The French Yellow Book
Previous Document Contents Next Document

No. 16
Francois-Poncet, French Ambassador in Berlin, to M. Georges Bonnet, Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Berlin, October 4, 1938.

THE agreement reached on September 29 at Munich has been received with no less relief in Germany than in France and Great Britain.

The Chancellor's speech delivered on September 26 and the news of the military measures taken by France and Great Britain had brought the prevailing anxiety to a high pitch. The Chancellor had burnt his boats. It was felt to be unthinkable that he could retreat. Contrary to general expectations, the Western Powers appeared resolved to fight. During the days of the 27th and 28th September, one could sense the hourly approach of the catastrophe. This state of mind was clearly visible in the expressions of the Berliners who had been urged, during the evening of the 28th September, to listen to a speech by Dr. Goebbels, the general opinion was that he was to announce general mobilization.

It was in this atmosphere that on Wednesday, towards 10 p.m., the news began to spread that the Four-Power Conference was to open the next day at Munich. It immediately aroused a feeling of immense satisfaction. Nobody doubted for a moment that the imminent danger of war had been averted. The miracle that all had ceased to hope for had occurred.

With the exception of a few fanatics, very few Germans thought that the Sudetens were worth the risk of a European war. The great masses of the people knew nothing of the Sudeten: they were in no way conscious that the Sudeten had ever belonged to the Reich; they were hardly more interested in their fate than in that of the Germans in Rumania. They would have been quite pleased with a punitive expedition against Czechoslovakia, but they certainly would have abandoned the Sudeten rather than see the entire world in arms against Germany.

At the moment when the German-Czech conflict threatened to turn into a European conflagration, the atmosphere in Germany was very different from the feverish and aggressive atmosphere of August 1914. It is certainly without any feeling of enthusiasm that the German people would have followed their Führer into a general war.

Though these are the general reactions brought about in the country by the events of the last few days, it does not appear that unanimity reigns in the leading circles of the Reich as to the lesson to be learnt from them. In that respect one can discern two separate schools of thought.

The more reasonable circles have been very much struck by the resistance that the Führer's will has encountered for the first time in the face of the attitude adopted by Great Britain and France, and; at the last moment, even by Italy, Adolf Hitler was not able to maintain in its entirety the position he had assumed at Godesberg, and which was formulated in his memorandum of September 23. He was preparing to dictate terms to Czechoslovakia as to a vanquished country. He had, with a unilateral gesture, determined on a map the zone which German troops were to occupy from the 1st of October The time allowed for evacuation was so short that the Czechs could not have retired in an orderly fashion. The Führer had to compromise on all these points. Even though he has obtained satisfaction on the main issues, he was obliged to accept an international procedure as regards the mode of execution, in spite of his repeatedly expressed dislike of such methods. He was not able to go as far as he wished. He recognized that he had reached the limit beyond which foreign opposition threatened to become armed intervention.

In German high political circles, and even among the most convinced and influential Nazis, there is no lack of counsels of moderation to the effect that the Germans should be satisfied, for the time being at least, with the results obtained, that they should allow themselves a respite, relax the economic and financial tension, and seek to reach some arrangement with the Western Powers. These are the circles which, during the crisis of the 28th September, influenced Field-Marshal Goering and whose counsels prevailed over Herr von Ribbentrop's.

Yet there are many who proclaim that one must continue to go ahead and to take the utmost advantage of the military superiority which the Reich believes itself to possess at present. Their influence is felt within the International Commission itself, where they assume the attitude of victors who have the right to formulate imperative demands. It has been necessary more than once to remind them that the agreement of September 29 was not a German "Diktat," but an international arrangement. The annexation of the Sudeten, following the Anschluss of Austria after an interval of seven months, has not satisfied their appetites. At the very moment when the German army is occupying the mountains which have hitherto been the historic frontiers of Bohemia, they are scanning the horizon in search of new demands to formulate, new battles to fight out, new prizes to conquer.

Clearly anxious to spare the feelings of France and Great Britain, to allay mistrust and awaken hopes, the German Press has not ceased during these days to affirm that the Munich Agreement might become the keystone for building a new Europe released from prejudices and mutual hatreds, ruled by respect for the vital rights of all peoples and orientated towards a harmonious cooperation between the nations. The newspapers of the Reich are prodigal in expressions meant to please France. They have repeatedly stated that no subject of contention now exists between France and Germany. They have been at pains to pay tribute to the role played by M. Daladier at the Munich conference; they have praised him as an ex-serviceman whose chief concern is to spare his country and Europe the horrors of a new war. Quoting a remark of Field-Marshal Goering's, they have written: "With a man like M. Daladier, politics become a practical proposition."

Commenting on the declaration issued by the Führer and the British Premier after the Munich conference-a declaration which has been represented here as a non-aggression pact-they have let it be understood that, in their opinion, there is no reason why France and Germany should not come to a similar arrangement. Evidently the primary condition would be that France, adopting a realistic policy, should draw certain conclusions from the events which had so profoundly shaken the whole of Europe.

In that respect, the Munich conference should serve us as a warning. In order that the agreement which assigns to Czechoslovakia new frontiers and a new place in Europe should become the starting-point of a reorganization of the Continent on an equitable basis, it is indispensable that the Western Democracies should draw a lesson from the dramatic events of last week. It is necessary that while continuing to affirm their will to peace and neglecting no means of reaching an understanding with the totalitarian States, they should nevertheless eliminate all causes of internal weakness, that they should fill up as quickly as possible any gaps in their armaments, and that they should give to the outside world tangible proof of industry, cohesion and strength. This is the price we must be prepared to pay if Europe is not to undergo again, after a respite of uncertain duration, crises similar to the last one just settled at the Munich conference after threatening for several days to degenerate into general pandemonium.


Previous Document Contents Next Document
Nuremberg War Crimes Trial 20th Century Page World War II Page

127 Wall Street, New Haven, CT 06511.