Washington’s Missing China Strategy
To Counter Beijing, the Biden Administration Needs to Decide What It Wants
THIS is not history, but some of the raw material of history. It is the story of Nazi foreign relations as recounted by Germans who had direct parts, frequently principal parts, in the events related. These Germans were interrogated during August to November 1945 by a small group of American officials sent to Germany for the purpose. The present writer, who headed the mission, had served in Germany previously and knew personally in the pre-Nazi days some of those who could now tell parts of the Nazi story. Among the 50 or more interrogated some had been at the very top -- Goering, Ribbentrop, von Papen, Schacht. A second and larger category were former officials of the German Foreign Office and Diplomatic Service. Thirdly, a number of military leaders -- Keitel, Jodl and others -- were questioned on the political and diplomatic aspects of their experiences.
The general disposition among them was to talk freely. Most had been prisoners for some time. Of course, each was making his own case in his own way, but if truth be relative to the individual and the circumstances, there was a rather surprising measure, one felt in the end, of truthful disclosure. When the stories were put together, a coherent tale emerged.
I. THE SPRINGS OF NAZI FOREIGN POLICY (1933-1935)
Impressive confirmation was obtained of the degree to which, in a nation of strong personalities, Hitler dominated every situation. The foreign policy of Germany in the Nazi period, as in other periods, was determined first of all, of course, by geographical position and history: but beyond that was influenced during this period, even more than in the time of Frederick the Great or Bismarck, by the personality of one man.
Every decision setting the course of German external relations from 1933 on was made by Hitler personally, and it was he who set the exact timing of every important action. Success in bringing the weakling Nazi group to power in the face of every obstacle and disappointment during the dozen years which preceded 1933 was apparently a source of unending wonderment to Hitler himself. And it filled him with enduring faith that, now possessed of sovereign power, he could be no less a moulder of fate. His mystic self-assurance gave his régime an arbitrary character probably unsurpassed in history.
Case-hardened Hjalmar Schacht, who helped pull Germany out of the 1923 inflation and continued for 15 years as Germany's financial strong man, testified that his contacts with the Nazi leaders began at the end of 1930. He met Goering at that time, but said he found him "not too impressive." It was during January 1931 that he first met Hitler, at a dinner. He felt at once his "dynamic force;" and he found Hitler's political program as then proclaimed to be "not unreasonable."
Hitler had promised, Schacht observed, to protect the church and to maintain private property. The one really disturbing point to be found in "Mein Kampf" was the insistence upon an aggressive policy toward the east (Ostpolitik), but that was conditioned, Schacht pointed out with rather obvious dialectic, upon obtaining the coöperation of Great Britain. Schacht and others felt that in view of this qualification what would otherwise be a deterrent to them in supporting Hitler could be disregarded. Hitler's reliance upon British concurrence provided "the greatest protection for the peace-loving." If he could not carry forward this potentially dangerous part of his program without Britain, then all was safe.
With reference to these early days, Schacht asseverated, with a note of defiance in his voice: "I stood for Hitler." By 1938 he was actively plotting against him, he claimed, and independent testimony exists to support the claim: though there was a suggestion that in this Schacht acted out of personal pique.
Joachim Ribbentrop, Hitler's once arrogant Ambassador and Foreign Minister, testified to Hitler's masterfulness as solemnly as if he were recounting a religious experience. We spoke together on the basis of earlier acquaintance. It was impossible to explain, he said, "how it had been with Hitler." Hitler told you what to do, and you did it. "I was not Hitler's Minister of Foreign Affairs. I was just Hitler's diplomat." Years earlier, at the height of Ribbentrop's power, before he had to make an apologia, he confessed to Richard Kuehlmann, an earlier Foreign Minister of Germany, that he was no more than "Hitler's loudspeaker."
Even the massive Goering spoke of Hitler's arbitrary decisions as if they were as unquestionable as a turn in the weather. We would talk one day about something, Goering related, and Hitler would agree with us; then suddenly a day or so later Hitler would announce that he had decided something altogether different.
Toward his first Foreign Minister, Constantin von Neurath, a veteran diplomat, Hitler showed some degree of circumspection. To other diplomats he simply issued orders, and Ribbentrop, after he became Foreign Minister, tried to imitate him in this regard. With the military leaders, on the other hand, Hitler felt the need to be persuasive. His method of persuasion, however, was didactic. General Guderian averred that Hitler harbored resentment against anyone whom he felt he had failed to persuade. Generals such as von Fritsch, who gave signs of independence, Hitler put out of the way. In the end he dominated the military hardly less thoroughly than the diplomatic branch. It would be sound, one was left convinced, to interpret Nazi foreign policy in terms of Hitler's personal traits -- within, of course, the broader geographical and historical setting.
The climate of Hitler's thinking was military rather than political. This ensued from his life-history and comported in any case with the German tradition. Speaking to military leaders in the great Hall of the Berghof on August 22, 1939, preparatory to the Polish campaign, Hitler expressed squarely the aversion he felt to the bargaining and adjustment which is the heart of democratic politics. England was apparently interested, he observed with scorn, only in a series of "rotten compromises."
Secondly, there were of course marked geographical limitations on Hitler's thinking. "You must never forget," Goering admonished us, "that Hitler thought entirely in continental terms (ganz Kontinental-orientiert war)." From this it followed that Russia forced herself insistently into the forefront of his mind. The obsession appears throughout "Mein Kampf." It became the more marked as France slipped into ineffectualness. The great sea Power, Britain, was less perceptible to him, and it fitted the configuration of his thoughts that there should be no necessary conflict in that quarter. By the same token, America was remoter still.
Goering took pains to remind us that Hitler had never been out of Germany-Austria until his first official visit to Mussolini in June 1934. For this reason, Goering said, Hitler always had great difficulty in understanding foreign mentalities, the English in particular. The consequences were disastrous.
For example, Hitler seemed to have misapprehended a good deal that Lloyd George said to him during the latter's visit to Berchtesgaden in 1934. Otto Meissner,[i] who interpreted between the two, depicted the atmosphere of the meeting as very cordial. Hitler started off by remarking to Lloyd George how interested he was to meet the man who more than any other individual had defeated Germany in 1914-18. From Goering, who was not present and had his account from Hitler, we learned that Hitler was forever afterward impressed by something he understood Lloyd George to say -- namely, that if Germany had only held on a little longer in 1918, Great Britain would have collapsed; also that the provisioning of American troops in France became so difficult that Lloyd George was on the point of recommending that they be shipped home again. Goering testified that these and similar remarks by Lloyd George -- which would seem at the most to have been only sporting suggestions by a somewhat complacent victor -- assumed an abiding importance in Hitler's mind. One result was to help convince him that the United States would not intervene seriously in any new war which might break out in Europe.
Hitler's wish for a working understanding with Great Britain stands out clearly enough in "Mein Kampf." Von Neurath, Ribbentrop, Goering, Meissner -- all said again that such an understanding constituted item No. 1 in Hitler's program. And that was true as far as it went, but the understanding with Britain was to rest on a common enmity to Russia. Russia was at every turn the key to Hitler's thinking. Westward he felt a yokel's uncertainty, in the presence of the French with their culture and the English with their tradition of the gentleman. Eastward, he could see only Untermenschen and Bolsheviks and raw wealth to complement Germany's technical achievement. It was in the east that he could blot out the sense of inferiority left by World War I and unbridle the exuberant brutality of his followers.
Goering explained that the idea was to go along with England (mit England zu gehen) and to convince England that Russia, being obviously the enemy of Germany, was also the enemy of Great Britain. Goering recalled that during 1933-35 he was always seeing "British lords" and talking with them in this sense. It was Hitler's idea, as von Neurath put it, to trade supremacy for Britain on the seas against a free hand for Germany in the east.
Hitler even made an offer of armed help to Britain in case of need -- a matter to which Ribbentrop and Goering as well as Neurath testified. Help against whom, it was asked? Yes, exactly whom? Neurath acknowledged with a smile. Goering said he told Hitler the offer would have more sense if the British Empire were really threatened from some direction. Hitler retorted that the Empire was threatened; perhaps not Russia directly, but Communism, was threatening India.
Goering insisted that, in consultation with him, Hitler had clarified his basic position toward both Britain and France long before either Hitler or Goering even knew that Ribbentrop existed. However, when he came to power in 1933, Hitler, conscious of his own deficiencies westward, readily accepted Ribbentrop's help. Here was a man with excellent connections in both England and France apparently, with know-how regarding those countries, and he was not a professional diplomat. He seemed made to order. Indeed, Ribbentrop looked good at first to the whole Nazi crowd; they had yet to find out, Goering sneered, that he knew France only through champagne and England through whiskey. The Nazis esteemed the Naval Agreement which Ribbentrop signed with Great Britain in 1935 a splendid achievement, and Ribbentrop's reputation came to a high point. Goering said the Nazis would have settled for less than 35 percent; the important thing was that the shackles of Versailles had now been broken and the armament situation could be remade.
After 1935 the decline toward war set in. Ribbentrop made a mess of things in London, Goering went on, and Hitler himself remained unable to understand the English and their way of political thinking. He was tremendously surprised by the English reaction to the Rhineland occupation, which on the whole was severe, even though a few in England concurred in what Germany had done.
To the very end Hitler could never comprehend, it seemed, why a robber's pact could not be effected with the British. Ribbentrop understood. "The main reason why this friendship (between Germany and Great Britain) did not come about," he testified, "was the British idea of the balance of power." Ribbentrop explained that the Fuehrer thought the English theory of the balance of power was old-fashioned. Hitler kept pointing out that if Britain would only look to the east she would then for her own protection be glad to have "a solid Germany" -- as Ribbentrop put it, a very much stronger Germany as a new balance of power in Europe.
It would seem especially desirable for the British, Ribbentrop proceeded, to have a Germany whose vital problems were solved and which was prepared to afford Britain security in all respects, territorial as well as in the field of armaments. The Naval Agreement had already been reached; there were other things which Germany could offer Britain -- the integrity of the Low Countries and France, with the renunciation of Alsace-Lorraine. Thirdly, Hitler was ready to offer Great Britain, as a further element in an alliance, cooperation by a considerable part of the German fleet in case the Empire had to defend itself. In the colonial field the Fuehrer was "absolutely willing" to renounce a colonial policy; he wanted only to have back one or two of the old German colonies for "raw material purposes."
Over against this, said Ribbentrop, was the British view of the balance of power. He wouldn't say all in Britain, but certainly a great number, felt that Nazi Germany, with Austria and the Sudetenland added, was getting too strong and possibly was endangering the old English theory of the balance of power. The English thought they must oppose this aggrandizement, while the Fuehrer felt that England must understand his point of view and act accordingly. "I, on the other hand (Ribbentrop asserted) always pointed out to the Fuehrer that the British would not tolerate such a strong Germany as the Fuehrer imagined, but would, at the moment when they thought the balance of power was shifting, go against Germany, and at the opportune moment even go as far as war." In this Ribbentrop lied, as will be recorded presently.
Though it ran quite counter to popular feeling in Germany, Hitler was from the beginning stirred by the idea of friendship and collaboration with Poland. Pilsudski's known anti-Russian sympathies beckoned on, and Hitler always felt relatively at ease in dealing with another dictator. Herbert von Dirksen, German Ambassador at Moscow from 1928 to 1933, told of an interview he had with Hitler in the spring of 1933, when he was home on leave. Hitler walked to the window of the Reichskanzlei, looked out and said more to himself than to Dirksen: "If only we could come to terms with Poland -- it would be possible with Pilsudski." Dirksen said he answered: "Mein Fuehrer, the price of any lasting settlement with Poland would be Danzig and the Corridor, and German opinion would never put up with that."
It was Dirksen's understanding that Pilsudski's first impulse in 1933 was to crush National Socialism in the bud, if possible; but he could obtain no encouragement when he sounded out France on coöperative action. So Pilsudski said to himself that he would have to get on with National Socialism. That led to the German-Polish Non-Aggression Pact of 1934.
When Goering talked with us about relations with Poland, he said that at the time of the signing of the 1934 Non-Aggression Pact he was directly charged (beauftragt) by Hitler to foster friendship with Poland; so he cultivated the Polish Ambassador, Lipski (legations having been reciprocally raised to embassies), and there were close contacts also with Pilsudski. When Pilsudski died, Goering himself represented Germany at the funeral. While Pilsudski lived, Goering talked with him about building an anti-Russian bloc, and later he talked in the same sense with Beck. Hitler had told Goering that he wanted a strong Poland, and Goering was convinced that Hitler meant this seriously.
There was a bit of a rift in 1936 when Poland, without success, invited France to take joint action with her against the German reoccupation of the Rhineland. But later Poland made no trouble about the Austrian Anschluss. Goering was in Poland during February 1938, and Beck took rather an amusing way of apprising him that Poland would keep hands off. As he and Goering walked arm in arm together after dinner, they came to a picture of the relief of Vienna by the Polish troops under Sobieski in 1683. Said Beck to Goering: "Don't worry -- this incident will not recur."
The first really serious rift came with the Munich Conference. The Poles felt their prestige was damaged by not being included in the Conference, Goering alleged; and from then on things went badly.
Asked when Hitler made up his mind to deal with the Polish situation decisively, Goering said it was in April 1939, so far as he knew. Goering was just back from a trip to San Remo. Suddenly at the dinner table Hitler announced that he had made up his mind to settle the Danzig-Corridor business. He was determined to take military measures, if other means failed. Goering said he felt rather aghast, since he was convinced the western Powers would intervene. Hitler answered to his expostulations that he had prepared other situations skillfully and that he would do the same this time. Goering admonished him that he was moving too fast.
Now about German relations with Soviet Russia. Until 1932 or thereabouts relations had been excellent between the "two outcasts of Versailles." In the years following the 1922 Treaty of Rapallo there were detailed reports that the German and Russian military were secretly engaging, within Russia, in joint research and exercises in the military aviation and tank warfare which were forbidden to Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. But the estrangement between Germany and the U.S.S.R. began to make itself felt in 1932, before the Nazis came to power, according to a former German diplomat who was close to the matter. This witness observed that the Soviets had about completed their armament program. They had become nationally self-conscious again, and were seeking to regain the territorial possessions and spheres of influence in the Baltic and the Balkans which had been lost by the Russian defeat in World War I. The "Russian problem" was felt to have become once more as overriding and menacing as it had been during Bismarck's chancellorship; but Bismarck's successors of 1933-45, it was observed, were not equal to the situation and brought to destruction the edifice which the Iron Chancellor had built up.
Japan, of course, plays a large part in the Russian story. Brockdorff-Rantzau had dominated German policy toward Russia, but in 1928 death removed this strong diplomatic personality from the embassy in Moscow. His successor was Herbert von Dirksen, already mentioned. Dirksen had been Director of the Eastern Department (Ostabteilung) in the Foreign Office and was later Ambassador in Tokyo and then in London. Dirksen was transferred from Moscow to Tokyo in October 1933 in the ordinary course of diplomatic shifts, and while in Berlin en route he spoke with both Hitler and Ribbentrop. Neither, he said, had any special observations to make on German policy toward Japan, but he talked also with the Minister of War, Field Marshal von Blomberg, and Blomberg hinted that it was Hitler's intention to endeavor to find in Japan a substitute for Russia, especially in so far as military matters were concerned, since the German estrangement with Russia was developing faster and faster.
Upon Dirksen's official departure from Moscow the Russians had given him a big dinner. It was jovial, Dirksen told us. "We had plenty to drink," he said, "and I took the occasion to speak a word of friendly warning. I remarked as best I could in my rather inadequate Russian that to the extent Russian policy moved toward friendship and coöperation with Great Britain and France and the west generally, Moscow could be sure that German policy would move toward coöperation with Japan, and also with Poland. I do not know how much attention was paid to my remark. Litvinov was not there. He was away in Turkey. Some three months later I had a letter from him in which he spoke warmly about my service in Moscow as German Ambassador and my reliability and frankness."
Dirksen said that German-Japanese relations at the time of his arrival in Tokyo (1933) were friendly -- not more. The first aim of Japanese policy toward Germany in this period was to bring Germany into closer contact with the newly-created empire of Manchukuo. The Foreign Minister promptly invited Dirksen to take a trip around Manchukuo, but the German Foreign Office (it is interesting to note in view of impending events) said no, desiring to avoid any reason for suspicion on China's part. However, not long afterward a German-Japanese and a German-Manchurian commercial agreement were signed and the effect was a very satisfactory triangular trade-balance among the three countries.
Meanwhile, reminiscent of speculative enterprises by a Russian Czarist clique in Manchuria and Korea on the eve of the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5, some Nazi leaders had organized the Deutsch Manchurier Gesellschaft and were seeking private gain in the new empire. Goering was a principal figure in this buccaneering enterprise, and another was Wilhelm Keppler, a strong Party man who had been introduced into the Economic Section of the Foreign Office. There was also a place for Goering's brother-in-law, Riegeler.
Progress in military relations between Germany and Japan was marked by the arrival of a secret German military mission in Japan during 1935. Dirksen explained that the German Navy desired to build an airplane carrier but lacked necessary technical information. The Germans could hardly turn to Great Britain or the United States for advice. So for the first time the Japanese Navy, which had always been pro-British in its leanings, in contrast to the pro-German trend of the Army, proved helpful to the Germans. The mission was allowed to go aboard a Japanese airplane carrier, to fly Japanese planes, and so on.
Dirksen said it was toward the end of 1935 that first feelers were put out toward the conclusion of a political pact between Germany and Japan. He was not sure whether the idea was broached initially by Hitler and Ribbentrop or by Oshima, the Military Attaché of the Japanese Embassy in Berlin. Anyhow, he said, a military pact pointed against the Soviet Union was quickly agreed upon. After quitting the League and invading Manchuria, Japan had become isolated, he observed, and relations with Russia were going from bad to worse, despite the agreement on Russian rights in the Chinese Eastern Railway and the consequent halting of the Russian advances through Outer Mongolia and Sinkiang. That Germany must welcome an ally on the other side of the Soviet Union, now that the "policy of Rapallo" had been replaced by an estrangement bordering on enmity, was to Dirksen self-evident.
The methods used by the Germans in negotiating what came to be known as the Anti-Comintern Pact illustrated brilliantly the new ways imparted to the conduct of German diplomacy following the advent of the Nazis. The negotiations were carried on in Berlin by the Buero Ribbentrop and were kept strictly secret from the Foreign Office. Dirksen said he was currently informed by his military attaché and subsequent successor in the Tokyo embassy, General Eugen Ott, who in turn had his information from the Japanese General Staff.
The actual negotiator on behalf of the Buero Ribbentrop was a certain von Raumer, a veteran of World War I, a familiar business figure in Berlin in the '20s, and of course a Party man. It was Raumer who invented the name "Anti-Comintern Pact." The matter of a name had proved difficult. To call the treaty a "non-aggression pact" was inappropriate in view of the wide geographical separation of the two countries. Raumer bethought himself of a declaration which had been made by the Soviet Foreign Office to Britain or France after a complaint alleging unlawful activities by the Comintern. The Russian note explained that the Comintern was an organization entirely independent of the Soviet Government, which could in no way assume any responsibility for its activities. Therefore, it was thought to forestall complaints on the part of Moscow by denominating the new treaty "ideological" and baptizing it "Anti-Comintern Pact."
Meanwhile the German Foreign Office and some of the military were pursuing a very positive policy of coöperation with China, and such a course was favored by public feeling in Germany. A German military mission, which had been invited to China by Chiang Kai-shek, was organizing and training a Chinese army. The outbreak of war between Japan and China in July 1937 "placed Germany in a very awkward situation," Dirksen said. Attempts at mediation failed and the war went on, with German officers taking a pretty active part on the Chinese side. It was not until April 1938 that Hitler ordered the recall of the German military mission from China.
The Anti-Comintern Pact was signed and all but its secret addendum published at the end of November 1936. Dirksen had come to Germany on leave in the middle of the year. Reporting at the Foreign Office, he found the Foreign Minister, Neurath, and the Secretary of State, von Buelow (who died a month later and was replaced by von Weizsaecker), "very skeptical and antagonistic" to a political liaison with Japan. They appeared to be in no way informed about the Ribbentrop-Oshima negotiations.
Dirksen called on Ribbentrop, then operating through the Buero Ribbentrop. Following some distrustful reticence at the start, Ribbentrop warmed up and talked about the pending pact. Dirksen said that details he did not hear from Ribbentrop he learned from the Japanese Ambassador, Mushakoji. Later on he returned to the Foreign Office and gave a full report. The information was gratefully received because it was all quite new to those formally charged with the conduct of Germany's foreign relations. In July Dirksen talked with Hitler and gained the impression that he attached great importance to the conclusion of the treaty with Japan.
Concurrently with the treaty, there was signed, on November 25, 1936, a secret addendum (geheimes Zusatzabkommen). It was an extraordinarily well kept secret. Hitler's interpreter, Paul Schmidt, told us he had never heard of it, and when the existence of a secret addendum was mentioned during our interrogation of Goering at Nuremberg, the latter started with unmistakably genuine surprise and annoyance. Just like that fellow Ribbentrop, he exclaimed, to hold out on me; he was always doing that. With rapt interest Goering listened while the substance of the secret addendum was recited to him.
Dirksen was among the few apprised, but he had heard only of one of the two stipulations -- the only one which ever became operative. He was told simply that the two parties had promised to give notice reciprocally of all important pending measures in the foreign field. He recalled that, when the German-Soviet Treaty of August 23, 1939, was about to be concluded, Hitler and Ribbentrop failed, nonetheless, to give notice beforehand of their plans to Japan, and that the signing of that Treaty caught the Japanese Government wholly unprepared. The Japanese Government had become extremely excited about the matter and protested publicly that Germany had abandoned the pro-Japanese policy inaugurated by the Anti-Comintern Pact. Indeed, the cabinet resigned, and it was a long time before Japanese apprehensions could be alleviated and a full alliance concluded by the so-called Three Power Treaty (Germany-Japan-Italy) of September 27, 1940.
The obligation of the secret addendum was more precisely apt than Dirksen realized. It read, in translation from the German:
During the continuation of this agreement the High Contracting States will not, without reciprocal concurrence, conclude any sort of political treaties with the U.S.S.R. which are not in keeping with the spirit of this agreement.
This writer interrogated Ribbentrop at Nuremberg and pressed him to admit -- which he was unwilling to do -- that the Anti-Comintern Pact was only ostensibly "ideological" and that in fact it was a political-military alliance, or something near to that, against Soviet Russia. Only later was there an opportunity to see at Marburg, in the captured archives of the German Foreign Office, the signed original of the secret addendum. In addition to the article just quoted, which was Article II, was this precedent article, Article I (translated from the German):
Should either of the High Contracting States become the object of an unprovoked attack or an unprovoked threat of attack by the U.S.S.R., the other High Contracting State engages itself to enter upon no measures of a kind which would have the effect of relieving (entlasten) the position of the U.S.S.R.
Should the case indicated in the foregoing paragraph arise, the High Contracting States will immediately consult on what measures to take for the safeguard of their common interests.
II. THE YEARS OF TRIUMPH: 1936-40
In 1935 Germany reintroduced conscription and Goering announced the formation of an air force. In response, the Pact of Mutual Consultation between France and the Soviet Union was stepped up to a Pact of Mutual Assistance, and the Soviet Union entered a similar pact with Czechoslovakia, which to the Germans seemed to bring the Russian air force within an hour of Berlin. In August 1936 the Soviets lowered their conscription age from 21 to 19 years. Germany countered by doubling its period of service. In September of the same year Germany announced the Four Year Plan, and Hitler in a public speech cast covetous eyes at the Ukraine. The professionals at the Foreign Office, we heard, saw in these events serious warning; but once more the Party leaders only stiffened their attitude and declared they were not to be intimidated. For the Nazis, these were the triumphant years. By the end of 1936 the Rhineland had been reoccupied, and under the guise of the Anti-Comintern Pact something approaching an alliance had been concluded with Japan, specifically against the Soviet Union. The Axis had been built with Fascist Italy; and German as well as Italian arms and men were tried out in Spain.
When we asked von Neurath when Hitler definitely decided on war, he answered simply, "1937." We were unsuccessful in obtaining any real enlargement of the answer. The old man, who seemed that day a bit senile but gave this answer very firmly, may have been enunciating a general or intuitive impression. Perhaps he remembered that in 1937 Hitler remarked to a high official in the Ministry of Agriculture (as we had already heard from others) that he would have to have "a little war in the west and a big war in the east." The prognostication of another two-front war, despite all that Hitler had written on the subject in "Mein Kampf," brought deep perturbation to the thoughtful.
Very likely Neurath also had in mind a meeting with the Fuehrer on November 5, 1937. Also in attendance had been von Blomberg, von Fritsch, Raeder and Goering. The Fuehrer had at that time offered as "his last will and testament" the idea that Germany must act to obtain "living space" not later than 1943-45. After that Germany would have lost much of its military advantage. Should France become immobilized by internal crisis or war with another state, Hitler laid it down that that would be the time for action against Czechoslovakia. Conquest of Czechoslovakia and of Austria was needed for the improvement of Germany's military-political position. Probably England and France had already written off Czechoslovakia, the Fuehrer thought. The dates for the German attacks on Czechoslovakia and Austria must depend on the date of the Italian-English-French conflict which appeared as a possibility for the summer of 1938. After listening to Hitler in this vein Goering opined that commitments must be reduced in Spain. Hitler agreed in principle. Von Fritsch was to continue during the winter a study of operations against Czechoslovakia, with special regard to military reduction of the Czechoslovak system of fortifications.
To understand the German national response to the Nazi aggression as it took definite form in this period, it is necessary to turn back and dissect the political Germany of 1932 into (a) the masses, from whom issued the political ground swell; and (b) two very small watches near the helm of the ship of state -- the old watch and the new. For the emotional masses, Hitler was an emotional gratification which very soon produced excellent practical results as well. For the old watch -- the more rational small circle who governed before Hitler took over -- Hitler was a gamble.
One of the strongest impressions left by talking with a good number of those most directly responsible for the coup d'état -- it was hardly less -- of January 30, 1933, was this idea of Hitler as a gamble. Bruening," the best of Germans," had failed, said Meissner, who played a decisive rôle. Why not take a chance on this astounding demagogue? The emotional masses were ready. The rankand-file of the most numerous and highly organized Communist Party outside Russia clambered on to the Hitler band wagon without a quiver. It must have shocked the Comintern deeply.
No evidence has been accumulated to suggest that the masses experienced any doubt of the wisdom of their choice before the outbreak of war in September 1939; and Goebbels appears to have played to a responsive audience until almost the end. On the other hand, the more perceptive and rational élite began a good deal earlier, naturally, to wonder if they had not taken a pretty long shot. By 1938, some at least had been overtaken by disillusionment. At the most rational point of all, the Foreign Office, some skepticism had held up its head from the beginning.
The presence of disaffection and turmoil of spirit in the army was attested by the Blomberg and Fritsch scandals in 1938 and Hitler's assumption in this year of the supreme command for himself. Credible evidence was forthcoming of conspiracy against Hitler from 1938 on, as the imminence of another European war spread dismay and anger; but apparently resolution always fell short. There was always an "if." This or that always happened at the critical moment to forestall or excuse positive action. The swift train of Hitler's successes was overwhelming and rendered him unassailable. All was ready for putting him aside, we were informed, on the eve of the Munich Conference. The conspirators blamed Neville Chamberlain's appeasement for their failure.
Short of conspiracy, others of the more rational élite who had helped to place Hitler in power were increasingly frightened now by the speed with which Hitler plunged on. The unstable Ribbentrop replaced the seasoned Neurath at the Foreign Office. Following the successful achievement of Anschluss, Hans Dieckhoff, newly appointed Ambassador to the United States, observed to Ribbentrop (he related) that a man like Bismarck would wait many years to consolidate his position before taking further steps. Ribbentrop answered: "Then you have no conception of the dynamics of National Socialism."
On the plane of actual events, one bold adventure was seen to tread close upon another, with nothing becoming anywhere near certain until a moment before it actually happened. State action had become, in short, no more than uncontrolled individual action of an especially nervous and fitful sort. The only way to keep calm was to trust implicitly in Hitler, and that was a strain even for Goering, at least as Goering told his story in the Nuremberg prison.
At the period now in question the Nazis had three objectives, Goering said to us in retrospect: 1, Austria; 2, the Sudetenland; and 3, a solution of the Danzig-Corridor situation. Goering observed that the outcome might well have been different if Hitler could have been led to declare publicly and promptly, as Goering sought to have him do, that these were the essential requirements that Nazi Germany proposed to satisfy, and at the same time to make clear an intention to reach solutions, if possible, by traditional diplomatic methods. However, Goering continued in a tone of regret, it was Hitler's habit, ingrained by internal successes in revolutionary days, to concentrate upon one point at a time and to exclude all other matters from consideration or action, and this practice he carried over into the international field. Instead of the orderly development of a program, crisis followed crisis.
There was apparently little chance of Hitler and the British leaders understanding each other in any circumstance. When Lord Halifax met Hitler at Berchtesgaden shortly before the Runciman mission to Czechoslovakia, he spoke as a churchgoer -- according to the interpreter, Paul Schmidt -- and Hitler as a racial propagandist. The meeting broke up in a strained atmosphere. After Halifax returned to London, Goering was sent to him to ease the situation, if possible.
Chamberlain's meeting with Hitler at Berchtesgaden September 15, 1938, went badly for the same reasons, again according to the interpreter, Schmidt. It was Schmidt's observation that the old-line British conservative, lacking diplomatic skill, inevitably clashed with the National Socialist revolutionary, who at the other extreme had no experience with international problems. The Foreign Office had no advance knowledge of this meeting. The meeting at Godesberg, on September 22, was arranged through normal diplomatic channels. Ribbentrop was present. The interpreter Schmidt felt that it did not go any better.
A detailed account which Schmidt gave us of the Munich Conference confirmed likewise the absence of any real meeting of minds. That, however, was seen only in retrospect. At the time, Schmidt said, the German Foreign Office group rejoiced, feeling that they had made their contribution to the salvation of world peace. For Schmidt personally it was the happiest moment of his life. Next morning Chamberlain drove alone with Schmidt about the city of Munich. The demonstrations of respect and gratitude which the people paid to Chamberlain whenever he was recognized stirred resentment among the Nazi leaders. When they went to Hitler's apartment, Chamberlain produced his draft of a pledge -- which he so prized on returning to England -- of mutual consultation on problems disturbing the peace of Europe. Hitler signed the document without objection but without noticeable enthusiasm. He had no idea of keeping it.
Munich brought the long-developing tension in German-Russian relations to extreme crisis; but it was plain to officials in the German Foreign Office that deterioration had occurred simultaneously in relations between Moscow and London and Paris. The Foreign Office felt that the Kremlin was confronted with a problem. Were the western Powers ready and in a position to provide an effective counterbalance against the sharp increase of German power, especially after the absorption (March 1939) of Bohemia and Moravia? Might it not serve Soviet interests better if an understanding, even though only a temporary one, could be worked out with Germany?
After March 1939 it became ever clearer that Hitler intended to use force against Poland if necessary. This being so, it seemed to the German Foreign Office that the community of interest between Russia and Germany in the Polish question must be a more compelling consideration in Moscow than the prospect of having Russian forces move to the rescue of Poland, a neighbor for whom the Soviet leadership cherished, according to the Germans, the deepest political distrust. The Foreign Office believed, moreover, that Moscow had never given up the idea of recovering for Russia Poland's eastern reaches. Hitler on his side looked upon any solution of the Polish problem which operated against Russia as difficult and dangerous.
The earliest definite sign of a reconciliation between Germany and Soviet Russia, following the estrangement of 1932 and subsequently, occurred in the autumn of 1938, when the two Governments formally agreed to reduce to tolerable proportions the attacks against each current in the public press of the other. The Germans saw a second and clearer sign when, in the spring of 1939, Stalin in a public address asserted than even violent contradiction in outlook and governmental forms need not constitute an obstacle to practical coöperation between two states having common interests in concrete matters, and Moscow let Berlin know informally (the Germans said) that this utterance was spoken with Germany particularly in mind.
Early in May the Germans took heart also from the replacement of Litvinov by Molotov as Foreign Minister. The lack of results from British negotiations with Russia was noted. Word came from Russian friends of Stalin's distrust of British intentions and dislike of the hesitant manner in which the negotiations with Russia were being carried on by the western Powers.
Astachov, Russian representative in trade negotiations then in progress with Germany, was said to be doing his best to press toward political talks. Hitler, who had first given orders to avoid any such development, now grew fearful that the negotiations in Moscow with the British and French might reach a positive result and that Russia would in consequence come to the help of Poland in the case of a German attack. He quickly decided to forestall such a development by a very far-reaching offer to the Soviet Union. He would recognize Russian rights from the Baltic to the Black Sea.
Neurath recalled that he met Hitler at Bayreuth early in August. What would he think, Hitler asked him suddenly, of coming to terms with Russia? Neurath answered that for years he had been advocating that very course. Hitler then shook his head and spoke of worry about the effect on the Party. Neurath replied that Hitler knew perfectly well that he could do what he pleased with the Party.
When, on Hitler's instructions, Ambassador Schulenburg proposed to Molotov that Ribbentrop should visit Moscow, Molotov hesitated (according to the German account) and spoke of the negotiations already in progress with the British and French. Hitler then sent a personal message to Stalin through Schulenburg. It contained his sweeping offer.
Goering recalled that they were all on tenterhooks at Berchtesgaden at this time. About three o'clock one morning he was aroused from sleep by the telephone beside his bed. It was Hitler, much worried because, though some days had gone by, there was still no answer from Stalin. It was going to be embarrassing, Hitler grumbled, if Stalin rebuffed them. He was disposed to blame Goering for having concurred in the initiative. Half an hour later, Goering was just slipping back to sleep. Again went the telephone, and at the end of the line a jubilant Hitler. Stalin's acceptance had just come in.
Ribbentrop and his staff landed at Moscow August 23, in a state of uneasiness. They did not know how they would be received or what specific demands the Russians might put forward. It was related that the official reception by Molotov's deputy, Potemkin, was formally correct but lacked all warmth. No guard of honor was in sight, though one was usual on such occasions.
Ribbentrop had been wondering if he would see Stalin at all. Protocol-wise it was not necessary, since Stalin was not at that time an official of the Soviet Union. At four that afternoon, upon Russian invitation, Ribbentrop and his staff went to the Kremlin. In Molotov's study Ribbentrop was elated to find himself face to face with Stalin. Stalin led the negotiations on the Russian side with Molotov assisting, according to the German story. Agreement was quickly reached. The papers were signed in the early morning of August 24, but were dated August 23.
On September 3 the British Embassy in Berlin phoned to the Foreign Office for an appointment. Ribbentrop, sensing something disagreeable, nominated Paul Schmidt to receive from Nevile Henderson what turned out to be the British ultimatum. Schmidt at once carried the note to Hitler and Ribbentrop. He translated the contents. Hitler's first words were a dismayed: "What are we going to do now?" Then he collected himself: "In that case I must talk to the military people." Schmidt was dismissed. Ribbentrop had said nothing. We heard that earlier that year he had threatened personally to shoot anyone in the Foreign Office who might suggest that the British would fight.
Poland having been disposed of in 18 days, Ribbentrop, rather reluctantly, feeling two visits in succession infra dig, again flew to Moscow. This time there was a guard of honor at the airport. The new frontier between Germany and Russia was drawn with a thick red pencil -- partly by Stalin himself -- on a map which was then signed by him and Ribbentrop. The treaty included a mutual obligation to give advance notice of any important action in the foreign field. This was soon to be a basis of complaint.
For the present, however, good relations between the two countries were felt by the Germans to be dimmed only by Russia's war on Finland. Sentiment in Germany was favorable to the Finns, and the Russians were ready to believe that the Germans were helping the Finns with arms.
During the winter of 1939-40 trade exchanges between Germany and Russia were negotiated in Moscow, with Karl Ritter, long in charge of trade treaties at the German Foreign Office, leading for the Germans. The course of these negotiations, Ritter recounted, made it seem unlikely to him that Hitler could have made up his mind to fight Russia as early as the summer of 1940 (as we heard from the military). Stalin for his part contemplated coöperation with Germany for an indefinite time, Ritter believed. In support of his views Ritter told how Hitler personally approved deliveries to Russia during the first half of 1940 of heavy machine tools, airplanes, coast guns, battleship turrets, a Krupp process for hardening metals, and even a battery of the best German flak artillery.
Ritter felt that he got on well with Stalin. One day, he told us, the usually reticent Russian opened up with a general exposé of his country's economic position. In the course of this, the Russian leader said, according to Ritter's report: We no longer need help from you or America in this field or that (mentioning specifically heavy industry, medium and small electrical manufacture, certain branches of chemicals, and so on). We do, however, still require technical help in battleship construction. The Tsar's admirals were no good. My admirals have slept entirely. We also need heavy machine tools and mining equipment, big electrical assemblies, synthetic processes, etc. Stalin concluded with what Ritter deemed a significant statement: If we -- Russia and Germany -- continue to work together like this for four or five years, we (Russia) will be able to produce enough raw materials to supply two Germanys.
General Warlimont related that concrete plans for offensive war on France began to be made only after Poland had been overrun. The Army leaders, estimating the French defenses formidable and the state of German preparation not too good, stalled Hitler when he pushed for a winter campaign. The attack which was finally delivered May 10, and the strategy of that attack (weight on the center instead of on the right flank), ensued from Hitler's personal decisions in the face of not a little military opposition. At Compiègne, as a result, Hitler emerged triumphant not only over Germany's hereditary foe but hardly less so over his own generals.
Even so, Hitler appears to have been unable to overcome the hesitancy which beset him when problems involved the British or the French. Later on, according to Warlimont, conversations in military circles in Germany frequently turned to the question of the cross-Channel invasion. Why did Hitler not press on against Britain? It was Warlimont's answer that at the time of the French capitulation Hitler was completely dominated by the idea of an early peace with Britain. He was willing, therefore, to approve only such long-term military preparations as could be undertaken without attracting too much attention. It was generally believed in military quarters, according to Warlimont, that shortly before Hitler's Reichstag speech of July 19 the British were approached on the subject of peace and returned a decided negative; this influenced the tone of Hitler's public offer.
It appears also that Hitler found himself unprepared in mind to press the victory over France through to its full consequences. General Guderian told us that he for one was convinced that the creation of an unoccupied zone in southern France was a serious mistake. In his judgment, the only proper course would have been to continue to the Mediterranean and from there move immediately upon French North Africa, at the same time inducing the Italians to advance upon Egypt. If this course had been pursued, General Guderian thought that the British might have considered a reasonable peace proposal. Hitler's offer of peace through a Reichstag speech seemed to him most inept.
When we talked to Goering he was still bubbling with his own ideas about the strategy which ought to have been followed in this fateful summer of 1940. With France defeated, the next step plainly was to put out England. Goering urged Hitler to move against Gibraltar. With its tiny airfield, Gibraltar was highly vulnerable. With Gibraltar in hand, Suez could have been taken more or less at leisure. Meanwhile the Germans would strike quickly south and take Dakar. From there, the Mediterranean being closed, they could strangle shipping coming around the Cape. If the United States showed readiness to act, Germany would at once move into the Azores, said Goering.
Hitler's unreadiness to accept this plan left Goering still, after five years, almost childishly rueful. That and Hitler's wrong-headed determination to attack Russia had ended him and the others up in Nuremberg. Apparently Hitler toyed with Goering's plan and adumbrated it to Franco when the two met at Hendaye in October 1940. Hitler told Goering afterwards that he desisted, however, as soon as Franco intimated that his price for a German march across Spain would be French Morocco. Just previously, at Montoire, Hitler had assured Pétain and Laval that the French colonial empire would be kept intact.
Hitler's mind was on Russia. He was thinking of his "big war in the east." Generals Keitel, Jodl and Warlimont concurred in testifying to a meeting at the Berghof July 29, 1940, at which Hitler announced his intention to turn his arms against Russia now. He was disturbed by intelligence reports of concentrations of Russian troops on Germany's eastern frontier. The Russian front had been nearly denuded during the French campaign -- only five to eight German divisions there. It was felt that Stalin had been frightened by Hitler's swift victory in France. Hitler said flatly, according to Jodl, that an eventual showdown with Russia was inevitable and that probably it would be wisest to include it in the present war.
When Jodl conveyed this information to his colleagues on the General Staff, there was open consternation. Keitel succeeded in persuading Hitler that a German offensive against Russia during 1940 was simply impossible. The weeks went by, the Russian offensive which Hitler feared against Germany did not occur, and Hitler quieted down; but he continued to brood on the matter and the unfavorable temper of talks with Molotov in November persuaded him to action.
Goering said he remembered very precisely that Hitler said to him in August 1939: "I am determined to work with Russia for a long time." When we asked Goering what had changed Hitler's mind within so short a period, he answered that first of all there was Finland. The Russian attack on Finland had certainly had a very marked psychological effect upon the course of Hitler's policy. Then came the Russian troop concentrations along the German border after the collapse of France.
Goering claimed that all along he counseled Hitler to patience. He alleged that his information persuaded him that Stalin could not and would not attack Germany before 1943. "Let us keep the peace as long as possible," Goering said he told Hitler; and to this Hitler answered: "The Soviet Union will keep the peace only so long as it chooses to do so. If our position in the west becomes difficult, we shall have to count on a Soviet attack. I hope to preclude that possibility. My Army is free now. Only the Navy and the Air Forces are engaged with England. It is necessary to strike while it is possible to do so. I want to destroy the Russian armed forces before they become dangerous."
"Believe it or not," said Goering, "for three full hours Hitler listened to me quietly while I argued against a war on Russia. I implored him to hold to the principle enunciated in 'Mein Kampf' that Germany should never again fight a two-front war. How was I going to turn my air force around from west to east? I, too, had no doubt that we could destroy the Russian armies in the field, but what then? There were the endless Russian spaces. You got to the Volga, then there were the Urals; you got to the Urals, then there were the endless reaches of Siberia."
Hitler's definitive order to prepare the attack on Russia was conveyed to the General Staff December 18, 1940. Goering, who frequently had trouble with his chronology when talking with us, said he could remember that date. It was burned into his soul.
III. THE DESCENT: 1941-1945
Germany was finally borne down to destruction by the combined weight of Britain, Russia and the United States, the three coming into action against her in that order. The Nazis had genuinely endeavored to reach an accommodation with the British -- but strictly on Nazi terms, of course. They actually achieved adjustment with the Russians for a time. With the problem of the United States, Hitler in particular, and Ribbentrop too, never came to grips. It was too remote for Hitler's "ganz Kontinental-orientierte" mind. He iust shoved the United States off into a limbo of wishful thinking.
About the British the Nazis were to the end haunted by a sincere puzzlement. Ribbentrop, who really did know a good deal about the world and the British in particular, glimpsed the truth in terms of the balance of power, as related above, but he did not see the issue in its ultimate terms of freedom. Hitler appeared never to have found it possible to understand why the elephant, Germany, and the whale, England, should not develop their respective realms in mutual understanding and peace. He came back to that idea in the confusion of the very end.
Hans Dieckhoff, who long had a leading part in German-American affairs, testified -- and others corroborated him -- that neither Hitler nor Ribbentrop had any real understanding of the situation in the United States. Still under the influence of his talks with Lloyd George, Hitler counted the bad experience of the Americans in the First World War a sure hindrance to any new American intervention in Europe.
Hitler was further fortified in this comfortable expectation by the American neutrality legislation of 1935 and 1937. In the view of the German Foreign Office, this legislation had a damaging influence such as could not be overestimated. The Nazi leaders read the law to mean that the United States considered itself absolutely out of European affairs and that Germany might follow a continental policy without danger of interference, so long as it did not violate the Monroe Doctrine.
Dieckhoff, who was Counselor of the German Embassy in Washington 1922-26, in charge of American Affairs at the Foreign Office 1930-36, and Ambassador to the United States 1937-38, insisted to us that he had emphasized at all times his conviction that if it came to war with England, not only would the United States enter on the side of England, but also that the American factor would be decisive in the outcome. General von Boetticher, who had an American mother and served as German Military Attaché in Washington from 1933 to 1941, testified to us that his reports were in this same general tenor. However, Boetticher was lying. From Dieckhoff and others we learned that Boetticher's reports to Berlin played down the American potential, which he described as hampered by bottlenecks in industry, by strikes, and by the difficulty of conversion to war production on a large scale. Besides there were always the isolationists.
Karl Ritter told us of Ribbentrop's stupid and stubborn refusal to accept the factual reports which he and others submitted on the American potential. Ribbentrop asked Ritter for comment on President Roosevelt's message to Congress enumerating what had been achieved and was soon to be achieved in the production of planes and tanks and the like. Ritter said that before he had even begun his answer, Ribbentrop announced his own conclusion that the President's speech was mostly bluff. "The Fuehrer," said Ribbentrop, "is the world's greatest armaments expert, and he has spoken." ("Der Fuehrer ist der erste Waffenfachmann der Welt und er hat es gesagt.")
According to Goering, the final weight in Hitler's negative estimate of the American factor was Japan. Hitler was confident that America would not wish to be involved in a war in Europe while Japan was threatening her other flank. Had the Nazis any exact prior knowledge of Pearl Harbor? The general answer was, no. Dieckhoff, however, intimated that the Germans were aware in a general way of what was coming without having been apprised of a date. In any case the news of the American defeat at Pearl Harbor was received by Hitler with jubilation, we heard. He ordered champagne to be served and drank several glasses himself, which was most unusual. General Warlimont, who had traveled in the United States for a year, told us that he, for his part, was deeply depressed. He remained in his quarters and declined to join the celebration.
We found the most baffling question in the whole Nazi story to be the prompt German declaration of war on the United States. Prior to December 7 the leaders in Berlin clearly perceived the repeated challenges of Roosevelt's policy and they deliberately refused to accept those challenges. This seemed to men in the Foreign Office excellent diplomacy on Germany's part. Why then did Germany declare war on the United States immediately after the Japanese attack? It was hardly necessary to enlarge upon the cross-workings which might have become violent in the United States if Germany had not thus forthwith resolved the dilemma.
In Dieckhoff's view there must have been some secret agreement with Japan, but it was impossible to obtain from him any substantiation. The answer uniformly obtained from the others interrogated, including the former Ambassador von Prittwitz, was that Hitler had acted from the motive of prestige. He felt, it was supposed, that the logic of events would now inevitably constrain the United States into belligerency against Germany. It would not befit the Master Race to sit and wait supinely. The Master Race must demonstrate its vigor and courage by acting first and without the least delay.
The core of the story of the Nazi descent from triumph to defeat is a Russian story, and it begins with the visit to Berlin of the Soviet Foreign Minister, Molotov, November 12-14, 1940. The astute von Papen said it was at this meeting that Germany lost the war. Just five weeks later Hitler issued his fateful order of December 18.
There was no diplomatic preparation for the November meeting. Foreign Office officials reiterated the view that Stalin had been unpleasantly surprised by the swiftness of the German victory over France, and that the strengthening of German influence in Rumania, where Marshal Antonescu had taken power in the autumn of 1940, appeared to threaten Russia's interests in the Balkans. The Foreign Office was convinced that after the summer of 1940 Russia did not consider Germany any longer a partner with whom to coöperate, but a serious competitor.
Molotov came to Berlin in November 1940 partly as a courtesy, since Ribbentrop had been twice to Moscow, and partly to discuss the consultation clause in the Treaty of September 28, 1939. When Germany invaded Denmark and Norway, Moscow had been notified, and when Russia occupied the Baltic and Rumanian territories, there was notice to Berlin, but in all cases the notice arrived hardly before the event itself and the idea of consultation was derisory. The German Government apprised the Soviet Union of the Vienna Award of August 1940 only a few hours before the signatures were attached. When the Russians complained, the Germans said there must have been some misunderstanding and it would be best if Molotov should come for diplomatic parleys. This is the German story.
A talk between Molotov and Ribbentrop the morning of November 12 was superseded by a talk that afternoon between Molotov and Hitler, since Hitler in his own way covered the same ground as Ribbentrop. At the afternoon session, the usual opening courtesies having been exchanged, Hitler declared (we were told by one of the Germans present) that in his opinion the war against England had already been decided in favor of Germany. It only remained to await the moment when England would recognize her complete defeat, and it was already time, in view of the friendly relations existing between Germany and the Soviet Union, to arrive at a clear conception regarding the disposition of the Erbmasse -- the body of the estate, or heritage. Plainly the Soviet Union's prime interest was to have an outlet to the warm sea and there was only one such outlet, namely, via Iran to the Persian Gulf. Neither the Baltic nor the Mediterranean offered a way. In general, Hitler thought, Russia ought to find her sphere of interest in the east. Germany intended to indemnify herself for her war efforts in the west.
Molotov replied, according to this German version, that in his view the moment for such far-reaching agreements had not yet arrived. The Soviet Government would be prepared to discuss these questions in due time. At the present juncture it was more important to create clarity in the relations between Germany and Russia on the basis of existing agreements. Apparently, for reasons unknown to the Soviet Government, these agreements had ceased to appeal to the German Government. The Soviet Government had commissioned him, Molotov added, to put some concrete questions.
First, there was Finland, which belonged in the Soviet sphere of interest. The Soviet Government would be grateful to receive a declaration from the German Government that the German troops remaining in Finland would be presently withdrawn.
To this Hitler answered, it was said, that he had no political interests in Finland, only economic. These related mainly to deliveries of nickel from Petsamo. The German troops would be withdrawn when his need in this regard ended. He, Hitler, was mainly concerned with keeping war away from the Baltic area. Unsatisfied apparently, Molotov was said to have replied simply that he took note of Hitler's answer and would inform his Government accordingly.
Goering did not participate in the negotiations with Molotov, but he offered us a gloss based on ensuing talks with Hitler and with Ribbentrop. Goering's relation of Molotov's demands was lurid. Russia was to attack Finland again and incorporate it in the Soviet Union. That, said Goering, was very disturbing. Hitler told him: I can't let Russia attack Finland anew and square it with the German people. If Russia has all of Finland, we shall be outflanked on the north, Hitler proceeded; Russia will be dangerously near the Swedish iron ore, which is vital to us; and the first thing we know she'll be in Narvik.
According to the German report, Molotov went on to raise for discussion with Hitler the situation in the Balkans. The failure of the German Government to invite Russia to participate in the Vienna arbitration award of August 30, 1940, and to inform the Soviet Government regarding this award, was contrary to the spirit of the consultation treaty, to which the Soviet Government had, so far, strictly adhered. The Soviet Government also could not but ask against whom the frontier guarantee given by Germany to Rumania was directed. Of this guarantee too, the Soviet Government had learned only as an accomplished fact.
Hitler replied that in Vienna he had been mainly concerned with the threat of war between Rumania and Hungary. A war in the Balkans would compromise German military-economic interests, especially in the matter of oil. Hitler could not conceive what special interest the Soviet Union had in the Hungarian-Rumanian conflict. He could say the same about Germany's guarantee to Rumania. This guarantee was certainly not directed against Soviet Russia, which had already settled accounts with Rumania.
According to the German account, Molotov did not conceal his inability to follow Hitler's argument. He asked what the German Government would say if the Soviet Government developed special relations with Bulgaria as the natural zone of Russian security near the Dardanelles. Russia could not expose herself to any surprises in that quarter.
Hitler replied that before answering Molotov on this he would first have to ascertain what the Bulgarian Government itself thought of these Soviet intentions. He would also have to talk with his ally, Mussolini. Molotov thereupon manifested plain dissatisfaction, according to the German report, and insisted that he would have to take back with him to Moscow a clear definition of the German attitude on this Bulgarian question as he had presented it to Hitler.
Hitler, who at the outset of the negotiations had been calm and conciliatory, was described as visibly irritated by Molotov's insistence. Goering said that Hitler, in revealing his disturbance, stressed to him subsequently his fear that, if Russia moved to the Dardanelles, the Russian pressure might not continue southward but turn westward into Jugoslavia. Germany would then be outflanked on the south. Not only Rumanian oil came into jeopardy, but the chrome of Turkey and the chrome and bauxite elsewhere in the Balkans. Hitler said to Goering, according to the latter's story, that Molotov had promised to let these supplies keep flowing toward Germany, but that he simply did not believe the promise would be kept.
Molotov was reported finally to have raised the direct issue of the Dardanelles. In the course of its history Russia had several times been attacked from that direction. The Soviet Union, therefore, attached definite value to concrete guarantees (reale garantien). Paper guarantees would not suffice. Hitler, beginning to show signs of fatigue, declared he could not look upon this matter as urgent. In due time, he said, he would be prepared to discuss this issue too with the Soviets.
On the evening of November 13 Ribbentrop tendered Molotov a dinner. While it was in progress British bombers arrived, and Ribbentrop and Molotov spent time together in a shelter. Some of the matters raised in previous discussions were again gone through. Ribbentrop once more pointed to the Persian Gulf as the natural outlet for Russia. He said the Baltic would not serve, since the Skagerrak and the Kattegat were closed. Molotov was said to have thereupon declared that the Soviet Government was interested in the opening of these Straits. Ribbentrop told Goering about this, observing that plainly Denmark was in peril. He said he told Molotov that "we wouldn't even talk about that -- for Germany it would be intolerable."
Talking with Goering the next day, Hitler declared that the Russian demands would have to be refused. He regarded it all as the preparation of a Russian attack on Germany. Finland worried him particularly, for "psychological reasons" and because "we must maintain the status quo in the north." The intervention of England there would be unfavorable to Germany. Russian terms in the south were also not acceptable.
After this Goering told us he had his say. Hitler was of course right, as always; still it might not be so bad if Russia attacked Finland. One would naturally feel sorry for the Finns, but with Russia striking northward and at about the same time southward toward the Dardanelles, England was pretty sure to do something against Russia. With England going against Russia, there could be no Russian attack on Germany. Goering advised Hitler to concede everything to Russia except the Baltic. The Dardanelles were indifferent to Germany, he argued. No, Hitler retorted, there would be severe complications if Russia were allowed to advance into the Aegean.
The real point, however, said Goering to us -- the Hauptsache -- was that Hitler was convinced that what Russia was up to was the preparation of an attack on Germany. This was in direct conflict, we heard, with opinion at the German Foreign Office, where the conviction reigned that Stalin did not want a military conflict with Germany; he was on the contrary trying to avoid it.
After the Molotov visit there were no outward signs, we heard, that relations between Russia and Germany were worsening. Press and radio remained friendly, though perhaps somewhat less decidedly so than in 1939-40. However, in the spring of 1941 (the German story went on) the Soviets did demonstrate against the further extension of German influence in the Balkans.
It will be remembered that in Jugoslavia the Government of Prince Paul, for some time under strong pressure, finally adhered to the Axis on March 25. Two days later a coup d'état led by General Simovitch replaced Paul's regency with a government of national union under young King Peter. Hitler, who nurtured an Austrian dislike of Serbs, held both Russia and England responsible; the Foreign Office was not so sure. In support of Hitler's position it was pointed out that Russia at once signed a non-aggression pact with the new régime. However, when the German armies overran Jugoslavia, Moscow apparently repented of its action, the Germans observed. The Jugoslav Legation in Moscow was closed and the Soviets accepted the German view that the Jugoslav Government no longer existed.
Germans we talked with stressed that events in Jugoslavia contributed decisively to the German defeat. The order to prepare an offensive against Russia, which Hitler communicated to the General Staff December 18, envisaged May 15 as the date for the opening attack. The coup d'état in Jugoslavia, and the consequent need to conquer that country, delayed the beginning of the German campaign eastward until June 22. Karl Ritter, who for some time represented the Foreign Office with the General Staff, told us with sober mien that the delay cost the Germans the winter battle before Moscow, and it was there the war was lost.
The Foreign Office, as well as part of the Army Command, it was said, deplored the Russian war from the start. To the very end, the Foreign Office was left uninformed of Hitler's intentions. Neither Count von der Schulenberg, the German Ambassador in Russia, nor the Director of the U.S.S.R. Division in the Foreign Office had any official notice of the plans which had been in the making since December 18, 1940, and even earlier. It was only from personal sources that they obtained some idea of what was brewing.
One of our informants proffered information respecting Russian determination to avoid hostilities in the spring and summer of 1941, if at all possible. Serving at the time on the eastern front in a military capacity, he noticed that, while the Soviet troops constructed field fortifications on their side of the border, the Germans, planning to advance, constructed none. German planes flew over the border, he continued, to photograph the Soviet fortifications. Whereas Soviet troops in the Far East would fire at once against Japanese frontier-violations of this sort, against the German violations they merely lodged protests. Soviet planes were not seen to fly over German territory. On June 22 German artillery opened fire on the Russian fortifications around Lemberg (Lwów). To the astonishment of the German officers, the Soviet artillery did not reply until the German infantry attacked. The Soviet Commander, having been taken prisoner, explained that he thought the German artillery was practising and was shooting over the frontier by mistake. He had strict orders to avoid frontier incidents, and he did not return the fire until the advance of the German infantry made it clear that war had broken out.
It was a highly dynamic situation, the Germans pointed out, into which the German armies advanced in the summer of 1941. In the western Ukraine especially, the spirit of Ukrainian nationalism was running counter to Moscow. More lively still, they maintained, was a spirit of active rebellion against Moscow among the broad masses of the peasants, resulting from the forcible collectivization of agriculture, the low price of agricultural products and the dearth of consumers' goods. During the opening weeks of the campaign, according to these Germans, soldiers deserted from the Soviet armies by the hundreds of thousands. It was said that the German staff desired to treat these prisoners in accordance with established international practice, having in mind that they might eventually be used to stir up civil strife in Russia. Clausewitz had written that Russia could be defeated only by internal division. However (the story went), Hitler's view was different. No prisoners were to be brought to Germany. Instead, on Hitler's personal order, they were run into stockades in Poland and left to starve to death, quite literally.
Hitler was proceeding on the assumption that it would be possible to break the military power of the Soviet Union before the onset of winter by means of a Blitzkrieg similar to that in France, it was explained. He did not feel the need for any adventitious help and rejected all plans for drawing the peoples of the Soviet territories into the struggle, on the ground that when a political settlement came at the end of the war, these helpers might put forward inconvenient demands; if meanwhile any critical situation should arise for Germany, they would likely stab Germany in the back.
As the armies moved forward, Erich Koch was named Reichskommissar for the East. He was an outspoken opponent of any sort of concessions to nationalist Ukraine. The Ukrainians were for him no better than slaves who should receive only the subsistence absolutely necessary for the upkeep of their working strength. A good many Ukrainians had at first shown a friendly readiness to volunteer for labor in Germany, our informants averred. Koch and Sauckel did not care to fulfill their requirements on this basis. Volunteering among the Ukrainians for labor in Germany was alleged to have run as high as 80 percent. Sauckel's methods soon put an end to that. Volunteers and all were shipped off to Germany crowded into freight cars, unfed, uncared for.
Our Foreign Office informants said that the results of these revolting practices and ineptitudes soon began to be felt. The resistance of the Russian forces stiffened, and partisan fighters sprang up in the rear of the German lines. In their view the opportunity had been lost to turn the war against the Soviets into a civil war.
What the Nazis perpetrated in the regions of the Ukraine may have been peculiarly inhuman and inept, but it seems to have been no more than an aggravated demonstration of their political failure everywhere outside of Germany. The story was not different essentially in Poland (about which we heard from General Blaskowitz) or in Czechoslovakia. Former German diplomats told us that in Czechoslovakia the SS and Gestapo soon took over from the relatively equitable German military government and subjected the Czechs to indignities and suffering which drove them into an unyielding enmity. After the Czechs had been definitely robbed of their independence (March 15, 1939), it was doubtful that they and the Germans could have lived together in friendly fashion, but it would have been possible, the Foreign Office thought, to have worked out a satisfactory modus with the Hacha Government on a basis of a formal independence. When Ribbentrop carried to Hitler a proposal in this sense Hitler promptly turned it down on the ground that the Czechs could not be trusted.
It appeared that Ribbentrop was for a time favorably disposed toward attempting some permanent adjustment with France also. The need for this as the basis of any new Europe such as the Nazis might hope to bring into being under German leadership was keenly discussed at the Foreign Office. The relatively friendly atmosphere of the early post-armistice conversations between the German and French leaders was thought to open the way. Abetz, former member of the Buero Ribbentrop and now German Ambassador in Paris, stemmed from Baden and had married a French girl, and he pressed the idea with both Ribbentrop and Hitler, maybe a little too persistently. Ribbentrop's early flush of responsiveness cooled off as quickly as he perceived the inhospitality of Hitler's mind to any such opportunity for statesmanship.
Paul Schmidt told us that somewhat later on Laval put the whole matter of the new Europe to Hitler squarely in a French epigram.
"Vous voulez gagner la guerre," Laval apostrophized the momentary Caesar, "pourfaire l'Europe; faites donc l'Europe pour gagner la guerre."
But Hitler never evinced any creative genius in this regard. His henchman Ribbentrop testified: "The Fuehrer had no absolute program of what was going to be about Europe [sic], about how it was going to be reconstructed, and so on, absolutely no program . . . I have tried five or six times during the war to induce the Fuehrer to get various European countries at a general European meeting. The Fuehrer always refused."
A cardinal point recurrently made by not a few members of the Foreign Office and military was that successful measures to organize Europe outside of Germany would have involved a denial by the Nazis of their own character and a negation of their principles. The Nazis succeeded in Germany by building Germanism into an exclusive cult. Not only were they themselves provincial but they exalted provincialism into a transcendent virtue. They achieved power by sharp focus and intensity. They could exert that power abroad in crass military forms and temporarily; but, having won in Germany on exclusively German terms, they could not generate outside of Germany the underlying political support which could alone hold up their conquests.
Military events during 1942-43 brought to an end any practical opportunity for Nazi Germany to organize Europe. Soon Hitler was marked as a military as well as a political failure. In the course of a paper which, with the aid of the historian, Percy Schramm (who kept the German War Diary), Otto Meissner wrote for us on "Hitler as Supreme War Lord, 1939-45," Meissner described the broad consequences of the loss of Stalingrad. "It became known now in wide circles," he set down, "that Hitler's personal leadership (in the military sphere) was dillettantish and wrong-headed; that he was filled with an exaggerated belief in his own military qualifications; that he was disposed to undervalue the achievements of others; and that he was unjust and severe in punishing those who, according to his personal view, had failed. He was subjected now to lively criticism; this had never happened before. The loss of confidence . . . grew continuously and could not be put at rest by Goebbels' propaganda."
There ensued the conspiracy of July 20, 1944. Opposition to Hitler in higher military circles had begun as early as the end of 1941, Meissner said. It was now determined that the removal of Hitler was the only possible escape for Germany. Hitler on his side, Meissner went on, was never able to understand the reasons which led to the conspiracy. He saw in it only treason and disloyalty on the part of his generals, enmity against National Socialism, and reaction. He remarked that Lenin and Stalin had been right in annihilating the whole of the ruling groups; it was his mistake not to have done the same in Germany.
Meissner had certainly done much to persuade the old Reichs President von Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as Chancellor in January 1933. We asked him when he began to repent. Misgivings which had long been brewing in his mind, he answered, took definite form about a year and a half before the end. Close to the end he saw that Hitler was insane. He related that during the last year and a half Hitler came more and more under the influence of Himmler, Goebbels and Bormann. Goering had slipped from the inner circle after the failure of the German air defense. Ribbentrop, who was never in the inner circle, now lost favor too. Hitler kept him on as Foreign Minister, because he was committed to him and in dismissing him would have had to admit his own miscalculations in the foreign field. Asked about Rosenberg, Meissner replied that Rosenberg had never commanded Hitler's full respect. He said he once heard Hitler remark that had it not been for the Catholic Church putting Rosenberg's "Der Mythus des 20. Jahrhunderts" on the index, the book never would have been read nor would Rosenberg have gained such wide attention.
Himmler, Goebbels and Bormann were the three, Meissner said, who helped the ever more crazy Hitler lead Germany to doom. When exactly did Hitler become crazy? Meissner could not say. He saw little of him, he claimed, in the final period. Substantial work had passed from his hands into the hands of Hans-Heinrich Lammers, Chief of the Reichs Chancellery, and particularly into those of Bormann, "a wicked man," who succeeded Hess as Secretary of the Party. However, on March 13, 1945, Meissner was received by Hitler in order to be congratulated on his 65th birthday. He found Hitler in a state of almost complete disarray, he informed us. Hitler's eyes were bloodshot. He paced the room. His voice was out of control. He shouted and cried; he spoke without coherence; he exclaimed repeatedly: "Ich capituliere nie."
Meissner attributed Hitler's collapse in part to events and in part to a drastic course of treatment which he had been receiving for some years from Dr. Morell. Meissner said that Morell had developed a therapy which in numerous cases seemed to repair the vitality of aging men who had spent their strength too freely. It was Morell's practice to examine bodily secretions and prepare an injection which, in particular, according to Meissner, would keep the flora of the intestines in balance. Hitler was always in poor health, suffering from lack of sleep and consequent fatigue. His apparent benefit from Morell's injections was very noticeable. The treatment went through an increasing cycle. Meissner was certain that it contributed much to Hitler's final breakdown.
Others testified to Hitler's unmistakable disintegration toward the end. Guderian, who averred he found in Hitler a man of undoubtedly great capabilities, said also that he was convinced that Hitler was suffering from some form of insanity for several years before the final collapse. After the July 20th attempt on his life, Hitler, Guderian related, developed a marked palsy of the left hand and left foot, and had great difficulty in controlling these members even on the most embarrassing occasions. He would brace his foot against some firm object and hold his left hand with his right. When he released his hand after such an effort it would describe an arc of about nine inches.
Even so, Hitler did not surrender faith in his destiny, or he solaced himself by pretending not to do so. Despite all, he was going to succeed, as Frederick the Great had succeeded. He was sure that some divine event would in the end determine everything in his favor. He took the death of President Roosevelt as a first glimmering, at last, of the new dawn.
Russian artillery was then closing in on him and blowing to bits what remained of Berlin. In this situation Hitler's mind went back to the pristine idea of a working friendship with England. It was on April 22 or 23, Ribbentrop testified, that he saw Hitler for the last time. Ribbentrop asserted that "he again pointed out to me the necessity of Anglo-German friendship." "We still then thought," Ribbentrop continued, "there might be possibilities of some negotiations, or some meetings of the statesmen, or something, some sort of message which I should give to them when I saw them." However, Hitler now admitted to Ribbentrop that the war was lost. Ribbentrop said he had never done that before.
[i] Chief of the Reichs Chancellery from Ebert to Hitler (1919-45), and especially close to von Hindenburg.