The French Yellow Book

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No. 57 :
M. Coulondre, French Ambassador in Berlin, to M. Georges Bonnet, Minister for Foreign Affairs. Berlin, March 13, 1939.

ONE may well wonder what political designs are to be realized by the display of force which I have reported. Though the secret appears to have been well kept, it seems, nevertheless, that the attitude of the German Press is sufficient to enlighten us.

As early as March 10 a D.N.B. dispatch made it known that Mgr. Tiso had actually addressed a note to the German Government. From that moment the newspapers of the Reich have been maintaining that the only regular Slovak Government for Germany was that of Mgr. Tiso. Yesterday, a new element appeared: the violent attitude adopted by the Czechs towards the German minority who made common cause with the Slovak extremists. But today the quarrels between Czechs and Slovaks are relegated to the background in the Press, which is clamorously denouncing the regime of terror which the Czechs are supposed to have unleashed, as in M. Beneš's time against the Slovak separatists as well as those of Bohemia and Moravia. The evolution in the German attitude towards the neighbouring country, which had become noticeable in the last few months, is now taking definite shape. It certainly looks as if the policy of reducing Czechoslovakia to a vassal state was giving way to that of separating of its component nationalities. It also appears that the Reich, while favouring the independence of Slovakia, is supporting the Polish and Hungarian claims on Ruthenia, which, if it secedes from Czechoslovakia, must inevitably fall into the hands of its neighbours. The future will show what sort of bartering with Budapest and Warsaw such a policy will involve. For the time being, in order that this policy should succeed, there must be a pretext for intervention. As in September last, the German Press denounces the persecutions alleged to have been suffered by German nationals, or by members of the German minority in Czechoslovakia. As in September, the newspapers announce that concentrations of Czech troops are taking place near the German frontiers. The German population, from what I hear, feels, as it did last autumn, a certain uneasiness caused by military preparations and by current rumours. They fear some rash adventure. But this factor appears to be even less decisive than it was in September. The leaders of the Reich, judging by news that reaches me from German sources, are not reckoning with any resistance whatsoever from the Czechs. The intended action, in their opinion, will not overstep the bounds of a police operation, and it appears, by the manner in which this operation is being prepared on the military side, that such are actually the German Government's anticipations.

In short, the situation appears to be serious enough for us to have to reckon with the possibility of a resort to force in one form or another against Czechoslovakia, Germany alleging that she is obliged to come to the rescue of her fellow-countrymen. My British colleague has the same feeling. This morning he asked for an interview with the State Secretary, with a view to obtaining indications as to the German Government's intentions. Until now he has not been able to see him. In view of the contemplated démarche of Sir Nevile Henderson, who, by the way, has been acting without instructions from his Government, I thought it preferable not to ask for an interview immediately so as not to create the impression of a concerted intervention which might recall those of last May.

If Your Excellency considers it suitable, I could, in view of the rapid development of events, try to see the State Secretary as soon as possible. I could point out to him that the French Government would very well understand that the Reich should help in bringing about some fair settlement between Prague and Bratislava; but I would stress that any violent solution, by destroying the foundations of the agreement of September 29, would seriously endanger the policy of mutual confidence and cooperation in the spirit of Munich, which was also manifested in the declaration of December 6. At the same time, I would remind the State Secretary that a mutual consultation in case of international difficulties was provided for by the stipulations in paragraph 3 of that declaration.

Both my British colleague and myself hold that it is essential that the necessary advice be given to Prague, so that no pretext for intervention and no argument that might be used for purposes of internal propaganda be supplied to the Reich.


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