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Sir N. Henderson to Viscount Halifax.
My Lord, Berlin, July 15, 1939.
I TOOK the opportunity of a visit to the State Secretary yesterday to mention to him that I had been informed that one of the Under-Secretaries at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Keppler, had said that Herr Hitler was convinced that England would never fight over Danzig.
2. I said to Baron von Weizsäcker that when I was in London I had assured your Lordship and the Prime Minister that Herr Hitler could not possibly be in any doubt as to the facts of the case, namely, that, if Germany by unilateral action at Danzig in any form compelled the Poles to resist, Britain would at once come to their assistance. He (Baron von Weizsäcker) could not himself be under any misapprehension on the subject, and it seemed to me highly undesirable that a member of his Department should talk in this misleading fashion. That sort of remark would be repeated in London, and would once more make His Majesty's Government wonder what further steps they could take to convince Herr Hitler that they were in earnest. It was solely because they doubted whether Herr Hitler was correctly informed on this point that they continued to reiterate their determination to resist force by force in future. If Herr Hitler wanted war, it was quite simple. He had only to tell the Danzigers to proclaim the re-attachment of the Free City to Germany. Obviously that would put the onus of action on the Poles, but not even that would cause us to hesitate to support them, if Germany attacked them, since we would realise quite well that the Senate at Danzig would only adopt such a resolution on the direct order of the Chancellor.
3. Baron von Weizsäcker observed that he was not so certain that the Senate would not act one day of its own accord. I told him that I could not possibly believe that, especially as I clearly realized that the Senate would have already so acted if it had not been for Herr Hitler's orders to the contrary. That he had given those orders was one of the chief grounds for my belief that Herr Hitler still sought a peaceable solution of this question. Nor did the State Secretary demur to this.
4. As regards my general observations, Baron von Weizsäcker said that Dr. Keppler, who had been in the early days a kind of economic adviser of Herr Hitler's and still saw him occasionally at long intervals, was an honest man, who was also in fairly close relations with Herr von Ribbentrop. There were Baron von Weizsäcker said, so many distinctions about a statement to the effect that England would not go to war over Danzig. Anybody, including Herr Hitler himself, might well say that England did not wish to fight about Danzig, and it would be true. Nor did Germany. Anybody, including Herr Hitler, might say that one day Danzig would revert without war to Germany, and that might equally be true as the result of a pacific settlement with the Poles in their own true interests.
5. I admitted that there were possibilities of twisting the facts. Yet these were, I said, plain enough, and His Majesty's Government could never be reproached this time, as they had been in 1914, of not having made their position clear beyond all doubt. If Herr Hitler wanted war, he knew exactly how he could bring it about. Baron von Weizsäcker replied to this that he would also draw a distinction about the position in 1914. He had never reproached Sir Edward Grey for not having publicly announced British intentions at that time. The fault, in his opinion, had been that His Majesty's Government had not made them known privately to the German Government before it was too late. Why did His Majesty's Government to-day insist all the time upon these public utterances? If something had to be said to Herr Hitler, why could it not be said privately without all the world being kept informed? That had been the mistake last year during the Czech crisis. Public warnings only made it more difficult for Herr Hitler to heed them.
6. Though I appreciate personally the force of this hint of the State Secretary's in favour of the private communication rather than the public warning, I confined myself to replying that one of our main causes for anxiety in England was our belief that disagreeable facts were withheld from Herr Hitler by those who were responsible for making them known to him. To this Baron von Weizsäcker replied that, while he could not tell me what reports the Chancellor read or did not read, Herr Hitler was influenced by nobody, but regarded situations as a whole and was guided solely by his own appreciations of them.
I have, &c.