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Sir N. Henderson to Viscount Halifax (received August 24).
(Telegraphic.) Berlin, August 23, 1939.
Two difficulties were raised last night before visit to Herr Hitler was actually arranged. In first place it was asked whether I would not be ready to wait until Herr von Ribbentrop's return. I said that I could not wait as my instructions were to hand letter myself as soon as possible. An hour or so later I was rung up again by State Secretary on the telephone asking for gist of letter and referring to publication of some private letter addressed to Herr Hitler last year. I told Baron von Weizsäcker that I had no recollection of publication of any private letter last year and assured him that there was no intention of publishing this one. As regards Prime Minister's letter I said that its three main points were (1) that His Majesty's Government was determined to fulfil their obligations to Poland, (2) that they were prepared, provided a peace atmosphere was created, to discuss all problems affecting our two countries, and (3) that during period of truce they would welcome direct discussions between Poland and Germany in regard to minorities.
State Secretary appeared to regard these replies as likely to be satisfactory, but deferred a final answer to 8 a. m. this morning. At that hour he telephoned me to say that arrangements made had been confirmed and that he would accompany me to Berchtesgaden, leaving Berlin at 9:30 a. m.
We arrived Salzburg soon after 11 a. m. and motored to Berchtesgaden, where I was received by Herr Hitler shortly after 1 p. m. I had derived impression that atmosphere was likely to be most unfriendly and that probability was that interview would be exceedingly brief.
In order to forestall this I began conversation by stating that I had been instructed to hand to Chancellor personally a letter from Prime Minister on behalf of His Majesty's Government, but before doing so I wished to make some preliminary remarks. I was grateful to his Excellency for receiving me so promptly as it would have been impossible for me to wait for Herr von Ribbentrop's return inasmuch as the fact was that His Majesty's Government were afraid that the situation brooked no delay. I asked his Excellency to read the letter, not from the point of view of the past, but from that of the present and the future. What had been done could not now be undone, and there could be no peace in Europe without Anglo-German co-operation. We had guaranteed Poland against attack and we would keep our word. Throughout the centuries of history we had never, so far as I knew, broken our word. We could not do so now and remain Britain.
During the whole of this first conversation Herr Hitler was excitable and uncompromising. He made no long speeches but his language was violent and exaggerated both as regards England and Poland. He began by asserting that the Polish question would have been settled on the most generous terms if it had not been for England's unwarranted support. I drew attention to the inaccuracies of this statement, our guarantee having been given on 31st March and Polish reply on 26th March. He retorted by saying that the latter had been inspired by a British press campaign, which had invented a German threat to Poland the week before. Germany had not moved a man any more than she had done during the similar fallacious press campaign about Czecho-Slovakia on the 20th May last year.
He then violently attacked the Poles, talked of 100,000 German refugees from Poland, excesses against Germans, closing of German institutions and Polish systematic persecution of German nationals generally. He said that he was receiving hundreds of telegrams daily from his persecuted compatriots. He would stand it no longer, &c. I interrupted by remarking that while I did not wish to try to deny that persecutions occurred (of Poles also in Germany) the German press accounts were highly exaggerated. He had mentioned the castration of Germans. I happened to be aware of one case. The German in question was a sex-maniac, who had been treated as he deserved. Herr Hitler's retort was that there had not been one case but six.
His next tirade was against British support of Czechs and Poles. He asserted that the former would have been independent to-day if England had not encouraged them in a policy hostile to Germany. He insinuated that the Poles would be to-morrow if Britain ceased to encourage them to-day. He followed this by a tirade against England, whose friendship he had sought for twenty years only to see every offer turned down with contempt. The British press was also vehemently abused. I contested every point and kept calling his statements inaccurate but the only effect was to launch him on some fresh tirade.
Throughout the conversation I stuck firmly to point (1) namely our determination to honour our obligations to Poland; Herr Hitler on the other hand kept harping on point (3), the Polish persecution of German nationals. Point (2) was not referred to at all and apparently did not interest him. (I had been warned that it would not.)
Most of the conversation was recrimination, the real points being those stressed in his reply in regard to the threat to Poland if persecutions continue and to England and France if they mobilise to such an extent as to constitute a danger to Germany.
At the end of this first conversation Herr Hitler observed, in reply to my repeated warnings that direct action by Germany would mean war, that Germany had nothing to lose and Great Britain much; that he did not desire war but would not shrink from it if it was necessary; and that his people were much more behind him than last September.
I replied that I hoped and was convinced that some solution was still possible without war and asked why contact with the Poles could not be renewed. Herr Hitler's retort was that, so long as England gave Poland a blank cheque, Polish unreasonableness would render any negotiation impossible. I denied the "blank cheque" but this only started Herr Hitler off again and finally it was agreed that he would send or hand me his reply in two hours' time.