and by their principal parliamentary advisers, Sir John Simon and Sir Samuel Hoare, was a facade to disguise the fact that the British leaders considered themselves to be somewhat behind in their military preparations. It was recognized in 1937 and 1938 that German rearmament was not especially formidable, and that it would be easy for Great Britain, despite her much smaller industrial capacity, to score relative gains on Germany in this field. British armament efforts in the early 1930’s had been hampered by the effects of the world depression, by the opposition from the Labour Party, and by interference from the British peace movement, which enjoyed considerable popularity for a time. It was recognized that the two previous Prime Ministers, Ramsay MacDonald and Stanley Baldwin, had been somewhat lax about overcoming these difficulties, but a major British armament campaign was now in full swing under Neville Chamberlain. It would require another year, after early 1938, before the full effects of this program would be realized, and in the meantime the British leaders believed it wise to tread softly, beneath the guise of impartial justice, in coping with European problems. Events were to show that it was a great gain for the Soviet Union that the British leaders were not sincerely devoted to the program to which they professed to adhere.

There was another important factor which made appeasement a clever label for British policy. The injustices inflicted on Germany in 1919 and the following years converted many thinking Englishmen to that sympathy toward the Germans which had been the traditional English attitude in the 19th century. Popular sympathy toward a country on which one is contemplating a military assault is a bad basis on which to build war sentiment. A nominal adherence to appeasement for several years might enable British leaders to convince their subjects that sympathy toward Germany had been frustrated by the wicked and insatiable appetite of that country. The problem had been explained by the English expert, Geoffrey Gorer, in his book, Exploring English Character: “War against a wicked enemy — and the enemy must clearly be shown to be wicked by the standards the conscience normally uses — is probably the only situation nowadays which will release the forces of righteous anger for the whole (or nearly the whole) population.”

Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was sixty-eight years of age when he attained the highest British parliamentary office in April 1937. He was a strong man at the peak of his mental powers, and a stern Tory Party disciplinarian. He was born with the privileges of the British merchant-industrialist upper class, and his repeated elections as Lord Mayor of Birmingham after 1915 were considered little more than the rightful acceptance of a traditional sinecure. His father, Joseph Chamberlain, and his brother, Austin Chamberlain, had enjoyed strikingly successful careers in British public life, and they had been associated with important decisions on the principal national-economic, colonial, and diplomatic questions of their day. Neville Chamberlain received much credit for launching the British protective tariff system of imperial preferences, and for securing the agreement of the British Dominions to this system at the famous Ottawa conference in 1932.

It has sometimes been suggested that Chamberlain, prior to March 1939, placed a blind trust in Hitler and believed that a comprehensive Anglo-German understanding would be achieved. This is untrue, because Chamberlain never ceased thinking that Great Britain might go to war with Germany again instead of concluding an agreement with her. When Hitler reintroduced conscription in March 1935, Chamberlain wrote: “Hitler’s Germany is the bully of Europe; yet I don’t despair.” This emotional comment scarcely suggested that Chamberlain was enamored either of Germany or of Hitler.

On July 5, 1935, Chamberlain was considering the appeasement of Italy in the Ethiopian crisis as a means of preventing a rapprochement between Italy and Germany. He defined appeasement on this occasion as a possible combination of threats and concessions, and this definition reflected the ambivalent nature of Chamberlain’s thinking whenever he conducted a so-called appeasement policy. At the time of the alienation of Italy in December 1935, due to the scandal caused by the premature revelation of the Hoare-Laval treaty, Chamberlain insisted that this would not have happened had he been Prime Minister. He would have seen to it that Italy was securely retained in the anti-German front. After he became Prime Minister in 1937, Chamberlain considered it a principal aim of his policy to separate Italy from Germany.

Chamberlain wrote to a friend in the United States on January 16, 1938, that he favored agreements with both Germany and Italy provided that the Germans could be persuaded to refrain from the use of force. This raised the question of what Chamberlain understood by the use of force, and whether force meant to him the actual shedding of blood or the mere threat of force. This question was clarified when Chamberlain said, after the Austro-German Anschluss on March 13, 1938: “It is perfectly evident that force is the only argument Germany understands.” The same Chamberlain defined his own program by saying that British armament was the basis for Empire defense and collective security. The use of force in this sense was right in Chamberlain’s mind when it was British, and wrong when it was German. The British had defined their position of Empire defense at the time of the Kellogg-Briand pact in 1928. They listed a large number of countries bordering the British Empire in which they claimed a right of permanent intervention, outside the terms of a pact designed to outlaw war as an instrument of national policy.

Chamberlain considered himself detached and objective in his evaluation of Hitler, and he no doubt felt charitable when he wrote after their first meeting in 1938: “I did not see any trace of insanity It has been said that, after a series of meetings with Hitler, Chamberlain felt himself coming irresistibly under the spell of the magnetic German leader. This is doubtless true, and Chamberlain has verified it himself. It was not difficult for him to dispel this momentary influence and to return to his habitual way of thinking after a few days back in England in his accustomed environment. After all, Hitler was merely the upstart leader of a Power recently crushed almost beyond recognition, and Chamberlain was the Prime Minister of a proud Empire with an allegedly uninterrupted series of victories dating back to Queen Elizabeth I in the 16th century. It was unrealistic to describe this proud man as the dupe of Hitler.

Chamberlain was a formidable figure, but he was soon overshadowed by at least one of his ministers. Edward Frederick Lindley Wood, Earl of Halifax, has been one of the most self-assured, ruthless, clever, and sanctimoniously self-righteous diplomats the world has ever seen. It has been said that Halifax was born great, achieved greatness, and had greatness thrust upon him. He was an angular, tall, and rugged man. He was born with a withered left arm, and he compensated for his physical defect by an avid pursuit of sport, and especially hunting. By the age of nine, after the death of his older brothers, he was sole heir to his father’s title. He received a “first” in modern history at Oxford in 1903, and, after a tour of the Empire, he published a biography of the Anglican church leader, John Keble. He entered the House of Commons as a Conservative in January 1910. He emphatically denied that all men are created equal in his maiden speech in Commons. He called on the English people to remain true to their calling of a “superior race” within the British Empire. It was a “blood and iron” speech in the full sense of the phrase.

He had some doubt about personally entering the war in 1914, but he later spent a period on the Western front and participated in some of the battles of 1916-1917. Halifax had no patience with dissenters in this epic struggle, and he declared in Commons in December 1917: “I feel … absolutely no sympathy with the real conscientious objector (i.e. to war).” In 1918 he was a principal organizer and signatory of the Lowther petition to Lloyd George for a hard peace with Germany.

Halifax occupied important positions in the years after World War I. He was Under-Secretary of State for Colonies, President of the Board of Education, British Representative on the League Council, and Minister of Agriculture. He often held several important posts simultaneously. Halifax was appointed Viceroy of India in 1925, and he arrived in that country on April 1, 1926, with the avowed intention of outwitting Gandhi, who was seeking payment in the coin of freedom for the sacrifices of India in World War I. Halifax hoped to beguile the Indian following of Gandhi by offering eventual rather than immediate dominion status, and in this respect he appeared deceptively liberal compared to a man like Churchill, who wished to govern India permanently in the fashion of a British crown colony. Halifax did not like pacifists, but he remembered that he was a diplomat, and he was always equivocal and evasive when asked what he thought about Gandhi.

Halifax was fifty years old when he returned in triumph from India in May 1931. He continued to concentrate on Indian affairs for several years, and he again held the post of President of the Board of Education. He was appointed Secretary of State for War in June 1935, and in this capacity he pushed hard for an intensive armament campaign. Halifax declared with complacency, at Plymouth in October 1935, that there was no one on the continent who would not sleep more happily if he knew that Britain had the power “to make the policy of peace prevail over the world.”

Halifax was the right hand man of Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, and he was Leader of the House of Lords and Lord Privy Seal. Halifax had an important voice in the conduct of British diplomacy from January 1935 onward. On March 10, 1936, during the Rhineland crisis, he accompanied Foreign Minister Eden to Paris for crucial negotiations with the French leaders. He also played a key role in supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury against King Edward VII during the abdication crisis of 1936. The November 1937 Halifax visit to Hitler had been discussed for many months, and it caused a flurry of speculation in the British press when it was announced publicly on November 10, 1937. The Halifax visit was merely a fact-finding mission, and it produced no immediate results, although it aroused great hopes in Germany.

Three months later Lord Halifax replaced Anthony Eden as British Foreign Secretary under acrimonious circumstances which accompanied an irreconcilable difference between Chamberlain and Eden on the advisability of appeasing Italy. Eden had previously been in conflict on this point with Sir Robert Vansittart, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the British Foreign Office. Vansittart was promoted upstairs on January 1, 1938, to be Chief Diplomatic Adviser to His Majesty’s Government, which was a new post of unknown importance, and he was replaced as Permanent Under-Secretary by Sir Alexander Cadogan. This change was interpreted as a victory of Eden over Vansittart, until the fall of Eden some seven weeks later. It was no longer easy after the fall of Eden to interpret the changed status of Vansittart, who actually retained all of his former influence, and this became a subject of speculation for many years. Halifax was solidly behind Chamberlain in the conduct of foreign policy, and, during the first eight months that he was Foreign Secretary, he permitted Chamberlain to keep the initiative in this field. Afterward he asserted his own authority, and Great Britain approached the holocaust of World War II under the diplomatic leadership of Halifax rather than Chamberlain.

Halifax never remotely understood or appreciated the German viewpoint or the problems which confronted Germany. A simple example will illustrate this point. Halifax told Ribbentrop in London on March 11, 1938, that a German action against Austria would be the same as a British action against Belgium. Halifax apparently considered this a fair statement, and a recognition of the fact that Austria was important to Germany and Belgium important to Great Britain. The fact that Austria had been part of Germany for more than one thousand years, and that the legislators of Austria had voted to join Germany after World War I, carried no weight with him. Consequently, he did not recognize the Anschluss as an act of liberation for the Austrian people from a hated puppet regime. No problem confronting Germany could have been more simple for anyone capable of understanding German problems. Sir Neville Henderson, the British Ambassador in Berlin, was able to comprehend the situation without difficulty, and he never would have made the misleading comparison between Belgium and Austria.

Halifax wrote memoirs nearly twenty years later which were candid in explaining his attitude toward the European situation at this time. He recognized that Hitler was an “undoubted phenomenon,” and he was “ashamed to say” that he did not dislike Goebbels. Unlike Chamberlain, Halifax was single-minded in 1937 and early 1938 about the inevitability of another war with Germany. Indeed, he went so far as to say that an Anglo-German war had been inevitable since March 1936, the moment Germany had recovered her freedom of action by reoccupying the Rhineland. It is important to recall that in March 1936 Halifax played a leading role in discouraging a vigorous French response to the military reoccupation of the Rhineland by Germany. No doubt a war in 1936 would have been inconvenient to the current British conception of the balance of power, but one can also regret that Halifax did not have a more accurate evaluation in 1939 of the balance of power to which he professed to be so devoted. Halifax also wrote that the Munich conference of 1938 was a “horrible and wretched business,” but it was extremely useful, because it convinced the gullible English people in the following year that everything possible had been done to avoid war. This might seem to imply that working for peace in 1938 justified working for war in 1939, but this was not so. It was not the right that mattered, but victory. It was not the truth which counted, but it was important to have the English people thinking along lines which were useful.

Hoare and Simon were constant advisers of Chamberlain and Halifax in the conduct of British policy in 1938. Hoare had been dropped as British Foreign Secretary in December 1935 because of his tentative Ethiopian treaty prepared with Laval, (it was repudiated for violating collective security), but he returned to the British Cabinet in 1936 as Parliamentary First Lord of the Admiralty. He worked hard for a policy of pro-Franco neutrality during the Spanish Civil War, and he was sent to Spain as Ambassador during World War II lo keep Spain pro-British. It was recognized in London that he had excellent contacts with the Spanish aristocracy. Hoare also had close contacts with the Czech leaders of 1938, and these dated from his military and diplomatic missions in World War I. Hoare became Home Secretary (minister of the interior) in June 1937, and he spent long hours with Chamberlain discussing the best means of separating Mussolini and Hitler. This British policy succeeded before the outbreak of World 99] War II, and it was cancelled solely by the unexpected collapse of France in 1940.

Hoare advised Chamberlain on American affairs. He regarded “Anglo American friendship as the very basis of our foreign policy,” but he was correct in recognizing that President Roosevelt was in no position to take active steps to intervene in Europe in 1938 or 1939. He did not hesitate to advise Chamberlain to reject Roosevelt’s suggestion for an international conference in January 1938, at a time when the British Prime Minister was concentrating on achieving a bilateral agreement with Italy. Hoare claimed there was never any difficulty in being loyal to both Chamberlain and Halifax in foreign policy because the two were always in agreement. He recognized that Halifax was a strong personality, who could never be dominated by Chamberlain.

Simon was British Foreign Secretary from 1931 to 1935 in the MacDonald coalition Government, which was dominated by the Conservatives. He established intimate understandings with the permanent service experts, Sir Robert Vansittart and Sir Alexander Cadogan. Simon was unimpressed by revisionist historical writing on World War I, and he persisted in describing it as the “freedom war,” or crusade for freedom. He was in close agreement with Chamberlain, Halifax, and Hoare in this respect. He was also for a heavy armament program throughout the 1930’s, and he criticized the Liberals and the Labour leaders for impeding it. It is amusing that Simon regarded Ribbentrop as a “pretentious sham” and complained of the “hard shell” which surrounded his “self-sufficiency,” since these were precisely the complaints directed at Simon by his English critics. The position of Simon in the 1930’s was that “Britain could not act alone as the policeman of the world,” and the implication was that she should police the world with the support of others. He described Chamberlain as a man of peace who would fight rather than see the world “dominated by force.” Simon was for peace in 1938 because he believed that Great Britain required another twelve months to complete her preparations for a victorious war against Germany.

The British ability to rationalize an essentially immoral foreign policy and to moralize about it has always been unlimited. In 1937, with the approval of Vansittart and Chamberlain, William Strang succeeded Ralph Wigram at the Central Department of the British Foreign Office, which comprised German affairs in relation to both Western and Eastern Europe. The British by this time were shifting their foreign policy because of the purges in Russia, and they were moving from primary opposition to Russia toward conflict with Germany. It was essential that this change in policy be accompanied by some moral explanation, and it was supplied by Strang in the following words: “In our generation, the cup of hatefulness has been filled to overflowing by the horrors of the Nazi and Soviet regimes, but yet perhaps not quite in equal measure. The Soviet system, cruel, evil and tyrannous as it shows itself to be in the pursuit by its self-appointed masters of absolute power both at home and abroad, springs, however remotely, from a moral idea, the idea namely that man shall not be exploited by man for his own personal profit; and there is thus at least a case to be made for it that is dangerously attractive to many minds; for Nazism, on the contrary, there was and is, it seems to me, nothing to be said.”

This was the judgment of the man who was allegedly the chief expert on Germany in the British Foreign Office. Apparently it did not occur to Strang that the Marxist slogan about exploitation was not much different and certainly no more noble than the National Socialist motto; “Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz (The profit of the community must come before the profit of the individual).” Furthermore, the National Socialists believed that this doctrine could be implemented without the fostering of permanent class hatred, or the expropriation of at least half of the community (Werner Sombart had shown that by no stretch of the imagination did the proletariat constitute more than half of the German population). It is instructive in this context to cite the recent book, The Rise and Fall of Nazi Germany, by the Jewish historian, T.L. Jarman. Jarman’s volume contains much bitter criticism of Hitler and his system, but at least he is sufficiently objective to state that under National Socialism, terrorism, unlike in Russia, was kept in the background, and that “Germany in the years 1933-1939 was an open country in a sense which Soviet Russia has never been.”

Strang complained that the months before World War II were a “crushing” period for him, but that 1939 was less burdensome than 1938 because “war would almost certainly come.” Apparently the possibility that Hitler in 1938 might find some means of avoiding a new Anglo-German war was irritating to Strang. Certainly no militarist could have sought war more avidly and Strang’s attitude is not a flattering commentary on his qualifications for diplomacy. The fact that this man, at his key post, was perfectly satisfactory to Chamberlain and Halifax speaks for itself.

The Secret War Aspirations of President Roosevelt

The attitude of President Roosevelt and his entourage was perhaps more extreme than that of the British leaders, but at least the American President was restrained by constitutional checks, public opinion, and Congressional legislation from inflicting his policy on Europe during the period before World War II. A petulant outburst from Assistant Secretary F.B. Sayre, of the American State Department, to British Ambassador Sir Ronald Lindsay on September 9, 1938, during difficult negotiations for an Anglo-American trade treaty, illustrated the psychosis which afflicted American leaders and diplomats. Sayre later recalled; “I went on to say that at such a time, when war was threatening and Germany was pounding at our gates, it seemed to me tragic that we had not been able to reach and sign an agreement.” To imagine Germany pounding on the gates of the United States in 1938 is like confusing Alice in Wonderland with the Bible.

Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., telephoned Paris on March 14, 1938, to inform the French that the United States would support and cooperate with a Socialist measure of the Blum Popular Front Government to control, and, if necessary, to freeze foreign exchange in France. This would have been a drastic measure contrary to the international system of arbitrage and to the prevailing international financial policy of the United States. Morgenthau was eager to see Leon Blum retain the premiership in the hope that he would plunge France into conflict with Hitler. He had no compunctions about taking this step without informing either the United States Congress or American business leaders. Leon Blum, the Socialist, did not dare to go that far, and his Government fell because of an inadequate fiscal policy.

The German leaders correctly believed that the unrestrained anti-German press in the United States was profoundly influencing both public and private American attitudes toward Germany. Goebbels told United States Ambassador Hugh Wilson on March 22, 1938, that he expected criticism, and “indeed, it was inconceivable to him that writers in America should be sympathetic with present-day Germany because of the complete contrast of method by which the (German) Government was acting.” On the other hand he objected to libel and slander and to the deliberate stirring up of hatred. Wilson confided that it was not the German form of government which was at issue, but that “the most crucial thing that stood between any betterment of our Press relationship was the Jewish question.” Ribbentrop was able to challenge Wilson on April 30, 1938, to find one single item in the German press which contained a personal criticism of President Roosevelt. He also intimated that the situation could be otherwise.

In early 1938, Jewish doctors and dentists were still participating in the German state compulsory insurance program (Ortskrankenkassen), which guaranteed them a sufficient number of patients. Wilson relayed information to Secretary of State Hull that, in 1938, 10% of the practicing lawyers in Germany were Jews, although the Jews constituted less than 1% of the population. Nevertheless, the American State Department continued to bombard Germany with exaggerated protests on the Jewish question throughout 1938, although Wilson suggested to Hull on May 10, 1938, that these protests, which were not duplicated by other nations, did more harm than good. The United States took exception to a German law of March 30, 1938, which removed the Jewish church from its position as one of the established churches of Germany. This meant that German public tax receipts would go no longer to the Jewish church, although German citizens would continue to pay taxes for the Protestant and Catholic churches. The situation established by this new law in Germany was in conformity with current English practice, where public tax revenue went to the Anglican Church, but the Jewish churches received nothing.

On March 14, 1938, Under-Secretary of State Sumner Welles complained to Polish Ambassador Jerzy Potocki about the German treatment of the Jews and praised Poland for her “policy of tolerance.” Potocki, who knew that current Polish measures against the Jews were more severe than those in Germany, replied with dignity that “the Jewish problem in Poland was a very real problem.” It is evident that the Jewish question was primarily a pretext of American policy to disguise the fact that American leaders were spoiling for a dispute with Germany on any terms. In September 1938 President Roosevelt had a bad cold, and he complained that he “wanted to kill Hitler and amputate the nose.”

Perhaps frustration and knowledge of the domestic obstacles confronting his own policy increased President Roosevelt’s fury. Jules Henry, the French Chargé d’Affaires, reported to Paris on November 7, 1937, that President Roosevelt was interested in overthrowing Hitler, but that the majority of the American people did not share his views. French Ambassador Saint-Quentin reported on June 11, 1938, that President Roosevelt suddenly blurted out during an interview that the Germans understand only force,” and then clenched his fist like a boxer spoiling for a fight. He noted that the President was fond of saying that if “France went down, the United States would go down.” Apparently this proposition was supposed to contain some self-evident legalistic-moralistic truth which required no demonstration.

Ambassador Saint-Quentin noted that the relations between President Roosevelt and William C. Bullitt, were especially close. This was understandable, because Bullitt was a warmonger. Bullitt was currently serving as United States Ambassador to France, but he was Ambassador-at-large to all the countries of Europe, and he was accustomed to transmit orders from Roosevelt to American Ambassador Kennedy in London or American Ambassador Biddle in Warsaw. Bullitt had a profound knowledge of Europe. He was well aware that the British did not intend to fight in 1938, and that the French would not fight without British support. He improved his contacts and bided his time during the period of the Austrian and Czech crises. He prepared for his role in 1939 as the Roosevelt Ambassador par excellence. He could accomplish little in either year, because the whole world knew that the President he was serving did not have the backing of the American people for his foreign policy.

The Peace Policy of Georges Bonnet

The situation in France took a dramatic turn when Edouard Daladier, who triumphed over the left-wing tendencies of Edouard Herriot in the Radical Socialist Party, became French Premier on April 10, 1938. Winston Churchill had combined his efforts with those of Henry Morgenthau to keep in power the Government of Daladier’s predecessor, Léon Blum, but he had failed. Blum had hoped to head a Government including not only the usual Popular Front combination of Socialists and Radical-Socialists supported by the Communists, but also Paul Reynaud and some of the Moderate Republicans of the Right who favored a strong stand against Hitler. Pierre-Etienne Flandin, who had close contacts with Chamberlain and Halifax in London, took the lead in opposing this combination. Churchill was in Paris from March 26-28, 1938, in a vain effort to convert Flandin on behalf of Blum. Churchill knew that a Blum Government could exert effective pressure for action on the British leaders in the inevitable Czech crisis. Churchill hoped to use the French to overthrow the appeasement policy in London.

Daladier was inclined to follow the lead of London in foreign policy, where the appeasement policy was currently in effect. At the same time, a moderate trend of opinion was gaining ground in France which held that there was no longer any point in seeking to frustrate Hitler’s aspirations in Central Europe. Hitler had been allowed to rearm in 1935, and on June 18, 1935, the British had concluded with him a bilateral naval pact which was clearly contrary to the military provisions of the Versailles treaty. No doubt at the time this had appeared a useful step in securing British interests and in opposing Communism, but the fact remained that it also had been a blow at French military hegemony in Western and Central Europe. The British policy of restraining France from interfering with Hitler’s military reoccupation of the Rhineland on March 7, 1936, had greatly reduced the possibility that France could render effective military aid to the members of the Little Entente or to other French allies in the East. French military strategy in the meantime had been based on the creation of a strong defensive position in France. Sensible Frenchmen were asking if it would not be wise to draw the necessary political conclusions from these events, and to modify French commitments in the East in the interest of preventing war.

Joseph Paul-Boncour had succeeded Yvon Delbos as Foreign Minister after the fall of the Camille Chautemps Government at the time of the Anschluss. He opposed the moderate trend, and he favored a strong policy in support of the Czechs. Daladier had been inclined to retain him as Foreign Minister, but he turned to Georges Bonnet, when he discovered that Paul-Boncour was adamant about the Czechs. Bonnet was one of the leading exponents of the moderate trend, and he favored an interpretation of French commitments which would promote peace. Bonnet, in contrast to the British leaders, was a sincere and single-minded advocate of a permanent appeasement policy toward Germany in the earlier style of Aristide Briand. He remained as Foreign Minister from April 1938 until shortly after the outbreak of World War II. His appointment was one of the most significant events of the period, and it increased the chances for peace in Europe. Bonnet was not an isolated figure in his conduct of French foreign policy. He exerted great influence over Daladier, he enjoyed the support of a large number of colleagues in the French Cabinet, and he was encouraged by important interest groups throughout France.

A special Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry was established in France in 1946 to investigate the causes and events of World War II. The Communist tide was running high in France at that time. Many prominent Frenchmen had been imprisoned for no apparent reason, and approximately 100,000 French citizens were liquidated in a Communist-inspired purge. Georges Bonnet had departed from France toward the end of World War II for Geneva, Switzerland, the ancestral seat of the Bonnet family. He wisely declined to return to France until he received adequate guarantees that he would not be unjustly imprisoned. Bonnet did not testify before the Committee until March 1951, approximately one year after his return to France.

Bonnet explained that he was convinced the United States would play no active role in Europe in the immediate future, when he returned to France in 1937 after a period as Ambassador to the United States. He was aware that the British were not inclined to send large forces to Europe in the event of a new war because of their bitter experience with heavy losses in World War I. He knew that the Soviet Union would do everything possible to avert war with Germany, and to embroil France and Germany in war in the interest of weakening the so-called capitalist Powers. It seemed stupid to Bonnet not to do everything possible under these circumstances to avoid war with Germany.

Bonnet complained that he was weary of being called a fanatical partisan of the Germans. He had not been in Germany since 1927, and he had always preferred the French system of liberal capitalism to German National Socialism. On the other hand, he had spent nearly three months in the Soviet Union in 1934, and this had been useful in equipping him to deal with Russian policy in 1938 and 1939. Bonnet could point to uninterruptedly friendly and confidential relations with Premier Daladier in 1938 and 1939. He and Daladier were convinced that Hitler was determined to carry through his program of eastern territorial revision on behalf of Germany. Bonnet, as Foreign Minister, never conducted so-called private diplomacy. It was his rule that all dispatches, including the most secret ones, be translated or decoded and prepared in four copies. These copies went automatically to President Lebrun, to Premier Daladier, to Alexis Léger, the Secretary-General of the Foreign Office, and to Bonnet. Bonnet considered himself a disciple of Aristide Briand in foreign policy. He was in the Painlevé Cabinet at the time of the signing of the Locamo treaties in 1925. Briand, who was Foreign Minister, told the Cabinet that the treaties would be applied solely within the context of the League of Nations, and with the support of the necessary combination of preponderant Powers. Bonnet concluded that France had no obligation to fulfill unilaterally the collective security treaties concluded after the signing of the Covenant of the League.

Bonnet reminded the Committee that Great Britain had never given France a pledge of armed support for an active French policy of intervention throughout the entire period of the Czech crisis in 1938. Bonnet discussed the situation with the British leaders on April 28-29, 1938, and he was told that Great Britain was not yet ready for a European war. When Halifax and Chamberlain suggested that Hitler might be bluffing, Bonnet predicted that Hitler would use force against the Czechs if peaceful revision failed. Bonnet had great respect for the military strength of the Soviet Union, and his opinion in this regard was not shaken by the current Soviet purges. He was equally convinced from his current diplomatic contracts that the Soviet Union would resist every effort in 1938 to persuade her to take the military initiative against Germany. Under these circumstances Bonnet had no compunctions, in 1938, in seeking to persuade the Czechs to arrive at a peaceful settlement with Germany at the expense of surrendering the German districts seized by the Czechs in 1918 and 1919.

The clarity of Bonnet’s thought, and his habit of retaining detailed notes to illustrate his points, threw refreshing light on many obscure events of the period, and his revealing record was important in prompting several countries to publish a number of otherwise secret documents. He published two very full volumes of memoirs prior to his testimony before the Parliamentary Committee, and he produced a disconcerting amount of additional material to cope with the questions raised by his interrogators. It was not surprising when this man delivered an effective reply to each point raised against him.

The memoirs of Bonnet abound with penetrating insights, and they ignore the many defamatory comments made about him by popular writers. He recognized that President Roosevelt employed a genial manner to hide his violent passions. Bonnet agreed in June 1937 to return from the United States to France as Minister of Finance in the new Chautemps Government, after Joseph Caillaux in the French Senate had succeeded in overthrowing the first Blum Government. Bonnet admired Joseph Caillaux. who had fought in vain for peace in 1914 against the aggressive policies of Poincaré and Viviani, and he was pleased by the overthrow of Blum. Bonnet insisted in a last audience with President Roosevelt that a new war in Europe would be a disaster for the entire world. Bonnet noted that Premier Chautemps. and Foreign Minister Delbos were invited to London on November 29-30, 1937, immediately after the return of Halifax from Germany, and that the British leaders were mainly concerned about urging the French to increase their military preparations. Bonnet noted, after meeting Chamberlain in April 1938 for the first time in several years, that the British Prime Minister was obviously sceptical of reaching a lasting agreement with Hitler. This attitude contrasted with the opinion of Bonnet, who saw no reason why a lasting Anglo-German agreement could not be attained, if the British leaders sincerely desired one. The idea that the British were playing for time was confirmed when Chamberlain told Bonnet that one should select a favorable hour to stop Hitler rather than to permit the German leader to pick both the time and the place for a conflict. Hitler actually had no desire to pick either the time or place for a conflict with the British. Hugh Wilson, United States Ambassador to Germany, sent Hull an analysis by an expert of the American Embassy staff on February 1, 1938, which contained the following significant statement: “an English-German understanding is Hitler’s first principle of diplomacy in 1938, just as it was in 1934, or in 1924 when he wrote Mein Kampf.”

Litvinov’s Hopes for a Franco-German War

The Russians planned to play a cautious role in the Czech crisis. Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs, told United States Ambassador Joseph Davies on March 24, 1938, that the League of Nations was dead, that no arrangements existed between France and Russia to cope with a Czech crisis, and that Czechoslovakia might capitulate without a struggle to German pressure.

It was evident that Russia had no obligations to Czechoslovakia, unless the Czechs resisted Germany with active French military support. The Soviet policy did not imply a desire on the part of the Russian rulers to see the socalled capitalist Powers of Western and Central Europe compose their differences. A French representative at Geneva in January 1938 was attacked by Maxim Litvinov when he suggested to a group of League spokesmen that a French rapprochement policy toward Germany might also be of benefit to Russia.

The Russians hoped that they could stay temporarily in the background while the states which were their ideological rivals became embroiled. It was believed with good reason that the interests of Stalin would best be served by a conflict in the West. The official Soviet diplomatic history of the period later condemned Great Britain and France in strong terms for refusing to fight Germany over the Czech issue. Soviet diplomats in 1938 adopted the insincere line that Hitler was bluffing, and that a strong Anglo-French front on behalf of the Czechs would force him to retreat.

The Reckless Diplomacy of Eduard Benes

Hermann Göring in Berlin on March 12, 1938, assured the Czechs in response to specific inquiries that Germany contemplated no action against Czechoslovakia. The truth of this statement has since been revealed by the diplomatic documents, but common-sense should have suggested at the time that it was true, when one considers the speed with which the Austrian crisis reached a climax within a few days. Although Hitler had linked the fate of Austrian and Sudeten Germans in his speech of February 20, 1938, he had always considered that Austria and Czechoslovakia constituted two entirely separate problems, and he scarcely had an opportunity to consider the second of these while the first was coming to a head with unexpected rapidity. The Germans promised that their troops in Austria would remain a considerable distance from the Czech frontier.

It was clear to the Czechs, from the immediate reactions of the Sudeten Germans to the Anschluss, that a crisis was inevitable in which Czechoslovakia would occupy the central role. Jan Masaryk, the Czech envoy in London, discussed the situation with the British leaders. He reported to Prague on March 16, 1938, that the British were inclined to regard an Anglo-German war as inevitable but that it was evident that they were not contemplating such a conflict in 1938. Chamberlain restricted himself in the House of Commons on March 14, 1938, to the enigmatic statement that Great Britain was and always would be interested in the events of Central Europe because of her desire to maintain the peace of the world. It was clear to Masaryk that a British pledge to the Czechs in 1938 would be difficult if not impossible to obtain.

The excitement among the Sudeten Germans after the Anschluss forced the Sudeten question to the center of the stage. The German legation in Prague reported on March 31, 1938, that Konrad Henlein, the leader of the Sudeten German Party (SdP), was pleading for the curtailment of all propaganda efforts to arouse the Sudeten people who were already too much aroused. In Great Britain and Canada a number of officially inspired articles were appearing which criticized the injustices inflicted on the Sudeten Germans over many years. Henlein realized that he would have to announce a program which met the requirements of the new situation, and he collaborated closely with German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop and Ernst Eisenlohr, the German Minister to Czechoslovakia, in preparing the famous Karlsbad demands for conditions of autonomy in the Sudeten region. The demands were announced by Henlein in a speech on April 24, 1938. It was evident that Hitler would support the Sudeten Germans in their bid for concessions, and Jan Masaryk was instructed by Czech Foreign Minister Krofta to make another specific request for British military support in defying the Germans. Masaryk reported on May 3, 1938, that British Foreign Secretary Halifax was pessimistic about the military prospects for Czechoslovakia in a conflict with Germany, and he refused to commit Great Britain to the Czech cause.

The Czech leaders adopted the pattern of Schuschnigg, revealing that they were much more impatient than was Hitler to force the issue. The Czech Cabinet and military leaders decided on the afternoon of May 20, 1938, to order the partial mobilization of the Czech armed forces, and to base this provocative act on the false accusation that German troops were concentrating on the Czech frontiers. It was hoped that the resulting emotional confusion would commit the British and the French to the Czech position before a policy favoring concessions to the Sudeten Germans could be implemented. The plot failed although Krofta on May 27th, and Benes on June 1st, granted interviews in which they claimed that Czechoslovakia had scored a great victory over Germany. An inspired press campaign to create this impression had begun on May 21, 1938, and it reverberated around the world.

The War Bid of Benes Rejected by Halifax

Halifax was not inclined to permit President Benes to conduct the foreign policy of the British Empire. He was careful to side-step the Czech trap, although he went far enough to increase the indignation of Hitler toward the Czechs. He instructed British Ambassador Sir Neville Henderson in Berlin on May 21, 1938, to tell the Germans that the British “might” fight if the Germans moved on the Czechs. Henderson was to add that France might intervene and that “His Majesty’s Government could not guarantee that they would not be forced by circumstances to become involved also.” It was a warning to Hitler but it was not a specific declaration that Great Britain would wage war for the Czechs. Henderson reported a few days afterward that British military experts had scoured the German-Czech frontier and had found no evidence of German troop concentrations.

The Czech gamble failed, and it was a costly gamble. Hitler was sufficiently shrewd to see that the British had avoided a commitment to the Czechs under the dramatic circumstances created by the bold Czech mobilization move. The Czechs had tipped their hand: it was evident that they held no trumps. Hitler decided to force the issue with the Czechs in 1938, and to secure the liberation of the Sudeten Germans and the dissolution of the “Czech Empire.”

Hitler’s Decision to Liberate the Sudetenland

Hitler had discussed with General Wilhelm Keitel on April 22, 1938, an existing routine operational plan of 1935 for possible conflict with the Czechs. Hitler issued a directive which excluded an unprovoked German attack on the Czechs. Keitel returned the revised draft to Hitler on May 20, 1938, and it contained the explicit statement that Germany had no intention to attack Czechoslovakia. The Czech war-scare crisis of May 21, 1938, intervened before Hitler again returned the plan to Keitel on May 30, 1938. Hitler changed the political protocol, and he added the following significant statement: “It is my unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future.” General Alfred Jodl recorded in his diary on the same day that Hitler’s belief that the Czech question could be settled in 1938 had produced a serious conflict of opinion between Hitler and the Army General Staff. This conflict was quickly exploited by a small but ambitious German underground movement in an effort to overthrow Hitler in 1938. Gerhard Ritter, the leading German expert on this question, later expressed doubt that the military putsch plan against Hitler in 1938 would have succeeded under any circumstances, and he added that it was rendered completely impossible by the current British policy of concessions to Hitler. He also recognized that there was no chance for a successful military putsch against Hitler in the period from the Munich conference to the outbreak of World War II.

The initiative was retained by Hitler during the four months from the revised military plan of May 30, 1938, until the Munich conference of September 29-30, 1938. The Sudeten German leaders followed directives from Berlin, and they held fast to demands which the Czechs were unwilling to grant in full measure. Italy gave full diplomatic support to Germany, and neither Soviet Russia on the one side nor Great Britain and France on the other displayed any enthusiasm for taking the initiative to attack Germany. The Czechs, despite the grandiose ambitions of some of their leaders, were an intensely practical people, and most of them realized that life would still be worth living if Germany returned to her traditional role as the dominant Power in Central Europe. The Czechs had no taste for an isolated war against Germany, and they were ripe for the Anglo-French efforts of September 1938 to persuade them to surrender the Sudeten land to Germany without a struggle.

Lord Halifax informed the French leaders in Paris on July 20, 1938, that a special British fact-finding mission under Lord Runciman would be sent to Czechoslovakia. The mission was announced publicly on July 26, 1938, and President Benes was disturbed by this news. It was a definite indication that the British did not intend to adopt an uncompromising policy toward Germany in the crisis. The mission completed its labors early in September 1938, and it reported that the main difficulty in the Sudeten area had been the disinclination of the Czechs to grant reforms. This development was accompanied by the final rupture of negotiations between the Sudeten German and Czech leaders. It was evident that the peak of the crisis was close at hand.

President Benes delivered a defiant speech on September 10, 1938, at the time of the opening of the annual National Socialist Congress at Nuremberg across the border in Germany. The Czech President placed a bold front on the precarious Czech position. He declared that he had always been an optimist, and that his optimism was stronger than ever at the present time. Initial replies to President Benes were made by Joseph Goebbels and Hermann Göring. The principal reply came from Hitler in a major speech delivered at Nuremberg on September 12, 1938. The German leader denounced the policies of Benes since 1918 in scathing terms, and he made an appeal to the leaders of foreign states not to intervene when he settled accounts with the Czechs. He reminded the French leaders that the permanent renunciation by Germany of Alsace Lorraine, including the ancient German city of Strassburg, had been a major sacrifice which had been made willingly in the interest of Franco-German amity. He added that Germany was seeking to settle a limited number of problems in Europe, and that she had completely satisfactory borders “in many directions.”

The Sportpalast Pledge of September 26, 1938

The entire diplomatic corps had been present at Nuremberg to hear Hitler. Polish Ambassador Lipski contacted State Secretary Weizsäcker on September 13, 1938, to complain that he had distinctly heard Hitler say that Germany had “perfectly satisfactory boundaries in all directions,” and that the published version was incorrect in referring to “many directions.” Lipski warned ominously that unfortunate consequences might result if this change in the version of Hitler’s remarks was noticed in Poland. Weizsäcker was unable to discover anyone else who had heard the words of the version Lipski claimed Hitler had used. He requested the text which had been written before the speech was delivered, and he noted that it also contained the words “many directions.” This incident was brought to the attention of Hitler. Two weeks later, Hitler delivered a second major speech at the Sportpalast in Berlin, on September 26, 1938, when it seemed that Europe after all might be plunged into war over the Czech question. Hitler on that occasion made an explicit statement which was consistent with his policies, but which left him extremely vulnerable to the attacks and misrepresentations of hostile propagandists.

The Berlin speech of September 26th took place in a highly charged atmosphere dominated by the slogan of Goebbels: “Führer befiehl, wir folgen! (Command us, Leader, and we will follow!).” Hitler, in explaining German policy, asserted, “we have no interest in suppressing other peoples.” He reminded the world that Germany was strong again after fifteen terrible years (before 1933), but he insisted that she harbored no hatred toward other peoples. He emphasized the importance of a lasting German-Polish understanding in the realization of his program. He insisted that Czech rule should be terminated in the Sudeten German area, and he promised that his demand for German rule in the Sudetenland was “the last territorial demand which I have to make in Europe.”

The Poles and the Germans knew that Germany at this time was automatically claiming the entire territory which she had lost in the East in 1918, but the world as a whole had taken no notice of this. The precedent set by Stresemann at Locarno in 1925 in refusing to recognize any of the German territorial losses to Poland had not yet been modified. It was easy for propagandists to claim that the specific German request for the return of Danzig in the following month was a violation of Hitler’s solemn promise. Later, when the Czech state was disrupted in March 1939, the same propagandists were quick to claim that the establishment of a German protectorate in Bohemia-Moravia was a violation of Hitler’s promise of 1938. This was extremely effective propaganda, and it was widely believed in Germany itself. Nevertheless, it does not take full account of existing realities. Boris Celovsky, himself a Czech and the leading expert on the Czech crisis of 1938, has expressed the considered opinion that the 1918 Czech state was doomed when the Sudeten areas were amputated.

The other minorities, including the Slovaks, were opposed to the continuation of Czech rule, and the total overthrow of the Prague system was merely a question of time. Hitler worked for a specific solution in the interests of Germany during the March 1939 crisis, but he did not insist that his provisional solution, which was achieved in the heat of crisis, need be permanent. He made it clear to the British leaders that he was willing afterward to discuss the ultimate solution of the Czech question in the councils of international diplomacy. If Hitler’s later move to Prague was a major British grievance, it could have been discussed through normal diplomatic channels. In reality, the British in the period from March to September 1939 refused to respond to the various efforts made to raise this issue. In the meantime, the propagandists were seeking to whip people into a frenzy, and to represent Hitler, who ruled a tiny state in comparison to the great empires of Britain. Russia, and the United States, as a would-be conqueror of the world.

Hungarian Aspirations in Czechoslovakia

The Poles and the Hungarians refrained from major efforts to settle their own claims against the Czechs until Chamberlain’s visit to Hitler at Berchtesgaden on September 15, 1938. Regent Horthy of Hungary was invited to Germany in August 1938 to christen the German cruiser, Prinz Eugen, which was named after the famous Habsburg military hero and statesman of the early 18th century. Horthy was accompanied by Premier Bela Imredy and Foreign Minister Kanya. The visit was a ticklish one, because the Hungarians had instructed their special representatives to the Little Entente conference at Bled, Yugoslavia, to promise that Hungary would not offer Germany military support in the event of a German-Czech war. On the other hand, the Hungarians expected the Germans to take great risks to return the Hungarian ethnic territory which the Czechs had seized. This meant that friction was inevitable, and Horthy later complained that Hitler was less pleasant to him than at the time of his previous visit in 1936.

Horthy imagined that he could buy Hitler’s support by offering to mediate in securing a comprehensive understanding between Germany and Poland. Horthy reminded Hitler that he enjoyed intimate relations with the Poles and he made the startling proposition that he was prepared to ask Warsaw to hand over the Polish Corridor to Germany. Hitler, who had no intention of asking for any Polish territory, did not like this plan at all. He strongly urged Horthy not to say anything about the Corridor in Warsaw.

Hitler informed the Hungarian leaders in no uncertain terms that he would not play their game with Czechoslovakia. He made it clear that Germany would tolerate no further provocation from the Czechs, and that a new challenge from Prague would be answered with a German invasion. He noted that both Hungary and Poland had claims against the Czechs, and he added that he would welcome their participation in a war involving Germany and Czechoslovakia. He insisted that it was necessary for Hungary and Poland to shoulder the entire initiative in pushing their claims. The Hungarians pleaded that a war would involve greater risks for a small country like Hungary than for Germany. Hitler was not impressed with this argument, and he refused to modify his position.

The Hungarians approached the British on September 16, 1938, immediately after Chamberlain returned from Berchtesgaden and his first meeting with Hitler. They scented British complicity in a future partition of Czechoslovakia, and they attempted to make good their rebuff in Germany by requesting British support for Magyar aspirations in Czechoslovakia. They talked boldly in London for several days of their determination to secure justice from the Czechs. One week later the European situation took a turn for the worse, after the unsuccessful talks between Hitler and Chamberlain at their second meeting in Bad Godesberg. The Hungarians responded by retreating rapidly to a more cautious and conciliatory position.

British Encouragement of Polish Defiance at Danzig

The Poles used their own method to deal with the Czechs and they maintained their initiative with an insistence and vigor foreign to Budapest. The Poles also established contact with London on September 16, 1938, on the question of territorial claims, but they limited their action to an informative démarche. Polish Ambassador Edward Raczynski, a young and wealthy aristocrat, was instructed to avoid protracted discussions about Polish claims, and merely to inform the British of these claims rather than to consult with them. The previous month an important conference had taken place at the Hela peninsula on the Polish coast, between Polish Foreign Minister Beck and Alfred Duff Cooper, the British Parliamentary First Lord of the Admiralty. Beck made it clear that Poland desired closer ties with London and that she would appreciate an indication of eventual British support against Germany at Danzig. Halifax informed the Polish diplomats in London, after the return of Duff Cooper, that Great Britain would support Poland for a permanent position on the League Council, which would imply recognition of the status of Poland as a Great Power. He also promised that Great Britain would support Poland “as much as possible” at Danzig. This pledge was phrased cautiously and ambiguously, but the first step along the road toward the Anglo-Polish military alliance had been taken before the conference at Munich.

The attitude of Halifax toward Danzig had passed through a remarkable evolution during recent months. On May 21, 1938, League High Commissioner Burckhardt informed the Germans that a few days earlier “Lord Halifax had termed Danzig and the Corridor an absurdity,” and probably the most foolish provision of the Versailles settlement. Halifax had expressed the hope that a change in the status quo might be achieved by bilateral negotiations between Germany and Poland. He told Burckhardt that he did not regard Hitler’s November 5, 1937, declaration as the final German word on Danzig, and he suggested that Great Britain would be willing to mediate between Germany and Poland if an impasse was reached in negotiation between the two countries. Halifax added that he would welcome a visit to England by Albert Forster, the District National Socialist Party leader of Danzig, who subsequently went to London in response to this invitation Halifax had expressed an interest in coming to Danzig for deer hunting, and of course an invitation went to him immediately after Burckhardt relayed this information.

The May 1938 crisis, which was precipitated by President Benes, followed closely on the talks between Halifax and Burckhardt. The invitation from Danzig Senate President Greiser for deer hunting in the forests of the Danzig state was rejected by Halifax in June 1938. In July 1938 Halifax told Viktor Boettcher, the chief unofficial diplomatic agent of Danzig, that Great Britain favored the retention of the status quo at the so-called Free City. He showered Boettcher with specious arguments to the effect that Danzig could play a natural “role of mediator” between Germany and Poland, and he urged the Danzigers to be satisfied with existing conditions. Halifax came full circle the following month when he assured the Poles that Great Britain was interested in supporting them to prevent changes at Danzig. It was evident to the Poles that this volte face was an indication of British determination to organize a coalition against Germany at some date after the Czech crisis, and that, in the British mind, Poland would be very useful in forming such a front. It was natural under these circumstances for the Poles not to humble themselves in London when informing the British of their demands against the Czechs.

Polish Pressure on the Czechs

Further information about Polish intentions reached London from Warsaw almost immediately. Sir Howard Kennard, the British Ambassador in Warsaw, was well-known for his enthusiastic espousal of Polish interests. Kennard’s sympathy for the Polish cause was matched among the Western diplomats by that of William Bullitt, United States Ambassador to France, but certainly exceeded by no one else. Kennard reported to London on September 16, 1938, that the Polish Government was preparing a note which would demand self-determination for the Polish minority in Czechoslovakia. The Poles had informed the Czechs in general terms in May 1938 that Poland would present demands if the Czechs made minority concessions to other Powers. The Czechs had made no concessions to other Powers but the Chamberlain visit to Berchtesgaden convinced Beck that they would soon do so. Poland began to move on September 16th and she did not stop until she received her share of the Czech spoils.

President Benes conformed to his usual style in dealing with the Poles. He launched a subtle attempt to appease Poland without surrendering anything tangible. On May 24, 1938, he replied to Beck’s original demand for equal treatment with the bland assurance that Poland would receive it. He did not plan to surrender anything to Germany at that time, and his response did not imply that he intended to cede territory to the Poles. French Foreign Minister Bonnet attempted to settle the differences between Poland and Czechoslovakia, and he later blamed Poland for the lack of close contact between Paris and Warsaw during the Czech crisis. The British historian, Lewis Bernstein Namier, later claimed that Bonnet was at fault in failing to obtain Polish cooperation with the Czechs, but Bonnet effectively defended his position against his charge in the London Times Literary Supplement. Poland throughout the Czech crisis insisted that nothing less than the surrender of territory by the Czechs to the Poles would make the discussion of Polish assistance feasible. This proposition, when suggested at Prague by the French, did not stimulate whatever Czech desire there was to fight the Germans. The bitter rivalry between Prague and Warsaw prompted many Czechs to prefer the surrender of everything to Germany rather than one village to Poland.

Raczynski delivered a formal note in London on September 19, 1938, which described the Polish position against the Czechs. There was some speculation that Poland and Germany had a previous secret understanding in the Czech question, but this was not so. In reality, there was no contact at all between the Germans and the Poles in their respective efforts against the Czechs unless one regards as an understanding the fact that German and Polish leaders had told one another for years how much they detested Czechoslovakia.

A Government-inspired Polish pressure group, the OZON (Camp of National Unity created by Colonel Adam Koc, which would have replaced the existing Polish political parties had it been more successful) was stirring up anti-Czech feeling in Poland and its propaganda in this instance was conspicuously successful. Kennard was “obliged to concede” that Poland might intervene on the German side in the event of a German-Czech war. The British responded by delivering identical notes to the Hungarians and Poles which warned them to remain aloof from the current crisis. The gesture had no effect on the Poles, who indignantly brushed aside the British warning. The Hungarian leaders, who had returned at this moment from a second unsuccessful mission to Hitler, were further shaken in their confidence by the British stand.

Kennard understood that the Poles were sensitive about their alleged Great Power status, and he was appalled by the tactlessness of Halifax in sending identical notes to Warsaw and Budapest. He expressed his displeasure in a report to the British Foreign Office on September 22, 1938, and he simultaneously attempted to present Polish policy in a more favorable light in London. Kennard suggested that anti-German feeling in Hungary was too weak to be useful to Great Britain, but he insisted that in Poland there was a great reservoir of hatred against the Germans. He argued that it was a vital British interest to augment this hatred rather than to diffuse it by carelessly insulting Warsaw as Halifax had done. Kennard also reported that the Poles were not bluffing and that they had pushed their military preparations against the Czechs to an advanced stage.

Beck revenged himself on Halifax for the mere “carbon copy” of a note addressed to Hungary. He replied to Halifax haughtily on September 22, 1938, that he had no reason to discuss with the British any measures he might deem advisable in securing “legitimate Polish interests.” Beck believed that he had an impregnable basis for this reply because Great Britain had no commitment toward Czechoslovakia.

The Soviet Threat to Poland

Beck wished to remain abreast of Germany in dealing with the Czechs without getting ahead of her. He knew the next step was an ultimatum with a time limit, but he believed the Czechs might surrender to Germany in exchange for German support if they received a Polish ultimatum. The Poles in a few days had reached the same point as the Germans in a crisis which had lasted nearly five months. Beck decided to advance no further until the Germans made their next move. As a result, an extremely tense but stagnant period in the Czech-Polish crisis arrived. Great Britain had been excluded from further contact with Poland in the crisis by Beck’s brusque retort to Halifax, but contact between Poland and France remained close. Bonnet decided to make a last effort to secure a détente and then a rapprochement between Warsaw and Prague. At the very moment he launched this delicate maneuver, a third French ally, the Soviet Union, sent a thundering warning to Warsaw on September 23, 1938. The Poles were told that intervention against the Czechs would cause Russia to repudiate the Russo-Polish non-aggression pact of 1932 and would lead to unforeseeable consequences. Beck’s first reaction was to believe that the Russians were bluffing, and he replied defiantly to the Russian note.

The Failure of Benes to Deceive Beck

The specific incident which prompted the Russian démarche was Beck’s repudiation on September 21, 1938, of the 1925 Polish-Czech minorities treaty. This had been accompanied by the announcement that Poland would take active measures to secure the welfare of the Poles beyond the Czech frontier. Bonnet used this development as a point of departure in his final mediation effort. His first step was to inquire in Warsaw whether Poland had concluded an agreement with Germany concerning Czechoslovakia, and whether Polish claims against the Czechs were limited to Teschen or also included other areas. Beck and Miroslaw Arciszewski, a leading Polish diplomat who had returned from a mission in Rumania to assist Beck during the crisis, drafted a note to the French and forwarded it to Polish Ambassador Juliusz Lukasiewicz in Paris. The Polish note was elaborate in assurances of good faith, but was evasive. It did not answer the two questions of Bonnet.

The Polish position was clarified verbally in Warsaw on September 24th by Marshal Smigly-Rydz, who granted an audience to French Ambassador Léon Noël with the approval of Beck. The Marshal assured Noël that Poland had no agreement with Germany on Czechoslovakia, and he claimed that Polish aspirations were limited to the Teschen area. He declared that Czechoslovakia would be attacked if Polish demands were not accepted, but he added that a Polish invasion would be confined as closely as possible to the area Poland intended to annex from the Czechs.

The second move of Bonnet was to apply pressure on President Benes to make concessions to the Poles. Benes responded promptly but in characteristic fashion. He wrote a letter to Beck which was delivered in Warsaw on September 26, 1938. He “agreed in principle” to cede Teschen to Poland if the Poles supported Czechoslovakia in a war against Germany. Beck was not satisfied with this offer, and he observed with indignation that an “agreement in principle” from Benes was not worth the paper on which it was written. Nevertheless, he was in close contact with the French, and he decided to make an effort to reach an agreement with the Czechs along the lines advocated by Bonnet.

Beck informed the Czechs that the matter could be settled if they would turn the Teschen territory over to Poland without delay. They could count on full Polish assistance against Germany if they accepted this proposition, and if France fulfilled her obligations to the Czechs. This left scant room for maneuver to Benes, who was insincere in his offer to Poland. The Czech President replied with the feeble excuse that the railway system in Teschen territory occupied an important place in the Czech operational plan against Germany. He insisted that it would not be possible to surrender Teschen to Poland until Germany had been defeated in the approaching war. Beck promptly disrupted negotiations when he received this revealing reply. This development took place at the peak of the seven days’ crisis in Europe, which followed the failure of the initial Bad Godesberg talks between Chamberlain and Hitler on September 22, 1938.

Bullitt was in close contact with Lukasiewicz at Paris during these trying days. Lukasiewicz received Bullitt at the Polish Embassy on September 25, 1938, to inform him that the Polish Government had changed its attitude about the current crisis. They had believed that there would be no war, but now they believed that war would occur. Lukasiewicz insisted that a conflict would be a war of religion between Fascism and Bolshevism, with Benes as the agent of Moscow. Lukasiewicz confided to the American Ambassador that Poland would invade Slovakia in addition to Teschen if Germany advanced against the Czechs. It would be a primary Polish aim to establish a common front with friendly Hungary. The Polish diplomat believed that a Russian attack on Poland would follow this move, but he claimed that Poland did not fear it. He predicted that in three months Russia would be routed by Germany and Poland and he insisted that the Soviet Union was a hell of warring factions.

Bullitt accused Poland of betraying France, but Lukasiewicz denied this Chargé. He said that Poland would not make war on France, but that, if France, Great Britain, and the United States supported the Czechs, the Western Powers would be the tools of Bolshevism. Lukasiewicz urged Bullitt, who was friendly to Poland, to seek the support of President Roosevelt for territorial revision in favor of Poland and Hungary. He also told Bullitt that he could repeat any or all of these remarks to the French Foreign Office. Bullitt concluded that Poland would inevitably attack Czechoslovakia when Germany did, unless territorial concessions were made to the Poles.

Bullitt realized when he received a report from American Ambassador Kennedy in London on September 25, 1938, that the Poles were speaking the same language everywhere. Polish Ambassador Raczynski claimed to Kennedy that British and French attitudes in support of Czechoslovakia had caused Poland to become the “little cousin” of Hitler. Raczynski declared that Poland and Hungary believed that Hitler’s position at Bad Godesberg had been correct and that the British were to blame for the impasse which had been reached, because they did not take account of the urgency of the situation and the importance of Polish and Hungarian claims. It was known that Hitler had chided Chamberlain at Bad Godesberg for failing to take these issues into account. Kennedy complained to Bullitt that Raczynski was seeking to propagandize him, which was doubtless true.

A further conversation with Lukasiewicz on September 26, 1938, convinced Bullitt that the Polish position would not change. The Polish diplomat asserted that Germany, Poland, and Hungary would act in unison in imposing their will in Czechoslovakia. Bullitt also had received confirmation of the Polish attitude from Czech Ambassador Stephan Osusky. Bullitt was extremely excited, and he was indignant with Bonnet, who obviously believed that the destruction of Czechoslovakia was a feasible price to avoid war. Bullitt reported scornfully to Roosevelt that Bonnet was for “peace at any price,” and he followed this up with a further dispatch containing a host of unkind comments about the French Foreign Minister.

Bonnet’s initiative to secure a Polish-Czech rapprochement had failed, but this was not because Poland had modified her original offer to collaborate with France and Czechoslovakia. Beck’s stand was identical toward the Czechs and the French. The difficulty was that Benes agreed to surrender territory to Germany after the Chamberlain-Hitler Berchtesgaden conference, but he was unwilling to cede the Teschen area to Poland. It was evident that only a Polish ultimatum with a time limit would resolve the issue of whether or not there would be a Czech-Polish war in 1938. The failure of the Czechs to accept Polish demands in the interest of creating a common front against Germany caused astonishment in many quarters. German Ambassador Moltke in Warsaw observed to Jan Szembek on September 24, 1938, that Polish demands were modest and easy to satisfy compared to Germany’s interest in the entire Sudetenland, and so it would seem, if one ignored the fact of bitter Czech-Polish rivalry.

The Munich Conference

Moltke was no less astonished when Mussolini launched a last-minute mediation effort on September 28, 1938, which banished the danger of war over the Sudeten question, and brought the German-Czech crisis to a close. Sir Horace Wilson, who had served Prime Minister Chamberlain in various capacities over many years, had been sent to Berlin on a special mission on September 26, 1938, the day of Hitler’s Sportpalast speech. Wilson’s instructions were inadequate to permit him to resolve the Anglo-German differences which had been created at Bad Godesberg on September 22-24, 1938. Hitler resented the fact that Chamberlain wished to arrange the entire program of events in Czechoslovakia himself, and Chamberlain in turn was annoyed by Hitler’s effort to impose several conditions in the matter. Although the last conversations between the two leaders in Bad Godesberg had been conciliatory, the realization of a definite agreement on the Czech crisis had not been attained.

Wilson discussed the situation with Hitler a second time on September 27, 1938. The main gist of Wilson’s remarks was that there would be an Anglo-German war unless Hitler retreated. Wilson did not say this very explicitly, but Hitler helped him by cutting through the niceties of “fulfilling treaty obligations” and the like. He said that what Wilson meant was that if France decided to attack Germany, Great Britain would also attack Germany. He informed Wilson that he understood the situation and that he would “take note of this communication.” The Wilson mission had failed to break the impasse. Hitler and the British leaders were equally anxious to avoid a conflict despite the stubborn nature of their respective comments at this late stage of the crisis. Chamberlain appealed to Mussolini to do something at 11:30 a.m. on September 28, 1938. The effect was magical, and Hitler did not hesitate. The British Ambassador was able to telephone London at 3:15 p.m. on September 28, 1938, that Hitler wished to invite Chamberlain, Daladier, and Mussolini to Munich on the next day to discuss a peaceful solution of the Czech problem. The British Prime Minister received this news while delivering a tense speech to the House of Commons on the imminent danger of war. When he announced the news of Hitler’s invitation and of his intention to accept, he received the greatest ovation in the history of the British Parliament. The Bavarian city of Munich was wild with enthusiasm for peace when the European leaders arrived to negotiate on September 29, 1938. There was no appreciable enthusiasm for war in any of the European countries after the terrible experience of World War I, and in the light of the horrors of modern conflict currently revealed by the Civil War in Spain. A number of factors produced the Munich meeting. There was the strenuous initiative of Chamberlain to persuade the Czechs to capitulate. There was the patience of Daladier in agreeing to accept whatever his British ally could achieve. There was the restraint of Hitler in modifying his demands, and in resisting the temptation to strike at a time most favorable to win a war. Hitler was convinced that war in Europe need not be regarded as inevitable: otherwise he would never have invited the foreign leaders to Munich. There was the mediation of Mussolini, and the conviction that the respective parties were too close to an agreement to ruin everything by an unnecessary war.

Never was an agreement more clearly in the interest of all Powers concerned. Great Britain had won time to continue to gain on the German lead in aerial armament. France extricated herself from the danger of a desperate war after having abandoned her military hegemony in Europe in 1936. Italy was spared the danger of involvement in a war when she was woefully unprepared. Germany won a great bloodless victory in her program of peaceful territorial revision. By resisting the temptation to fight merely because she had the momentary military advantage, she increased her stature and prestige. As A.J.P. Taylor put it: “The demonstration had been given that Germany could attain by peaceful negotiation the position in Europe to which her resources entitled her. ”

Czech representatives in Munich were informed of developments, but they were not allowed to participate in deliberations, and there were no Hungarian or Polish representatives present. Winston Churchill later argued that French honor had been compromised at Munich because France had a formal obligation to defend the Czechs. It has been seen that this was not the view of Bonnet, and it is necessary to add that France, despite the pressure she imposed, might have aided the Czechs had they gambled again and actually resisted Germany. This situation never arose in reality. The Czechs had a young state which had been created by the efforts of others rather than by some fierce struggle for independence. Their state had been launched into a turbulent world under the problematical leadership of Masaryk and Benes. They had been associated politically for hundreds of years either with Germany or Austria. They were surrounded by enemies in 1938, and their defeat in a war was inevitable. Their surrender under these circumstances might not satisfy the honor requirements of arm-chair chauvinists, but it was a wise move. The Czechs might have emerged from World War II in excellent shape had the later diplomacy of Benes, Churchill, and Roosevelt not permitted the Communists to dominate the Czech people, and to incite them in 1945 to deeds of horror and violence against the masses of unarmed Slovaks, Hungarians, and Germans.

The Polish Ultimatum to Czechoslovakia

The Poles were extremely irritated by the Munich conference, and that the revival of cooperation among the principal non-Communist Powers of Europe. Hitler, after achieving his own success, took an indulgent view at Munich toward Polish and Hungarian claims, but the idea of the Powers discussing an issue of Polish foreign policy in the absence of Poland was anathema to Beck. It violated Pilsudski’s principal maxim on foreign policy: Nothing about us without us!

Beck did not wait to learn the results of the Munich deliberations. On the evening of September 30, 1938, he submitted an ultimatum to Prague demanding the town of Teschen and its surrounding district by noon on Sunday, October 2nd. He also demanded the surrender [within ten days] of the remaining hinterland claimed by Poland. Beck warned that if a Czech note of compliance was not received by noon on October 1st, “Poland would not be responsible for the consequences.” The ultimatum gave the Czechs merely a few hours to decide on their reply.

The Czechs hastened to capitulate, and their reply was received in Warsaw ahead of the deadline. Beck’s action worried Kennard, who feared that his beloved Poles were jeopardizing their reputation abroad. He lectured Beck on the dangers of military action, and he added that “if the Polish Government proceeded to direct action they would draw upon themselves the serious reprobation of the whole world, which had only just emerged from a crisis of a far greater nature.” It is amusing to note that in British diplomatic language the attitude of the British Empire, which meant the small proportion of people who were the masters of that Empire together with the friends of Britain at the moment, was supposed to be equivalent to the attitude of the entire world. British diplomats modified this at times, and referred to the attitude of the entire “civilized” world. It is almost unnecessary to observe that Kennard’s lecture produced not the slightest effect on Beck.

Lord Halifax was annoyed. His instructions to Kennard at 10:00 p.m. on September 30th, indicated that he had taken no notice of Pilsudski’s maxim of “nothing about us without us,” although this maxim had been reiterated publicly by Beck on innumerable occasions. Halifax observed that the Munich conference had recognized the necessity of settling Hungarian and Polish claims, and that the Polish Government would be “very short-sighted and ill-advised to take the law into their own hands instead of basing their policy on the four Powers.” This ignored the fact that the Munich Powers also had taken the law into their own hands. Halifax complained that with an ultimatum threatening occupation by force the “Poles put themselves entirely in the wrong.” In all fairness, it should be recalled that the Czechs had not obtained the region in the first place by sending bouquets to Warsaw. The Polish Government disagreed with Halifax and believed it would place itself in the wrong if it waited for the crumbs to be swept from the Munich conference table.

German Support to Poland Against the Soviet Union

German claims had been settled at Munich, and Beck knew that he was vulnerable. Major incidents and even air battles had taken place on the Russo-Polish frontier in recent days. Beck had become less confident that the Russians were bluffing. His two main fears were that Russia would attack him in the rear, and that the Czechs would receive German support by some additional concessions to Germany, of which he believed them totally capable. Beck badly needed some assurance of foreign support. The British attitude was momentarily hostile, and it would be too much to expect the French to support him against their Czech ally. There remained only Germany, and Beck decided to act upon this fact. German-Polish cooperation under the 1934 Pact reached a new summit at this moment.

Beck summoned Moltke on the evening of September 30, 1938, and announced that he was delivering an ultimatum to the Czechs. He wished to know if Germany would maintain a benevolent attitude during a Polish-Czech war. He added that he also wanted German support in the event of an attack on Poland by the Soviet Union. Beck assured Moltke with warmth that he was grateful for “the loyal German attitude toward Poland” during the Munich conference and for the “sincerity of relations during the Czech conflict.” Beck was frank in his evaluation of the German policy, but the “sincerity of relations” sounds ironical when one considers that a few days earlier Poland was discussing the conditions under which she would attack Germany.

Hitler immediately gave Beck all the protection he desired. The French had led a démarche in Warsaw protesting the Polish ultimatum, and Italy had participated in this step. Ribbentrop responded by telephoning Italian Foreign Minister Ciano to inform him that Germany was in full sympathy with the Polish position. He told Ciano that the Poles had informed him of “terrible conditions in the Teschen territory,” and he reminded him that 240,000 Germans had been expelled from the Sudetenland during the recent crisis. He concluded that Ciano would understand if Germany did not care to use the same language as Italy at Warsaw.

Ribbentrop did everything possible to comfort the Poles. He told Lipski that he believed the Czechs would submit quickly. He promised that Germany would adopt a benevolent attitude if Poland had to invade Czechoslovakia to secure her claims. He had Hitler’s consent to inform Lipski that Germany would adopt a benevolent attitude toward Poland in a Russo-Polish war. He made it clear that this “benevolent attitude” was tantamount to giving Poland everything she might require in such a conflict. He added that a Russian invasion would create a new situation in which Germany would not be inhibited by the attitude of the other Munich Powers. German support to Poland was instant, unequivocal, and complete.

Bullitt in Paris was no less dismayed by the Polish attitude than Kennard. He persuaded the British to intervene again in the Teschen question, before Czech willingness to comply with Polish demands had become generally known. He pleaded with British Ambassador Eric Phipps, in Paris on October 1st, that if he had more time he would propose intervention in Warsaw by President Roosevelt, but that Chamberlain was the only person who could act under existing circum stances. The British Prime Minister responded to this suggestion. He was preparing a message to Beck when a confused report arrived from British Minister Newton in Prague that the Czechs had rejected the Polish ultimatum and would “resist force.” The prospect of this disaster stiffened Chamberlain’s message to Beck. He warned the Poles not to use force if the Czechs rejected their ultimatum, and he added that it was “quite inadmissible” for Poland to insist on “taking matters into her own hands.”

Word arrived in London shortly after Chamberlain’s message to Beck that the Czechs had capitulated. Newton was acutely embarrassed. He complained angrily that the speed of the surrender was a great surprise after the brave words which had been spoken in Prague. He observed contemptuously that “the Czech spirit seems indeed somewhat broken,” and his disappointment that the Czechs would not fight Poland was obvious. Nevertheless, it seems understandable that the Czechs had little stomach for a hopeless contest against the Poles after having been denied support against Germany.

The Czech crisis which culminated in the Munich conference passed the acute stage with the settlement of the Polish demand for Teschen. It was obvious that the Hungarians would not dare to act against the Czechs as Poland had done. Events had moved rapidly in a direction not at all to the liking of the Soviet Union. After a luncheon with Soviet Foreign Commissar Litvinov at the Paris Soviet Embassy on October 1, 1938. Bonnet speculated that the Soviet Union might denounce the Franco-Russian alliance. Litvinov was especially furious about Chamberlain. He complained that Chamberlain should not have been “allowed” to go to Berchtesgaden or Bad Godesberg, but that these two “mistakes” were as nothing compared to the “enormity” of Munich. Litvinov insisted passionately that Hitler had been bluffing, and that he could have been forced to retreat without serious danger of war. Bonnet held exactly the opposite view. He “gently pointed out” that France wished to be on decent terms with Germany, Italy, and Franco Spain. He was aware that these nations were objectionable to Russia, but they also were the immediate neighbors of France, and he would not permit the Soviet Union to dictate French policy. Litvinov did not have the satisfaction of seeing his French guest seriously perturbed by the outcome of the recent crisis. Bonnet was concentrating on developing a new policy to meet the new circumstances.

Anglo-German Treaty Accepted by Hitler

There was a dramatic epilogue to the Munich conference in which Chamberlain and Hitler were the principal figures. Chamberlain proposed a private meeting at Hitler’s Prinzregentenstrasse apartment in Munich on September 30, 1938, at which Hitler’s interpreter, Paul Schmidt, was the only third party. The British Prime Minister and the German leader discussed the European situation at length. In Schmidt’s record of the conversation, which was confirmed in its authenticity by Chamberlain, Hitler declared that “the most difficult problem of all had now been concluded and his own main task had been happily fulfilled.” Chamberlain said that if the Czechs nevertheless resisted, he hoped there would be no air attacks on women and children. This was ironical when one considers that Chamberlain knew the British Air Force, in contrast to the German strategy of tactical air support to the ground forces, was basing its strategy on concentrated air attacks against civilian centers in a future war. Hitler was not aware of this, and he insisted emphatically that he was opposed in every event to such air attacks, which would never be employed by Germany except in retaliation. Chamberlain and Hitler discussed the problem of arms limitation, and they agreed that there might be some future prospect for this. Hitler emphasized that he was primarily worried about the Soviet Union and by the Communist ideology which the Russians were seeking to export to the entire world. He was concerned because Poland refused to define her position toward the Soviet Union, and he observed that “Poland intervenes geographically between Germany and Russia, but he had no very clear idea of her powers of resistance.” The two leaders discussed trade relations, but they were far apart on this issue. Hitler deprecated the importance of international loans in stimulating trade, or the need for uniform tariff policies toward all nations. This attitude was questioned by Chamberlain.

When the conversation was ending, Chamberlain suddenly asked Hitler if he would sign a declaration of AngloGerman friendship. There is a legend that Hitler signed this document without having it translated, but it is entirely untrue. After Hitler had listened to the terms, he signed without hesitation the two copies of the treaty in the English language which Chamberlain presented to him. Chamberlain signed both copies and returned one to Hitler. The agreement contained the following terms:

We, the German Führer and Chancellor and the British Prime Minister, have had a further meeting to-day and are agreed in recognizing that the question of Anglo-German relations is of first importance for the two countries and for Europe. We regard the agreement signed last night and the Anglo-German Naval agreement as a symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again. We are resolved that the method of consultation shall be the method adopted to deal with any other questions that may concern our two countries, and we are determined to continue our efforts to remove possible sources of difference and thus to contribute to assure the peace of Europe.

This important agreement might have become the cornerstone for the preservation of peace in Europe and for the defense of Europe against Communism. It was accepted by Hitler without reservations, and by Chamberlain with reservations which were certain to become more vigorous when he returned to English soil. Many prominent Englishmen entertained a variety of superstitions, both old and new, about Germany which were not conducive to the preservation of peace. It was Hitler’s problem to cope with this situation while carrying out his program, and it will be evident later, in the evaluation of the British scene after Munich, that the odds for success were not favorable. The initiative for the agreement came from Chamberlain, who knew that it would be a trump to show his critics at home. This does not alter the fact that Chamberlain was ambivalent and Hitler single-minded about it.

Hitler’s unique achievements in Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938, which consisted of territorial revisions without force, would not have been possible had the British favored war that year. The greatest single misfortune in 1939 was the changed British attitude in favor of war.

Chapter 6 • A German Offer to Poland • 13,900 Words
Germany’s Perilous Position After Munich — The Inadequacy of German Armament — The Favorable Position of Great Britain — Hitler’s Generous Attitude toward Poland — Further Polish Aspirations in Czecho-Slovakia — Continued Czech Hostility toward Poland and Germany — Polish Claims at Oderberg Protected by Hitler — The Failure of Czech-Hungarian Negotiations — Germany’s Intentions Probed by Halifax — Beck’s Failure to Enlist Rumania Against Czecho-Slovakia — Beck’s Request for German Support to Hungary — Hitler’s Suggestion for a Comprehensive Settlement — Beck’s Delay of the Polish Response — Beck Tempted by British Support Against Germany

Germany’s Perilous Position After Munich

The victory of Hitler at Munich convinced the last sceptic that Germany had regained her traditional position as the dominant Power in Central Europe. This position had been occupied by France in the years after the German defeat in 1918. Hitler challenged French military hegemony in the area when he reoccupied the German Rhineland in 1936. The acquisition of ten million Germans in Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938 greatly improved the German strategic position toward the East and the South. Germany established new common frontiers with Italy, Hungary, and Yugoslavia. The Italian sphere of influence in Central Europe north of the Brenner Pass was demolished, and the French and Soviet sphere of influence in Czechoslovakia was insignificant after the Czechs lost the strategic natural frontier of Bohemia with its elaborate fortifications.

The German Reich after Munich had a population of 78 million Germans. The principal neighbors of Germany in Europe were France, Italy and Poland. The Germans were almost twice as numerous as the Italians, nearly twice as numerous as the French, and approximately four times as numerous as the Poles, when one discounts the Ukrainians and other eastern minorities of the Polish state, whose loyalty was extremely dubious. Industrial capacity had become the decisive criterion in measuring a modern Power, and Germany was many times stronger in this respect than any of her immediate neighbors. The German people were noted for their energy, vigor, and martial valor. The fact that Germany was the leading Power in Central Europe was no less logical or natural than was the dominant role of the United States on the North American continent. The United States enjoyed her position for much the same reasons.

Nevertheless, the situation of Germany after Munich was precarious to an extent which had been unknown in the United States for many generations. It is not surprising under these circumstances that it was difficult, if not impossible, for Americans in 1938 to understand the problems which confronted Germany. The impressive and seemingly impregnable position of Germany, which had been created by Bismarck in 1871 following Prussian victories in three wars, had been shattered by the single defeat of 1918. The defeat of Germany had been exploited so thoroughly that it seemed unlikely for many years that the Germans would recover their former position. The leading role of the Germans in Central Europe had existed for many centuries before the defeat and emasculation of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation in 1648. More than two centuries elapsed before the new German state created by Bismarck in 1871 restored the traditional German position, although it is true that the Prussian state alone was sufficiently powerful to obtain recognition as a major European Power during the interim period. The Hohenzollern Empire lasted only from 1871 to 1918. It was clear that the ability of Germany to occupy her rightful place in Europe had become problematical for a number of reasons, some obscure.

Although Germany after Munich could doubtless have coped with a combined attack from all of her immediate neighbors on land. she had to face the elementary possibility that she might be attacked by an overwhelming coalition of distant Powers, if she became involved in a conflict with any of her immediate neighbors. The Bagdad railway question. the last direct point of friction between Germany and the British Empire in the years before World War I, had been settled by peaceful negotiation in June 1914. This did not prevent Great Britain, the dominant Naval Power of the world, from attacking Germany a few weeks later, or from inflicting an unrestricted blockade on an industrial nation, which did not enjoy any degree of self-sufficiency. It did not prevent Japan from attacking Germany in 1914, although there was no direct point of conflict between Germany and Japan. It did not prevent the United States from holding Germany to strict accountability in the conduct of naval warfare, and from accepting gross violations of maritime international law when they were British. In 1917 the United States declared war on Germany on the specious plea that the Germans were violating the same freedom of the seas which the British failed to recognize. The British refused to conclude the armistice in 1918 until point 2 about freedom of the seas was dropped from President Wilson’s program, and there were never any American protests about British unrestricted submarine warfare in the Baltic Sea during World War I. It was this coalition of distant Powers which made inevitable the defeat of Germany in World War I.

There was no appreciable difference between the German situation of 1914 and 1938 except that Hitler had learned from experience. It was no longer possible to accept the facile proposition that Germany was secure, merely because she could cope with attacks from her immediate neighbors in the West or in the East. The Soviet Union was a gigantic unknown factor in the world power relationships of 1938. The attitude of the British Empire toward Germany was problematical. The British leaders warned Germany repeatedly in 1938 that they might not remain aloof from a conflict involving Germany and some third Power. The United States since 1900 was usually inclined to follow the British lead in foreign policy, and there could be no certain guarantee that the United States would remain aloof from a new Anglo-German war.

Hitler correctly recognized the British attitude as the crux of the entire situation. Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union was likely to attack Germany unless she became ensnared in a new conflict with Great Britain. Hitler knew that Germany had nothing to gain in a war with the British, but he feared the anti-Germanism of the British leaders. His sole ally in this situation was British public opinion. The British public would not be likely to support a war against Germany unless it was accompanied by some seemingly plausible pretext. But if Hitler became involved in some local European conflict, the British leaders might convince their public opinion that Germany had embarked on a program of unlimited conquest which threatened British security.

The Inadequacy of German Armament

Winston Churchill and other British bellicistes circulated the greatest possible amount of nonsense about the current German armament program, and the British leaders in power were not averse to this exaggerated notion of German military strength. It was useful in gaining support for the current British armament program. But Burton Klein has pointed out that Hitler himself opposed large defense expenditures throughout the decade from 1933 to 1943, and that Germany, with her large industrial capacity, might easily have developed a much more adequate defense program. Many people in Great Britain were astonished to learn later that Great Britain and Germany were producing approximately the same number of military aircraft each month when World War II came in 1939. It was more surprising still that Great Britain was producing 50 more armored tanks each month than Germany: Great Britain and France greatly outnumbered Germany in this important category of mechanized armament when France fell in 1940. German public finance before 1939 was conservative compared to the United States and Great Britain, and large-scale public borrowing was not under taken in Germany. Public expenditure in Germany increased from 15 billion Marks (3.75 billion dollars) in 1933 to 39 billion Marks (9.75 billion dollars) in 1938, but more than 80% of this outlay was raised by current taxation. The value of German gross national production during the same period increased from 59 billion Marks (14.75 billion dollars) to 105 billion Marks (26.25 billion dollars). There was merely a slight rise in prices, and there was a higher level of German private consumption and investment in 1938 than in the peak year of 1929.

Hitler declared in a speech on September 1, 1939, that 90 billion Marks (22.5 billion dollars) had been spent on defense by Germany since he had been appointed Chancellor on January 30, 1933. Hitler, in arriving at this figure, included items of public expenditure which had nothing to do with arms, and which would not have met the later official definition of the War Production Board in the United States. He was seeking to use intimidation to dissuade the British and French from attacking Germany. It is ironical that the League of Nations experts on armaments at Geneva were willing in this instance to accept Hitler’s statement at face value, although they were sceptical about his remarks on every other occasion. In reality, Germany spent 55 billion Marks (13.75 billion dollars) on military defense during the period of nearly seven years from January 1933 until the outbreak of World War II. It was said that Germany entered World War II with a “guns and butter philosophy.” In the last peacetime year, 1938-1939, 16 billion Marks (4 billion dollars) or 15% of the German gross national product was spent on military preparation. The volume of arms expense in the United States during the last American peacetime year from December 1940 to December 1941 was much higher, although American critics claimed that the United States was woefully unprepared when Japan struck at Pearl Harbor. The Germans, on the other hand, had allegedly done everything humanly possible to prepare for war before the out break of World War II. In reality, Germany was spending a large proportion of public funds on municipal improvements and public buildings when war came. Hitler believed that Germany needed immediate military superiority over France and Great Britain to intimidate them for a short period from intervening against Germany while he completed his program of territorial revision, but he hoped to avoid war against a coalition of major Powers. Nearly one half of the total German expense on arms during the last year of peace went to the Air Force, but the British leaders were confident during the same period that they were gaining rapidly on Germany in the air.

The Favorable Position of Great Britain

The British leaders had a problem of national security, but their situation was more favorable than that of Hitler. In 1938 Great Britain was at a temporary disadvantage toward Germany in the air, but the prospects for successful air defense against the Germans were extremely favorable in 1939. Germany had few submarines, and the British Navy was overwhelmingly powerful compared to the German Navy. The insular position of Great Britain offered an admirable defense against the employment of German land forces. In contrast to Germany, the British did not have to face the peril of an invasion from the Soviet Union in the event of a Western European war. They were backed by the tremendous resources of the British Empire and the United States. Had Hitler been determined to crush Great Britain, he would have had to recognize that the British strategic situation was superior to his own.

Hitler had no intention to attack Great Britain. The British leaders could have remained neutral in any European conflict involving Germany without jeopardizing British security. The main danger in 1938 and 1939 was that Great Britain would attack Germany and seek to crush her completely. This would lead to involvement in a protracted war, which would exhaust British resources and expose the British Empire to the forces of disintegration. This is what later happened. The British strategic position was good in 1939, but it was sacrificed unnecessarily. The principal benefactor was the Soviet Union, the mortal enemy of the British Empire.

This dread development was one which Hitler hoped to avoid. It seemed to him that German security would not be complete until Germany attained comprehensive understandings with her principal neighbors. He recognized that such understandings would demand a price. He was prepared to abandon the Germans south of the Brenner Pass to Italy: and to France he conceded the problematical Germans of Alsace-Lorraine, who seemed to long for Germany when they were French and for France when they were German. He hoped for an alliance with Italy, and after the Munich conference he sought to attain a Franco-German declaration of friendship similar to the one which he had signed with Chamberlain at Munich.

Hitler’s Generous Attitude toward Poland

Poland was the third principal neighbor of Germany, and she was the sole neigh boring Power with which Germany was in direct danger of conflict after the Munich conference. The problem of Danzig and the German-Polish frontier was more dangerous than that of Bosnia-Herzegovina before 1914. The position of Poland between Germany and her principal adversary, the Soviet Union, was one of paramount importance. It seemed to Hitler that the clarification of German-Polish relations was an absolute necessity. A policy of aimless drifting from one unexpected crisis to another had led to the ruin of Germany in World War I. Hitler believed that this vicious pattern had to be broken, and it is not surprising that he wished to establish German security on a rock-like foundation after the harrowing German experiences since 1900. Hitler’s concern would have been intensified had he known of the secret Anglo-Polish negotiations of August 1938 to frustrate German aspirations at Danzig. He was greatly concerned as it was. He harbored no animosity toward Poland, and this is astonishing when one considers the bitter legacy of German-Polish relations from the 1918-1934 period, or the attitudes of the Polish leaders. He was prepared to pay a high price for Polish friendship, and, indeed, to pay a much higher price to the Poles than to either Italy or France. The renunciation of every piece of German territory lost to Poland since 1918 would have been unthinkable to Gustav Stresemann and the leaders of the Weimar Republic. Hitler was prepared to pay this price, and he believed that the favorable moment for a settlement had arrived after the close and unprecedented German-Polish cooperation in the latest phase of the Czech crisis. Hitler was inclined to be confident when he approached Poland with a comprehensive offer a few weeks after the Munich conference. He was warned in vague terms by Ambassador Moltke in Warsaw that a settlement would not be easy, but no one outside of Poland could have known that his generous proposals would actually be received with scorn.

Further Polish Aspirations in Czecho-Slovakia

The further development of the Czech situation was a minor theme compared to the issue of a German-Polish settlement, but the Czech and Polish issues remained closely linked for many months, and it is impossible to consider one without the other. The hyphenated name “Czecho-Slovakia” was adopted by law at Prague, shortly after the Munich conference, as the official name to designate the Czech state. This was part of a series of half-hearted Czech appeasement measures to the Slovaks. It was evident immediately after Poland’s success in the Teschen question that Polish leaders were eager to realize other objectives in Czecho-Slovakia. These objectives were three in number, and not easily compatible. The Poles hoped to see Slovakia emerge immediately from Czech rule as an independent state. The prospect for this development was not good. The Slovakian nationalist movement had been ruthlessly suppressed by the Czechs after President Thomas Masaryk had betrayed the promises for Slovak autonomy contained in the Pittsburgh agreement of 1918. It was obvious that time would be required before the Slovak nationalist movement could successfully reassert itself. Josef Tiso and Karol Sidor, the two principal leaders of Slovak nationalism in 1938, were unable to command a single-minded following. Most Slovaks were opposed to the continuation of Czech rule, but they were divided into three conflicting groups. An influential group favored the return of Slovakia to Hungary, but the timidity of the Magyars was so great that no effective support could be expected from Budapest. Another group, of which Sidor was the principal spokesman, favored a close association between Slovakia and Poland and even a Polish protectorate. A third group, of which Tiso was the outstanding leader, favored a completely independent Slovakia, but they were doubtful if such a state could survive without strong protection from some neighboring Power. When one includes the Hiasist movement, which was pro-Czech, the Slovaks were divided into no less than four schools of thought on the fundamental question of their future existence.

Slovakia was a backward agrarian country with a mixed ethnic population. It was too much to expect Slovakia to declare her independence the moment Czech power was weakened. Polish disappointment was inevitable when the Slovaks failed to respond as expected. The Polish High Commissioner in Danzig, Marjan Chodacki, exclaimed to Jan Szembek at the Polish Foreign Office on October 11, 1938, that Slovakia and Ruthenia would become instruments of German eastward expansion unless they were quickly separated from Czech rule. There was always the possibility of direct Polish intervention if the Slovaks failed to act for themselves, but the Polish military leaders expressed a negative attitude toward this project. The idea of a Poland eventually extending from the Danube River to the Dvina River was attractive to the military men, but they claimed that a conflict with Germany was likely, and they believed that a Polish protectorate in Slovakia would be bad strategy. The Carpathian Mountains, in their estimation, formed the most important natural frontier of Poland, and they argued that the Polish position would become over-extended if Polish troops were sent to occupy the land beyond the mountains.

Many foreign observers were aware that a Slovakian crisis was likely in the near future. Truman Smith, the American military attaché in Berlin, sent a valuable report to President Roosevelt on October 5,1938, concerning the strategic situation in Europe after the Munich conference. His report was accompanied by a prediction from Ambassador Hugh Wilson suggesting that Hitler in the near future might support Italy in some important question out of gratitude for Mussolini’s mediation at Munich, because “the outstanding characteristic of Hitler in standing by his friends is well known.” Smith explained to Roosevelt that “Hitler’s hope and wish is to retain Italy’s friendship while winning France and England’s.” He predicted that there would be trouble in Slovakia, and that Italy, Poland, and Hungary would support Slovakian independence aspirations. He said, “Hitler’s diplomatic position at the moment is not an enviable one. He will require all of his diplomatic skill to avoid the many pitfalls which today confront him and hold to Italy while winning England and France.” Smith declared that Germany desired peace, but that there was certain to be much trouble in Europe in the immediate future. He concluded his report with the ominous warning: “Lastly, watch the fate of Slovakia.” He considered Slovakia to be the most important issue in Europe, and more so than Spain, where the Civil War was approaching its final phase.

Polish Foreign Minister Beck was nettled by Hungarian timidity, and by the reluctance of Polish military men to extend their commitments to the South. Tiso wanted strong protection for an independent Slovakian state, and Germany was the only alternative if Hungary and Poland refused to accept this responsibility. Fulminations against the Czechs, and the promise that Poland would adopt a friendly policy toward an independent Slovakia, was all that Beck could offer the Slovaks for the moment. It was evident that he was extremely worried by this situation.

The second Polish objective in Czecho-Slovakia complicated the problem created by the first one. In the years before the first Polish partition of 1772, Joseph II, Kaiser of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Hungary, seized a region in the Carpathian mountains which had been in dispute between Poland and Hungary since the Middle Ages. He took this step with the reluctant consent of Maria Theresa, co-regent in the Habsburg dominions of her son Joseph’s imperial domain. This region had been awarded to the favored Czechs by the Allied and Associated Powers at Paris in 1919. The circumstances of the allocation, for which the principal Powers were solely responsible, and the unimportant economic value of the region, made Polish reaction less intense than the passion aroused by Teschen. Nevertheless the Polish leaders had never forgotten their disappointment in failing to obtain the Zips-Orawy Carpathian area. The region was on the ethnic frontier with Slovakia, and it would have been prudent for them to play down Polish interest in Territorial revision at Slovakian expense until the general situation of Slovakia had been clarified. Unfortunately they could not countenance the thought of losing their chance to acquire the disputed territory while general conditions remained favorably fluid. The temptation to exploit Czech weakness to achieve this second objective was too great. Polish impulsiveness ended by wrecking Polish-Slovakian relations, and Poland’s primary objective of securing a favorable solution of the Slovakian question was sacrificed. The third objective of Polish policy in Czecho-Slovakia after the Teschen settlement was the elimination of Czech rule in Ruthenia. John Reshetar, the principal American historian of Ruthenian extraction, has pointed out that Ruthenia could be classified equally well as a Greater Russian or Ukrainian community. The geographic proximity of Ruthenia to the Ukraine presented the advocates of an independent or Soviet Ukraine with a distinct advantage in Ruthenian counsels. It can be affirmed, with this consideration in mind, that the Ukraine in 1938 was divided among four partitioning Powers. The greatest number of Ukrainians were Soviet subjects, and they were twice as numerous as the entire Polish population of Poland. They inhabited the central and eastern Ukraine. Poland came second to Russia with her rule established over the eight or nine million Ukrainians of the Western Ukraine. Rumania was third with her control over the Ukrainian section of the Bessarabian area between the Prut and Dniester Rivers north of the mouth of the Danube. Finally, the Czechs ruled over approximately one million Ruthenians south of the Carpathians, who were descended from the subjects of the Kievan Russian state of the Middle Ages. Czech rule in Ruthenia had been established at Paris in 1919, and it had always seemed fantastic to the Poles. The Rumanians, on the other hand, welcomed it because it provided direct Rumanian contact by land with the armament industry of Bohemia, and it deprived Hungary of a common frontier with Poland.

Polish thought on the Ruthenian question was simplicity itself. Ruthenia had belonged to Hungary for hundreds of years before 1919, and Ruthenia should return to Hungary. Hungary had suffered mutilation at the Paris peace conference in 1919, where they lost two-thirds of their population and three-fourths of their territory. They were understandably reluctant under these circumstances to take risks twenty years later. Poland was annoyed because the Hungarian leaders would not take matters into their own hands and march into Ruthenia. The Poles were no less determined because of this to see the territory return to Hungary, and they regarded a solution in this sense as absolutely essential.

The Poles feared the emergence of an entirely independent Ruthenia. The Communists might succeed in gaining control of the area. This would enable them to exert pressure from both West and East on the restive and discontented Polish-Ukrainian population. No student of Polish history or literature forgot that the decline of Poland as a great Power in the early modern period began with a gigantic revolt in 1648 of the Ukrainians under Polish rule. This revolt had been successfully exploited by Russia.

The Poles also feared that Hitler might return to the 1918 German policy in support of Ukrainian separatism. This program had been belatedly adopted by the Germans at the 1918 Brest-Litovsk conference, because of Trotsky’s intransigence in refusing to conclude a peace settlement between Russia and Germany in World War I. The object now as then might be to strike a crippling blow at the Soviet Union. The treaty of Brest-Litovsk had been a favorite theme of Hitler’s oratory in the early days of his political career. Hitler had defended the Brest Litovsk treaty, because Germany had made no territorial annexations, but had extended self-determination to millions of Europeans, and had sought to protect them from the terrors of Bolshevik rule. Hitler considered Brest-Litovsk to have been a peace of justice when compared to Versailles, and he used a number of effective arguments to support this view. It seemed logical to the Polish leaders that Hitler might seek to follow this policy and attempt to push back the Bolshevik tide by liberating the Ukrainians. It was known that many Ukrainian refugees were allowed to conduct their propaganda activities from points within Germany. It was believed that Hitler could secure greater access for Germany to the valuable resources of Eastern Europe if he freed the Ukraine.

A more effective Polish policy in Slovakia would have been useful in settling the Ruthenian question in a sense favorable to Poland. It would be impossible to maintain Czech rule in Ruthenia once Slovakia was independent. Polish thinking was so dominated by the idea of a war with Germany, and by strategic considerations for such a war, that an excellent opportunity to implement Pilsudski’s policy of federation with neighboring nations was thrown away in Slovakia. The Poles and Slovaks were closely related in culture, temperament, and customs, and at this point a close association between the two countries was feasible as never before. The Poles did not stop to consider that concessions at Danzig, or in the superhighway question, would be a small price to pay for German support in acquiring Slovakia. The greatest foreign policy successes of Poland since the Riga treaty in 1921 consisted solely of the opening of the Polish-Lithuanian frontier after the Austro-German Anschluss, and of the acquisition of Teschen territory after the German success at Munich. Poland decided to proceed in the same manner by nibbling at the Carpathian mountains rather than by achieving a great success in establishing a Polish-Slovakian union. The policy of union had a much greater chance of success in Slovakia than in a non-Slavic country like Lithuania. The removal of Polish prejudice toward Germany at this point would have made the experiment feasible.

German Ambassador Moltke complained from Warsaw on October 6, 1938, that the Polish press did not hint that success at Teschen had been attained because Germany had cleared the path. The German diplomat had been wrong in his predictions about Polish policy throughout the Czech crisis, and a number of his remarks on October 6th about recent events betrayed considerable confusion. He was still insisting that the Poles were trying to collaborate with the Czechs against Germany when the news arrived that there would be a conference at Munich. This analysis undoubtedly increased his indignation when he reported that the officially inspired Polish press claimed unanimously that German success in the Sudeten question was possible because of Polish aid. The Polish press claimed that Germany would have failed had not Polish neutrality prevented Soviet Russian intervention. The wisdom of this propaganda line from the official Polish standpoint was questionable, since a recitation of alleged Polish aid to Germany was not calculated to appease anti-German public opinion in Poland.

Moltke believed that the Munich conference had diminished the prestige of France in Poland, but he did not think that Poland would drop the French alliance merely to strengthen her relations with Germany. Moltke was wrong in assuming that Hitler intended to ask the Poles to drop their French alliance. He was right when he reminded the German Foreign Office that Polish policy in Ruthenia was directed primarily against the Soviet Union, but that “fears of German expansion also play a part.” The principal theme in Moltke’s report was that German-Polish cooperation in the Czech crisis did not guarantee the termination of a Polish policy hostile toward Germany.

Continued Czech Hostility toward Poland and Germany

The Czech leaders knew that the chance for the continued existence of their state were not good, and they denounced the Polish leaders for seeking the total disruption of Czecho-Slovakia. Czech Foreign Minister Krofta informed the British on October 3, 1938, that events were proceeding smoothly in the Sudeten area where the Czechs were busily withdrawing, but he complained vehemently about the Poles. British Minister Newton reported that Krofta “displayed anxiety over the intrigues and propaganda which had been conducted by Poles in Slovakia.” Krofta confided that Czech weakness might be exploited “to spread suggestions that Slovakia would be better off if associated with Poland.” Krofta would not have entertained such fears had he not realized how deeply the Czechs were hated in Slovakia, and how much the Slovak people preferred almost any association to one with the Czechs. Krofta added that he “chiefly desired” French and British help against the Poles, but he also hoped that “Hitler would perhaps help in resisting such Polish ambitions.”

Hitler was irritated with the Czechs at this point, and scarcely in a mood to challenge Polish propaganda in Slovakia. There was vigorous disagreement between the Germans and Czechs on the delimitation of the non-plebiscite Sudeten regions to be assigned to Germany. The Munich agreement had provided that some areas were to be surrendered to Germany within ten days, and that other areas were to be occupied by an international police force pending a plebiscite. British Ambassador Neville Henderson took an active interest in the regulation of the dispute. He was a sincere advocate of appeasement, and in this respect he was much closer to Bonnet, with whom he established close contact, than to Chamberlain and Halifax in London. He was considered the most promising of the younger British diplomats when he was sent to Berlin in 1937, but his devotion to those principles, which were professed without conviction by his masters in London, soon made his position in the British diplomatic service an isolated and unenviable one.

Henderson believed that the Czechs were conducting a policy of hopeless obstruction when they made difficulties about the procedure which had been accepted by the Powers at Munich. It had been decided that the 1918 population figures would be used to delimit the non-plebiscite areas, and the 1910 Habsburg census was the last one taken before 1918. The Czechs suggested that their own (doctored) census returns from 1921 or even 1930 should serve as the criterion. At Munich it had been decided that areas assigned to Germany without plebiscite would be those which contained more than 50% German population. The Czechs insisted that 75% rather than 51% should be considered more than 50%. Hitler replied by threatening to send the German Army down to the Bad Godesberg line if the Czechs did not abide by the terms of the published British documents on Munich. At Bad Godesberg Hitler had demanded the immediate occupation of a much greater area than had been granted to Germany at Munich. Halifax favored a last minute game to modify the Munich agreement in favor of the Czechs, but he was opposed by the French and Italians, who insisted on the need “to respect the spirit of this Protocol.” Halifax consoled himself with the thought that something could be done for the Czechs in the plebiscite zone, but President Benes decided that the last attempt to accomplish anything by opposing Germany had failed. He resigned in disgust on October 5, 1938. A Provisional Government was formed by General Jan Syrovy, a Czech national hero who had helped to secure the withdrawal of former Czech prisoners-of-war from Russia in 1918. The Milan Hodza Cabinet had been forced out by a demonstration directed by Klement Gottwald, the Communist Party leader, on September 22nd. Syrovy had succeeded Hodza as Premier and he became interim chief-of-state after the resignation of Benes and pending the election of a new President. Frantisek Chvalkovsky from the dominant Agrarian Party succeeded Krofta as Foreign Minister after the latter resigned from the Syrovy Cabinet on October 5th. Chvalkovsky had represented Czechoslovakia in both Rome and Berlin. He was a loyal Czech patriot but he did not share the fanatical hatred of his predecessor toward Fascism and National Socialism. It was too early to predict the ultimate policy of the new regime but the resignation of Benes produced an immediate relaxation of tension.

The Czechs were seeking to stir up Great Britain against Poland, but Sir Howard Kennard in Warsaw was doing everything possible to restore Poland to favor in London. He argued that Polish resentment toward the Czechs was justified because of the Czech occupation of Teschen in 1919, which he described as “a short-sighted seizure, to use no stronger terms.” He claimed that his own earlier evaluation of Poland’s attitude toward a war of the Czechs, French, and British against the Germans had been incorrect. A new “appraisal” had convinced him that Poland would never have fought on the German side against the Western Powers. He insisted that Poland would have remained neutral a short time before entering the war on the side of the Allies “under the pressure of Polish public opinion.” He claimed that President Roosevelt had taken a mysterious secret step during the Czech crisis, through American Ambassador Biddle, to modify the Polish attitude. This step had been overtaken by events, but Biddle had been favorably impressed with the Polish attitude. Kennard assured Halifax that he did not wish to appear naive by accepting either Polish or American claims, but he was convinced on his own account that there had been no German-Polish agreement on joint policy during the crisis. Kennard presented a series of additional reports to explain why Poland was seeking to exploit Czech weakness to secure a common frontier with Hungary. He declared that it was a principal feature of Polish policy to do this, and he regarded it as his most important task to explain and to justify this new policy to the British Foreign Office.

The mysterious American step referred to by Kennard was little more than the information that President Roosevelt would not like to see Poland on the “wrong side” in a European war. Polish Foreign Minister Beck knew that Ambassador Biddle was friendly toward Poland and he had freely discussed the situation with him during the Czech crisis. Beck told Biddle on September 29, 1938, that Poland was extremely disappointed not to have been invited to the Munich conference.

Kennard’s efforts to elevate Poland and to deflate the Czechs in London were reinforced by the change in the Czech Government, which further dampened enthusiasm for Czechoslovakia among the Western Powers. Henderson predicted to Halifax on October 6, 1938, that “Czechoslovakia may be found within the German political and economic orbit much sooner than is generally expected.” The idea of sending Western troops into Bohemia to supervise the plebiscite and to secure everything possible for the Czechs began to lose its appeal. Roger Makins, a British Foreign Office expert on the Berlin International Commission to delimit the Czech frontier, announced on October 6th that he had joined with his Italian colleagues in opposing any plebiscite. He argued that the Czechs would gain nothing from a referendum.

The Czechs themselves soon concluded that a popular vote would not advance their cause and that it might reveal some startling weaknesses. The Czech delegate to the International Commission informed the Germans on October 7th that his Government would prefer to forget the plebiscite. The Germans were entitled to a plebiscite under the Munich terms and they reserved their decision for some time. Henderson confided to Halifax on October 11th that there was a strong swing toward Germany in Bohemia-Moravia, and that the Czechs might lose the Moravian capital of Brünn (Brno) if a plebiscite was held. This possibility alarmed the Czechs because the loss of Brünn would virtually cut them off from Slovakia. Kennard explained to Halifax that Poland favored the expulsion of the Czechs from Slovakia.

The suspense was ended on October 13, 1938, when Hitler agreed to stop with the zone occupied by his troops on October 10th, and to abandon the plebiscite with the understanding that he was reserving minor additional German claims. The discussion of the plebiscite began with the suggestion of Halifax that it could be used as an instrument against the Germans. It ended with a sigh of relief in London when the Germans agreed to abandon the idea.

The Hungarians and Czechs began to negotiate on the settlement of Hungarian ethnic claims in Slovakia while the question of the German plebiscite was being regulated. Hungary was the least aggressive of Czecho-Slovakia’s three enemies in the recent crisis, and it was no coincidence that she had obtained nothing from the Czechs. Beck feared that Hungary would conduct her negotiations without energy and settle for much less than Poland desired her to obtain. Beck expressed the wish to discuss the matter with a special Hungarian envoy and Budapest responded by sending Count Istvan Csaky, the new Hungarian Foreign Minister, on a special mission to Warsaw. Csaky arrived on October 7th to receive advice from Beck. Moltke informed Ribbentrop on October 8th that Hungarian alarm about Rumania was causing trouble for Beck. The Poles wanted Hungary to demand the entire province of Ruthenia, but Csaky was afraid that Rumania would attack Hungary if this was done. The Polish press had launched a vigorous campaign in favor of the annexation of Ruthenia by Hungary. Moltke noted that the Italian diplomats in Warsaw were jealous of Beck’s exclusive policy in sponsoring Hungary, because Italy, although somewhat unrealistically, still considered Hungary an Italian sphere of influence. The Italians claimed that Poland was seeking to erect an independent bloc between the Axis Powers and the Soviet Union, and they were correct in this estimate. It was not clear to Moltke whether or not Beck was urging Hungary to seize Slovakia, but this was unlikely because the Hungarians were timid even about Ruthenia. The emphasis of the Polish press was entirely on an independent Slovakia.

Polish Claims at Oderberg Protected by Hitler

Hitler had difficulty at this time in preventing a major German-Polish crisis because of the brutal treatment of Germans by the Polish occupation authorities in the Teschen district. Most of the German leaders believed that the Poles had claimed too much German ethnic territory in the vicinity of Teschen. Marshal Göring had advised State Secretary Weizsäcker that the territory beyond Teschen, along the southeastern German Silesian frontier, should not go to Poland unless Poland agreed to support the return of Danzig to Germany. He favored acquiring the territory for Germany or retaining it for Czecho-Slovakia, if the Poles refused. The German Foreign Office experts were inclined to agree with Göring and it was decided to make an effort to keep the Poles out of the industrial center of Witkowitz, and out of poverty-stricken little Oderberg near the source of the Oder River. Göring was closely interrogated by Weizsäcker concerning all of his recent conversations with Polish representatives.

Polish Ambassador Lipski was angry when he discovered the attitude of the German Foreign Office in the Oderberg question. He insisted to Ernst Wörmann, the head of the Political Division in the German Foreign Office, that both Hitler and Göring had promised this strategic town to Poland. Wörmann, who was familiar with Göring’s attitude, refused to believe this and he reminded Lipski that Oderberg was preponderantly German. Lipski refused to be impressed. He warned Wörmann that an official report on this conversation would complicate German-Polish relations, and he added that he would write Beck a private letter about it. Copies of official reports went to President Moscicki, and through him to other Polish leaders. The implication was clear. Poland was determined to make a stand on the Oderberg issue.

The Lipski-Wörmann conversation took place on October 4th. Hitler intervened the following day to demolish the recalcitrant position which had been adopted by Göring and the German Foreign Office. He insisted that he “had no interest in Oderberg whatever,” and he added that he “was not going to haggle with the Poles about every single city, but would be generous toward those who were modest in their demands.” After this rebuke the German Foreign Office had no choice but to retreat.

This was merely the beginning of the problem, because the Poles began to wage a virtual undeclared war against the German inhabitants of the Teschen region. The resentment of the Germans across the border in the Reich was intense and news of the daily incidents began to appear in the German provincial press. Hitler moved swiftly to impose restraint while there was still time. He took strong measures to suppress publicity of the Teschen incidents, and he declared in a special directive that it was his policy “to release nothing unfavorable to Poland; this also applies to incidents involving the German minority.”

The German Foreign Office was alarmed anew when Polish propaganda maps began to appear with claims to Morava-Ostrava, the key North Moravian industrial city and railway center. Weizsäcker told Lipski on October 12th that Germany had given Poland a free hand at Oderberg, but that Morava-Ostrava was different. He added with sarcasm that he would support a Polish bid for a plebiscite at Morava-Ostrava, provided, of course, that the plebiscite was conducted under international control. Weizsäcker and Lipski knew that Poland could never win such a plebiscite, and the Polish Ambassador did not appreciate this unpleasant joke. He replied with dignity that Poland did not intend to take Morava-Ostrava from the Czechs. Weizsäcker did not believe him and rumors about new Polish demands in Moravia continued to circulate. Hitler decided to adopt an attitude of watchful waiting in the Morava-Ostrava question.

The Failure of Czech-Hungarian Negotiations

A number of unfavorable new developments began to cloud the international scene while Hitler was coping with the aftermath of Polish claims in the Teschen area. The bilateral negotiations between Hungary and Czecho-Slovakia were disrupted on October 13, 1938, and it was evident that the two parties could not reach an agreement. This threw the question back to the Four Munich Powers. Hitler had delivered a speech at Saarbruecken on October 9, 1938, where he had gone to dedicate a new theatre. He took strong exception in this speech to the fact that prominent British Tories were heaping abuse on him in public speeches in and out of Parliament without receiving reprimands from the Conservative Party leaders. This seemed to Hitler a poor spirit in which to observe the Anglo-German declaration of friendship which had been signed a few days previously. Hitler’s sole intention in making this speech was to remind the British leaders that international friendship had its price, but he was showered with terms of abuse from the British press for an alleged intervention in British domestic affairs. Anglo-German relations at this point had already become catastrophic rather than friendly. The whole world knew that Great Britain was seeking a vast acceleration of her current armament campaign. The German press explained that it did not object to the British armament campaign. This was a British domestic affair. It did not object to the expansion of the British expeditionary force, because Great Britain was the ally of France, and it was her privilege to decide the extent of her obligations to that country. Unfortunately this was not the end of the matter, and the German press explained that “what is inexcusable is the fact that members of Mr. Chamberlain’s Government should be making propaganda for rearmament once more on the ground of the German danger.” Conditions were not favorable for a friendly meeting of the Munich Powers to settle the delicate problem of Hungarian claims against the Czechs.

Italian Foreign Minister Ciano attempted to overcome the difficulty by ignoring the tension and by blandly proposing that the foreign ministers of the Munich Powers meet in Venice or Brioni without delay to settle the Hungarian Czecho-Slovak problem. The Hungarians realized that the time was not propitious for this plan; they requested a renewal of bilateral negotiations with the Czechs, and the Czechs accepted. There was no prospect of success, but a breathing spell was gained during which new methods of procedure could be explored.

The Czech leaders presented the chief obstacle to the settlement of a question which did not directly concern the Czech people. It was the ethnic claims of Hungarians and of Slovaks, but not of Czechs, which were at stake. The situation in Slovakia was still confused. The pro-Czech Hlasist movement in Slovakia was virtually eliminated, and every political party had to stand at least for autonomy, if not for eventual independence, because of prevailing public opinion. A local Slovak Government had been formed on October 8, 1938, but it was soon evident that the divided Slovak parties were no match for the Czechs, who sought to circumscribe Slovak autonomy in every possible way. A consolidation movement was launched, and eventually the four principal Slovak parties joined into one Slovak Hlinka-Peoples’ Party, the Party of Slovakian National Unity, but this was not achieved until November 11, 1938. The question of the Slovak-Hungarian frontier had virtually been settled by that time without Slovakian participation. The formal constitutional amendment in Prague, which was known as the Slovak autonomy law, was not in effect until November 22, 1938. Its provisions were highly objectionable to all Slovak leaders, although the preamble contained belated recognition of the Pittsburgh agreement of 1918. Ferdinand Durcansky was the principal Slovak leader who attempted to make autonomy workable, but his complaints received little recognition in Prague. Adalbert Tuka, the veteran Slovak independence leader who had spent many years in Czech jails, warned Durcansky that lasting collaboration between Slovakia and Prague was impossible. Events in Slovakia were moving slowly, but the direction of public opinion was unmistakably toward independence, and the Czechs knew that they would receive the blame for the surrender of Slovak territory. The stubbornness of the Czechs and the indecision of the Hungarians were primarily responsible for the hopeless deadlock in bilateral negotiations.

The Poles were not unhappy about the delay because they hoped that time would permit them to strengthen Hungarian demands. They concentrated primarily on Ruthenia, and on October 15, 1938, Jan Szembek accused Moltke in Warsaw of failing to admit that Germany was behind Ukrainian groups who hoped to use Ruthenia as the nucleus for an independent Ukrainian state. Lipski had returned from Berlin a few days earlier to report, and Beck and Szembek had decided that it was necessary to employ more energy with the Germans in seeking to settle the Ruthenian question.

Moltke was upset by the accusation of Szembek concerning the Ukrainians. He feared that Szembek was right and that Hitler was flirting with the idea of playing the Ukrainian card. He complained to the German Foreign Office that the Poles were extremely sensitive about the Ukrainian question, and added, “I should therefore be grateful if I could be authorized to give Count Szembek a reassuring reply as soon as possible.” The effect in Berlin was to convince Hitler that Ruthenia could be useful in obtaining concessions from Poland. He believed that Germany was prepared to offer Poland more than she asked from her, but every additional favor which he could offer Poland would be extra insurance for the success of his plan to reach a lasting agreement.

There was considerable talk in Berlin about Hitler’s projected offer to Poland, and President Greiser of the Danzig Senate was bewildered to encounter these rumors when he came to the German capital in mid-October. He feared that Hitler intended to shelve the Danzig question for an indefinite period and this impression had been reinforced by Hitler’s Sportpalast speech of September 26, 1938. He visited the German Foreign Office to discover what was happening, but he encountered in State Secretary Weizsäcker a sphinx-like and impenetrable attitude. The Suabian diplomat confined himself to the comment that “Danzig’s interests ….. should ….. be upheld with calm objectivity.” Greiser heartily agreed, but this platitude did not satisfy his curiosity.

When Greiser visited Berlin, the German Foreign Office was concerned with a request from Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky for the guarantee of the new Czech frontiers which had been promised at Munich. The German diplomats were astonished that Chvalkovsky would request this guarantee before any of the Hungarian claims were settled, or before the Polish claims were settled in their entirety. They concluded that the Czech state was more wobbly, and more desperately in need of help, than they had supposed. Chvalkovsky thought the matter over and he told German Minister Hencke in Prague on October 17th that his request for a guarantee had been premature.

Germany’s Intentions Probed by Halifax

British Ambassador Kennard in Warsaw speculated that Rumania would be an effective obstacle in postponing the realization of Polish aspirations in Slovakia and Ruthenia. He urged Halifax to adopt an indulgent view toward these Polish aspirations, and he proclaimed the alleged importance of a special “mission” to promote British influence in Eastern Europe “if European culture in the countries east and southeast of Germany is to be saved from the grip of totalitarianism. Kennard admitted that Poland was also a dictatorship, but he was favorably impressed by the Polish regime. He stressed Polish Catholicism and Polish individualism as virtuous influences which tempered the authoritarianism of the Polish state. He mentioned that Poland had recently accepted a loan from Germany, but he asserted: “It is improbable that Poland will willingly submit to complete German domination.”

Kennard was not aware of the full content of the Hela peninsula and London talks on Danzig which had preceded the Munich conference. It still seemed to him “only a question of time before Danzig becomes wholly German.” it had not occurred to Kennard any more than to Hitler that Poland might raise insurmountable obstacles to the peaceful acquisition of Danzig by Germany. Kennard predicted that Beck would accept the reunion of Danzig with Germany if Hitler placed the proposition on an attractive quid pro quo basis. He had discussed the matter with Beck who denied that “at present” a “deal” was in progress.

Kennard employed a patronizing tone toward Beck in his reports to Halifax. He was aware “of the less statesmanlike aspects of his character, including his personal ambition and vanity.” It seemed that “as Polish history shows, there is always grave danger ahead if Polish statesmen cast their country for the role of a Great Power, when she has neither the political unity nor the military or economic strength necessary for such a part.” This was a true statement, and it is unfortunate that he did not advise Beck in this sense with greater consistency. In reality, Kennard was thinking merely of Polish conduct during the recent Teschen crisis and of its adverse effect on official British opinion.

Halifax was impressed by Kennard’s comments on Polish aspirations in Slovakia and Ruthenia, and he concluded that the time had come to sound out the German attitude. He confided his assumption to Henderson, on October 15th, that German policy toward Slovakia and Ruthenia was “still in flux,” but it seemed that “Germany is bound to have the deciding voice in the future of these territories.” He mentioned that reports were reaching London of a deal in which Poland would seize Slovakia and Hungary would reoccupy Ruthenia. He requested Henderson to discover what the Germans knew about Polish aspirations in Slovakia and about the impasse in Czech-Magyar negotiations.

Henderson responded by requesting Weizsäcker to explain Germany’s position in relation to these two problems. Weizsäcker replied that current German policy toward Czecho-Slovakia was based on the application of self-determination. The Germans were assuming that future claims in Ruthenia or Slovakia would be made on that basis. Henderson received the impression that Germany was inclined to protect the Czechs against extreme Hungarian or Polish claims. After considering this idea further, he reported to Halifax that “if Germany feels that she can count upon the Czechs to adapt their foreign and economic policy to hers she would prefer to see Slovakia at any rate remain a component part of Czechoslovakia.” This tentative formulation of the current German attitude was a remarkably shrewd guess.

Hitler knew that the position of Czecho-Slovakia was extremely precarious after Munich, because Czech prestige had been reduced, and the Slovakian and Ruthenian minorities were extremely antagonistic toward the continuation of Czech rule. The new Czech leaders seemed to be inclined toward an effort to appease these minorities, but it was difficult to predict what the outcome would be because the Czech record in the field of appeasement was poor. The secret directive of Hitler to the German armed forces on October 21, 1938, indicates that he contemplated the possible collapse of the Czech state in the near future. The military leaders were instructed to be prepared to defend Germany from surprise attacks on the frontiers and from the air. The German forces were ordered to be prepared to occupy Memel, and there had been considerable concern, since the Polish-Lithuanian crisis of March 1938, about the fate of this former German city which had been seized by Lithuania. Lastly, the German armed forces were ordered to be prepared to occupy the region of Czecho-Slovakia. Hitler explained in a later directive of December 17, 1938, that a German move in the Czech area would not mean that there would be a major crisis, and he added that such a move would not require the mobilization of the German armed forces.

Henderson had discussed the plan for a Four Power conference on the Czech Magyar dispute with Weizsäcker. He had not indicated the British attitude, and he had no instructions from Halifax on this subject. Weizsäcker noted that it would be unwise to call a Four Power conference as long as the Czechs and Magyars were willing to negotiate. The question of a guarantee to the Czech state was not discussed. The Czech leaders claimed to British Minister Newton in Prague, on the following day, that Hitler had told Chvalkovsky of German readiness to join the other Powers in guaranteeing the Czech state as soon as the Czech disputes with Poland and Hungary were settled. The Czechs were using every means to arouse British interest in the guarantee question. Events were to show that these efforts were fruitless and that Halifax was not interested in guaranteeing Czecho-Slovakia.

Halifax was not satisfied with Weizsäcker’s comment about the Czech Magyar dispute. He instructed Henderson to discuss the matter again with the German State Secretary. Weizsäcker admitted in a second conversation that a Czech-Magyar settlement was unlikely unless the Four Munich Powers intervened. Henderson and Weizsäcker discussed the situation on the assumption that intervention would take place, and it was clear that Weizsäcker considered this to be the sole solution of bilateral negotiations failed.

It did not occur to Henderson that Halifax would object to the Four Power intervention plan arranged at Munich. He analyzed the problem for Halifax on the assumption that the British would participate in such a conference. He noted that the present Hungarian Prime Minister was “not specially friendly to Germany” and that it would be foolish for Great Britain to take a pro-Czech and anti-Hungarian stand. It seemed to him that the British should incline toward the Hungarians since Prague was moving into the German orbit. Sir Basil Newton in Prague adopted a similar attitude. He observed that the Czech leaders were not disturbed by the fact that new hostility or intrigues within the country against Germany might mean the end of the current unstable regime. On the contrary, they asserted that they would be relieved to have a more definite solution of their problems, which would enable them to know just where they stood.

Beck’s Failure to Enlist Rumania Against Czecho-Slovakia

Poland had not attempted to maintain the close contact with Germany which had served her during the Teschen crisis. Beck realized that the policy of Germany might be decisive in the Ruthenian question, but his first reaction had merely been to warn the Germans not to encourage Ukrainian nationalist ambitions. He decided to revert to a more positive approach toward Germany, and he sent corresponding instructions to Lipski. The Polish diplomat called on State Secretary Weizsäcker on October 18, 1938, to discuss the Czech situation. Weizsäcker noted that the principal object of the visit was the announcement that Beck wished to “remain in friendly consultation with us in regard to the Hungarian-Slovak question.” Weizsäcker confided to Lipski that Germany was exerting pressure on the Czechs and Hungarians to settle their differences, but that these efforts were producing no results. He attempted to sound out Lipski’s attitude toward the possibility of Four Power intervention, and he received the impression that the Poles would like to participate in a settlement of the Slovakian and Ruthenian questions. Weizsäcker reported to Ribbentrop that concessions to Poland in settling these questions might be useful in attaining a comprehensive Polish-German understanding. Lipski had claimed that the Poles were “handling the Czechs with kid gloves” when Weizsäcker inquired about rumors of new Polish demands on the Czechs. The situation was ripe for comprehensive Polish proposals to the Germans about the settlement of these questions. Beck was reluctant to take this step, and he hoped that it would be possible to secure Polish interests in some other way. Csaky had claimed that the Rumanian attitude was an important factor in inhibiting Hungarian policy toward Ruthenia. Rumania was the ally of Poland and Beck hoped that a personal effort would enable him to influence policy. Beck left Warsaw for Galati and a conference with King Carol of Rumania on October 18, 1938. He explained to his principal subordinates at the Polish Foreign Office before his departure that he hoped to persuade the Rumanian royal dictator to accept the elimination of Czech rule in Ruthenia. There were fourteen thousand Rumanians in Ruthenia, and Beck hoped to tempt King Carol by offering him a share of the territory. Count Lubienski was sent to Budapest on the same day to discuss this move with the Hungarians. Beck intended to tell King Carol frankly that he was working for the total dissolution of Czecho-Slovakia. He hoped to convince him that Slovak independence was inevitable, and that the disruption of Czech rule in Slovakia would destroy the King’s direct line of communication through Czech territory to the Skoda works in any case. Beck hoped to bring about a rapprochement between Hungary and Rumania by persuading them to cooperate in a common cause. He told his subordinates that he hoped to acquire a position of strength from which he would request German neutrality toward Hungarian direct action, which would forestall the intervention of the Four Munich Powers. He was willing to tell the Germans that his plan was not prompted by anti-German considerations.

After the departure of Beck the Polish Foreign Office admitted to foreign diplomats that the aim of his mission was to settle the Ruthenian question. It was explained that a common frontier with Hungary had become a “vital” Polish interest. Moltke reported on October 19th that the Poles were publicly referring to Ruthenia as a Ukrainian “Piedmont,” which jeopardized Poland’s control over the millions of Ukrainians under her rule. Moltke pointed out that emphasis on self-determination during the Czech crisis had stirred passions in Eastern Poland and had led to bloody rioting in Lvov for the first time since 1931. The German diplomat added that the Poles feared the spread of German influence, and that “the quick reversal of Czech policy in the direction of alignment with Germany has caused surprise here and made a strong impression.”

Moltke noted that Polish leaders were disappointed in the Slovak failure to declare independence immediately after Munich. He predicted correctly that Beck’s mission to Rumania, which had been accompanied with much fanfare, would end in total failure. He knew that Beck intended to offer territory to Rumania, but he did not believe that the Rumanians would join in the partition of an ally from the Little Entente.

The German Ambassador did not enjoy the prospect of Beck’s failure with the Rumanians. He believed that the atmosphere would be improved if Beck succeeded in his Ruthenian policy. He warned that much of the Polish press was arguing that Germany would use her influence to oppose the establishment of a common Polish-Hungarian frontier. He concluded that if Polish policy failed “Germany will undoubtedly be held chiefly responsible.”

Beck’s principal conversations during his Rumanian visit took place on the royal Hohenzollern yacht anchored in the Danube at the point where the Prut River flowed into the Danube from the North out of Poland. He had to face a barrage of criticism from Rumanian Foreign Minister Petrescu-Comnen whenever he thought he was making some progress in his effort to influence King Carol. The Rumanian diplomat displayed versatility in undermining Beck’s plan to gain King Carol’s support. Petrescu-Comnen solemnly accused Beck of seeking to involve Rumania in a war of aggression against the Czechs. He noted with satisfaction that the attitude of King Carol was serious and severe, and that Beck displayed a nervous tic. He taunted Beck with the claim that the Four Munich Powers, including Germany, had agreed to settle the Ruthenian question on the basis of self-determination. Petrescu-Comnen was especially hostile toward Hungary. He asked Beck with irony if the Hungarians would win the entire Ruthenian area by plebiscite, except for the few districts to be transferred to Poland and Rumania. Petrescu-Comnen reminded King Carol that Rumania had taken the trouble to fortify her existing 400 kilometer frontier with Hungary; it was not in her interest to see this frontier extended. King Carol was persuaded by his Foreign Minister that Beck’s plan to solve the Ruthenian question was reckless and contrary to Rumania’s true interest.

Beck challenged his adversary in vain to produce evidence of the prior decision of the Four Munich Powers. He explained that Rumania would be taking nothing from the Czechs, because the territory he was seeking to throw her way would otherwise go to Hungary. He insisted that two previous Czech capitulations proved that Czech resistance to his plan was out of the question. He did not take his ultimate rebuff from King Carol graciously, and he was full of scorn and contempt for Petrescu-Comnen, whom he described as “a perfect imbecile”. Beck was especially irked because the Rumanians, in contrast to Poland, never challenged the arbitrary authority of the principal European Powers. He simply would have spat at the Rumanians and proceeded with his plan had it merely been a question of Polish action. The difficulty was that his plan called for Hungary, and not Poland, to occupy Ruthenia. Beck knew that the Hungarians would never budge without Rumanian consent, unless they had the support of one or more of the principal Powers.

Beck was convinced that the opposition of Rumania to his Ruthenian plan would carry with it the opposition of France. He concluded with reluctance that his sole chance of success was to appeal once again to Germany. The Czechs had the same idea, and they appealed to Germany for support against further Polish demands while Beck was in Rumania. Hitler replied through the German legation in Prague that it was not possible to comply with Czech requests to restrain Poland. The German diplomats in Prague were also told to avoid discussions about Poland with the Czechs.

Beck’s Request for German Support to Hungary

Moltke reported to Ribbentrop on October 22, 1938, that Beck was greatly disturbed after his trip to Rumania. It was bad enough that Rumania had refused to cooperate, and it was worse when she declared her intention to oppose Polish plans. Beck was telling anyone who cared to listen that he would use force if necessary to destroy Czech rule in Ruthenia, and to achieve a common frontier with Hungary. Beck also decided to present his demands for Slovakian territory at this time.

The Polish press had been speculating for many days about forthcoming Polish demands in Slovakia, and the Slovakian press commenced to reply to the Poles with increasing hostility while Beck was in Rumania. The Slovaks refused to concede that Polish territorial demands were justifiable, and Slovak nationalists opposed concessions to Poland. Karol Sidor visited Warsaw while Beck was in Rumania. Jan Szembek had assured Sidor on October 19, 1938, that Poland had complete sympathy for Slovakian independence aspirations. Sidor frankly stated that he was seeking an independent Slovakia with such close military, political, and cultural ties with Poland that it would actually be “a sort of political and military Polish protectorate.”

Szembek was compelled to reply in the negative when Sidor asked if Poland would send troops to Slovakia and abandon her territorial demands in exchange for a close Polish-Slovakian alignment. Sidor continued his conversations with Szembek the following day, and it seemed at first that the Polish refusal to accept his original proposals had not shaken his confidence in Poland. Nevertheless, within forty-eight hours of his return to Bratislava, Sidor had changed his mind completely, and he announced publicly that his attempt to arrive at an understanding with Poland had failed. This was too much for Beck, who decided to press Polish claims against the Slovaks as soon as possible and to increase them for good measure.

Beck moved rapidly to improve contact with Germany. Lipski called at the German Foreign Office on October 22, 1938, to present to the Germans a detailed list of Slovakian districts which Beck thought should be allocated to Hungary. Lipski added that Beck wished Germany to help Poland to secure the entire province of Ruthenia for Hungary. He requested that Germany keep Poland completely informed of her plans in the Hungarian frontier question. Lipski gave the Germans no indication of the territories Poland intended to take from Slovakia, because Beck did not feel that this matter was of direct concern to Germany.

Lipski confided that the Rumanian Foreign Minister had attempted to play Poland off against Germany during Beck’s recent visit. Lipski mentioned the Rumanian assertion that Germany intended to apply self-determination to Hungarian claims, and he proceeded to contradict this without waiting for any comment from the Germans. He asserted that the Polish Government knew that Germany had no intention of partly smothering Hungarian claims under the cloak of self-determination.

The Germans were astonished by the audacity of this contention. Baron Ernst Wörmann, the Chief of the Political Division of the German Foreign Office, recorded after the conversation that he contradicted Lipski at once: “I told the Ambassador on this point that we continued to stand for the right of self-determination for the (Carpatho-) Ukraine, whatever this might imply.” Lipski countered by feigning astonishment, and he exclaimed that the Ruthenian area was not Czech in population, and not suitable material for an independent state. He insisted that Prague could not maintain authority there, and that Poland feared the spread of Communist agitation in the area. These formidable arguments produced no apparent effect on the German Foreign Office leaders. They reiterated that Germany refused to exclude Ruthenia from the application of self-determination.

The Germans asked Lipski what Karol Sidor had been doing in Warsaw, but the Polish Ambassador replied stiffly that he was unable to give them any information on this point. Lipski hastened to report to Beck after this conversation that his attempt to secure the cooperation of the German Foreign Office in the Ruthenian question had failed. The Germans were evidently committed to a Ruthenian policy which ran counter to Poland’s interests.

Beck was not unduly alarmed by Lipski’s report. It seemed that an old situation was merely repeating itself. Poland had encountered opposition from the German Foreign Office in the past, and she had responded by bringing the matter in question to the attention of Hitler. Beck instructed Lipski to pursue the issue, and the next step was a conversation between the Polish Ambassador and the German Foreign Minister.

Hitler’s Suggestion for a Comprehensive Settlement

Hitler’s attention had been called to an interview granted by Beck to the Hearst press on October 10, 1938. The Polish Foreign Minister had denounced rumors that Germany and Poland were negotiating about the return of Danzig to Germany. Beck claimed that the German people of Danzig had sufficient opportunity to express their German individuality under the existing constitution of the Free City. He added that lasting peace in Europe would be possible only when the nations reached a lasting understanding with Germany. This interview encouraged Hitler to raise the Danzig issue. He hoped that an understanding with Germany would be more important to Beck than the retention of the unsatisfactory status quo at Danzig. Hitler decided to act when he heard that Lipski had requested a meeting with Ribbentrop. He instructed Ribbentrop to listen to whatever Lipski had to say before introducing German proposals for a comprehensive agreement, and for the settlement of the Danzig and superhighway questions. He advised Ribbentrop that German support for Polish plans would depend upon the degree of cooperation between the two countries.

Ribbentrop met Lipski for lunch at Berchtesgaden on October 24, 1938. This date marked the beginning of Germany’s attempt to acquire Danzig by means of a negotiated settlement between Germany and Poland. Polish failure to accept this idea, and the subsequent Polish challenge to Germany, led ultimately to a German-Polish war. This local war provided the pretext for the British attack on Germany which precipitated World War II.

Lipski had requested the meeting and he took the initiative in its early phase. He repeated his earlier arguments at the German Foreign Office about Ruthenia, and he added that there could be no stabilization in the entire Danubian area unless the Ruthenian question was settled. He emphasized that Yugoslavia, as one of the three Little Entente Powers, would offer no objection to the Polish plan for Hungarian rule in Ruthenia. He admitted that Rumania was opposed and he said that “Beck’s trip to Rumania had been a disappointment to Poland.” He remarked contemptuously that all Czecho-Slovakia had ever done for Ruthenia was to build “a few airports for Soviet Russian flyers.” He denied that Poland’s motivation for her Ruthenian policy was the desire to construct a bloc to oppose Germany.

Ribbentrop’s attention appeared to be thoroughly absorbed by Lipski’s remarks. The German Foreign Minister began to reply by criticizing recent Hungarian policy. He confided to Lipski that Germany had discovered the secret Hungarian commitment to the Little Entente which dated from the Bled, Yugoslavia, conference of August 23, 1938. Hungary had “renounced recourse to force” during the Czech crisis in exchange for the arms equality offered to her by the Little Entente. This seemed to indicate a weak Hungarian policy. Hungary would have been unwilling to join Germany to secure her aims by force in the event of a showdown. Ribbentrop hoped that Lipski would understand the difficulty implicit in the abandonment of self-determination merely to acquire Ruthenia for Hungary. The German Foreign Minister was convinced that the Ruthenians would not vote for union with Hungary in a plebiscite.

Ribbentrop quickly added that he was not adopting a totally negative attitude toward the Polish plan. Lipski had introduced many new ideas which would have to be taken into account in a final evaluation of the situation. It was evident that the problem of Rumania’s attitude also required further consideration. It was Ribbentrop’s aim to remind the Poles that their plan was not a simple one which Germany could support without running risks. The attitude of Rumania, where Hitler hoped to improve German trade relations and to acquire more supplies of fats, cereals, and petroleum, was no negligible matter for Germany.

Ribbentrop proceeded to change the subject. He had “a large general problem” in mind which he had wished to discuss when he agreed to receive Lipski at Berchtesgaden. He emphasized that he was about to say something strictly confidential, and he intimated that it was to be a secret shared solely among Beck, Lipski, and himself. Lipski, who was a diplomat able to understand half a word, knew that Ribbentrop was suggesting that he alone and not Hitler was responsible for what was to follow. Ribbentrop made his point well, and Beck believed for several years after this conversation that the real initiative in the Danzig question stemmed from Ribbentrop and the German Foreign Office rather than from Hitler. The obvious motive for this maneuver was caution. Hitler, before discovering the Polish attitude, did not wish the Polish leaders to believe that he had adopted a rigid or unalterable position in a question where it might be difficult to attain an agreement.

Ribbentrop requested Lipski to convey a cordial invitation to Beck to visit Germany again in November 1938. Lipski promised to do this, and the German Foreign Minister proceeded to outline Hitler’s plan. Germany would request Poland to permit her to annex Danzig. She would ask permission to construct a superhighway and a railroad to East Prussia. Lipski was assured that these care fully circumscribed suggestions represented the total of German requests from Poland.

It was clear that there had to be a quid pro quo basis for negotiation and Germany was prepared to offer many concessions. Poland would be granted a permanent free port in Danzig and the right to build her own highway and rail road to the port. The entire Danzig area would be a permanent free market for Polish goods on which no German customs duties would be levied. Germany would take the unprecedented step of recognizing and guaranteeing the existing German-Polish frontier, including the 1922 boundary in Upper Silesia. Ribbentrop compared the German sacrifice in making this offer with concessions recently made to Italy in the Tirol question. He added that Germany hoped to make a similar agreement with France about the Franco-German frontier, since the Locarno treaties were no longer in effect.

Germany had many other ideas for further proposals which would be of advantage to Poland. Ribbentrop proposed a new formal treaty to include these provisions for a general settlement. It need not be an alliance pact, and a new non-aggression pact which might be extended to twenty-five years would suffice. He hoped that the new pact would contain a consultation clause to increase cooperation, and he thought it would be helpful if Poland would join the anti Comintern front.

Hitler’s offer contained generous terms for Poland. It included an enormous German renunciation in favor of Poland in the question of the frontiers. Besides, Hitler’s offer to guarantee Poland’s frontiers carried with it a degree of security which could not have been matched by any of the other non-Communist Powers. This more than compensated for the return to Germany of Danzig, which had been under a National Socialist regime for several years. Polish prestige in agreeing to the change at Danzig would be protected by this fact. It would be easy for Polish propagandists to point out that Poland was securing great advantages in such a policy.

An Ambassador would normally have confined his response to a discussion of the individual points in such an offer with the aim of obtaining complete clarity prior to receiving new instructions. This was not Lipski’s method. He replied at once that he “did not consider an Anschluss (Germany-Danzig) possible, however, if only — and principally — for reasons of domestic policy.” He developed this theme with great intensity, and he insisted that Beck could never prevail upon the Polish people to accept the German annexation of Danzig. He added that in Poland the Free City of Danzig, unlike the Saar, was not regarded as a product of the Versailles Treaty, but of an older historical tradition.

Lipski was insincere in his presentation of these carefully prepared arguments. He knew perfectly well that the chief obstacle to the German annexation of Danzig was the determination of Beck that Germany should never recover this city. The Polish diplomat deliberately created the misleading impression that Beck was unable to decide about Danzig because of public opinion. It was astonishing that Lipski displayed no enthusiasm about German recognition of the Polish frontiers. He would have been enthusiastic had he been more optimistic about lasting good relations with Germany, but unfortunately this was not the attitude of the Polish Foreign Office under Beck’s leadership.

Ribbentrop tried to conceal his impatience, but he was obviously irritated by the strange attitude of Lipski. He warned Lipski that recognition of the Polish Corridor was no easy matter for Hitler. Lipski’s response was to change the subject and to return to the Czech question. He requested the abandonment of the Munich conference procedure in dealing with the Czech-Hungarian frontier. He suggested a new plan in which Poland, Germany and Italy would settle the question. Lipski knew perfectly well that the Italians were supporting extreme Hungarian claims in the interest of maintaining their influence in Hungary, and he anticipated that Italy and Poland could outvote Germany, if necessary, at a conference. Ribbentrop replied that something might be done if Germany and Poland could reach an agreement about their own problems. Lipski merely promised to transmit the German proposals to Warsaw. Ribbentrop did not refer to new Polish demands on Lithuania, which had been made on October 20, 1938. Poland had insisted on the suppression of anti-Polish pressure groups in Lithuania and on the granting of new privileges to the Polish minority.

Beck’s Delay of the Polish Response

Reports about this confidential discussion spread rapidly through Europe. Kennard informed Halifax on October 25, 1938, “on fairly good authority,” that Germany and Poland were negotiating on provisions for a general agreement in addition to a common Hungarian-Polish frontier. Kennard recapitulated the points raised by Ribbentrop the previous day with complete accuracy. He added that he had received this information from a number of different sources in Warsaw.

Moltke was pessimistic about the chances for an understanding with Poland. He continued to worry about the activities of Ukrainian propagandists in Germany. He noted that the Poles mistrusted Germany and that “we frequently give grounds for this mistrust.” He also had changed his earlier attitude about the advisability of suppressing news about the German minority in Poland in the German press. He contended that this made the Poles uneasy and that “a calm, factual presentation of these matters would not be seriously disturbing to the Poles at all.”

Moltke also claimed that Germany had soft-pedalled the anti-Soviet line since the Munich conference, and that the Poles were worried about a possible German-Soviet deal. Of course, a German pro-Soviet policy would be incompatible with a Ukrainian irredentist policy, but Moltke was claiming that individual Poles were worried about both prospects. It was clear that he was himself worried about the unfavorable prospects for a German-Polish understanding, and he was not confident that generous concessions from Germany could overcome the obstacles.

Beck was shrewd enough to realize, after October 24, 1938, that he would not receive German support in the Ruthenian question unless he adopted a positive attitude toward German proposals for an understanding. He knew that Great Britain wished to support Poland against Germany, but realized that the British leaders were playing for time. He was inclined to stake the future of Poland on a successful British preventive war against Germany rather than to reach an understanding with the Germans. His belief that Great Britain would oppose Germany discouraged serious consideration of the German offer. His realization that the British needed time to prepare their war prompted him to adopt elaborate delaying tactics in dealing with the Germans.

His first step was merely to delay a Polish response to the German proposals, and his second step was to withdraw from the policy of seeking German cooperation in Ruthenia. He adopted the attitude, in his conversations with Moltke, that the Ruthenian question after all was not so important to Poland. He observed that it had been foolish to give the territory to the Czechs in 1918, and he added that it would be better for Hungary to have it rather than see it “hanging completely in the air.” Moltke was told that the Rumanians were idiotic not to support Hungarian claims in Ruthenia, since this might appease Hungary and deflect Magyar ambitions from Transylvania. He insisted that the Ruthenians were poor material for a Ukrainian irredentist movement because they “did not have the slightest sympathy for the Galician Ukrainians.” Moltke confined himself to the observation that the acquisition of poverty-stricken Ruthenia would scarcely appease the Hungarian appetite for the rich lands of Transylvania, which had been ceded to Rumania in 1919.

Beck lost no time informing Lipski in strict confidence what he really thought about Ribbentrop’s proposals. He declared that the time would never come when Poland would accept the restoration of Danzig to Germany. He reminded Lipski on October 25, 1938, that Pilsudski had called Danzig the barometer of Polish-German relations, and this meant that Poland should seek to retain the upper hand at Danzig. He confided that a German attempt to incorporate Danzig would produce a Polish attack on Germany. Beck did not say this to the Germans until March 1939, when he knew that the British were prepared to oppose Germany and to form an alliance with Poland. Nevertheless, he was counting on the British in October 1938 rather than merely contemplating an isolated Polish war against Germany, and he shaped his tactics accordingly. Beck might have adopted an entirely different attitude had the British not revealed in September 1938 that it was their intention to oppose Germany when they were ready.

Beck Tempted by British Support Against Germany

The British attempt to foment a German-Polish conflict, which dated from the Duff Cooper-Beck conversations of August 1938, was the worst possible influence on the formation of Polish policy. The glamor of a prospective Anglo-Polish alliance blinded the Polish leaders to the practical advantages of an understanding with the Germans. A British alliance would render inevitable the hostility of both Germany and the Soviet Union toward Poland, without giving Poland the slightest military advantage. An alliance with the British would be equivalent to a death warrant for the new Polish state.

Polish diplomacy was floundering badly after the Teschen crisis. The alienation of Slovakia was a colossal blunder, and the attempt to win Rumanian support in the Ruthenian question was a farce. Poland had no chance of establishing cordial relations with the Soviet Union. Her sole hope of attaining national security lay in an understanding with Germany, and Poland was lost unless she awakened to the need for such an understanding.

The one positive element in the situation was the patient attitude of Hitler toward the Poles. He was not inclined to apply pressure on Poland, and later events suggest that he might have waited indefinitely for a favorable Polish response to his offer had Beck not become impatient and forced Hitler’s hand just as Schuschnigg and Benes had done. It is ironical that Hitler had been denounced for impatience in the context of his territorial revision policy, where in every instance it was the impatience of his adversaries which forced the issue.

An understanding with Germany would have given Poland a strong position from which to face future problems with equanimity. The terms offered by Ribbentrop were ideal for the realization of a lasting understanding. The solution envisaged at Danzig would have clarified that perennial problem on terms eminently satisfactory to both Germany and Poland. German willingness to accept the 1919 Polish frontiers twenty years after the Versailles Treaty was most conciliatory diplomacy. The 1919 settlement with Poland was far more unjust to Germany than the 1871 settlement with Germany was to France. Nevertheless, the voluntary recognition by the French leaders of the Franco-German frontier would have been unthinkable in 1890. The mirage of effective British support for the realization of their grandiose dreams blinded the Polish leaders and prevented them from recognizing this simple fact. The Great Poland of 1750 was a dangerous legacy which clouded their judgment. The British plot to destroy Germany was the fatal item which undermined their judgment entirely.

Chapter 7 • German-Polish Friction in 1938 • 14,100 Words
The Obstacles to a German-Polish Understanding — The Polish Passport Crisis — Persecution of the German Minority in Poland — Polish Demonstrations Against Germany — The Outrages at Teschen — The Problem of German Communication with East Prussia — Tension at Danzig — The November 1938 Ribbentrop-Lipski Conference — German Confusion about Polish Intentions — Secret Official Polish Hostility toward Germany — A German-Polish Understanding Feared by Halifax — Poland Endangered by Beck’s Diplomacy

The Obstacles to a German-Polish Understanding

It was a tragedy for Europe that the Munich conference was limited to the Sudeten question and failed to include a settlement of German-Polish differences, although Mussolini was probably right in favoring a successful limited conference prior to any general conclave. It might have helped had Great Britain received a prize such as Helgoland at Munich. The acquisition of Cyprus at Berlin in 1878 had made palatable the statement of Disraeli that he returned bringing “peace with honour.” The British were not accustomed to attend conferences involving transfers of territory without acquiring new territory themselves.

There were four major obstacles to a German-Polish understanding after the Munich conference. The most important of these was the notion of Polish leaders that the defeat of Germany in a new war would serve the interests of Poland. The prevalence of this attitude after the death of Pilsudski was implicit in the Polish attempt to foment a war against Germany during the Rhineland crisis of March 1936. There were two primary reasons for this Polish attitude. There was the idea that Poland could not really attain the status of a European Great Power if she was overshadowed by any of her immediate neighbors. There was the dissatisfaction with the territorial provisions of the Versailles Treaty, and the hope of Polish leaders that future territorial expansion at German expense would be possible. Neither of these reasons would have carried much weight after Munich had the British not reverted to a hostile policy toward Germany.

The second hindrance was the failure of Polish leaders to recognize the danger to Poland from the Soviet Union. Soviet Foreign Commissar Maxim Litvinov and the American diplomat, William Bullitt, once travelled together on the train to Moscow, when Bullitt was Ambassador to the Soviet Union. They arrived at the town of Bialystok in Central Poland, and Litvinov commented that this was his native city. Bullitt observed that he had not realized the Soviet diplomat was of Polish birth. Litvinov replied that he was not of Polish birth and that the city of Bialystok would not remain Polish. This incident occurred shortly after the admission of the Soviet Union to the League of Nations and at a time when Litvinov was the acknowledged leader of the League attempts to outlaw aggression.

Bullitt repeated the incident to Polish Foreign Minister Beck. The Polish Foreign Minister had no illusions about the Soviet attitude toward the new Polish state, but he underestimated the industrial strength and military striking power of Russia. Georges Bonnet later said that he did not require a battle of Stalingrad to be convinced of Soviet strength, and this was doubtless true. The majority of European diplomats were prejudiced against Communism to the point of blindness, and they simply could not admit that the Communist system was capable of producing the most formidable military striking power in Europe until they were shown by irrevocable events. Anthony Eden declared after his visit to Moscow in March 1935 that the Soviet Union would be incapable of aggression for the next fifty years.

The Polish Foreign Office on March 9, 1938, circulated a complacent survey of the Soviet scene among its missions abroad. The current Terror in Russia was seen to be the dominant factor on the Russian internal front, and the 1936 democratic Soviet constitution was correctly described as a fraud. The balance of the report was preoccupied with the alleged decline of Soviet power, and with the current Popular Front tactics of Communist parties abroad, which were described as a protective front to veil the weakness of the Soviet Union. There was no suggestion that the Soviet Union might emerge more ruthlessly and efficiently united than ever before when the current purges were completed. A realistic Polish appraisal of the Soviet danger might have been an effective force in promoting German-Polish cooperation. The contemptuous dismissal of Russian power prevented the Poles from perceiving their common interests with Germany. It also caused them to suspect some sinister motive in the repeated German attempts to form a common front with Poland against Bolshevism.

The third problem resulted from feelings of German insecurity about two of the German communities in the East which were neither under German nor Polish rule. These communities were Danzig and Memel, with a total German population of more than 500,000. Many German communities in the East had been uprooted since 1918, and the thought was unbearable to many Germans that this might also happen to Danzig and Memel, after Germany was strong again. There could be no lasting confidence in German-Polish cooperation until these communities were restored to Germany.

German concern about Memel was apparent during the March 1938 Polish-Lithuanian crisis. This occurred at the time of the Anschluss between Germany and Austria, when Beck was visiting in Italy. The Italian Foreign Minister, Count Galeazzo Ciano, who rarely seemed to have a good word about anyone, referred to Beck as not “particularly strong nor singularly intelligent.” He noted with evident satisfaction in his diary that Mussolini was not the least impressed with him. Beck, on the other hand, was an interested spectator of the humiliation of the Italian leaders when Hitler occupied Austria. After all, both Austria and Hungary had been within the Italian sphere of influence for many years, and this had been evident to the entire world following the Rome agreements with the two states in 1934. Mussolini made a tremendous effort to explain the situation in his speech to the Italian Parliament on March 16, 1938, but the loss of Italian prestige implicit in the Anschluss simply could not be denied.

A Polish frontier guard was killed on Lithuanian territory on March 11, 1938. Polish Senator Kazimierz Fudakowski insisted, in a Senate interpellation on March 14th, that Lithuania should be forced to submit to extensive Polish demands. It was evident that the Polish leaders were in a mood to score some success at Lithuanian expense, to parallel Hitler’s triumph in Austria. Beck returned to Poland on March 16, 1938, by way of Vienna, where he received a brief glimpse of the excitement in the former Austrian capital.

Beck discovered that many Polish leaders advocated demands on Lithuania which he considered to be exorbitant under the circumstances. He believed that Lithuania would gradually come within the Polish orbit if too much was not attempted all at once. There were demonstrations in Warsaw and Wilna favoring the acquisition of Memel by Poland, and the creation of a new Polish port on the Baltic Sea. The response in Germany was to order the immediate military occupation of Memel if Polish troops invaded Lithuania. Ribbentrop request ed information from Lipski about Polish intentions in Lithuania, but he received no satisfaction from the Polish Ambassador until March 18th. In the meantime there were several days of uncertainty. Poland presented a forty-eight hour ultimatum to Lithuania on March 17th which demanded Lithuanian recognition of the status quo, including Polish possession of the ancient Lithuanian capital of Wilna. Beck also demanded the exchange of diplomatic representatives between the two countries, and the opening of the dead Lithuanian-Polish frontier to normal trade. The Lithuanian Government on March 19, 1938, decided to submit at the last minute. An attempt to solicit the support of the Soviet Union against Poland had failed, because the Russians had no intention of taking the initiative to promote a conflict at that time. The old Lithuanian policy of hostility toward Poland was abandoned under pressure, and relations between the two countries improved rapidly during the months which followed. Hitler did not object to the gradual transformation of Lithuania into a Polish sphere of influence, but he was convinced that German interests would remain insecure until Memel returned to the Reich.

The fourth obstacle to a German-Polish understanding was the ruthless Polish treatment of minorities. This concerned primarily the Polish mistreatment of the Germans, but the Polish attempt to strand more than 50,000 of their Jewish nationals in the Reich, in 1938, also had a bad effect on German-Polish relations. The Polish policy in this maneuver to rid Poland of a large number of Polish Jews was both cruel and audacious. The step itself is not comprehensible unless one takes account of the rising tide of anti-Jewish feeling in Poland early in 1938.

The Polish Passport Crisis

Considerable attention was given to the problem of encouraging Jewish emigration from Germany in the years from 1933 to 1938, but far more Jews departed from Poland than from Germany during these years. An average 100,000 Jews were emigrating from Poland each year compared to 25-28,000 Jews leaving Germany annually. From September 1933 to November 1938 a special economic agreement (Havarah agreement) enabled German Jews to transfer their assets to Palestine, and the German authorities were far more liberal in this respect than Poland. There were also special arrangements for wealthy Jews in Germany to contribute to the emigration of others by capital transfers to various places. 170,000 Jews had left Germany by November 9, 1938, compared to approximately 575,000 who had departed from Poland during the same years. It was noted that thousands of Jews who left Germany in 1933 returned to the country after 1934, and that scarcely any of the Polish Jews returned to Poland during the same period.

Polish Ambassador Jerzy Potocki made it clear to American Under-Secretary of State Sumner Welles in March 1938 that Poland wished to increase the emigration of Polish Jews, and Welles agreed to aid the settlement of Polish Jews in Latin America, and especially in the rich country of Venezuela. A special Polish mission under Major Michal Lepecki was sent to Madagascar in 1937 to study the possibilities for Jewish settlement in that rich, but sparsely populated, French possession. It was clear that the Poles were seeking to encourage the emigration of the greatest possible number of Jews at the least possible cost. American Ambassador Biddle reported from Warsaw on March 28, 1938, that many Polish Jews would welcome a new European war. The destruction of the new Polish state might improve the status of the Jews, and many of them believed that the Soviet Union was a veritable paradise compared to Poland. Biddle added that conditions for the Jews in Poland were becoming constantly more unfavorable, and, of course, this trend increased Jewish disloyalty toward Poland. Biddle declared that both Jewish and Polish leaders favored maximum Jewish emigration, although they did so for different reasons. The Jews had been accused of creating a financial panic during the March 1938 Polish-Lithuanian crisis, when there was a noticeable run on the savings banks. Distrust and dislike of the Jews in Poland extended right to the top. Prime Minister Stawoj-Sktadkowski claimed, in a conversation with League High Commissioner Burckhardt at Warsaw in 1937, that 60% of all Polish Jews were Communists and that 90% of the Polish Communists were Jews.

Biddle announced on March 29, 1938, that the Polish Sejm was passing a large number of new anti-Jewish laws. He explained that 53% of Polish lawyers were Jews, whereas the Jews accounted for merely 8% of the total Polish population. The aim of the new legislation would be to limit Jewish lawyers to a quota based on their proportion of the population. This type of law was sponsored by the Government, but there was always the danger that the situation would get out of hand. A bill passed the Sejm in March 1938 which made the eating of kosher meat illegal, although 2.5 million Jews in Poland ate only kosher meat. The Government naturally feared the effect on the Polish meat industry of such a forced conversion to vegetarianism, and steps were taken to prevent the implementation of this law. The extremity of the legislative measure provided a good indication of Polish hatred of the Jews.

A law also passed the Sejm in March 1938, which permitted the Polish Government arbitrarily to withdraw Polish citizenship from nationals abroad. The specific provisions stipulated that individuals could be declared stateless if they had been out of the country for five years. The implementation of the law was postponed until the Czech crisis had run its course. The law had been passed as part of the 1938 Polish anti-Jewish program, and its obvious purpose was to prevent the return to Poland of as many Jews as possible. Many of the Polish-Jewish citizens abroad were in Germany. Friction between Germany and Poland was inevitable when the Poles published an ordinance on October 15, 1938, to implement the March 1938 citizenship law.

The Poles were well aware of the German attitude toward the Jewish question. Years had passed since Hitler had introduced his anti-Jewish policy in Germany, and his program had received legal sanction in the Nuremberg Reichstag laws of 1935. Hitler believed that the policy of granting full legal and political equality to the Jews, which had been adopted in Germany and Great Britain during the previous century, had been a great mistake for Germany. He believed that inter-marriage between Germans and Jews harmed the German people and should be discontinued. He shared the conviction of Roman Dmowski in Poland that the Jews were harmful in the economic and cultural spheres. He also believed that the Jewish influence on German politics had weakened Germany. Hitler worked for the day when there would be no more Jewish subjects in Germany, just as Abraham Lincoln in his last years had worked for an exodus of Negroes from America. Hitler’s view on the Jewish question was intolerant, and this was perfectly clear to the Polish leaders when they implemented the law of March 1938.

The Russian Government in 1885 had created difficulties for the Polish and Russian Jews who had sought to return to Poland from Germany. Chancellor Bismarck, at a time when Germany pursued no anti-Jewish policy, insisted that Polish and Russian Jews be deported in increasing numbers until the Russians abolished their restrictions. He argued that, unless he responded in this way, Germany would be tacitly recognizing the right of one nation to dump large numbers of unwanted citizens permanently in a neighboring country.

Poland had learned nothing from this example, and she attempted to rid herself of part of her Jewish minority at German expense. The Poles suspected that Hitler might not like this, but they were prepared to use methods to counter German retaliation which the Russian Empire had not dared to adopt. They decided to stop Polish-Jews, whom Germany might seek to deport, at the border, with the help of the bayonet. In this tactic they completely surprised the Germans, who never suspected that Poland would go this far.

The German Foreign Office made several efforts to persuade the Poles to cancel their decree, but these efforts met with no success. Moltke made a last attempt on October 26, 1938. Time was growing short, because the Polish passports of the Jews would automatically become invalid after October 29, 1938, two weeks after publication of the decree. The Polish Consuls in Germany had been empowered to issue special stamps which would free the passports of certain individuals from the decree, but it was evident that these stamps were not granted to Polish citizens of Jewish extraction. It was apparent to Moltke that his last protest produced no effect on Jan Szembek at the Polish Foreign Office. He proceeded to give Szembek Fair warning by confiding that the Germans would expel the Polish-Jews unless they received satisfaction from Poland. This produced a reaction, and Szembek expressed his astonishment at the allegedly severe reprisal planned by Germany. Moltke explained that the question could easily be settled if the Polish Government agreed that the decree would not apply to Reich territory, or if it promised that Polish citizens in Germany would be allowed to return to Poland without the special stamp.

Beck’s reply on October 27th to Moltke’s démarche contained an interesting set of arguments in support of the Polish stand. He argued that Polish resident aliens of Jewish extraction in Germany had suffered from anti-Jewish legislation, despite the fact that they were not German citizens. He contended that this justified Poland in divesting herself of responsibility for this group. He admitted that Poland herself employed anti-Jewish measures, and that she did not desire the return of Polish-Jews abroad. He claimed that this was justifiable because German currency controls would prevent Polish Jews from bringing most of their wealth to Poland. This would mean that they would constitute a drain on the resources of the Polish state.

Beck’s language was unmistakably clear and it was apparent to the Germans that there was no point in pursuing the negotiation. The German authorities took great pains to act without guilt or blame. They organized the transport of Polish Jews with great care, and they made certain that the travellers had good facilities, including plenty of space and ample good food. The story told years later by the American journalist. William Shirer, about “Jews deported to Poland in boxcars” under brutal conditions, was clearly fictitious. The first trains passed the border to Polish stations before the Poles were prepared to stop them. After that, the unbelievable happened. Although the last day for issuance of the stamps was not until October 29th, and the new exclusion policy was not scheduled to take effect until October 30th, and Polish border police attempted to prevent the Jews from entering Poland. The Germans had made no preparation for this development, and soon thousands of Polish Jews were pouring into a few small border towns in Upper Silesia and elsewhere. W.K. Best, the German police official in Chargé of the operation, declared that “through the massing of thousands of Polish Jews in a few border towns on the German-Polish frontier, some very disagreeable conditions resulted.” The German police decided to bring as many Jews as possible into Poland at night by means of the “green border,” which meant by obscure paths in heavily wooded areas or across unguarded meadows. This was dangerous work. There was considerable small-arms fire from the Polish side, but no actual engagements occurred between the Germans and the Poles along the border.

The Poles retaliated immediately by driving across the border into Germany small numbers of Jews from Western Poland, who had retained German citizen ship since World War I. The Polish Government issued a decree on the afternoon of October 29, 1938, for the expulsion of enough ethnic Germans from Posen and West Prussia to make up for the discrepancy in numbers between the two Jewish groups. This Polish act of defiance brought the German action to a halt. It was feared that the Poles, with deliberate exaggeration, would organize vast transports of Germans, and exploit the occasion to empty the former Prussian provinces of their remaining German population. Furthermore, Hitler did not like the bitter nature of the affair, and he feared that German-Polish relations might be wrecked if the incident was not checked. Most of the Jews who had been successfully deported were sent across on the night of October 28/29. The Polish Jews who arrived at the border on the afternoon of October 29th were returned to their homes in Germany.

The German authorities had not rushed the Polish-Jews out of their homes under the impression that they would never be permitted to return. They were explicit in promising them that they could return, when their passports were validated in Poland, and when the Poles gave them re-entry permits. Negotiations on this subject were conducted in Warsaw, since Lipski had deliberately left Germany and remained in Poland throughout this crisis. The negotiations were transferred to Berlin in late November 1938. Nothing like a comprehensive settlement was ever attained, but the Poles at last agreed that the Jews actually deported could return to Germany without forfeiting their right to return to Poland. The majority of the Polish-Jews in Germany had not participated in the deportation action, and they did not receive special entry stamps entitling them to return to Poland. They became stateless Jews, and many of them emigrated later from Germany to other countries. Most of the Polish-Jews resident in Germany at the time of the Polish decree preferred for economic reasons to stay there rather than to return to Poland. There is no doubt that more Polish-Jews returned to Poland because of the decree than otherwise would have been the case, but the Polish leaders had the satisfaction of reducing the actual number of Polish-Jews in Poland, at least on paper.

The Polish decree and its repercussions produced an important impact on the current treatment of the Jews in Germany. Large numbers of Jews had been coming to Berlin from other areas after the Anschluss between Germany and Austria. The Anschluss increased the German-Jewish population by nearly 200,000, or more than the total number of Jews who had departed from Germany. American Ambassador Hugh Wilson reported on June 22, 1938, that an alleged 3,000 new Jews had entered Berlin during the past month, and on the week-end of June 18th there had been demonstrations against Jewish stores in Berlin for the first time since 1933. The German Government in October 1938 was preparing a series of measures to restrict the participation of Jews in the legal profession, and it was evident that there might be other measures designed to restrict Jewish activities. There was obviously considerable disagreement among the German leaders about what, if anything, should be done, but the repercussions of the Polish passport crisis played into the hands of the more radical group, headed by German Minister of Propaganda and Enlightenment, Joseph Goebbels.

The parents and sisters of Herschel Grynszpan, a syphilitic degenerate living in Paris, had been on one of the German transports. Grynszpan received a post card from one of his sisters on November 3, 1938. This postcard described the journey to Poland, but it did not contain any special complaint. The German transports were carefully provided with comfortable facilities and adequate food. Grynszpan had been living with an uncle in Paris since 1936, but there was a French police order demanding his expulsion from France. Grynszpan had been thrown out of his uncle’s house on the day before he assaulted the German diplomat, Ernst vom Rath. Grynszpan had decided to murder German Ambassador Welczeck, and he actually spoke to him without recognizing him in front of the German Embassy on the morning of November 7, 1938. Afterward he entered the German Embassy, and he fired his revolver at vom Rath after he discovered that Welczeck was absent.

Grynszpan was still living in Paris after World War II, and the story of his trial and imprisonment by the French, and of his imprisonment by the Germans, is an interesting chapter in legal history. Dorothy Thompson in the United States sponsored the collection of large sums for the legal defense of the allegedly heroic young Jew, who actually belonged in an institution before the affair at the German Embassy. Ironically, Ernst vom Rath had been a resolute opponent of Hitler’s anti-Jewish policy.

The tragedy in Paris was exploited by Goebbels in an obvious effort to increase the severity of the general German policy toward the unfortunate German-Jews. At the time of a previous murder of a prominent German abroad by a Jew, in 1936, Goebbels had warned that the next incident of this type would lead to severe measures against the Jews. When vom Rath died of his wounds on November 9, 1938, Goebbels did what he could to carry out this threat. He gave an anti-Jewish speech at Munich on November 9th which was seized upon by German S.A. leaders as an excuse to attack Jewish property. Some of the Jewish synagogues in Germany were destroyed by fires set by organized groups on November 10, 1938, and much business property was damaged. There were demonstrations against the Jews, but no pogroms, since no Jews lost their lives. The mass of the Germans were horrified by the destruction of Jewish property, which was contrary to their sense of decency and their feeling for law and order. Goebbels welcomed this as a turning point which would lead to the elimination of the last vestiges of Jewish influence in Germany.

American reaction to the events in Germany was more vigorous than elsewhere, and for the first time it appeared that conditions for Jewish life were becoming worse in Germany than in any other country of Europe. Hull ordered Ambassador Wilson on November 14th to leave Germany within a few days, and he forbade him to sail on a German ship. Wilson relayed an assurance from Goebbels on the following day that there would be no financial penalty or other measures against foreign Jews in Germany. Wilson reported on November 16th that the British diplomats in Berlin were rather complacent about he Jewish question. They noted that German public opinion was not behind the recent anti-Jewish measures and they wisely concluded that this sort of thing would not be repeated. This was the last report which Wilson sent to Hull before leaving the country.

Hitler was persuaded by Goebbels, after the demonstrations, to levy a 1 billion Mark (250 million dollar) fine on the wealthy and moderately wealthy Jews of Germany. Goebbels had argued that otherwise the Jews would be able to pocket vast amounts of money from the German insurance companies, because the assets damaged or destroyed on November 10, 1938, had been heavily insured. The poorer Jews who had less than 5,000 Marks in immediate cash assets were exempted. The German insurance companies were ordered to pay the Jews promptly for all damages suffered to property on November 10th, and it was permissible to use part of this money in paying the fine. The fine was to be paid in four installments, on December 15, 1938, February 15, May 15, and August 15, 1939. The Jews complained that their total capital in Germany in November 1938 was only 8 billion Marks, and that the fine was tantamount to the confiscation of a large share of their assets. A German law was announced on November 26, 1938, that would eliminate Jewish retail stores, and its provisions were to go into effect on January 1, 1939. At the same time it was promised that welfare care and other state relief measures on behalf of the Jews would be continued.

The Polish passport crisis and its repercussions had little effect on the official relations of Germany with foreign countries other than with the United States and Poland. German-American relations were catastrophically bad in any event because of the hostility of the American leaders toward Germany. The main effect in Poland was to stimulate more severe measures toward the German minority, and to produce an indefinite postponement of Beck’s visit to Germany. It was obvious to the Germans, without knowing Beck’s attitude on Danzig, that the prompt negotiation of a general settlement with Poland had met with serious delay.

Persecution of the German Minority in Poland

The entire year of 1938 was a bad period for the German minority in Poland because of the intensification of the official Polish anti-German measures. It seemed as if the Poles were suddenly in a great hurry to eliminate the German minority. The Polish leaders rationalized their policy of persecuting Germans with the specious argument that conditions facing the Polish minority in Germany were worse than ever before. Chairman Jan Walewski, of the Foreign Policy Committee of the Sejm, brought the attention of Polish public opinion to this issue in an important speech of April 23, 1938. Walewski charged that the November 1937 minority agreement was observed solely in the German Reich Chancellery and nowhere else in Germany. He claimed that conditions for the Germans in Poland were far better than the situation of the Poles in Germany. This speech had a disastrous effect on the attitude of the Polish masses toward the Germans in Poland, and the theme of the speech was constantly reiterated in the Polish popular press. The speech and the press campaign were inconvenient for Germany at a time when Hitler was seeking to improve conditions for the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia. It was easy for the international press to claim that Germany deserved no sympathy because she mistreated her own minorities.

Polish complaints reached a staccato peak when the results of the May 15, 1938, census were announced, and a mere 15,000 individuals in Germany claimed to be ethnically Polish. This result had been anticipated by the Polish leaders. Lipski had presented a first complaint against the methods of the German census as early as March 31, 1938. It was astonishing to note that the Poles hoped to dictate a return to the census methods of the Prussian monarchy before 1918. 15,927 individuals had voted for union with Poland in the South-East West Prussian and Southern East Prussian plebiscite zone in 1920. This had been at a time when Germany was prostrate and defeated. In May 1938, only 212 individuals in this entire area claimed Polish ethnic origin. This was too much for the Poles, and they invoked the clauses of the 1937 treaty which prohibited assimilation by force. The Union of Poles in Germany began a campaign on orders from Warsaw to demonstrate that the situation of the Polish minority was deteriorating. The Polish organization claimed that the activities of Poles were being restricted in many spheres.

The Germans realized that the grievances of a minority are never entirely imaginary, and they hoped to appease the Poles in the interest of the much larger German minority in Poland. The German Ministry of the Interior promised to deal with Polish complaints after calling a conference of experts. They were under strong pressure from the German Foreign Office to do this, and they were advised that the Polish press was “drawing ugly parallels with the oppression of the Polish minority in Czechoslovakia.” It was noted that “the war-mongering Jewish New York Times” had taken up the theme.

The German Ministry of the Interior in a report on June 24, 1938, admitted that certain Polish grievances “correspond to some extent with the actual situation.” Instances of discrimination against Polish students and of restrictions on the distribution of books by Polish cooperatives had been discovered. German Minister of the Interior Wilhelm Frick received the leaders of the Polish minority, and he promised them that Polish grievances would be remedied. The German Ministry of the Interior also insisted that “the position of the German minority in Poland offered far greater cause for complaint” The need for periodic conferences among representatives from the two nations was stressed, and the German Foreign Office was secretly informed that this was “the only effective means of alleviating the difficult position of the German minority in Poland.” The Ministry of Interior realized that unilateral concessions to the Poles in Germany would not solve the problem of the Germans in Poland. Coordination of German and Polish policies was demanded, but it was precisely this coordination that the Germans were never able to attain.

Frick’s reception of the Polish minority leaders on June 24, 1938, was publicized in the Polish press. Nevertheless, the official Gazeta Polska argued in an editorial devoted to the question that coordination of policies by the two nations was unnecessary. The editors took the position that minority questions should be treated as a purely domestic concern by each Government. This declaration was tantamount to an abrogation of the November 1937 German-Polish minority pact, which stipulated official Polish interest in the Poles of Germany and official German interest in the Germans of Poland.

The difficulty was that the German minority in Poland was more numerous and prominent than the Polish minority in Germany. It was easy for the Polish leaders to conclude that the elimination of the large German minority in Poland would more than compensate for any possible losses to the Poles in Germany were the Germans eventually goaded into retaliation. Indeed, a less tolerant German policy might have encouraged a revival of Polish nationalism among the Poles of Germany. Most of the Polish-speaking people of Germany were proud of German prosperity and efficiency, and they preferred to be considered German. The Polish leaders hoped that they would rediscover their Polish hearts if Germany adopted a less favorable policy or experienced another disaster as bad or worse than 1918. In the meantime they could take care of themselves. It was much as if Germany and Poland were nations at war. The Poles had a vast number of German hostages and the Germans had a considerably smaller number of Poles. The reciprocity which sometimes prompts belligerent nations to treat prisoners humanely, because many of their own People are in the hands of the enemy, was sadly lacking in this instance.

There were signs that the German Foreign Office would not desist forever from according to the Polish mistreatment of the German minority the major emphasis which it deserved. Lipski appeared at the German Foreign Office on June 13, 1938, to protest about obstacles to the completion of a new Polish school for girls at Ratibor in West Upper Silesia. The local German authorities were exasperated about this new school. They claimed that it was being erected on the wrong side of the frontier, because most of the girls studying there would be from Poland. The incident seemed a minor one to State Secretary Weizsäcker, and he admitted to his colleagues that he was sorely tempted to challenge Lipski about current Polish measures against the Germans in Poland, but he had desisted because of the Czech crisis. At last, on June 17, 1938, Foreign Minister Ribbentrop issued an order for German diplomats in Poland to assemble a list of grievances from the German minority in Poland. It was evident that the Poles were going too far and that the German Foreign Office was reluctantly contemplating recourse to diplomatic protests on behalf of the Germans in Poland.

Senator Hasbach, the leader of the Conservative German faction in Poland, was appalled by this situation. He argued that the German Government should confine itself to requests for the coordination of minority policies. He was terrified by the increasing tension between Germans and Poles in Western Poland. There were rumors that the German press was about to retaliate against the anti-German Polish press campaign and Hasbach was convinced that this would be a disaster. He pleaded with German diplomats in Poland that press retaliation would whip the provincial Poles into a frenzy. They had been told by their local newspapers that the Germans never complained about conditions in another country unless they intended to conquer it. Hasbach predicted fearful consequences if the restrictions on the German press were removed.

Moltke did not favor complete press silence about Polish treatment of the German minority, but he did agree with Hasbach that the question should be handled with great caution. Moltke was scornful about the complaints of the Polish minority in Germany, and he noted that they had admitted on June 2, 1938, that they had no complaint about discrimination in the economic sphere. Economic discrimination was the major issue for the Germans in Poland, although they also had to face much more cultural and educational discrimination than the Poles of Germany.

Moltke reported with great indignation on July 7, 1938, that the Poles had discovered that Germany was planning a press campaign to expose Polish mistreatment of the Germans. The German newspapers had discovered that the Foreign Office was collecting material about Polish outrages, and the editors proceeded to do likewise. They had sent instructions to several correspondents by public telephone, and in Poland where the wires were tapped this was equivalent to broadcasting the news. Moltke strongly advised that the Polish Government should be given some assurances about this situation.

The warning from Moltke suggested to the German Foreign Office that Lipski might raise the question in Berlin. A special memorandum was prepared on July 8, 1938, for use in possible conversations. It contained a few of the major grievances about the mistreatment of the Germans in Poland. The Polish 1938 annual land reform law was heavily biased against German interests. Most of the larger agricultural holdings in Posen and West Prussia belonged to Poles, and only these larger holdings were subject to confiscation and redistribution under the law. Nevertheless, the Germans in these two provinces were compelled to supply more than two thirds of the acreage for confiscation in 1938. The new Polish program of establishing a thirty kilometer border zone, in which the Germans could own no land, included all of East Upper Silesia and broad strips of Posen and West Prussia.

The memorandum accused the Polish authorities of tolerating and encouraging a private boycott of all industrial firms which employed Germans. Eighty percent of the German labor force in East Upper Silesia was unemployed, and it was apparent that an increasing number of desperate young Germans were abandoning their homes in that area. The German youth were denied the apprenticeships which would have enabled them to find employment in the many craft professions. The Poles had intensified their program of closing German schools. The memorandum, which sketched the existing situation in general terms, concluded with the suggestion that future concessions to the Poles of Germany should be dependent on the improvement of conditions in Poland.

Moltke was instructed to tell Beck, on the same day, that the complaint of the Polish minority and the extensive treatment of this complaint in the Polish press had done “extremely great damage in many respects.” The response of Beck was characteristic. He agreed to inform the Polish Ministry of Interior of Moltke’s complaint, but he added pointedly that the question was not within his competence as Foreign Minister. This statement followed the line adopted by the Gazeta Polska, and it indicated that the Poles regarded the 1937 minority pact as a dead letter.

It was feared in the German Foreign Office that Hitler would not raise a finger to prevent the doom of the German minority in Poland. In August 1938 the Political Division of the German Foreign Office prepared a memorandum on the question for Werner Lorenz, the chief of the Central Agency for Germans Abroad. This organization had maintained strict neutrality toward the feuds and conflicts of the German political groups in Poland. Hitler did not wish the Agency to pursue an active policy in Poland and he intervened to prevent the memorandum from reaching Lorenz. The text of the memorandum was in conflict with Hitler’s policy. It suggested that no considerations of higher policy could justify the abandonment of the German minority in Poland. The situation of the Germans in the former Prussian, Austrian, and Russian sections of Poland was described, and the lack of initiative and unity among the German minority communities was deplored. It was noted that the principal Polish effort was directed against the German community in former Prussian territory, and that the Poles had exploited the 1934 Pact with Germany to intensify their de-Germanization policies.

The memorandum contained the dangerous suggestion that the German authorities should take the initiative to secure greater unity among the Germans in Poland. This fact alone was sufficient to prompt Hitler to suppress it.

Polish Demonstrations Against Germany

Moltke attempted to explain the increasingly unfavorable situation of the German minority in a report on September 2, 1938. He blamed much of the trouble on the OZON (Camp of National Unity) which had been founded by Colonel Adam Koc. This vast officially-sponsored pressure group was seeking to secure a broad basis of popular support for the policies of the Polish Government. Moltke charged that the Government Departments in Poland were under OZON influence, and that they were seeking to increase their popularity by exploiting and encouraging the rising anti-German sentiment. The Government was trying to be more anti-German than the people, rather than opposing popular superstition and prejudice about the Germans. This policy was incompatible with the spirit of the 1934 Pact.

The German Ambassador admitted that this development was stimulated by German successes. The Anschluss had produced a catastrophic effect, and the uneasiness and excitement had increased with the opening of the Sudeten crisis. The Poles knew that the militant Sudeten German minority in Czechoslovakia was the most powerful ally Hitler had in dealing with the Czechs, and they were determined that the Germans in Poland should remain intimidated. Moltke noted that an increasing number of Germans were being sentenced to prison by Polish courts for such alleged remarks as “the Führer would have to straighten things out here,” or “it would soon be Poland’s turn.” There was no way of knowing how many of these unfortunate individuals were entirely innocent of the remarks attributed to them.

The flames were fanned by Poles who returned from Germany with the claim that they had encountered German propaganda directed against Poland. It was said that propagandists were encouraging the Ukrainians to revolt against Poland, and that they were demanding the return of the Corridor to Germany. Moltke was especially annoyed by the apparent indifference of the Polish Government toward the increasing number of anti-German mass demonstrations. He was indignant that groups of Poles had recently appeared before German consulates, without official interference, to sing the provocative Rota, a popular anti-German song with many different versions. One central theme in 1938 was that God would reward Poles who hanged Germans. Moltke concluded his report with a list of prominent individuals in Poland who had recently adopted a more hostile attitude toward Germany. He remained completely deceived about Jozef Beck, whom he continued to regard as pro-German. It was unfortunate for Hitler that Moltke was unable to penetrate Beck’s attitude to some extent. Hitler might have been able to avoid the trap that Halifax was preparing for him had he realized that Beck was one of his enemies.

The Outrages at Teschen

The situation at Teschen in October 1938 offered a vivid illustration of the problem created by Polish persecution of the Germans. Hitler had given Poland full support in her successful effort to acquire this district from the Czechs. The Poles, however, proceeded to treat the German and pro-German elements of the district as archenemies. De-Germanization measures began immediately after the Polish military occupation of the area. Every German school in the district was closed at once. The Germans were told that the schools would be reopened later, but in the meantime the parents of the school children were threatened with unemployment if they did not send their children to Polish schools. Merely one tenth of the previous number of children reported, when it was announced that the schools would be re-opened, and only a fraction of these were subsequently allowed to attend German schools. The original staffs of German teachers had been dismissed. It was announced that Polish was the sole official language, and the doctors and lawyers of the area were told that they would not be allowed to practice unless they learned Polish within three months. Bank assets were frozen for a considerable period, and pensions and state salaries to Germans were reduced. The mayors of both Teschen and Oderberg were removed. Mayor Kozdon of Teschen was the leader of the local Slonzak community, which was a small West Slavic group similar to the Kassubians of West Prussia, or the Lusatian Sorbs of Saxony. When Kozdon was disgraced and sent to prison in Poland, the local Slonzak community replied with the scornful slogan that they would rather be inmates of a German concentration camp than so-called citizens of Poland.

The situation was aggravated when the local Slonzak population offered considerable resistance to the Poles. It seemed for a time that the Germans might also resist. The leaders of the German community, Dr. Harbich of Teschen, and Dr. Pfitzner of Oderberg, hastened to Berlin to appeal for German assistance. When the German Foreign Office ignored their pleas they threatened to appeal to France, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan, as signatories of the 1919 minority agreement on Teschen. They were coolly advised by the German diplomats to leave out the Japanese, because it was repugnant to envisage an Asiatic Power intervening in a European question. They were told that “for the German Government the question of Teschen was to be regarded as settled.” Harbich exclaimed in despair that he would return home to lead his community in battle against the Poles. Baron Wörmann later recalled: “I tried to explain to them the renunciation of Oderberg in the context of general German policy, but apparently without success.” This failure is not surprising when one considers that the homes and livelihood of these men were at stake.

On October 3, 1938, after the occupation of the city of Teschen, the Polish armed forces pushed on to Trynetz, Lazy, and Karwin in the Teschen district ahead of the schedule agreed upon with the Czechs. The Polish excuse for the rapid advance was the hostility of the local population. The Gazeta Polska explained that it was necessary to anticipate the formation of “German shock troops” at Oderberg. It was added that the German authorities were not permitting these forces to receive arms from Germany. In reality, the Poles were not fighting German shock troops, which did not exist, but a few desperate Slonzak workers and farmers. Polish placards posted during the day were torn down at night, and a pitched battle took place between the Polish soldiers and the Slonzaks at Trynetz. Governor Grazynski of East Upper Silesia, who was scheduled to administer the new district for Poland, concluded that the Slonzaks needed considerable re-education before they could become useful Polish citizens. A first major step in the Polonization program was to drive out as many Germans and Czechs as possible, and to bring in Polish specialists and industrial workers from East Upper Silesia. The effect of this policy is well illustrated by the following example. The Oderberg Wire Factory, which annually produced 90,000 tons of iron, steel, and copper wire, had 1,324 employees on October 10, 1938. There were also 126 engineers, merchants, and master craftsmen connected with the firm, and they comprised the group of specialists. The Germans furnished 758 factory workers and 52 specialists, the Czechs 547 factory workers and 73 specialists, the Poles 19 factory workers and 1 specialist.

Approximately 20% of the Czechs had close Polish contacts and won acceptance in the Polish ethnic group after the Polish occupation. By May 10, 1939, there were 635 Polish factory workers and 82 specialists, 112 Czech factory workers and 11 specialists, and 324 German factory workers and 17 specialists. The Poles had become the dominant group, after the arbitrary dismissal of large numbers of German and Czech workers, and this pattern was repeated in other crucial industries.

Approximately 20% of the total German population of the district fled within the first month of Polish occupation, and it was necessary to house 5,000 of the refugees in emergency camps in West Upper Silesia. Thousands of refugees received temporary quarters in private German homes. Governor Grazynski had raised feelings to a white heat among his followers with charges that the Teschen Germans were guilty of an insurrectionary conspiracy. Most of the refugees entered Germany without frontier passes from the Polish authorities, simply glad to be alive. Passes in any event were issued solely on the condition that those receiving them renounce their right to return. On October 15, 1938, the Germans began to present a series of careful formal protests which received no publicity. Conditions in Teschen were never rectified while the region was under Polish control. A protest note containing a detailed list of grievances about Teschen was presented at Warsaw on November 26, 1938. Several weeks later Moltke was told that this protest should not have been made, because most of the Germans in the Teschen area were not German citizens. The Poles had promised to review the entire matter, but this was their sole response. Their stand was remarkably bold when one recalls that the German-Polish minority treaty of November 1937 applied to ethnic Poles in Germany and to ethnic Germans in Poland, and not merely to Polish and German citizens in the opposite countries.

A series of anti-German measures accompanied the national election to the Polish Sejm in November 1938. The German minority leaders urged their people to vote, although candidates of German extraction were no longer allowed to stand for election. Four of the remaining six German secondary schools in Posen province were deprived of their status as public schools at this time and they forfeited both the special state protection extended to public institutions and their tax privileges. Governor Grazynski of East Upper Silesia considered an election a favorable time to agitate publicly against the Germans. He presided at a meeting which had the temerity to resolve that the Polish minority in West Upper Silesia should place its allegiance in Poland, rather than in Germany. He also intensified his campaign to secure the discharge of the remaining German workers in East Upper Silesian mining and industry.

New Polish measures of school censorship were introduced in West Prussia. The index of forbidden Germanic books was expanded to include such works as the Nibelungenlied (the most highly prized early German heroic epic), Goethe’s Poetry and Truth, Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and Stanley’s Through Darkest Africa. The leading German charity organization in the city of Grudziadz (Graudenz) was closed and its property was confiscated. The exclusively German private school in little Neustadt was told that it would be forbidden to hold its annual Christmas play in 1938. The anti-German and anti-Jewish pressure group, Association of Young Poland, planned a major boycott against all German firms in Polish West Prussia for January 1939, and at that time it was permitted to picket German firms without interference from Polish authorities. Indeed, the boycott would probably never have been attempted had the Polish authorities given the slightest indication that they would oppose it. The encouragement of anti-German measures was part of the formula with which the Polish leaders were seeking to promote the popularity of their regime. It is incredible under these circumstances to read in a widely-accepted Polish source, outside of the Communist orbit and more than twenty years later, that the persecution of the Germans in Poland was entirely “imaginary.”

It was evident that Hitler was willing to close one eye to a great amount of Polish mistreatment of the German minority. It was not clear at the end of 1938 how far the Poles would push this policy in the immediate future, or whether or not Hitler would be willing to tolerate whatever the Poles might decide to do. It would have meant a great deal had the Poles indicated a positive attitude toward a comprehensive settlement along the lines proposed by Germany on October 24, 1938. It is probable that Hitler in such circumstances and for reasons of higher policy would have ignored anything they chose to do to the Germans of Poland short of slaughtering them. The failure of the Poles to indicate a positive attitude contributed to the increasing German-Polish friction toward the end of 1938.

The Problem of German Communication with East Prussia

Ribbentrop, after his conversation with Lipski on October 24th, requested a special report from Fritz Todt, the Inspector for German Highways, about the problem of German transit over the Corridor. Todt discussed the matter with Hitler. Hitler and Todt were close personal friends. The German leader told Todt that a German guarantee of Polish possession of the Corridor was conditional on the acquisition of a German route to East Prussia. Hitler confided that he would like to have both a superhighway and a railway, but that he would be willing to settle for a superhighway. Todt was also inclined to favor the Poles, and he and Hitler found themselves in close agreement on this issue. Todt reported to Ribbentrop that “nothing could more effectively lend force to a guarantee of the Polish Corridor than the elimination, through such a corridor highway, of the economic disadvantage of the Corridor for Germany; namely, the interruption of traffic between East Prussia and the Reich.”

Todt believed that there were two feasible possibilities for a transit route through the Corridor. A superhighway might be constructed from Bütow, Pomerania, to Elbing, East Prussia, via Praust in Danzig territory. This route would run 75 kilometers through Danzig territory and only 40 kilometers through Polish territory. Nevertheless, Todt feared that the Poles might object to this route for strategic reasons. They would consider the road a German military asset, and they might claim that this route was too close to the coast and would place the entire coast under German control. The German Inspector was inclined to believe that the Poles would prefer a route from Schlochau, Pomerania, to Marienwerder, East Prussia, which would extend 85 kilometers through Polish territory. This route would avoid Danzig territory, but it would be close enough to connect Danzig with the highway by means of a feeder road on German territory. Todt believed that any route farther from Danzig would be distinctly disadvantageous for Germany, because Danzig was the largest metropolis within the German-populated region on the eastern side of the Corridor.

It was easy for Todt to supply a number of convincing arguments to justify the road scheme. German land traffic between Pomerania and East Prussia was hampered by current Polish control measures. The high Polish fees for the use of Polish roads involved the loss of much foreign exchange by Germany at a time when the balance of German trade was far from favorable. Todt calculated that the Poles were making 500% profit on road maintenance and on the servicing of rolling stock.

Todt mentioned a comparable road project which had been proposed at Prague. This plan for a superhighway connecting Breslau and Vienna, by way of Brünn in Moravia, had been worked out in complete detail. He believed that it was easy to illustrate that this plan made full allowance for the protection of Czech interests, and that it contained economic features which would prove attractive to the Czechs. Todt concluded his report by requesting Ribbentrop to consult with him and to inform him at once if an agreement with Poland could be achieved.

Tension at Danzig

On November 9, 1938, the very day that Baron vom Rath in Paris succumbed to the wounds inflicted by Grynszpan, the Germans received some disquieting information from League High Commissioner Burckhardt in Danzig. Burckhardt confided that there had been a “peculiar change” in Poland’s attitude toward Danzig. The Poles had earlier indicated their desire to eliminate the League regime in the area, but recently they had switched their policy to support for the League regime. This was disappointing to Burckhardt, who had hoped that Poland and Germany were about to agree on the return of Danzig to Germany. Burckhardt mentioned that foreign diplomats were aware that “there was evidently some disharmony between Germany and Poland.”

The November 1938 Ribbentrop-Lipski Conference

Lipski returned to Warsaw shortly after his conversation with Ribbentrop on October 24, 1938. and he participated in a conference at the Polish Foreign Office on November 4, 1938, to discuss the Ruthenian problem. Ribbentrop’s recent offer was also freely discussed at the conference. The Poles had not taken seriously the suggestion that Beck and Lipski were to share a secret with Ribbentrop, and the British had been aware of the content of the German offer since October 25th. Lipski predicted that the Germans would never retreat at Danzig, and that they would never drop their plan to recover the city from the League. He spoke of Ribbentrop in unfavorable terms as a “disagreeable partner” in negotiation. He added that Ribbentrop wasted much time in insisting that Danzig was a German city, and he claimed that the German Foreign Minister did not understand Panzig at all. Lipski exclaimed that Danzig had returned to the orbit of its Polish hinterland, and that it was therefore no longer German.

Lipski returned to Berlin with instructions from Beck. The Polish Foreign Minister knew that the British wished to gain more time for their armament campaign before challenging Germany, and he chose to adopt delaying tactics in the interest of synchronizing Polish policy with British policy. Ribbentrop asked Lipski on November 19, 1938, if he had received instructions from Beck in response to the German offer. Lipski replied in the affirmative, and he blandly assured the German Foreign Minister that an agreement might be reached for a German superhighway and railway through the Corridor.

Lipski reminded Ribbentrop that Polish neutrality had been useful to Germany during the Czech crisis. He added the deceptive claim that “during those critical days, the Polish Government had turned a deaf ear to all siren songs emanating from certain quarters.” Ribbentrop accepted Lipski’s statements at face value, and he expressed the hope that Poland recognized the importance of German friendship during the Teschen crisis.

Lipski proceeded to discuss the Danzig question. His two principal themes were that the maintenance of the Free City was essential to the vital interests of Poland, and that any Polish decision about Danzig would have to take account of the Polish domestic situation and Polish public opinion. He announced that Beck had instructed him to introduce counter-proposals. These included a very general statement about the importance of improving German-Polish relations, and a suggestion that Germany and Poland conclude a special Danzig treaty. The principal purpose of this treaty would be to recognize the permanent independence of the Free City of Danzig. Lipski seemingly favored the termination of League sovereignty despite the report from Burckhardt about the current Polish attitude in favor of the League regime.

Ribbentrop was disappointed. He replied that the proposed treaty indicated an attitude on the part of Beck which he deplored. He did not deny that the acquisition of Danzig by Germany would represent a sacrifice for Poland, but he failed to understand why the Poles did not realize that a guarantee of Polish rule in the Corridor would be a much greater sacrifice for Hitler. He said to Lipski, “the purpose underlying my suggestion was to establish German-Polish relations on a foundation as lasting as solid rock, and to do away with all possible points of friction.” He complained that the Poles apparently thought that he was merely interested in engaging in a little diplomatic chat.

These remarks did not discourage Lipski from espousing Beck’s proposal. He continued to discuss with intensity the alleged advantages of the Danzig treaty. It was evident that Ribbentrop wished to avoid the danger of disrupting negotiations. He finally replied that “the proposal did not seem very practicable,” but that he would discuss it with Hitler.

Ribbentrop passed briefly to a specific German grievance. He noted that the Polish postal authorities had recently issued Polish stamps for use in Danzig which represented Danzig as a Polish city. Lipski admitted at once that he could understand the negative reaction this had produced among the Germans. Ribbentrop reminded Lipski again that his offer was motivated by the desire to promote a German-Polish understanding. Lipski replied that it was clear to him that the German Foreign Minister was seeking to achieve a permanent understanding. This remark pleased Ribbentrop, and he told Lipski that anything as important as a permanent understanding could not be achieved in one day. He added that “if M. Beck would give our proposals his best thought, he might see his way to adopting a positive attitude.” Lipski claimed that Beck was seeking to maintain complete secrecy, and he asserted that Beck had told an American correspondent of the Hearst press, in late October 1938, that no negotiations were being conducted between Germany and Poland. This was a lapse on Lipski’s part, because the interview to which he referred had taken place on October 10, 1938, two weeks before the German offer.

German Confusion about Polish Intentions

League High Commissioner Burckhardt was visiting Beck in Warsaw at the time of Lipski’s conversation with Ribbentrop. He was pleased to discover that Beck seemed to be in a very friendly mood toward Germany. Beck told Burckhardt that he was willing to surrender the Polish right to represent Danzig diplomatically in foreign countries. He believed Danzig should receive permission to maintain her own diplomatic representatives in Germany, Poland, and elsewhere. He deprecated the role of the League at Danzig. Beck observed that Poland’s interest in Danzig was mainly economic, and not political. Burckhardt was delighted with this remark, and he interpreted it as a confession that Poland was willing to have Germany acquire Danzig. He advised the Germans on November 21, 1938, that “only a German suggestion was necessary for discussions with Poland.”

The effect of this report on the Germans is easy to understand. They did not know where they stood with Poland. The discrepancy between the Burckhardt reports of November 9th and November 21st was obvious. They could not base their policy on the remarks which Beck made to a League representative. Burckhardt did not know that negotiations on Danzig had been in progress between Germany and Poland for four weeks. The adamant position which Lipski had taken on Danzig two days earlier did not permit the German diplomats to share the optimism of Burckhardt.

Hitler was considering every possible means of resolving the dilemma. He wondered if it might not be possible to gamble on Beck’s willingness to accept a fait accompli. Negotiation of an agreement with Poland would be incomparably easier once Germany was established at Danzig. Hitler issued an order to the German armed forces on November 24, 1938, to prepare for the swift occupation of Danzig independently of an agreement with Poland. He placed special emphasis on the fact that he was not contemplating a war with Poland, but that he wished to be prepared for “a politically favorable situation.” Hitler was considering a Danzig coup at the moment when relations with Poland were as cordial as possible and when Polish armed reprisals against Germany were least likely. This did not mean that he was willing to take such a gamble on the day that he issued the order. The risk was too great because he knew very little about the real Polish attitude.

It was extremely significant that the German Foreign Office received permission on the same day to convey full information to the Danzig leaders about the current German-Polish negotiation. The Danzig leaders were to be kept abreast of all future developments. Hitler might not have taken this step had he believed that it would be a simple matter to reach a settlement with Poland at Danzig. He wished Forster and Greiser to be fully informed so that he could coordinate steps with them on the shortest possible notice.

It was useful for the Danzig leaders to have accurate information directly from Hitler. Burckhardt had returned to Danzig on November 21, 1938, and his description of the Polish attitude in conversations with the Danzig leaders was entirely too favorable. He suggested that a Ruthenian solution favorable to Poland might be adequate compensation to Beck for the abandonment of Polish obstruction tactics at Danzig. Burckhardt had succeeded in creating the impression among his listeners that Poland was prepared to give way at Danzig. He seemed to think that Poland’s improved diplomatic situation would prompt her to be generous. He observed that “Poland was no longer in the very difficult situation of four weeks ago, and that she could now again count much more on the support of England and France, particularly since Germany had injured herself politically, at least for the present, through her action against the Jews.” Burckhardt told the Danzigers that he had accepted a hunting invitation from Göring, and that he planned to discuss the European situation with Goebbels before returning to Danzig. He obviously believed that an auspicious moment had arrived to settle the Danzig question.

Burckhardt was disgusted by the attitude of the American Ambassador to Poland, Anthony Biddle, who predicted on December 2, 1938, that the Poles would fight Germany in the near future. Biddle declared that he would welcome this development. He reminded Burckhardt of the great hatred of Germany in the most influential American quarters, and he also predicted that Great Britain and France would intervene in a German-Polish war. Burckhardt summarized his conversation with Biddle in pithy fashion: “Fine perspectives! Calvin against the descendants of Luther, and Lenin as Calvin’s ally.”

Secret Official Polish Hostility toward Germany

Lipski returned to Poland on November 22, 1938, to discuss the Danzig situation. His assurance to Ribbentrop about the superhighway and the railway had been a mere ruse designed to appease the Germans. The Polish leaders agreed that no concessions would be made to Germany either at Danzig or in the Corridor transit question. The affable manner of Ribbentrop, despite the adamant Polish stand on Danzig, impressed the Polish leaders. Beck speculated that Danzig might not be the issue after all which would produce a conflict between Germany and Poland. He suggested that Hitler might be allowing Ribbentrop unusual liberty in the Danzig question to see what he could accomplish. Lipski’s attitude was similar to Beck’s. His latest conversation with Ribbentrop had caused him to modify his earlier opinion that Germany would never retreat at Danzig. He suggested that the injury done to German relations with the United States by the anti-Jewish policy might affect German policy toward Poland.

Lipski tended to exaggerate the effects on German foreign relations of the demonstrations against the Jews in Germany on November 10, 1938. He predicted that a Franco-German declaration of friendship, which had been discussed by Hitler and the French leaders since the preceding month, would never be signed because of the negative reaction to the anti-Jewish demonstrations. This prediction proved to be false, and Ribbentrop signed the declaration at Paris on December 6, 1938.

Lipski and the other Polish diplomats were influenced in their judgment of this question at the moment by a report which had been telegraphed by Count Jerzy Potocki from Washington, D.C., on November 21, 1938. The Polish Ambassador was informed by William C. Bullitt, the American Ambassador to France who was visiting in the United States, that President Roosevelt was determined to bring America into the next European war. Bullitt explained to Potocki at great length that he enjoyed the special confidence of President Roosevelt. Bullitt predicted that a long war would soon break out in Europe, and “of Germany and her Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, he spoke with extreme vehemence and with bitter hatred.” He suggested that the war might last six years, and he advocated that it should be fought to a point where Germany could never recover.

Potocki did not share the enthusiasm of Bullitt and Roosevelt for war and destruction. He asked how such a war might arise, since it seemed exceedingly unlikely that Germany would attack Great Britain or France. Bullitt suggested that a war might break out between Germany and some other Power, and that the Western Powers would intervene in such a war. Bullitt considered an eventual Soviet-German war inevitable, and he predicted that Germany, after an enervating war in Russia, would capitulate to the Western Powers. He assured Potocki that the United States would participate in this war, if Great Britain and France made the first move. Bullitt inquired about Polish policy, and Potocki replied that Poland would fight rather than permit Germany to tamper with her western frontier. Bullitt, who was strongly pro-Polish, declared it was his conviction that it would be possible to rely on Poland to stand firmly against Germany.

Potocki incorrectly attributed the belligerent American attitude solely to Jewish influence. He failed to realize that President Roosevelt and his entourage considered World War I to have been a great adventure, and that they were bitter about those Americans who continued to adopt a cynical attitude toward American militarism after President Roosevelt’s quarantine speech in 1937. President Roosevelt had been one of the few advocating permanent peacetime military conscription in the United States during the complacent 1920’s. Such factors were more than sufficient to prompt Roosevelt to adopt an aggressive attitude toward Germany. He had no strong pro-Jewish feelings; he jokingly said at the 1945 Yalta Conference that he would like to give the Arabian leader, Ibn Saud, five million American Jews. The Jewish issue was mainly a convenient pretext to justify official American hostility toward Germany, and to exploit the typical American sympathy for the under-dog in any situation.

Potocki overestimated the Jewish question because of his own intense prejudices against the Jews, which were shared by the entire Polish leadership. He was highly critical of the American Jews. He believed that Jewish influence on American culture and public opinion, which he regarded as unquestionably preponderant, was producing a rapid decline of intellectual standards in the United States. He reported to Warsaw again and again that American public opinion was merely the product of Jewish machinations.

The Poles themselves had a grievance against Germany because of the recent anti-Jewish demonstrations, but it was not prompted by any sympathy for the Jews. They resented the fact that recent German measures against the Jews placed Germany in a better position to compete with Poland in disposing of her Jews abroad. The majority of the remaining German Jews were at last ready to believe that emigration was better for them than life in Germany, and most of them were in a far better financial position to contemplate emigration than the Polish Jews.

Moltke reported from Warsaw on November 22, 1938, that the Polish press had maintained reserve in describing “the reprisal action carried out in Germany against Jewry.” The Dziennik Narodowy (National Daily) had complained that Germany was right in seeking to get rid of her Jews, but wrong in her methods. Only a few of the leading newspapers had given their unreserved approval to the recent German measures. Czas (The Times) claimed that the Germans had gone too far in some instances. Moltke noted that the Polish Government feared a Ukrainian insurrection, and that this consideration was prompting them to slow down the campaign against the Jews within Poland. At the same time, they were stepping up their diplomatic offensive to find new goals for the Polish-Jewish exodus, and they were convinced that the recent events in Germany would handicap them in these efforts.

Lipski claimed at the Polish Foreign Office conference on November 22, 1938, that there was a bright side to this picture. He asserted that German public opinion had been alienated by the recent anti-Jewish measures, and that this had shaken the position of the Hitler regime. He suggested that a strong Polish stand on Danzig might threaten Ribbentrop’s position and convince Hitler that Ribbentrop was not an able diplomat. Polish High Commissioner Marjan Chodacki, who had come to Warsaw for the conference, was quick to agree with Lipski. He suggested that Poland might influence the situation by adopting a more stern policy in dealing with the Danzig authorities. Beck did not seem particularly concerned about the deterioration of German-Polish relations after the Munich conference. He told Jan Szembek on December 7, 1938, that relations with Germany had reached an impasse. This was a simple statement of the situation which Beck was not inclined to remedy. He still hoped that Germany would support him in Ruthenia, and he did not believe for one moment that Hitler intended to use Ruthenia as a base for Ukrainian irredentism. He knew that Hitler was sincerely pro-Polish, and he complained to Szembek that it might have been possible to obtain more concessions from him had it not been for the opposition of the anti-Polish Junker aristocracy, and the members of the German Cabinet who had belonged to the former conservative German National People’s Party.

Beck indulged in some wishful thinking when he claimed to Szembek that Hitler and Ribbentrop were not in close agreement, and that it was Neurath, and not Ribbentrop, “who understood and executed perfectly the projects and instructions of Hitler.” Neurath was actually one of the anti-Polish diplomats whom Beck had condemned, and he was far less tolerant toward Poland than was Ribbentrop. The similarity between Beck’s career and that of the German Foreign Minister stimulated Beck’s dislike for his colleague in Berlin. Neither Beck nor Ribbentrop were actually career diplomats. Beck had pursued a military career for many years, and Ribbentrop had earned a fortune as a merchant after serving as a German army officer in World War I. It had been possible for both men to obtain top posts in the diplomatic services of their respective countries for the same reason. Beck had been intimate with Pilsudski for many years, and Ribbentrop had won the confidence of Hitler. The two men had established their supremacy over the career diplomats because they enjoyed the favor of their respective dictators.

The Polish Foreign Minister decided that Lipski, for tactical reasons, should continue to take a positive attitude toward the German superhighway, but that he was not to involve Poland in any definite commitments, nor admit that there was any connection between the problems of Danzig and Corridor transit. Beck would continue to press for a bilateral treaty with the Germans to be based on a German renunciation of Danzig. Beck suspected that Hitler would insist on the annexation of Danzig, but he was not certain about it, and, above all, he did not know how long he could count on Hitler’s patience.

Beck had decided to direct his main attention toward Anglo-Polish relations, and his entire policy was based on the assumption that he would obtain British support against Germany. Beck was clever in his relations with the British. He wished to impress them with his independence and to tantalize them by the reserve with which he approached important problems. He permitted Count Raczynski in London to tell Halifax, at the time of the German offer on October 24, 1938, that Poland would stand firmly against any German demands, but he denied Raczynski permission to come to Warsaw to discuss the situation. It was nearly two months before the Polish Ambassador was allowed to appear in Warsaw to discuss Beck’s plan for an understanding with the British. Beck agreed in December 1938 to come to London within a few months to discuss the coordination of Polish and British policies, but he balanced his agreement by arranging on his own initiative for a meeting with Hitler in January 1939. He wished the British to know that he could make a deal with the Germans if he desired it, and he assumed correctly that this would increase Polish prestige in London. He did not wish the British to regard Poland as a mere puppet state in the style of Austria or Czechoslovakia. Beck had learned a great deal since his hurried visit to England in March 1936, and his vain plea for British military intervention against Germany.

A German-Polish Understanding Feared by Halifax

The British diplomat, Ogilvie-Forbes, reported from Berlin on November 9, 1938, that there were increasingly frequent rumors of an impending agreement between Germany and Poland. It seemed to him only a matter of time before “the ripe fruit” of Danzig fell into the German lap, but he predicted difficulties in the question of German transit through the Corridor. He speculated that the Germans might seek to offer Poland special compensation for a transit arrangement by supporting them against the Czechs, the Lithuanians, and even the Russians.

Ogilvie-Forbes had received the impression from Polish circles in Berlin that there was a genuine Polish desire to “compound with the Mammon of Iniquity.” He correctly assumed that this quaint reference to Hitler would amuse and please Halifax. He was also watching out for his own interest, because he was considered in London to be pro-Hitler. He did not believe that German acquisition of Danzig would solve the problem of German-Polish friction. He concluded that “a speedy settlement of all German-Polish questions in a manner permanently acceptable to the national pride and the political and economic interests of both parties would seem to be a miracle of which not even Hitler is capable.”

William Strang, the chief of the Central Division of the British Foreign Office, predicted to Ambassador Kennard in Warsaw on the following day that there would be trouble between Germany and Poland. He instructed Kennard, “you will no doubt be interested to know that we have received reliable information to the effect that Hitler now holds the view that Poland has not yet consolidated her position as an independent state, and that he has plans for dealing with the Polish question. He expects to be able to do this without a European war.” Strang invented this rumor in the hope that it would make Beck nervous when Kennard repeated it to him, and that it would discourage any temptation he might have to reach an agreement with Hitler.

Kennard feared at this time that Beck would accept Hitler’s proposals about Danzig and Corridor transit. Nevertheless, he hoped that German-Polish friction in the minority question would spoil an agreement on the other points. He saw no solution to the minority problem, concluding, “nor do I think that any arrangement for the exchange of populations is practicable.” Kennard knew virtually nothing about the German minority in Poland. He claimed that the Poles in Germany were mainly laborers, which was correct, but he was mistaken when he described the Germans in Poland as mostly land-owners and shop keepers who were “fairly well to do.” The great majority of the Germans in Poland were agricultural and industrial laborers. This lack of accurate information is not surprising when one considers that Kennard was not interested in the conditions of the Germans except to minimize whatever complaints were made about their situation.

Kennard denied that the Poles were either nervous or in any hurry to settle their differences with Germany. He informed Halifax, at the time of the Burckhardt visit to Warsaw in November 1938, that the League High Commissioner shared his belief that the Poles would be willing to relinquish Danzig to Germany. Kennard reminded Halifax that nothing had been done since the Teschen crisis to secure for Poland the permanent seat on the League Security Council which Great Britain had advocated, and he warned him that Beck would remain critical of the League of Nations until this point was settled. Kennard had made no secret of his hatred for Germany when he discussed the situation with Burckhardt, and the Swiss diplomat in turn lost no time in supplying the Germans with full information about Kennard’s attitude toward them. Hitler was interested to learn that the British Ambassador in Warsaw, who enjoyed the confidence of Halifax, was an enemy of appeasement.

Burckhardt had complained to the Germans that Kennard had been “haughty at first,” and Halifax was apparently worried about Burckhardt’s attitude and the possibility that Kennard’s arrogant manner may have alienated him. Halifax did not like to contemplate the possibility that the League High Commissioner might identify himself with the German position at Danzig. He explained to Kennard that Burckhardt had been told in 1937 that the main object of his mission was “to prevent …. the establishment of a full National Socialist regime in the Free City.” It is interesting that Halifax emphasized this in December 1938, when one recalls that he told Burckhardt in May 1938 that he hoped Danzig would return to Germany by means of a negotiated settlement.

Halifax also reminded Kennard that Burckhardt possessed “exceptional diplomatic and political skill,” and that he was not to be taken lightly. He confided that he would raise the Danzig question at the next meeting of the League Security Council, in January 1939, regardless of whether or not Beck or Burckhardt favored such a step. Halifax discussed the situation with Raczynski in London on December 14, 1938, in the hope of obtaining more information about the current Polish attitude toward a settlement with Germany. He began the conversation by complaining that the Poles had not been helpful about promoting League of Nations activities at Danzig. Raczynski replied that Poland recognized the importance of the League position and did not desire to see Burckhardt with drawn. Halifax then asked the Polish Ambassador point blank if Hitler had recently raised the question of German claims to Danzig. The Polish Ambassador responded with an evasive answer. He declared that the main problem for Poland at the moment was to obtain international aid to rid the country of its Jewish population. He assured Halifax that the Jews constituted “a really big problem” in Poland.

Raczynski emphasized that Poland favored an active British policy in Eastern Europe, although “it was perhaps not possible for His Majesty’s Government to intervene directly in practical fashion in the event of trouble in Eastern Europe.” It was clear to both Halifax and Raczynski that British soldiers could not be landed on the Polish coast in the event of war, but Raczynski hoped that the British would not disinterest themselves in the area. Halifax promised that he was prepared to give the question of British support to Poland careful consideration. Halifax was annoyed that Beck had not allowed Raczynski to give him tangible information about current German-Polish negotiations. The certainty of a German-Polish conflict was an essential element in the formulation of his plans. He instructed Kennard to use every means to discover Beck’s real attitude. Kennard ingeniously suggested to Beck that it might be better to allow the Germans to take Danzig now, rather than permit them later to link Danzig with demands for the return of the entire Corridor. Beck “stated categorically that any question of concession in the Corridor would involve war.” Kennard eagerly inquired if this would apply to a German request for transit facilities across the Corridor. Beck replied that any such German suggestion “could hardly be considered,” although he had allowed Lipski to nourish the illusion among the Germans that Poland might accept this. Halifax was able to conclude that a German-Polish understanding was virtually impossible because of the chimera of British aid to Poland, and despite the fact that Beck was currently refusing to inform him about his negotiations with the Germans.

Poland Endangered by Beck’s Diplomacy

The tortuous diplomacy of Beck during this period had a double purpose. The British were prevented from taking for granted Polish opposition to Germany at a time when appeasement was the official British policy. It was evident that the British leaders would have to educate their public to hate and fear Germany before a shift in British policy could take place which would permit a British commitment to Poland. The Polish diplomat knew that he would not be treated as an equal by Great Britain unless he maintained a similar reserve in the conduct of his own policy. The Germans were deceived abut Polish policy in the interest of gaining time. Beck realized that Hitler would have more room to maneuver if he tipped his hand before the British leaders were ready to attack Germany. He knew that the patience of Hitler was his greatest asset, and he intended to challenge Germany when the time was ripe, rather than to receive an unexpected German challenge.

This tortuous diplomacy would have been unnecessary had Beck perceived that the interests of Poland could best be served by joining Germany in a common front against Bolshevism. Hitler had offered reasonable and honorable terms which were highly advantageous to Poland. The friction caused by the minority question would have been a minor issue within the context of a German-Polish understanding. The Germans of Poland were far too disunited and intimidated to cause trouble if Hitler gained a success at Danzig, and a German guarantee of the existing German-Polish frontier would have convinced the few chauvinists among them that there was no point in hoping for union with the Reich. Poland could have played an important role as a bulwark of European defense against Bolshevism, and, with German support, she would have stood a good chance of surviving an attack from the Soviet Union.

The British had nothing to offer Poland. Their policy of hostility toward Germany, which was thinly veiled by appeasement while they prepared for war, placed the Soviet Union in the enviable role of tertius gaudens. A suicidal internecine struggle among the capitalist powers of Europe was the answer to a Soviet Marxist prayer. The geographical position of Poland was such that she would be the first victim of ultimate Soviet expansion toward the West. The British leaders did not intend to send a large army to Europe, as they had done in World War I, and the British Navy and British Air Force could offer no protection to Poland. The dream of the Great Poland of 1750 was the fateful legacy which clouded the judgment of Beck. Pilsudski had shared this dream, but he was also a realist who would have been capable of making many major adjustments in Polish policy. It was the fate of Poland to find herself in the hands of the epigoni at the most crucial moment of her history. There was no sign that the Polish leaders were awake to the realities of the European situation when the year 1938 drew to a close.

Chapter 8 • British Hostility toward Germany After Munich • 13,800 Words
Hitler’s Bid for British Friendship — Chamberlain’s Failure to Criticize Duff Cooper — The British Tories in Fundamental Agreement — Tory and Labour War Sentiment — Control of British Policy by Halifax — Tory Alarmist Tactics — Tory Confidence in War Preparations — Mussolini Frightened by Halifax and Chamberlain — Hitler’s Continued Optimism

Hitler’s Bid for British Friendship

The Anglo-German relationship was the most important European issue after the Munich conference. An Anglo-German understanding could mean peace, prosperity, and security for Europe. A new Anglo-German war would bring destruction, ruin, and despair. The former condition would offer nothing to the doctrine of Bolshevism, which thrived on human misery. The latter situation would present a unique opportunity for expansion to the Bolshevist leaders. It is not to be wondered that the Bolshevist leaders hated the Munich conference which had prevented an Anglo-German war. They feared that from its aftermath a permanent Anglo-German understanding would emerge.

The British attitude toward Germany was the crux of the problem. The attitude of Hitler toward Great Britain was favorable from the standpoint of establishing the permanent peace between the two nations which had been envisaged in the Anglo-German friendship declaration of September 30, 1938. Hitler hoped to avoid what he considered to have been the failures of Hohenzollern Germany. He condemned the idea of a large German navy, which had been brilliantly advocated before 1914 by Admiral von Tirpitz. He was unenthusiastic about the acquisition of German colonies overseas, and he regarded Germany’s legal right to her former colonies as a mere bargaining counter. Hitler opposed trade rivalry between Germany and Great Britain. He wished the British to preserve their world commercial supremacy.

The attitude of Hitler was familiar to the British leaders. The prominent Labour Party spokesman, George Lansbury, who had been the chief of the British Labour Party until 1935, had done what he could to inform the British Conservative leaders of Hitler’s ideas. Lansbury met Hitler in Berlin on April 19, 1937. He was greatly impressed with the German leader, and he was convinced that he did not desire war. Lansbury discussed Hitler with Lord Halifax, and he rendered strong support to Chamberlain at the time of the Munich conference. He emphasized that no important section of the British population opposed Chamberlain’s trip to Munich.

Arnold Toynbee, a leading English historian and an expert on international affairs, had visited Hitler in March 1936. He returned to England with a clear impression of Hitler’s ideas. He informed Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that Adolf Hitler was a sincere advocate of peace and close friendship between Great Britain and Germany.

Thomas Jones, the closest friend of Lloyd George and Stanley Baldwin, had excellent connections with British statesmen. He was with Hitler in Munich on May 17, 1936. Jones was on close terms with Ribbentrop, and he was fully informed about Hitler’s attitudes. Hitler had said that, if an Anglo-German understanding was achieved, “my biggest life’s desire will be accomplished.” Jones promised Hitler in Munich that Great Britain hoped “to get alongside Germany,” and he praised Hitler’s decision to give the English language priority after German, in the German schools, as a significant contribution to future contacts between the two nations.

Leopold Amery, one of the principal Conservative statesmen, was in Germany on a vacation in August 1935. He was hostile toward Hitler’s aspirations, and he had not intended visiting the German leader. Hitler was informed that Amery was in Germany and he immediately extended an invitation to him. He and Amery discussed recent developments in Germany and future German aims for several hours. Hitler assured Amery that Germany accepted the Polish Corridor settlement, and he hoped one day to be in a position to offer Poland a German guarantee of her western frontier. Amery reluctantly concluded that Hitler was “not unpleasantly boastful,” and he was charmed by Hitler’s statement that he “could not claim originality for any of his reforms.”

Viscount Rothermere was a prominent British newspaper publisher and a leader of the British armament campaign. He was with Hitler in Berchtesgaden in 1937 shortly before the Hitler-Halifax conversations. Rothermere believed that the Hitler with whom he spoke was “convinced that he had been called from his social obscurity to power not to make war, but to preserve peace and rebuild both spiritual and physical Germany.” Rothermere and Hitler were also in correspondence. Hitler wrote to Rothermere that his ultimate objective was a comprehensive understanding among Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. Rothermere also remained in correspondence with Ribbentrop until a few weeks before the outbreak of World War II in 1939. Rothermere explained in a wartime book, which contained an introduction by Winston Churchill, that Ribbentrop had never been unfriendly toward Great Britain.

David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of the victorious British coalition Government of 1918, visited Hitler in September 1936. Hitler made no secret of the fact that he was tremendously impressed with the achievements of the British wartime leader, and it was evident that he was extensively informed about his career. Lloyd George replied that he “was deeply touched by the personal tribute of the Führer and was proud to hear it paid to him by the greatest German of the age.” Lloyd George returned to Great Britain convinced that Hitler had performed a Herculean task in restoring prosperity and happiness to truncated Germany.

The prominent British Conservative leader, Lord Londonderry, and the popular British journalist, Ward Price, both visited Hitler on numerous occasions. Each of these men published books in 1938 which favored an AngloGerman understanding, and which explained the aims and ideas of Hitler to their countrymen.

Hitler tried repeatedly to arrange a meeting with British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin in 1936, but neither he nor Ribbentrop were able to overcome Baldwin’s anti-German prejudices. Baldwin remarked at the time of his retirement on April 20, 1937, that he “envied Lansbury the faith which enabled him to go and tackle Hitler.” He might also have envied Hitler the faith which enabled him to seek out Baldwin and other British leaders in a vain effort to appease their distrust of Germany.

Hitler knew that a personal visit to Great Britain, before an Anglo-German understanding had been achieved, would not be possible because of this anti-German prejudice. He had offered to meet Baldwin at sea in the vicinity of the British coast. Later he received three visits from Prime Minister Chamberlain, but these occurred during a crisis when conditions were not normal. Chamberlain noted that Hitler “seemed very shy” at their first meeting on September 15, 1938. Hitler confessed his fear that he would “be received with demonstrations of disapproval” if he visited England, and Chamberlain agreed that it would be wise to choose the right moment.

Winston Churchill never met Hitler. He was in Munich for a few days in April 1932 and he expressed a desire to see Hitler. He claimed later, on the strength of an unlikely supposition, that Hitler refused to see him because Churchill had allegedly criticized Hitler’s attitude toward the Jews. Ernst Hanfstängl, who was commissioned by Hitler to entertain Churchill in Munich, explained that Hitler was in Nuremberg and that he was distracted by several important crises during a crucial phase of his struggle for power. Churchill made no effort to see Hitler after the latter was appointed Chancellor. There is no evidence that he had criticized Hitler’s attitude toward the Jews prior to 1932. Churchill wrote in 1937: “If our country were defeated I hope we should find a champion as indomitable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.” The champion to whom he referred with such enthusiasm was Adolf Hitler.

Anthony Eden met Hitler on several occasions. The first meeting took place in 1934; Eden noted that Hitler was “restrained and friendly” and “showed himself completely master of his subject (European armaments).” The second meeting occurred in March 1935 after the British Government had severely criticized Hitler for introducing peacetime military conscription a few days earlier. The personal relations between Eden and Hitler remained friendly at the second meeting. But there was not much real communication, because Eden had little awareness of German problems. This fact was apparent at a discussion between Foreign Minister Eden and Neville Henderson at Cliveden on October 24, 1937. Thomas Jones noted that the British Ambassador to Germany “has lived in the countries we talked about and Eden has not and this was apparent.”

Sir John Simon, one of the closest advisers to Chamberlain in 1938, accompanied Eden to Berlin in March 1935, and he afterward recorded his impressions of Hitler at that meeting. He noted that Hitler displayed no desire during their conversation to play the role of dictator. He had no doubt that Hitler was sincere in his desire for a permanent understanding with the British. He was equally convinced that Hitler considered the moral rehabilitation of defeated Germany an urgent task. But Simon also remained convinced that it was a vital British interest to challenge Hitler at the favorable moment. It was this attitude, based on anti-German prejudice, which constituted the great obstacle to an understanding between Great Britain and Germany.

Chamberlain’s Failure to Criticize Duff Cooper

The first few days after the Munich conference provided a startling revelation of the depth of resentment toward Germany among British officials. It should be emphasized that it was the hostility within the British leadership which constituted the danger. The mass of the British people were obviously desirous of peace with Germany. The ovation which Chamberlain received in London on the rainy Friday afternoon of September 30, 1938, when he returned from Munich, was unprecedented. He was the hero of the hour among the common people because he had prevented war. The enthusiasm remained unbroken until the debates on the Munich conference opened in the British Parliament on Monday, October 3, 1938. King George VI departed for Balmoral castle in Scotland on October 2nd. He issued an announcement prior to his departure in which he expressed his confidence in Chamberlain and his hope that the peace of Europe would be preserved.

The British war enthusiasts lost no time in launching their effort to spoil the celebration of peace. The first blow was a message to Chamberlain from Parliamentary First Lord of the Admiralty, Alfred Duff Cooper, on October 1, 1938. Duff Cooper announced that he distrusted the policy which had avoided war. He was resigning from the British Cabinet, and he intended to deliver a major speech in Parliament to explain this decision. Chamberlain replied in mild tones that he was aware of the fundamental disagreement which existed.

Duff Cooper was an ideal ally of Churchill in the struggle against peace. He hated the Germans, and he had disliked the German language and German literature since his student days. He was appointed Secretary of State for War in 1935, and by that time his principal concern was the “ever-growing German menace.” He agreed with Sir Robert Vansittart, the Permanent Under Secretary at the Foreign Office, that everything possible should be done to prevent Italy from aligning with Germany. He was convinced that it was more important to oppose Hitler than to oppose Communism. He condemned the entire German nation as a “cruel people,” and he criticized Englishmen who were inclined to forget the German “crimes” of World War I. He had been convinced since 1936, as had Lord Halifax, that an Anglo-German war was inevitable. Duff Cooper delivered numerous bellicose speeches in 1936 and 1937, and he doubted if Chamberlain, when he succeeded Baldwin in April 1937, would care to retain him in the Cabinet. He was retained, and he was promoted to the Admiralty. He was young and handsome, and he delighted in the flamboyant cruises to foreign places afforded by his new post. He joined Vansittart in supporting Chamberlain against Eden in the February 1938 British Cabinet crisis, and his breach with Chamberlain did not occur until the Prime Minister returned from his first visit to Hitler in September 1938.

The derogatory comments which Chamberlain made about Hitler after their first meeting failed to appease Duff Cooper. He wanted war with Germany, and he feared that the chance might be lost. He believed that he could do more to promote war if he joined the Churchill faction of Conservatives outside the Cabinet. Duff Cooper had informed Chamberlain on September 25, 1938, that he intended to resign, but had agreed to reserve his announcement until the termination of the Czech crisis.

Duff Cooper was allowed to deliver the first speech of the debate in the House of Commons on October 3, 1938. He criticized the Government for not assuming a definite commitment during the Czech crisis. He asserted that Great Britain would not have been fighting for the Czechs, because this would have been an insufficient basis for war. He insisted that she would have been fighting for the balance of power, which was precious to some British hearts. He believed that it was his mission and that of his country to prevent Germany from achieving a dominant position on the continent.

Chamberlain astonished his critics by refusing to reply to this condemnation of his policy by a former subordinate. He said instead, in the tones of mawkish sentimentality which he frequently employed, that he always was moved by the resignation speeches of Cabinet ministers. It was obvious that he cherished a deep affection for Duff Cooper, and the differences between them were those of tactics rather than basic principles. He praised Duff Cooper for doing a good job at the Admiralty, and he apologized for him by observing that many of the Cabinet ministers would carry the scars of the recent crisis for a long time to come.

The British Tories in Fundamental Agreement

There was no disagreement between Chamberlain and Duff Cooper about the antiquated British policy of the balance of power. The theory had first been espoused in England in the 16th century by Thomas Cromwell, a disciple of Machiavelli, and a wealthy adventurer who had witnessed at first hand the late phase of balance of power diplomacy in Renaissance Italy. It was Thomas Cromwell who persuaded Cardinal Wolsey to conduct English policy along these lines. The policy had been employed to prevent a strong state, such as Milan, from gaining supremacy over the weaker Italian states. It was useless when outside Powers such as France and Spain appeared on the scene with overwhelming forces and crushed a divided Italy. The balance of power policy was effectively employed in Europe by England for several centuries to prevent any single Power from attaining the sort of supremacy over the divided continent which was enjoyed in North America by the United States after 1865. It meant the relentless curtailment of any seemingly preponderant continental state, regardless of the domestic institutions or foreign policy of such a state. The purpose of the policy was to give Great Britain a permanent position of control over the destinies of her neighbors. The policy was futile by the 1930’s, when outside Powers such as the Soviet Union and the United States were in a position to appear upon the scene with overwhelming forces and to share dominion over a crushed and divided Europe.

There were several occasions, after Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII, when English policy rejected the balance of power. Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England during the 1650’s, was scornful of the balance of power theory, which he regarded as a decadent basis for policy. He sometimes promoted alliances, such as the one he proposed to Holland and Sweden to promote the Protestant cause. His fundamental attitude was that England could provide her own defense, and that she need not fear an attack from a preponderant European Power. This attitude of Cromwell’s was useful to Giulio Mazarini in building up French supremacy in Europe. He persuaded Cromwell to join France in despoiling weaker Spain. Cromwell did not throw English resources and manpower into a futile struggle to support declining Spanish power merely because France was stronger than Spain.

Louis XIV discovered in the War of Devolution in the 1660’s that Holland was an irritating obstacle to the continuation of French supremacy. Dutch diplomacy had reduced French gains in that war. The English had waged two wars of aggression against the Dutch in recent years. It was comparatively easy for Louis XIV to cement Anglo-French relations in the treaty of Dover in 1670 with Charles II of England, and to prepare a combined Anglo-French war of aggression against the Dutch. The English were persuaded to attack the Dutch without warning in April 1672, and Louis XIV soon intervened to support the English. French plans to crush Holland were foiled, because the Dutch were able to defeat the combined Anglo-French fleets in one of the great military upsets of history (battle of Solebay). This was a second important instance in the 17th century when the English conducted their policy without consideration for the balance of power.

The balance of power policy was revived by King William III of England in the 1690’s in a remarkable series of speeches from the throne to Parliament. King William, the great-grandson of the German prince of Nassau-Orange, William the Silent, was flexible in his national loyalties. He built up English power at the expense of his native Holland because in England there was greater respect for the monarchical institutions which he cherished. William used French support of the Catholic Scotch-English Stuarts as the pretext for plunging England into the war of the League of Augsburg, but he explained after the war was well under way that the balance of power was his primary consideration.

The balance of power was used to justify English participation in the next major European and Overseas struggle, the War of the Spanish Succession. England made great gains when she concluded a separate peace with France at Utrecht in 1713, and the balance of power received a new lease on life, once the horrors of the war had been forgotten. The English statesman, James Stanhope, led a brief attempt to organize a preponderant League of European States, but it collapsed in 1720 during a severe economic depression and a change in English leadership. England returned to the balance of power under Robert Walpole, and no subsequent English Statesman was able to equal his skill in conducting English policy under this system. He kept England out of the European War of the Polish Succession in the 1730’s because he realized that the balance of power was not threatened by the war. He was unable to prevent England’s entry into an unnecessary war against Spain in 1739, and he was soon forced from power.

England subordinated the balance of power, in the following period, to her effort to acquire the overseas colonies of France. There were four principal continental Powers of approximately equal military strength at that time. They were France, Prussia, Austria, and Russia, although France was by far the most wealthy. England had taken over most of the French colonies by 1763, but there had been a change of English leadership in 1761. Pitt’s advocacy of a preventive war against Spain was used by Bute as a pretext to overthrow him, and this led to the ruin of English relations with the principal continental states. This unfavorable development resulted from the incredible arrogance and crudeness of English diplomacy under Bute.

England was the principal European Power when her American mainland colonies revolted in 1775. She was unable to crush the insurgent American colonies because of her inability to hire sufficient mercenary troops in Europe, but she defended her European position with the ease against an enemy coalition which included France, Spain, and Holland. The English leaders sought to frustrate the attempts of Russia, France, and Spain to expand during the decade between the end of the American war in 1783 and the outbreak of war between England and Republican France. No single Power offered an impressive challenge to the balance of power at that time.

The balance of power received dramatic emphasis during the four wars of coalition waged against France under the first Republic, and after 1804 under the first Napoleonic Empire. The fourth coalition waged a second war against Napoleon when he returned from Elba in 1815. The balance of power was used on several occasions during this period to justify the continuation of English warfare against France, when the other enemies of France had left the field. Robert Castlereagh was conducting British foreign policy when France was crushed in 1815, and he hoped to abandon the balance of power policy. He repeated the performance of Stanhope in the preceding century by seeking to associate England permanently with a preponderant League of European States. His opponents at home demanded a return to the balance of power, and in 1822 Castlereagh abandoned his task and committed suicide.

England followed the balance of power policy without interruption after 1822. This was true either when she was in “splendid isolations” or when she was a member of some alliance system. England supported Napoleon III against Russia in the Crimean War of the 1850’s because she believed that Russia was stronger than France. She refused to protect Belgium from a possible German invasion in 1887, because she believed that a Franco-Russian combination was more powerful than Germany and her allies. Decisions were difficult during these years, because opposing forces were almost in perfect balance without England. This meant, on the positive side, that England could pursue her balance of power policy in “splendid isolation” without promoting a complicated system of alliances, although at one time she was closely associated with Bismarck’s Triple Alliance.

There was a period of great confusion in English foreign policy during the 1890’s. The five principal continental Powers were organized into two alliance systems. It was feared in London that the two systems might combine against England in one of the frequent colonial crises of these years. Joseph Chamberlain, the father of Neville, led a group who favored an English alliance policy. Prime Minister Salisbury opposed an alliance policy. He insisted that alliances were superfluous for England and would impair the flexibility of English policy. The military reverses suffered by England in the early phase of the Boer War helped to carry the day for Chamberlain and alliances. Salisbury was right when he insisted that the opposite conclusion should have been drawn, because the continental Powers did not intervene against England in this crisis when she was most vulnerable.

The growth of German wealth and productive power during these years was phenomenal, and it seemed to more than compensate for the reverses currently suffered by Germany in diplomatic affairs. Many of the British leaders began to suspect that German growth was a challenge to the balance of power. The balance of power had its own morality. Any nation which seemed to challenge it should be treated as an enemy. it did not matter whether or not Germany planned to attack British interests, or whether or not she was in a position to strike a blow at England. The prospect that she might become stronger than any possible hostile continental combination suggested that it was time “to redress the balance of power.”

The situation was more complicated than it had been during earlier centuries. Great Britain launched her alliance policy by concluding an Anglo-Japanese alliance in 1902, but it was easy to see that the rising imperial power of Japan might become a real challenge to British interests in Asia. Both the United States and Germany surpassed Great Britain in industrial strength before 1914. British power since 1750 had been based more on industrial and naval supremacy than on diplomacy, and the loss of industrial supremacy made the British position more difficult. A challenge to Germany would play into the hands of the United States, just as a challenge to America, which almost occurred during the 1895-1896 Venezuelan crisis, would have played into the hands of Germany. Cecil Rhodes, the architect of British imperial expansion in Africa, recognized this dilemma, and this prompted him to advocate permanent peace and cooperation among Great Britain, Germany, and the United States. This would have meant the abandonment of the balance of power policy, but Cecil Rhodes was sufficiently shrewd to see that the policy was obsolete. The ruling British leaders did not see it that way and Great Britain suffered an enormous loss of power and prestige in World War I despite her victory over Germany.

The Soviet Union began to emerge as an industrial giant of incalculable power during the two decades after World War I. It was evident that there were at least four nations immediately or potentially far more powerful than Great Britain. These four nations were the United States, the Soviet Union, Germany, and Japan. This was different than in the old days when it had merely been a question of one preponderant Spain, or one preponderant France. The bankruptcy of the British balance of power policy should have been evident to everyone. It was as obsolete as Italian balance of power politics after the intervention, with overwhelming forces, of King Charles VIII of France in Italian affairs in 1494. The balance of power policy always had been an unhealthy and decadent basis from which to approach diplomatic relations. It substituted for a healthy pursuit of common interests among states the tortuous attempt to undermine or even destroy any state which attained a leading position. It took no regard of the attitude of such a state toward England. The policy was also extremely unstable. It demanded otherwise inexplicable shifts of position when it was evident that one state had been overestimated or another underestimated. It was particularly tragic when France abandoned an independent policy and became dependent on Great Britain. This meant that France was in danger, along with Great Britain, of contributing to the blunders of an obsolete British policy.

It seemed momentarily that Great Britain might be returning to the policies of Stanhope and Castlereagh when she joined the League of Nations in 1919. Unfortunately this was not the case. France after 1919 was no longer as powerful as Great Britain, but she enjoyed continental preponderance for several years because of the treaty restrictions on Germany, the intrinsic feebleness of Italy, and the disappearance of Austria-Hungary. Revolutionary upheavals after the defeat in World War I temporarily reduced Russian power. The British responded by employing their balance of power policy against France. There had, been notorious rivalry between the two nations in the Near East during World War I, because of oil and traditional prestige factors, and the British nearly succeeded in “biffing” the French out of their Syrian claims. The British and French took opposite sides in the post-war struggle between the Greeks and the Turks. The British continued to oppose French policies with increasing vigor when the Turks emerged victorious with French support.

The climax came when Great Britain opposed the efforts of France and Belgium to collect reparations in the Ruhr in 1923-1924. The French were confidently pursuing a policy of independence under Poincaré’s bold leadership, but the debacle suffered in the Ruhr was a stunning psychological blow to the French. Edouard Herriot, who took the reins of policy from Poincaré, concluded that nothing could succeed without British cooperation. There were later instances of friction between France and Great Britain, but the French leaders were always inclined to accept the British lead. It was apparent to everyone during the Czech crisis in 1938 that Anglo-French policy was conducted from London.

The British occasionally pursued policies which seemed to strengthen French preponderance on the continent. They joined France and Italy in squelching the feeble attempt of Chancellor Brüning of Germany to conclude a customs union with Austria in 1931. It did not seem that the “Hunger Chancellor” was capable of removing the threat of Communism in Germany, which implied a new preponderant Russo-German combination, or of challenging the old preponderance of France.

The situation changed with the arrival of Hitler in 1933. The new Chancellor dealt a few annihilating blows to German Communism, and challenged France by withdrawing Germany from the disarmament conference at Geneva, where German claims to equality received farcical treatment. The balance of power on the continent was restored When Hitler sent German troops into the Rhineland in 1936. The French might have challenged this move successfully had they received an assurance of British support. As it was, the French feared that action would mean an Anglo-German combination against them as in 1923.

Duff Cooper and Chamberlain agreed in October 1938 that Great Britain should continue the balance of power policy. They agreed that everything possible should be done to prevent a permanent alignment of Italy with Germany. They both underestimated the Soviet Union and believed that she was much less powerful than Germany. They also agreed that the Czech cause as such was not worth British participation in a European war. The sole point where they disagreed was whether or not it would be wise for Great Britain to attack Germany in 1938. Duff Cooper believed that Great Britain was sufficiently strong in 1938 to attack Germany, but Chamberlain believed that it would be wiser to play for time. Neither Chamberlain nor Duff Cooper had any sympathy for Germany, the nation which Chamberlain called the bully of Europe as early as 1935. It is possible from this perspective to see that the differences within the British Conservative Party in October 1938 were not really very profound. Anti-German prejudice was the dominant attitude within the entire Conservative Party.

Tory and Labour War Sentiment

The London Times seemed to incline toward the evaluation of Duff Cooper when it announced on October 3, 1938, that Germany was relieved to escape from a war “which, in the opinion of most sections of the population, it would almost certainly have lost.” The Times predicted that “Mr. Chamberlain will find plenty of critics” in the current parliamentary debates. It is important to recall that Geoffrey Dawson, the editor of the Times, had provided valuable support for Halifax and Chamberlain during the Czech crisis. On the afternoon of September 6, 1938, he had revised the famous article which appeared in the Times on the following day, and advocated the cession of the Sudeten districts to Germany.

Dawson was especially close to Halifax, whom he had met in South Africa in 1905. He published an article on October 30, 1925, which praised Halifax without stint or limit when it was announced in London that the latter had been appointed Viceroy of India. Halifax had given Dawson a detailed private analysis of his visit to Hitler in November 1937, and he had told Dawson that he was well-satisfied with the visit. Dawson noted that Halifax probably could have negotiated a lasting agreement with Germany at that time, had Great Britain agreed to remain aloof from possible complications between Germany and her eastern neighbors. Dawson also realized that Halifax was not willing to do this.

It was significant that the London Times, which had been the principal journalistic organ of appeasement during the Czech crisis, began to adopt a more critical attitude toward Germany immediately after the Munich conference. It followed the policy of Halifax in this respect. The differences between the attitudes of the Times and of the Daily Express toward Germany became increasingly pronounced. This was because Lord Beaverbrook, the owner of the Daily Express, was a sincere advocate of appeasement as a permanent policy, whereas Geoffrey Dawson was not. The Daily Express continued to hope and to predict that there would be no war with Germany until within a few days of the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. This attitude reflected the wishes of wide sections of the British population in the autumn of 1938, and in November 1938 the Daily Express noted that its circulation had increased to over 2 million within a very short time, which gave it the largest circulation of any newspaper in British history. When Halifax at last launched a gigantic propaganda campaign in March 1939 to sell the British public on war with Germany, the editorial policy of the Daily Express gradually became a liability for circulation rather than an asset. It is not surprising that Beaverbrook finally made concessions to the warlike mood in order to preserve his newspaper. It became evident that a large-circulation British newspaper with consistent principles was an impossibility in the modern age.

Chamberlain paid special tribute to Halifax in the British House of Commons on October 3, 1938. He claimed that Halifax felt a duty not only to England, but to all humanity. There was no point in wondering what prompted Chamberlain to make this sentimental statement, because it was consistent with his usual oratorical style. There is no record that Halifax ever recanted his maiden speech to Parliament, in which he denied that all men were equal and insisted that the British were the “superior race” within an Empire which comprised more than a quarter of the population of the world. Chamberlain leaned on the prestige of Halifax to protect his own position.

Chamberlain reminded Commons that there was a very considerable difference between the terms of Munich and the proposals of Hitler at Bad Godesberg. The Munich agreement permitted the Czechs to withdraw important strategic materials from the areas about to be ceded, and the region which the Germans were permitted to occupy in five gradual stages was smaller than the area Hitler had requested. He reminded the members that the avoidance of a catastrophe at Munich was in the interest of the Four Munich Powers rather than merely a triumph for one of them. These cogent remarks of the Prime Minister were greeted with shouts of “Shame!, Shame!” from the Opposition benches. This was to be expected. The current Labour Party leaders had supported Chamberlain’s trip to Munich, but they hoped to make political capital by denouncing his policy after he returned.

The situation was explained later by Hugh Dalton, one of the top Labour Party leaders. Dalton, like many of his colleagues, was pro-Communist, and he referred to a visit to the Soviet Union in July 1932, during the greatest famine in Russian history, as an inspiring experience.” Dalton and the other Labour Party leaders actually had considerable confidence in Chamberlain’s leadership. They knew that he would never permit the return of the German colonies or make any tangible concession to Germany at British expense. They were angry that Charles Lindbergh had discouraged war in 1938 by emphasizing current German strength in the air. They agreed with Duff Cooper after Munich that 1938 would have been a favorable year to oppose Germany. They hoped that by contesting the results of the Munich conference they could either unseat Chamberlain or push him into an anti-German policy. They knew that the Labour Opposition was much too weak in Parliament to accomplish this result without important allies from the British Conservative Party. The Labour Party leaders professed to believe that cooperation with National Socialist Germany in foreign affairs would discourage necessary reforms at home.

Chamberlain continued his speech by reading the text of the Anglo-German declaration of friendship of September 30, 1938. He mentioned that this agreement would not be effective unless there was good will on both sides. This left room to claim later that the British had to oppose Germany because Hitler did not show good will toward England. Chamberlain noted that Munich had merely provided a foundation for peace and that the structure was still lacking. He then turned to his favorite theme of British armament, and he reminded the House with pride that the pace of the British armament campaign was increasing daily. He promised that the British Empire would not relax her efforts unless the rest of the world disarmed. He concluded with the announcement that military power was the key to successful British diplomacy.

Clement Attlee, the new Labour Party leader, spoke of the Munich agreement as a huge victory for Hitler and “an annihilating defeat for democracy,” which of course was meant to include so-called Soviet democracy. Eden gave a speech in which he criticized Chamberlain on detailed points, and expressed doubt that Great Britain would implement her promised guarantee to the Czech state. He drew on his old experience as special British representative to the League of Nations, and he denounced the idea of the Munich Powers deciding an important question without consulting the smaller states. He advised the House to regard the current situation as a mere pause before the next crisis. He claimed that the British armament campaign was still somewhat too slow.

Hoare concluded the debate in Commons on October 3, 1938, with a mild defense of Chamberlain’s policy. He introduced an argument which was to be one of his favorites, except when applied to Poland. He suggested that a new World War would have been useless as an attempt to maintain the old Czech borders. The Germans and other minorities were saturated with Czech rule and would not accept it again. He added that the British Government would be willing to give the Czechs an effective guarantee at some future date, but only after the outstanding problems which afflicted the Czechs were settled.

Halifax delivered an important speech in the British House of Lords on October 3, 1938. He shared the opinion of Hoare that Great Britain should never fight for a foreign state unless she was in a position to restore its old frontiers after a victorious war. This was an interesting idea, especially when one considers that Halifax refused to guarantee the Polish frontier with the Soviet Union when he concluded the Anglo-Polish alliance of August 25, 1939. It was obvious that this argument was largely sophistry to Halifax, and a sop to appease the Opposition. He revealed to the Lords that he had done what he could to improve British relations with the Soviet Union by placing the blame solely on Germany and Italy for refusing to invite the Soviets to Munich. He had given a formal declaration to this effect to Soviet Ambassador Maisky on October 1, 1938. Halifax regarded all this as a permanent trend in British foreign policy. Relations between Maisky and Halifax became more cordial in the months after Munich, and the Soviet Ambassador scored a great triumph on March 1, 1939, when Chamberlain and Halifax attended a reception at the Soviet embassy in London shortly before Stalin himself delivered a bitter speech denouncing the Western Powers. Halifax was obviously intent upon switching British appeasement from Germany to the Soviet Union.

The key to the Halifax speech of October 3rd was the statement that Great Britain would continue to prepare for a possible war against Germany despite the Anglo-German friendship declaration of September 30, 1938. Halifax, like Chamberlain, devoted the latter part of his speech to a discussion of the British armament campaign. He emphasized that the need for more weapons was the principal British concern at the moment.

Baldwin delivered a speech in Lords on the following day. He complained that it had been difficult to establish personal contact with the German and Italian dictators during the past five years. This was an astonishing statement when one recalls that Hitler had made repeated efforts to meet Baldwin at any time or place while the latter was Prime Minister. Baldwin dropped the mask completely when he claimed that Great Britain needed the spirit of 1914 to solve contemporary world problems. He was supposedly defending the peace settlement of Chamberlain, but in reality he was invoking the glory of the British attack on Germany in 1914. He mentioned that in the recent crisis he had been reminded of Sir Edward Grey, who looked like a man who had gone through hell when he pushed for war in 1914. Baldwin did not mention that the main reason for Grey’s concern was the fear that the mountain of deceit on which he had built British foreign policy would be discovered by the British Parliament. The British Parliament did not realize in 1914 that Grey had given the French a commitment to fight Germany whether Belgium was invaded or not. The French had concentrated their navy in the Mediterranean, and had entrusted the defense of their northern coastline to the British, before there was the slightest sign of an impending German invasion of Belgium. This situation was explored and explained by historians of many nations after World War I, but Baldwin, like Halifax, preferred to evaluate Grey in terms of 1914 war propaganda.

Arthur Greenwood and Herbert Morrison resumed the Labour attack on Chamberlain in Commons on October 4, 1938. They repeated many of the arguments which Clement Attlee and Hugh Dalton had made on the previous day. It was known that President Roosevelt in January 1938 had advocated a world conference on European problems, which was supposed to include both the United States and the Soviet Union. The Labour leaders adopted the world conference slogan and stressed the importance of the voice of the Soviet Union in the councils of Europe. Leslie Burgin, Minister of Transport, spoke on behalf of Chamberlain, and he repeated the argument that a war for the Czechs would have been immoral, unless it could have been shown that it was possible to restore the Czech state in its entirety after the war. It is astonishing that these same people accepted war on behalf of Poland without a murmur, when it was obvious after August 22, 1939, that the Soviet Union was hostile to Poland, and that Great Britain had no intention of opposing Russia. It should have been apparent to anyone that the defeat of Germany would not enable the British to restore the new Polish state. In reality, the British leaders were not truly concerned about either the Czechs or the Poles. The same argument about not being able to restore the Czechs was repeated on October 4th by Sir Thomas Inskip, another British Cabinet member. In the following weeks the argument was repeated ad nauseam. It seems impossible that anyone could have forgotten it within the short span of one year. Nevertheless, the deluge of propaganda in England, after March 1939, was so great that it would have been easy to forget the Ten Commandments.

Sir John Simon declared complacently in Commons on October 5, 1938, that history would have to decide whether or not the Munich agreement was the prelude to better times. The debate was entering the third day, and it had already surpassed all other parliamentary debates on British foreign policy since World War I. Simon admitted candidly that article 19 of the League covenant for peaceful territorial revision had always been a dead letter. Eden pursued the tactics of October 3rd, and he inquired of Simon if the Government in the future intended to participate in the settlement of European problems by means of Four Power diplomacy. Simon emphatically denied this, and he intimated that the British leaders hoped that the Soviet Union and the smaller Powers would have more to say in the future. Winston Churchill followed with his long awaited anti-German speech. The other English war enthusiasts hoped that he would make his speech as provocative as possible, and he did not disappoint them. He agreed with his close friend in America, Bernard Baruch, that Hitler should not be allowed to “get away with it.” Churchill claimed that Hitler had extracted British concessions at pistol point, and he loved to use the image of Hitler as a highwayman or a gangster. He hoped to worry Hitler by intimating that he had contacts with an underground movement in Germany. He suggested that a common Anglo-Franco-Soviet front in support of the Czechs would have enabled an opposition movement within Germany to cause trouble for Hitler, and possibly to overthrow him. He used flowery rhetoric to describe the allegedly mournful Czechs slipping away into a darkness comparable to the Black Hole of Calcutta. The speech was couched in elegant phrases dear to the hearts of many of Churchill’s countrymen. The simple and stark purpose of the speech was to foment a war of annihilation against Germany.

Churchill had been excluded from Conservative Governments in England for many years, but he had made countless speeches, and his personal influence remained tremendous. He had propagated the myth that Great Britain was disarmed in 1932, indeed, that she had wrongly practiced a policy of unilateral disarmament in response to the noble sentiment of the League Covenant. In reality, the British military establishment in 1932 was gigantic compared to that of Germany, and much larger than that of the United States. Great Britain had less than one million men in all of her ground forces throughout the Empire, but it had never been traditional British policy to maintain a large standing army. She had the largest navy in the world, despite the Washington conference of 1921-1922 which envisaged eventual British equality with the United States. The maintenance of a navy was no less expensive or militaristic than the upkeep of an army.

Churchill had conducted an uninterrupted campaign of agitation against Germany since March 1933, and he was a veteran in the field. Some of his inaccurate statements about alleged German armaments in this period are contained in his 1948 volume, The Gathering Storm, and in his 1938 book of speeches, When England Slept. Churchill wanted to convince his countrymen that Germany was governed by an insatiable desire for world conquest. In his speech of October 5, 1938, he did more than anyone else to warn Hitler that Germany was in danger of being strangled by a British coalition in the style of 1914. Churchill does not bear direct responsibility for the attack on Germany in 1939, because he was not admitted to the British Cabinet until the die was cast. The crucial decisions on policy were made without his knowledge, and he was frankly amazed when Halifax suddenly shifted to a war policy in March 1939. Churchill was useful to Halifax in building up British prejudice against Germany, but he was a mere instrument, at the most, in the conduct of British policy in 1938 and 1939.

The most convincing speech in defense of the Munich conference was delivered by Rab Butler, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs. Butler held moderate views on international questions, and he admired the diplomacy which had produced the Munich conference. He declared on October 5th that a war to deny self-determination to the Sudeten Germans was unthinkable, and he defended Munich as the only possible solution of a difficult problem. He denied the proposition that Great Britain had departed from democratic principles in seeking an agreement with Germany.

The debate was interrupted but not terminated when Chamberlain proposed a motion on the following day to adjourn until November 1, 1938. Churchill supported the Labour Opposition in opposing the motion, and he delivered a bitter personal attack against Chamberlain. He had refrained from doing this in his major speech on the previous day because he was concentrating his fire against the Germans. The adjournment motion was followed by a vote of confidence. Chamberlain carried the vote, but many of the prominent Conservatives refrained from voting, and of course Labour and the Liberals voted against him. The roster of Conservatives who refused to accept the Munich agreement or vote for Chamberlain is impressive. It included Churchill, Eden, Duff Cooper, Harold Macmillan, Duncan Sandys, Leopold Amery, Harold Nicolson, Roger Keyes, Sidney Herbert, and General Spears. These men comprised about half of the leading figures of the Conservative Party in 1938, and they were well-known to the British public. They were joined by a score of lesser figures in the House of Commons, and they were supported by such prominent peers as Lord Cranborne and Lord Wolmer in the House of Lords. It was recognized that many other members of Parliament refrained from joining them solely because they were concerned about Conservative Party discipline, particularly in case they were men of limited reputation. Chamberlain won the vote of confidence, but it was doubtful if he possessed the confidence of the British Conservative Party.

Chamberlain produced his major rhetorical effort on behalf of Munich just before the vote of confidence on October 6th. He declared that his conscience was clear; he did not regret that Great Britain was not fighting Germany over the Czech issue. He stressed the horrors of modern war as the main justification for any peace policy. Chamberlain suggested that the Czech state might best survive in the future if it became permanently neutral in the Swiss style. He added proudly that new elections at this time would be an unfair advantage for the Government because of the sentiment of the country. Everyone listening knew that the current Conservative majority was unnaturally large because advantage had been taken of the sentiment aroused by the Ethiopian crisis in 1935. Baldwin had given the country the false impression that the Government was prepared to win a great victory for collective security at Ethiopia, and the stirring slogans which followed had rallied the voters.

Chamberlain reverted to his previous, tactic of painting the contemporary situation in somber rather than bright colors. He implied that Europe was gripped by a great crisis despite the Munich conference and the Anglo-German friendship declaration. He warned that elections might impair the unity of the nation at a crucial moment. He added that great efforts would be demanded from the nation in coming weeks because of the expanded armament campaign, and he claimed that it was important to keep differences of opinion about British policy to a minimum. He created the impression, which he had to do under the circumstances, that war was not inevitable. Hitler had accepted the Munich conference because he believed this. Chamberlain declared that war would be inevitable unless some sort of relations were maintained with the “totalitarian states.” He said that there was no reason to suppose that a new war would end the European crisis more successfully than the last war had done. He rejected the idea of the world conference, proposed by Labour, with the argument that it had no prospect of success. He finished his speech by emphasizing Anglo-French unity and the need to increase the production of British arms. The Prime Minister was obviously not optimistic about the prospects for peace.

Chamberlain went much further in this speech in stressing the need for war preparation than can be indicated in a brief summary. He nearly persuaded Anthony Eden and Leopold Amery, who denounced Munich and favored war, to vote for him. Amery and Eden would not have reacted in this manner had the dominant theme been an expression of faith in the continuation of peace.

Control of British Policy by Halifax

One of the most dramatic incidents in England after Munich was the firm bid of Halifax to take the reins of British foreign policy into his own hands, or resign. Halifax permitted Chamberlain to have the lead during the Czech crisis, but he made it clear afterward that the time had come for a change. He wanted sole responsibility, and he did not wish Chamberlain to travel abroad to important conferences again without his Foreign Minister. This situation reached a climax before Chamberlain’s speech on October 6th. Halifax was firmly in control after this date. Halifax, like Eden earlier, had rejected Chamberlain’s policy, but, unlike Eden, Halifax put through his own policy. Chamberlain chose to conform, as illustrated by the following excerpt from his apologetic letter to Halifax of March 11, 1939: “Your rebuke … was fully merited . . . I was horrified at the result of my talk . . . I promise faithfully not to do it again, but to consult you beforehand.”

The roles of Chamberlain and Halifax were reversed. Halifax felt like a mere spectator of events during the Sudeten crisis, and Chamberlain felt the same way after October 6th.

The change of tactics by Halifax, during the months of October and November 1938, offers striking evidence of this. American Ambassador Kennedy had tea with Halifax on October 12th, and he received a complacent picture of the European situation from the British Foreign Secretary. It was evident that Halifax did not wish to create the impression of an abrupt change of course. It should be noted that this tea occurred after the furor created by Hitler’s Saarbruecken speech of October 9th, which had criticized Conservative warmongering tactics against Germany. Halifax admitted to Kennedy that everyone in a position of influence knew that Hitler did not desire war against England. Great Britain intended to increase her air strength, but this did not necessarily mean that she planned to interfere with Hitler on the continent. Halifax told Kennedy that he expected Hitler to make a bid for the annexation of both Danzig and Memel, and he suggested that Great Britain might not intervene if Hitler moved as far as Rumania. He added that Great Britain was seeking to prepare for all eventualities by improving her relations with the Soviet Union.

Halifax discussed the same European situation with Kennedy again on October 28th. The only new development in the interim was the German offer to Poland, and Halifax himself had predicted on October 12th that Hitler would seek to acquire Danzig. Halifax painted a somber picture of Hitler’s attitude toward Great Britain in this second conversation, and he also gave Kennedy a great quantity of unreliable information about Hitler’s alleged attitudes toward a number of current continental problems. A few weeks later he claimed to Kennedy that Hitler was consumed by passionate hatred of England, and that he had a plan to tear the Soviet Union to pieces in the Spring of 1939. The purpose of these deceptive tactics was obvious. Halifax was exercising his diplomatic talents in preparation for a British attack on Germany. He was also indulging in the easy task of adding fuel to the dislike of the American leaders for Germany. World War I had amply vindicated the efficacy of propaganda.

Tory Alarmist Tactics

The speeches which Chamberlain delivered for public consumption during the debate on the Munich conference are important. They show that the British public was not receiving a cheerful picture of the European situation, and that the Anglo-German declaration of friendship received far less emphasis than the need to prepare for war against Germany. These speeches provided no clue to Chamberlain’s real motives in going to Munich. The motive at one moment seemed to be a genuine desire to avert war permanently, and, at another, to postpone war until Great Britain was ready. It is necessary to consider what Chamberlain told his intimate advisers in private conversation. These men learned after Munich that the attempt to come to terms with the dictators was not the primary reason for Chamberlain’s Munich policy. They were told by Chamberlain that two other factors were more important. The most weighty was momentary British unreadiness for a test of arms with Germany. The second consideration was French opposition to a military offensive on behalf of the Czechs. Chamberlain’s attitude would have been different in 1938 if the French had possessed a brilliant offensive strategy to aid the Czechs, and were prepared to use it. It is probable that Chamberlain would have pushed Great Britain into war against Germany had British armaments reached the 1939 level, or had the French pursued a more aggressive policy.

The Conservative leaders delivered two important speeches on British foreign policy between the adjournment of Parliament on October 6th and the reopening of Parliament on November 1, 1938. Sir Samuel Hoare spoke at Clacton-on-Sea on October 20th. His speech explained an elementary fact of great importance. He pointed out that a war against Germany on behalf of the Czechs would have been a preventive war. He reminded his listeners that the verdict of history condemned the doctrine of preventive war. Hoare noted that preventive wars always were great mistakes, and that a nation had no right to appeal to arms except in defense of her own interests. It seems almost incredible, when one reads this speech, to anticipate that Hoare supported a policy of preventive war against Germany a few months later. Hoare reminded his listeners that Hitler had abided by the terms of the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Treaty. Hoare also lauded the British armament campaign, and he promised that no nation which favored peace need fear British arms. It was a promise which received little support from the British record. It was the expression of an ideal which Great Britain had not attained. It was an ideal totally incompatible with the policy of the balance of power.

Halifax spoke at Edinburgh on October 24th. He explained to his listeners that the British leaders were not satisfied with the existing peace because it was an armed peace. He hoped that a peace of understanding could be attained, but it was too early to say how this might be achieved. He was seemingly conciliatory toward Germany, and he described the Anglo-German declaration as an important step toward obviating existing dangers. He then suggested that Czechoslovakia had been saved at Munich, because the Czech state would have been destroyed by war, regardless of the number of Powers participating in war against Germany. Halifax had begun to emphasize the salvation of Czechoslovakia as a principal justification for Munich. This was clever strategy at a time when competent observers were predicting that the Czech state was on the verge of collapse. Halifax was interested in discrediting Munich while appearing to defend it. This was not apparent to all of his listeners, and the speech was well-received in Scotland, where there was much less dissatisfaction with the Munich agreement than in England.

The debate about Munich was resumed in Parliament on November 1,1938, when Clement Attlee delivered another speech which described the Munich agreement as a tremendous British defeat. Chamberlain replied with a prepared speech. He added a few objections to Attlee’s remarks, but he concentrated his principal fire on Lloyd George. The unpredictable Welshman, who later advocated peace with Germany after the defeat of Poland in 1939, had delivered an inflammatory speech against Chamberlain to the American radio audience on October 27, 1938. Chamberlain denounced this speech with great bitterness, and he accused Lloyd George of performing a disservice to the country by claiming that the British Empire was in a condition of decline under Chamberlain’s leadership. The debate on Munich continued with sound and fury, and it was not terminated until the following day. Chamberlain at that time won an important parliamentary victory when the April 1938 Anglo-Italian agreement was ratified by an overwhelming vote.

The furor about the Munich agreement might have subsided in the following months had not the Conservative leaders contrived by various means to keep the public in a state of alarm about Germany. A few of the more important instances will illustrate this problem. Earl De la Warr, Education Minister in the Chamberlain Cabinet, insisted in a speech at Bradford on December 4, 1938, that the feeling was prevalent in Great Britain that nothing could ever be done to satisfy Germany. This was a propaganda trick designed to create the very opinion which he claimed existed. It was tantamount to saying that the appeasement policy which culminated at Munich was a farce. Prime Minister Chamberlain pointedly declared in the House of Commons on December 7th that he did not disagree with the inspired remarks of his Minister. On December 13th he delivered a speech stressing the importance of his coming visit to Italy, and praising the increased tempo of the armament campaign and the support which it enjoyed.

Sir Auckland Geddes, the Administrator of the British National Service Act, predicted in a speech on January 17, 1939, that the British people would be in the front line of a coming war, and he explicitly urged them to hoard food supplies in anticipation of this eventuality. This horrendous suggestion produced great public alarm. Geddes added that the British Air Force would take a heavy toll of the invading bombers which he had conjured with frightening clarity, and he urged the British people to show the world that they did not fear war.

The most provocative of these speeches was delivered on January 23, 1939, by Chamberlain himself. Chamberlain urged public support of the national service program, “which will make us ready for war.” He denied that Great Britain ever would begin a war, but his next statement demolished whatever assurance one might have deduced from this announcement. He warned that Great Britain might participate in a war begun by others. This was a different situation than responding to an attack on Great Britain or on British interests. Chamberlain was embracing the doctrine of preventive war which had been denounced publicly by Hoare three months earlier. That the British leaders were not at all accurate in their estimates of the respective strength of such Powers as Germany or the Soviet Union illustrated the supremacy of the balance of power policy. It was an evil omen for the future.

Tory Confidence in War Preparations

The alarmist public utterances of the British leaders, when Hitler had done nothing contrary to the AngloGerman declaration or the Munich agreement, were mild compared to statements made through the channels of secret diplomacy. The January 1939 visit of Halifax and Chamberlain to Rome offered eloquent testimony of hostile British intentions toward Germany. The British leaders were in excellent spirits because of the unexpected successes of the aerial armament campaign after the Munich conference. The production of British fighter aircraft was 25% beyond the figure which had been predicted at the time of Munich in the early autumn of 1938.

The American expert Charles Lindbergh, who lived in England, made a considerable impression on the English leaders before Munich with his report on German air power. Lindbergh praised the quality of German aerial armament in the strongest terms which the facts would permit. He was glad to contribute what he could to pointing out the senselessness of a new European war, and he surmised correctly that the British attitude was the key factor in deciding whether or not there would be such a war. He was overjoyed by the news of Munich, and he sincerely hoped that peace had been saved.

Unfortunately, the British leaders realized that the German lead in the air was very narrow in 1938. They were not merely interested in defense against a possible German aerial offensive. They hoped that their own air power would be a decisive offensive instrument in a future war. British aerial strategy since 1936 had been based on the doctrine of mass attacks against objectives far behind the military front. Their strategy contrasted sharply with that of the Germans, who hoped that aerial bombardment would be restricted to frontline military action in the event of war. The difference in strategy was reflected in the types of aircraft produced by the two countries. Germany produced many light and medium bombers for tactical operations in support of ground troops, but the major British emphasis was on the construction of heavy bombers to attack civilian objectives far behind the front. The British Defence Requirements Committee decided as early as February 1934 that “the ultimate potential enemy” in any major war would be Germany.

The British in the Spring of 1938 were hoping to build 8,000 military aircraft in the year beginning April 1939, and this goal was later achieved and surpassed. They had expected to build only 4,000 military aircraft in the year April 1938 to April 1939, but they were far ahead of schedule by January 1939, and their key secret defense weapon, the “radar project,” had made gigantic strides since 1935. The British leaders and experts were concerned about their air defenses, but they had not lost sight of a possible aerial offensive against the civilian population of Germany. The ratio of fighters to bombers in the autumn of 1938 program of Air Minister Sir Kingsley Wood was 1:1.7. The construction of medium bombers had been discontinued, and the emphasis was solely on heavy bombers capable of attacking distant objectives. The British leaders admitted that defensive preparation of British civilian centers to meet German retaliation bombing was “insufficient to dispel anxiety” during the final months before the outbreak of World War II. Nevertheless, they were convinced that they were reasonably secure against successful German retaliation, and hence the strategy for the bombardment of the German civilian masses was developed with single-minded energy.

Mussolini Frightened by Halifax and Chamberlain

It is not surprising that the sudden and unexpected increase in military power made the British leaders more aggressive in attitude, and this was reflected in their conversations with the Italian leaders. It is interesting to compare the British and Italian records of these talks. Two of the principal conversations included Chamberlain, Halifax, Mussolini, and Ciano, one included Halifax and Ciano, and one included Chamberlain and Mussolini. The first conversation of the four leaders took place at Mussolini’s office in the Palazzo Venezia in Rome on the afternoon of January 11, 1939. The British record noted that Mussolini pledged Italy to a policy of peace for internal reasons, and for the general stability of Europe. The Italian leader asserted that a new war could destroy civilization, and he deplored the failure of the Four Munich Powers to cooperate more closely to preserve peace. He reminded Chamberlain and Halifax that he had envisaged close cooperation when he proposed a Four Power Pact of consultation and friendship among Great Britain, France, Italy, and Germany in 1933. He favored the limitation of arms. The Jewish question was discussed, and Mussolini stated his personal opinion that the best solution would be for all Jews to come under the laws of a sovereign Jewish state, although they need not all live there. Mussolini was concerned about the British attitude toward Germany. Chamberlain declared that he had considered the possibility of conversations with the Germans toward the end of 1938, but that he had changed his mind. He claimed that he had reconsidered because he was disappointed in the German attitude.

A conversation took place between Halifax and Ciano on the morning of January 12, 1939, at the office of the Italian Foreign Minister in the Palazzo Chigi. This conversation was devoted entirely to problems connected with the Spanish Civil War. Ciano gave Halifax assurances that Italy intended to withdraw her volunteers from Spain, and that she did not intend to establish military bases in that country.

Mussolini, Ciano, Chamberlain, and Halifax met at the Palazzo Venezia again on the afternoon of January 12, 1939. Franco-Italian relations were on the agenda. The Italian leaders insisted that the mysterious recent demonstrations against France in the Italian Chamber of Deputies on November 30, 1938, were entirely spontaneous. They blamed the French for much of the recent tension between Italy and France, which had culminated in this incident. Chamberlain turned the discussion to Germany. He claimed to be impressed by rumors of sinister German intentions. He had heard that Germany was planning to establish an independent Ukraine, and to attack Great Britain, France, Poland, and the Soviet Union. Mussolini assured the British leaders that German armaments were defensive, and that Hitler had no plans for an independent Ukraine or for attacks on the various countries which Chamberlain had mentioned. He added that Germany desired peace. Chamberlain disagreed. He declared that German arms were more than sufficient to deal with attacks from countries immediately adjacent to Germany, and that hence the Germans must be harboring aggressive plans. He claimed that Great Britain, on the other hand, was merely concerned with defending herself from the German menace. He defended the extremists of the British Conservative Party, and he denied that anyone, including Churchill, advocated a British military offensive against Germany.

The British and Italian leaders agreed that it would be difficult to guarantee the Czechs, and the British mentioned a guarantee formula which the French had previously rejected. This formula stipulated no aid to the Czechs unless three of the Four Munich Powers agreed that aggression had taken place. Mussolini mentioned a series of requirements, including the need for stable conditions within the Czech state, which would have to be met before a guarantee could be considered. The conversation concluded with comments about the British General Election planned for the autumn of 1940 and the Rome International Exposition scheduled for 1942. Mussolini was much concerned about plans for the Rome Exposition, and Chamberlain made the obvious remark that the British would like to participate.

Chamberlain and Mussolini discussed the general situation, following a dinner] 198] at the British Embassy on the evening of Friday, January 13, 1939. Chamberlain told Mussolini that he distrusted Hitler, and that he remained unconvinced by Mussolini’s arguments that the German armament program was defensive in scope. He hoped to make Mussolini uneasy by referring to a rumor that Germany had launched special military preparations in the region near the Italian frontier. He assured Mussolini categorically that Great Britain and France, in contrast to 1938, were now prepared to fight Germany.

The Italian record of these conversations corresponded closely to the British record in the matter of topics, but there were decisive differences of emphasis and factual points. The Italians gave German Ambassador Mackensen a copy of their record of the January 11, 1939, conversation on January 12th, and Mackensen forwarded the information to Hitler at once. Mussolini told the British leaders that the Anglo-Italian pact of April 16, 1938, was an essential factor in the conduct of Italian policy. He said that Italy’s association with Germany in the Axis was also important, but he emphasized that this association was not “of an exclusive nature (di natura esclusiva).” He added that Italy had no direct ambitions (ambizione diretta)” in Spain. Chamberlain thanked Mussolini for his assurance that peace was essential for the consolidation of Italy, and he added that he and Halifax had never doubted the good will of Mussolini. He contrasted his attitudes toward Italy and toward Germany, and he complained that he had seen no signs of German friendship toward Great Britain since Munich.

Mussolini promised that he would make an effort to improve Franco-Italian relations. He hoped that this would be possible after the end of the Spanish war. Chamberlain complained of “feverish armament” in Germany, and alleged German offensive plans. Mussolini, in denying that such plans existed, placed primary emphasis on the point that German defensive requirements should be considered in relation to the Russian armament campaign. It is significant that there is no mention of this point in the British record.

The Red Army had been vastly increased in recent months, and an attempt was underway to replace recently purged Red Army officers with officers from the reserves, and with officers from the training schools in the younger cadres. The incorporation of reserve units in the Red Army in late 1938 had increased the Russian peacetime army to two million men, which was nearly triple the number of peacetime German soldiers. A Supreme War Council directed by Stalin had been created in 1938 to supervise the War Council headed by People’s Commissar of Defense Voroshilov. The Red Army and Red Air Force were under Voroshilov and the Red Fleet was under a separate command. The new Council under Stalin was intended to coordinate the commands in a program of preparation for war. The Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) on the morning of January 11, 1939, demanded the victory of Communism over the entire world. These were public facts available to everyone, but the British leaders preferred to believe that Stalin’s arrest of 20,000 officers had banned the danger of Communism. Their prejudice against Communism prompted them to belittle Soviet power. The British considered Mussolini’s comments about their own complacency toward the Russian threat too insignificant to be included in their record of the conversations at Rome.

The British also neglected another major point made by Mussolini. The Italian leader could understand British concern about rumors suggesting an impending attack on their own country or on neighboring France. He could not appreciate their apparent concern about the welfare of the Soviet leadership. Mussolini denied that Hitler had plans for the dismemberment of Russia, but he could not refrain from commenting that the end of Communism in Russia would be a blessing for the Russian people. This remark did not impress the British leaders. Mussolini swore that he knew with absolute certainty that Hitler had no hostile plans against the West.

Mussolini also was surprised that Chamberlain was predicting trouble between Germany and Poland. He shared the optimism of Hitler that an understanding between Germany and Poland could be attained. Polish Foreign Minister Beck had recently visited Hitler, and the German Foreign Minister was scheduled to visit Beck at Warsaw in a few days. The Italian leader was unaware that Polish Ambassador Raczynski in London had requested British support against Germany in December 1938, or that Halifax had expressed a desire to support Poland at Danzig as early as September 1938. Mussolini warned Chamberlain not to be influenced by anti-National Socialist propaganda. Chamberlain stridently denied Mussolini’s claims about German defensive needs, and he insisted that Russia did not have the strength to be a menace to anyone. One is reminded here of the statement of Anthony Eden in March 1935 that the Soviet Union would not be in a position to wage a war of aggression for fifty years. Mussolini was amazed by Chamberlain’s remark, and he repeated that Germany had good reason to fear a hostile coalition of overwhelming strength.

The Italian leader used every possible argument to cope with Chamberlain’s anti-German phobia. He cited the Siegfried line, along the German frontier with France and Belgium, as an indication of the defensive nature of German armament. Chamberlain insisted that German armament was far too impressive, and he suggested that Hitler should speak publicly of his desire for peace, if he was truly peaceful. This suggestion astonished Mussolini, and he inquired if Chamberlain was unaware of Hitler’s New Year Declaration of January 1, 1939, in which the German leader had professed a fervent desire for the perpetuation of European peace. Mussolini repeated that the current scope of German armament was fully justified by the existing situation. He wished to be helpful in allaying Chamberlain’s alleged fear of German intentions. He was willing to cooperate with Chamberlain in organizing a conference for qualitative disarmament as soon as the war in Spain had ended. Chamberlain displayed no interest in this proposal.

Mussolini referred to the inner instability of the Czech state, the failure of the Czechs to dissolve their ties with Russia or to adopt a policy of neutrality, and the fact that the new Czech borders in many directions had not received their final definition on the ground by international border commissions. The Italian record was emphatic in stating that Chamberlain agreed with Mussolini’s remarks about the Czechs.

The Italian record also shows that Mussolini was disappointed by Chamberlain’s attitude. The visit was successful from the British perspective, but unsuccessful from the Italian standpoint. The British leaders had hoped to intimidate Mussolini, and to discourage him from supporting Hitler if and when war came. They were successful in this effort, although this diplomatic success was cancelled in 1940 because of the unexpected fall of France. The Italians, on the other hand, had hoped that their assurances would prompt the British to adopt a more tolerant attitude toward Germany and a more cooperative policy toward the settlement of current European problems. They were fully disappointed in this expectation. It was evident that British hostility toward Germany was implacable.

Mussolini discussed the situation with German Ambassador Mackensen at the British Embassy reception on the evening of January 13, 1939. He said that the results of the visit were meager, and he complained that the British had made him feel like a lawyer in one of their courts when he had attempted to explain German armaments and German foreign policy. He left no doubt in Mackensen’s mind that the British leaders were ready to find Germany guilty of every crime.

The Germans received further information about the Rome visit from Italian Ambassador Attolico in Berlin on January 17, 1939. This included an excellent condensed summary of the conversation of January 11, 1939. It was followed by a report from Mackensen, which contained an account of the conversation of Chamberlain, Halifax, Mussolini, and Ciano on January 12, 1939. The Germans learned that their armament program provided the main topic of discussion. Mackensen also discovered that Chamberlain had been clever in making table-talk propaganda with Mussolini. Chamberlain referred to Italy and Great Britain as imperial Powers, with colonies overseas, in contrast to Germany, a mere continental nation. This was satisfactory to Hitler, who had no desire to hoist the German flag in distant parts.

It was evident to Mussolini that Germany was threatened by a possible British attack. The British leaders were in full motion against Germany many weeks before their public switch in policy after the German occupation of Prague in March 1939. It is for this reason that the Rome conversations stand out so sharply in the diplomatic history of 1939. Mussolini knew that war would be a disaster, and he hoped that Hitler would be able to avoid it. He made it clear to the Germans that his efforts to allay British prejudice against them had failed. He hoped to play a constructive role in helping to avoid an unnecessary war, but he recognized that his first obligation to his own people was to keep Italy out, of a disastrous Anglo-German conflict. It was for this reason that he had been careful not to offend his British guests, and he explained this to the Germans. The suggestion of Churchill that Mussolini was contemptuous of British military strength at this time was inaccurate. Mussolini was sufficiently wise to fear British military power and to recognize the vulnerable position of his own country. Mussolini’s decision for war against Great Britain in June 1940 does not alter this fact. He resisted pressure to enter the war during its early months despite a British blockade on Italian trade. The German victories over Great Britain in Norway and France in 1940 altered the situation, and Mussolini entered a war which he believed was nearly finished in order to give his country a voice at the peace conference. He never would have taken this action had it not been for the amazing German victories of 1940 over superior Allied Forces.

Hitler’s Continued Optimism

The tragedy which overtook Italy in World War II indicates that Mussolini’s alarm at British hostility toward Germany in January 1939 was amply justified. There had been no German moves since Munich. Nevertheless, the same British Prime Minister who had persuaded Hitler to sign the declaration of Anglo-German friendship on September 30, 1938, was branding Germany an aggressor nation in January 1939. His assurance that Great Britain was ready for war with Germany indicated that he envisaged the likelihood of a conflict, and his defense of Churchill’s attitude toward Germany was ominous.

Cohn Brooks was one of the leading British writers of the 1930’s who advocated huge British armaments. He explained in his persuasive book, Can Chamberlain Save Britain? The Lesson of Munich, which was written in October 1938, that “the Four Power Conference of Munich in September 1938 gave to the world either an uneasy postponement of conflict or the promise of a lasting peace.’ This was true, but the promise of lasting peace was undermined by the attitude of the British leaders toward Germany. Brooks was an alarmist. He claimed that Great Britain was in peril because the balance of power was threatened. He called on British youth to be equal to the British imperialistic tradition, and not to be further influenced in their attitudes by the unusually heavy losses suffered by Great Britain in World War I. He reminded his readers that Great Britain had spent 102 years fighting major wars during the past 236 years since 1702, and that the had fought many minor wars during the otherwise peaceful intervals. He recognized that Great Britain had a record of aggressive military action unequalled by any other Power in modern times. He wished British youth to recognize this obvious fact, and to prepare for the new struggle against Germany. He was one of the best examples of the militant England of 1938 which Martin Gilbert and Rich Gott were still seeking to justify with reckless abandon in their chronicle, The Appeasers, some twenty-five years later. Karl Heinz Pfeffer, a cosmopolitan German expert on British and American attitudes, attempted in a 1940 book, England: Vormacht der buergerlichen Welt (England: Guardian of the bourgeois World), to explain British hostility toward Germany during this period. He noted that the alleged British disarmament between World War I and World War II was a myth, but that the British public had been deluged with the peace propaganda of private groups late in 1931, on the eve of the much-heralded general disarmament conference of February 1932. French obstruction wrecked the conference, and Great Britain began to search for justification for an increase in her already considerable armament. Propaganda was needed to overcome the popular longing for peace. The experience of World War I suggested the answer, and this partially explained the initial hate campaign against Germany in the period 1932-1938.

Pfeffer emphasized that German power did not grow at British expense during this period. He expressed the devout wish that the German people would never again accept British claims about the alleged sins of German leaders, and hoped that German experience in the recent Pax Britannica would discourage this tendency, which had undermined German morale in 1918. The German middle class had been ruined by inflation during the interwar British peace, the German farmer class had been brought to the brink of destruction, and the German workers had been exposed to the threat of total unemployment.

Pfeffer wished that the German people would never forget that the contemporary British leaders did not have the correct answers to the problems of the world. Awareness of these facts contributed to the excellent morale which was maintained by the vast majority of the German population throughout World War II. Hitler had been warned by Mussolini. Ribbentrop’s prediction of January 2, 1938, that it would be impossible for Germany to arrive at a lasting agreement with England, before Hitler had completed his program of peaceful revision, had received new confirmation. Hitler hoped that he could complete his program before the British were ready to attack Germany, and that he could persuade them afterward to accept the new situation. This had been the sole answer to the dilemma of British hostility in the age of Bismarck. It offered a fair prospect of success, but a policy of drift offered none at all.

Germany was the major Power in the European region between Great Britain in the West and the Soviet Union in the East. British hostility was reaching a crest, and the alternatives were peace or war. Hitler was in the middle of the stream. He was determined to reach the high bank. He wished to rescue Germany from the swampland of insecurity, decline, and despair. He wished Germany to have the national security and the opportunity for development which had been the heritage of Great Britain and the United States for many generations. He hoped to bring Germany out of danger, and to reach solid ground which was safe from any hostile British tide. He believed that this objective could be attained without harming Great Britain or the United States in any way.

Hitler looked forward to an era of Anglo-American-German cooperation. This would have been the best possible guarantee of stability and peace in the world. There was good reason to believe in January 1939 that this objective could be achieved, although the perils which faced Germany were very great. The worst of these was British hostility after Munich.

Chapter 9 • Franco-German Relations After Munich • 12,200 Words
France an Obstacle to British War Plans — Franco-German Relations After Munich — The Popularity of the Munich Agreement in France — The Popular Front Crisis a Lesson for France — The 1935 Laval Policy Undermined by Vansittart — The Preponderant Position of France Wrecked by Leon Blum — The Daladier Government and the Czech Crisis — The Franco-German Friendship Pact of December 1938 — The Flexible French Attitude After Munich

France an Obstacle to British War Plans

The belligerent attitude of the British leaders by January 1939, and the unwillingness of the Poles to settle their differences with Germany, might seem to imply that World War II was inevitable by that time. Many people in the Western world accepted the contention of Halifax and other British leaders after World War II that an Anglo-German war has been inevitable after the German military reoccupation of the Rhineland in March 1936. There were some who said that Hitler’s program might have been stopped without war as late as Munich in September 1938, but that this was the last possible moment when the otherwise inevitable catastrophe might have been avoided. These opinions were predicated on the hypothesis that Hitler started World War II. They ignored the fact that World War II resulted from the British attack on Germany in September 1939. The British Defence Requirements Committee branded Germany “the ultimate potential enemy” as early as November 14, 1933, because they considered it likely that Great Britain would eventually intervene in some quarrel between Germany and one of her continental neighbors. The British leaders themselves did not believe that Hitler intended to attack their country.

Hence, it might be concluded that British hostility toward Germany after Munich, and German-Polish friction in 1938 and 1939, made World War II inevitable. The British leaders were planning an attack on Germany, and a German conflict with a continental neighbor such as Poland would provide the pretext for such an attack. There was no indication that Hitler was about to present more drastic demands to the Poles after they failed to respond to his offer of October 1938, but it would be a simple matter for the British leaders to advise the Poles to provoke Hitler, when British war preparations were deemed sufficient. European history offered many examples of similar policies. British Ambassador Buchanan at St. Petersburg in July 1914 urged the Russians to provoke Germany by ordering a Russian general mobilization against her.

Franco-German Relations After Munich

This step encouraged Great Britain to intervene against Germany in a continental war. Napoleon III advised Sardinian Premier Cavour at Plombieres in 1858 to foment a war against Austria, and this step enabled the French to attack the Austrians in the Italian peninsula in 1859. This style of diplomacy was familiar to the British leaders of 1939, and they were sufficiently imaginative and unscrupulous to resort to it in achieving their goal.

The plain truth, however, is that the British had to work very hard until the evening of September 2, 1939, to achieve the outbreak of World War II. The issue was in no sense decided before that time, and there was no justification for the later fatalism which suggested that World War II was inevitable after 1936 or 1938. This fact should eliminate every element of anti-climax in the story of events which preceded September 1939. The fundamental issue of war or peace for Europe remained undecided until the last moment. This would not have been true had Poland been the sole factor in preparing the stage for the British assault. It was true because the British leaders had decided that the participation of France as their ally was the conditio sine qua non for the launching of British hostilities against Germany. The French leaders, unlike Halifax, were increasingly critical of the alleged wisdom of a preventive war against Germany. It became evident as time went on that they might call a halt to the British plan of aggression by refusing to support any such scheme. It became clear that the British would have to work hard to push France into war; and there was good reason to hope that this British effort would fail. The leaders of France were eventually regarded in both Italy and Germany as the principal hope for peace.

These circumstances illuminate the key role of France in Europe after the Munich conference. There was a strange and ironical reversal of roles. The French leaders in the past had solicited British support for action in one situation or another, and they had usually been turned down. The British leaders began to press for action against Germany after the Munich conference, and the French, who were inclined to adopt a passive policy, occupied the former British position of deciding whether or not to grant support. The French had considered British support essential in the past, and now the British regarded French support as indispensable.

The difficulty was that the French were habitually inclined to follow the British lead, and a tremendous effort of will was required to deny the importunity of British demands. Furthermore, the British situation was uniquely favorable compared to that of France. The United States and Germany were both intent on establishing intimate and friendly relations with Great Britain. The two countries were also friendly toward France after 1936, but it was obvious that Great Britain occupied the primary place in their consideration. This was not off-set by the French alliance with the Soviet Union, which desired to embroil France and Germany in a war. Lazar Kaganovich, the Soviet Politburo leader and brother-in-law of Stalin, announced in Izvestia (The News) on January 27, 1934, that a new Franco-German war would promote the interests of the Soviet Union.

The strategy of encouraging a Franco-German war while the Soviet Union remained neutral continued to be the principal feature of Soviet foreign policy. The French leaders faced the combined threats of isolation and British resentment if they failed to do the bidding of Chamberlain and Halifax. It was evident that it would not be easy for France to pursue an independent policy while British pressure was exerted upon her. Nevertheless, the British recognized that Georges Bonnet, the French Foreign Minister after April 1938, was an extremely capable man. They could never assume that France would accept the role of puppet while he was at the Quai d’Orsay.

The Popularity of the Munich Agreement in France

The reception of the Munich agreement in France was very different from that in Great Britain, apart from the initial demonstrations of popular enthusiasm for Daladier and Chamberlain when the two leaders returned from Munich by air to their respective countries. The Munich agreement was received with enthusiasm by the French Parliament on October 4, 1938. The vote of approval for Munich in the French Chamber was an overwhelming 535-75. Premier Daladier delivered a moderate speech in which he stressed that there was hope for peace in Europe again, but that peace was not secure. The discussion of recent French diplomacy was extremely brief. A desire to spoil the atmosphere created at Munich by a protracted controversy, of the type which was raging in England, was conspicuously lacking. There were 73 Communists in the French Chamber of 1938, and 72 were present to vote against the Munich agreement. Only three deputies from other Parties joined the Communists in this vote, and Léon Blum, the leader of the Socialists, was not among them. The triumph of Daladier was complete. It is ironical that Daladier was much more worried than Chamberlain about the reception he would receive at home. The event proved that Munich was politically far more popular in France than in England. Georges Bonnet correctly interpreted this situation as a mandate to conclude a friendship agreement with Germany, and he had the full support of the French Ambassador in Berlin, François-Poncet, who had great influence with French business and industry, in the negotiations which followed.

The Popular Front Crisis a Lesson for France

It was fortunate for France that she had a stable Government at last. The Daladier Government, which was appointed in April 1938, had no difficulty in maintaining its position during the remaining months of peace in Europe before the outbreak of World War II. It seemed that the crisis which began with the Stavisky affair and the riots against the French Government in February 1934 was over at last. Furthermore, France began to make rapid strides after November 1938 to terminate the depression which had plagued the country throughout this period. It seemed that more than four years of instability and confusion had prepared the country to accept a greater amount of discipline. It also appeared that France was inclined to draw important conclusions about her foreign policy from the events of this period.

France was the dominant continental Power when the 1934-1938 domestic crisis began. Nevertheless, her position was weakened by the depression and the instability of her Government. Unemployment had increased from 500,000 in 1931 to 1,300,000 at the end of 1933. This was a huge figure for France, which had a much smaller industrial population than Great Britain or Germany, and it did not include partial or seasonal unemployment. In the meantime, a dangerous attitude of complacency, which blocked reforms, was created by the fact that there was a deflation in which prices were falling faster than salaries. The Government had had a deficit budget since 1931, and several plans to increase production and employment by means of public works were defeated. The Government in November 1933 revived the National Lottery, an expedient of the old monarchy, in an endeavor to improve its financial position.

The Left Parties seized upon an old slogan of Joseph Cailaux, the father of the French income tax, that a point arrives where taxes devour taxes. This was true, but the Left used this as a pretext to oppose any increases in direct taxes to cope with the growing deficit. The Government responded by seeking to reduce public expenditure, but to no avail. The Cabinets of Joseph Paul-Boncour, Edouard Daladier, and Albert Sarraut were overthrown on this issue in 1933. Georges Bonnet was Finance Minister in the Sarraut Government, and he employed every possible tactic to gain the support which his predecessors had lacked. Nevertheless, the Chamber rejected his program in November 1933 by a vote of 321.247.

Camille Chautemps formed a Government on November 26, 1933, but the repercussions of the Stavisky affair forced him to resign on short notice in January 1934. A number of paramilitary organizations reflected the dissatisfaction of France at this time. These included the dissatisfied peasants in the Front Paysan of Dorgéres, the royalist Camelots du Roi, and the Croix de Feu veteran organization directed by the World War I hero, Colonel de la Rocque. There were also two tiny militant organizations, the Solidarité française of Jean Renaud, and the Francisme of Marcel Bucard, which believed that current German and Italian methods should be employed to end the crisis in France. The Communists exploited the existence of these groups to claim that France was in danger of a Fascist revolution. The Communist Party was growing rapidly at this time. The Socialist Party had split in May 1933 when young Marcel De’at and his friends rejected the leadership of Léon Blum and formed the Neosocialists. The Communists gained from the confusion in Socialist ranks and won many converts from both the workers and the bourgeoisie. The prestige of Communism was served by the adherence of leading intellectuals, such as Ramon Fernandez and André Gide, and the growth of the movement created genuine alarm in other sections of the population. The atmosphere in France, and especially at Paris, was charged with tension. Many people were still complacent, but the Stavisky affair, which produced a major eruption of violence, shattered this complacency.

Alexander Stavisky was a reckless criminal, currently conducting a fantastic embezzlement operation at the expense of the municipal credit systems of the cities of Orleans and Bayonne. At Bayonne alone he had seized 300,000,000 francs by the time his operation was exposed by M. de la Baume of the commercial section at the Quai d’Orsay in January 1934. The public was furious at the criminal temerity of yet another Jewish immigrant, not having forgotten the recent Oustric and Hanau scandals. Pressard, the brother-in-law of Premier Chautemps, had aided Stavisky in the issuance of fraudulent remissions, and the brother of the Premier was one of Stavisky’s lawyers. Several leaders of the Radical Socialists, the party of Chautemps, were implicated, and one of them, Albert Dalimier, was obliged to resign from the Cabinet at once. Joseph PaulBoncour was implicated because of his relations with Arlette Simon, the mistress of Stavisky. The public was denied the balm of a trial of the chief culprit. Stavisky fled eastward, and he was found dead near Chamonix with a bullet in his head. The veteran French statesman, André Tardieu, fanned the suspicion that Stavisky had been slain by the police, when he declared that he had at least been able to arrest Oustric and Hanau alive. This bitter jest of a statesman on the Right was echoed by André Botta from the Left. Botta explained to the readers of Le Populaire, the principal Socialist newspaper, that the police had neglected several opportunities to take Stavisky alive before he fled from Paris. This was no ordinary scandal, and it was evident that a crisis of major proportions was brewing.

It seemed that nearly everyone of importance in French public life had been involved with Stavisky in some way, although this did not necessarily imply a criminal association. Philippe Henriot, a Deputy of the Right, led a passionate attack against the Center Government and the contemporary parliamentary regime in the French Chamber. He received enthusiastic support from Le Jour, La Victoire, La Liberté and l’Action Francaise, the principal newspapers of the Right. The Government responded by resigning on January 29, 1934, following a violent demonstration of 100,000 Parisians. There was a superficial shuffling of ministers, and Edouard Daladier replaced his friend Chautemps as Premier. The new Cabinet was appointed on January 30, 1934. One of its first steps was to retaliate against the Right by removing Chiappe, the Paris Chief Prefect of Police, and by transferring him to Morocco. Chiappe had known Stavisky and he was a leading figure of the Right. He held a key position at Paris. He had feared removal by a Center or Left Government since the election victory of the Left in 1932. He refused to accept the decision of the Daladier Government in 1934, and he had the support of the Paris municipal council. The Right had accepted the challenge of the Government, and the climax of the crisis had arrived.

The Right staged a major demonstration against the Government and in support of Chiappe on February 6, 1934. The demonstrators intended nothing less than the occupation of the Palais-Bourbon where the Chamber met. It was believed that the dispersal of the deputies of the Left election victory of 1932 would clear the way for the appointment of a Government of the Right, which would conduct a major program of reforms. Everything depended on a successful demonstration at the Palais-Bourbon. Thousands of Parisians who had no political connection with the Right participated in the demonstration and shouted the slogan: “Down with the thieves!” The Paris municipal council marched at the head of the demonstration. The regular police organization was loyal to Chiappe, but the Government controlled important reserves. The main question was whether or not the Government would be willing to inflict heavy casualties on the demonstrators. Daladier was reluctant to make this decision, and he resigned on the following day. Edouard Herriot, another Radical Socialist leader, and French President Albert Lebrun did not hesitate. They persuaded Daladier to order the Paris Mobile Guard to protect the Chamber by attacking the demonstrators. The Chamber was in session and the demonstrators were at the portals when the Mobile Guard attack took place at 7:00 p.m. An attempt was made to keep fatalities at a minimum, and it was surprising in view of the scope of the attack that only twenty demonstrators were killed. Many hundreds of Parisians were severely wounded in the debacle. The Communist newspaper, l’Humanité adopted the same line as the Right press on February 7, 1934, when it condemned the Government for attacking the people. This was merely part of the Communist campaign to discredit both the Government and the demonstrators. The defeat of the demonstration of February 6, 1934, played directly into the hands of the Communists. It marked an important turning point in French policy both at home and abroad.

The 1934-1938 crisis in France was the crisis of the Popular Front. The Popular Front was made possible by the Stavisky affair. The Center and Right were discredited. The propaganda about fascism and insurrectionary plots became increasingly effective as time went on. The Communists were permitted by Stalin to adapt their tactics to this new situation. The Communists suddenly appeared in the guise of the Party of sweetness and light, which demanded nothing for itself and merely wished to align with other “democratic” groups to protect the existing order against the fascist wolves. The Socialist Party under the leadership of Leon Blum was not adverse to a close alliance with the Communists. It was believed that such an alliance would enable the Socialist Party to maintain its hold over its more radical following. Edouard Herriot, the Radical Socialist mayor of Lyons, had long relied on Communist support to maintain his hold over the metropolis of the Rhone. Blum, who preferred Herriot to Daladier, argued persuasively that the Radical Socialist Party, which held the proud reputation of providing most of the leaders of the Third Republic, could best recover its prestige and position by forming a coalition with Socialism and Communism. The desperate situation of the Radical Party promoted the majority of its leaders, by 1935, to accept this experiment, and Daladier was extremely clever in seizing the initiative in this movement from his rival, Herriot. The Popular Front Government under the leadership of Lion Blum did not achieve power until the overwhelming Left election victory of May 1936. Nevertheless, the Popular Front movement received its impetus from the events of February 1934, and it was the dominant trend in French public life from that time.

Edouard Daladier and Edouard Herriot were the principal leaders of the Radical Socialist Party during this period. They had entirely different attitudes toward the Popular Front experiment. Herriot was sincerely pro-Communist, and he also favored the closest possible alliance between France and the Soviet Union. Daladier was much less enthusiastic about the Soviet Union, and he distrusted the French Communists and the Popular Front experiment, which he accepted for tactical reasons. Nevertheless, Herriot represented the Right within the Radical Socialist Party, and Daladier represented the Left. The Party was remarkably flexible in matters of dogma.

The French Government press favored the Popular Front movement by claiming immediately after February 6, 1934, that it had been saved from a fascist revolution. Gaston Doumergue, a former French President who was in retirement at Toulouse, was called upon to form an emergency Government. Louis Barthou, whose policy gave the coup de grace to the international disarmament conference in April 1934, was appointed Foreign Minister. The new Government included Neo-socialists, but no Socialists, and it was opposed by both Socialists and Communists as an instrument of the “fascist revolutionaries” in countless demonstrations. Conditions in France remained chaotic. Eight persons were killed and three hundred were wounded in a Communist demonstrations on February 9, 1934. The first Popular Front gesture was a call for a general strike on February 12, 1934, by a committee which included the Communist, Jacques Doriot, the Radical Socialist, Gaston Bergery, and the Socialist, Georges Monnet. The action was disavowed, and Doriot and Bergery resigned from their respective Parties, but it was a portent of things to come.

The Doumergue Government fell before the end of 1934, following the scandal which accompanied the assassinations of King Alexander of Yugoslavia and French Foreign Minister Barthou at Marseilles. The customary police protective measures, which ordinarily accompany the visit of a foreign chief of state, had been conspicuously lacking. The retirement of Albert Sarraut, Minister of Interior, and Henry Chiran, Minister of Justice, failed to appease the critics, and the Government was brought down. Louis Barthou died of his wounds on October 15, 1934, and Raymond Poincaré, the elder statesman who had been his closest friend, died on the following day. The Socialists were restrained in their mourning for the passing of the two statesmen of the Right. Léon Blum wrote an article which explained why Poincaré, despite his fame, had not been a great man.

Louis Barthou had adopted a militantly hostile policy toward Germany during the short time that he was at the Quai d’Orsay. Barthou had been a member of the group of French bellicistes before 1914, who had silently and methodically prepared a war of revenge against Germany for 1870, and his attitude toward William II, Stresemann, and Hitler was the same. He claimed that he intended to frustrate the “congenital megalomania” of Germany. He advocated a series of “eastern Locarno” pacts with Italy, the Little Entente, and the Soviet Union, in an effort to keep the Germans pinned permanently within their existing frontiers. On April 20, 1934, he departed for Warsaw and a grand tour of the eastern capitals. He was particularly worried about Polish policy toward Germany and the Czechs, and he received scant solace in Warsaw. He knew that Foreign Minister Sir John Simon in Great Britain opposed his alliance policy. Barthou decided that the time had come to award the Soviet Union a more prominent place in European affairs.

The first step was to bring the Soviet Union into the League of Nations. The Swiss, Dutch, and Portuguese delegates at Geneva delivered valiant speeches against this step, but Barthou replied that the Soviet Union would rejuvenate the League of Nations. Barthou also sought to improve relations with Italy, and to tighten relations among Czechoslovakia, Rumania, and Yugoslavia. His major move was to prepare the foundation for the Franco-Soviet alliance which was concluded in 1935. A French commitment to conclude this pact was made by Barthou before his death at Marseilles.

The 1935 Laval Policy Undermined by Vansittart

The year 1935 in France was dominated by the valiant effort of Pierre Laval to conduct a sensible French policy despite the rising threat of the Popular Front. He almost succeeded, but this did not reduce the repercussions when he failed. The failure of the Laval policy and the triumph of the Popular Front was disastrous for the position of France in Europe.

Pierre Laval was one of the most realistic French statesmen of all time. Like Briand and Caillaux, he advocated the Franco-German reconciliation embodied later in the policy of Charles de Gaulle and the French Fifth Republic. He was a man of courage, and his efforts to help France in the adverse circumstances following her military defeat in 1940 knew no limits. His execution in 1945, when the Communist tide was running high in France, was the worst of the many judicial crimes of that era. His influence on French politics from 1936 to 1940, following the overthrow of his Government in January 1936, was slight. Nevertheless, he used what influence he possessed in 1938 and 1939 to prevent France from joining Great Britain in an attack upon Germany. He had no dealings during those years with either official or private personages from Germany. Laval was especially important because of his influence on Georges Bonnet in the struggle to keep the peace.

Swarthy Pierre Laval came from Auvergne peasant stock, and he was said to have inherited Arab blood from his maternal line. He looked more like a Mongol, but he had the faculty to make a political asset of his distinctive and unusual appearance. He was not an eloquent speaker, but he was extremely intent upon being understood, and for this reason he became a master at communicating his ideas. He was never at a loss for a reply. He was a Socialist from 1903 to 1920, and afterward he was an independent. He was once asked during the early period whether he chose the red flag or the tricolor, and he replied, “I choose both.” Auguste Blanqui, the great French independent theoretician of the 19th century, was the father of his socialism rather than Karl Marx or Léon Blum. When he was chided after 1920 for having no Party affiliation, Laval replied, “Isolation is a weakness, but independence is a force.”

Laval was held in high esteem by many of the leading Frenchmen of his day. He was the favorite of Aristide Briand, the eminent French diplomat who advocated a sincere policy of appeasement toward Germany until his death in 1932. He was especially close to Joseph Caillaux, the French financial genius, the leading figure in the French Senate and a courageous fighter for peace. During the 1930’s, Laval also established close relations with André Tardieu, who, along with Caillaux, was one of the two principal French elder statesmen after the death of Poincaré. He failed to establish a close basis of cooperation with Pierre-Etienne Flandin despite a similarity of views, and this was a handicap in the political careers of both men.

Laval was eleven times a Cabinet Minister, and four times a Premier of France before the outbreak of World War II. He moved from the Chamber of Deputies to the Senate at the age of 41 in 1927. He was mayor of the Paris suburb of d’Aubervillers continuously for more than 20 years after 1923, and it was customary for him to be in the city hall office at least twice a week even when he was Premier. He earned up to 120,000 francs a year as a lawyer in the period from 1919-1927. He invested his money wisely in newspaper and radio stock, and he bought several valuable pieces of property. He was never immensely wealthy, and the Court which convicted him in 1945 was informed by financial experts of the perfect regularity and honesty of his financial operations.

Laval was appointed Foreign Minister in the Flandin Government of November 13, 1934, and he continued to conduct French foreign policy when he formed his own Government on June 7, 1935. He had an extremely clear conception of foreign policy. He recognized that either there would be a Franco-German entente or a catastrophe in Europe. He naturally wished France to negotiate an entente with Germany from a position of superior strength, but he did not fall into a rage and vow that the Germans should be destroyed, when France lost that position through no fault of his own. Laval recognized that Germany was intrinsically far more powerful than France, and that French supremacy depended upon the maintenance of an alliance system. Laval did not wish to alienate the Soviet Union by disavowing the alliance commitment which Barthou had made, but he hoped to keep the Soviet Union at a distance and to emasculate any Franco-Soviet alliance, just as Joseph Paul-Boncour had emasculated the Four Power Pact of Mussolini in 1933. Laval was mainly intent on consolidating French relations with Great Britain and Italy, and he recognized that a too close association with the Soviet Union might wreck that policy. He was also aware of the treacherous and disloyal foreign policy of the Soviet Union.

Laval recognized the importance of the Italian position with perfect clarity. Italy was the one nation which could be relied upon to frustrate German aspirations in Austria. Laval recognized that the 1919 peace treaties contained many injustices toward Germany, but he was a conservative in foreign policy, and he feared that a successful German program of territorial revision would upset the European equilibrium and lead to disaster. Mussolini had delivered a speech at Milan on October 6, 1934, three days before the Croatian terrorists attacked Alexander and Barthou at Marseilles. The speech had been largely overlooked in the ensuing excitement, but Laval had not forgotten it. Mussolini had advocated the establishment of a Franco-Italian entente. Laval knew that Barthou had plans for the conclusion of an alliance with Italy. The rapprochement with Italy became the main feature of Laval’s policy. It is easy to see in retrospect that Franco-Italian relations were the crucial European issue in 1935. The Popular Front in France hoped to frustrate Franco-Italian reconciliation.

The difference between the policies of Barthou and of Laval was mainly one of emphasis. They both desired alliances with Italy and the Soviet Union, but Barthou had placed primary emphasis on the Soviet Union, which was a mistake from the French standpoint, and Laval correctly placed major emphasis on the alliance with Italy. Barthou wished a preponderant French position form which to humiliate Germany. Laval wished to appease Germany. Barthou advocated a policy of hate, and Laval pursued a policy of peace.

The situation in Italy at this time was extremely favorable for France. Mussolini, like many Italians, had been greatly influenced by French thought, and he wrote that Sorel, Peguy, and Lagardelle were the main influences on his intellectual development. He had advocated Italian participation in World War I as the ally of France in 1914. He delivered a series of pronouncements from the autumn of 1932 until 1935 in favor of a definitive accord between Italy and France. He welcomed the appointment of Senator Henri de Jouvenel as French Ambassador to Rome in December 1932. The common Franco-Italian action against the German-Austrian customs union of 1931 had created a bond between the two countries. Mussolini dreamed of Latin cooperation in the Mediterranean region, and he did not begrudge France her military superiority. He declared without the slightest resentment in January 1935 that France had the finest army in the world.

The French attitude toward Italy was complicated by several factors. The Little Entente of Rumania, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia enjoyed great prestige with the permanent officials at the Quai d’Orsay, and these “succession states” resented the Italian policy of supporting truncated Austria and Hungary. They failed to realize that Austria and Hungary would come under German influence if Italian support was withdrawn, although King Alexander of Yugoslavia had said that he would rather see Italian macaroni than German sausage at Trieste. The French press was widely subsidized by the Czechs, who disbursed huge sums in France during this period. Many journals declared that every attempt to improve Franco-Italian relations was treason to the Little Entente.

Important sections of the press of the French Left believed that insulting Italy was a solemn duty, and they denounced attempts to improve Franco-Italian relations as ideological treason. The Italian press naturally retaliated, and it was difficult to terminate the press war which followed between the two countries. Jouvenel asked his superiors to take the usual measures to restrain the French press, but he received the trite answer that in this case such action would be contrary to “the free expression of opinion.” When he protested the tone of the Italian press at the Palazzo Chigi, he received the obvious reply that the Italians were merely retaliating. The rising tide of the Popular Front in France made the situation more perilous than ever before.

Mussolini’s attitude toward Germany was similar to Laval’s. The Italian leader believed that for reasons of his own prestige he should not permit Hitler to triumph in Austria, but he hoped to establish friendly relations with Germany. He told Jan Szembek in 1933 that he would be willing to mediate between Germany and Poland for an agreement which would give Germany an extra-territorial transit connection with East Prussia, and he noted that Szembek did not seem hostile to the idea. He told Jouvenel that France should exert pressure on Poland, and that Italy should apply pressure on Germany in an attempt to promote a German-Polish agreement. Mussolini often employed a favorite aphorism: “One is not able to make Europe without Germany.” Nevertheless, he hoped to establish closer relations with France than with Germany. Winston Churchill was impressed with Mussolini’s enthusiasm for France, and he had declared as early as 1927 that “I would be a Fascist if I were an Italian.”

Laval visited Rome in January 1935. He actually made the visit which had been planned and scheduled by Barthou. A Franco-Italian accord was concluded at the Palazzo Farnese in Rome on January 6, 1935. The provisions concerning Ethiopia were crucial because of the crisis which had begun with the Ethiopian attack on the Italian post at Wal-Wal, Somaliland, in October 1934. Laval recognized that French acceptance of Italian expansion in East Africa would be valuable in retaining Italian support against Hitler’s aspirations in Austria. The secret clauses of the general agreement provided that France was economically disinterested in Ethiopia, except for the Djibuti-Addis Ababa railroad which France controlled. A declaration of economic disinterest and a free hand had long been identical terms in the settlement of colonial revalry among the imperialist Powers. Mussolini took the initiative for a military entente with France on January 12, 1935, after the departure of Laval, and important conversations followed between General Gamelin and General Badoglio, the French and Italian military leaders. It seemed that Franco-Italian relations had been placed on a solid basis. The difficulty was that the Popular Front and the British leaders might seek to frustrate the realization of Italian aspirations in Ethiopia.

The conversations between Anthony Eden and Mussolini at Rome on June 24-25, 1935, were a bad omen. Italian Foreign Minister Raffaele Guariglia claimed that Mussolini was patient with Eden, but the Italian leader objected to the conclusion of the Anglo-German naval pact of June 18, 1935. This pact was a violation of the Versailles Treaty, and the British had concluded it without consulting Italy and France. Eden was piqued, and he was tactless in his treatment of Mussolini. He had been offended by Mussolini’s speech at Cagliari, Sardinia, on June 8, 1935. The Italian leader had declared that “we imitate to the letter those who gave us the lesson.” The reference to British imperialism was not appreciated by Eden, and the Mussolini-Eden conversations ended on an unfriendly note.

The position of Laval was not enviable. He was caught between the fires of British prejudice toward Italy, and Popular Front hatred of Fascism. He received strong support from Sir Robert Vansittart, the Permanent Secretary at the British Foreign Office, who deplored Eden’s prejudice against Mussolini. Nevertheless, it was the indiscretion of Vansittart at Paris in December 1935 which upset the situation altogether, and which produced the alienation of Italy from France despite the efforts of Laval. It is amusing to read in the Autobiography of Lord Vansittart that “the usual indiscretion occurred at the Quai d’Orsay.” In this instance it was Vansittart, a British guest at the Quai d’Orsay, who committed the fatal indiscretion. It is ironical that Vansittart, who was obsessed by hatred of Germany, did more than anyone else to aid Hitler to win Italian friendship at a crucial moment. This friendship was the necessary foundation for Hitler’s program of peaceful territorial revision.

The indiscretion of Vansittart was made to Genevieve Tabouis. She detested Pierre Laval, whom she recognized as the disciple of Caillaux and Briand. She preached what she considered to be the correct foreign policy of France from the pages of l’Oeuvre, a newspaper of the Left for “intellectuals.” She believed that Leon Blum and the Popular Front could provide the ideal leadership for the implementation of this policy. She blamed the assassinations of Barthou and King Alexander in October 1934 on a “Nazi plot,” although she had not the slightest evidence other than Communist propaganda to support this charge. She borrowed her techniques in journalism from the Communists, and she favored the closest possible collaboration between France and the Soviet Union.

She exploited her position as a journalist in 1935 to accompany Laval on his various missions in the hope of compromising him in some way. She was with Laval at Rome in January 1935, at London in February 1935, at Stresa in April 1935, and at Moscow in May 1935. She suspected at Geneva in September 1935 that there was some friction between Laval and British Foreign Secretary Sir Samuel Hoare about the handling of the Ethiopian question. She met Sir Robert Vansittart at an aristocratic Parisian salon on December 5, 1935. Vansittart told her that Hoare was coming to Paris to complete a plan for the conciliation of Italy at Ethiopian expense, at a time when Great Britain was supposedly leading the League of Nations in a collective security campaign against Italy. Vansittart added that he was working with colleagues at the Qual d’Orsay for the preparation of this plan. This was virtually all that Tabouis needed to know to frustrate the success of the project. Secrecy would be necessary for at least a few days until the consent of Italy and Ethiopia had been obtained for the plan. Vansittart had imagined in his boundless vanity that Tabouls would respect his confidence, but he was mistaken. He believed that she would be obedient to him, because he was the recognized dean of the school which preached the destruction of Germany, but the hatred of Tabouis for Laval was greater than her admiration of Vansittart.

The last conversation between Hoare and Laval took place on December 8, 1935. Tabouis had hurried to London in the meantime to gain further information. Laval had issued an order at the Quai d’Orsay that there should be no public reference to his negotiation with Hoare, and Tabouis was merely guessing about certain details of the projected plan. She consulted with the French journalist, André Géraud (Pertinax), who equalled her in his enthusiasm for a Franco-German war. The alleged Hoare-Laval plan was published by Tabouis in l’Oeuvre and by Géraud in l’Echo de Paris in France on December 13, 1935, and Tabouis also had arranged for it to appear in the Daily Telegraph in London. The result was a storm of British public protest which prompted Prime Minister Baldwin, the master of expediency, to sacrifice both Hoare and the plan on December 18, 1935. The breach which resulted between Italy on the one hand and Great Britain and France on the other wrecked the projected entente between Italy and France. Mussolini proceeded to complete the conquest of Ethiopia in defiance of the Western Powers.

Laval struggled hard to maintain his position, and for a time it seemed that he might succeed. Tabouis upbraided Edouard Herriot at a banquet held by Maurice de Rothschild on December 26, 1935, for continuing to support the Laval Cabinet. Herriot withdrew his support on January 23, 1936, and the six Radical Socialist members resigned from the Laval Cabinet. The Popular Front was triumphant, and an election campaign was launched which was destined to bring the Left an unprecedented political triumph in May 1936. The French Chamber approved the Franco-Soviet alliance pact on February 27, 1936, and Hitler reoccupied the Rhineland on March 7, 1936. Italy was lost, the Soviet Union was unreliable, and Great Britain failed to support France in the Rhineland crisis. Tabouis was triumphant, and the foreign policy of Laval was in ruins. French preponderance on the European continent was lost within a few weeks after the resignation of Laval.

The Preponderant Position of France Wrecked by Leon Blum

The attitude of Léon Blum, the Popular Front leader, toward a rapprochement between France and Italy had been clear throughout 1935. This attitude was the primary influence on the actions of Genevieve Tabouis and Edouard Herriot. Blum made the following statement at the time of the Laval visit to Rome in January 1935: “For the first time, a French minister is the guest of the assassin of Matteotti. For the first time, a representative of the French Republic recognizes in the tyrant of Italy a chief of state by the deferential initiative of his visit.” The Communist method of smearing was clearly in evidence. There was not the slightest indication that Mussolini had had any advance knowledge of the fate of the Socialist leader, Matteotti, who had died from a heart attack during a beating he had received from local Fascist strongmen in 1926. This was an isolated incident in Italy, and it had taken place more than eight years earlier. The Soviet Union in the meantime had purged and killed hundreds of prominent Bolsheviks who were accused of opposition. Nevertheless, Blum did not raise the slightest objection to the visit of Laval to Stalin at Moscow in May 1935. Blum was much too ensnared by his own ideological prejudices to offer France effective leadership during this difficult period.

The Albert Sarraut Government held office in France from January until June 1936. It was correctly described by the French press of the time as a mere caretaker regime which awaited the coming of Blum. The Communists, in the elections of April and May 1936, increased their strength in the French Chamber from 10 to 73, and the Socialists came up from 97 to 146. The Radical Socialists agreed to participate in a coalition Government headed by Blum, and the Communists agreed to vote for it. The Popular Front was in the saddle at last, and the country was virtually paralyzed with 1,500,000 industrial workers on strike by June 1936. Mob violence was resumed, and five persons were killed and three hundred wounded in a demonstration at Clichy. The social security program of Blum produced a rapid decline of French production. The program was barely launched on January 13, 1937, when Blum announced in the face of overwhelming difficulties that the time had arrived for a “necessary pause.” It was evident by the time the great Paris International Exposition opened on May 1, 1937, that the Popular Front experiment had failed in the economic, social, and political spheres.

Léon Blum responded by requesting sweeping personal decree powers from the French Chamber on June 15, 1937, although he always had denounced others who had requested such powers. The Popular Front influence was sufficient to pass the measure in the Chamber by a vote of 346-247, but Joseph Caillaux succeeded in bringing down the Government with a vote of no-confidence in the Senate. Caillaux motivated his opposition with the explanation that the Blum decree would provoke the flight of capital from France to an unprecedented degree. The Blum Government resigned on June 21, 1937. Caillaux later explained that he had favored giving Blum every chance to prove himself, and that he had sought to advise him by referring him to the basic precepts of Jean Jaurès, the great French Socialist leader who had been assassinated by militarists in July 1914. Blum blamed his failure on the fact that he was limited in his policies by his need to collaborate with the Radical Socialists, and he complained during World War II that bourgeois rule had remained uninterrupted in France since 1789. He also blamed the Communists for obstructing his program, and he argued that the ideal solution of European problems would have been to crush Germany by military action in 1933. The Popular Front in practice proved to be a fiasco in which coherent foreign and domestic policies were conspicuously lacking.

The overthrow of Blum in June 1937 did not end the Popular Front era. Everyone knew that he would make another bid for power. The Socialist press advocated stripping the French Senate of its powers, and the Communists agreed to participate in a new Popular Front Cabinet. The Socialists accepted this offer, but the Radical Socialists refused. President Lebrun appointed Chautemps to form a Government, and Blum was included as Vice-Premier. No one was satisfied with the prevailing uncertain situation, and there was a clamor of voices asking for a new lease of life or a decent burial for the Popular Front. Chautemps failed to maintain his coalition with the Socialists and his Government resigned on January 14, 1938. He headed an interim Government of Radical Socialists for a few weeks until Blum was again appointed Premier. Blum won a vote of confidence before the Chamber on March 17, 1938, but he was soon overthrown again by the Senate. Blum was ready to quit, and the Popular Front era was over.

The Radical Socialist Party, under the leadership of Daladier, Chautemps, and Bonnet, had recovered from the Stavisky affair André Tardieu, the French elder statesman, wrote a brilliant analysis of their position in 1938. They were the Party of Tradition, and Daniel Halevy had traced their origins to the reign of Louis Philippe. They were the Party of Inconsistency. They had overthrown Governments of the Right in 1923 and 1928, but they had entered Governments of the Right in 1926 and 1934. They had suffered lamentable reverses when they headed Governments in 1885, 1896, 1898, 1924, 1932, 1934, 1937, and early 1938, but they had amazing powers of recuperation. Anatole France had said: “They govern badly, but they defend themselves well.”

Tardieu found that their Party doctrine was “infinitely vague.” Their existing doctrine was the utilitarianism and materialism of 19th century liberalism. They simultaneously exalted both the individual and the state in the 20th century, and they claimed a monopoly of the revolutionary tradition of 1789. Their position on constitutional reform was clear. They refused to a) reduce the number of parliamentary deputies, b) reform the electoral system, c) permit dissolution and new elections when Cabinets were overthrown, and d) allow for the introduction of popular referendum or popular initiative. They defended the status quo with tenacity.

Tardieu recognized their complacency, which contrasted with his own attitude. He had been thrice Premier and eleven times a Minister, and he had decided in 1933 that the current regime was not tolerable for France. He complained that when he expressed these views to the Radical Socialists, they wondered if he had become an imbecile. Their complacency was their strength. They had shared in the disastrous Popular Front, but they now ignored Blum, although he still claimed to have a voice in their councils. The alternatives to their rule had been tried. A new Government of the Right or a Government headed by the Socialists was now unthinkable. There were no alternatives, and they were confident that they could maintain the support of the Senate and of the Chamber. The domestic situation was again in repose. The main concern of the Daladier Government in 1938 and 1939 was foreign policy. The French position in Europe had been transformed in the period between Laval in January 1936 and Daladier in April 1938.

The Daladier Government and the Czech Crisis

The Daladier Government was immediately faced with the Czech crisis. The French press displayed a strange ambivalence toward the question of peace or war during the tense months which culminated in the Munich conference of September 1938. Three of the great French dailies had resolutely opposed war throughout the crisis. These were Le Journal of Pierre-Etienne Flandin, Le Jour of Leon Bailly, and Le Matin of Stephane Lauzanne. Genevieve Tabouls advocated war in L’Oeuvre, but Georges de la Foucherdiere was permitted to dispute her theories, and to advocate peace, in the pages of the same newspaper. The Jewish editor of Marianne, Emmanuel Berl, fiercely denounced the pro-war Jewish Cabinet Minister, Georges Mandel. In the Socialist daily, Le Populaire, Louis Levy and Oriste Rosenfeld advocated war, but Paul Faure was given ample space in the same newspaper to oppose their views. Charles Maurras of l’Action Franfaise came out strongly against war for the Czechs in 1938, as did Henri Béraud in Gringoire. This was refreshing news to many observers, because the newspapers of the Right had given strong support to the French system of eastern alliances in the past. It was evident that many people were revising their views. The Communist leader, Maurice Thorez, demanded a French war on behalf of the Czechs in the pages of l’Humanité on September 10, 1938, but this was a surprise to no one. The same newspaper condemned a French war in support of Poland the following year after the conclusion of the Russo-German Pact on August 23, 1939. L’Ordre of Pierre Lazareff and Georges Weisskopf was one of several non-Communist newspapers which were solidly for war, just as there were several newspapers which were solidly for peace. Nevertheless, a considerable number of newspapers featured the advocates of both policies, and this exposed most of the French public to extensive arguments on both sides of the issue.

It was evident that the Daladier Government was in an enviable free position as far as the conduct of foreign policy was concerned. There was no overwhelming body of public opinion which demanded the pursuit of either alternative. The public was confused by a situation which had changed so rapidly, and the public was prepared to accept whatever the Government chose to decide.

The termination of the uncertainty, at Munich, was a relief to many minds. Pierre Gaxotte wrote in a spirit of exuberant triumph in Je suis Partout on September 30, 1938, that Czechoslovakia was “an imbecile and abject state” which had never deserved French military support. Very few of the French bellicistes raised their voices in protest against Munich. One of the exceptions was Paul Reynaud, who was counting on the ultimate triumph of Churchill in England. Reynaud, the chief of the small Republican Center Party, had astonished his cohorts of the French Right by defending the English repudiation of the Hoare-Laval pact in a Chamber speech on December 27, 1935. He had recently returned from one of his many trips to England, and he was promptly denounced as “the man of England.” He declared that British opposition to Mussolini’s Ethiopian venture was the most happy event since the American declaration of war against Germany in 1917. André Tardieu responded to this speech by announcing in a letter to Le Temps that he would have nothing more to do with Reynaud.

Reynaud went to Germany in November 1937, and he returned to write a series of alarmist articles about alleged German designs against France. He advocated the closest possible military collaboration between France and the Soviet Union. Reynaud claimed in a Chamber speech on February 26, 1938, that Hitler was seeking the iron of Lorraine, the German minority of Alsace, and access to the Atlantic Ocean at French expense. Reynaud discussed future French policy with Churchill at Paris in March 1938 and with Halifax in England in May 1938. He advocated war during the Czech crisis, and he was delighted when Sir Robert Vansittart issued an unauthorized communiqué from the British Foreign Office on September 26, 1938, which stated that Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union would declare war on Germany in the event of a German-Czech conflict. Reynaud was proud to be the only member of the French Cabinet who failed to meet Daladier at le Bourget airport after Munich. He knew that his talents as Minister of Justice, then as Minister of Finance, in the Daladier Government were highly prized. He would not follow the example of Duff Cooper in England and resign because of Munich. It is also significant that Reynaud did not carry his utterances against Munich into the French Chamber. He enjoyed an appreciative audience, and he knew that it would have been useless to attempt to provoke a debate on Munich in the style of the British House of Commons. Nevertheless, Reynaud continued to follow the lead of Churchill after Munich. The case of Pierre-Etienne Flandin, who was known as the “man of the City” and the “man of Chamberlain,” was entirely different. Flandin had become a sincere advocate of appeasement, and he refused to follow Chamberlain and Halifax in their later shift to a war policy.

Reynaud was the most militantly anti-German figure of the French Right, but he was closely seconded by the publisher and journalist, Henri de Kerillis who had led the aerial attack on the Easter 1916 childrens’ parade at Karlsruhe. Kerillis did not share the enthusiasm of Reynaud for the Soviet Union, and he considered that Communism was a great threat to France. He deplored the failure of the Allies to destroy the Soviet Union after the end of World War I in 1918. Nevertheless, he considered that Germany was the principal threat to France. He admitted that the idea of a Franco-German entente was increasingly popular in France, but he claimed that Hitler could not be trusted when he promised that Germany had no territorial aspirations in the West. He also complained that France would be dwarfed by the Greater Germany of Hitler. Kerillis considered himself a prophet in the style of Alphonse Daudet, who had preached revenge against Germany after 1870. He accepted Munich at the time of the French Chamber vote of October 5, 1938, but he was soon proclaiming that France should block future German moves in the East. Kerillis declared that Hitler was not the disinterested Mahomet of a crusade against Communism, but merely a German imperialist.

The views of Kerillis were contested by the principal French historical expert on contemporary Germany, Jacques Benoist-Méchin, who had been severely wounded during the German bombardment of Paris in April 1918. Benoist-Méchin quoted Marshal Lyautey on the importance of reading Mein Kampf, and of becoming familiar with the theories of Hitler at first hand. Benoist-Méchin emphasized that Hitler had many grievances against France when he wrote Mein Kampf. These grievances had been settled with the German military reoccupation of the Rhineland in 1936. The fundamental fact was that the Hitler program in 1938 and 1939 was directed toward the East, and not against France.

The position of Premier Edouard Daladier, the Marseilles Radical Socialist who had risen from the ranks to become a French officer in World War I, was crucial in the post-Munich situation. Daladier had shown great skill in out-maneuvering Herriot during the precarious Popular Front period. It was evident in 1938 that Georges Bonnet could rely on the support of Daladier for a policy of peace. Daladier knew that the military situation of France was utterly inadequate for an aggressive war against the Germans, and he continued to occupy the post of Minister of Defense in his own Government. Churchill was keenly aware of this situation. He had accepted an invitation from Reynaud to come to France on September 21, 1938. Churchill still hoped that the Czech crisis would lead to war at that time, and he suggested to Reynaud that negotiations with the Germans would be disrupted if Daladier could be overthrown, and if President Lebrun would appoint Edonard Herriot to succeed him. Reynaud was forced to explain that the influence of the anti-peace faction in the French Cabinet and Chamber was insufficient to bring down the Daladier Government.

Daladier discussed the post-Munich situation with American Ambassador Bullitt at a luncheon on October 3, 1938. The French Premier made it clear to Bullitt that he had no illusions about the Munich conference, and he knew that Hitler had further demands to make in the realization of his program. He told Bullitt that Hermann Göring had been exceedingly friendly to him at Munich, and that the German Marshal had sought to flatter him and to praise France. The French Premier promised Bullitt that the military preparations of France would be accelerated in the months ahead, but he refused to give the slightest hint that France contemplated opposing future German moves in the East.

Anatole de Monzie, the French Minister of Public Works, was a resolute champion of the project for a FrancoGerman entente. He noted during the Czech crisis that Premier Daladier and Vice-Premier Chautemps encouraged peace, but that they also sought to occupy the position of moderators between the two opposing groups in the French Cabinet. One group, which included Reynaud, Mandel, Champetier de Ribes, Rucart, and Zay, had favored war on behalf of the Czechs. A second group, which included Bonnet, Pomaret, Guy la Chambre, Marchandeau, and Monzie, had favored peace. The policy of Daladier and Chautemps, to throw their weight with the latter group, had decided the issue. The result would have been entirely different had Edouard Herriot headed the French Cabinet.

Monzie also was grateful for the strong support [of Flandin and Caillaux] which the Cabinet had received during the crisis. Flandin had denounced the French pressure groups working for war, in the Journal on September 15, 1938. Joseph Caillaux had returned to Paris from his retreat at Mamers in Normandy to work for “good sense and peace.” Monzie asked Daladier what he would do if the principal Cabinet bellicistes, Reynaud, Mandel, and Champetier de Ribes, offered to resign. Daladier replied that he would accept their resignations. Monzie was with Bonnet in Paris on September 30, 1938, when Daladier was at Munich. Bonnet gave lively expression to his legitimate joy that he had received adequate support for his policy of peace. This did not mean that either Monzie or Bonnet were complacent. Monzie was astonished to hear Otto Abetz, the idealistic German champion of FrancoGerman amity, say, at this time, that the foundation for future Franco-German collaboration had been achieved. Monzie realized that the question was merely entering its crucial phase, and that extreme watchfulness would be required in the days ahead.

Monzie was aware that the Communists were spreading anti-Munich propaganda, and that Flandin had been criticized for his telegram of congratulations to Hitler following Munich. Monzie recognized that it was necessary to launch an active propaganda campaign in defense of Munich. He opened this campaign with a brilliant and effective lecture to the French journalists at Toulouse on October 12, 1938. Monzie rejoiced that the conduct of French foreign policy was in the hands of Georges Bonnet, “with an intelligence as agile as his face.”

The Franco-German Friendship Pact of December 1938

Franco-German relations were the bright spot on the European scene in October 1938. The French seemed much more advanced than their English neighbors in adjusting to the new situation which had been created by the events of 1938. Good relations with France increased Hitler’s confidence that it would be possible to arrive at a satisfactory settlement with Poland. The frontier tension and minority problems which had plagued Franco-German relations during the age of Bismarck were almost entirely lacking at this time. The most positive element in the situation was the willingness of Germany to accept the loss of Alsace-Lorraine.

Hitler granted a farewell audience to André François-Poncet on October 18, 1938. The French Ambassador had been the most popular foreign diplomat in Berlin. He was eager to accept a mission to represent France to both Italy and the Vatican, and to apply his charm to Mussolini. But the personalities of Hitler and Mussolini were very different, and François-Poncet never succeeded in establishing with Mussolini the friendly personal relations he had enjoyed with Hitler.

The familiar atmosphere of cordiality between Hitler and the French diplomat was much in evidence on the occasion of their farewell conversation. Both men advocated a further improvement in Franco-German relations. Hitler made a formal offer of a Franco-German declaration of friendship, which could be used to settle points that had created anxiety in the relations between the two nations following the abrogation of the Locarno treaties in 1936. The French Government returned a favorable response to the German offer on October 21, 1938.

The tentative provisions for a treaty were discussed in Paris by Bonnet and Count Welczeck, the German Ambassador to France. It was easy to agree on a formulation of Germany’s willingness to guarantee the eastern border of France. The problem of German recognition of the Eastern European alliances of France was more difficult. Welczeck and Bonnet managed to reach an agreement on these points as early as October 25, 1938. It was assumed that France would proceed to invite Ribbentrop to Paris to conclude the formal treaty.

An element of delay was produced by the Polish passport crisis, which culminated in the murder of Ernst vom Rath in Paris by Grynszpan, and in anti-Jewish measures and demonstrations in Germany. The French were worried by this situation, and the Temps predicted on November 17, 1938, that the anti-Jewish measures would produce a lasting bad effect on the relations of the Anglo-Saxon countries with Germany. Weizsäcker came to Paris to attend the funeral of vom Rath, and to discuss the general situation with Bonnet. The two men established good relations. Weizsäcker assured Bonnet that he shared Hitler’s hope that there would be no third Franco-German war to blight the hopes of the present generation. It was evident that recent incidents and delays would not prevent the French and German leaders from proceeding with their plan to conclude the treaty.

The Italian and English leaders proved to be extremely jealous in this situation. Italian Ambassador Attolico in Berlin had presented a message from Foreign Minister Ciano as early as November 8, 1938, containing a protest about the proposed provisions of the treaty, which had been communicated to the Italians by the Germans. Ciano complained that Mussolini had expected a “platonic” pact in the style of the Anglo-German declaration. He and Ciano objected to article three of the proposed draft, which provided for periodic consultation between Germany and France.

The British leaders feared that France might shake off her dependence on Great Britain and arrive at an independent understanding with Germany. They realized that they had deprived France of many of her bulwarks against Germany by refusing to support French policy in the past, and that it would be a logical move for the French to retaliate. Halifax dealt with this theme at great length in instructions to Sir Eric Phipps, the British Ambassador to France. Halifax on November 1, 1938, claimed to reject the theory that “the French Government might be tempted by German intrigue to drift apart from His Majesty’s Government.” He recognized that Germany had attained a preponderant position in Central Europe, but he was not inclined to abandon the thought of possible future British intervention in Central and Eastern Europe. He observed wryly that he found no pleasure in the prospect of becoming entangled by Russia in a war against Germany, yet said, “I should hesitate to advise the French Government to denounce the Franco-Soviet pact.” Tremendous changes had taken place in British policy since the time in 1935 when the British leaders had done what they could to prevent the conclusion of the pact.

Halifax confided to Phipps that he would make a major effort to persuade Mussolini to be “less dependent on Hitler.” This move would aid the conduct of British balance of power policy against Germany. Halifax regarded it as axiomatic that Great Britain and France should remain preponderant in Western Europe, the Mediterranean, and the Near East, and that they should keep a “tight hold” on their colonial empires. He also emphasized the need of maintaining “the closest possible ties” with the United States.

The British Foreign Secretary admitted that this snug picture was disturbed by the prospect that France would leave the British system in order to achieve an independent understanding with Germany. He asserted that such a development would be a terrible blow to Great Britain, and he claimed that it might enable Germany “to hold us up to ransom” in the colonial question. Halifax was obviously worried, but he proclaimed again that he did not believe that France would “sign away her freedom.” Perhaps it would have been more truthful had he said that he did not believe France would attempt to regain her freedom.

Another wave of verbal assaults on Hitler by prominent Englishmen occurred at this time, and new instructions from Halifax to Phipps on November 7, 1938, betrayed the fact that Halifax was increasingly worried by the Franco-German negotiations. This was an old and familiar nervousness on the part of British leaders. It arose when it appeared that the leading continental nations might proceed to settle their differences independently of Great Britain. It was feared that this would destroy the British system of divide and rule by means of the balance of power. The British leaders believed that their position in the world depended upon the perpetuation of rivalries and divisions on the continent. The fears discussed by Halifax in 1938 were identical with those entertained by Sir Edward Grey in 1911, when Premier Joseph Caillaux of France and Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg of Germany appeared to be approaching an understanding.

The final text of the Franco-German declaration was approved by the French Cabinet on November 23, 1938. Much news of the pact leaked out to the public. The French press on November 24, 1938, was enthusiastic about the coming treaty, and it was called a milestone in world history. Chamberlain and Halifax had arrived in Paris on November 23rd for conferences with the French leaders on the following day. They hoped to obtain assurances which would diminish the importance of the Franco-German treaty. They were greeted with jeers and French booing (i.e. whistling) on the streets of Paris on November 23, 1938, in the first important anti-British manifestations in the French capital since the visit of King Edward VII to Paris in 1903. The announcement on the following day that Ribbentrop would soon visit Paris pushed their visit into the background of the public interest.

The new French Ambassador to Germany, Robert Coulondre, had met Hitler for the first time on November 21, 1938. Cordial relations between Hitler and Coulondre were easily established, although the new ambassador could never replace François-Poncet in Hitler’s estimation. Coulondre declared that his assignment to Germany was a mission of reconciliation. He was absolutely convinced that Hitler was sincere in his renunciation of Alsace-Lorraine. Hitler replied that he and Coulondre were both old front fighters, and they knew how to appreciate the value of peace. The final preparations for Ribbentrop’s visit to Paris were concluded after this interview.

The pact was completed several weeks before the departure of Ribbentrop and the German delegation for Paris. The Germans duplicated the French gesture of communicating the contents of the pact to the Poles, in advance of signature. Lipski expressed Beck’s gratitude for this courtesy in Berlin on December 5, 1938. Beck replied to the French by giving the pact his blessing and by claiming that the Polish Government sincerely welcomed the Franco-German rapprochement outlined in the treaty. Beck instructed Lipski to inform the Germans confidentially that the Soviet Union did not look on the Franco-German declaration with the same unmixed feelings.

The Germans arrived in Paris and concluded the treaty with the French on December 6, 1938. The pact was virtually the same as the Anglo-German declaration except for the provisions relating to the guarantee question, the French eastern alliances, and the consultation clause. The Germans agreed to recognize the pattern of the existing French alliances in the East, but this was widely regarded to be a mere formality. It was not known to what extent France herself would seek to maintain this alliance pattern in the future.

Phipps reported to Halifax on December 7th that the Germans had come with “a large team.” He observed that some question had been raised about Bonnet’s dinner for Ribbentrop on December 6th. The two Jews in the French Cabinet, Secretary for Colonies Georges Mandel, and Secretary for Education Jean Zay, had not been invited. Bonnet explained in a special interview that only a few guests from the French Government, and many non-governmental guests, had been invited. Both Mandel and Zay were invited to the festivities at the German Embassy on the following day.

German Ambassador Welczeck had made many unflattering remarks to Bonnet about Ribbentrop, in the period before the visit. Bonnet had considered the source, and he desired to find out for himself. Ribbentrop spoke excellent French, and he and Bonnet were able to engage in several intimate conversations without the presence of an interpreter. However, it seemed later that a serious misunderstanding about future French policy in Eastern Europe resulted from these talks, although it is also possible that later events, rather than the talks themselves, created the confusion. Ribbentrop received the impression that France intended to limit her commitments in Eastern Europe, and Bonnet later denied that he had intended to convey this. Polish Ambassador Juliusz Lukasiewicz was convinced from what he heard after Ribbentrop’s visit that Bonnet had definitely made some remarks about reducing French commitments.

Bonnet was concerned about a possible Italian irredentist program at French expense. Ciano had delivered a speech in the Italian Chamber on November 30, 1938. A group of Italian deputies had responded by raising the cry of Italian ethnic claims to Nice, Corsica, and Tunisia. Mussolini, who was a witness of the demonstration, had remained impassive. The Italians denied that the demonstration was officially inspired. Ribbentrop succeeded in reassuring Bonnet about this agitation. He was convinced that although there were many more Italians than Frenchmen in the regions which the deputies had named, Italy had no intention of presenting territorial demands to France. He assured Bonnet that such claims would not receive German support if they were made. Ribbentrop observed that Germany had no regrets in renouncing Alsace-Lorraine, and he added that she would scarcely be willing to make war against France for Italian claims to Djibouti or Corsica. The German Foreign Minister complained about the British attitude toward Germany. He observed significantly that the British leaders apparently regarded the Munich agreement as a mere expedient to gain time in order to prepare for war.

Bonnet was impressed by Ribbentrop’s poise, and he later described him as an imperturbable negotiator. Ribbentrop laid a wreath on the tomb of the French unknown soldier on December 7th, and that evening he engaged in lengthy discussions with French political leaders. Monzie noted that Ribbentrop was much at ease in the fashion of the grand seigneur. He spent much time with Joseph Caillaux. The French elder statesman did most of the talking. He advised Ribbentrop about dealing with future problems of German policy, but he did so with tact. Monzie was moved by this serene and lengthy conversation between these two handsome men, who he thought represented the best elements of their respective nations.

There were no hostile demonstrations in France during the visit of Ribbentrop. A group of French workers applauded Ribbentrop at the railway station as he departed from Paris on December 8, 1938. There was a further friendly demonstration for Ribbentrop when his train was forced to stop near Creil on the return journey. The Ribbentrop visit was a success, and the Franco-German declaration contributed to the relaxation of tension in Europe. The British were promptly informed by France that no secret agreements had been made, but Halifax continued to be suspicious of French policy, and President Roosevelt in the United States, and Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, expressed their disapproval of the new treaty.

The Flexible French Attitude After Munich

The Munich magazine Simplicissimus carried on the cover of its 1938 Christmas issue a picture of Marianne and Michel, the symbols of France and Germany, standing on the threshold of the front door to the House of Europe in perfect amity. It was evident that France was inclined to follow the example of Italy in seeking a rapprochment with Germany. The old attempt to form an Anglo-Franco-Italian front against Germany had failed. The new situation called for new measures. Hitler had made it clear that Germany intended to present no demands to Italy or France, and it was evident that Italy and France had no demands to make against Germany. The conditions for an understanding among these three principal continental nations were extremely favorable. The ideal was a solid Franco-Italo-German front for peace. It would be difficult for the British leaders to foment a war against Germany if the trend auspiciously launched in December 1938 was continued. It would be impossible for them to do so if a front among the Three Powers was actually created. The British were determined to attack Germany, with France as an ally, but they would not do so alone. The chances were favorable that they would become reconciled to the new situation if France made a definite stand in favor of it. The prospects for peace in Europe at the end of 1938 were still favorable despite British hostility toward Germany, and German difficulties with Poland. The future of Europe depended upon the prevention of another World War.

Bertrand de Jouvenel analyzed the problems of Europe in a thoughtful book, Le Réveil de l’Europe (the Awakening of Europe), which appeared in 1938. Jouvenel recognized that Europeans of the 20th century were no longer confident about progress. The experience of World War I and the problems which had emerged in the postwar era had destroyed this confidence. He deplored the decline of France in Europe, but he regretted much more the decline of Europe in the world. This trend could be reversed if the hates of the past were forgotten, and if Europe concentrated on peace and production instead of war and destruction. Sir John Maynard Keynes in Great Britain had exposed the idiocy of the Versailles Treaty. Keynes had reminded the so-called peacemakers that they wished to make the conquered pay, but in reality they ruined the conquerors. Henry Ford in the United States had pointed out the hope afforded by a higher standard of living for the masses. He had shown that a greater market for production was possible when the salaries of the workers were higher. The obstacles to the realization of the dream of productivity and reconciliation were to be found in the old obsolete prejudices, such as the British policy of the balance of power. Jouvenel believed that the purpose of history was to combat the presumption behind such dogmas: “L’attitude de 1’Histoire est bien faite pour abattre la presomption humaine (The study of history should be conducted to reduce human presumption).”

Jouvenel sadly recalled that the Wilson propaganda slogan of 1918 had been a peace of justice. This sounded like some vague dream of perpetual peace. Jouvenel hoped that the time would come when mankind ceased waging perpetual war for perpetual peace. He was typical of the many Frenchmen who were making an honest effort to adjust to the new situation in Europe.

Chapter 10 • The German Decision to Occupy Prague • 13,500 Words
The Czech Imperium mortally Wounded at Munich — The Deceptive Czech Policy of Halifax — The Vienna Award a Disappointment to Halifax — New Polish Demands on the Czechs — Czech-German Friction After the German Award — The Czech Guarantee Sabotaged by Halifax — Czech Appeals Ignored by Halifax — Hitler’s Support of the Slovak Independence Movement — President Roosevelt Propagandized by Halifax — Halifax Warned of the Approaching Slovak Crisis — Halifax’s Decision to Ignore the Crisis — The Climax of the Slovak Crisis — The Hitler-Hacha Pact — Halifax’s Challenge to Hitler — Hitler’s Generous Treatment of the Czechs after March 1939 — The Propaganda Against Hitler’s Czech Policy

The Czech Imperium Mortally Wounded at Munich

The Czech state lingered in a moribund condition for nearly six months after the cession of the Sudeten districts to Germany. Czech rule over numerous minorities for nearly twenty years after 1918 had been based on a policy of stem intimidation, and the assurance of military support from a preponderant France. One by one, the German, Polish, and Hungarian minorities had been separated from Czech rule. The Slovaks and Ruthenians were also eager to escape from Czech rule, and they received encouragement from Poland and Hungary.

It seemed for a time that newly preponderant Germany might assume the old French role and protect the remnants of the Czech imperium. Hitler considered this possibility for about four months after Munich. He gradually came to the conclusion that the Czech cause was lost in Slovakia, and that Czech cooperation with Germany could not be relied upon. He decided, after receiving the news about the visit of the British leaders to Rome in January 1939, to transfer German support from the Czechs to the Slovaks.

The success of the Slovak cause was assured, but the Slovak leaders wished to have the protection of German military units in Slovakia. This meant that German troops would have to occupy Prague, at least temporarily, in order to establish military communications with Slovakia. Hitler was able to legalize this development by special treaties with the Czech and Slovak leaders. Czech President Emil Hacha did not believe that it would be wise to resist German plans. He received congratulations from Eduard Benes when he was elected to the presidency in November 1938, but Benes denounced him in March 1939 for cooperating with Germany.

The Deceptive Czech Policy of Halifax

Hitler’s decision to support the Slovaks and to occupy Prague had been based on the obvious disinterest of the British leaders in the Czech situation. There had been ample opportunities for them to encourage the Czechs in some way, but they had repeatedly refused to do so. The truth was that the British leaders did not care about the Czechs. They used Hitler’s policy as a pretext to become indignant about the Germans.

Halifax resorted to trickery in a first major effort to sabotage the terms of the Munich agreement in October 1938. The Czech-Magyar dispute was on the agenda at that time. Polish Ambassador Lipski on October 24, 1938, had requested Polish participation in an international arbitration to settle the dispute. He had suggested that the arbitration team consist solely of Poles, Italians, and Germans. Ribbentrop was not enthusiastic about the proposal, but he agreed to sound out his Italian colleague. Ciano replied that the Polish proposition was unsatisfactory. Italy had worked for years to achieve a diplomatic concert among the Four Powers which had met at Munich, and Ciano did not favor abandoning this concert for the convenience of the Poles. It was evident that direct negotiation between the Czechs and Hungarians, which had been resumed on October 13th, was fruitless. Ciano invited Ribbentrop to discuss the problem at Rome, and the German Foreign Minister departed for the Italian capital on October 26, 1938.

Ogilvie-Forbes, at the British Embassy in Berlin, discovered Italy’s attitude toward the Polish proposal before Ribbentrop left for Rome. Ogilvie-Forbes contacted Halifax and informed him that everything seemed to point toward a Four Power arbitration effort. He was astonished when Halifax immediately replied that it would not be feasible to seek the agreement of the Four Munich Powers in the Czech-Magyar dispute. Halifax believed that Germany and Italy would disagree on the Czech-Hungarian dispute if Great Britain and France withdrew from the Munich program. Dissension in German-Italian relations would follow, and Great Britain might be able to exploit this situation in her effort to separate Italy from Germany. He confided to Ogilvie-Forbes that Italy “apparently was favoring the cession of Ruthenia to Hungary.” He believed that Italy wished to keep Poland out of the arbitration effort in order to receive all the credit for the realization of Hungarian aims. He imagined that Italy was still intent upon preserving Hungary as a sphere of Italian influence, and that the Italians were jealous of the Poles, who were popular in Hungary. He hoped that Germany would oppose Italy in an arbitration effort by seeking to obtain a settlement in Ruthenia along the lines of self-determination.

Halifax suggested another motive for his refusal to permit Great Britain to assume her Munich conference obligations. Halifax wished to be spared the distasteful work of revising the territorial provisions of the 1919 peace treaties, which had remained unchallenged in Central Europe for nearly two decades before 1938. Halifax was also determined to maintain British supremacy in Rumania, and to prevent Rumania from forming closer relations with Germany. King Carol was planning to visit London on November 15, 1938, and Halifax did not wish to offend the Rumanian sovereign by appearing to support Hungarian claims. The Rumanians were bitterly opposed to Hungarian revisionism.

The British Foreign Secretary speculated that the Germans might be considering the possibility of supporting the national Ukrainian movement in the Ruthenian area. Halifax did not believe that Germany would succeed in maintaining self-determination in Ruthenia against the opposition of Italy, Poland and Hungary. He predicted that Germany would capitulate, and this would mean the end of self-determination in dealing with Czech problems. This consideration did not bother Halifax. He argued that the Ruthenian Jews would be better off under Hungary than under the Czechs. He hoped that a common Hungarian-Polish frontier would increase the opposition of both Poland and Hungary to Germany. It seemed to Halifax that Great Britain would be serving her own interests by withdrawing completely from Czecho-Slovakia.

Halifax informed Budapest confidentially that arbitration excluding Great Britain and France could be safely proposed. He consulted the Czech and Hungarian diplomats in London, and requested them to approve British and French withdrawal from the Czech-Magyar dispute. Halifax wired Lord Perth, the British Ambassador in Rome, on the evening of October 26th, that his maneuver had been successful. The Czechs and Hungarians were prepared to accept Italo-German arbitration without the participation of the British and French support against Germany in the Czech-Hungarian dispute. He hoped to confront Ciano with a hasty fait accompli, and he instructed Perth to announce that “His Majesty’s Government saw no objection to the settlement of the Czech-Hungarian question by means of arbitration by Germany and Italy.” He sought to appease Ciano by declaring that the British were willing to participate in the discussions if both the Czechs and Hungarians insisted upon it. This was a clever gesture which cost Halifax nothing. Budapest and Prague had already agreed not to request British participation.

Halifax reckoned with the possibility that this gesture might not fully satisfy Mussolini. He instructed Perth to appease Mussolini by asserting that Great Britain favored bilateral Anglo-Italian cooperation in the settlement of important European questions. Halifax was watching every factor when he instructed Perth: “You will, of course, appreciate that His Majesty’s Government do not wish to give the impression of trying to profit by any Italo-German disagreement over the future of Ruthenia.” A furious struggle over the future of Ruthenia was about to ensue m the imagination of the British Foreign Secretary. He pictured the Germans angrily and reluctantly submitting to combined pressure from Italy, Hungary, and Poland, and he rejoiced in the prospect. Great Britain would maintain an advantageous position on the sidelines. This was the culmination in the total abandonment of British responsibility toward the Czechs. Jozef Beck at Warsaw concluded that the British would elude their responsibility to guarantee Czecho-Slovakia after the settlement of Hungarian and Polish claims. His analysis proved to be correct.

Halifax’s anticipations were strengthened by another report from Ogilvie-Forbes on October 26th. Weizsäcker had told the British diplomats in Berlin that Germany would insist upon self-determination in both Slovakia and Ruthenia. Ogilvie-Forbes asked Weizsäcker if Ruthenia could be administered by the Czechs after the Magyar section was withdrawn. It appeared that the separation of the Magyar ethnic areas would disrupt Ruthenian communications. Weizsäcker “refused to be drawn and repeated that Ruthenia should have self-determination.” The German State Secretary complained that the omission of Great Britain and France from the arbitration team was contrary to the provisions of the Munich agreement. He did not suspect Great Britain’s responsibility for this situation, and he went to great lengths to explain that Germany was not responsible. The British diplomat did not enlighten Weizsäcker about the true state of affairs. He informed Halifax that the Italian diplomats in Berlin were convinced that Italy would insist on the return of Ruthenia to Hungary. It appeared that the Germans were about to walk into a trap which would produce friction with Italy, Hungary, and Poland.

Jozef Beck was doing what he could to facilitate matters for Hungary at this point. He offered to meet Rumanian objections on October 26th by guaranteeing Rumanian access to the Czechs through Poland. He told British Ambassador Kennard that Poland was using every possible argument with the Germans to prove that the return of Ruthenia to Hungary was the only sensible solution. He added that he would travel to Germany to discuss the matter personally with Hitler and Ribbentrop if Hungary did not receive satisfaction in Ruthenia.

Beck made a last effort to bring Poland into the arbitration team. He exerted pressure for an invitation to Poland in both Prague and Budapest. The Czechs replied that they would admit the Poles to the negotiation if the Rumanians also were included. This reply irritated Beck. He had no desire to sit at the negotiation table on the Ruthenian issue with the Rumanians again, and he was compelled to drop the matter.

Halifax failed in his effort to foment a conflict between Germany, on the hand, and Italy, Poland, and Hungary on the other. The effort itself, however, would never have appeared as an element in British foreign policy after the Munich conference had not Halifax been willing to countenance the abandonment of Czech interests by Great Britain, despite the promise of the British Government at Munich to protect those interests in exchange for Czech willingness to accept a negotiated settlement of the Sudeten-Czech crisis. One part of the British commitment was to take part in the arbitration of the Czech-Hungarian dispute in case bilateral negotiations between the Czechs and Hungarians failed. Halifax’s refusal to fulfill this promise was tantamount to an abandonment of Czech interests by Great Britain, especially since Halifax hoped that Germany would fail to gain the more moderate solution for the Czechs which was actually achieved at Vienna.

The Vienna Award a Disappointment to Halifax

Ribbentrop discussed the Italo-German arbitration project with Mussolini and Ciano in Rome on October 28, 1938. He also told Mussolini that Hitler was worried about British hostility toward Germany. Hitler and Ribbentrop believed that an Italo-German alliance would discourage the war enthusiasts in England. There was no reference to Japan. This was embarrassing to Mussolini, because Japanese reluctance to sign an alliance pact with Germany and Italy had postponed the issue of an Italo-German alliance in the past. Mussolini was evasive about the proposed alliance, but he was conciliatory about Ruthenia. The settlement of Italo-German differences about Ruthenia was the main object of Ribbentrop’s visit, and his mission to Rome was a success. Ribbentrop also discussed GermanPolish relations with the Italian leaders, and he assured them that Hitler intended to establish German-Polish friendship on a permanent basis.

Halifax had been more optimistic than Beck about Hungary’s chances to gain Ruthenia through Italo-German arbitration, and the British Foreign Secretary was destined to be disappointed. The main details were settled when Weizsäcker announced in Berlin on October 30, 1938, that Germany and Italy “have undertaken the arbitration of the new Czech-Hungarian frontier.” The arbitration work was carried forward by Ciano and Ribbentrop at Vienna in a friendly atmosphere, and the two diplomats vied with one another in satirizing the reactionary Vienna Peace Congress of 1815.

The Czech and Hungarian missions arrived at Vienna on November 2, 1938, to receive the arbitration award. There were also delegations from Slovakia and Ruthenia. The Hungarians had been. informed after the Ribbentrop visit to Rome that they must limit their claims to Magyar ethnic territory. The Hungarians had requested 14,000 square kilometers of territory from Slovakia and Ruthenia on this basis. Ciano and Ribbentrop granted them 10,000 square kilometers of territory.

An agreement had been concluded on the basis of self-determination, which Great Britain was no longer willing to advocate in Czecho-Slovakia. Hungary received a very small part of Ruthenia, and Beck’s dream of a common frontier between Hungary and Poland was not realized. The Czechs agreed to begin evacuation of the regions awarded to Hungary on November 5, 1938, and the Magyars were allowed to complete the occupation of the recovered territory by November 10th. The Germans had entered the negotiation with a free hand. Rumania had appealed to Germany on October 28th for a “sign of friendship,” and a promise that Germany “would oppose a common Hungarian-Polish frontier.” The German Government in reply had refused to make a promise to Rumania in a matter to be decided exclusively by Italy and Germany. The problem was simplified because Ciano never insisted on the surrender of the entire Ruthenian area to Hungary.

New Polish Demands on the Czechs

The Polish Government exploited the Czech-Magyar dispute by presenting Prague with a new ultimatum on October 31, 1938. The Poles demanded six Carpathian border districts from Slovakia. They threatened to attack the Czechs if an affirmative answer was not received the same day. The Czechs capitulated to the latest Polish ultimatum at 5:00 p.m. on October 31st. They also tried to stir up the British against Poland. Newton was informed by Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky that there was reason to believe that this was only the beginning of a regular monthly series of Polish demands.

Josef Tiso, who had become the leader of the Slovakian national coalition after the failure of the Sidor mission to Warsaw, was furious at the extent of the Polish demands. He appealed to Germany for protection for the first time. Tiso explained to German Consul-General Ernst vom Druffel at Bratislava on October 31, 1938, that the Polish demands had no ethnic basis, and that they went far beyond the small frontier adjustment suggested earlier. Tiso charged that the Poles were interested in seizing important strategic regions and in obtaining control over the Cadca-Zwardon railway, which would enable them to control communications in a number of Slovakian areas. He complained that they could have no ethnic basis for claiming a number of the highest, and, of course, uninhabited, peaks of the Tatra range of the Carpathians. He insisted that an independent Slovakia would have rejected the Polish demands. The Czechs had accepted them in the name of Slovakia. Tiso developed his favorite theme that Slovakia required the protection of a powerful neighbor. He added that Slovakia in the future would welcome German support against the Poles. The Poles had completed the process of undermining their earlier popularity in Slovakia.

The Czech authorities also were required to make new concessions to the Poles in Moravia. The Poles promised them that the final delimitation of the Polish-Moravian frontier would be completed by November 15th, and of the Polish-Slovakian frontier by December 1st. The Czechs informed the Germans that they had submitted to Poland because of the military threat. They claimed that Poland would undertake further steps against Czecho-Slovakia despite her promises to the contrary.

Jozef Beck was dissatisfied by the Vienna Award to Hungary of November 2, 1938, and he attempted several times to persuade the Germans to raise the Ruthenian question again. Ribbentrop responded by sending instructions to German Ambassador Moltke in Warsaw which illuminated the German strategy at Vienna. Moltke informed Beck on November 22, 1938, that Germany would offer no encouragement for a revision of the Ruthenian settlement unless an agreement was achieved between Germany and Poland. He added that Ribbentrop had warned the Hungarians not to challenge the recent Vienna Award “at the present time.” This seemed a superfluous gesture to Beck, who had long since concluded that the Hungarians would take no military action to secure their further aspirations, such as the acquisition of the entire province of Ruthenia. He casually assured Moltke that he would not encourage them in any such endeavor. He vigorously requested that something be done by peaceful negotiation “to meet Hungarian interests.” Moltke replied by emphasizing the need for a German-Polish agreement. He added a private assurance which he hoped would appease the Polish Foreign Minister. He informed Beck that Ribbentrop in Berlin had “told him only yesterday that he did not see why the Ukrainian problem should disturb German-Polish relations.” Moltke assured Beck that Germany had no ambition to exploit Ukrainian nationalism.

Beck responded to German obstruction of his Ruthenian program by improving Polish relations with the Soviet Union. Russo-Polish relations had been exceptionally unfriendly since the Russian threat on September 23, 1938, to repudiate the Russo-Polish Non-Aggression Pact of 1932. Beck hastened to accept a Russian initiative in November 1938 to improve relations. Soviet Foreign Commissar Litvinov and Polish Ambassador Grzybowski issued a joint declaration on November 26, 1938, which announced an increase in trade between the two nations and the affirmation of their Non-Aggression Pact. The heavily industrialized Teschen region had provided many exports for Russia while under Czech rule, and the Poles were willing to continue this trade. Moltke reported from Warsaw that Beck had conducted the negotiations as a reply to German obstruction in Ruthenia. German Ambassador Schulenburg in Moscow suggested that the Soviet Union considered the declaration to be an indirect protest to the forthcoming Franco-German declaration of friendship.

Ribbentrop was displeased by the secrecy of Beck’s Russian policy. Lipski had given him no indication that Poland was negotiating with the Soviet Union. He discussed the question with Lipski on December 2, 1938. The Polish Ambassador said that the declaration was the consequence of a natural Polish desire to reduce tension along her eastern frontier. He described with intensity and color the series of border incidents and air battles with the Russians during the Teschen crisis. Ribbentrop assured him that Germany did not object to the Russo-Polish détente, but he was “surprised that Poland did not inform us beforehand.”

Schulenburg warned Ribbentrop from Moscow on December 3, 1938, that “the Russians have lost every interest in Czechoslovakia since the latter can no longer serve as a barrier against Germany.” Schulenburg concluded that an alignment between the Soviet Union and Poland was no longer out of the question, since the Russians took no exception to Polish aims in Ruthenia. It was obviously in the interest of Russia to see any autonomous Ukrainian community suppressed. Ribbentrop concluded that the Soviet Union had joined the group of nations which favored, or were indifferent about, the further partition of Czecho-Slovakia.

Czech-German Friction After the Vienna Award

There was considerable friction between the Czechs and Germans after the Vienna Award. The Czechs had by no means decided to throw in their lot with Germany despite the prognostications of Henderson at Berlin. They assured French diplomats at Prague that they had no intention of renouncing their alliance with the Soviet Union. Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky complained bitterly to Newton on November 5, 1938, that France was refusing economic aid to the Czechs, after the Munich conference, because she regarded the new Czech state as a German Satellite. The Czech Foreign Minister declared boldly that “it was too early to judge what Czechoslovakia’s eventual position would be.” He hinted that the situation would be clarified in three or six months, after the Czechs had coped with their immediate difficulties. Newton concluded that the Czechs had by no means abandoned the idea of participating in a front against Germany.

Newton would have been impressed with these remarks had he believed in a future for the Czech state. He predicted to Halifax that Czecho-Slovakia would not survive much longer. Some expert local observers believed that both Slovakia and Ruthenia would be unable to avoid the conclusion that survival was impossible “without some form of association with Hungary.” Chvalkovsky insisted that the Czechs “would like to obtain the guarantee of the Four Munich Powers as soon as possible.” Newton believed that a guarantee would be unwise. He discouraged the Czech Foreign Minister from approaching the British in this question. He assured Chvalkovsky that Great Britain was the least interested of all the Munich Powers in such a guarantee.

The Czechs complained loudly a few days later about the final delimitation of the Czech-German frontier. They were relieved in October 1938 when Hitler renounced a plebiscite, which undoubtedly would have separated from the Czechs large regions beyond the five zones originally assigned to Germany. It had been agreed that a compromise settlement on the remaining areas in dispute should be completed by November 24, 1938. It was understood that German claims in the final delimitation would be very limited, and in practice they were. This did not discourage the Czechs from using the issue to agitate against Germany. Their statistics on the minority balance between the two nations were a complete inversion of the German figures. It is odd that they feared a border plebiscite when they claimed that only 377,196 Germans remained in Czecho-Slovakia, compared to more than 700,000 Czechs in Germany. They issued a special communiqué on November 6, 1938. which charged that there were twice as many Czechs and Slovaks in Germany as Germans in Czecho-Slovakia.

The Czechs hoped that this propaganda would prevent the Germans from making any gains in the final border delimitation. They were due for a surprise when they received the German note of November 14, 1938. The Germans suggested border changes which would surrender nearly 40,000 inhabitants of Czecho-Slovakia to Germany. The Germans warned that they would revert to the plebiscite envisaged at the Munich conference if the Czechs refused to be reasonable. The Poles exploited the situation to claim that the changes proposed by the Germans justified the official Polish attitude that the Vienna Award was not final. The tension in Czech-Polish relations was extremely great at this moment, because Poland had expelled a large number of Czechs from the Teschen region.

The Czechs were powerless to retaliate against Polish expulsion of their nationals, but they could have appealed to the British, French, and Italian members of the International Commission for the delimitation of the Czech-German Border in Berlin. The Czechs instead decided to arrive at an agreement with Germany. The Germans contacted the International Commission and informed them about German policy and the Czech response. A German-Czech agreement was negotiated on November 21, 1938. It was obvious that British diplomats in Berlin were not pleased by the situation, and Ogilvie-Forbes reported to Halifax that “the whole affair is being rushed and I fully appreciate the indignation which may be aroused in the United Kingdom.” In the upshot, this indignation was not very great.

The Germans informed British diplomats in Berlin that arrangements had been completed with the Czechs for the Breslau-Vienna superhighway, for direct air service between Silesia and Austria, and for a canal to link the Oder and the Baltic Sea with the Danube and the Black Sea by way of the Moravian Corridor. Czech Minister Mastriy at Berlin continued to complain to the British about Czech losses in the border delimitation. He emphasized that the Czechs were losing the winter sport area of Jilemnice, which was popular in Prague, and the historic monument commemorating the Hussite period at Taus, in the area where Jan Hus was born. The Czech envoy concluded with resignation that his Government had decided to sign the agreement with the Germans to avoid more unsatisfactory terms. The Czech Government communiqué of November 6, 1938, on minority figures, had also contained complaints about the cession of territory to Hungary on November 2nd. The sensitive Magyars were furious about the juggled Czech statistics. They published a communiqué on November 21, 1938, which denounced Czech statistics on minorities as a hoax. They offered their own statistics, which presented an entirely different picture.

Sir Basil Newton inquired in Prague on November 22, 1938, if the Czech Government had raised the question of the territorial guarantee of Czecho-Slovakia in the recent negotiation with Germany. The Czechs replied that this point was not mentioned. The Czechs painted a lively picture of the German development-projects in the hope of alarming the British. They told Newton that German plans called for the completion of the superhighway to Vienna by 1940. The highway was to be fenced off, but the Czechs were free to use it without tolls on their own territory. The Czechs claimed the Germans had referred to plans for a superhighway system extending to Bagdad. They calculated at Prague that the British would be interested to learn of a scheme which was reminiscent of the Bagdad railway achievement of the previous German generation. The entire tone of the various Czech conversations with the British diplomats left no doubt that the Czechs still considered themselves to be the friends of the Soviet Union and the adversaries of Germany.

The Poles continued to exert pressure on the Czechs. On November 26, 1938, Beck demanded the surrender of the remaining areas to be ceded to Poland on November 27th instead of December 1st. Kennard reported from Warsaw that Beck was furious with the Rumanians at this time. The Rumanian Government had answered Beck’s communiqué on Ruthenia by warning Hungary to respect the provisions of the Vienna Award.

The Czech Guarantee Sabotaged by Halifax

The British press in late November 1938 was flooded with rumors that Germany was “massing” her troops in preparation for an invasion of Czecho-Slovakia. These irresponsible alarmist rumors originated in London. The British diplomats in Prague informed London that there had been no speculation on such a development in the Czech capital, and Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels at Berlin complained about the irresponsibility of the British press. Current history consisted of wars and rumors of wars for the British journalists of the 1930’s. The unfounded rumors in the British press attracted public attention to the question of the promised territorial guarantee of Czecho-Slovakia. This was a useful barometer, because the British Government did not share what little enthusiasm there was in England for a guarantee. Another rumor was circulated that the Soviet Union would join the guaranteeing Powers. Kennard responded to it from Warsaw with a report to Halifax which contained an interesting and valuable insight into the attitude of the Polish leaders toward the Soviet Union.

Halifax was informed that the Poles were opposed to a guarantee of Czecho-Slovakia, and that they would never respect any arrangement which included the Soviet Union as a guaranteeing Power. The Poles argued that the Russians could not execute a guarantee to the Czechs without crossing Polish territory.

Kennard warned Halifax that the Poles would never permit Russian troops to operate on their territory. Halifax did not contest the validity of this unequivocal declaration from Kennard. This did not prevent him from urging the Poles eight months later to permit the operation of Russian troops on their territory.

Kennard explained to Halifax on November 30, 1938, that the Polish leaders regarded Russia as their hereditary enemy. They were convinced that Russia intended to create a Communist Poland. It seemed obvious to the Poles that the Russians intended to seize the Polish Eastern territories. These factors prompted them to reject categorically any plan which involved Russian military intervention in Central Europe. Kennard assured Halifax that there was “no hope of the Polish attitude changing.” Furthermore, Kennard agreed that the Russian threat was “undeniably a position of real danger for them.” Kennard admitted in this one instance that a German-Polish war would be disastrous for Poland. The hostile Soviet Union in the Polish rear deprived the Poles of any hope in such an encounter. Kennard was not yet aware that Poland would be assigned a crucial role in the campaign of Halifax to foment a major war against Germany. Kennard noted the concern of foreign diplomats at Warsaw “that the Poles may now drift into a clash with Germany,” but he added that “in any case, even though the Poles are suffering from a swollen head at present, they are unlikely to provoke Germany beyond safe limits.” Kennard did not define what he meant by Polish provocation within safe limits.

Halifax sent several of Sir Howard Kennard’s dispatches to Sir Basil Newton at Prague. Newton was less enthusiastic than Kennard about the Poles. He observed tartly in his subsequent report to Halifax that later events would decide whether the Polish anti-Czech policy was justifiable. He claimed that “nothing can be said in justification of their methods.” Newton believed that Poland was incredibly foolish to incur the wrath of the Slovaks. He noted that “Poland could probably have had an influential position in Slovakia for the asking.” Karol Sidor had been “notoriously pro-Polish up to a few weeks ago,” but there were no longer any champions of Poland among the Slovak leaders. Newton noted that Slovakia was hostile toward both Poland and the Czechs, and that it was a natural consequence for the Slovaks to turn to Germany for assistance.

Newton condemned the Poles for “the utterly ruthless policy toward the Czech inhabitants” in the former Czech regions which had been obtained by Poland. He noted that not alone “were the Czechs the only sufferers, for the Germans too were often ill-treated.” It was known in Czecho-Slovakia that at Teschen the local Germans and Czechs often made common cause against the Poles. Newton found it difficult to believe that Polish gains were “commensurate with the odium incurred.” He noted that the Czech Government had recently promised to treat the remaining German minority within their territory more decently in the future. It may be wondered how Halifax could later accept the claims of Kennard that Polish treatment of the minorities within her jurisdiction was exemplary.

Ogilvie-Forbes on December 6, 1938, reported to Halifax from Berlin on rumors that Hitler would abandon self-determination in dealing with the Czech problem if the conditions in the area remained unsatisfactory. Great Britain and France had taken no steps to implement the territorial guarantee promised to the Czechs at Munich. Halifax and Chamberlain had discussed the guarantee question when they visited the French leaders at Paris on November 24, 1938. Daladier and Bonnet was no reason why the guarantee could not be implemented if Germany and Italy had no objections. They told the British leaders that they assumed each guaranteeing Power would be individually responsible for the defense of the Czech status quo. The French were astonished to discover that Halifax did not share this view. He suggested a plan which seemed nothing more than a hoax to Bonnet. Halifax proposed that the guarantee would not be operative in the event of a German violation unless Mussolini agreed to support Great Britain and France against Germany. The French objected that this guarantee would be sterile and futile, and that it would be better to ignore the question than to propose it. Mussolini had refused to oppose the invasion of Austria by Germany, although Austria in early March 1938 was an Italian sphere of influence. It was unthinkable that Mussolini would oppose Hitler on behalf of the Czechs.

These French objections left Halifax completely unmoved. He responded that there would be no guarantee at all unless the Powers accepted his formula. Halifax added that other states, such as Poland, could guarantee the Czech state if they wished to and on their own terms. He did believe that a Soviet Russian territorial guarantee to CzechoSlovakia would be unwise, because it would provoke both Germany and Poland. The difficulty which was raised between the French and British leaders by the Halifax formula of November 24, 1938, was never resolved. The French and British took several perfunctory steps at Berlin in the guarantee question during the following months, but these steps were feeble and unconvincing, because there was no program behind them. Halifax never explained to the French leaders why he would not compromise in the guarantee question. The French naturally concluded that the British wished to avoid any guarantee to the Czechs. Newton inquired from Prague about the guarantee question on December 8, 1938, and Halifax admitted in reply that the French refused to accept the British formula.

Newton was not displeased to learn that the Czechs would receive no guarantee. He predicted that the collapse of Czecho-Slovakia was inevitable with or without a guarantee. He knew “from several sources that the Czechs are to-day more worried by their internal than their external difficulties.” He cited Slovakia as golden proof of the fact that “the Czechs for some reason lack the gift of making themselves popular.” He found no sympathy whatever in Slovakia for the “woes” of the Czechs, and he noted that the German minority in Czecho-Slovakia continued to have many grievances. These valid points provided valuable support to Halifax in his policy of evading the British promises to the Czechs, which had been made at Munich.

Czech Appeals Ignored by Halifax

The Czechs were annoyed and mystified by the impasse in the guarantee question. They did not know that Halifax at Paris had sabotaged the proposed guarantee on November 24, 1938. Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky complained to Newton on December 11th that the Czech Government had not been consulted at Munich, and that it had no basis to “express views to the four powers in regard to the fulfillment of their promises.” Chvalkovsky admitted that the Czechs were in a “delicate position” on the home front, and that they would be thankful for any kind of guarantee. He sensed that Great Britain and France were reluctant to take the initiative in the question, although he would. have expected them to do so rather than Germany or Italy. The Czechs in the past had been more friendly to Great Britain and France than to the Axis Powers. He would not object if the natural order was reversed. He would accept separate guarantees from Germany and Italy, with the understanding that Great Britain and France would follow suit at some later date. Chvalkovsky claimed. that he was yearning for the “peace and neutrality” of Switzerland, which had been undisturbed since 1815. The Czech Foreign Minister may not have realized that there had been several instances in which Switzerland was in extreme peril from threatened French and Austrian invasions during the two generations after 1815. The Swiss security of 1938 had not been built in a day, despite the international guarantee of the Vienna Congress.

Halifax was informed of Czech wishes, but nothing was done to meet them. The British Foreign Secretary interpreted Newton’s report to mean that the Czechs did not expect the British to fulfill their guarantee obligation. Henderson and Coulondre announced in Berlin on December 22, 1938, that France and Great Britain would approve of a separate German guarantee to the Czechs. This proposal did not help the Czecho-Slovak cause. The Germans saw no reason why they should take the initiative in guaranteeing a state which recently had operated in a militant front against them, when France, the actual ally of the Czechs, displayed no willingness to do so. The Munich conference agreement had stipulated that identical action should be taken by the Four Powers.

The Germans suspected that the British and French would soon pursue the question and offer some suggestion along the lines of the Munich agreement. Nothing of the sort happened. It seemed that the more interest the Czechs showed, the more negative the British attitude in the guarantee question became. The argument against the guarantee was eloquently expressed to Halifax by Ogilvie-Forbes on January 3, 1939. The British diplomats knew that Halifax opposed the guarantee, and they vied with one another in reinforcing his position. Ogilvie-Forbes contended that Great Britain could not “guarantee the status quo in Central and Eastern Europe,” unless she was seeking a war. This was a drastic statement, but it proved only too true when Great Britain guaranteed Poland three months later. The professional diplomats at the British Foreign Office were fully aware of the true nature of British policy toward the Czechs after Munich. Sir William Strang, the chief of the Central Office which dealt with Germany, declared that the guarantee which the British had promised the Czechs was merely “a sham.”

Hitler’s Support of the Slovak Independence Movement

Hitler made no public pretense of having found a permanent policy in dealing with the Czechs during this period. He told anyone who cared to listen that he did not know what future developments would be in the Czech area. The Belgian legation at Berlin was elevated to an Embassy on November 21, 1938, and afterward Belgian Ambassador Vicomte Jacques Davignon attended a special reception held by Hitler at Berchtesgaden. The conversation between Hitler and Davignon turned to the Czech question. Hitler explained that German relations with Czecho-Slovakia were far from settled and he enumerated the difficulties which were unresolved. Davignon was impressed with the frankness of Hitler’s remarks.

The negotiations between Czech Foreign Minister Chvalkovsky and the Germans in January 1939 were unsatisfactory. The Germans objected to the large Czech army, and to the continuation of the Czech-Soviet alliance. They were disturbed by the numerous higher officials in the Czech Government who expressed anti-German views, and by the tone of the Czech press. Chvalkovsky came to Berlin on January 21, 1939, to discuss these problems. He adopted a defiant attitude, and he told the Germans that a reduction of the Czech army would depend on German willingness to take the initiative in granting a territorial guarantee to the Czechs. The Germans were annoyed by this defiance, and they were tired of the requests for unilateral German action in the guarantee question. The German-Czech communiqué of January 28, 1939, concluded the fruitless negotiation. It was limited to a few minor points about the exchange of railroad facilities and the treatment of minorities.

Reports were reaching Berlin that opposition to Czech rule was increasing in Slovakia, and Edmund Veesenmayer, from the National Socialist Foreign Policy Office, was sent to Slovakia by Ribbentrop to investigate conditions. The Germans received abundant confirmation that the Slovaks wished to end Czech rule. A meeting was arranged on February 12, 1939, between Hitler and Adalbert Tuka, the veteran leader of the Slovak independence movement. Tuka told Hitler that his experience in Czech courts and Czech prisons gave him the right to speak for the Slovak nation. Tuka declared that the continuation of Slovak association with the Czechs had become impossible for both moral and economic reasons. The Czechs had broken their political promises to the Slovaks, and they had exploited and damaged the Slovakian economy. Tuka declared that he was determined to achieve independence for the Slovak nation in collaboration with the other Slovakian nationalist leaders. The remarks of Tuka were consistent with what he had been saying for several months. The important fact was that Hitler willingly invited him to Germany to hear him say it. It was evident that Chvalkovsky had adopted an attitude of recalcitrance to provoke Hitler to choose a definite policy. The existing situation was one of complete uncertainty in which the Czechs received no support from abroad and constantly lost ground in their efforts to control their minorities at home. The response of Hitler was a definite decision against support to the CzechoSlovak state, and a decision in favor of support to the Slovaks in their struggles against Prague. The result of this decision was soon apparent. The Czech position in Slovakia had been deteriorating before February 1939, but it collapsed altogether within a few weeks after Hitler received Tuka.

President Roosevelt Propagandized by Halifax

Halifax continued to maintain a detached attitude toward the Czech problem, and he secretly circulated rumors both at home and abroad which presented the foreign policy of Hitler in the worst possible light. Hitler would have been condemned by Halifax for anything he did in Czechoslovakia. Had he decided to throw German weight behind the Czechs in an effort to maintain Czech rule over the Slovaks, he would have been denounced for converting the Czech state into a German puppet regime. His decision to support the Slovaks should be denounced as a sinister plot to disrupt the Czecho-Slovak state which the Munich Powers had failed to protect with their guarantee.

The situation is illustrated by the message which Halifax dispatched to President Roosevelt on January 24, 1939. Halifax claimed to have received “a large number of reports from various reliable sources which throw a most disquieting light on Hitler’s mood and intentions.” He repeated the tactic he had used with Kennedy about Hitler’s allegedly fierce hatred of Great Britain. Halifax believed that Hitler had guessed that Great Britain was “the chief obstacle now to the fulfillment of his further ambitions.” It was not really necessary for Hitler to do more than read the record of what Halifax and Chamberlain had said at Rome to recognize that Great Britain was the chief threat to Germany, but it was untrue to suggest that Hitler had modified his goal of Anglo-German cooperation in peace and friendship.

Halifax developed his theme with increasing warmth. He claimed that Hitler had recently planned to establish an independent Ukraine, and that he intended to destroy the Western Powers in a surprise attack before he moved into the East. Not only British intelligence but “highly placed Germans who are anxious to prevent this crime” had furnished evidence of this evil conspiracy. This was a lamentable distortion of what German opposition figures, such as Theo Kordt and Carl Gördeler, had actually confided to the British during recent months. None of them had suggested that Hitler had the remotest intention of attacking either Great Britain or France.

Roosevelt was informed by Halifax that Hitler might seek to push Italy into war in the Mediterranean to find an excuse to fight. This was the strategy which Halifax himself hoped to adopt by pushing Poland into war with Germany. Halifax added that Hitler planned to invade Holland, and to offer the Dutch East Indies to Japan. He suggested to Roosevelt that Hitler would present an ultimatum to Great Britain, if he could not use Italy as a pawn to provoke a war. Halifax added casually that the British leaders expected a surprise German attack from the air before the ultimatum arrived. He assured Roosevelt that this surprise attack might occur at any time. He claimed that the Germans were mobilizing for this effort at the very moment he was preparing this report.

The British Foreign Secretary reckoned that Roosevelt might have some doubt about these provocative and mendacious claims. He hastened to top one falsehood with another by claiming that an “economic and financial crisis was facing Germany” which would compel the allegedly bankrupt Germans to adopt these desperate measures. He added with false modesty that some of this “may sound fanciful and even fantastic and His Majesty’s Government have no wish to be alarmist.”

Halifax feared that he had not yet made his point. He returned to the charge and emphasized “Hitler’s mental condition, his insensate rage against Great Britain and his megalomania.” He warned Roosevelt that the German underground movement was impotent, and that there would be no revolt in Germany during the initial phase of World War II. He confided that Great Britain was greatly increasing her armament program, and he believed that it was his duty to enlighten Roosevelt about Hitler’s alleged intentions and attitudes “in view of the relations of confidence which exist between our two Governments and the degree to which we have exchanged information hitherto.” Halifax claimed that Chamberlain was contemplating a public warning to Germany prior to Hitler’s annual Reichstag speech on January 30, 1939. This was untrue, but Halifax hoped to goad Roosevelt into making another alarmist and bellicose speech. He suggested that Roosevelt should address a public warning to Germany without delay.

Anthony Eden had been sent to the United States by Halifax, in December 1938, to spread rumors about sinister German plans, and Roosevelt had responded with a provocative and insulting warning to Germany in his message to Congress on January 4, 1939. Halifax hoped that a second performance of this kind would be useful in preparing the basis for the war propaganda with which he hoped to deluge the British public. He did not achieve the desired response to this specific proposal. Secretary of State Hull explained, in what a British diplomat at Washington, D.C., jokingly described as “his most oracular style,” that the Administration was blocked in such efforts at the moment by hostile American public opinion. Halifax was comforted on January 27, 1939, when he was informed officially that “the United States Government had for some time been basing their policy upon the possibility of just such a situation arising as was foreshadowed in your telegram.” This was another way of saying that the New Deal, which had shot the bolt of its reforms in a futile effort to end the American depression, was counting on the outbreak of a European war.

Halifax learned on January 30, 1939, that leading American “experts” disagreed with a few of the details of his analysis of the Dutch situation. They expected Hitler to mobilize his forces along the Dutch frontier and to demand the surrender of large portions of the Dutch East Indies without firing a shot. The ostensible purpose of this Rooseveltian fantasy would be to “humiliate Great Britain” and to “bribe Japan.” This dispatch was not sent on April Fool’s Day, and it was intended seriously. It enabled Halifax to see that he had pitched his message accurately to the political perspective of Roosevelt, Hull, and their advisers. Anyone in their entourage who did not declare that Hitler was hopelessly insane was virtually ostracized. Roosevelt hoped to have a long discussion with Joseph Stalin at Teheran in 1943 about the alleged insanity of Adolf Hitler. He was disappointed when Stalin abruptly ended this phase of the conversation with the blunt comment that Hitler was not insane. It was like telling the naked Emperor that he was wearing no clothes. It was evident to Stalin that Roosevelt was a clever and unscrupulous politician who lacked the qualities of the statesman.

Halifax Warned of the Approaching Slovak Crisis

The British and French did not approach the Germans again on the Czech guarantee question until February 8, 1939. The Anglo-French disagreement about the guarantee remained, and their inquiry at Berlin was a casual one. Coulondre, the French Ambassador, merely said that he would welcome German suggestions about the guarantee. Ribbentrop discussed the matter with the Western Ambassadors, and he promised to study the current Czech situation before replying to them. The casual nature of the Anglo-French démarche encouraged Ribbentrop and Hitler to believe that the Western leaders were not vitally concerned about the problem.

The Czech situation deteriorated rapidly during the weeks which followed. Ribbentrop discussed the guarantee question with Coulondre on March 2, 1939, and with Henderson on March 3rd. He told them that Germany had definitely decided against a German initiative in the guarantee question. He added that conditions in CzechoSlovakia were exceedingly precarious and unstable. Ribbentrop believed that Czech internal conditions precluded a guarantee, and he dropped the pointed hint that a guarantee by the Western Powers might increase the existing difficulties. This was particularly significant, because Great Britain and France had shown no indication of taking any initiative.

The British and French Governments had received formal notes from Germany on February 28, 1939, which stated the German position against the guarantee. Ribbentrop noted in his conversations with the French and British Ambassadors several days later that no instructions had been sent to them which might have enabled them to contest the German position. The Germans had been frank in rejecting the guarantee, and the British and French Governments had failed to respond.

Czech-German friction was a dominant note during the period between the Anglo-French démarche of February 8, 1939, and the German reply of February 28th. The Czechs continued to reject the Sudeten Jews who had elected to remain Czech under the Munich terms. The Czechs simply insisted that they did not want the Jews. They complained to British diplomats in Prague that the Jews “had been even more active than Christian Germans in Germanising Bohemia in the old days.” They further complained that 21,000 Czechs from the Sudetenland had elected Czech citizenship, but that very few of the Germans in Czecho-Slovakia had elected German citizenship. The Czechs attributed this state of affairs to a deliberate German plot to maintain a large minority in the Czech area.

Halifax learned on February 18, 1939, that Germany was considering intervention in Czecho-Slovakia. Henderson reported one of his “usual frank talks” with Marshal Göring on the morning of February 18th. The German Marshal was in excellent spirits. He had taken off forty pounds of excess weight, and he was planning a pleasant vacation at San Remo early in March. The conversation soon turned to serious subjects of high policy. Göring knew that “the vast sums of money for British rearmament” were either for British defenses or for a British preventive war against Germany. Göring confided that the Germans had reduced their arms expenditure after Munich until British measures prompted them to increase their own military budget. Göring analyzed the current situation, and he claimed that German arms were costing less than British arms.

Göring reminded Henderson that Hitler was more interested in peace than in war. Henderson reported to Halifax that in his opinion the German Marshal was absolutely sincere in this statement. Göring assured Henderson that there were no German plans for action on a large scale. He added that the British could expect to witness plenty of action on a relatively small scale in the immediate German neighborhood. He informed Henderson specifically”… that Memel will eventually and possibly sooner rather than later revert to Germany is a foregone conclusion and a settlement as regards Danzig equally so, Czecho-Slovakia may also be squeezed.” This was a blunt and frank confession which ordinarily would have been made only between Allies. It was a clear warning that decisive developments could be expected on the Czech scene. Weizsäcker predicted to Henderson on the same day that none of the questions arising in 1939 would “lead to a serious risk in the relations between the two countries.”

Halifax’s Decision to Ignore the Crisis

Halifax was aware that a crisis was approaching, and he responded in the manner best calculated to serve his own purposes. The newspapers close to the Government, such as the London Times, were advised to desist from spreading alarmist reports and to present an optimistic and complacent view of the contemporary scene. The leading spokesmen of the Government were encouraged to make optimistic and conciliatory statements. The alarmist campaign of the Government, which had begun to reach a climax after January 1939, was allowed to subside temporarily. Halifax hoped to convince the British public that Hitler was launching unexpected bolts from the blue when the inevitable climax of the Czech crisis arrived.

Increasingly serious internal difficulties faced the Czech state. The Slovak ministers demanded of their Czech colleagues, at the mid-February joint-meeting of the Central, Slovakian, and Ruthenian ministries, to drop the anti-German men in the Central Cabinet from their posts. The demands were not met. The leaders of the German minority claimed that the Czechs were applying economic pressures to force them to elect German citizenship and move to German territory. Theodor Kundt, a German minority leader, delivered a sensational speech at the German House in Prague on February 17, 1939. He demanded a return to the treatment that the Germans had been accorded by the Bohemian kings, many of whom had been German princes, in the old days. The Slovaks were angered by the Czech refusal to permit the Slovak soldiers of the Czecho-Slovak army to garrison Slovakia. The Prague Government was determined to keep the Czech troops in Slovakia, and the Slovak units in Bohemia. It was evident that a final breach was approaching between the Czech and Slovak leaders.

The Czech Government was desperately searching for added prestige with which to meet the domestic crisis, and to ward off the spreading conviction that the Czecho-Slovak experiment was doomed to failure. On February 22, 1939, the Czechs presented an aide-mémoire to the Four Munich Powers which contained an appeal for the territorial guarantee. The Czechs at last agreed to renounce their alliances and declare their neutrality in exchange for a guarantee.

The Czech note aroused no enthusiasm in London. Sir Alexander Cadogan, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the British Foreign Office, complained that the Czechs had not made it clear whether or not they intended to declare their neutrality unilaterally in order to become eligible for the guarantee. The Swiss in the 19th century had declared their own neutrality before accepting the international guarantee of the Powers. This was an interesting point, but the British Government displayed no interest in obtaining clarification about it from the Czechs.

Halifax conversed with German Ambassador Dirksen on the day the Czech note was received at London, but he did not mention the Czech problem. Dirksen was about to return to Germany on leave, and he reminded Halifax that Ribbentrop was more pro-British than ever in his attitude. Halifax responded by assuring Dirksen that England “would be glad to receive Ribbentrop on a visit.”

The Germans were very frank with the British at this time, and they had little reason to suspect that anything they might do in Czecho-Slovakia would compromise their relations with Great Britain. Dirksen spoke with Chamberlain on February 23, 1939, before departing for Germany. Chamberlain inquired if many Germans had fled from the Sudetenland to Prague, as political refugees from National Socialism. Dirksen conceded that 13,000 German opponents of Hitler had deserted the Sudetenland for the Bohemian interior, before German troops had completed the occupation of Sudeten territory.

British diplomats in Prague reported on February 25, 1939, that the Czech Government had decided not to permit German and Jewish refugees from the Sudetenland to remain Czech citizens, and they continued to refuse entry permits to the Jews. The Czechs were resolved to employ stern measures in dealing with the Slovaks. British diplomats in Bratislava, Slovakia, warned London on February 26, 1939, that Slovak dissatisfaction with the Czechs was approaching a climax, and that German influence in Slovakia was increasing. They further warned that the climax of the Slovak crisis could be expected in the immediate future. Halifax took this warning seriously, and he informed British Ambassador Lindsay in Washington, D.C., on February 27, 1939, that he had received information “pointing to the possibility of a military occupation of Czechoslovakia.”

Hitler served as host at his annual dinner for the Diplomatic Corps in Berlin on March 1, 1939, two days after the Halifax telegram to Lindsay. This was the last occasion on which he appeared in formal evening attire. He spoke to the accredited envoys individually, He declared fervently to Henderson, in the presence of the other envoys, that “he admired the British Empire.” Hitler emphasized the absence of serious points of conflict in Anglo-German relations. He told Henderson that on this occasion he did not consider it necessary to invite the British Ambassador to call afterward for a special talk on the problems of Anglo-German relations. Henderson had no instructions to discuss the Czech question with Hitler. The Czech and Slovak leaders were deadlocked in important negotiations on financial questions throughout the first week of March 1939. The Czech Government moved to strengthen its military hold in Ruthenia on March 6, 1939, and the Ruthenian autonomous Government was summarily dismissed by the Prague authorities. Newton warned London again on that day that “relations between the Czechs and the Slovaks seem to be heading for a crisis.”

The Polish leaders discussed the Slovakian “movement for independence” with British diplomats at Warsaw. Kennard reported to Halifax on March 7, 1939, that a member of the Slovak Government was due to arrive in Warsaw the same day on a special mission. The Poles were aware that Germany was becoming the dominant foreign force in Slovakia, and the Polish attitude toward Slovak independence was more reserved than in the past. Kennard learned that, nevertheless, the Poles intended to tell the Slovak emissary that “whatever they do Poland would still regard Slovakia with sympathy.” The Poles were willing to give the Slovaks the encouraging assurance that Poland would guarantee the new frontier with independent Slovakia. The Slovaks were to be assured that the Polish leaders did not believe Hungary would object to Slovak independence.

Kennard believed that the continuing Polish policy of encouraging Slovak independence resulted from Polish impatience to settle the Ruthenian question. The Poles were still disappointed that Italy had failed them at Vienna, and they were complaining that Ciano “has clearly not the courage to do anything which might displease the Reich.” Kennard concluded that the Poles remained opposed to the preservation of the Czecho-Slovak state.

Chvalkovsky asserted to British diplomats at Prague on March 8th that Hitler had used a clever formula to eliminate the possibility of further negotiation about a separate German territorial guarantee to Czecho-Slovakia. He recalled that the German Chancellor had said the Poles and Hungarians should be willing to accept the present territorial status quo as a condition for the guarantee. Chvalkovsky complained bitterly that Poland and Hungary would never agree to this.

The Climax of the Slovak Crisis

The climax of the Slovak crisis arrived on March 9, 1939, when the Prague Government dismissed the four principal Slovak ministers from the local Government at Bratislava. Henderson reported from Berlin with conclusive evidence that Germany was supporting the Slovakian independence movement. The London Times responded by assuring its readers that the European situation was calm. Geoffrey Dawson, the editor of the Times, noted in his private diary on March 12, 1939, that the Czechs and Slovaks were fighting in the streets of Bratislava. On the following day, the Times repeated that the European situation was calm, and it assured its readers that Germany had no demands upon her neighbors. Dawson wrote in his diary on the same day that Hitler was taking charge of the trouble in Slovakia “in his usual bullying way.” This friend of Halifax had matched in journalism the duplicity which characterized the diplomacy of the British Foreign Secretary.

Henderson was puzzled by the failure of the leading British newspapers to refer to the crisis in Slovakia. He reported to Halifax on March 11th that the German press was devoting much attention to the Czech-Slovak controversy, and that it was carrying the announcement that Tiso had appealed to the German Government for aid. Halifax learned from Warsaw on the same day that the Polish leaders expressed no concern about the future of Bohemia-Moravia, but they were bitter that Germany, and not Poland, was in a position to secure the dominant influence in Slovakia. The Polish leaders still hoped that some alternative to an independent Slovakia under German protection would emerge, but the prospects were distinctly unfavorable. The Poles were concentrating on their own campaign in support of the Hungarian acquisition of Ruthenia at Czech expense. Halifax was warned on March 12th that agitators in Bohemia-Moravia were blaming the Slovakian crisis on the Germans, and that fanatical groups of Czechs were marching through the streets of Brünn singing Hrom a Peklo (Thunder and Hell, i.e. to the Germans).

Joseph Kirschbaum, at the time a prominent Slovak politician and later a professor at the University of Montreal in Canada, has refuted the claim of the American journalist, William Shirer, that the Germans intimidated the Slovaks and thus forced them to break once and for all with the Czechs. Karol Sidor had agreed on March 10th to head an interim administration in Slovakia. A mission of German notables from Vienna, including State Secretary Wilhelm Keppler, Austrian Governor Arthur Seyss-Inquart, and Gauleiter Joseph Buerckel, arrived in Bratislava late on the same day to discuss the situation with Sidor. There was a friendly exchange of views, and the German leaders departed with the satisfaction of knowing that Sidor had no intention of conducting a policy in opposition to Tiso and the other Slovakian leaders. Tiso continued to hold the initiative as the recognized leader in Slovakian politics, and all of his decisions during the crisis were made with the full approval of his principal confederates.

Hitler agreed on March 13, 1939, not to oppose a Hungarian invasion of Ruthenia, and he received a special message of thanks from Regent Horthy of Hungary on the same day. Josef Tiso, the Slovakian leader, arrived in Berlin by way of Vienna on March 13th, and he met Hitler in a hurried conference. Hitler explained that the German press had been criticizing Czech policies for several days because he had granted permission to do so. He had decided that Germany should not tolerate the permanent unrest and uncertainty which existed in Czecho-Slovakia. Hitler admitted that until recently he had been unaware of the strength of the independence movement in Slovakia. He promised Tiso that he would support Slovakia if she continued to demonstrate her will to independence. Tiso replied that Hitler could rely on Slovakia.

Halifax prepared a curious analysis of this situation for Henderson in Berlin, which was obviously designed to occupy a prominent place in the future official record of events. This analysis culminated in the following statement: “During the last few weeks there had certainly been a negative improvement in the situation, in that rumors and scares have died down, and it is not plain that the German Government are planning mischief in any particular quarter. (I hope they may not be taking, even as I write, an unhealthy interest in the Slovak situation).”

This is an extraordinary performance from the man who two weeks earlier predicted the likelihood of a German military occupation of Czecho-Slovakia in the immediate future. Fortunately, it is possible to compare this analysis with a memorandum written by F.N. Roberts and possibly dictated by Halifax on March 13, 1939. This memorandum, in contrast to the message to Henderson, contained a shrewd and accurate estimate of the Slovak crisis. It ended with the statement that “the position in Slovakia seems to have been thoroughly unsatisfactory since Munich,” and that Hitler may “come off the fence, and march on Prague.” The march on Prague was considered to be a logical move on the part of Hitler to meet the exigencies of the current crisis. One almost has the feeling that the author was saying that, if he were Hitler, he would march on Prague. It is important to note that the memorandum was prepared before there was the slightest indication of what Hitler would do beyond encouraging the Slovaks.

German Ambassador Moltke at Warsaw, who had failed to interpret correctly the policy of Poland during the Czech crisis in 1938, was puzzled by the Polish attitude in March 1939. He wondered why Poland continued to advocate the dissolution of Czecho-Slovakia when it was obvious that Germany would benefit from this development far more than Poland. He knew that the Polish leaders were interested in Ruthenia, and that Slovakian independence would solve the Ukrainian problem by cutting off Ruthenia from Prague.

Moltke reported on March 13th that Poland was “quite obviously adverse” to an independent Slovakia under German influence, because this would increase the potential military danger from Germany. It seemed to Moltke that Poland would lose much more in Slovakia than she would gain by having Hungary in Ruthenia. Moltke concluded that the Poles might be playing a double game. There was a rumor in Warsaw that the Czechs had appealed for Polish help against the Slovaks, offering Ruthenia in exchange. Moltke considered it improbable that the Czechs had proposed this, but he believed that the Poles were capable of making this proposition to the Czechs.

Moltke did not deny that the Polish attitude toward Germany was currently friendly on the surface, but he argued that the stakes were high in Slovakia, and that Poland “has to fear that now the independence of Slovakia would only mean alignment with Germany.” Moltke was again mistaken in his analysis of an important situation, and at Berlin the possibility of a Polish-Czech deal was ignored. The German diplomat had failed to weigh the factor of the Polish desire to witness the final elimination of their Czech rivals.

The Hitler-Hacha Pact

Tiso had the support of Ferdinand Durcansky, who had formerly advocated the experiment of Slovak autonomy under Czech rule, in his bid for Slovak independence. Tiso and Durcansky together could count on the unanimous support of the Slovakian Diet. They decided at 3:00 a.m. on March 14th to convene the Diet later the same morning, and to request the Slovakian deputies to vote a declaration of independence. This strategy was successful, and March 14th became Slovakian independence day. When Hitler received word of the Slovakian independence vote, he instructed Weizsäcker that Germany had decided to recognize Slovakia, and he ordered him to inform the foreign diplomats in Berlin of this fact. Weizsäcker discussed the situation with Henderson. The British Ambassador complained that the Vienna radio had encouraged the Slovakian independence bid. Weizsäcker replied by repeating what many foreign diplomats had reported during the months since the Anschluss. He commented to Henderson that in many respects “Austria was largely independent of Berlin.”

Henderson had no instructions from Halifax to deal with the crisis, but he took a serious step on his own initiative. He contacted Czech Minister Mastny on March 14th and urged him to suggest that Chvalkovsky should come to Berlin to discuss the situation with Hitler. The Czechs responded favorably to Henderson’s suggestion. Newton was working closely with Henderson, and he reported from Prague a few hours later that President Hacha and Chvalkovsky had received permission from the Germans to come to Berlin. The Czech leaders left Prague by special train at 4:00 p.m. on March 14, 1939. The subsequent conference with the Germans proved to be a decisive event in Czech history. It began and ended on the early morning of March 15th. A Czech-German agreement was concluded which provided for an autonomous Bohemian Moravian regime under German protection.

The Czech President was correctly received at Berlin with the full military honors due to a visiting chief of state. Hitler met his train and presented flowers and chocolates to Hacha’s daughter, who accompanied the Czech statesmen. Hacha’s daughter denied to Allied investigators, after World War II, that her father had been subjected to any unusual pressure during his visit to Berlin. The meeting with the German leaders lasted from 1:15 a.m. to 2:15 a.m. on March 15th; Hacha described the full details to his daughter after returning to his hotel. Hitler, Hacha, Chvalkovsky, Ribbentrop, Marshal Göring, and General Keitel had attended the meeting. Hacha made a plea for the continuation of full Czech independence, and he offered to reduce the Czech army. Hitler rejected this plea, and he announced that German troops would enter Bohemia-Moravia the same day. The Germans made it quite clear that they were prepared to crush any Czech resistance.

Hacha, who was bothered by heart trouble, had a mild heart attack during his session with the German leaders. He agreed to accept German medical assistance, and he quickly recovered. This was a great relief to everyone, for the Germans dreaded to think of what sensational foreign journalists might have reported had Hacha died in Berlin. Hacha and Chvalkovsky agreed to telephone Prague to advise against resistance. The remaining time was devoted to the negotiation of an outline agreement, and some of the details were arranged between the Czechs and the Germans at Prague on March 15th and 16th. The main German advance into Bohemia-Moravia did not begin until after the conclusion of the Berlin meeting between the Czech and German leaders. An exception was made in one instance. The Germans and Czechs had been concerned since October 1938 lest the Poles seek to seize the key Moravian industrial center of Morava-Ostrava. Hitler had ordered special German units to enter the area late on March 14th to prevent this eventuality. The local Czech population understood the situation, and there was no violence.

The Hungarian Government presented a twelve hour ultimatum to the Czechs on March 14, 1939. The Czechs submitted, and the Hungarian military occupation of Ruthenia began the same day. Henderson had been informed of Germany’s intention to occupy Bohemia-Moravia, before the arrival of Hacha and Chvalkovsky at Berlin. The British Ambassador immediately informed Halifax of this German decision, but he received only ambiguous instructions in reply. Halifax empowered Henderson to say that Great Britain had no desire to interfere in matters where other countries were more directly concerned, but she “would deplore any action in Central Europe which would cause a setback to the growth of this general confidence on which all improvement in the economic situation depends and to which such improvement might in its turn contribute.” This Sphinx-like pronouncement was not easily intelligible, and Henderson could do little more than assure the Germans that Great Britain would not interfere with their Czech policy.

Halifax’s Challenge to Hitler

Henderson hoped that the British reaction to the crisis would be mild. He wired Halifax that in this situation the best hope was “in the recognition of the fact that the guarantors of the Vienna Award (Germany and Italy) are the parties primarily interested.” It would have been possible for Halifax to follow this sensible suggestion, and to exert a restraining influence on British public reaction to the hurried events of the crisis. Winston Churchill, who had expert knowledge of British public opinion and no knowledge of the current Halifax policy, did not expect the British leaders to change their course because of what had happened at Prague. He knew that it would have been possible for Chamberlain and Halifax to guide British public opinion along the lines of appeasement after March 1939, and he was amazed by the sudden switch in British policy a few days after Hitler arrived at Prague. It was evident that Halifax chose on his own volition to ignore the advice of Henderson, and not because he was responding to an imaginary pressure to do so.

The story of the British reaction to Prague is the story of the British balance of power policy in 1939. Hitler’s move to Prague was merely the signal for the British to drop the mask of their false appeasement policy. The British leaders had made extensive preparations for this step since the Munich conference, and they would not have been at a loss to find some other pretext to implement it, had the Czech crisis in 1939 taken a different course. The proof of their effort to place more emphasis on an imaginary crisis in Rumania in March 1939 than on the real crisis in Czecho-Slovakia will be analyzed later. British diplomacy in the Czech question since Munich had deprived them of any legitimate grievances relative to Hitler’s solution of the Czech problem. Halifax had evaded British responsibilities in both the Czech-Magyar dispute and in the guarantee question, and he had been the first leading European statesman to advocate abandoning the application of self-determination to Czecho-Slovakia. He encouraged Germany to attempt a unilateral solution of the Czech problem by refraining from showing any interest in the Czech crisis during the final hectic weeks of the Czecho-Slovak regime. It is astonishing that as late as 1960 William Shirer, who has received undeserved recognition for an allegedly definitive history of Germany under Hitler, failed completely to understand the Czech situation in March 1939. Shirer claimed no less than four times in his description of the situation that Great Britain and France at Munich “had solemnly guaranteed Czechoslovakia against aggression.” Shirer’s account throughout is characterized by his failure to consult most of the available documents dealing with the events which he describes. His work is a mere caricature of a genuine historical narrative. His scanty and infrequent use of British sources meant that it was impossible for him to understand any important phase of British policy in 1939.

Hitler recognized the British game immediately after Prague, but he hoped to out-maneuver his adversaries on the diplomatic board. He refused to admit that an Anglo-German war was inevitable, because he knew that the British, despite their momentary hostility toward Germany, would never dare to attack alone and unaided. The Anglo-German crisis was in the open after Prague, but war was not inevitable.

Stanley Baldwin, the former Conservative Prime Minister, had planned a series of lectures in January 1939 which he hoped to deliver at the University of Toronto in Canada the following April. The lectures were entitled: “England and the Balance of Power as illustrated. in the fight against Philip of Spain, Louis XIV, and Napoleon, leading up to the fight against tyranny to-day.” The conduct of Halifax in March 1939 in opening the public campaign for the destruction of Germany was so masterful that Baldwin decided any lectures he might give on foreign policy would be an anti-climax. He had been willing to give the original lectures in April as a patriotic duty in preparation for what Halifax had already accomplished in March 1939 without his help. Baldwin recognized that foreign policy had never been his strong point, and he realized that Halifax completely overshadowed him in that field. Baldwin decided in April 1939 to confine his Canadian speeches to the domestic affairs which he knew so well. The foreign policy of the British Empire was in the hands of Lord Halifax. The immediate issue was whether or not there would be another Anglo-German war. It was a contest between Halifax and Hitler, the British aristocrat and the German common man.

Hitler’s Generous Treatment of the Czechs after March 1939

Hitler believed that his decision to pursue this course was defensible. He attained results without bloodshed, and the danger of a war between the Czechs and the Slovaks was averted. He was willing to grant the Czechs the autonomy which they had persistently refused to give the Sudeten Germans. It was evident within a few weeks after the proclamation of the Protectorate of Bohemia-Moravia on March 16, 1939, that the new regime enjoyed considerable popularity among the Czechs. Baron Konstantin von Neurath, the former German Foreign Minister, was appointed chief representative of the German Government at Prague. The Reichsprotektor was noted for his pro-Czech views. Emil Hacha explained to journalists on March 22, 1939, that he had departed for Germany on March 14th on his own initiative in the hope of finding some solution for a hopeless crisis. The German Minister in Prague never suggested this visit. The treaty which Hacha signed with the Germans on March 15, 1939, had been prepared after negotiation. No German document was presented in advance of the negotiation at Berlin.

Bohemia-Moravia was constituted a separate customs area on March 24, 1939. It was announced on March 27, 1939, that Czech would continue to be the official language in Bohemia-Moravia. Minister Mastny, who had represented the Czechs at Berlin in the past, accepted a special decoration from Ribbentrop on April 2, 1939. The German military flag was lowered from the Hradschin Castle in Prague on April 16, 1939. The period of direct German military rule lasted only one month. The Commander of the German Army, General Walther von Brauchitsch, ordered that German garrisons should be concentrated in areas populated by the German minority so that friction between Czech civilians and German soldiers might be avoided.

President Hacha appointed a new Czech Government on April 27, 1939. The Beran Government had resigned on March 15, 1939. The new Premier, Alois Elias, also administered the Department of Interior. Chvalkovsky succeeded Mastny as Czech Minister at Berlin. The new Czech administration retained the Departments of Transportation, Justice, Interior, Education, Agriculture, National Economy, Public Works, and Social Service. The Departments of Foreign Affairs and Defense were dissolved.

Neurath was officially introduced to the new Czech Government a few days later. Premier Elias began and concluded his speech in Czech, but he also made a number of comments in German. This was courtesy rather than servility; the German language had been spoken and understood by educated Czechs for many centuries. Neurath replied with a few gracious remarks. He reminded the Czech leaders that Hitler had expressed his esteem for the Czech people in a speech before the German Reichstag on April 28, 1939.

Neurath presented a favorable report to Hitler on conditions in Bohemia-Moravia on June 1, 1939. Hitler replied on June 7, 1939, by declaring an amnesty for all Czechs held as prisoners for political reasons in both the Sudeten and Protectorate regions. The Czech Government at Prague was negotiating a series of trade treaties with delegations from foreign nations. A Norwegian-Czech trade pact was signed on June 23, 1939, and a Dutch-Czech trade pact was concluded on the following day.

The cooperative attitude of the Czech leaders and the Czech population prompted Hitler to make a further concession on July 31, 1939. An agreement was concluded which permitted the Czech Government to have a military force of 7,000 soldiers, which would include 280 officers. The officers were selected from the former Czech army, and it was provided that only persons of Czech nationality could serve in this force. A Czech Military General-Inspector and three subordinate Inspectors were appointed.

Hitler allowed the British to know as early as April 1939 that the Protectorate Articles of March 16, 1939, were not necessarily the last word in the Czech question as far as he was concerned. Hitler was willing to negotiate about the Czech question and the Czech future through the channels of conventional diplomacy. He hoped that this attitude would be effective eventually in appeasing the British leaders, and he was willing to make concessions to support it.

Hitler was pleased with the Czech response to his policy. Several regions of dangerous instability had been pacified without loss of life, and the strategic position of Germany was greatly improved. The German military frontier was shortened, and close collaboration between the Germans and the Slovaks was achieved. He was disappointed by the hostile British reaction to his policy, but he hoped that the British leaders were impressed by German strength and by his ability to deal with difficult problems without creating a conflict. His greatest disappointment, shortly after the German occupation of Prague, was the revelation of an Anglo-Polish plot to oppose Germany in Eastern Europe. Hitler had counted on German-Polish collaboration against the Soviet Union, and he deplored the decision of the Polish leaders to become the instruments of a British policy of encirclement.

The Propaganda Against Hitler’s Czech Policy

The policy of Hitler in Bohemia-Moravia was extremely vulnerable to the onslaught of hostile propaganda. The argument was raised that German devotion to self-determination was a fraud because Hitler had reduced Czech independence to mere autonomy. This argument was unfair. Hitler had never proclaimed an intention to bring all of the Germans of Europe into the Reich. He recognized that strategic, geographic, political, and economic considerations had to be taken into account when self-determination was applied. There were more Germans living outside the German frontiers in Europe after March 1939 than there were alien peoples in Germany. Furthermore, these outside Germans (Volksdeutsche) at no place enjoyed the autonomy which the Czechs possessed.

It was astonishing for the British leaders to claim that Germany had hoisted the pirate flag, when Hitler switched his support from the Czechs to the Slovaks in the crisis between the two neighboring Slavic peoples. The British were ruling over millions of alien peoples throughout the world on the strength of naked conquest. It was evident that the British leaders failed to appreciate Hitler’s ability to solve difficult problems without bloodshed. Apparently they preferred their own methods. Halifax told German Ambassador Dirksen on March 15, 1939, that he could understand Hitler’s taste for bloodless victories, but he promised the German diplomat that Hitler would be forced to shed blood the next time.

It was astonishing to hear the British leaders claim that Hitler had broken promises by taking Prague. Chamberlain explained in the House of Commons on March 15, 1939, that Germany had no obligation to consult Great Britain in dealing with the Czech-Slovak crisis in the period March 14-15, 1939. The British Government had never fulfilled its promise to guarantee the Czech state after Munich, and the Slovak declaration of independence on March 14th had dissolved the state which had not received the guarantee. Chamberlain apparently believed that consistency was the virtue of small minds. He discussed the same situation at Birmingham two days later and he claimed that he would never be able to believe Hitler again. This was mere cant. Chamberlain relied upon British prestige and force rather than honor to hold foreign leaders to their commitments. He had said to his advisers at the time of the Munich conference that he did not actually trust Hitler. The German leader studied Chamberlain’s remarks at Birmingham and remained cool. He knew that Great Britain would never strike a blow against Germany unless she considered that the moment was favorable. He correctly believed that there would be several opportunities ahead for him to deprive the British leaders of that favorable chance to attack Germany.

Chapter 11 • Germany and Poland in Early 1939 • 19,200 Words
The Need for a German-Polish Understanding — The Generous German Offer to Poland — The Reasons for Polish Procrastination — Hitler’s Refusal to Exert Pressure on Poland — Beck’s Deception Toward Germany — The Confiscation of German Property in Poland — German-Polish Conversations at the End of 1938 — The BeckHitler Conference of January 5, 1939 — The Beck-Ribbentrop Conference of January 6, 1939 — German Optimism and Polish Pessimism — The Ribbentrop Visit to Warsaw — Hitler’s Reichstag Speech of January 30, 1939 — Polish Concern About French Policy — The German-Polish Pact Scare at London — Anti-German Demonstrations During Ciano’s Warsaw Visit — Beck’s Announcement of His Visit to London

The Need for a German-Polish Understanding

The collapse of the Czecho-Slovak state in March 1939 was preceded by crucial German-Polish negotiations in January 1939. The most significant diplomatic event in December 1938 had been the Franco-German declaration of friendship. This raised the possibility of a durable understanding between National Socialist Germany and the French Third Republic. The British leaders had replied with their visit to Rome in January 1939 and with intensification of their appeasement policy toward Italy. They hoped to make Rome dependent upon London in foreign affairs.

The British visit to Rome was very important, but it was overshadowed that same month by the visits of Beck to Berchtesgaden and Ribbentrop to Warsaw. The future of German-Polish relations had become a matter of supreme importance for the entire European situation. There would either be further progress toward a German-Polish understanding, which would strengthen the German bid for an understanding with France, or there would be a return to the chaotic situation of German-Polish relations before the Non-Aggression Pact of 1934. This could easily lead to war in Eastern Europe, which, at the very least, would undermine Franco-German relations and prompt the British leaders to intensify their efforts in Italy. The 1934 Pact was a useful basis for the improvement of German-Polish relations, but it was apparent that further steps were required to achieve a more fundamental understanding and to prevent the loss of the many gains which had been made. At the very most, a German failure in Poland might be exploited successfully by the British leaders to unleash another general European conflict like that of 1914. Hence, it would be difficult to exaggerate the importance of German-Polish negotiations in January 1939.

The 1934 Pact between Germany and Poland was merely a non-aggression treaty in the style condoned by the League of Nations. The problems of Danzig and of Germany’s undefined attitude toward the western border of Poland remained unresolved. Both Germany and Poland were opposed to the Soviet Union and its policies, but no attempt had been made to coordinate permanently the anti-Soviet orientation of the two states along the lines advocated by Göring during his many visits to Poland. The Poles had obtained a promise of German support against Russia during the 1938 Czech crisis, but the question of the more permanent German attitude, in the event of an attack on Poland by the Soviet Union during the months after Munich, had not been resolved. The Poles were concerned about the possibility of a Russian attack. They maintained a permanent military alliance with Rumania directed exclusively against Russia.

There was nothing exaggerated in Ribbentrop’s contention that no comprehensive settlement of differences between Germany and Poland had been achieved since the defeat of Germany in 1918. The German-Polish treaty of 1934 had merely avoided some very real problems inherited from the Versailles settlement of 1919. The situation would have been an entirely different one had the so-called peacemakers of 1919 established the territorial status quo between the two nations in conformance with point 13 of the 14 Point Peace Program of Woodrow Wilson.

The tragedy of Europe in 1939, in the larger sense, resulted from the failure of the European states to solve short of war the problems created by the broken allied promises of 1918. The solemn contract concluded between Germany and the Allied and Associated Powers in the armistice agreement of November 1918 included Point 13 of the Wilson program. Germany agreed to accept the results of self-determination in the German-Polish borderlands, and Poland was to obtain access to the sea within this context of self-determination. The promise to Poland provided the basis for Czechoslovakia’s successful campaign at the peace conference to obtain access to the sea by means of free harbor facilities at Hamburg and Stettin, and free harbors might easily have been granted to Poland at Danzig and Königsberg without violating self-determination. The unsatisfactory settlement in Danzig and the Corridor had remained unmodified for twenty years. A peaceful solution in 1939 would have been a major contribution to stability in Europe.

The Generous German Offer to Poland

Ribbentrop and Hitler suggested a settlement in October 1938 which was far less favorable to Germany than Point 13 of the Wilson program had been. This proposed settlement would not enable Germany to regain the position she would have retained had the Allied Powers not violated the 1918 armistice contract. Poland received at Versailles large slices of territory in regions such as West Prussia and Western Posen which were overwhelmingly German. The census figures indicated that a Polish victory in a plebiscite for the province of West Prussia would have been impossible. Therefore the Allies refused to permit a plebiscite in the area. The bulk of West Prussia was turned over to Poland without further ado, and the protests of the defeated Germans were treated with contempt.

One might argue that the superhighway plan called for the return of at least some Polish territory to Germany. The Germans were aware, when proposing the plan, that they would have to tunnel under, or build over, all existing and future North-South Polish communications. The strip of territory involved in the plan would have been at most 5/8 of a mile wide and 53 1/8 miles in length. The applicable doctrines of international law indicated that the extraterritorial arrangement would constitute merely a servitude rather than an actual transfer of sovereignty. The Germans in this arrangement would receive a special privilege within an area under Polish sovereignty.

The Hitler plan did not envisage the aggrandizement of Germany through the recovery of former German territory granted to Poland in 1919. His purpose was to encourage the renunciation by Germany of her claims to this territory in the interest of German-Polish cooperation. This concession of Hitler’s was more than adequate to compensate for German requests in the Corridor and at Danzig. The October 1938 Hitler offer was the most modest proposal which Poland had received from Germany since 1918. Georges Bonnet had often reflected on the price in concessions which Bismarck had vainly paid France in an effort to obtain voluntary French recognition of the Franco-German border of 1871. The Polish leaders would have recognized that German concessions were an adequate basis for an agreement had they placed any value on cooperation with Germany as a permanent policy. This would not have prevented them from seeking other commitments from Germany, such as a German agreement not to maintain German armed forces in Slovakia. The Poles preferred the unrealistic position that a German offer to guarantee their 1919 frontier was no concession to Poland.

The German offer of October 24, 1938, was no mere feeler by Germany, to be withdrawn when the Poles failed to respond in October and November 1938. The Germans did not request larger concessions from Poland during the period of more than five months before the definitive Polish refusal of their offer, and it was the impatience of the Polish leaders, rather than of Hitler, which led to the rupture of negotiations in March 1939. The Polish diplomats themselves believed that the Germans were sincere in offering their proposals as the basis for a permanent agreement. Hitler was also willing to retreat somewhat from the original proposals and to abandon the German suggestion for a railway to accompany the superhighway to East Prussia. The issue of the definitive Polish response to the German offer remained in doubt after Ribbentrop’s first conversations with Lipski. The Poles said nothing to indicate that there was no chance of reaching an agreement on the basis proposed.

The Reasons for Polish Procrastination

The Poles had good reasons to wait more than five months, while the British increased their armaments, before categorically rejecting the German offer. They experienced little difficulty in keeping the negotiations open as long as they pleased and until they chose their own moment to disrupt them. They kept their own counsel, and they refused to confide the details of the negotiation to the French, who were their allies, and to the British, who were eager to support them. Beck maintained this attitude despite the fact that consultation on important questions was a basic feature of the Franco-Polish alliance. He also knew that the British were exhibiting great curiosity and impatience about the situation. Beck treated the truly Great Powers of Europe with disdain during these months. He was aware of the importance of his own position while Great Britain and Germany were both courting Poland.

The Poles were also secretive because they did not wish their problems with Germany to come before an international conference. They suspected, with good reason, that their French ally would conclude, in such an eventuality, that Germany had a more reasonable case. Poland was fundamentally hostile toward the mutual discussions which conference diplomacy implied. She preferred bilateral negotiation, and she did not care to have states which were not directly concerned pass judgment on Polish interests.

Beck’s tactics of secrecy and delay are easily intelligible under these circumstances. The situation would have been entirely different had Beck not counted upon the British intention to attack Germany. It cannot be said with certainty that the Poles would have settled their differences with the Germans had there been a friendly, or at least peaceable, British attitude toward Germany, but this was exceedingly likely. It is absolutely certain that the Poles would not have abruptly disrupted their negotiation with the Germans in March 1939 without an assurance of British support.

The recent experience of Czechoslovakia raised serious doubts in Polish minds about France. This was particularly true of Jozef Beck and Juliusz Lukasiewicz, the leading Polish experts on France. The Poles were gambling on the ability of Great Britain to dominate and decide French policy in a crisis.

Beck knew that Great Britain was not ready to intervene against Germany, when Ribbentrop presented the German offer in October 1938. Beck had observed with disdain that Great Britain purchased peace in 1938 at Czech expense. He had British assurances dating from September 1938 that Poland would not be treated like Czechoslovakia. This encouraged Beck to take a bold stand, and to proclaim that the Poles, unlike the Czechs, were prepared to fight with or without assurances from other Powers. Beck was not bothered by the fact that the British would never be in a position to offer Poland immediately effective military support. He was less interested in preventing the momentary defeat of Poland than in promoting the ruin of both Germany and the Soviet Union. Beck’s foreign policy was based on the World War I mystique. A new defeat of Russia by Germany, and of Germany by the Western Powers, would permit the Great Poland of pre-partition days to arise from the ashes of a momentary new Polish defeat.

The Poles also attached great importance to the role of the United States. They knew that American intervention had been decisive in World War I. They knew that the American President, Franklin Roosevelt, was an ardent interventionist. Roosevelt differed markedly from his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, after whom many streets were named in Poland in gratitude for his post-World War I relief program. Hoover had been favorably impressed by a conversation with Adolf Hitler on March 8, 1938, and he was a leader in the struggle against current American interventionism. The Poles knew that Hoover, who was wrongly accused of being the father of the American economic depression, that began in 1929, had little influence on American policy in 1938. They knew that President Roosevelt was eager to involve the United States in the struggles of distant states in Europe and Asia. American opponents of Roosevelt who opposed his foreign policy were disdainfully labeled isolationists.

The Poles did not trouble themselves about the reasons for President Roosevelt’s interventionism. They were too realistic to assume that he necessarily had any legitimate reasons. They were content to accept the convenient explanation of Count Jerzy Potocki, the Polish Ambassador to the United States. Potocki claimed that President Roosevelt’s foreign policy was the product of Jewish influence. This was untrue, but there was little interest in Poland for an elaborate analysis of American policy. The surveys sent by the Polish Foreign Office to missions abroad rarely mentioned the American scene. The Poles recognized the importance of the American position, but they were content to leave the problem of promoting American intervention in Europe to their British friends.

Hitler’s Refusal to Exert Pressure on Poland

The friendly German attitude made it easy for Beck to defer his decision on the October 1938 offer without arousing German wrath. The German approach to Poland was very different from their earlier attitudes toward Austria or Czechoslovakia. Rump-Austria existed in 1938 merely because she had been refused the right to join Germany by self-determination in 1919. Hitler, as an Austrian German, could scarcely sympathize with Austrian leaders who hoped to establish an unpopular Habsburg monarchy in that tiny area. Hitler shared the attitude of Pilsudski toward Czechoslovakia. He believed that the nationalities state under Czech rule, which had been recognized at Versailles, was an unnatural phenomenon without any traditional position in the historical experience of Central Europe.

There were some Germans who regarded the resurrection of Poland in the 20th century as a mistake, but Hitler did not share their views. He opposed the advocates of collaboration with Russia, who wished to cement RussoGerman relations by partitioning Poland with the Soviet Union. Hitler recognized in Mein Kampf that a case could be made for an anti-Polish policy, and he observed that German policy in World War I had been unsuccessful in Poland because it was neither distinctly pro-Polish nor anti-Polish. Hitler believed that the issue had to be met squarely, and he had decided for a pro-Polish policy. It was for this reason that he was extremely patient in dealing with the Poles.

There were many strong arguments in favor of a pro-Polish policy, once the attitude of Hitler was accepted that Germany should renounce the territories lost to Poland in World War I. France, Italy, and Poland were the three most important immediate neighbors of Germany in Europe. It was wiser from the standpoint of German defense and security to establish friendly ties with these three neighbors than to alienate any of them. The most valuable achievement of diplomatic statecraft is to achieve good relations with one’s immediate neighbors. It was possible in terms of power politics to substitute Russia for Poland as a neighbor, but Hitler recognized that there was virtually no chance for permanent friendly relations with the Communist state under Stalin. The Soviet Union was pledged to the destruction of its capitalist neighbors.

Beck’s Deception Toward Germany

Beck deliberately misled the Germans about his intentions during the months after October 1938. He succeeded in convincing them that he favored a pro-German policy for Poland. He merely insisted that such a policy be consistent with vital Polish interests, and acceptable to Polish public opinion to some degree. Beck was so successful in this approach that most German experts concluded that he was acting almost against his will, and certainly against his preferences, when he finally came into the open with a vigorously anti-German policy.

Beck used many devices to create the desired impression with the Germans. He constantly emphasized his alleged esteem for German-Polish cooperation. He was usually charming and attentive while discussing German proposals, and this was especially true of his conversations with Hitler, for whom he undoubtedly had a great personal liking. His opinion of the leading personalities in England and France was less favorable, but he shared Pilsudski’s conviction that personalities should not be permitted to play a decisive role in Polish policy. Beck was adept at exploiting Polish public opinion, which undoubtedly was hostile to Germany, and in labelling it an important obstacle to a quick and easy settlement with the Germans. Beck, at the same time, was careful not to build up this public opinion factor to a point where the Germans might conclude that he was unable to cope with it. Beck was skillful at leaving the door open, and at conveying hints that a settlement might eventually be achieved on approximately the terms offered by the Germans. Beck’s game with the Germans is a fascinating episode in diplomatic history, but unfortunately it ended in tragedy.

The Confiscation of German Property in Poland

The situation was complicated by the increasing harshness with which the Polish authorities handled the German minority. The important German-Polish conferences of January 1939 were held under the shadow of the approaching annual Polish agrarian reform decree, which was scheduled to be announced on February 15, 1939. Mieczlaw Zaleski, a prominent Polish spokesman, claimed in a speech at Katowice (Kattowitz) that the 1934 Pact with Germany was concluded solely for tactical reasons, because it was a convenient screen behind which the Polish Government could eliminate the German minority. The speaker declared that this Polish policy was necessary in “preparing the ground for a future conflict.” The alleged purpose of the Polish Government was to rid itself of the German element in Poland before going to war with Germany.

The German Government hoped to persuade the Poles to be more fair to the German landowners in 1939 than they had been in 1938. A larger area of German land had been expropriated in 1938 than in 1937, despite the conclusion of the November 1937 Minorities Pact with Poland. The current agrarian law dated from 1925, and 66% of the land expropriated under the law since that time in Polish West Prussia and Poznan (Posen) had been taken from the Germans. This was true despite the fact that a much larger proportion of the larger farms belonged to Poles rather than Germans in 1925. The principal German complaint was not so much against the breaking up of the large farms, but against the redistribution policy. Less than 1% of the confiscated German farm land was redistributed among the German minority. This was the primary reason for the flight of the German peasants from Poland to Germany. The total amount of land under cultivation in Polish West Prussia and Poznan had decreased during these years, whereas it had increased everywhere else in Poland.

The German Government resented the fact that the German owners of expropriated land received only 1/8 of the value of their holdings. It was difficult to sell the land in advance of expropriation, because the Polish public was aware of the German situation and desired to exploit it. Furthermore, the Frontier Zone Law forbade altogether the private sale of land by the Germans in a large area. The main aim of the Polish Government was to prevent private sale and to gain the land through public expropriation.

Beck assumed a nonchalant attitude when discussing this question with Moltke. He claimed that it was not important if the German holdings were confiscated first, because the Polish holding would be broken down under the law in just a few years. Moltke doubted that Minister of Agriculture Poniatowski, who pursued a generally conservative policy, intended to proceed vigorously against the Polish holdings. He was aware that organized pressure-group resistance would hinder in large measure the application of the law to the Poles. It seemed exceedingly unlikely to Moltke that the current Government would fully implement a reform law which had been passed before the Pilsudski coup d’Etat in 1926. It was more likely that the law would merely serve as a convenient instrument to produce impoverishment among the Germans.

Weizsäcker instructed Moltke to insist that the provision of the November 1937 Pact for equal treatment of German and Polish landowners be observed in 1939. Count Michal Lubienski, at the Polish Foreign Office, assured Moltke that current expropriation lists were being prepared with complete objectivity and without regard for the ethnic character of the landowners. Moltke was lulled into a sense of false security by this promise. He telephoned Berlin in a voice choked with indignation of February 15, 1939, to report the results of the new law. In Poznan 12,142 hectares of 20,275 hectares to be confiscated were German owned. In Polish West Prussia 12,538 hectares of 17,437 hectares were German owned. In East Upper Silesia all but 100 of the 7,438 hectares to be confiscated land was Gernian. It virtually completed the elimination of German holdings under the law at a time when most of the larger Polish holdings were still intact. This was the Polish “complete objectivity” which had been promised by Lubienski.

Weizsäcker instructed Moltke on February 16, 1939, to present a sharp protest about this “incredible discrimination against German landowners in Western Poland. He was to inform the Poles that their action was contrary to the November 1937 Pact, and to more recent assurances. The Polish Foreign Office responded on February 17th by disclaiming responsibility for the situation. They appeared in the guise of seeking to protect German interests, and they claimed to have sought in vain a 50-50 ratio for the Germans in Poznan. They also used the remarkable argument that the rate of confiscation in the Western provinces had been influenced by factors in other Polish areas.

Their reaction was negative to Moltke’s suggestion that there should be joint discussions between the two countries on minority questions. It was evident that nothing could be done to help the Germans in Poland by diplomatic means.

The problem of the annual agrarian decree had been discussed for several months by the provincial press on the German side of the frontier. The German Government had decided to follow the advice of Moltke, and to take the first cautious step toward relaxing the complete censorship in Germany on the German minority grievances in Poland. A new censorship directive in December 1938 permitted the border area newspapers to report new excesses as they occurred, and to speculate on their consequences. It was forbidden to discuss earlier incidents, and the press in the German interior was ordered to continue with the complete suppression of German minority news. Ribbentrop had personally warned Lipski about the possible consequences of the intensified campaign against the German minority on December 15, 1938. He complained about Polish arrogance at Danzig, and he protested a recent series of Danzig stamps issued by the Poles which commemorated the Polish victories over the German knights in the Middle Ages. Lipski promised that the Polish Government would withdraw the offensive postal stamps.

Kennard at Warsaw believed that tension increased between Germany and Poland in November and December 1938, and he was pleased by this development. This compensated for his worry about the attitude of France. French Ambassador Leon Noël returned from leave at Paris in late November 1938. He had warned Kennard that the French leaders were inclined to modify their alliance obligation to Poland. The French Ambassador confided that there was a strong movement in France to liquidate all French military obligations in Eastern Europe. The French had concluded a special subsidy agreement with Poland another 95 million francs according to the terms of the Rambouillet loan. It seemed to Noël that France made this payment with more than customary reluctance. These comments alarmed Kennard, who reported to Halifax that a marked relaxation of French interest in Poland might aid the Germans in arriving at a definitive German-Polish understanding.

German-Polish Conversations at the End of 1938

Lipski and Ribbentrop had discussed the problem of a general settlement on December 15, 1938. The Polish Ambassador invited the German Foreign Minister to come to Warsaw to speak with the Polish leaders, and Ribbentrop accepted. Ribbentrop hinted that he hoped to complete the negotiation of an agreement with Poland at Warsaw. He said that the visit should constitute a serious effort to reach a “general settlement” rather than be a mere formality. Lipski at once agreed with this view, and he mentioned again that Poland was prepared to discuss a German superhighway and railway to East Prussia. He failed to mention Danzig.

Ribbentrop told Lipski that he hoped Poland would always follow a policy based on “the tradition of Pilsudski and his breadth of vision.” He added that additional discussion of minorities was needed to remove current friction. He assured Lipski that his aim was cooperation between Germany and a strong Poland against the Soviet Union.

Lipski mentioned the improvement of Polish relations with Lithuania, and he casually added that Poland was taking an increased interest in the maritime facilities at Memel. Ribbentrop replied that he hoped Polish interest in Memel was exclusively commercial and not political, “for Memel was entirely German and had always been so.” Ribbentrop stated frankly that Germany stood for self-determination at Memel. Lipski raised no objection to Ribbentrop’s comments, and he stated that Poland was interested in the city solely for economic reasons. Ribbentrop noted that German representations to the signatory Powers of the 1920 Memel statute always had been fruitless. He confided that Germany would not consult these Powers when she solved the Memel question.

Moltke returned to Berlin from Warsaw to report, on December 16, 1938. Hans Frank, Hitler’s ardently Catholic Minister of Justice, had been honorary guest the previous evening at a German Embassy dinner at Warsaw. Frank had discussed German-Polish relations with Jozef Beck at the dinner. Beck claimed to place great value on the 1934 Pact with Germany, and he stressed his readiness to continue the policy of Pilsudski in German affairs. His German hosts interpreted this to mean that Beck was dedicated to an outspokenly pro-German policy. Beck complained that “a certain tension” now existed in German-Polish relations, but he described this as absurd. He believed that the attitude of the Polish public toward Germany had deteriorated, but he suggested that this was the result of the many crises in Europe during recent months.

Moltke also discussed the situation with Beck. He insisted to Beck that the Polish policy in the Teschen area, and toward the German minority generally, was responsible for the unfavorable development in German-Polish relations. Moltke complained bitterly that affairs in Teschen were desperate, and that the local Germans had come to regard the twenty years under the Czechs as a paradise by comparison. Beck insisted in reply that this was merely a local phenomenon. He promised that the Polish Government at Warsaw desired to restrain the local East Upper Silesian authorities, and to provide “good living conditions” in Teschen. He said that the Polish Premier, General Slawoj-Skladkowski, had ordered the local authorities to improve their policy, and he promised that he would intervene personally whenever he was informed of incidents. Moltke was often inclined to believe the best about the intentions of the Polish leaders, and he was extremely pleased with the results of the dinner. He construed Beck’s remarks to imply a standing invitation to discuss minority problems. This conclusion was altogether too optimistic. Moltke admitted to Ribbentrop that he had sought to contribute to the friendly atmosphere at the dinner by expressing his sympathy with the Polish viewpoint in the Ruthenian question.

Moltke had a conversation with Beck on December 20, 1938, after his return to Warsaw. The Polish Foreign Minister was aware of Ribbentrop’s plan to negotiate a general settlement at Warsaw. He knew that this negotiation would fail, and he wisely concluded that it would be expedient to ingratiate himself with Hitler before the visit took place. He informed Moltke that he intended to spend the Christmas and New Year holidays at Monte Carlo, and he suggested that his return trip to Poland would offer him an opportunity to stop off in Berlin” or some other place.” Moltke correctly interpreted “some other place” to mean Berchtesgaden, and another visit with Hitler.

Beck said smoothly that he planned to leave Monte Carlo on January 5th or 6th, and that he would understand perfectly if this date was not agreeable. Moltke assumed charitably that Beck was trying to pave the way for Ribbentrop’s visit to Warsaw later in January, but it was obvious that a Beck visit to Hitler would cause Ribbentrop’s stay in Warsaw to appear as an anti-climax. In the upshot, Beck said that it would suffice for his plans if he were notified by January 1, 1939, either through the Polish embassy in Berlin, or through Moltke from Warsaw.

The importance of Danzig in the approaching negotiations with Poland was emphasized for the Germans by a report of December 22, 1938, from Danzig Senate President Artur Greiser. He had discussed the future of Danzig with Polish High Commissioner Marjan Chodacki. The Polish High Commissioner called on Greiser, after a long interval, with the surprising announcement that “the fundamental Danzig-Poland question” had to be discussed. Chodacki charged bluntly that “a psychosis was being created in Danzig, the purpose of which was to convince the population of Danzig that the city would be returned to the German Reich within the foreseeable future.” The arrogant Polish High Commissioner made a number of insulting remarks, and he claimed contemptuously that it would be easy for Poland to protest current developments on the basis of “international law.”

Chodacki threatened that the Polish Government might seek to crush the rising spirit of freedom in Danzig by means of punitive political and economic measures. He claimed that this would have been done earlier had he not advised the Polish Government against it. He said that future Polish concessions to Danzig would depend upon respect for the “Polish element” and for “vital Polish rights in Danzig.” Greiser was seeking to interpret the storm of abuse which Chodacki had unleashed, and he observed casually that it was his impression that many discussions on Danzig had taken place recently between Warsaw and Berlin. He also knew that Chodacki had conferred with both Beck and Lipski while on sick leave recently in Warsaw. Greiser asked bluntly “whether in the opinion of the Polish Government the Danzig question was a national question for Poland, and whether to Poland a solution of the question in line with the wishes of the Danzig population would mean war.” Anyone who knew Chodacki, and who was familiar with the nervous intensity of this temperament, could easily imagine how the Polish diplomat received this fundamental question. He drew a deep breath prior to confronting the mild-mannered Greiser with a reply which could leave no possible room for misunderstanding.

Chodacki instructed Greiser that Poland had only two national questions in the proper sense of the word. The first was the Polish Army and the second was the Baltic Sea. Chodacki extended his arm toward the South and described for Greiser in glowing terms the “natural protection” of the distant Carpathian mountains. He believed that other frontiers were still more formidable, and that “in the east and in the west there were two ideological walls (Soviet and National Socialist) with fixed boundaries which by treaty could not be altered.” This could be interpreted as a Freudian slip which implied a suppressed Polish desire to expand in both directions. Chodacki then exclaimed triumphantly that “to the north was the open sea, toward which Poland and the entire Polish people were striving.” He concluded that Danzig and her present unsatisfactory status quo were a necessary feature of this part of the Polish national question. Chodacki was satisfied that Greiser had understood his non possumus reply to German aspirations at Danzig. When he had finished making his point, he proceeded to discuss a lengthy series of specific Polish protests to recent enactments of the Danzig Senate.

It might had made a difference had Beck been equally frank at this time and spoken his mind to Hitler about Danzig. Hitler would have known where he stood before he was confronted with a Polish mobilization and a British encirclement policy. He might have modified his Danzig policy before the British had a chance to intervene. The Ruthenian question was still unsettled at this time, and the Slovakian independence movement had not reached a climax. Hitler might have had more success had he forced the pace for a Danzig settlement immediately after the Munich conference. It is pointless to pursue this speculation at great length, because Beck was completely successful in deceiving Hitler about his policy. Hitler was counting on a friendly agreement with Poland. He never exerted pressure on the Poles until they disrupted the negotiations and confronted Germany with a number of hostile measures.

League High Commissioner Burckhardt had confided to the Germans that the outlook was favorable at Warsaw for a settlement of the Danzig question. Chodacki was merely the Polish High Commissioner at Danzig. He was noted in Berlin for his extreme chauvinism and eccentricity. The fact that he was an intimate friend of Beck was not generally known. This friendship, even had it been recognized by the Germans, would not have justified the conclusion that Chodacki was an authoritative spokesman in the highest sphere of Polish foreign policy. The Poles were noted for their extreme individualism, and they were accustomed to express themselves freely on the most controversial topics. Chodacki had actually expressed Beck’s own ideas, but anyone who had preconceptions about Beck’s policies would scarcely have accepted these remarks as a true formulation of Beck’s position. Of course, Chodacki’s remarks had some effect at Berlin. Ribbentrop could see that it was important to retain the moderate influence of Burckhardt at Danzig until a settlement was reached. Ribbentrop approved an appeal from Greiser to the League Committee of Three. This appeal suggested that Danzig was prepared to make further concessions, if Burckhardt was retained at his post. The German Foreign Minister could understand that the Danzigers did not care to be left alone with Chodacki.

The Beck-Hitler Conference of January 5, 1939

It was announced publicly at Warsaw and Berlin before the end of December 1938 that Beck would visit Germany in a few days. The British hoped that Poland and Germany would fail to settle their differences, and they were eager to discover the significance of this visit. William Strang at the British Foreign Office made a determined but unsuccessful effort to obtain information from Polish Ambassador Raczynski on December 31, 1938. The Polish aristocrat parried Strang’s questions with ease, and it was impossible to obtain any news at that source.

The task of obtaining information was entrusted again to Kennard, but this time the British Ambassador was unable to turn up any leads. He attempted to compensate by reporting on such developments as he could from Warsaw. He wired Halifax on January 1, 1939, that to Burckhardt the Danzig situation was “paradoxical in that the Poles, the Danzigers and Germans all apparently wish him to remain at present.” This was true, but it was no longer news in London.

Kennard also reported a fantastic claim from Chodacki that Albert Forster feared a new Danzig election because the German Catholics might vote the Polish ticket. The Polish High Commissioner was indulging in some typical wishful thinking, and, in any case, Danzig was overwhelmingly Protestant. The National Socialists emphasized earlier that both German Catholics and German Protestants abroad voted for them. The overwhelmingly Catholic Saar had voted for union with Germany in 1935, and Danzig had elected a National Socialist majority in 1933, before the National Socialists had been about to gain an absolute majority in a German election. The Danzig National Socialists were the uncontested representative of the Danzig community in 1939. Chodacki should have known that even in the days of the Hohenzollern Empire, when there was close cooperation between the Catholic Center Party and the Polish Fraction in the Reichstag, the German Catholic voters never voted the Polish ticket.

Kennard admitted that he had nothing to report about Beck’s visit to Hitler. He predicted that a successful negotiation between the Poles and the Germans would not take place, because “I feel M. Beck can hardly make any concession.” No one in Warsaw was willing to tell Kennard how or why the mysterious project of Beck’s sudden visit to Germany had been arranged. Kennard hoped that nothing would result from the visit, but he was uneasy about it.

The visit for Beck at Berchtesgaden took place on January 5, 1939. Hjalmar Schacht, the President of the German Reichsbank, received Montagu Norman, from the Bank of England, at Berlin on the same day. Schacht and Norman were close personal friends, and they were probing the possibility of reviving the declining trade between Great Britain and Germany. Hitler had delivered a public message to the German people on January 1, 1939, expressing his satisfaction with the events of 1938 and his confidence in the future. He emphasized the work of the National Socialist Party for the recovery and rehabilitation of Germany. He was optimistic about prospects for peace, and he expressed his gratitude that it had been possible to solve the principal foreign policy problems of Germany by peaceful means during the preceding twelve months. The new Reichskanzlei (chancellery building) at Berlin had just been completed. It was an imposing achievement of modern architectural construction and style. The official inauguration of the Reichskanzlei was scheduled for January 9, 1934. Hitler’s New Year’s message revealed that he was in high spirits, and his satisfaction was no doubt increased by the magnificent new architectural triumph in Berlin, and by the auspicious Schacht-Norman negotiations. This impression is confirmed by the tone of his personal negotiations with Beck.

Beck was accompanied to Berchtesgaden by Count Michal Lubienski and Jozef Lipski, although only Lipski was present with Beck at the decisive January 5th discussion with Hitler. Ribbentrop and Moltke were also present at the conference. The meeting took place in an atmosphere of cordiality, courtesy, and friendship.

Beck began his remarks by deploring the deterioration of relations between Germany and Poland after the high point of cooperation which had been achieved during the Czech crisis in September 1938. He warned Hitler that Danzig was a question in which third parties might intervene. This was obviously an allusion to the possible support of Great Britain and France for the Polish position at Danzig. Beck emphasized that he was primarily interested at the moment in the further diminution of the Czech state and in the acquisition of Ruthenia by Hungary. He hoped that Hitler would not extend a guarantee to Czecho-Slovakia until the Ruthenian question was solved. He also doubted the wisdom of any guarantee for Czecho-Slovakia.

Hitler did not commit himself on the Czech question, but he went to considerable effort to convince Beck that Germany did not intend to slight Polish wishes on the Ruthenian question. Hitler denied emphatically that Germany was interested in Ukrainian nationalism, or that Germany had any interests beyond the Carpathians, where most of the Ukrainians lived. Hitler argued that German policy and the Vienna Award were the products of the Hungarian attitude during the September 1938 crisis. He repeated the remark of the Hungarian leaders that a war, even if lost, “would perhaps not be fatal to Germany, (but) it would definitely mean the end of Hungary.” Hitler added that the Hungarians had refused to demand the entire Carpatho-Ukraine when Mussolini arranged for the inclusion of Polish and Hungarian claims at Munich.

The German Chancellor told Beck that the Czechs would probably have refused to surrender all of Ruthenia in November 1938. He was convinced that the Hungarians would have failed to take Ruthenia by force had they dared to attempt it. He predicted that the Czechs would have marched to Budapest in any war following a breakdown of Hungarian-Czech negotiations after Munich. He intimated that Germany would have been unwilling to do anything for Hungary under these circumstances. Hitler reminded Beck that Germany had greatly reduced her armed forces by November 1938, and he claimed that she would have been unprepared for the crisis which might have resulted had an attempt been made at Vienna to extend the Hungarian claims beyond ethnic limits. Hitler hoped to convince Beck with this elaborate and plausible explanation that Germany had not deliberately ignored Polish wishes at Vienna.

Hitler frankly admitted that the intervention of Chamberlain and Daladier had deflected him from his purely political solution of the Czech problem. This solution “would have been tantamount to a liquidation of Czechoslovakia.” Hitler would have preferred a settlement in which only Poland, Germany, and Hungary had participated. This would have produced a solution different from the Munich agreement. Unfortunately, it gradually became evident in September 1938 that an attempt to exclude Great Britain, France, and Italy would have meant war. Hitler emphasized that he sympathized with the Polish attitude toward Czechoslovakia, but he refrained from encouraging the Poles to believe that he was prepared to support their Ruthenian policy. Beck concluded that Hitler was momentarily undecided about his future Czech policy.

Hitler told Beck that he favored a strong Poland under all circumstances. His attitude was not influenced solely by the Bolshevist threat and the system of Government in Russia. The German Chancellor believed that each Polish division on the frontier against Russia was worth a German division. He declared with enthusiasm that Polish strength in the East would save Germany much military expenditure in the future. He conceded that Soviet Russia, because of her recent purges, might be weaker momentarily in the military sense than would be the case with some other Russian system. He also claimed that the Bolshevist regime easily compensated with effective propaganda for any momentary loss in the military sphere. He refused to agree with those who belittled the Soviet menace, and he believed that Europe would have to be strong and prosperous to cope with this danger. He painted a glowing picture of Poland as the prosperous economic partner of Germany. Hitler explained to Beck that Germany needed economic partners. The United States was not suitable in this respect, because the Americans produced the types of industrial, products with which Germany herself paid for raw material and food imports. It seemed to Hitler that Germany and Poland were ideally suited for complementary economic relations. Hitler believed that heavier Polish exports to Germany would build Polish prosperity and enable the Poles to consume an increasing proportion of German goods.

Hitler stressed the great importance of achieving a general understanding between the two nations, and he complained that the 1934 German-Polish Pact was a rather negative agreement.” He insisted with enthusiasm that Poland and Germany required a positive understanding. He was glad to inform Beck confidentially that Germany would soon recover Memel from Lithuania, and he indicated that the attitude at Kaunas promised a peaceful negotiation without disagreeable incidents. Beck did not oppose Hitler’s challenging remark that the political union of Danzig with Germany did not seem inconsistent with Polish interests, provided, of course, that the Polish economic position at Danzig was fully respected. Hitler told Beck that Danzig would return to Germany sooner or later. He was careful to add that he did not plan to confront Poland with a fait accompli, although Hitler had momentarily considered just such a plan in November 1938.

Hitler concentrated on the crucial Danzig issue He devoted scant attention to the question of Corridor transit, because the Poles had conveyed the impression that they were prepared to accept a settlement on this point. The German Chancellor was obviously seeking to prepare the ground for successful negotiations between Ribbentrop and the Poles at Warsaw. He hoped to convince Beck that the concessions offered by Germany were adequate compensation for Danzig. He reminded Beck that no other German could both advocate and achieve a German guarantee of the Polish Corridor, and he hoped that Beck appreciated the importance of this fact. Hitler conceded that it might be difficult for anyone outside of Germany to understand the psychological problem involved in this renunciation. He asked Beck to believe him in this and he added that heavy criticism of his Corridor policy in Germany was a certainty. He predicted that a German-Polish agreement would eventually cause this criticism to diminish and then disappear. He assured Beck that in the future one would hear as little about the Polish Corridor in Germany as one now heard about South Tirol and Alsace-Lorraine.

Hitler continued to stress the benefits to be gained from German-Polish cooperation. He anticipated greater Polish maritime activity, and he observed that it would be absurd for Germany to seek to deprive Poland of her access to the sea. Hitler discussed common German and Polish aims in the Jewish question, and he assured Beck that he “was firmly resolved to get the Jews out of Germany.” He knew that Poland was worried by the allegedly insufficient speed of her own program to expel the Jews, and he hoped to interest Beck in a plan for German-Polish cooperation to solve this question. He suggested that it might be possible to establish a refuge for both German and Polish Jews within the area of the former German colonies in Africa.

Beck greeted Hitler’s many suggestions with cordiality, but he also maintained considerable reserve. He reassured Hitler that Polish policy toward Russia was dependable. He had improved Polish relations with Russia in November 1938 in an effort to cope with the dangerously tense situation resulting from the Czech crisis. However, he promised that Poland would never, under any circumstances, accept a relationship of dependence on Russia. Beck emphasized repeatedly that he appreciated Germany’s friendly attitude toward Poland. He displayed no awareness that he also appreciated the value of a comprehensive agreement on outstanding problems, and he went no further than to say that Poland would adhere to her old policy toward Germany. Beck insisted that the Danzig question was extraordinarily difficult, but he did not betray the defiance he felt when Hitler discussed the inevitable German annexation of Danzig. Beck stressed the problem of Polish opinion toward Danzig, and he emphasized that he meant the public opinion which counted, and not mere “coffee-house opinion.” He intimated that the Polish public was unprepared for a German success at Danzig. He gave Hitler the misleading assurance that he was quite prepared to think about the matter, and to orient his thoughts toward a solution. He warned Hitler that “some day” he might intervene militarily in Ruthenia. He belittled Ukrainian aspirations for nationhood, and he claimed that the word “Ukraine,” which was of obscure and controversial origin, meant “eastern march,” and had been coined by the Poles. But he gave no indication that Poland intended to resume her march to the East.

Hitler was perfectly satisfied about this conversation with Beck, and this is ample proof that he was in no great hurry to achieve his program at Danzig. The conversation had produced no positive result. Beck had nevertheless achieved his purpose of increasing Hitler’s confidence in Polish foreign policy. Hitler had personally joined Ribbentrop in the negotiation on Danzig, and this had not prevented a friendly exchange of views. Hitler was willing to concede that Beck might require considerable time to prepare Polish public opinion for a Danzig agreement. The OZON (Camp of National Unity) forces, and hence the Polish Government, had suffered a reversal in the Polish municipal elections of December 1938. This did not represent a new trend, since many opposition voters had turned out to vote against the Government instead of boycotting the elections, but the result was impressive in a negative sense. Hitler was prepared to wait for the consummation of the agreement with Poland, but he hoped that Ribbentrop would obtain at least some confidential commitment from the Polish Government at Warsaw later in January 1939.

Beck reacted quite differently. He had never entertained the idea of permitting Germany to have Danzig, and he was determined to oppose this development with every resource available. He had deliberately and successfully concealed this fact from Hitler for reasons of policy, and he had increased Hitler’s confidence in Poland. This was no small achievement when one considers how strongly Beck felt about Danzig.

The discussion between Hitler and Beck at Berchtesgaden was an important event. Beck claimed that he was convinced from this conversation that a war between Germany and Poland was virtually inevitable in the immediate future He hastened to inform President Moscicki and Marshal Smigly-Rydz after his return to Poland, that it was necessary to assume that Poland could do nothing to avoid this eventuality. He claimed that if Poland made concessions in the issues at stake, questions “so secondary for them (i.e. the Germans) as those of Danzig and the superhighway,” it would mean the loss of Polish independence and the demotion of Poland to a German vassal state. He did not explain why these questions were unimportant to the Germans and a matter of life and death to Poland.

The Beck-Ribbentrop Conference of January 6, 1939

It is not surprising that Beck showed some signs of frayed nerves the next day in his conversation with Ribbentrop at Munich. It is significant that Beck had not even mentioned the earlier Polish counterproposal about Danzig in his conversation with Hitler.

Ribbentrop’s objective in the conversation at Munich on January 6,1939, was to elaborate on the German arguments on the Danzig question, and prepare the ground for his later negotiations at Warsaw. Beck was irritated by Ribbentrop’s careful persistence, which made it difficult for the Polish Foreign Minister to conceal his true intentions as to Danzig. Beck warned Ribbentrop that the Danzig question might seriously disturb German-Polish relations He urged that plans be completed for a provisional arrangement at Danzig in case the League of Nations withdrew the League High Commissioner He expressed concern about new developments which might produce energetic Polish steps in the Danzig question. Beck described the Danzig problem as a dilemma in which “he had cudgelled his brains for a solution, but without result so far.” He confided to Ribbentrop that his concern about Danzig made him pessimistic. He attempted to convince Ribbentrop that Polish public Opinion toward Danzig was a primary factor, and he asserted that a great effort would be required to alter this opinion Ribbentrop endeavored to put Beck at ease by assuring him that Germany was not interested in a violent solution of the Danzig question. Ribbentrop hoped to negotiate on the question peaceably until the matter was settled. He urged Beck to give the German offer for an agreement further consideration. He advised Beck to keep Germany informed of any possible Polish steps in the Ruthenian question, because a sudden change in the Czech status quo might carry with it the risk of a conflict.

The German Foreign Minister announced that he had several blunt things to say about recent Danzig events, which he had not cared to mention in Hitler’s presence. Ribbentrop then presented a number of specific grievances about recent Polish interference in Danzig’s internal affairs. He stressed Germany’s need to establish contact with East Prussia and to acquire Danzig to satisfy vital German interests, and to make Hitler’s pro-Polish policy acceptable in Germany. Beck was told that Germany would support Poland’s policy toward Ruthenia, and toward the Ukrainians generally, if Poland would adopt an increasingly anti-Soviet attitude. The Polish Foreign Minister replied that at present” it would not be possible for Poland to adhere to the anti-Comintern pact. Ribbentrop then bluntly asked if the Poles still had aspirations beyond their present eastern frontier. Beck declared with feeling that the Poles had been in Kiev, and that “Pilsudski’s aspirations were doubtless still alive to-day.”

Ribbentrop’s question reflected German preoccupation with the attitude of Poland toward the Soviet Union. Hermann Göring, who constantly stressed the importance of this aspect of Polish policy, had visited Poland briefly for talks with Polish leaders in December 1938. Heinrich Himmler, the Chief of the German Secret State Police, had also visited Poland again the same month. These German leaders, on their visits to Poland, stressed the need of a German-Polish agreement as a bulwark against Communism, and they hoped to discover how the Polish leaders envisaged the role of Germany in relation to future Polish plans against the Soviet Union. It was obvious on every occasion that important Polish spokesmen hoped for the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. Ribbentrop was informed by German diplomats in Warsaw, later in January 1939, that the Mayor of Warsaw, the editor of the official Gazeta Polska, and the Under-Secretary in charge of the Western Division at the Polish Foreign Office, favored the partition of the Soviet Union and the establishment of an independent Ukraine under Polish influence. These men made no secret of their views in conversations with German spokesmen. Beck was not equally frank about this question in his conversation with Ribbentrop at Munich, but his attitude confirmed the general response. It was clear beyond every doubt that Poland was dissatisfied with the status quo in the East, and that she wished to change it at Russian expense. Kazimierz Smogorzewski, of the Gazeta Polska had the reputation with the Germans of reflecting accurately the secret views of the Polish Government. He emphasized more precisely the dynamic Polish eastern policy to which Beck alluded in generalities. It was evident that Polish policy toward the Soviet Union was more concretely hostile than the policy toward Russia of any other country, including Germany. Poland alone had a blueprint for the reduction of Russian power in the East.

The German Government, unlike Poland, did not advocate an independent Ukraine nor the use of Ukrainian nationalism to dismember Russia. They were less interested in Polish Ukrainian plans than in the obvious fact that the Polish policy toward the Soviet Union was aggressively hostile. The Germans could not imagine how the Poles, under these circumstances, could be indifferent about the opportunity of settling German-Polish differences and reaching a permanent agreement with Germany